Background on my exchange
Before I go into all the details of my time here in Austria, let me tell you a little bit about my situation. So I am in the capitol: Vienna, Austria. As of now I live in Floridsorf in District 21. I live with a big family and have 3 siblings: my older sister Iduna (19), my younger sister Freia (12), and my brother Baldur (7). I also have a sister Rhea, (15) who is in New Mexico for her exchange.
I really love my family dynamic. Back in Florida, I also have three siblings, but I am the second youngest. Now I am the second oldest! My family lives in a really beautiful apartment with a nice balcony, courtyard, and a lovely garden. Soon I will be attending a school called Sacré Coeur Privat Gymnasium. My younger sis also goes there.
My First Week in Austria
This week has been so amazing! I feel like I’ve learned so many new things and have seen so much!
I arrived in the Vienna International Airport at 12:05 pm. My host family was at the airport as well as my little sister’s best friend! My host mom gave me a huge hug and immediately made me feel so welcomed! We put my luggage in their car and drove home. Usually she takes a quick route home, however she wanted me to see the city, so we took a route that allowed me to get a glimpse at Downtown Vienna. My eyes got bigger and bigger with every corner we turned. We then came home and ate a snack. We had a pound cake and a delicious apple vanilla tart-both baked by my older sister! My host mom is a landscape architect so she is very creative. Our apartment is beautifully decorated and has plants everywhere. I love it! After we ate, I unpacked my luggage. While I was unpacking, my sisters asked me if I wanted to go swimming in the Danube River. The Danube is the second largest River in Europe and it flows through a lot of Central and Eastern Europe. Many locals here go swimming in it. There are many parts and channels of the Danube. The water felt so nice and it was such a pretty day. Afterwards we went home, had dinner, and went over the schedule of the week and questions about exchange. It was a perfect first day!
On Tuesday, my older sister took me into Downtown Vienna and showed me my school, my little brother’s school, her university, and a lot of the famous buildings in Vienna. She also took Baldur and me to her favorite Ice Cream place. I learned that Topfen is the German word for cream cheese. It’s my sister’s favorite Ice Cream flavor. She was explaining the flavor to me and once I understood, I interrupted “Oh, cream cheese!” She responded with “No! It’s definitely NOT cream cheese” When our ice cream came out, I took one bite and immediately recognized it as cream cheese. My host sister was an au pair in London for a year, and speaks fluent English, but in London they used the word Quark for cream cheese. When she heard cream cheese she imagined Feta or Cheddar. It was really interesting to compare the differences between Oxford English and American English.
On Wednesday, I met one of my host grandpas for the first time. He might be one of the coolest people I have ever met! He is a historian and knows all the history about Vienna and Austria! He also has written a book about his own history and ancestry. As my host siblings’ Opa, he believes its his responsibility to teach his grandkids about the history, culture, art, and music of Vienna. He took my host brother, older sister and I to the Schatzkammer, or Imperial Treasury. We looked at beautiful crowns, capes, and jewels of the Hapsburg Dynasty. We even saw a very large Narwal Horn! Back in the day (The Holy Roman Empire), it was considered very rare and believed to have protective powers. We also drove around the city for a little bit, and he explained to me important buildings and history. He played for me famous classical music from Vienna, which I was a big fan of, and we talked over art, architecture, politics, music, etc. He only spoke a little English and I only spoke a little German, so we tried our best with both. It was a conversation full of hand gestures and pointing. But it was really nice, because it gave me the opportunity to practice my German! After our amazing morning, my siblings and I went home, took a quick nap, and went out for the afternoon. My sister took my little brother and I to an outdoor bath (it’s a pool) with the best view of Vienna! It’s called Krapfenwaldbad. Fun Fact: Krapfen translates to Donut Forest, but this pool is actually named after Franz Joseph Krapf.
