Erika, outbound to Austria

If you are an awaiting outbound to Austria, get ready. I would have never imagined to have done so much and learned so much in only two short months. Great ready for the best year of your life.

For all exchange students in Austria it begins with language camp. About 3 days after I arrived in Austria I packed up again and left for Altmünster to attend two weeks of “Sprachkurs.” Here we learned the basics of German with 65 other students from the whole world. We had class every day but also lots of freetime, which we would spend enjoying the sun and swimming in the Traunsee, or walking to the next town over, Gmunden. In our first weekend there we even had an excursion to Hallstatt! It was at this camp where I obtained not only a great starting base for my German acquisition but also met my awesome new family of other exchange students staying all over Austria.

Unfortunately my short Austrian summer came to an end and fall quickly approached as I spent the next two weeks after camp getting to know my city, host family, and preparing for school. I have to say right now, I love where I live. Coming from a big city like Orlando, to the small resort-like town of Bad Ischl is just what I needed. Bad Ischl is a pretty popular town in Austria. It is only 30 minutes away from Hallstatt and is a city many tourists visit since it used to be the summer home to the emperor of Austria. Also the surrounding area is the most beautiful land I have ever seen. I live in the area of Austria referenced as the Salzkammergut. I couldn’t be placed in a place more opposite than Florida. There are many lakes where I live and they are all enclosed by mountains. Well they are probably not “mountains” (to me they are), but nonetheless I think a part of me will always be at peace, even after I’ve left this country, just knowing this part of the earth always exists and lives on. Yes it’s that great.

But as I was saying…completely different from Florida. With that I mean the weather. It’s so cold!! Okay probably not that cold, but a beach girl like me is rapidly learning how to dress for the cold weather and not die. It’s only October but recently a teacher pointed out to me snow on top of one of the big hills (mountain) you can see out of the window in my classroom.

Naturally, this opportunity in Austria is a learning experience for me on all aspects of my life. Living in cold weather, becoming more independent, getting to know more about myself, what I want for my future, how I get along with others, learning about the history and life in Europe, and of course, learning a new language. Which brings me to German. Please fellow future outbound reading this, start learning your language! As soon as you can. As you’ve probably already been told, it will really help with everything! You’ll make friends faster, learn more about where you live faster, makes it easier to speak with Rotarians, and just helps you to integrate a lot faster than you would coming with zero language skills.

I didn’t come to Austria with much German. It was hard to fit studying in between trying to graduate, working two jobs, and getting ready to leave your family, friends, and beloved state (I only realized how much I liked it right before I left). However I am happy to say now at the month 2 mark I can understand almost everything people say to me, and I speak only German with my host family and school friends.

Now this didn’t come with just living in Austria for 2 months alone. It comes with hard practice and studying and just not being afraid to make mistakes. You should see me at school. Since I don’t understand my teachers that well yet I am always knee-deep in flash cards, my German to English dictionary, and my notebook reserved only for learning German that is on the brink of breaking. If you wish to be fluent, like I hope to at the end of the year, just remember it’s not easy but it is possible. Also if you are coming to Austria, be aware that many parts of Austria (like the Salzkammergut) speak dialect and not High German. Like seriously it will take me 30 solid minutes to try to figure out what my class is saying in our Whatsapp group chat, and even after reading it over and over I cannot understand at all.

Another thing to look out for…travelling! The exchange students to Austria have the opportunity to do many awesome trips with the RYE program here. So far I have been to: Hallstatt, Altmünster (not well known but I love this city so much), Klosteneurberg with my host family, Linz, Salzburg, Gmunden, Hiking in Tauplitz, Rome with my school, Pilzen in the Czech Republic with the Rotary Club of Bad Ischl, this weekend RYE Austria is having a Vienna weekend, and next weekend we are going to Prauge, Dresden, and Berlin!

I can’t believe I was allowed this amazing opportunity to grow, see and do. I am eternally grateful to Rotary and Rotary Youth Exchange for this chance of a lifetime. Sometimes as I walk around my city I find myself smiling randomly, or singing, or just straight out dancing because my heart is so happy. I can’t believe I’m living out the dream I’ve had for so long.

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