Being an American living in Austria

Being an American abroad has really opened my eyes to things I’d never realized before about my country and its relation to others.

     In my younger years, I didn’t know much about other countries.  I pretty much regarded the USA as the center of the world..  But as I got older and learned about other countries and cultures, I realized there’s so much more to the world than just my country.  After I did a little bit of traveling and saw other countries, I had a sort of epiphany: the US is just another country, it just happens to be the one I’m from. I believed this for a few years, but once I moved to Austria, it became pretty clear to me that the US was “something,” and this was one of my biggest sources of culture shock.  

    In my first few days in Austria, I realized pretty quickly that the US was everywhere.  Even though I couldn’t understand much German at the time, I would hear “America” or “USA” or “Obama” on the radio, TV, or daily conversation all the time. Out in public I would see people wearing American flags on shirts and bags. Stores were selling hats, socks, sweatshirts, and phone cases that said “LA”, “California Republic”, or “NYC” on them. (Fun fact: at one store I bought a 3€ shirt that had an American flag on it and said “City of California – Golden State of Los Angeles” on it) Almost every song I heard on the radio was from the United States. In everyday speech between Austrians, especially kids and teens, English words and slang were thrown into the middle of an otherwise all German sentence.

Don’t get me wrong on this here: I love my country. However, this presence of my country all around me made me ask a question:

“Why does everyone care about America so much?”

In my first few months in Austria I asked this question more than once to my host mom, my host dad, my Austrian friends, other exchange students…anyone I thought could give me a decent answer. Of course the answers varied: Because everything comes from America (music, movies) and because America is a strong leader in economics, politics, technology. A “highly influential country.” I’m not sure if there is an answer set in stone, but the presence of my home country in everyday life, despite it being 5,000 miles away, is an observation that I’ve made.

When people ask where I’m from and I say America, there are mixed results when it comes to reactions. I sometimes get the response, “I’ve never been to America before but I’ve always wanted to go there.”  Some people jump at the opportunity to talk to an American.

But I sometimes also get “Oh, America!” in an indecipherable tone. (Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Who knows)

And then there’s the questions.

Most commonly I’m asked, “How do you feel about the election?”

Other common questions include,

“Can you drive?”

“What is the drinking age in America/have you drank before?”

“What is prom/is prom real?”

“What do you think about Trump?”

“Do you eat a lot of fast food?”

“Can you vote in America?”

“Where is Wisconsin?”

“Do you own a lot of guns?”

And, my personal favorite: “I have a friend from America, do you know him?”

I answer these questions to the best of my ability. Although some might seem a little ridiculous, they’re a good insight to cultural differences and to stereotypes that other countries have of the United States.

At the beginning of November the US held the Presidential Election. Due to the 6 hour time difference, watching the election results roll in required me to stay up all night with the help of Pringles and 3 SparBudget energy drinks. I unfortunately had to go to school directly afterwards. Of course I had plenty of classmates and teachers talking to me about the result. Most people in Austria have been kept pretty updated on the US elections and the candidates via news channels (another example of the US present everyday life on the other side of the world).

During the time of the US presidential election, Austria faced a very similar situation. A presidential election between a far left and far right candidate; the vote of the country split 50/50. Many political conversations I had with Austrians drew a lot of parallels between the two elections. For this reason, a drastic change was predicted for the Austrian polls after Trump was elected. No one was sure which way the votes would swing, but knew many people’s votes would be influenced in one way or another by the outcome of the US election.

The left candidate ended up winning the election, but the presidential role in Austria really isn’t as big of a deal, as they aren’t making all of the decisions.  After Van der Bellen won, I rarely heard anyone talk about it.

So, there you have it, folks.  As a conclusion, it’s definitely a learning experience to be an American living in a different country. It’s been fun, it’s been frustrating, it’s been educational, it’s taught me about my own country and my host country.

