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“Studying abroad will be the best semester you will ever have. Studying abroad will change your life forever!”
Before I left to study abroad in August, I heard sayings like this about what seemed 800 times. I never really believed it before I went.
Two weeks before my departure from America, I was frantically packing, trying to see my family and friends as much as possible and trying not to be too overwhelmed by the thought of leaving. The only thing I could think of was “What did I just get myself into?”
I was set to study a semester in Vienna, Austria. At times, I thought I was crazy for choosing to study abroad. I did not know any German (my four semesters of college French were clearly not going to help me), I did not know a single person in my program, and lastly, I was leaving behind family, friends, a sorority and a life that I was so comfortable and familiar with. This all led up to the final day, when I left America for my European adventure.
After two transfers in Chicago and London, I made it to Vienna. With two suitcases, my backpack and my oboe, I waited for a taxi to take me to Hutteldorf Station, the meeting point of my study abroad orientation.
The taxi pulled up to the station where I saw 140 kids with their luggage waiting for the busses to take us to Mariazell, our study abroad orientation spot in the Austrian Alps. I suddenly felt overwhelmed. These were the kids that I was going to be spending the next four months with.
As I stepped out of the car, I heard from a distance “Katie!” I looked over and it was Ben, a fellow musician from the Twin Cities, whom I met in high school. He came over, gave me a huge hug and immediately introduced me to all of his new friends, including the ones that came with him from Denver.
He introduced me to two girls, Emily and Marisa, who I found out were two of my roommates in Vienna. We loaded the buses and drove to Mariazell. The drive was beautiful, filled with picture postcard views of mountains surrounded by lakes and beautiful countryside.
Once arriving in Mariazell, we immediately spent the evening meeting each other and it was amazing to see where everyone was from. We sat out on the porch of our hotel, gazed out at the city and were amazed by the first sights of Austria.
The next day we spent going into the town, which I found out is a pilgrimage town for the people of Austria and from around the world. We then spent the afternoon swimming along the Austrian Alps. The sunshine, combined with the green fields and breathtaking views of the Alps could easily have given “The Sound of Music” a run for its money.
That evening, our last night during orientation, I finally started getting the feeling of the new atmosphere that I was in. Our study abroad coordinators told us the last night was the best and that there was something special in store that was “typically Austrian.”
None of us knew what to expect. We walked into a big room that was surrounded by chairs in the shape of a big circle. We sat there for 20 minutes, anxiously waiting for what was going to happen.
At that point, we heard yodeling and what seemed like folk music playing. Five attractive Austrian men wearing lederhosen came out with axes, wood and honey in jars. They started dancing typical Austrian folk dances and brought people on the floor to dance with them.
Before I knew it, I was being whisked away by a handsome Austrian dancer who was trying to teach me to waltz. We finished off the night by drinking authentic honey schnapps and singing “Edelweiss” from “The Sound of Music.” At that moment, all of my fears went away. I knew right then that I made the right decision to study abroad.
When I walked into school the first day, I was carrying my Delta Gamma book bag. Out of nowhere a girl came up to me and asked if I was DG. When I said yes, I saw the anchor pin she was wearing and she excitedly said, “I am too!” She was a DG from Whitman College. At a time when I felt a million miles away from home, I suddenly felt at home. A part of me that I left at Drake came back to me.
Austria has been my new home for 87 days. Austria has been a great home. It has helped me grow up and has challenged me to think differently. Austria has taught me how to live up every moment. Austria has taught me how to be myself.
I am very lucky, in that I have fallen in love since I have been abroad. It is a certain kind of love that has taught me how to live. This is a love of a certain place that I will always cherish. I am going to admit it; I am in love with Austria.
Now that I am halfway through my time abroad, I look back from the start and wonder why I was ever scared. In 87 days, I have grown and changed in so many ways. I have learned how to live in a place that does not speak my native tongue. I have traveled all over Europe, everywhere from London and Paris, to Hungary and Poland. I have made amazing friends and love my roommates, which are some of the greatest people I have ever met. I have become self-reliant in figuring out things on my own. I now know why I chose to study abroad: to challenge myself.
For all of those who want to study abroad in the future, I have a few words of wisdom for you: 1) DO IT! 2) Don’t be afraid and 3) A saying from my study abroad director, “Squeeze the juice from the lemon that is life.” Live up every moment and cherish all the adventures you will have. Studying abroad has changed my life forever, and I can guarantee it will do the same to you.
From your fellow overseas traveler, Katie, Auf Wiedersehen!
Vergosen is a junior international relations major and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos courtesy of Katie Vergosen