Maggie, Outbound to Austria

Hi! So I know I’m a bit overdue on this, but as anyone who’s been on exchange knows, the last half flies by! So much has been going on and I haven’t had time to write it all down! So, to make amends to all my readers (and by ALL my readers I mean my Mom), here’s a summary of what I’ve been up to in the last few months…

January

I finally got to open and attend my first ball! I can honestly say without a shred of doubt that it was the most magical night of my life. I had been preparing since September to get to this night and it was so gratifying! After hours of learning how to waltz, I got to stand tall with the other students opening, and show off my mad skills! The ball lasted until 5:00 am… I only made it until 3:00 am. The night was filled with Waltzing, Fox-Trotting, Tangoing, Salsa-ing, etc., and of course, several hours in the disco downstairs. The entire night felt like something out of a Jane Austen novel! I am so grateful to my host parents, the Techniker-Cercle, and Rotary for making such an elegant, unforgettable, fairytale of a night night possible for me!

Only two days later, I got to go to another ball of a completely different kind! The Jäger Ball (Hunter’s Ball). This is a very traditional ball, but instead of ballgowns and tails, the guest wear their traditional Austrian clothing—Dirndls and Trachtzüge. And instead a traditional opening to classical music, it was a traditional Austrian folk dance, to folk music. This ball was held in the Hofburg Palace, which is the imperial place of the Hapsburg Dynasty, and in the center of the city. It’s so huge, I got lost inside when on my way out. It was such a cool opportunity, and different experience from my first one.

February

The first week of February, I had a break from school. I used the week to visit my friends in neighboring cities, visit a Therme (Thermal Pools), and catch up on museum exhibits I’ve been meaning to see! At the end of the break, we spent a night at my host grandma’s and then visited a family friend’s country home. We hiked up a mountain in the snow, ate lunch at a typical Austrian ski hut, and then sled down a sledding track on traditional Austrian sleds! We then went back to their house for dinner. It was by far the coolest thing I have ever done on exchange! Overall, it was a super relaxing week to recharge and refocus on my last half of exchange. Oh, and I also went to a play and an opera in February!

March

In March I had another ball! The Elmayer Ball, also held in the Hofburg Palace, is annually thrown by the Elmayer Dance School, where all the high-society teenagers of Vienna (including me) learn traditional dances (Waltz, Fox-Trot, Tango, etc.). It was so fun, and unlike the other balls, where I only knew a handful of attendees, I knew almost everyone there! It was such fun night (mainly spent in the disco) with my classmates.

Only two days after the ball, my parents came! They stayed for about a week, and it was a great time to show them my life here. Having them see where I go to school, meet my host family, and see the beautiful city I live in was so cool. Rotary doesn’t recommend parent visits, but for me it was exactly what I needed. I had been feeling so homesick, especially since I was on Month 4 of winter. Getting a week’s with of hugs from my mom and dad gave me exactly the energy I needed to keep going. It also helped me see that the end to my year was coming closer. While many exchange students struggle with homesickness after their parents leave, I was only more motivated to enjoy the time I had left.

The day after my parents left, I left for my week long Rotary Ski Week in the alps! It was the most stunning, tiring, and fun week of my exchange! I also really improved skiing! Some of the best memories of exchange came from this week. Any future exchange students reading this who are deciding on what trips to take, if your district provides a ski week, GO! It’ll be worth every penny.

April

The weather finally warmed up, so I spent most of April in parks, or along the Danube River! It was so nice to have consistently warm and sonny weather again! The flowers began to bloom, the ice cream shops opened again, and my world was turned from brown and gray to bright green and pink and yellow! It was an absolute dream. As a Floridian, I was more than excited to celebrate the end of winter with the arrival of spring.

With April came Easter! I spent Easter at my host grandparents’ house and it was stunning! I also got to take day trip to Graz (second biggest city in Austria) while there. It was so beautiful and different from Vienna. We spent the day walking through old town, climbing up to the palace overlooking the city, eating a very delicious lunch, and visiting an art museum. It was a great day with my host mom and sisters. We celebrated a wonderfully traditional, Austrian Easter. The evening before, we had a huge easter fire. This is a pagan tradition coming from The Festival of Fertility. The fire is meant to bring a good harvest to the farmers and fertility to the women and animals. The next day the kids had an easter egg hunt, where we hunted for real eggs (my family thought it was so weird that American’s hunted for plastic eggs…) which we ate that evening! The rest of the afternoon was filled with walks in the forest, playing board games with my host grandpa, and reading in the garden. My personal paradise! The next day I went to a traditional easter mass with my host mom and sister. Overall it was a beautiful easter , and one I will cherish for years to come.

I also got to do several really nice hikes in April. As it turns out, I really enjoy hiking! There is no better feeling than that breathtaking view on a peak, after sweating out all your body fluids trying to get up the steep path.

May

May First marked day one of my 18 day Euro Tour! We went to Germany, Belgium, France, Monaco, and Italy! Although the first leg of our trip was dampened (literally) by a stormy downcast, it was the trip of a lifetime. Seriously, climbing up the Eiffel Tower in 40 degree weather while its windy and pouring down rain—and then on the top of the tower snowing—is a memory I will carry with me forever, along with cold I got from it! All jokes aside, it was an amazing trip with amazing views, the funniest and most understanding of travel companions, and so so so much gelato! I mean, What more could a girl want?

The day after I came home, we got to celebrate my little brother’s first communion. The mass was held in Stephansdom, the most important church in Vienna. It was such a beautiful and traditional ceremony, and a big stepping stone for my host brother. I was so proud of him! He has been such a big part of my exchange, and I know I’m gonna miss him always correcting my german, asking me to play shoots and ladders with him, and making me watch all five Ice Age movies with him.

The next weekend I had my school ball! It was the last ball of my exchange (tragically), and it was by far my favorite! Essentially, the school ball is like prom, but way cooler! It goes from 8:00pm-3:00am. At midnight theres a special show from the seniors, and teachrs. The seniors did a skit, then the teachers dud a dance, which was followed by a teacer-student band. The Ball was held in the Palace of Niederösterreich, built in 1513. Upstairs was a beautiful ball room, built in 1571, where one could waltz. Downstairs was a disco, where I spent the majority of the evening. And outside, there was a bar and seating, where one could talk with friends. Let’s just say that my senior prom next year has a lot to live up to.

Right now, I only have one month left! Thinking back, I am so grateful to everyone that has helped make this year possible for me. It’s crazy to think that in 31 days I will be back in Florida. A lot of my exchange friends never want to leave. I feel pretty conflicted about the matter. Part of me doesn't wanna go either. I live in a beautiful city, that’s in a stunning country, with a wonderful family, and great friends. I’ve worked so hard to create the relationships I have now, to speak the language, and to become an Austrian. Now you’re telling me I have to go home? Just when the weather is getting nice again? Of course there is the other part of me that is so excited to go home again. I miss chipotle, my dog, and bike rides on the beach. And more than that, I miss my twin sister! The hardest thing about this entire year has been being away from her. She’s my best friend and constant companion. All that being said, I only have one month left, and it’s gonna be one heck of a month. Every weekend I have something to look forward to. I know it’s gonna fly by so fast, and that my sister will be waiting in the airport for me, so I need to celebrate every moment I have left.

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