Tuesday, September 2, 2014

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye....

I’m sitting in a café in Vienna trying to navigate the complicated and jargon-filled affordable health care website. I’m browsing through plans thinking to myself: how can health care be this expensive? Even after the changes? I shared my thoughts with a friend here, and she told me to look at the mobile phone plans in the US, and then I might want to start unpacking.


You may be wondering why I am browsing plans in the US and talking about packing. Well, I’m unfortunately not planning an English lesson comparing American and Austrian health care and phone plans. Rather, I’m actually doing some thoughtful browsing in advance—for myself.

That’s right folks. Amber in Austria is coming to an end. You may have noticed an extremely long hiatus here on the blog. Well, not much happened during that time, except months of an inner argument and conflict regarding whether to continue with my studies at the University of Vienna and study a degree semesters long that in reality simply isn’t worth the time and money, or face the inevitable and return to the United States to complete a degree that will actual allow me to prosper in my career. As you can see, I chose the latter.

In order to make the most of my last months in Europe, I traveled the heck out of this continent the last months. I’ve been lucky to see so much thus far, but there were a few places I still needed to cross off my list (and more cities still remain on my list). I traveled to Rome, back to Berlin (love), Nuremberg, and I spent three weeks this summer enjoying the beach waves and sun in Ibiza while moderately working, and two and a half weeks backpacking around central and northern Spain. Now it’s time to stay settled in Vienna for a few weeks and slowly say goodbye to my friends, my clients, my favorite places in the city—everything that has meant so much to me over the past five years.

I have accepted my future plans and am actually starting to get secretly really excited. I thought I’d be one of those who trots off to Europe, falls in love with a European man (well, there were lots of European men who stole pieces of my heart), and stay here forever and live this charming expat European life. Going back to the States was the farthest thing from my mind. But alas, it’s time folks. Time to say Auf Wiedersehen to Austria, a place I actually never wanted to move to that much in the first place. That is not to say that I am VERY happy with the road my life has taken and how I somehow came here planning to stay for ten months and managed to squeeze in an extra four years on top of that. I met wonderful people, learned a funky new dialect (although the Wiener will still claim that I sound like a German), learned to navigate the ins and outs of a new country and in a foreign language, discovered some of my favorite places on Earth, and enjoyed the close proximity to the rest of Europe to travel to places I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. I’ve been very lucky to have had this experience.

Now it’s time to start a new chapter where my focus will slightly be shifting towards my career, rather than making a European lifestyle work on peanuts and pennies. That means doing things like shopping for health care*, phone plans, car insurance—all those things that I’ve avoided the last five plus years living here. Let me tell you, looking at those prices, I’m NOT looking forward to entering back into a capitalist society where money drives the world at the price for the health and well-being of the population. I sure can say that in advance. Sorry to any republicans who may read this; you can blame it on those “communist Europeans” who have corrupted yet another American.

I’m sure I’ll be confronted with lots of shocking moments where things that seemed normal six years ago simply seem foreign, out of this world, and down-right obnoxious to me. They call that reverse culture shock. I seem to have a mild form of it every time I go home for a visit. Thankfully my visits are never long enough for me to experience that in full, but this time will be different. I’m not visiting; I’ll be living there again, and I’ll need a serious stint of readjustment time.

So while this blog has kept me afloat the last five years and has given my friends and the occasional stranger a small glimpse into my life as a “temporary expat” abroad, a new project may be underway. You’ll just have to check back in about a month or two and see if that nasty reverse culture shock will require me to find a creative outlet for my frustrations.

And until then, I will sign off with a final tchüss, baba! 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Holy Land

When I found out that my really good friend Jesse was going to be studying abroad for four months in Tel Aviv, Israel, I immediately started looking for flights. Israel wasn't necessarily super high on my list of places to travel (but it was most definitely on the list), but I'm the kind of traveler who often selects destination based on convenience and price. Therefore, most of my travels over the last few years were destinations where friends of mine were living short-term or long-term. 

I didn't know much about Israel, except what I had heard on the news concerning the ongoing conflict between Israel and its neighboring states. You can imagine then my family's response when I told them I was planning a trip to Israel. Nevertheless, I was BLOWN AWAY by the smorgasbord country. Its beauty, charm, history, culture, friendly and open people, and above all, the normalcy of life there. 

After leaving a frigid Vienna, the first thing I wanted to do was naturally go to the beach. SUNSHINE AND WAVES in December. YES.