Thursday was very stressful. It was my first time traveling alone in the city and it did not go as smoothly as planned. I was invited by two girls from Australia who have been in Austria since January to hang out in the city. The night before, my host mom and sister helped me with directions and patiently explained how the public transport system worked. The next morning, I was feeling confident and ready to take on Vienna. As I walked to the tram near my house, I remember thinking “Wow, I’m gonna remember this as the first time I was able to go in the city alone.” False. I confused the S-Bahn for the U-Bahn (the S-bahn is a local train, and the U-bahn is the subway)! As I was leaving the station, the scenery around me looked so unfamiliar (Red Flag #1). With each stop I was getting more and more panicked. Also, did I mention at that point I didn’t have a phone plan? I was having serious trouble with getting a new sim card, so I went into Vienna alone, without a working phone, hoping I would find wifi along the way (Red Flag #2). So, I’m on the U6, realizing that I’m not where I’m supposed to be, and that I was supposed to be there 25 minutes ago. So, I stepped off the subway, and did the only thing I knew how to do: go back home. When I got to my home train station, I got wifi, called my friends, and explained to them what happened and that I was just gonna go home. Then I realized I had no idea what tram I was supposed to take home. I texted my sister, no reply. My other sister, no reply. Then I texted my host mom. She gave me instructions, but in German. I finally figured it out, and went home. When I arrived at my apartment, I pulled out my keys, and tried to unlock the door. (So a little side note about my apartment. I have three different doors I have to unlock and each are unlocked a different way.) I couldn't unlock the door! I was stuck in the street, and had no Wifi, so I couldn't tell my host mom that I was stuck outside. At this point I was ready to assume fetal position and let the tears flow but then my neighbor arrived and unlocked the door. I tried to go in with her and she said, “Um can I help you?” Ahhhh. It was so stressful. I was struggling to say in German that I was an exchange student and living with a family in the apartment building, but somehow she understood and let me in. Then, I got locked out at my second door. She tried to help and couldn't figure it out, so I borrowed her phone and called my host mom. My host mom called another neighbor who showed me how to do it. Once I was inside, I crashed on my bed and slept for two hours. It was a very emotional day. Fortunately, I was a able to laugh about it later with my host mom. In fact, as I am writing this, I can proudly say I have mastered public transport in Vienna.
Friday was a MUCH MUCH better day. My host sister spontaneously took my brother and I to Schönbrunn Palace, where we walked around the gardens and had a wonderful lunch. We were going to tour inside the palace, however the tour was going to be too long, and we had to attend a Rotary Event that evening as a family. So instead, we went with my host brother’s choice of museum: The Vienna Natural History Museum. It wasn't as interesting to me as some of the other museums, but watching his face when he saw the Dinosaurs and Mammoths was so funny! His favorite animal in the museum is the Ostrich! That evening, I had my first Rotary Function. It was a dinner at one of the Rotarian’s house. She lives in a beautiful cottage outside of the city. It was really nice to meet everyone, however I couldn't understand much of the conversation. It was really good for me though, because it motivated me to want to learn the language!
On Saturday, we left Vienna for Styria, to stay at my Host Grandma’s house. She has a gorgeous house in the country that she and my Host-Grandpa have been slowly restoring for the past 10 years. It was at her house, that I had my first schnitzel. Schnitzel is a very typical Austrian Dish and is a thin piece of meat that is fried and served with jam. It was SO delicious. Also, it had that grandma’s touch, that made it especially tasty. Honestly, I could eat schnitzel everyday. The rest of the day was spent swimming and taking a nice walk in the woods near their house. In Austria, there are plants, and herbs, and berries everywhere. We would stop in the forest and eat raspberries, and then pick up some mushrooms to cook at home, and then my host dad would show me a good plant that helps with head aches. It was so cool! Also, my host sister told my little brother Fairytales about witches on our walk, because the woods that we were in looked like the were straight out of Hansel and Gretel! It was a fairy tale day away from the city.
Sunday morning, after we ate breakfast, we headed for Altmünster for my Rotary Language Camp. The drive to Altmünster was wunderschön! It was filled with mountains, lakes, and cute little villages. When we arrived, as my host parents dropped me off, I realized how lucky I am to be with the family that I’m in. As I said goodbye, my host dad gave me a bag of apples he had picked that morning at the country house. My host mom said “Maggie, if there is anything wrong, please call me. I am your mother now and I want you to be safe.” I knew she meant this more practically, but still. I was so touched! It was definitely bittersweet saying goodbye to them for two weeks.
Well, that was my first and very eventful week of exchange! I learned so much, and fell in love with my new home! I am so excited for my year abroad! And with that, (to continue a tradition of last year’s OBs to Austria) I’d like to say: Bis Später Alligator!
Advice for Future Outbounds to Austria:
When you arrive, you will think that the biggest luxury in America is air conditioning, or tall drinks with lots of ice and free refills, or your queen bed! You are wrong. The biggest luxury back home is the ability to express yourself freely, without a language barrier. Being able to say exactly what you mean, without even thinking about it, is a privilege and something we take for granted. Sure your host fam might speak English, but being able to read an ad and understand it or know what your little host brother is saying is so gratifying! Also, if you're like me, a lot of your homesickness will stem from feeling isolated. Not being able to speak the language is a big part of this. What I’m trying to say is…Learn the language! Don’t put it off until summer. Don’t make false promises to yourself about how you will start tomorrow, or next week, or next semester! Now is the perfect time to start. There is so much time in the day that you can use to study your language. You can study on the school bus, during lunch, before bed, whenever! I promise, you will never, ever, ever say, “Wow, I wish I hadn’t studied German so much before I came.”
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