Karina, outbound to Austria

Well, it has been almost three months since my arrival in Austria, and I am just now writing a journal. I had not suspected that I would be one of the students who dreaded writing exchange journals, considering how much I enjoyed reading the ones from others prior to applying, but nevertheless it is true. Every day there is something worth writing about but without fail I refuse to scribe it because it’s just a reminder that one more day has passed, one less day to stay in this beautiful country.

Time really has no mercy here on exchange, although I have been here for almost three months it has felt like only a week and I already feel years older. Every day something is going on, whether it be Leichtathletik, karate, hiking or just spending time with friends or family, there is rarely time to relax. When I do have a moment to myself it is either spent applying to/researching colleges for when I return or spent sleeping.

One of the countless positives about exchange is that grades don’t matter. This hasn’t stopped me from paying attention in class, which, by the way, is tremendously more difficult to do when you don’t understand what is being said, but it has reduced my eagerness to tackle homework. Regardless, I’m thoroughly enjoying school and all the people I’ve met and befriended. The school schedule here differs a lot to that of my schools in the States, for example some days I’m finished school at noon and others at half passed four. Every day I have different classes and there are no out-there elective classes like weightlifting or photography.

With every day that passes, my appreciation for public transportation here increases and I continually question why the vast country where I come from is so undeveloped in this field. Although I have missed my fair share of buses and trains, which has become a reoccurring joke within my host family, I truly love how easy it is to travel here. I live in a very small town called Eberndorf in Kaernten, it is about forty minutes from the Burgenland’s capital, Klagenfurt, but it is still relatively simple to travel to big cities. For any future exchange students going to Austria, download the OeBB Scotty app on your phone, it will save you countless hours of hours sitting at the Bahnhof.

If you have a passion for sports and physical activity, Austria is the right choice for you. The majority of people here are exceptionally active and people generally eat healthier. My host family is no exception. I go hiking with them often and am always encouraged to spend time outside, which is becoming increasingly more difficult now that it is becoming colder, but nonetheless I try. But don’t let this fool you, returning with chiseled abs is next to impossible with the food here. Sachertorte, Reinling, Kaernten Kaesenudeln, everything is so heavy and rich, but for some reason never enough, and you’ll find that everyone will try to get you to try more things regardless of how many times you tell them you’re full.

My first host family is simply amazing and I couldn’t be happier. Living in a stranger’s home was probably what I was most worried about but they were so welcoming and it was only awkward the first few days. I will stay with this family until late December or early January and then switch to my second which is in a slightly larger town.

Before I get started on how my language process fairs, I would like to make known the fact that Austrian German is very different from the German in Germany, and the German in Kaernten is even more so. With this said, I am moving along better than I would have expected. I understand a good deal of hochdeutsch and now more of what is known as “Kaerntenisch,” but naturally I have a lot to learn. For the most part, I can hold basic/intermediate conversations with people; though I have a hunch my accent is rather prominent. A word to the wise, if a classmate tells you to say a word that you do not understand, under no circumstances should you say it. It is without a doubt not something that will be well received from those not a part of the little ‘lesson,’ though it does make a good story a few days later.

To anyone going to a German speaking country, or hoping to learn German, start learning as soon as possible. Learn the conjugations and as many irregular verbs as you can, it will save you so much time and headaches. Start with verbs like machen, sprechen, spielen, wissen, sollen, darfen, denken, glauben, kennen, koennen, wollen, muessen, moegen, and work you’re way up. Another word for the wise, do not become frustrated if you do not see immediate progress, you will not become fluent overnight now matter how badly you want it. You may not even see daily progress but do not let this discourage you, instead look back to when you arrived and you’ll see how much you truly improved. Every day try to remember at least one new word, or recognize one more difference between the United States and your host country, no matter how small the achievement or difference is it will encourage you to tackle the next day.

Rotary here in Austria is fantastic and they provide plenty of opportunities to travel with the other exchange students and planned many events throughout the year. Last week was a Vienna weekend, which I unfortunately couldn’t go to, but next week is a mini euro-tour where we will travel from Linz to Prague and then Dresden to finally Berlin and back. There are about eighty exchange students altogether in Austria, including oldies, and they are all the most interesting people I have ever met.It is truly a humbling experience to meet and learn so much about peers from every corner of the globe, and the bonds are created so quickly and stronger than steel.

There has been so much that has happened since my arrival and so much I have learned, but when forced to write it down it all escapes my mind. To make up for lost stories and information I’ll include a short list of things I have found to be different and interesting:

• Always eat with the fork in your left hand and keep your hands above the table
• If you forget your bus ticket or have no money, pretend you don’t know any German except for “Ich bin einen/eine Austauschschuler/in,” you can usually get on for free.
• Lunch is typically the biggest meal of the day and sometimes there is no dinner, breakfast is usually very small.
• Sweatpants and t-shirts are a no-go for school here
• Shoes are not allowed in school, students typically wear house shoes or simply socks in school but teachers may wear shoes.
• Short hair on girls, especially younger girls, is much more common than in the U.S.
• Guys tend to take much better care of their appearance, particularly their hair, here.
• How I Met Your Mother is a very popular show, and sounds rather strange in German.
• Nudity in media is much better received here than in the States, nothing is blurred.
• Austria’s Next Top Model is not as good as America’s Next Top Model, in my opinion at least.
• If an Austrian says the lake’s temperature is perfect for swimming, take their words with a grain of salt. Especially if you’re coming from Florida.
• Austrian youths are much better informed about global events than American youths, and have many opinions on American politics and government agenda. Educate yourself about you’re country before going to any other country because you will be asked many questions.
• Whatsapp is widely used
• Everyone will try to practice speaking English with you, try to avoid this as much as possible even though it is very tempting.
• Walking down the streets it is not uncommon to hear multiple languages including German, Slovenian, and Italian.
• There are more types of bread here than I can count
• Fried Oreos are unheard of, and when explained, are not well received.
• Students do not normally change classrooms for different subjects; the teachers come to the classrooms instead. Also, students stay with the same class for eight years.
• Many students have gone on short exchanges or long exchanges abroad; there are three in my class alone.

That should be sufficient enough for now, until next month… maybe.