I had never been outside of the United States until three weeks ago. Outside of domestic interactions, I had never experienced firsthand the intricacies of other cultures until three weeks ago. Despite the inherent wanderlust in me, I had never known the true beauty of the world outside the U.S. until three weeks ago.
On June 30, 2018, I headed to the airport and, three flights later, immersed myself in Europe and its kaleidoscope of cultures. I was fortunate enough to be selected to go by my university, allowing me to go for a cheaper rate than if I had planned everything myself. I arrived in Salzburg, Austria, on July 1, knowing next to nothing about the city. I did this purposely so everything would be new, fun, exciting, and adventurous upon my arrival – but what I didn’t expect was the non-arrival of my luggage.
This threw me for a serious loop. I had taken some precautions, such as keeping an extra change of clothes in my backpack that I had as my carryon item, but being my first time abroad, this instilled in me quite a nauseating anxiety. Instead of frolicking through the city with my peers, I stayed in my dorm room the day of my arrival not necessarily panicking, but in a sleep-deprived stupor, confused on how to proceed. Of course I had filed a missing luggage report, but I didn’t know if it would ever actually surface. Fortunately enough, my luggage flew into Salzburg that same night, roughly 12 hours after my arrival, and was delivered to my dorm. For the first time since I got on my first flight the day prior, I exhaled.
The next day, I was ready to take on the city. The professor from my university that came with us gave us a tour of the city the night before, and with my luggage finally with me, the realness of my experience set in. Excitement and nerves juxtaposed in my head as me and my peers from Ohio headed to the university building for the first time to take a German language placement test. I had a slight advantage having taken German language courses since high school, but out of four classes, I ranked into the second lowest. At first I was disheartened, but it ultimately morphed into an exceptional time. When class rolled around, I already knew the grammar lessons being taught, so I was able to focus mostly on building my German Wortschatz (vocabulary), which I would say was my biggest kryptonite since coming to university three years ago as my university classes haven’t focused on building vocabulary much.
Despite being in the second lowest class, my class was taught completely in German, which helped keep the energy alive. Everything was in German, to the point that the professor would describe new words in German rather than simply giving us the English equivalent to each word. At first this gave me ample anxiety, but after a few days I realized how extremely helpful it actually is in building a solid understand of the language, its usage, and its practicality. I began too shy to speak to the native German speakers, including my teacher, due simply to confidence issues, but again, I soon realized this was dumb. I was here to better my language skills. I was taking a German course at Universität Salzburg, after all.
Outside of class work, one of the most fascinating aspects of my study abroad experience was meeting everyone else in the program. I would estimate that there were about twenty-five to thirty people in the summer program at ISK (Internationale Sprachkurse, international language courses). The eight people from my university were the sole representatives from the United States, and the other participants’ home countries included Hungary, Colombia, Turkey, and Israel, just to name a few. We ranged in age and German proficiency, but most of us were in Austria for the first time, so that, combined with the fact that pretty much everyone spoke English, bonded us. Of course I learned a lot about Austria and Salzburg, but learning about everyone’s countries was phenomenal. I learned the most about Hungary and Turkey because my classmates originated from there, but learning bits and pieces about everywhere was great.
I of course can’t come all the way to Europe and not mention the food. I had the best authentic wiener schnitzel, cheesy spätzel, pretzels in a myriad of flavors, and wonderful fresh Italian pasta dishes. I didn’t know before I came how big the Asian influence was on the city’s cuisine, but I enjoyed quite a few Asian dishes as well, such as Korean ramen with pork and tofu and chicken fried rice with bean sprouts and carrots. Austria and Germany’s love for coffee was right up my alley, and made transitioning that much easier. I sipped my fair share of cappuccinos, espressos, and coffees, elevating my experience that much more. Of course, the occasional Starbucks was purchased, but a taste of home every now and then is nothing to scoff at, right?
I only made it out of Austria twice, but both times turned into beautiful memories in Germany. The first time saw my university group and I traveling via train to spend a day in Munich (München). We traversed as much of the city as we could, enjoyed some sweets, and, as one does when they’re in Munich, bought Birkenstocks. The second trip to Germany, just two days after the first, saw the same group travel to the Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus) above Berchtesgaden, Germany. As I note in the following Instagram post, the views I saw atop the mountain are the best views I’ve ever seen in my life. The mountains reach for miles, a clear lake glistens in a canyon below, clouds of varying color and shape hover above, occasionally encasing the mountains in fog. It’s breathtaking.
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The weather changed throughout the day, but that didn’t stop us from going 2,000 meters up the mountain to see the Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus) above Berchtesgaden, Germany. The views were the best I’ve ever seen in my life, and the history surrounding the Eagle’s Nest and the Nazi party was informative. It was an interesting juxtaposition that made for an interesting day! 🌦
Outside of these two trips, I attended a variety of excursions with the ISK program dedicated to showing off the city of Salzburg and everything it has to offer. We hiked up to the fortress that overlooks the city, visited a nearby palace and its various trick fountains, explored the salt mines that made the city wealthy hundreds of years ago, immersed ourselves in the city’s histories in numerous museums, and so much more. We remained consistently busy and consequently tired, but it’s the best form of tired I’ve ever felt and I’m so grateful to have experienced it.
Overall, the sights were beautiful, I learned more than I could have ever imagined, I learned I could be severely independent, the security guard at our dorm building hated us, and the food was divine. Now back in the United States, I’m gearing up for my senior year at my university. However, now that I’ve traveled alone and have my passport, traveling feels a lot more accessible, and I can’t wait to take advantage of this feeling in the future. World, I’m coming for you.
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