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 F├╝rstenfeld, 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!