Shannon, outbound to Austria

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I've tried to sit down and write this multiple times, but I continue to find it harder and harder to do. This is not only because I lack the time to do it but there is also a hint of procrastination and unwillingness to record everything that's been going on. I had the upsetting realization the other day that I have been here for almost a month already, and I hate that each day goes by so fast. Austria has consumed my mind and I am always so excited to go everywhere or just experience life in such a beautiful country. I feel selfish because I know how much I wanted to learn about other peoples lives on exchange and I know how hard this must be for my family back home but at the same time I know that my time here is limited so please forgive me if I don't update often. The same thing happens when my family back home tries to get in touch with me. Sorry Mom and Dad. 
So what have I been doing besides not texting my parents.... LOTS!!! This all started on August 11th so that's where I'll start now. I got off the plane a little after 11am. After getting off my ten hour flight, I quickly ran to the bathroom, handed my passport to the guy at customs, grabbed my bags, and began my new life here. My host family met me at the airport with the cutest, handmade banner (and their dog) and they were so welcoming from the start. We started to head home (of course this was after Brianna Pray -whom I traveled with- could stop me in the airport parking lot and give me a hug), but before we actually arrived at the house, we stopped to have my first ever schnitzel! It was surprisingly delicious, and is honestly probably my new favorite food. then we went home and I took a nap. 

The next day was almost as exciting as the first. My host-fathers sister got married and I got the honor to join in with all the fun. Austrian weddings take all day (and night) with endless traditions and food. It was an amazing experience to be a part of something so important in a persons life. There is so much culture that surrounds these ceremonies, and I honestly learned so much about Austria throughout the day. I got to see the government building in Vienna, as well as a beautiful church. I learned that Austrian men wear rosemary on them (although I'm not exactly sure why). I also got to bond with my host family, and their extended family, which is something that has continued to help me feel comfortable and welcomed here, both at home and in the country in general. 

The next day I got a break (I even got to sleep in) and took that time to pack for my language camp. I was with my host family for three days before leaving them for two weeks. I spent this time in Altmunster at Language camp. I and the other 43 exchange students who had recently gotten to Austria spent five hours a day learning German. Most people probably wouldn't be excited about learning a language for what is approximately the same amount of time you're in school, but for the most part it was super fun! Besides getting to meet some amazing people, I got to: explore Altmunster, swim in the Traunsee ( a lake in Altmunster), hike a mountain, learn Austrian songs, visit Hallstatt (the stock photo of Austria and home of the worlds oldest salt mine) participate in a talent show, learn Austrian Dances, attend/sing at a rotary meeting and visit a ceramics fair. Class was very rarely boring as well, and it was nice to learn important details about the language I will be speaki ng for the next couple months. Plus we had big classes with each having approximately 10 students (some had less- there was one with 8 or so kids- and some had more-I believe mine had 14) so there was always a laugh to be had. I made so many wonderful friends and really broke out of my shell. We all talk almost every day in a group message about our lives and what we learn. It's so cool to see and hear about whats going on with the others and have someone there to talk about all the stuff I learn. There was one major problem with language camp though...... no washers. We had to pack as many clothes into a bag as we could and hope for the best. We all survived though. 

Then I went back to my house, and spent the week personalizing my room. Everyday something new was added or changed and the whole family got in on the process. My host family is so so so caring and hospitable and all around sweet. They continued to insist that I decorate the room and even helped me design and build a desk. They tell me constantly I only have to do what I want to do. My host parents are already my best friends and we are constantly laughing at even some of the dumbest things. I don't believe I have ever felt more accepted in my life. Whether we're scrolling through IKEA's online catalog for hours or even just making dinner together I am always smiling. I honestly couldn't be happier. But its not just my host family that has made me so happy, every Austrian I've met so far has been more then excited to meet an American and try their best to make me feel included in conversations. Everyone talks slowly with me and patiently corrects my German. Its a wonderful environment to learn in, because I'm not just sitting in conversations struggling day in and day out. If I don't understand I have people who are willing to translate whatever doesn't make sense, so that I can know it in the future. 

Overall Austria is great. I love just walking around and seeing beautiful rolling hills and talking with people who live here. Everyone wants to know why I would want to go to Austria, but the more I experience the more I wonder, why wouldn't I want to be here? There is so much I have done that I don't have enough time to talk about (this post is already to long) like visiting a chocolate factory or the vacation we took in our neighbors back yard. No matter what I do I constantly find myself so thankful for all the opportunities presented to me. I feel it is only right to close out with a big thanks to Rotary and my parents for getting me here, and an even bigger thanks to my host parents and host club for having me here. There are honestly not enough words in any language to say how much I appreciate everything everyone's done for me.