One Year Later, Sarah Returns to Austria

One Year Later, Sarah Returns to Austria

I’m writing from an Anker café in Vienna. Arriving two days ago was a completely different, yet equally awesome experience as it was when I flew into the Vienna International Airport almost a year ago starting my semester as an exchange student in Austria. Then, I was tearfully parting from my parents who drove me to the airport; this time, I scampered off to the airport (excited to be done with final exams!) via Chicago public transport. Then, I had no idea what to expect, not even sure who was meeting me on the other side or what where I was headed looked like; now, I was eager to visit everything I had left behind then. Still, I was a mix of nervous and excited (though mostly excited!). Upon hearing German on the plane, I smiled—then, hoping I’d one day be able understand what they were saying; now, grinning at every word I recognized.

A lot’s has changed since I left Vienna. Since then, I’ve held three jobs and internships, moved to Chicago, started my first year at the University of Chicago, joined a new orchestra, and completed final papers and exams for my first college classes. Moving to college was hardly an adjustment after moving to Vienna and then moving back to the US. I’ve always heard that life goes on once you leave somewhere, which seems obvious—and is certainly how I felt once I returned to the US from Austria last spring—but Vienna seems to have remained in some ways. Everything in my host family’s apartment was nearly how it was when I left; my bed was still there even though the room had been reconverted into their dining room. I thought it would be strange to revisit my old home, maybe even strange to see my host family after so long—but we quickly fell back into our old routine of drinking tea and eating sweets (this time, Christmas cookies!) as we caught up. It’s interesting to return to a city I once felt was home as, more or less, a tourist. In some ways, it still feels like home. Unlike any other city I’ve visited (like Dublin, where I visited this fall—I assure you the travel bug or Wanderlust does not leave, even after 5 months of studying abroad…), I’m already familiar with the public transportation. I’m comfortable enough that I can go out on my own and get back home, but still unfamiliar enough to explore and maybe get a bit lost.

I think I probably know this city as well as I know my college campus. I’ve only been going to school for 10 weeks and I’ve adjusted as well as it took me to do so in Vienna after 5 months. Partly because my experiences abroad have helped me to adapt to any situation but also because studying abroad was, for me, harder; and it’s rewarding in a completely different and awesome ways. There aren’t exams or much homework (at least for me, as I had more or less finished high school before I came), but every day I was presented with something a bit out of my comfort zone. At college, I probe deep into texts and into my own writing at a level that only could be accomplished in my native language. In Austria, I delved deep into another language and culture. In a way, studying abroad felt more like “real life” learning, but after I left, it often felt like a dream. Returning after being in school brought a level of reality to everything I learned abroad and how I had applied it to my life in the U.S.

I think my German’s improved a bit since I left, after taking German 201 at school; somehow, I picked up a year’s worth of college-level German from my semester in Austria! It was neat to hear that I had placed out of 3 German classes after only 5 months. The learning-as-you-go-along thing was certainly a bit more fun and resulted in better stories than classroom learning…I’ll never forget the time I stood dumbfounded, not yet able to respond in German, in my neighbor’s apartment trying to feed their cats while the neighbor’s son stood in his boxers, very confused as to why there was a stranger in his home (I didn’t know that they returned a day earlier from their vacation than expected). It’s also certainly a different kind of German that I’m learning in school. In Austria, I knew my Cappucino from my Melange, Kaffee mit Milch and Brauner and how to order anything; after taking German here, I can write an essay about the elements of romanticism in German fairy tales.

I feel so lucky to be able to come back here and I feel even more so to be able to do so at Christmas time. Vienna is beautiful this time of year, which I had just missed when I arrived last winter. Christmas lights are strung across the streets and giant trees are everywhere. Christmas markets line the streets, full of warm drinks and pastries and ornaments. After such a wonderful experience in Vienna (both times!), I have hopes to study abroad in different countries for at least one or two terms while I continue my studies. I might have to wait a bit to go back to Vienna again, but it’s pretty cool knowing that I have a home across the ocean to return to.

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