Wednesday, December 29, 2010

So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye....

Last final hours in Minnesota, USA before I board a flight back to Austria. This will mark the beginning of the longest stretch, in which I will be living abroad. In the last 18 months I've managed to come back to the US three times, but as of now, I have no plans to return any sooner than September-- that is, if I even come home.

My plans to stay in Austria are as of now indefinite. I have no plans on returning in the next year, unless something should happen, or the unfortunate circumstance in which I cannot find another job to keep me overseas.

So goodbye for now America. See you when I see you.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

American Observations

It's not surprising that not much has changed in Minnesota in the matter of three months, except for the obvious record-breaking snow totals. Shakopee got a dumping of snow of colossal proportions. From the infamous snow storm of December 2010 two weeks ago, Shakopee received 22 inches of snow in one fall, according to local sources (aka my friends). Add to that another 5 or 6 inches on Christmas, in addition to the snow leading up to the big blizzard, and we seriously have a good 2-3 feet of snow on the ground. The snow banks are so tall, that it's impossible to see around corners when driving, and there is no shoulder on the highway, because it's full of snow. I'm just glad I'll be gone when it all starts to melt.

In case you, like my honest self, aren't so keen on keeping up with American politics while abroad (I admit it; I'm guilty!), then you should know that Minnesota now has a democratic governor; after a recount, Mark Dayton will officially be our new governor come 2011. Also homosexuals can officially serve openly in the military. That's new. Yay for tolerance!

Otherwise America, at least Minnesota, hasn't changed a whole lot. Oh! My cat Garth has spent nearly every day sitting on my lap-- he's gotten a lot tamer and sweeter since I was gone!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stateside has never felt so good

Back home, and after an incredibly chaotic journey. I have to keep looking on the bright side, as I could still be stranded in Europe, as many passengers are still stuck in Heathrow.

In any case, I was able to fly out Sunday morning via Austrian Airlines to Amsterdam. Of course our aircraft was delayed, so I missed my connection in Amsterdam, but was rebooked straight to Minneapolis, which was a pleasant surprise. I experienced fabulous customer service from Delta in Amsterdam, something that Vienna could really learn from. Again, customer service is NOT a German word.

Finally got to Minneapolis, and of course my luggage was missing. In fact, Delta had NO record of my bag, meaning it was never scanned, and they had no idea where it was. Apparently it ended up hanging out in Amsterdam for more than 24 hours, and I was able to get it last night.

The chaos is over, and I am thankful to be back. I was greeted by giant piles of snow everywhere-- it's incredible. The snow banks are taller than I am.

The sun is shining, it's cold, and there's snow everywhere. I'm back home :)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Europe is a whiteout... I'm stuck in Vienna!

Got myself to the airport today to have the worse experience thus far with traveling. Tried to check, but was told to stand in a line to see the "status" of my flight. That turned into three hours of waiting, because there was only ONE person working for economy flights at the counter. Thankfully I got there early enough, as the line steadily kept going further back. Finally got up to the counter, of course after missing my flight, to be told I can't go home until Monday morning-- two days time.

Awesome. Absolutely no flights out of Europe to America for the next two days... everything booked solid, and there's mass chaos in Amsterdam, because a blizzard came and canceled 250 flights, as well as shutting down London Heathrow completely. So KLM refused to fly me to Amsterdam, even though the status of my flight from Amsterdam to Chicago this morning was still confirmed and scheduled. The flight to Amsterdam still took place, but they'd only allow people whose end destination was Amsterdam to fly. Even though my flight was still confirmed this morning... chances of it being canceled were high, but still... but all of that didn't matter, because by the time I got to the counter, I had missed it entirely.

This is why it was the worse experience ever: because there is NO customer service in Austria, and they simply were not prepared for this. They didn't know how to handle the angry customers, didn't know what to do with their staff, and it was mass chaos. Instead of sending more people to work at the rebooking desk, they had TWO people walk around and hand out drinks to people in line, or they had people walk around asking where they were flying. Meanwhile just one person worked at the economy desk trying to rebook us all, a feat which took 20 minutes on average per person.

After feeling completely drained and defeated, I went home only to discover that-GUESS WHAT- my flight from Amsterdam to Chicago indeed took place! So guess who could be in the air right now? ME! But guess who wouldn't let me on the plane in Vienna? KLM!

After spending two hours on the phone with the poor KLM customer service rep, his supervisor, and then with the "issues" department, I was able to get on a flight tomorrow morning. I complained my brains out, saying that it was unacceptable that I wasn't allowed on, that I missed my flight, and that they handled the situation totally wrong this morning. After 1.5 hours of fighting with no results, they handed me over to the "issues" department, and "magically" there was an option for me tomorrow. I was so exhausted and thankful that I didn't even ask for anything else, although I think I deserve something for making me miss my flight.

In conclusion, I'm tired and pissed off, but happy at the same time, but annoyed that I have to get up and do this all again tomorrow morning. Wish me luck that the storm passes and that I can fly home!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lost in [Sailing] Translation

I've got a side job right now: I'm translating an entire website about a sailing company from German to English. This is my first real freelance translation job, and it's a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. When I read something in German, I completely understand it within context. I don't need to think about it a different way, I just understand.

Now trying to translate EXTREMELY long German sentences saturated with metaphors and idioms into short and concise English sentences that makes sense does not always happen on the first try. What does happen is my brain translating it word for word, and I come up with a strange sentence that makes no sense. So then I have to go through it again. And again.

Not to mention sailing vocabulary is not exactly everyday vocabulary I use here in Austria, nor have I ever used in the past. In any case, I am learning a new set of vocabulary that I will probably never need again, unless I win the lottery and can afford to go on one of these pricey adventures. Or maybe they'll be so impressed with my [hopefully] awesome translating skills, that they'll have to invite me to Thailand to accompany them on one of their trips. Haaaa, fat chance.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sofia, Bulgaria

This past weekend I visited Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, with my friend Rob. I had found a cheap flight the week before, and so we decided to go for a long weekend Urlaub (vacation) to an off-the-beaten path location in Eastern Europe. I mean, Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria, a country in the EU, but it's not quite the most glorified tourist destination. Living already in a tourist destination in Western Europe, I wanted exactly that rugged-edge and real feeling of travel. I wanted to see how people actually live, and not just look at a bunch of churches and monuments (although we did do just that on our first day).

Sofia is slightly smaller than Vienna, at about 1.4 million inhabitants. It's situated next to the Vitosha mountain, and it's not too far from the Macedonian and Serbia. It's a former communist country and was recently admitted into the EU in 2007. There are examples of the communist influence all around the city, from monuments of Stalin to communist-style buildings. There definitely is this eerie communist cloud still hanging over the city in a way. On the other hand, there's architectural influences from Vienna and Western Europe, as well as a literal yellow-brick road that was donated by Austria, and the city is becoming more modern with new buildings going up all over the city. The contrast is so striking to see a brand new building 30 yards away from a completely desolate house. Or to see an extremely nice SUV and then 10 minutes later see a horse and cart pulling a bunch of crap.

Everything is quite inexpensive, and the exchange rate was in our favor. I didn't really watch out to make sure I didn't overspend, and the entire weekend was quite reasonable. The hostel was cheap and amazing, food was delicious and cheap, and I got a pair of adorable boots for only 15 euros. I'm sure if I would have really tried, I could have done the entire weekend on 50 euros, minus the flight there.

Some highlights of the weekend: eating an amazing traditional Bulgarian meal with people from all over the world who were staying at our hostel (I had traditional cold yogurt soup, a salad, an assortment of appetizers and wine for 12ish euros); the walking tour we did with our tour guide who had lived in Minnesota for three summers; the Dali exhibit at the National Museum of Foreign Arts; the Ale House, a brewery where the taps are at your table and you fill your own glass; the free breakfast at the hostel; going to the largest Billa (an Austrian grocery store) I've seen and getting free samples.

After the weekend I have developed a new interest in the Balkans and I plan on going back to Bulgaria, perhaps to a rural town, as well as heading further east to Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, and so on. Pics on Facebook.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Austrian Prom: Maturaball





I went to the prom last week-- Austrian style.

My friend Rob is a TA in the cutest little town in southern Austria called Fürstenfeld, and his school had a Maturaball two Saturdays ago that we went to. As any girl does right before a dance, I went shopping and found a great dress. (Actually I had really wanted to wear the dress I wore to a wedding last year, but inevitably most of my clothes are falling off of me at the moment.) I found the perfect dress, got some accessories, and left Vienna for the weekend.