Christmas is coming up soon, I’ll write again soon about my Christmas time here in Austria!

xxx Ashlyn

Video – First 100 Days

2 weeks ago I celebrated my 100th day in Austria.  I spontaneously decided to put together a montage of some of the videos I’ve taken so far during my exchange. The video includes footage from language camp, Hallstatt, Croatia, Prague, Dresden, Berlin, Styria, Linz, and of course daily life in Vienna. Words can be great in explaining my experiences and feelings during this exchange, but videos give a glimpse into the stunning, beautiful things I see every day here. So, linked down below is a visual of my first 100 days in Austria! Enjoy!

Prague-Dresden-Berlin

On October 26, over 70 exchange students (everyone on exchange to Austria and Croatia) loaded a double-decker bus in Linz, Austria bound for Prague, then Dresden and Berlin. We had a beautiful 4-day adventure, exploring three new cities.

A quick overview of each city:

Prague:
– We took a guided tour of the most important points of the city including Charles Bridge, St. Vitus Cathedral, and the town square.
– Prague reminded me of Vienna, but a bit calmer and close together, and a lot more colorful. However I never felt the same connection to Prague as I do to Vienna, but I might just be biased.
– I really visited Prague at the perfect time. The fall colors were at their peak, and it was really the most beautiful thing to see red, orange, and yellow nature all around.
– I saw a wiener dog wearing a pink sweater. This isn’t necessarily an impression of Prague but I feel like it needed to be mentioned because it made me really happy.
– Although I was only in Prague, Czech Republic for a day, I instantly fell in love.

Dresden:
– We took a walking guided tour in German of Dresden and hit all the main points, such as the Semperoper, Frauenkirche, and Zwinger Palace gardens.
– I really loved Dresden. It’s a big city, but not too big, and it wasn’t super crowded and not too touristy. It was really easy to navigate as well, and has lots of fascinating history and beautiful architecture.

Berlin:
– I was in Berlin during my short term Germany exchange at the end of June this year, so really recently. At the time, I felt no connection to Berlin, and I might even stretch to say that I was a bit disappointed. I was, however, excited to come back again this time and get a different impression. My second time around was so much better. I could hardly believe that the city I was seeing was the same one I saw 4 months ago.
– We took a long bus tour of the city and learned lots about it. We took short breaks at some important sites – The remaining parts of the wall, the Brandenburg Gate, and Checkpoint Charlie.
– In only one day, I ate Currywurst 3 times. Currywurst is one of my favorite foods of all time, and it’s very uncommon to find it anywhere besides Germany. It’s basically a really good Bratwurst topped with a curry ketchup sauce and yellow curry seasoning. It’s a must-try thing…explaining the taste can’t do it justice, you have to taste it to believe it.
– I was so amazed with the art within Berlin. There was beautiful street art everywhere, and the remaining pieces of the Berlin wall bear breathtaking, meaningful murals.
– I hope I can visit Berlin again sometime. It is a huge city, and there’s still so much for me to explore.
– Although it took more than one visit to reach this conclusion, I can really say that this time, I fell in love with Berlin.

The Prague-Dresden-Berlin trip was a beautiful opportunity to see more of the world, bond with friends (and make some new ones), and learn about the complex histories that each city holds. I got so much closer with a lot of the other exchange students during this trip, because we spent a total of 20+ hours in the bus while driving to each city. The other exchange students in Austria have become like my family.. I’m not sure if I’ve ever gotten so close with a group of people so fast before. Overall, I am so thankful for this opportunity and for Rotary who put this together for us!

With the US Presidential election coming up, I am planning on doing a blog soon about what it’s like to be an American here in Austria.

Additionally, last night, I did a Live Q&A via Facebook about my life and exchange in Austria. You can view this video at https://www.facebook.com/aneader/videos/vb.100001618803788/1245404872190128/?type=3&theater.