We strolled along the beach until we reached Jaffa, the old port of Tel Aviv that is about 4,000 years old. 

Perched on a hill, Jaffa had some amazing views of the Mediterranean. 

And wonderfully winding alleys 

No trip to Israel would be complete without a visit to Jerusalem and the old city. It baffles me that three major world religions call Jerusalem their holiest of holy places. They live together side by side, practicing their very different traditions and cultures.  Pictured above is the Wailing Wall, which is the holiest of places for the Jewish faith.

It was easy to get lost in the old city. We probably left and re-entered the four quarters several times without evening know it. Here we stumbled upon the entrance to the Jewish quarter.

We were lucky enough to experience Jerusalem during Hanukkah. Here some members of the Israeli Defense Forces got together to eat donuts and sing songs in the city center. 

Donuts were everywhere. People seemed to be buying them by the box. 

We also spotted plenty of menorahs in front of peoples homes. Some where basic, others were elaborate. 

Up here I got the best view of Jerusalem. Behind me is the Wailing Wall, and above it the Dome of the Rock, the third most holy site for the Islam faith. 

There were markets everywhere in Jerusalem-- and hard to avoid. 

I decided to walk the Via Dolorosa for myself, as well as in honor of my family members who are Catholic and can't make the journey themselves to Jerusalem. The Via Dolorosa shows the sights of Jesus's last moments before he was crucified. 

And after a lot of sightseeing and experiencing many different things, I had to treat myself to a giant bowl of humus. Alright, if I'm honest I treated myself to humus and falafel every day. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Avoiding Cold Feet

I just realized that the first thing I do when I enter my apartment is go put on my Hausschuhe (slippers). I used to find it really strange that everyone constantly wore slippers around the house and even offered slippers to their guests. Students in schools are required to wear them. I was even asked to bring a pair during my orientation week in an Austrian youth hostel four years ago. (I, of course, did not bring any, and I think maybe just a few out of the hundred TAs actually brought them.)

But today I just became aware of my post-arrival tradition of locating where my Hausschuhe are. The other day I even asked my friend if he had some extra Hausschuhe laying around.

I'm slowly forgetting what it's like to have warm carpet everywhere. I guess my feet have just become too cold in the winter on these hardwood floors and need the warmth and comfort of a nice five euro pair of slippers.

That being said, I should mention that my Hausschuhe are super fluffy and soft while the standard pair of Hausschuhe here are Birkenstock-like sandals. That's right; Austrians wear Birkenstocks as slippers, not as summer sandals as I have seen on many occasions in the United States. 

I admit to the fact of being a Hausschuhe fan, but I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to spend fifty euros on a pair of indoor sandals. I also will never bring mine with me.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Studying in Austria versus America Part 2: Libraries

A step-by-step guide to using a Viennese university library:

  1. Figure out which library you need. While there is a central Hauptbibliothek at the Uni, most of the resources you will need will be located in each department's own library. Use the online catalog to figure out where the book is located and set off to find it. This may require checking out several libraries, which aren't always located within the same building, so be prepared to use that metro pass or your legs.
  2. Go to the front desk at the library and get yourself a key for the Garderobe because every library has a Garderobepflicht (meaning it's required to lock up your possessions). What's that you may ask? Well, a Garderobe is like a coat check, or in this case, it's a locker room. A locker room? Is this a gym or a library?
  3. Lock up your possessions: coat, umbrella, backpack-- anything that could potentially cause damage to the library facilities and/or allow you to sneak your favorite copy of that super old historic book out of the library.
  4. If you're going to study, make sure you take all necessary materials with you before you lock up the rest. It's a pain to realize you had left your highlighter/pen/notebook in your locker after having reached the Lesesaal (reading room). Don't forget your cell phone so you can take necessary study SMS/Whatsapp/Facebook breaks. Your high-quality paper student ID should also be brought with, in case you do decide to check out any books. And most importantly, take that key with you! If you're smart, you made sure you wear something with lots of pockets to shove everything in. 
  5. With everything in hand (or pockets), head to a Lesesaal for studying. Good luck staying focused in one of the old, open reading rooms if you come from a younger country like the US, as it seems like you could be studying in a closed-off section of a museum or archive.
  6. Now, let's say you're at the library to check out a book. Did you check to see if you can actually access that book yourself? Is it older than 100 years old? Chances are, you can't check it out. Is it listed in the Magazin? Then you can't actually go and get that book yourself; you have to request it online and pick it up. Does your book not meet those requirements? Good! Go and pick out the book yourself. 
  7. Alright, got the book you want? Take your ID to the desk and check it out. Don't think about smuggling it out (as if you could, because your pockets are stuffed and your bag and coat are locked up), because in addition to the Garderobepflicht, there are of course metal detectors.
  8. Once you've finished using the library for whatever reason, grab your key and head back to the locker room, I mean Garderobe. Gather your belongings and make sure to deposit your key in the drop-box on your way out the door.
Happy reading!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Halloween 2013 in Vienna: Helping lost people find their way-- Google Maps. The streets aren't accurate representations, just well-known Viennese streets. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Knock Knock: Studying in Austria vs. America Part 1