The ball took place at something like a community center, and the whole town was invited: students, parents, teachers, and the community. So the dance wasn't just for students, rather anyone could come. The theme of the dance was "City Lights" and we were welcomed with a red carpet (I think they knew the Americans were coming). The graduating class chooses the theme and decorations, in addition to organizing the whole thing. I was a bit confused about the decorations; despite the theme being "city lights" there were masquerade masks all over, and giant posters of each student from the graduation class all over the walls.

To open the ball, several of the graduating students prepared a choreographed dance, in which the girls all wore long, white gowns, and the boys wore suits. It looked like 30 mini-weddings. The graduating class also performed a skit at midnight, as per tradition. After the dance performance, anyone could dance upstairs to a live band, who stuck hits from the 80's. Downstairs in the gymnasium there was a DJ and a dance floor, where most of the young folks hung out.

Another big difference between prom and the Maturaball is that at the Maturaball alcohol is served. So rather than just pretending that no one drinks at prom, the students can drink the night away in public... as well as the crazy drunk old men, too.

All in all, the Maturaball was a blast. Rob and I danced the night away and didn't leave the ball until about 3:30 in the morning.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Dankbar-- Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving to all back in the US. Although I am in a country in which no one officially celebrates Thanksgiving, albeit the expats and random group of Austrians interested in American culture, I feel as though it is necessary to take part in at least one part of this American tradition: reflecting on my blessings.

Over the past weeks I have done several Thanksgiving lessons in my classes. Depending on the age of the students, I've made them draw the standard hand-Turkey that elementary school children do in the US. On each finger/feather they must write one thing they are thankful for. Typical answers have been: Family, friends, home, PS3, Austria, Homeland (many of my students aren't native Austrians), pets, etc.

In class my answers have been usually humorous or random to get them thinking: family, friends, democracy, chocolate, coffee, clean water, etc etc. My answers also depended on the level of the students.

And so now I would like to seriously reflect on what I have been thankful for over the last year, five things for each finger on my imaginary hand-Turkey:

1. Austria:
I am thankful for having the opportunity to live and work in Austria for two years. In addition to my own language development and the endless amount of fun I have been having, living in a foreign country has taught me so much about patience, tolerance, respect for other cultures and traditions, and has taught me to appreciate things about my own country a bit more (which I definitely fall victim to-- I often complain and moan about America's weaknesses, but I often overlook the good things about my country). Also living in a new country has given me so much of my own personal growth!

2. My family and friends:
I know this is super cliche always said, but I can't deny that my family and friends have always been there for me, supporting me and encouraging me. I am thankful for my new friends I've made in Austria, and I'm thankful for my friends back home, with whom I can still connect despite being thousands of miles away (I am thankful for Skype!!!). Even though my parents were a bit shocked when I dropped out of the nursing program two years ago to pursue German, they supported my decision and now I think they can be proud of how far I've come!

3. My job:
Perhaps I should just give a shout-out right now to the American-Austrian Educational Commission (aka Austrian Fulbright) for creating an amazing program in which I have the chance to live and work with Austrians, while learning how to become a teacher. This has been the best job I've ever had, and I can say with certainty that I absolutely love to teach. I'm SO thankful for my schools this year. My colleagues are pretty much awesome, and my students work so hard. Also I'm so thankful that I had the chance to live and work in small-town Austria last year (Braunau) and now I live and work in the big city (Vienna). Thus I can understand both sides of Austrian life :)

4. Freedom and democracy:
Over the last year I have met a lot of people from other countries who grew up in unstable countries, often affected by wars, natural disasters, political instability, communism or dictatorships, oppression, and the like. Many people seek refugee and asylum here in Austria, and I don't think I ever really thought about those kinds of people back in my home country, even though there are so many of them there as well. I think about some of the things these people grew up with: seeing fighting all around them, not having basic living supplies, not having a chance for an education, etc. How truly blessed I have been to experience freedom and democracy, to be able to have a say and to be heard.

5. God:
I am so thankful for the blessings God has given me in my life. God brought me all the way to Austria for a reason, and I have Him to thank for everything that has happened thus far!

On a side note, to celebrate Thanksgiving today, a friend and I went to the Modern Art Museum of Vienna (totally crazy), and had a fabulous cupcake and coffee at the cutest cupcake store I've ever seen. And later I'll celebrate with Americans at a Christmas Market at Schonbrunn palace.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Second Year vs. The First Year

I've been here almost two months, and I can already say that my experience in Vienna has been and will be the total Gegenteil (opposite) of my time in Braunau. How I'm utilized in my schools, my free time activities, how much German I speak-- everything is completely different.

Probably the biggest difference from last year and this year is my time spent outside of school. In Braunau I had ample amount of time for myself. I learned to slow down, enjoy the fine things and life, and simply how to relax. This year I dove right in and BAM-- I nearly had a burnout. That said, I've taken a step back and have decided where I'll be investing my time. Long gone are the days where I came home from school and didn't mind the five hour unplanned stretch ahead of me. This year I seem to have every single second planned in advance. Every day I strategically plan when I'll go to the fitness center and eat my meals amid my student-like gapped schedule of school, tutoring, and other commitments (bible study, French, meeting friends, etc). So rather than coming home in the afternoon and asking myself the question "which book or TV program will keep me busy this evening?" I wonder "how much time will I have to run to the fitness center before my next planned activity".

That said, my crazy busy schedule has its benefits. I've met so many different people from around the world and have had some fascinating conversations. And keeping busy definitely keeps me from wasting time in such an awesome city. But sometimes I wonder... will this ever slow down?

For instance, I had nearly 10 days off from school at the end of October (gotta love the Austrian holidays). Upon returning the school the teachers all wanted to know how my holiday was. I wish I could have told them either it was relaxing or I had a fabulous trip somewhere in Austria or Europe. But sadly that would have been a lie. I neither traveled nor did I relax. I had visitors for eight days, worked three day camps (which are full days), and ended up getting sick. So I was more than excited when school resumed and I could have a piece of normalcy back.

The second huge difference this year is how my schools have been using me. In one school I use the same lesson for each class during the week. Or I do book work. Which requires little-to-no lesson planning... which stomps on my creativity. That said, it has only been a few weeks, and I am only at each school two weeks during the month. I hope with more time I'll be given more responsibility. On the other hand, it took me several months to build such a great relationship in my schools last year. Perhaps it will just take time.

The final difference I've noticed this year is how little German I speak. I know I'm in Austria to improve my German, but EVERYONE thinks I'm their personal English tutor here in Vienna. EVERYONE wants to speak English with me. The benefit of living in a small rural town last year was that hardly anyone spoke English to me outside of class. This year I speak maybe 45% of German outside of class, and that's on a good day. That needs to change. So that will be my next challenge!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Getting into the Viennese Groove

It's Wednesday and I'm finished with my first week of classes in my second school. It should be like this always, being done on Wednesdays (as I was told last week), but my school suddenly decided to surprise me with two morning lessons on Thursday and not tell me. Because of the miscommunication, I double-booked myself tomorrow. This month I'll be helping out with a language camp to promote their English programs in various schools across Austria. Thankfully I'm still able to help out tomorrow, as the school said it was fine if I didn't come in-- just this once.

After finally realizing yesterday that all I do here is gogogo,I took a day for myself and layed around after classes. The life I have begun to create here is so full and hectic, that I feel as though I will never have to leave Vienna if I don't want to. Last year in Braunau my life was about relaxation, learning to be comfortable with my solitude, and speaking lots of German. This year, on the other hand, it's been about networking, integrating myself into society, and constantly doing something/meeting someone, and unfortunately speaking way too much English. I suppose that's city life.

I started a beginning French class. I almost feel as though I have more of an advantage over the Austrians, since French is commonly found in the English language. And they all have major issues with pronunciation. But I still have a long way to go, and I question whether I should have taken Norwegian, a language more similar to English and German than French. Learning a foreign language from a foreign language is very interesting. I feel like I'm learning both German and French at the same time.

I've also become connected with a couple of different Christian groups here. I'm attending the Vienna Christian Center, an international congregation. Through the church I attend a life group. Also last night as I desperately sought internet at Starbucks as mine was down for a while, I ran into someone I knew from VCC and he invited me to a bible study going on right there. So I might actually do two studies this semester.

When I'm not teaching or learning French or God, I'm often at the fitness center nearby. I decided to join, although I hesitated or a while because of the year-long contract requirement. But it's still a great deal.

And when I'm not running all over the city or meeting people for coffee, I've been walking around and simply enjoying the city. There is a lot to explore!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

First Week

This week has been extremely busy. I've hardly been here in my apartment, but who would want to when a city as bustling as Vienna is waiting?!

