And no, I did not forget the “e” in hello and misspelled it. That’s how you say it in German!
I’m dedicating this post to share my experience of studying abroad for the very first time. As of Saturday, May 11th, I’ve been in Vienna, Austria!
To make this even more of an adventure, this is the first time I’ve left the U.S., AND the first time I’ve been on a plane. Yes, I chose a 10-hour flight abroad for my very first plane ride.
Why Vienna, you ask? Excellent question! I’d like to answer by saying why not?
It’s known to be a very beautiful place, which I can now confirm is 150% true. It’s also a host for many of the world’s international organizations and a diplomatic capital. For someone aspiring to have a career in diplomacy/international relations, visiting this place is essential.
Alright, where to start, where to start?
Well, how about with the airport? As I explained above, this was my very first flight…….and I had no idea what to do at the airport during check-in. Five employees had to help me.
I should probably be embarrassed to admit this, but I’m not. They helped me get through check-in, so I’m content.
Following that, I got to meet the other people going on the trip with me. I didn’t know anyone prior to departure; however, in a week’s time, we’ve all become really good friends. There’s 22 of us in all, 4 of which are guys (including me). Apparently, guys don’t study abroad that much.
Fast-forward a bit to the plane. Yeah, first plane ride ever. We’re going from Chicago to D.C. and D.C. to Vienna. The Chicago to D.C. flight is only supposed to be an hour tops.
I get on the plane. Fasten my seat belt. Annnnnnnd………BOW.
All of that hype for nothin’. “Chew gum.” They said. “Your ears are going to fall off.” They said. “Where ear plugs.” They said.
Shush it up.
It was all a bluff. To everyone that got my hopes up, sit down.
Plus, I had a U of I alum sitting next to me (What a coincidence!). He was extremely kind, and even taught me some Arabic!
Landed safely in D.C. after a 45min flight and only had an hour layover. While there, the woman over the intercom was speaking in German to announce the time for the flight to Vienna. This is when it finally hit me that I was, indeed, leaving dear America. After the hour wait, we boarded the plane and took off for Vienna. The 10 hour flight actually wasn’t that bad. Got some meals, free drinks, watched some movies, slept, all of that good stuff.
Then, the moment I’ve been waiting for had arrived.
I’m not going to go into every single detail of what happened, because that’d get boring. But I’ll highlight some of the good stuff.
First-off, I’m living in a dorm here. We all also have a roommate. Now, when we arrived as a group, everyone went up to their rooms and unpacked/freshened up/napped, and we met up later to have dinner. Everyone also returned with stories about how they met their roommates and they’re cool.
However, when I went up to my room, my roommate was not there. I returned later, and he still wasn’t there. I became a bit worried. “Everyone has great roommates and I don’t know who mine is.”
Later on that night, we were traveling around as a group and got lost. Suddenly, an Asian guy with what we perceived as a British accent, appeared and escorted us back to the dorm. He was incredibly charming towards the women in the group and very helpful. As we were walking up to the dorm, he introduced himself to me. I then asked:
“Do you live here, too?”
“Yeah! Room blah, blah, blah!”
“Oh, nice…..WAIT you’re my roommate!”
And everything’s history from there.
Feels like we’ve been friends for a while now. It was a crazy instant bond. His name is Alex, from Hong Kong, moved to New Zealand and now Austria!
This guy is great.
Next up, culture shock.
EVERYTHING is in German. Everyone speaks German. I CAN’T READ ANYTHING. I don’t know what food to buy. I CAN’T READ. I can’t talk. Well, I can talk. I CAN’T READ. O Lawd Jezuz I can’t read. 😦
I’ve never felt so vulnerable in my life. Being the extrovert that I am, not being able to read and properly communicate with those around me is devastating. Most Austrians have a basic understanding of English, but it’s still a bit difficult to articulate many things.
Though, one thing that is universal is a smile.
A smile is the universal sign of kindess and sincerity that can be shared amongst anyone, no matter your nationality, religion, economic class, etc.
Language is one of the tools that help to connect different cultures, but it surely isn’t the only thing.
That is what has been assisting in navigating through this foreign land.
I’ve picked up some German words while here, though. It’s pretty nice to be able to walk into a store and order something in their native tongue.
Oddly enough, I do enjoy this disarming feeling. It’s great to just experience the world without trivial distractions.
Next, Europeans are fashionable.
Everyone always looks fashionable here. Every. Single. Day. Men, women, elders, children; literally, everyone. They look good here, and they know it. I haven’t seen any sweats, basketball shorts or gym shoes. I thought it was a crime for me to walk to class wearing basketball shorts the other day. The looks I received basically implied it was.
