When I last wrote, I was still new to Austria. The language was a mystery, winter was coming, and the culture was still not clear. My amazing adventure had just begun. Now the winter has come and gone and I am writing again between two trips. This last weekend, the Rotary Youth Exchange Program hosted a weekend in Budapest and next weekend we leave for the infamous Eurotour.
Now, I think the best way to sum up the last 7 months for you future exchangers is to write down the main areas of exchange and the progression of them since I last wrote.
Of course one of the biggest, if not the biggest point is the language. I remember at the beginning of the exchange I was lost and confused language wise. Every exchange student will feel this and it is okay to get frustrated. However, without effort comes no fruit. If you work hard, the language will come. I remember there was a turning point for me on exchange concerning the language acquisition. Some time in January the light bulb just switched on in my head and I was able to understand most of everything (even some of the dialect) and sufficiently express myself in the language. After this point, the language just got easier and easier until it became natural, like now. Read, write, buy a grammar book, do the exercises, make flashcards, practice with your host parents, practice with yourself in the mirror, watch shows with subtitles. Just think of how awesome it would be to be able to speak two (or more) languages! If you are low on language learning stamina, I found these videos really helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0yGdNEWdn0
At the beginning of January I switched host families with one of the other exchange students in my city. It came as sort of a surprise because we were both under the impression that we would be staying with our families until the end of our exchange. I really did not want to switch because I really liked the house and location in the city that I was in and I knew the other family lived much farther out from the center. At the house of my old host family, my best friend from school was my neighbor and my school and the train station were a short walk away. Nonetheless we switched and I think it was one of the best things that could have happened to me. It is good to see different perspectives of living in your host city. I get along with my new host family much better than my other one. Although the house is a bit far, the bike ride to and from the city is extremely gorgeous and it really helps with keeping the exchange weight gain in check! So future outbound, my advice to yo u would be not to be afraid of change, you never know what great things could be waiting for you, and if you don’t like it you can always try to switch back!
School will be different for everyone depending on what school you go to, how your host parents are, and if you are done with High School in America. In my case since I did not need credits to transfer, so I just used school as a platform to meet people and study German. Now that I have a really good grip on the language I spend my time working on stuff for university, reading books, and sometimes actually participating in the class. I have made many acquaintances in school, a couple friends and one best friend. I am in the 7th grade here (equivalent junior year in America) so my schoolmates have a lot to study all the time. This means during the week I usually spend time with my exchange friends and on the weekend I make plans with my Austrian friends if they don’t have any big tests the following week. Exchange, especially with Rotary, is like a game of cards and you must deal with what you are dealt. Do what you can to make the best out of your hand of cards. My clas s has been very welcoming and we have done many fun things together!
With the Austrian Youth Exchange Program you will have many travel opportunities. Also, usually every student in an Austrian school receives 2 cards, one that gives you free access to all public transportation in your state in Austria and one that give you half off on all train tickets. This is convenient for day trips without Rotary. I have been to almost every major city more than once including Vienna, Salzburg, Linz, Hallstatt, and Innsbruck and in the coming months I will go to Bregenz and Graz. Some cities outside of Austria that I have been to with Rotary include: Prague, Dresden, Berlin, and Budapest. Next weekend I will be leaving for Eurotour, which will add about 17 more!
I am just going to put it out there…I absolutely love wearing a dirndl! A dirndl is the traditional clothing for women in Austria and for men it’s lederhosen. I think Austrians will find any excuse to put on their traditional clothing, especially in the part of Austria where I live. Which is great. There are so many traditions here that are just so unique and without explanation and that I just find beautiful. During Christmas time look out for Kristkind, Krampus, and Glöckler! Fasching, the equivalent of Carnaval in Austria is also tons of fun. Austrians are very musical and like to dance. Many times have I stood on tables with my school friends dressed in the traditional clothing singing and dancing.
Integration into the way of life and culture of Austrians was relatively easy; I did not experience much cultural shock. They do go about things very differently but not to the extent were it is extremely conspicuous. I am to the point of my exchange that I am so used to living like an Austrian that I have forgotten what it is like to live in America!
I think that about covers most of the important points. Writing this (a bit overdue) journal entry has allowed me to reflect on how this year has gone. A year abroad is something very unique. At times it is hard, at times you are the happiest you’ve ever been in your life, but the fact that you as a young adult came to a foreign country to learn about it and to share your culture is something to be very proud of. Exchange changes you as a person. Your horizons are broadened, your wills become clearer, and you become more confident. Coming into exchange it is normal to have expectations. However you will notice that what you experience, you would have never been able to expect. Yet, that is the best thing about it. This year has been full of so many beautiful memories, people, and places. As an exchange student every day is a new adventure. Being here I have really learned to make the most of every day since I know my time here was always limited since the beginning. I fall in love with every day and I am very grateful to Rotary for the amazing opportunity. I am excited for the following last months!
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