To sum it up here has been my first (busy and expensive) week:
-two Ikea trips to buy things for my apartment
-lots of hangout time with second year TAs
-Schoenbrunn palace and labyrinth
-Lots of eating out: Naschmarkt Indian restaurant, Weltcafe (a studenty-organic-fair trade restaurant near the Uni), Fresco Burrito bar, an amazing Italian restaurant, a fast food Chinese place "Quick Lee"
-First meetings with my schools
-Hanging out with Austrians who will speak German with me :)
-Sturm (wine) festival in the outskirts of Vienna
-Walking around the city and getting lost a lot
-Church service at the international church

It's been busy busy busy. And expensive. Gotta watch the funds this year...

Vienna- First Impressions

My first official week in Vienna is coming to a close. And what a busy and expensive week it has been! I feel as though Vienna is the Austrian city that never sleeps. There is always something going on, there are people everywhere, and it is much more metropolitan than I had ever imagined.

I live in the 11th district, about a ten minute subway ride to the city center. The great thing is that I live so close to a subway station, so I can get anywhere within the main city limits within a half hour or so, depending on where I'm going. There is a busy street a block away with three grocery stores, several drug stores, coffee shops, restaurants, etc. It's a perfect location for me, as one school is a ten minute tram ride, and the other a 25 minute tram ride. I couldn't have asked for a better location. The apartment itself is decent. I've got everything that I need. It could use some decorating-TLC, but I've started to add some flair to the place. Pics to come.

What has been surprising is how metropolitan this city is. Although the Twin Cities is bigger population-wise, it seems as if there are more people who live here in Vienna. I suppose Vienna is smaller in square miles than the Twin Cities. It's been an adjustment to see people pretty much everywhere all the time. Another surprise is I can take the subway 20 minutes outside of the city center and it's still extremely metropolitan. I must add that I love the public transportation here. It is easy to navigate and you can go anywhere in the city with the trams, buses, subways, and above-ground trains. The only negative is that a month pass costs 50 euros...

Vienna is also a very cultured city. There are over 100 museums to visit, numerous palaces, a fabulous coffee culture, and many other things to do. I will never have a problem finding something to do this year. The city is also very international-- so many people from all over. I've met people from all over.

I've finally gotten over the initial shock of people everywhere and am enthusiastic about being here. Classes start tomorrow at my main school. I've got a pretty great schedule that guarantees two days off a week, Tuesdays and Friday. The second school is letting me create my own schedule, so I'll give myself Thursday and Friday off. Tuesday nights I'll be taking a French for beginners class, and Thursday nights I'll be attending a young adult cell group at the international church I'm going to. I might even join a fitness studio here in the neighborhood. It's going to be a great year!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

American Football in Germany

As noted in my previous post, I had the chance to attend the American Football League in Germany championship game. Make sense? They actually call it "American football" but the teams I watched were German teams.

The championship game was in Kirchdorf on what appeared to be a soccer field, but this field was quite advanced for Germany, as they actually had real goal-posts (many are attached on top of the soccer goals). Kirchdorf Wildcats played against Frankfurt Pirates. Each team is allowed to recruit real American football players, who for obvious reasons can contribute much to their teams. The Americans are provided with room and board, as well as a living stipend. However, only two Americans are allowed to be on the field per team, and are branded with a giant "A" on their helmets, so observers can see from the crowd. Because of the American players, we actually ran into four Americans in the crowd, three of whom knew some of the players.

The Kirchdorf Wildcats creamed the Frankfurt Pirates, at least I imagine they did, as they had a score of about 60-14 when we left shortly into the third quarter. The Germans could be proud of their American football league teams, but Becca and I had try real hard not to burst out laughing at the quality of the game; it was as if we were watching a high school JV team playing. Fumbles, missed passes, plays gone array-- it was simply astounding. Mind you, this was the championship game on a professional level. Needless to say, it was quite entertaining, and interesting to see the American sport culture influencing Germany. All of the football terms are kept in English: "guter First Down!!!" (good first down). We even had the treat of watching the Kirchdorf cheerleading squad perform. Instead of cheering during the game, they choreographed a number during halftime near the bathrooms (not on the field, of course).

American football may not be as wide-spread yet in Europe, but it is catching on. In Vienna they have a team called the "Vienna Vikings", and their colors are indeed purple and yellow, and their logo of the NFL Viking head. The NFL must sell the rights to overseas teams.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Back to the Basics

I am officially a resident of Vienna. I arrived late Tuesday night, and my friend Carina was kind enough to help me with my massive suitcases to my apartment. Wednesday I spent the entire day getting settled in. I registered in my district, which was a much quicker and simpler process than in Braunau, strangely enough. Emily and I attempted to pick up our residency permits, but the person in charge of handing them out was of course not in the office (Austria bureaucracy). We then ventured to Ikea, where I bought some new things for my apartment. And I ended the evening with dinner at Emily's. So to sum it up, Wednesday was a long day in which I hardly spent in time in my apartment.

Thursday I came to Braunau to initiate the new assistants, pick up the things I left over the summer, and visit friends. This year there are two assistants here: one from America, who is teaching at the schools where I taught and living in the same house, and an assistant from the UK who is in two other schools. I've had so much fun with them this weekend showing them-- I hope they have a great year.

It was kind of surreal to arrive back in Braunau. The three months back in the States seem like a week. It was really good to be back, but it was the right decision to go to Vienna.

Back in Braunau I caught up with Austrian friends, visited one of my old schools, went to the grand re-opening of Lokschuppen, attended the championship German American Football League game in Kirchdorf (more on that later), and went to a very special church service in which three people were baptised. It was so interesting to attend a baptism in Austrian. Not a whole lot was different, other than the language, and the length of the service.

These past few days in Braunau were a bit up and down, a strange concotion of emotions. On one hand it was so great to see people and reassume my Braunau lifestyle, which makes me a bit bummed that I won't be able to be here all year. But on the other hand, I just know it's my time to move on to the city. Thankfully Braunau isn't very far, and it appears as though it won't be super hard to get back and forth from the cities, as I easily scored a ride to Vienna tonight with some of the Braunau church-goers.

So see ya later Braunau and here I come Vienna!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Austria Part Two

It has begun-- Austria part two. I've just arrived in Munich and am hanging out at the main train station at Starbucks for another hour until my scheduled train for Vienna. It feels like nothing is different, since I'm hanging out at Starbucks around a bunch of Americans accessing free Wi-fi, which is hard to come by over here.

The flights went well. I flew to Chicago and met up with Emily, another TA, who was on a different flight sequence. But we drank shitty American beer and caught up. My flight from Chicago to Munich went very quickly, a surprise. But unfortunately I didn't sleep more than two hours on the plane.

Hopefully I'll catch some Z's on the train to Vienna. Just a few more hours and I'll be "home". See you then!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Where was I?

After a three-month hiatus, I am nearly ready to resume my blog. Tomorrow evening I fly back to Europe and will be moving the big city of Vienna. I've been spending the last three months in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, USA. Against my own wishes, I had to move back home with my parents in the suburbs for these three months, after nearly five years of living independently. Talk about transition.

I've held random temp jobs, done quite a bit of babysitting and odd jobs around the house to finance my way back to Austria. I took three small vacations: the first to Hortonivlle, Wisconsin to visit Heather; then to northern Minnesota with my best friends to spend a weekend in a lake cabin; the last to Grand Rapids, Michigan to visit my family. I put over 5,000 miles/8,000 km on my car this summer driving to and from the suburbs to Minneapolis on a nearly daily basis, in addition to two of those aforementioned trips.

I volunteered once a week for half the summer teaching English to recent immigrants to the United States. I saw several movies in the cinema, read about seven books, and started a new project. I went to many new restaurants, started appreciating American beer more (not talking about the national favorites, rather local breweries), and started drinking too much coffee again.

I even spoke German at least once a week. And often it was Austrian German.

But mostly, I had a fabulous summer spending time with the people that matter most to me. I'm sad to once again have to say goodbye to these people. So thank you for a fabulous summer and I'll see the rest of you on the other side of the pond.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Auf Wiederschauen Austria!

I'm all packed up. The house is clean. I've said goodbye to nearly everyone. Just gotta get up tomorrow, go to church, head to Munich, stay overnight with a friend, and then I'll be on that plane back to America. In 30 hours I'll be in the air.

I've got so many great memories to take back with me. This was a life-changing year, and it's hard to sum it up.

Thank you so much to everyone who helped make it such a fantastic year.