Austria is beautiful, absolutely beautiful. The historic architecture, the cobblestone roads, the fashionable people, the street performers, the fancy dining, the palaces, the statues, the fountains, the old cathedrals; they’re all beautiful. I find myself in awe every second I step foot outside the dorm. Today, I took a tour of Schönbrunn Palace. I honestly can’t describe it here, I wouldn’t do any justice to it’s magnificence. You’d have to see it for yourself, sorry.
As I walk down the streets of Vienna, the song Viva la Vida by Coldplay constantly plays in my head. Yes, I know the song has nothing to do with Austria, but it fits perfectly with the setting of the city.
Vienna, Austria is home to numerous intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) including a United Nations HQ, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and many more. I was able to visit the UN and all of these other significant organizations, get briefed on current world affairs, met diplomats, all of that good stuff. Needless to say, this was an exciting experience for me. Me. At the UN HQ. What. Goodness, it was breathtaking.
Everyday here honestly feels like an adventure, and I’m loving each moment. I have three weeks left and I’m going to make the most of them.
(Wearing the colors of the Austrian Flag WOO!)
By the way, “Wien” means “Vienna” in German. And schnitzel is a traditional dish here in Vienna. I’ll probably have other posts detailing my experiences here.
Until next time,
Do you guys have a friend you can always depend on? Someone who’s been there for the good times and the bad? To laugh with and get angry at? To stick up for each other even when you know they’re wrong? Someone who’s a brother/sister in every aspect of the word sans blood relation?
I do. His name’s Ryan. Saying that we’re best friends/brothers would be a gross understatement of our friendship.
Somehow, we’re the greatest of friends, but we’re very different people, which oddly compliments each other.
I’m orderly, disciplined, responsible and composed.
Ryan is carefree, spontaneous, spirited and humorous.
I’m really into politics, he’s really into theology.
We balance each other out and make a pretty damn good team.
Have you ever seen the tv show Psych? The show centers around a guy named Shawn who pretends to be a psychic and ends up becoming a detective. He always drags his best friend Gus along with him and they solve crimes. Shawn is the goofy, spontaneous and careless one while Gus is the poised, composed and responsible one. It’s often Gus who looks after his friend, but he sometimes find himself being saved by Shawn.
Their relationship is described as “unbreakable. It’s one of those friendships that makes people who don’t have one ask, ‘Why does Gus put up with Shawn?’ But it’s not about putting up with one another. It’s about knowing each other so well that things that might annoy someone from the outside don’t annoy you anymore.”
Check out this 27 second video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIV19OOve8E
Like Shawn and Gus, we also end up getting involved in some pretty crazy adventures as well. I mean crazy in both the good and bad way. It used to be Ryan dragging me around on these adventures, but overtime, I’ve come to willingly agree to go. I don’t know why.
I’m going to make a series of posts about all of the weird and crazy situations we often find ourselves in. I won’t do them in succession; they’ll be spread out. Each one will have the title, “The Adventures of Ryan and Larry part whatever”.
Also, it should be noted that each adventure we embark on gets increasingly dangerous. This isn’t on purpose, though. We think we’re going to do something perfectly normal and safe, like volunteer at a children’s museum, and then crap hits the fan. But in the end, we end up meeting absolutely amazing people while having a great experience. You’ll see what I mean as you begin to follow our stories. Enjoy!
The first one I’m going to tell you about occurred last year as we were Freshmen at UIUC. Ryan and I were just becoming friends and still getting to know each other (This is still during the phase when he’d drag me places). I ended up crashing on Ryan’s couch in his room and was woken up at 7:00 a.m. sharp by Ryan.
“Larry, we’re gonna go volunteer.”
“Ryan. It’s 7:00 in the morning.”
So, I oblige and eventually get up and we head out……….in the pouring rain. I HATE the rain. Conveniently, Ryan loves it.
We arrive at this place:
Cool looking place, huh? It has an archaic and welcoming feel to it. Except, take away all of the the happiness and sunshine in this picture and imagine it on a dreary and depressing rainy day and voila!
Ryan and I enter the building from the back door soaking wet. We make our way through what appeared to be an office area leading into the central room of the building. There, we found another woman of average height wearing a gray Illinois hoodie with her black hair slicked back into a pony tail. She introduces herself as the project lead for today’s volunteer program. Ryan and I introduce ourselves as volunteers.
“I don’t see you guys on the list, but I’m so glad you came! This is supposed to be a 15 person job and 15 people DID sign up, but we’re the only one’s here.”
Ryan and I shot each other a quick glance and tried to stifle a laugh.
