School in Austria
On September 5, I started my first day of school in Austria at BG/BRG Korneuburg. The night before, my host mom and I spent at least an hour picking out the perfect first day outfit for me. I was so simultaneously nervous and excited. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Even in the US, I’d never been the “new kid at school” before. It’s so intimidating to walk into a new school where you don’t know anyone, attend classes in a language you don’t know well enough, and find your own way through the varying school system in a different country. But as scared as I was, I was also so excited to meet new people and make new friends. So I walked into my school on a rainy day, found classroom 7C, and started the next chapter of my exchange.
Within 2 minutes of getting into my classroom, a few girls from my class came up to me and asked me if I was an exchange student and talked to me for a bit, then one of them pointed to everyone in my class and named them off for me. Of course I didn’t absorb any of the names, but it was a super kind gesture. It was such a relief to have some friends right off the bat. At 7:40, class started and our class teacher came into the room. He immediately caught my eye and asked me how my exchange is going, and told me he’s there for me if I ever need something. He then said something about me in German to the class, but I didn’t understand so I just awkwardly smiled while everyone in the class looked at me. We mostly just went over class and school rules on the first day, and I tried my hardest to understand what my class teacher was talking about. Due to my mediocre German skills, I was only able to make out the general topic (For example, I would know he was talking about cell phone rules but I didn’t understand what exactly the rules were). During our 15 minute break between classes, a few girls from my class showed me around the school. My next class was Latin, which is a bit of a useless class for me to take because the rest of the class is on their third year of it and I don’t know any at all, so I spent the class period investigating the English textbook which had a glossary in the back full of useful English words and terms such as “wheelchair tricks.” After this I had English, which was a class that I could finally participate in. We got into groups and looked at pictures that represented stereotypes of a country, and then analyzed why we had these stereotypes. For example, the picture for France was a man with a mustache wearing a striped shirt and a beret while holding a poodle and a baguette. Once we got to the America picture, my English teacher apologized to me 4 times and briefly showed the class a picture of an overweight man on a motor wheelchair, eating McDonalds and firing a gun. She was not expecting to have an American in class that day. (Of course it wasn’t a problem, it was hilarious for me.) School got out at 11:30 every day for the first week, so I went home satisfied with my first day of Austrian school. I’m currently in my third week of school. Here are some big and little things I’ve noticed that are different than high school in America:
- Even though I attend a public school, religion is still a big part of school. Every classroom has a cross hanging on the wall. At one point in my first day of school, my homeroom teacher went down the class list and asked each student his or her religion. Religion is also a class that most students take, but from my understanding, it only educates on Roman Catholicism which is what the majority of Austrians identify as. On my second day of school, there was a “welcome back ceremony.” The majority of the students in the school came and sat on mats in the gym. We then were given lyric sheets and sang 3 songs about God, listened to a teacher give a metaphorical speech about hands, then everyone crossed themselves and said a prayer and we went back to our classrooms. It’s so strange for me to see religion so heavily in a public school, because in the US even as much as mentioning religion can be taboo so it’s pretty much an avoided topic in schools.
- We aren’t allowed to wear our shoes in school. We have to wear “Hausschuhe” which are basically just non-street shoes that you only wear inside. Most students wear slippers or Birkenstocks. I wear some cute little slippers that my host mom found me. I’m not really sure why we have to wear house shoes and I really am not digging how fast they can kill an outfit, but it’s an interesting change I guess.
- In American high school, each teacher has his or her own classroom and the students move to a different classroom every hour. In Austria, teachers are the ones that move, so I stay with the same group of people in the same classroom all day. (Aside from Gym, and the sciences, which are in labs) It’s a lot more convenient to have a few teachers moving around every break instead of hundreds of students, but that means that the classrooms have a lack of personalization. The walls of my classroom are basically empty except for the cross on the wall and a plaque of Austria’s crest over the door. This also means that the teachers are not as easily accessible, so it’s better to just ask someone in your class in the convenient Whatsapp group message that everyone in the class is in.
- In the US, I have only 8 or 9 classes, including a study hall. Here in Austria, I have almost double that. Most days I only have 5 classes, which means some classes I only have once a week. On a normal school day I get out at half past noon, but on Tuesdays I get out at 5:30 in the evening. My classes are: English, Latin, German, Art, Gym, Physics, Chemistry, Geography, Biology, Geometry, Maths, Psychology and Philosophy(PUP, pronounced “poop”), Geography, and History.
- There’s a lot of respect towards the teachers here. Whenever a teacher walks into the room, the whole class immediately stands up until the teacher gives us permission to sit down again. Teachers are always addressed by students as elders, never as equals or friends.
- AUTOMATIC BLINDS! Teachers can simply press a button on a remote, and the blinds on the windows will open, close, raise, or lower themselves. I’m sure this also exists in America, but I’ve never seen it before. I’ve only seen it the good ‘ole manual way. I thought America was supposed to be ahead in technology?
- Most teachers here don’t have one specific class they teach. I think the theory is, since they’re moving around so much and don’t even have a classroom to themselves, why not just teach an extra class too? My gym teacher is also my history teacher, and my German and PUP classes are also taught by the same teacher.
- 14 out of my 15 classes are taught by women. Just an observation. Also, a lot of my teachers are really young. Like, fresh-outta-college young. Like, are-you-a-student-or-a-teacher young.
- No yellow school buses here! I have to walk to the bus stop, which is a 5 minute walk from my house, and then take a 20 minute bus ride to school. It was pretty luxurious to have the bus come straight to my house in the US, but then again city buses are a lot cooler than school buses so I think it’s worth the sacrifice.
Overall I’m really liking school! I am slowly but surely making friends, and using my time productively by studying German during the classes I don’t understand. Being surrounded by German for 5 hours straight every day is improving my German so rapidly. Everything else is going great here in Austria. My host family continues to be amazing, and my recent mastering of public transportation is opening up a new world of opportunities for me. Last weekend I went hiking in the alps on a Rotary organized trip with the rest of the exchange students in Austria, and I’m heading on a week long trip to Croatia with my class this Sunday. Everything is going beautifully, and I’ll check in soon!
P.S. Jakob Fenz is the coolest Austrian I have met here and I wasn’t even bribed to say this