Pfit eich! Goodbye and see you again in the fall...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Final Days




My time in Braunau is winding down. In four days I leave Braunau for good. In five days I'll be back in Minnesota. Time flies.

Friday was my goodbye party. I decided to have it a week early so my friends in the graduating classes could come. Originally I had wanted to do it a week later, but those in the graduating classes had a school party planned that evening. In any case, it worked out to do it earlier so that I had plenty of time to clean up afterwards.

Friday evening my friends came over in the late evening and we fired up the grill for a good ol' American BBQ. Although, I suppose it was more or less like an Austrian BBQ, since we didn't make hamburgers or hot dogs. Since I myself don't eat meat, I asked everyone to bring something along, but I also had purchased a few things at the store in case people forgot. Cooking up hamburgers isn't something that is done in Austria very often, but I found some nasty bacon-wrapped sausages that could almost pass as American.

My idea for my goodbye party was to mix the cultures: an American barbecue and everyone in traditional Austrian clothing (lederhosen and dirndl). I was the only one in dirndl, but two of the guys showed up in lederhosen. So we rocked it all night.

The party was a complete success. Everyone was happily fed, we drank some beer, played some games, and ended the night in a bar in the city center. It really was so great having everyone come together for a final hurrah, even though I'm seeing nearly everyone individually once more before I leave.

The past couple of days I have been cleaning like mad. And watching the world cup. And packing. And trying to figure out what to leave. Hard decisions.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Braunau: My Home Away From Home

This weekend really confirmed that Braunau has truly become my home away from home. While at times I struggled with feelings of loneliness and uncertainty, I can really see how my time here has influenced my life in so many ways, allowing me to grow and change for the better. Isn't it just crazy how this all works in life? I realize this two weeks before I'm about to head back to the States and say goodbye to Braunau for a long time. I looked around me and saw that I really have had support these last months, that I had people on whom I could rely. I saw the things I have become involved in. And I noticed the things that I passed up that I really should have gotten involved in.

This past weekend the church I have been attending in Braunau celebrated their "grand opening" and the weekend was jam-packed with activities. Friday night there was a great band from New Zealand who played a free concert, and the rest of the weekend there were different services, speakers, and so on. Spending so much time at the church this weekend really put my life into perspective. I also got to know some people on a new level, and it really is unfortunate that I have to leave so soon.

At least I can look back and see this has been one of the best years of my life. I have done so much soul-searching and so much growing. And I hope to come back to Braunau this upcoming year when I'm back in Vienna.

I have two more weeks to geniess (enjoy) this town...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Vienna: My Future Home

On Wednesday Heather and I head back to Vienna. Our mission was clear: find a place to live and establish some roots in the city. Although it may seem to soon to find an apartment available as of September/October, but we were able to find several apartments among the thousands of "available immediately" listings. Wednesday was consumed by apartment-visiting; although I only visited four apartments, they really were back-to-back and all over the city.

And the result: I have a place to live beginning in September! It's a great situation, because the person currently living there is going on an exchange year, so he will be leaving everything in the apartment that I would need. There is even a bike for me to use, as well as a printer (which is something that would have been nice to have this past year). I have upgraded from a child-sized bed to a big double bed, something I am looking forward to. The living room is rather spacious, and hopefully I will be able to host guests now and then, since there is a giant couch. The apartment itself is in a fabulous location for me, as it is between my two assigned schools, close to the church I plan to get involved in, and not far from the Prater park, a huge park where I can go jogging and biking. I'll be sharing the apartment with a gal from Finland, but she speaks German so I don't have to worry anymore about getting sucked in the English-speaking bubble of Vienna.

Housing aside, the three days spent in Vienna were fabulous. I've finally managed to get a bit more oriented in the city, and I really can imagine it being my home next year. Heather and I went out to a student party at the Chemistry department with a friend of ours from Braunau who is studying there. It was great to be around people our own age, talk about intelligent things, and meet more people who are living in Vienna. I really want to network as much as possible before I get there, so I don't spend months searching for my place.

On Thursday we had the laziest day ever. We didn't even leave the hostel until about 1 pm, despite the fact that our roommates were up bright and early at 7 am to check out the city. We headed over to Schwedenplatz to the famous Gelateria, and I enjoyed a small portion of gelato. Afterwards we headed over to the oldest coffee house in Vienna and I had the BEST cappuccino (melange in Viennese) of my life. Heather and I agreed that we'd come back to the coffee house for a celebratory melange to kick off the year in September. After coffee we went and sat next to a pond and watched ducks for about an hour in the City Park. And we finished our evening off in the city with a much-needed trip to the only Subway in Austria. In fact, all of the chips and cookies are imported from Germany. Thursday evening we discovered a very relaxed bar where one can play billiards in a non-sketchy environment. Another district-change and we met up with a friend of Heather's and explored more of the student-area.

After checking out yesterday, I headed over the BVA, my insurance provider, to get reimbursed from a visit to a private specialist last week. Oh I forgot to mention; last week my ear problem returned after watching a movie. I went to my "regular" doctor, and he referred me to an ear, nose and throat doctor. She probed at me and couldn't figure out what was wrong, so she just prescribed me some steroids to reduce the inflammation in my ear. Nonetheless, I'm back to normal, but I had to take care of my bill. Because the doctor was a private practice, I had to pay upfront and then go to the insurance office to ask for a reimbursement. Since I really didn't want to go to the regional headquarters in Linz, and I was already in Vienna, I decided to just go there. Just as I had suspected, they informed me that my insurance had "expired" on May 31st, but I insisted I had full insurance until July 12th, according to my program advisor. Yes, indeed, in "principle" I am insured until then... so I'm confused why he mentioned it in the first place. But I got my money back. And today I got a nice letter informing me that DOCH, my insurance ended on the 31st of May! What the heck, Fulbright?

Anyways, after squaring that all away, we headed to the Naschtmarkt, picked up ethnic food essentials that are impossible to find in our small towns, ate AMAZING Indian food, and had a coffee. We parted ways, I signed my lease, and headed back to Braunau to catch the concert at the church kicking off their grand-opening weekend.

Done Teaching!

I am officially done teaching until October!

Wednesday May 28th was my official last day at the HAK. I thought I had told the teachers in advance that it would be my last day, since I hadn't had Monday classes in forever. But amid the exit-exam madness, the teachers somehow thought that my last day would be the following day, a Thursday. However, I have never taught on a Thursday the entire year. Nonetheless, I think they were preparing an official goodbye for me on that Thursday and were left scrambling to put something together for that Wednesday. At the end of the day, the teachers presented me with a lovely card, a box of delicious Lindt truffles (not diet-friendly, but I enjoyed it in moderation), and a bottle of Bailey's. The gesture was very thoughtful and much appreciated on my end.

Monday May 31st was my last day between both schools. At the HLW I taught three lessons in classes that I haven't been to on a regular basis, so it didn't really feel like my last day. The students didn't even know it was my last day, but we had fun playing games. Many teachers were fully aware it was my last day, but my mentor-teacher said they wanted to get me something, but forgot, so I should come back to school before I head home.

So I'm left here in Braunau for the next two weeks, officially done with school, but I feel as though I haven't really had closure here, probably because I am still here. The purpose of me being here the last ten months was to teach. Now it's over, but somehow it feels like it isn't. I'm sure I will feel different once I have my goodbye party this upcoming weekend and officially say goodbye to those who have meant the most to me this past year.

And technically, I am still "teaching" on the side, although it is the evening course that is not related to my assignment here in Braunau, hence I am here the next two weeks.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Austrian Garbage Cans

In the neighborhood where I live there is no recycling collection. Rather, one has to go out of their way, which seems completely fine and normal to everyone here, and dispose of their glass, plastic and metal waste themselves. In fact, that pretty much applies to Austria as a whole.

So after collecting a whole bunch of nasty and smelly wet cat-food cans (man, I am NOT going to miss wet cat food. Thank God my cat at home eats dry food), I have to walk about two blocks to drop off the recycling in an area right next to the boarding school. Yesterday, after minding my own business and disposing of the recycled goods like an environmentally conscious Austrian, I threw away the nasty plastic bag which carried the recyclables to the collection area. As I walked away, some bratty little Austrian girl started yelling at me about how the garbage can is a "private" garbage can. At first I thought she was yelling at me for dropping off the recyclables there, so I turned around to explain that I had been informed from my landlord that this point was where I would need to drop the items off. Soon enough, some grumpy old Austrian and some crazy blood-red haired woman came out and began arguing with me, explaining that "I would get fined" because "the garbage can is under surveillance". Okay, can I just pause right now and reiterate- the garbage can is under VIDEO SURVEILLANCE. A country so concerned about the environment and recycling (Austria was actually surveyed as the best country in the EU when it comes to recycling) wastes electricity to film a garbage can? Come on.