I've begun noticing some things that are different about studying in Austria and studying in America. 
  • Austrian lecture halls are REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE. At first glance, they look pretty similar to American lecture halls (at least at the University of Minnesota), with the stadium-style seating and the professor podium and desk at the bottom. But take away those plush individual movie-theater like seats that one is accustomed to in America and add long rows of wooden tables and wooden benches and suddenly one has the need to start kneeling and praying as if at a Catholic mass. In overcrowded lectures students squeeze together like sardines in a can and personal space disappears as students basically sit on the lap of their neighbor. It's also impossible to cross one's legs, because there is a giant metal bar under the long wooden desk/table preventing legs from being lifted an inch off the ground. Falling asleep is not an option for obvious uncomfortable conditions. At the University of Minnesota, on the other hand, everyone has their own soft comfortable seat with a personalized desk that can be folded down to allow leg crossing, sleeping, etc etc. Guess that's where a portion of my thousands of dollars' worth of tuition went back in the day.

  • I write in block letters. Is that an American thing? If I remember correctly, when I edited my peers' written work in high school and at the University of Minnesota, they also wrote in clear block letters. Austrians write in this swirly looking chicken-scratch that makes it impossible to peer over my neighbor's shoulder and try to write down what they had written when I didn't understand the professor. It makes me super self-conscious about my very legible handwriting all over my page. It screams "LOOK AT ME; I"M NOT FROM HERE!!!!" 

  • Professors receive recognition at the end of every class as the students knock on the tables; it's like the Austrian/German (European?) way of clapping. But, it takes place at the end of every class. Not just the first class, not just when there was a guest speaker, but at the end of every class.

  • Students don't really go to lectures-- or at least I have the feeling that they don't. I know several people who are signed up for classes that they never go to for multiple reasons ranging from scheduling conflicts to plain laziness. No one pays tuition (except us fine Ausländer) so there's not much of a reason to justify sitting in the aforementioned uncomfortable lecture hall when classes are free. In America, when we skipped a class, it was like throwing $300 out the window. I kind of still have that mentality, even though now I'd only be throwing maybe five euros out the window if I didn't go to class.

I'll post more differences as I encounter them along the way. Now it's time to read for my Germanistische Sprachwissenschaft (German linguistics) course. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Uni Update

I'm into my second full week of classes at Uni Wien.

It's kind of intense; not only transitioning from working for the last four years to studying full time again, but also the fact that all of my classes are in German and about scientific topics makes my head want to explode by the end of the day.

I've got seven classes. That's right: SEVEN courses. In Europe they use the ECTS credit system, which has about twice as much worth as an American credit. That means I'm taking the equivalent to a full load in America, but my classes only meet once a week rather than a few times a week like in the States. 

Classes here require a lot of self study, which is stressing me out a bit right now. Other than the material covered during my five lectures, there is nothing keeping me on track throughout the semester other than one fat giant exam at the end. Or in my case, five separate exams.

I'm taking two seminars in addition to my five lectures, and those are smaller classes that I have more assignments and presentations to complete throughout the semester. In fact, my first presentation is this Friday on the topic Lernprozess und Interaktion (learning process and interaction).

These are the classes I am taking:
  • Phonetik im Unterricht (phonetics in classroom instruction)
  • Sprachenpolitische Grundfragen (fundamental questions concerning the topic language politics)
  • Germanistische Sprachwissenschaft (German linguistics)
  • Einführung in die Beobachtung und Analyse von DaF/Z Unterricht (introduction to the observation and analysis in foreign language instruction)
  • Linguistische und didaktische Grammatik (learning how to use grammar in the classroom)
  • Einführung in Deutsch als Fremd- und Zweitsprache (introduction to German as a foreign and second language)
  • Interkulturelles Lernen und interkulturelle Kommunikation (intercultural learning and communication)
And that, is my insanely full semester.