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May 1-2, 2018 -- Arrival
Leaving for Vienna was exhilarating and scary all at once. I knew I needed to sleep on the plane but was really confused with all the different stimuli going on as to how long the first plane ride would take and when I should start sleeping to help prevent jet lag. I had 2 meals on the plane and watched “The Greatest Showman” to pass the time. The rest of the roughly 9 hours of the flight I tried to sleep or looked out the window and watched the clouds go by.
My group had a layover in Amsterdam. The first flight arrived 45 minutes ahead of schedule and we had a long wait in between plane rides anyway so it was pretty frustrating. Most of the group explored the shops, had a small lunch, and/or took a nap (I did all 3). Once we finally boarded, I was so exhausted that I didn’t even hear the captain go over the intercom and say there were some “technical difficulties” on the plane that would have to be looked at by a specialist. After the delay, I don’t really remember the takeoff because I was so drowsy. I woke up a couple times when there was turbulence or I was offered a complimentary snack, but overall the second flight was much shorter and I slept almost the entire way.
Once in Vienna, there was a lot more of the “hurry up and wait” politics that the group had been facing for the past several hours. We got our luggage surprisingly quickly and nothing seemed too damaged, which was awesome. I tried to notice things that were different in Austria than America. The first things that stood out to me, besides the different languages and signs all over, was that the restrooms were labeled in the directory as “toilets” and the toilets themselves were shaped differently. Additionally, the McDonald’s logo was yellow arches with a green background instead of red. After a ride in a tram and a subway, we finally made it to the hotel we would be staying at for the next 3 weeks and set our stuff down, tired but excited to see what Vienna would bring us!
May 11, 2018 -- Midway
A couple days ago we had a free day. This meant that we could go anywhere our hearts (and wallets) would take us, as long as we spent the night back in the hotel. A group of us decided to go to Gmunden, Austria. For comparison, when I looked up what the weather would be in the town, I was directed to the nearest city on the website because the town was too small to have its own report. It was a moment of spontaneity really, why we choose such a small town, but it was one of the best decisions of my life.
Gmunden is sitting by a mountain range. It also holds a castle on a man-made island in the lake. On a whim of curiosity, our group took a tram/funicular machine up the mountain, where we had lunch, looking at the lake below and the mountains that interrupted the horizon and skyline. Upon looking at a map of nearby trails, we discovered a popular trail with very easy access that led to another lake wedged between two of the larger mountains in the mountain range. We hiked the hour up and found ourselves beside ourselves in wonder of the beauty before us. The stillness of the water, with innocent tadpoles swimming along the water’s edge, contrasting with the huge, unforgiving, snow covered mountains was a sight to behold. We stayed as long as we dared before descending. Time was running short before our train would leave and we had a 3-hour descent down the mountain (we decided not to take the machine so we could appreciate the mountains as long as possible). It was difficult, but well worth it. The mountain was unforgiving as we planted each foot deliberately, with some drops steeper than a foot down. According to some of our phone’s and watches, the mountain hike alone was 10 miles of walking! We still needed to have dinner and visit the castle.
Gmunden was a beautiful and life-changing experience for all of those who went. The ability to just go to this place, because of the options provided by the program, and also the transportation systems in Austria made for an easy, comprehensible journey. I will never forget Gmunden, nor the calmness and realness of the water and the mountain. Solid rock and liquid water. Together and also separate. I would like to think that I could go back there someday. That the trails will still be waiting for me, and the nature will be just as pure as when I left. I am so glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone and into Gmunden… my life will never be the same.
May 30, 2018 -- Return
I’ve been back in the United States for a week now. Adjusting was both easier and harder than I imagined. I did not expect the jet lag to make me exhausted by 8pm. As someone who is appalled at the idea of going to sleep before midnight, the thought that I happily start my nightly routine at 11pm is hilarious. I miss the architecture of Europe, but I am grateful for the greasy pizza and abundant delivery options of Ann Arbor. Because of the inconsistent schedule in Vienna, with some museums and concerts being in the morning and others late at night, I feel like I haven’t been able to have a concrete schedule and catch up on the sleep I lost during winter semester finals yet. That being said, I wouldn’t change any of it.
Looking back, I am so glad I traveled abroad. I have traveled a little around the country but there is something totally mind-blowing about walking into a museum where almost nothing is in English. The ethnocentricity of American culture is not tolerated in Austria. Another aspect of Europe that I found very interesting and different than here was that they reminisce and looked back in nostalgia at their past kings, queens, and emperors. In America, we value our freedom so much, but there, people looked fondly on their fallen monarchies. I couldn’t help but wonder why and ask myself how these people could possible cherish a family that ruled over them for so many centuries. The differences in American culture and Austrias couldn’t be more apparent, they also couldn’t be more fascinating.
I think that the one aspect of studying abroad that really affected me the most was the freedom we had. I could choose most of my meals, whether that was eating in or out, that was my call. In between lecture and concerts, we could do whatever we wanted-- mainly get lost in the city and explore. I learned a lot about myself here. Walking around and people watching, pretending to be a local or the most tourist-y of tourists-- everything was my call. I will never forget my time in Austria, the food, the culture, the music, and all the memories I made with new friends was a wonderful experience that I will cherish forever.