Anyways, I was still confused about why I was getting yelled at by a bunch of crazy overly-protective people of their collection area. Finally I realized that they were talking about the garbage can, and not the recyclable collection bins, when the woman explained what I was allowed to do. I explained that no, I do not bring my own garbage three blocks down the road to pollute their own dumpster. Rather, I like to bring my own stinky garbage 20 meters outside of my house and dispose of it there. The man kept shaking his wrinkly finger at me, but finally the woman took some sort of sympathy with the unknowing American girl when I pleaded my case that it was just an empty plastic bag I had thrown in there, which apparently, is allowed then? As long as there is no garbage in there?

And that's my rant about Austrian garbage cans. I understand that people who own private garbage cans have to pay for the service, just as we do in America. But I would never imagine locking my own can (some people do it here) or threatening foreigners with fines for putting empty plastic bags in there. Kommisch.

Animal Protection vs. Fire Prevention

It only figures that in Austria there are such strict laws protecting the rights of animals-- which, don't get me wrong, I am a huge supporter of animal rights as expressed by my refusal to eat animal products or wear anything that comes from an animal, as well as my dire need to tell the world why KFC is so horrible-- but the country lacks any home fire protection laws? I'm perplexed.

This confusion has been in the back of my mind ever since I almost accidentally started the house on fire last week. I was cooking and suddenly my pan became VERY hot. Smoke started billowing throughout the room, and I rushed to take the pan outside as to avoid filling the kitchen with smoke. Suddenly the deep sauce pan caught on fire, but thankfully it was contained within the pan and I was able to get it outside and flip it upside down before I had to remember which comes first: stop, drop or roll.

I shakily walked back inside, still in shock of what nearly happened. I walked around the house a bit and realized that there are NO fire detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and no fire extinguisher. That explains why I was never informed weeks before that the kitchen was filling with smoke from my burning beans, a feat the may have destroyed a pan... sigh. In any case, the lack of any fire prevention would be considered taboo in America. I remember growing up with at least two or three fire extinguishers in the home, as well as fire detectors in every room. When I rented housing in Minneapolis, the each unit was required to meet fire safety laws.

So what is it Austria? I recently inquired with a German friend, and she offered the idea that most homes in America are made out of wood, whereas homes in Austria and Germany are made out of stone, a material that does not burn as easily. A fair point, but what happens when, stupid idiots like me, start cooking fires, or worse-- what if there is an electrical fire? What if you fall asleep with burning cigarettes in your room, which seems more likely in Austria, where the smoking rates are at least twice that of the US. What happens then? Hope that the local voluntary fire brigade is around to help, and watch as your home goes up in flames, something of which could have been avoided with a simple fire detector or extinguisher in the house?

Is the life on an animal in Austria valued more over that of a human? When you look at animal protection laws here, it might almost seem like that is the case. It's illegal to declaw cats, have hamster balls, not have enough water in your tank for ONE goldfish (forget winning them in plastic bags at carnivals), reshape tails and ears of dogs and cats, use chain leashes, and so on. As previously stated, I think it is wonderful that the politicians and common folk in Austria care so much about the welfare of their animals. It's a fabulous example that other countries could follow. But honestly, such strict animal laws and nothing for fire protection? Wie bitte?

Pfingstdult






Another Austrian holiday weekend has passed. Monday was Pfingsten, or Pentecost in English. Each year around this time there is a huge tent festival in Simbach, just over the river, called "Pfingstendult" (duit = dult in dialect). It's a smaller scaled version of Oktoberfest, complete with carnival rides, games, vendors, and beer tents. The locals pull their "Trachten" (dirndls and lederhosen) out of their closets and head over to the tents to "make party", as my students would incorrectly say.

The festival was exactly as I had expected it; traditional Bayern songs, giant pretzels, giant Mass (1 liter) of beer, and people dancing and singing on the tables. I ended up going four days in total-- Oida! Three of the days were spent in the beer tent and one was spent with my friends and their young son checking out the rides and such.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Goodbye 4c and 3c!



Although I am technically done teaching in two weeks, I've already had exit/goodbye lessons. And it's really sad! I officially said goodbye today to the two classes that I went to on a regular basis-- the only two. That said, I still anticipate seeing some of them outside of class, but still.

Today I gave them a sheet about all the mistakes they make when speaking English. I want to make sure that they get concrete feedback from a native speaker, since their teachers are so busy teaching them other things. It was great trying to explain how to make "vet" not sound like "wet", or "thinking" not sound like "sinking".

When I asked them if they all benefited from having me in their class, they lit up and all said yes, that they learned a lot and had many chances to practice and improve their English.

I asked them what they learned from me or what they will remember. Here were their responses:

Not every American has a gun
Not every American eats fast food
Many Americans don't like to travel outside of the US (we read an article about why Americans prefer to stay in the US)
Beer pong and flip cup
Ten fingers drinking game
Never to say "What means that"
Most American stores make their products in Asia (in reference to a video on Wal-Mart)


Those were just some of the answers among many. But I love the responses from one class were related to non-school related activities only.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thanks a lot Greece

Thank you Greece for making the value of the Euro decline, and giving me the worse end of the deal once again.

When I first moved to Austria, I was relying on my own American dollars until I got paid-- about two months. The exchange rate back then favored the Euro, making me spend much more in American dollars to get the Euros.

Finally I was excited about the exchange rate, since I'm paid in Euros now. I should have planned earlier to transfer myself Euros to my American account, because now I'm getting ripped off as that Euro moves closer and closer to the value of the dollar.

I suppose I wouldn't be so worried about this if I had already paid off my outstanding credit card bill. I bought my roundtrip ticket from Munich to Minneapolis with German Expedia, a ticket of about 574 Euros, or $800 at the time of purchase. Now as I try to transfer between bank accounts to pay off my credit card bill, I'll have to transfer myself many more Euros than I had anticipated.

So, once again, as I'm leaving the country I'll get screwed over with the exchange rate. How do you say thank you in Greek?

Another long weekend


Austrian holidays are amazing. This month we have three long weekends because of random Catholic holidays. So last week I taught class from Monday until Wednesday. Wednesday evening I experienced Austrian rural culture at its finest; I went to a large tent festival called "Tennenfest" with a friend and some students of mine. Now that it's starting to get nicer out there are more and more festivals "am Land" (in the countryside). The festivals are just an excuse for people to gather under tents in villages and drink Austrian beer, listen to music, and speak lots of dialect.

On Friday I headed to Munich for the day with two friends of mine from Braunau. Our goal was clear: find Trachten (dirndls and lederhosen) and nothing else. We found a lovely Trachten shop and spent a good hour or so trying on lots of different dirndls. We were even served Prosecco from the sales attendants. It was a fabulous experience, and even more wonderful, since I fell in love with a beautiful dirndl. It was such a steal, so I had to buy it. My Austrian experience cannot be complete unless I go to a festival in traditional dress. And lucky enough, there is a festival coming up this weekend just over the river in Simbach where I can sport my dirndl all weekend. I've even considered wearing it to school, my going away party, and the plane ride home. However, I think I'll get a considerable amount of stares from people, so perhaps I'll pass.

Friday evening Heather headed over and we spent the evening with another student friend and her friends. Then we all headed over to Loks, the disco in Simbach. There was a special event going on called "Safari" with a well-known German/international electronic DJ. It was probably the best night I've had at Loks, since it wasn't so bauer (farmer) that night.

And some pictures from the weekend:

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A good ending to a bad week

As previously written, this past week hasn't been the best week for me since coming to Austria. In fact, it was probably one of the worse and most isolating weeks ever, since I was hit with a nasty double ear/sinus infection leaving me at home for a week. Add a few inconveniences, and it just wasn't very good.

So I was more than ready to get out of Braunau Friday for a weekend visit to Vienna with Heather. I needed it so much, and I had a great time. We took the first train in the morning so we could check out our schools in the morning. I headed to the BHAK 10, which is in the 10th district. One of my future colleagues showed me around and gave me the low-down. The school has about 1,500 students and 24 English teachers! That's about three times the size of the HAK here in Braunau. I'm slightly confused why I was assigned two schools, if one of them is so large. That means I'll be working seven hours a week, meaning if I don't go to the same class each week, I can foresee seeing a class every few months.