“Who runs this place?” Ryan asked.
“Some lady named Ruth. She’s around here somewhere.”
By this time I was sitting down on a couch.
Soon enough, a short, slightly overweight elderly woman entered the room. She gave warm smiles to everyone…..except me, sitting on the couch. To be fair, I didn’t look too thrilled to be there.
“My name is Ruth and I’ll be delegating your tasks today!” She walked over to the window and peered out of it. “Alright, I need someone to go outside and chop the weeds.”
“Not I.” I said to myself. The other girl didn’t look eager to do it either. Ryan reluctantly took on the task and headed outside.
Ruth then walked over to the project lead, “Would you mind lightly dusting around the place, dear?”
“Sure!” And just like that she was off along with Ryan. That only left me.
Ruth retreated to the basement of the building while I stood up and awaited her arrival. She returned holding a broom and a cold stare.
“You may start by sweeping the floor,” she ordered.
When she walked away I looked around to make sure I was the only one who heard her sudden change of tone and posture. I looked out the window to see Ryan happily chopping weeds while getting drenched by the ocean falling out of the sky and our project lead prancing around while dusting. Then there was me. Sweeping.
We all finished up our respective tasks and returned to the main room. Ruth walked in and greeted us all again, this time with doughnuts. “Good job! Now, for the next part, you’ll need newspaper.” We looked behind us to see a box of newspaper and a bottle of windex. Also, two other women (who presumably work for the building) joined us. Well, they weren’t doing anything. They just joined us.
Ruth led us into the giant sanctuary where there are these beautiful, colorful stained-glass windows. Ruth approached the window with a handful of newspaper. She sprayed windex on the glorious windows and began wiping, completely smearing the glass. I’m quite sure you don’t clean this type of glass with windex and NEWSPAPER.
“And that’s how you do it!” Ruth said to us.
“I don’t think we should do this. Newspaper shouldn’t be used to clean windows like this.” I said with a friendly smile.
Ruth wasn’t having it. “It will today.” With that she was off.
So, the project lead and I proceeded to “clean” the windows.
Both of us return to the main room again only to be greeted by a larger older man named John.
“THESE are our volunteers! Excellent! Just in time to install the air conditioner!” He bellowed.
John took us into yet another room where there was literally a pile of old air conditioners. Old, JUMBO airconditioners.
The project lead and I picked up one of them (John chose the biggest one, of course) and we carried it over to the main room. “It needs to be reassembled.” John said.
One of the ladies who joined us that I mentioned earlier finally spoke up. “What’s your majors? We need an engineer!” She said.
“I’m business accounting.” The project lead said.
“I study political science.”
“Darn, no engineers. Y’know, you guys pay a heck of a lot of money to go here to be getting those kinds of degrees. I’ll let you slide with business, but you don’t have an excuse, Mr. political science major.”
Lawd Jezuz help me.
So we’re struggling to assemble this ancient mechanism while they just watch. We finish probably an hour later and I realize I haven’t seen Ryan in awhile. We go looking for him.
“Oh, you’re looking for the other guy? He’s outside.” Ruth says.
We head outside to find Ryan and behold, in the pouring rain, we find him like this:
Yes, he was on a ladder, in the pouring rain, cleaning a gutter. This is perfectly safe.
Ryan looks down at us with a look of resentment. I laugh, the project lead does too.
When Ryan finished up and we thought we’d be done, Ruth comes out holding a rake and some shovels.
“There’s some ditches in the back of the place that leads down to the windows in the basement. There’s large moss and leaves and stuff blocking the windows. Can you cut them?”
“This is a shovel.”
“Yes.” She says.
Shovel = cut? No I didn’t take it any further.
We walked over to the back to see these ditches and this is what we find: Very steep rocks covered in slippery wet water with moss and leaves everywhere. It looked like we’d fall to our doom.
Fast-forwarding past all of that, our work day came to an end. Ruth comes outside to see our work and sincerely thanks us for everything.
“You all must be hungry! I’ll order a pizza. What kind of toppings?”
“Pepperoni!” Ryan suggested.
“Sausage!” I yelled out.
“It’ll be a veggie pizza,” Ruth announced.
What did we get from this experience? Well, we found a great friend within the project lead, got to do some volunteer work and had a good laugh about everything that happened afterwards.
Looking back on it, it’s a pretty hilarious story and makes for good memories! Oh, and I think this could teach a lesson on how your attitude determines the experience you have. As you read, I didn’t enter this situation with the best attitude and things weren’t going too smoothly at first. Had I had a better attitude throughout, perhaps it would’ve stopped raining or something.
Until next time,