Auf Wiederschauen,
Ashlyn xx

Trip to Croatia

On my first day of school, I was presented with the option of going to Croatia on a 5 day trip with my class. Although the trip was REALLY rough on my bank account, the right decision was pretty obvious to me. Not only have I always wanted to go to Croatia, but I also thought it would be super beneficial to use the trip as an opportunity to get closer to my classmates. I have all my classes with the same group of 19 people, so it was in my best interest to get to know/bond with them as soon as possible. So on September 25 I went to bed at 1 AM after packing, only to wake up at 4:45 (or, less than 4 hours later) to get to the coach bus on time.  We loaded the bus, I said goodbye to my host mama, and then, once in the bus, promptly fell asleep until our first rest stop. The bus ride consisted of driving through most of Austria and Slovenia to get to Croatia. It still amazes me that in Europe, you can just casually drive to another country just as easily as we can drive to another state in the US. I spent a few rest stops in (and many hours looking out the window at) Slovenia, which is a super beautiful country. The only thing notable about the trip there is that at one point I gave a girl in my class permission to speak German to me so I could practice, and somehow this turned into all of the students and teachers also speaking German with me, which gave my entire time in Croatia an unexpected twist.

About 8 hours later we finally arrived in Croatia, where we had to take an hour long ferry to the island we stayed on called Mali Losinj.  Somewhere around 10 hours after our departure, we finally arrived in Mali Losinj and got situated in our hotels. I immediately fell in love with Croatia. The weather was perfect, the air was salty and fresh, seagulls flew overhead, palm trees and tropical seaside bars could be seen in every direction, and right outside our resort was the vast, blue Mediterranean Sea. It was like a dream. Right after arriving we went swimming – I think it was my first time ever swimming in the sea. Later that day I discovered a window in my hotel room that I could crawl out of and sit on the roof with a stunning view of the sea. I sat on the roof, drank Almdudler, and counted my blessings as I watched the sun set. That night, me and 2 of my roommates sat on the floor in the loft of our room surrounded by Croatian snacks and drinks, and just talked. This little “party” was significant to me because it was just normal girl talk that I was able to understand and even participate in – even though it was all in German. At night, most of my classmates went to the beach and we all listened to music and looked at the stars and listened to the waves. The rest of the trip in Croatia was just as beautiful as the first day. We went snorkeling twice a day, and in between snorkeling we had lessons about sea life and studied organisms under microscopes. Snorkeling was something I’d never done before. Putting on flippers and goggles and diving into the clear, deep sea was undoubtedly one of the coolest things I’ve done in my entire life. Seeing under the sea is like seeing a whole new world. (Don’t mind the whole double-Disney pun I just made there.) Sometimes while snorkeling I would find a school of fish and swim alongside them. One highlight was when, on a boat excursion one of the days, someone spotted 6 dolphin fins nearby our boat. The boat stopped and we watched the dolphins for awhile. Of course I’ve seen them in aquariums before, but there’s something undeniably breathtaking about seeing an animal in its natural habitat.
After 5 days, we said our final goodbyes to Mali Losinj made the 10 hour journey back to Austria. Here are some of my overall impressions of Croatia:
-The Croatian version of nutella is so good. In fact, I snuck a few one-time-use capsules back to Austria with me.
-Croatia is super cheap, and I really love Croatian chocolate and chocolate milk
-As I wrote in my journal, “I don’t think I’ll ever really be the same person again after swimming with the fish and seeing the world underneath the sea.”
-I made lots of new friends and finally started speaking a little bit of German. This was one of the best, most beneficial parts of the trip in my opinion.
-I think I fell in love with the sea. It felt so nice, so pure. Jumping in never felt too cold, always just refreshing. The salt from swimming twice a day for almost a week did wonders for my hair and skin, and also my well being. I felt so stress-free and happy. Snorkeling was a great way to escape the world for a bit and enter a completely different one. Underwater, all sounds from the outside world are cut off and all you can hear is your own breathing as you look around at the fish and seaweed and sea urchins and rocks.
-I want to go back. I think I have a set definition now of “paradise.”
Tschau!
Ashlyn

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!

Liebe Grüße,

Ashlyn

P.S. Jakob Fenz is the coolest Austrian I have met here and I wasn’t even bribed to say this

My First Week in Austria and Language Camp

Ok folks…get comfortable, because I accidentally made this a little long. Apologies.