My second school is located in the third district, in a location that I'm already quite familiar with. It's really close to the Belvedere Palace and Gardens, which is a beautiful area that I can see myself hanging out in when I have some free time between lessons.

After seeing the schools, we did had lunch and coffee and people-watched for quite some time. This became a frequent past-time of the weekend, people watching to get a feel for the city and the type of people we will come into contact with next year. We then did some shopping, relaxed at the hostel, and checked out a "Chipotle-like" restaurant-- not the same, but you can't really expect much more from the bland Austrian palate.

Saturday we headed to the market, which I am so excited to frequent when I'll be living in Vienna. There's tons of fresh produce everywhere; awesome spices, beans and organic products; tasty hummus; and things that will make cooking enjoyable. After lunch and buying some new luggage, which I'm super excited about, and another rest in the hostel, we made our way over to a primarily-British TA dinner party, which we were invited to from a fellow American assistant we know in Vienna. The food was great, the conversations fun, and we got some advice and tips for living in Vienna next year.

This morning I woke up early, checked out and went to the Vienna Christian Center, a large international church with English sermons. I met a group of young adults that I'm excited to connect more with when I come back in the Fall. And we even ate at Subway today-- the only one that exists in Vienna, most likely the only one in Austria.

And it seems that my ear infections have cleared up and now I just have to deal with equalizing the pressure again in my ear... but it's coming along!

This week should be quick and easy. I've got a three-day week. Yep that's right. So let's recap how much I've actually worked recently. I went to Prague, so I was out of school for a week. We got back and had the following Monday and Tuesday off, but I was sick the rest of the week, so I didn't go. Two weeks with no lessons. This week it's just Mon-Weds. Next week a full week. The week after that Weds and Thursday, and then the last Monday in May and I'm finished! So in the month of May I'll have worked... ten days! Love Austrian holidays.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Worse Week Ever

I'm sorry the last few blog entries have just been a complaint-fest. In a way, it's therapeutic for me to just rant about life's annoyances, especially when they seem to pile up on top of each other in a rather inconvenient time in life. And I don't have anyone here to physically take some of this weight off of me, so the internet, Skype and phone calls home become my only outlet.

The whole ear infection thing is getting really old. It's been almost one week, and while my original bad ear has cleared up some, I seem to have developed an infection in my other ear. I'm not in pain, but my head is completely full and my hearing has been slightly compromised. I finished my antibiotic yesterday and I'm hoping that the remaining medicine left in my body will clear this all away. Otherwise, it's back to the doctor on Monday. Sigh for allergies to amoxicillin and always being prescribed the same two antibiotics for everything-- antibiotic resistance?

Since I've been put out from my ear infection, I've spent lots of time at home, and I'm starting to develop cabin fever. It's disgusting.

A couple of days ago, I also realized that I accidentally screwed up a PayPal transaction, one that was meant for money to go into my bank account. Instead, I withdrew money from my bank account through PayPal and deposited into that account, causing me to overdraft and slapping me with a fee.

Then I realized that when I booked my flight with Expedia, they overcharged me $120. I'm still waiting to hear back on them from my complaint.

And today, the most frustrating moment of the whole week- My iPod seemed to have deleted all of my music files, replacing it with empty space. Looks like I'm going to have to restore it to factory setting, erasing all of my music I've saved over the last five years, as well as all my important documents saved to the hard drive as if it were an external hard drive. And the night before my four hour travel to Vienna tomorrow. In fact, I'm supposed to get up in less than six hours and leave. But I need to solve this FLIPPING iPod problem.

At least I can look forward to leaving Braunau for the weekend and going to my future home :)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Going to the doctor and pharmacy-- An experience

It's official; I have an ear infection. Today I finally went to the doctor and experienced socialized health care. It's so different here in Austria. Instead of heading over to Park Nicollet and anticipating a wait of less than 20 minutes (in reference to those signs that say "if you have been waiting more than 20 minutes, please let the receptionist know), one has the option of many private practices, each staffed by one doctor and one or two receptionists/assistants. Since it's a private practice, the doctors can choose their own schedule, often have random and inconvenient hours for those working. Luckily, I don't have to worry about that.

Urgent care doesn't exist, meaning if you don't have an appointment, you can surely walk in to an office, but expect to wait. Thankfully I didn't have to wait longer than a half hour. Had I arrived 15 minutes, however, my wait time would have tripled, as a ton of people also walked-in at around 4pm.

There are no nurses who lead you back to the examination room, take your blood pressure and temperature, and enter data into the computer. I had an assistant lead me to the room, and I quietly waited for the doctor to come. When the doctor finally makes his/her presence, they begin asking questions about symptoms and enter the information themselves into the computer. A quick examination and a prescription for antibiotics and nose drops to relieve inner ear pressure (something I've never experienced, and it's quite gross), and I was out the door.

I headed over to the Apotheke, or pharmacy, to fill my prescription. As I entered the Apotheke, I noticed a huge water cooler and a few stools, thus anticipating having to wait like any pharmacy back home. (Average waiting time at Boynton clinic at the University was about 20 to 30 minutes, and we'd get those fun restaurant pagers to let us know when our prescription was ready for pickup). But when I gave the pharmacist my prescription, he opened two drawers and suddenly had everything ready for me-- no wait time at all! Which makes me wonder, what exactly are those pharmacists doing back in the States for twenty minutes? Typing out a customized label to put on my bottle? Here he just pulled out a sticker, slapped it on, and filled in the "per time" and "per day" slot: 1 tablet each time once daily. On a side note, I'm a surprised how different antibiotics can be here, despite being the same exact antibiotic. I was prescribed Azithromycin, commonly called "Z Pack", which on the first day one takes two pills, and one pill per day for the next five or so days. Austrian Azithromycin is just three pills, one for each day. I was also pleasantly surprised when the pharmacist rang up my prescriptions for a total of six euros. He didn't even ask for my insurance card. I can't believe that prescriptions are so cheap here! I think I'd pay double for that back home.

After happily getting my antibiotic, and not so happily getting the gross nose drops, I celebrated by buying a little treat from the bakery. If I can't have my mom making me soup and bringing it to me on a tray, I'm gonna comfort myself with a chocolate treat.

Oh My BORING

Prague was fabulous. And I'm so glad that my sudden ear infection came when it did, because it has paralyzed me to my bed nearly ALL weekend! I am soooo bored. I've rented two movies on iTunes, slept, flipped aimlessly through some books, attempted crosswords, slept, experimented with curry and cooking (despite my weakened sense of taste), watched awesomely bad American reality shows on Austrian MTV, slept, and spent hours online.

Thankfully my weekend was brightened for a bit when Adam came to visit on Saturday evening. Unfortunately he was also sick, so we sat around and chatted and watched some TV-- nothing too strenuous for us.

Other than Adam visiting, the highlight of my long weekend (we have today and tomorrow off from school, making it a four-day weekend) was going to the grocery store in Germany this morning with my neighbor. I was so excited to buy fresh food and not have to walk/bike to the store, but sit in a car. I think the second highlight of my day will be in a couple of hours when I go to the doctor and beg for antibiotics.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Ear infection??? :(

It's four am and I just woke up to pounding and warmth inside my "bad" ear. Well, it appears that my annual ear infection has come about. And of course it has to happen on the weekend, which has always been the trend in the past years. I've managed to find a doctor that appears to be open tomorrow (it seems as though they have a rotating schedule of weekend and holiday doctors here) and I'll have to head over there and hope I'm not waiting all day. One thing about the American health care system is that you don't have to wait. I'm all for universalized health care and all, but when you want some damn antibiotics, waiting for hours just isn't so ideal.

I can't fall back asleep, so naturally I'm online. The doctor opens in two hours, and I suppose I could head in early. But sleep sounds wonderful...

Prague-- A beautiful city and wonderful experience

I just returned from a five day trip to Prague in the Czech Republic. I was fortunate to share my experience with one of my classes from HAK Braunau. Each year the classes take a trip together with a couple of teachers as chaperone's. They usually don't venture too far from Austria, usually taking a bus somewhere or perhaps flying within Europe. Sometimes the trips are a time to practice learning a foreign language, like visiting Great Britain or attending a language camp somewhere-- but the trips can also just be a way to get out of Austria and have fun with classmates.

The purpose of visiting Prauge, in this case, was more of a leisure trip, rather than to learn a language. Thus, I ended up speaking mostly German the whole week. It wasn't required for me to go, but I thought it would be a fun opportunity for me to get to know the students more, and I have always wanted to go to Prague.

