It has been a whirlwind of an experience living for nearly five months abroad, and I still can’t get it through my head that it is ending so soon. I am busy packing, finishing finals, and reflecting on my experience here. With a few days left in Austria, I have been mentally listing what I’ll miss, what I’m excited about home and trying to predict what I will find the most different when I return home. I’ve been thinking back to when I first got here, and how my understanding of the culture has developed. To switch things up on my last blog post, here are some lists of the above, along with small reflections.
What I’ll Miss Most About Vienna:
Beauty Everywhere: It is still ridiculous to me that you can look out of almost any window in the city and see a building designed with beautiful architecture—usually in the grand Baroque style, beautiful window and window sill decorations, etc.
Happy Taste Buds: Oh my goodness, the food is so good. Not the healthiest, but schnitzel, goulash, potato salad, gelato, käsekrainer (cheese filled hotdogs in a baguette), chocolate, kebaps and oddly enough cheap but quality sushi will certainly be missed.
Slow Pace of Life: At times this gets annoying. Some America friends and I joke that Austrians don’t know how to walk properly, because if you are trying to get anywhere fast on busy streets you should just give up. People meander, stop to look around, slow down, etc. They don’t rush. Most people are usually a few minutes late. Professors amble into class. People sit at cafes for hours talking. The café culture of just simply slowing down and enjoying others’ company exudes into all aspects of life. They are good at enjoying things here, be it music, art, or architecture. And people seem to recognize that you need the time to do that.
Minding Your Business: Going along with that, everyone minds their own business mainly. I can walk around the city, get on the Ubahn, wander around public buildings, and have no one say a word to me. No one looks at me or bothers me unless I’m doing something out of the ordinary. People on the street trying to sell papers or involve passersby in a cause will maybe approach me once, and if I decline, will stop asking. Thinking back to what it’s like at home, I think they would be a little more persistent. I always feel like I have more personal space, and am walking in the city in my own little world. However, there is less of a concept of set personal space—in the Ubahn or movie theaters people sit right next to you or cram against you, and it is not weird. It’s more like a mental personal space and culture of non-intrusion.
Straightforward Attitude: It’s a curse and a blessing. Austrians are very no-nonsense. Sometimes this can mean people are up-front rude or judgmental to you, which took me a little bit of time to get used to. (You can definitely feel the judgment if you wear work-out clothes in public, or speak English or bad German to some Austrians who are not in the mood for it or do not understand.) Now I appreciate knowing exactly where you stand with people. Also, the habit of over-apologizing in the U.S. for things that do not warrant an apology does not exist here. Even if people bump in to you, they very rarely say excuse me.
Interacting with New People: I have gotten to know people with many different backgrounds and hailing from different nations. While hear I have had many interesting conversations about small and large cultural differences, and gotten to know people, even Americans, with very different perspectives. This has been one of the things I appreciate and will miss most about being here.
Wandering: Getting “lost” but never actually being lost. In Vienna you can wander literally anywhere in the city, and the streets and districts are all organized so well that you can always find your way back. One of my favorite activities is wandering around and exploring while not quite knowing where you are. All of the street signs have the district number on them, so you always know what district, and the house numbers expand outward from the city center, so if the numbers are going down, you know you are walking towards St. Stephan’s church in the middle of the city.
Public Transportation: Simply put, it’s quick, efficient, easy to use, and convenient no matter what part of the city you are in.Check out my Daily Life video if you’re interested, which shows almost every form of public transportation available in the city. Makes me think the U.S. should step up its game.
Festive Christmas Spirit: This gets back to enjoying the little things, and taking the time to do so. The city is decorated to the nines. Every street has different lights, there are Christmas markets on nearly every square, with families playing in hay, people meeting for the delicious Punsch or mulled wine, and plenty of roasted chestnuts and candied almonds to go around. Kids ice skate, play in hay, lots of homemade candles, notebooks, and soap. Lots of good things going on at once.
The Small Things:
- Windows: the windows themselves here are great, opening them one way allows the top to prop in a bit, to allow a slight breeze but not a draft. Can also be opened in rain like this. You can open it easily another way like a door, all the way up. I love to stick my entire torso out my window each morning to see what the weather actually feels like—I never know what an arbitrary number on my weather app actually feels like, plus converting between Celcius and Fahrenheit is a pain.
- 2 Euro coins. Why don’t we have them in the U.S.? So perfect for small purchases like a cup of coffee.
- Most ATM’s have a select a note mix button, where you can choose what types of bills you want to get your desired amount in. I don’t think the U.S. has this quite as much, and it can be quite handy!
- Tax is always included. You always know what you are paying, and it is easy to split the bill at restaurants.
- Tipping is super easy—no math involved! Can just round to nearest Euro or a little more if you’re feeling generous.
What I Won’t Miss:
Smoking: Europe is known for having more people smoke than in the U.S., and I recently heard that Austria has the most teen smokers in the E.U. Restaurants here oftentimes have large smoking sections, and sometimes that is the only part you can be seated in. I often walk out of restaurants reeking of smoke.
Lack of Nature~ Aka Living in a City: It is a beautiful city, it is true, but it is a city. There are lots of parks, but growing up in the countryside and going to Amherst, I am very used to escaping it all on long runs or walks in the forest. There are the Vienna Woods very close to city limits, but they take a little while to get to. Besides the city though, Austria has some of the best natural areas you can ask for– the Alps are stunning!
Small (or medium-sized) Apartments: Having six other roommates and sharing one smallish kitchen gets to be a lot, though I love them all dearly.
Grocery Store Stress: Having to bag all your groceries, pay and get out of the next person’s way simultaneously. I do like being able to walk to grocery stores rather than drive however.
Bring on the Veggies/Differing Quantities: I will appreciate being able to buy whatever amount of whatever you want from grocery stores. Here my onions and potatoes last me months, and I never need 4 limes at one time, but that’s how they come. A varied vegetable selection. I am not going to eat cabbage for quite a few months when I get back. The overload.
Having to Concentrate on Communication: It’s going to be weird to be able to eavesdrop on people without using all of my concentration. I love the German language, but it seems magical to be able to just ask questions without rehearsing the grammar of doing so in my head. I was buying something from a cashier in a department store and she spoke to me in English and I teared up a little bit.
Overall, I am so very happy I studied abroad, and was able to experience and learn so much. I have made some wonderful friends and personally feel more self-sufficient. The end is certainly bittersweet and surreal, but luckily I will always have the memories.