We left early Monday morning and immediately took a tour (everything was in German this week-- even the excursions) of the city. Our tour guide was the cutest, most stereotypical elderly Czech man wearing tweed and a baret. I swear he was at least 80, but he was trekking around the city in good health and spirits. Right from the beginning I was impressed with Prague, a beautiful city that retained much of its history, since it wasn't completely destroyed from WWII bombings. The city embraces a mixture of baroque and gothic architecture, which is a nice departure from the typical baroque style that is found throughout Europe (nonetheless, it is still one of my favorite styles).

Tuesday morning we had a second tour to complement the one the previous day. Our fun tour guide showed up again in tweed with his baret ready and excited to show us his city. I was quite impressed by our guide; not only could he lead tours for a number of hours at his age, but he is a warehouse for information about Prague in several languages. Later Tuesday evening, after a somewhat mediocre meal from the hotel, we all watched a production at the "Black Light Theater", a style of theater I had never seen, but that provided lots of entertainment.

Wednesday morning we left Prague and headed to a "KZ Lager", or a concentration camp/Jewish ghetto in Terezin. The work camp itself is situated within two fortresses, which were used earlier as protection of the small town/settlement. The town itself, just a few minutes from the work camp, is deteriorating and somewhat depressing. I couldn't imagine living there, but the ghetto is still lived-in.

Later that afternoon we visited the Skoda manufacturing plant. Skoda is a very popular car brand in Europe, originating from the Czech Republic. I had never been to a car plant before, and it was so interesting to see the production. I also learned lots of new words in German concerning cars and production! Wednesday was a long day, but I decided to go into the city with another student and watch the Barcelona v. Italy soccer game in a fun Irish pub.

Thursday was another long day. In the morning we took another side trip out to visit a glass/crystal company. That was also quite the experience to see how beautiful crystal products are made in less-than-pleasant working conditions. For instance, the glass blowers work in excruciatingly warm temperatures and are allowed to work almost naked. To curb their heat exhaustion, the company pays for them to have unlimited access to beer! Yes-beer! The tour guide assured us that the beer is low in alcohol concentration, and that the workers are never "drunk" at work. I thought that was just a crazy, interesting fact.

In the afternoon we headed back to Prague and took a one-hour boat tour on the Vltava. It was a very relaxing experience, and I can confidently say that I have seen most of Prague, at least from the outside. After a nice shopping session in the city, we headed back to the hotel, got ready and went out to a nearby beer tent to enjoy our last night in the city.

This morning we departed from Prague and headed to Český Krumlov to visit the Eggenberg brewery. The brewery was interesting, but the fresh beer from the restaurant there was even better. Sadly we didn't have enough time to see the whole city, but what I was able to see impressed me enough to want to visit the city again later on.

And that, in a nutshell, was my trip to Prague. Pictures to come, if I'm feeling up to posting. Otherwise check them out on Facebook.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Playing Dress Up

Tonight I finally get to wear my pretty dress that I had brought to Austria after my Christmas trip back home. I had hoped to wear it to a Maturaball (graduation ball) here in Braunau, and despite there being five or so balls per year, I have missed them all. So tonight I'll be attending some ball over the border in Simbach with the TAs living there. I'm excited to finally get dressed up, and hopefully my dress fits a bit better now, as I've lost about five pounds in the last two weeks on my new diet/workout regime!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

June 21st, 2010

It's official; I'll be home this summer for three months. I just bought my ticket and will be arriving in Minneapolis on June 21st. I'll head back to Austria September 20th, so almost three months. I can't wait to spend the summer with everyone back home!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Vegan?

I just did something I've never done before: I just threw away all of my cheese. It was a bit hard to part with my cheese, since I'm a huge cheese fan.

But I've decided to take the "Eat to Live" six week challenge, which is essentially a vegan diet. I'm already vegetarian, and although I do enjoy cheese, that and eggs are really the only animal-product I still consume.

I've always felt my best when consuming a high produce diet, and I've missed that feeling over the past few months as I've been traveling and trying local, and often unhealthy, cuisine.

Thankfully I'll have support from a friend who is also beginning the six week challenge tomorrow. However, she's back home in the U.S., so we will have to rely on email support for a while. Wish me luck!

Zagreb, Croatia





April 2nd - 4th

After a lovely time in Slovenia we all (attempted) to take the train into Zagreb, Croatia. Unfortunately, someone in our group had forgotten her passport and was forced to get off the train in some small border-town in Slovenia, go back to Austria to get her passport, and meet us the next day in Zagreb. Ooops.

Impression of Zagreb: I loved Zagreb. The weather was fabulous, there were beautiful flowers all over the city, and the people seemed to be much friendlier in comparison to other cities I had been in prior to Zagreb. Similar to Ljubljana, Zagreb has a mixture of baroque and secessionist architecture. The city is much larger than Ljubljana, yet it still retains the charm you would find in small-city Ljubljana. Croatia is a candidate EU country, and they are very proud of this fact. I've never seen so many EU flags in a European country, other than perhaps Brussels. The city seems to be quite modern, but traveling throughout the countryside to the Plitvice Lakes National Park exposed another side of the country to us. Many of the homes in actual Croatian towns were lacking windows, some quite run-down. Many communities on the way to the parks, about two hours away, seemed unchanged since the Balkan wars, as some buildings were partially destroyed, thus completely abandoned. I can imagine on the coastal tourist towns it's another story.

Highlights:
=the tourist office was the best I've been to thus far in Europe. We were able to pick up a free walking tour brochure that kept us entertained for a couple of hours.
-because Easter took place the weekend we were there, the city was decorated with many flowers, a giant "Last Supper" statue, and giant Easter eggs throughout the city.
-our hostel was great and the staff was so friendly. A huge change from Ljubljana.
-Things were very cheap. Rick Steve's recommended an awesome sandwich shop to us in his book, and it was only two euros. We sat in a city park and soaked up the sun as we enjoyed our sandwiches.
-on Easter Sunday everything was closed, so we took the opportunity to take a two hour bus out to the Plitvice Lakes National Park-- a definite must-see, full of waterfalls, lakes, trails, and forests

Lowlights:
-again we were without someone in our party one night because of complications getting into the country
-we didn't have enough time to take advantage of the cheap currency and get our hair cut. So I spent about four times as much on Thursday in Braunau-- but she did a fabulous job; it's not a mullet!

Ljubljana, Sloevnia





March 31-April 2

After Florence and one night back in Padova, I boarded a small van with a Slovenian "bus" driver and an unidentifiable Balkan family towards Ljubljana. I had made a reservation with a Slovenian bus company from Venice to Ljubljana, but somehow I ended up in this van from the same company and the family, rather than catching the bus.

When I arrived in Ljubljana I finally could breath a bit, because of the underwhelming amount of English I didn't hear. I checked into the hostel, met Emily F., a friend of Emily and Matt, who would be traveling in Slovenia/Croatia with us.

Impressions of Ljubljana:
not too many tourists
small and quaint city
impressive architectural mix of baroque and secessionist
cheap products (cola was 65 cents)
much more affluent and westernized than I had anticipated

Highlights
spending two hours in the Contemporary Modern History Museum and chatting with the museum curator about this and that
people-watching
checking out the National Gallery and learning more about European artists
playing the role of individual tourist for a while without a big group
dragons
graffiti

Lowlights:
Significantly cooler, cloudier and rainier than in Italy
drama surrounding Emily and Matt getting stranded overnight in Piran and the hostel's fault concerning the matter


Overall, I really enjoyed Slovenia. I would love to come back and see more of the country.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Florence Photos



Florence, Italy

Okay so back to updating Easter break.

March 28-30:
Rae and I went to Florence, which is definitely a place worth visiting, but slightly overrated. To me it seemed as though the city really plays up its Renaissance history for the tourists who come. And the Renaissance just isn't really my thing. For example, I spent two hours in the Contemporary History Museum of Slovenia and was upset that I didn't have time since they were closing. But it took me less than an hour to get through the world famous Uffizi museum and, honestly, it was rather boring to me.

And another pet peeve was that I heard more English in the city than Italian. It seemed like every single High School choir in the United States was on spring break and decided to come to Florence and do a "choir" tour. Add that to the thousands of tourists from Europe who were also on holiday. Don't get me wrong, I'm a tourist myself. But there's something about trying to navigate through giant tour groups of inexperienced American wearing matching sweatshirts holding their "Rick Steve's Europe Through the Back Door" book that really overwhelms me. (I have to admit, however, that I love Rick Steve's... he totally was with us in spirit in the Balkans).

Florence highlights: sitting on the Piazza Michaelangelo the first night to watch the sun set over the Tuscan hills and the city lights come on; chatting in line at the Uffizi with an American/Austrian family; cheap and delicious wine; the wonderful complimentary breakfast at the hotel

Number one highlight: getting out of Florence to the Tuscan countryside. We went to Greve in Chianti, about an hour outside of the city. There we sat at a wine bar and I had the BEST Chianti wine of my life, as well as the best cheese plate of my life.

Lowlights of Florence: waking up to find the girl in our hostel room smoking (thereby switching to a hotel); not getting a full refund from our non-English speaking "international" hostel owner; accidentally walking in to an American bar and witnessing hundreds of American exchange students sing Karaoke; having to pay 72 euros round trip for the 1.5 hour train ride (this is why I appreciate OeBB more and more after each country visited).

Some people fall in love with Florence their first visit. I fell in love with Tuscany-- not Florence. Florence itself seems so centered around tourism. I couldn't experience real Italian life there. However, I was only there for a short period of time. Perhaps I should give the city a second chance.

Thank you Fulbright for your understanding

Hey everyone,


So much for finishing updating my blog about the trip over Easter break. I've been super busy since I got back, so I'll get around to it eventually.

But just a quick update: I finally received confirmation that the Austrian Fulbright accepted my application for a second year, and that I'll be teaching at two HAKs next year in Vienna! The best part is, all of my friends who applied for a second year will be there with me in Vienna! Great news, I'm so happy.

I'd like to take this moment and thank the Fulbright Commission for sympathizing with my position of living in Braunau this year and sending me to Vienna next year. DANKE SCHOEN!!!!!

Strangely enough, I will miss Braunau. Don't worry Braunauns, I will come back and visit. I promise!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Padova and Venice, Italy

I returned yesterday from my eleven day travels during Easter break. To make things easier, I have decided to blog separately for each city visited.

On March 26th I embarked on my nine hour adventure from Braunau to Padova, Italy (near Venice). A friend of mine, Raeanne, is interning for an international church there for a few months. When I arrived in Venice I experienced Italy's fine and reliable (sarcastic tone) rail system, as I got on the most crowded train of my life and stared out the window waiting to find my station, since nothing is ever announced on those regional trains. It's just a guessing game.

After guessing where to get off, and thankfully being right, I met Raeanne and we headed to her apartment. I got to know the city on my own right away, since Rae had to work a bit in the evening. Padova is a medium sized city, mostly populated by students. The city has a famous church where many Italians make a pilgrimage to so that they may hug the tomb of a famous saint... Anthony I think? Padova also has the largest square in all of Europe. I found the city quite nice, which is evident by the high fashion and the fact that it is one of the most affluent cities in Italy.

The next day we checked out Venice, the city composed of over 100 islands. There are no cars in the city, rather gondolas and water buses transport people around the town. I really enjoyed Venice, but there were far too many tourists in the main San Marco square for me. To begin our time in Venice we stopped at an Italian cafe and snacked on giant Italian pizzas and drank Italian wine. It's completely normal for Italians to drink wine at lunch, or nearly all times throughout the day. I bet that some people wake up and start drinking wine for breakfast. The wine is so cheap and so delicious. I have definitely found a new appreciation for Italian wines. Also the cappuccinos in Italy are a real treat.

After dining we got ourselves lost in the small allies, window shopped and soaked in the sights. I bought a typical carnival mask, some beautiful Venetian blown glass, and some other things. In the afternoon we toured the Doge's Palace, where the former Venetian government and prison was. And finally in the evening we took the water bus back to the train station, since gondolas are way too expensive.





Monday, March 22, 2010

Athens Part Two

I had a fabulous long weekend in Athens. I arrived back in Braunau last night after a long day of metro travel, flying, train travel and finally riding my bike over the border back into Austria. Four days in Athens was plenty of time to see the things I wanted, enjoy the warm temperatures, wine and dine Greek style, and get my shop on. The remainder of my trip consisted of finishing seeing the ruins, shopping some more, and watching the Changing of the Guards at Parliament. It was also great to get to know my aunt more, since we see each other only a couple of times a year.

My time left such an impression on me, that I can't wait for the next opportunity to head back to the beautiful country-- but this time I'd like to island hop.

Photos to come in the next post when I'm not feeling so lazy!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Greetings from Greece

Just a quick Hello from Athens. I arrived yesterday afternoon and was greeted by lots of sunshine and warm temperatures. So far I must say that I am quite impressed with the city; Athens truly is a place where modern meets antiquity. The city itself seems quite posh, and the people seem to be more concerned about appearance rather than comfort. Of course I have really only been in the city center and my Athenian encounters have been few-- I'm just making some observations.

Last night I met my Aunt Tammy at the hotel and a bit later we walked around and I oriented myself with the city surroundings. We ate dinner at a trendy little restaurant, and somehow I ended up with bright pink pasta (pictures soon to come).

Today has been non-stop sightseeing beginning of course with the Acropolis, then the National Archaeological Museum and then the Temple of Zeus. We took a break and I enjoyed a fabulous Greek frappe with Baileys.

The sun has been so intense that I had to buy a pair of knock-off Prada sunglasses from a street vendor. I'm not that in to labels, but these sunglasses might fool the unsuspecting eye.

Yassou!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

XOXO

Somehow in the last five days I was able to watch the entire first season of Gossip Girl. Although the show never struck me as something that would interest me, I have quickly become addicted to the show. Honestly I have no idea how I was able to watch 13 40-minute episodes when I had lots going on during the last few days: a full day of skiing, church, lengthy work-out sessions, tutoring, class and night class. Perhaps it was because I have gradually been weaning myself from the internet?


In other completely unrelated news, tomorrow has become my Friday. I'll cram in five hours of class, and then once 16:35 rolls around, it's a long weekend for me. Tomorrow is also St.Patrick's Day- a holiday under-celebrated in Austria. I plan on pulling out my green "I [shamrock] NY" shirt which I bought last year in NYC on St.Patrick's Day. These Austrian kids need to learn a little bit about the jolly Irish spirit (as if I have a right to say anything about it-- but hey, my grandmother's maiden name was Murphy!). I plan to kick off the weekend sipping on some Guinness at the Irish Pub clad in green. But I can't stay out too late; Thursday morning I'm leaving the nasty Innviertel weather and heading someplace warmer and sunnier: Athens!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Snow Annoyed

I must say, I am utterly appalled by this weather. It snowed again this morning, leaving a disgusting layer of slush on the road for me to navigate my bike through. Honestly, what happened to Spring? It's warmer in Minnesota than it is here and that's just sad. Thankfully the weather should shape up towards the end of the week, just in time for me to fly off to Greece :)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Forever a Teacher?

On Thursday in class I had a revelation: maybe I should really become a teacher. I mean a real teacher, not just an assistant in Austria. As the students of the third form (equivalent to the 10th grade in America) of the HLW were busy working together in small groups on a lesson on supermarkets, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps I really should become a teacher. After all, I am good at what I do, I receive positive feedback from both the teachers with whom I work and my students, and I genuinely enjoy what I do.

Now the question is, if I am actually serious about teaching, should I go back to the US and become a high school German teacher? Or should I go to graduate school and try to teach at a college? Or maybe I should just bum around the world for a few years teaching English? I suppose I would need to start that Online TEFL class that I've been meaning to take...

Thankfully I will most likely have a second year here in Austria to sort out my thoughts.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

My Fear Was Overcome

Just got back from skiing and am happy to report that I have no injuries! Skiing was quite challenging, much more than I thought it would be... especially when you're "teachers" are native German speakers and trying to overcome language barriers to explain that after you make the "pizza" with your skis to turn, that you need to lift up on your other foot so the skis don't cross. After an hour or so of trial and error, I finally figured out the proper way to do it. And I even did quite well with the heights-- I only somewhat was a bit nervous at the very top of the mountain (Mooskopf-1918 meters). The only problems I had were when I kept falling down multiple times in a row, and this lead me feeling quite discouraged and frustrated, feeling that I simply couldn't do it. And it's such a mental thing, because when I felt I couldn't do it, I didn't do it. But 10 minutes later on another slope, I did it quite well and didn't fall once.

I'm glad I was able to provide a bit of comic relief to my more-than patient Austrian friends who stuck by me during my slow and careful skiing, or my many wipeouts. After some wipeouts, I often took the easy way out by walking down the hill in my boots or scooting down on my butt. They thought it was quite hilarious.

Despite overcoming my fear, I think I'll stay on flat ground for a while, at least when there is snow on it. Perhaps whenever I'm back in Minnesota, I'll try again on Buck Hill. There they actually have bunny hills ;)