I think the first week of exchange is probably one of the craziest, weirdest, scariest, and emotional weeks one can imagine. You’re thrown into a completely new and different house, family, country, and language while being jet-lagged. The first week was filled with adjustment and lots of learning basic rules and customs that are automatic in my house at home but different in a house across the world. (For example, where I put my dirty clothes and how to open the windows.) During the first few days, I sometimes woke up disoriented in the morning not knowing where I was, because the ceiling above me was not the one I’d seen every morning for as long as I could remember. I sometimes found myself standing around awkwardly, feeling out of place in my own (new) home. Every once in a while, even still, it hits me in waves that this whole thing is real and that I’m living 7,700 miles away from La Crosse, Wisconsin for a year. The adjustment time was sometimes overwhelming but after a week, things started to feel less foreign.

The "beach" on the Traunsee

The “beach” on the Traunsee

On my first full day in Austria, I explored Vienna with my host brother and drank my first Almdudler (An Austrian soft drink with herbs, similar to ginger ale but better). In my first week in Austria, I met my host mom and older host brother Maxi, went to a movie theater in Vienna(the main character in the movie was from Wisconsin), sat near the former Chancellor of Austria at a cafe, kissed a llama, got ran over by a Segway, met my host grandparents, biked through my town, and went to a small festival in my city. By the end of my first week, I was sad to say goodbye to my host family and leave my home for two weeks to go to language camp.

Language camp took place in Altmünster, a small town of about 10,000 people in the state of Upper Austria. This was about a two or three hour drive from my city. Our language camp was at a boarding school, so I lived, ate, and learned in the same building for a couple weeks. The area surrounding the boarding school was so beautiful. The school was situated on a small mountain. Right next to the boarding school was a beautiful castle and a forest. It was only a 5 minute walk down the hill through the forest to reach the main part of the city, which is on Lake Traunsee. It was another 5 minute walk to reach the “beach”, which didn’t have sand but a large open grass area, volleyball courts, ice cream stands, lakeside bars, and large docks. The Traunsee itself was filled with swans and sailboats, and it faced the most beautiful mountain, called the Traunstein. It was really so beautiful, and we all spent lots of time at this “beach” during our free time.

Immediately upon everyone’s arrival to the boarding school, we (the exchange students from all around the world who are on exchange to Austria) started congregating and talking about the differences we noticed between our home countries and Austria.  Some topics of conversation were “Why is the toilet in a separate room as the rest of the bathroom?”,  “Why  isn’t there a trash can in the toilet room?”, “Why is water so expensive?”, “I’ve eaten more bread since I got to Austria than I have in my whole life put together. Is it just me?” and “Does anyone else miss having ice in their drinks?”.  It was so nice to talk with groups of other exchange students who were feeling the same thing that I was feeling. The same culture shock, the same confusion, and the same excitement.

All of the Rotary Exchange Students at language camp

All of the Rotary Exchange Students at language camp

In all there were 44 exchange students at the language camp.  We’re from the US, Canada, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, Colombia, and France. Once everyone arrived, we were given some quick rules for the camp, then split into two groups – one group of people who knew zero German(about half of the us), and the other half who knew a bit already.  After that, the latter group was interviewed by our to-be language teachers in German, in order for them to gauge our language skills and place us accordingly.  The interview was terrifying but I think mine went well! The next day, we were sorted into our classes and formed a routine:

We woke up every morning at 7, in order to get to breakfast by 7:30. We ate breakfast in the cafeteria, a floor below the girl’s dorms. We then had class until lunch, and after lunch we had only an hour and a half more of class, and then we were let out for the day.  At this time we were free to walk around Altmünster, go to the beach, take a nap…basically anything we wanted to do. Since the weather was so beautiful (75° to 80° every day), I usually went to the lake with friends to swim or tan, and sometimes we went to a beach bar and drank an Almdudler while admiring the beautiful view of the lake, the mountain, and the cute boys playing volleyball in the courts. We ate dinner at 6:00 and had a mandatory study hour at 8 every day, where we worked on the homework we’d gotten in class that day. At 9:00 every night we had a snack of semmel, which is Austrian bread.  We had to be in our rooms at 10:00, but usually I stayed up later with the 3 other girls who roomed with me, and we talked together long into the nights about anything and everything.  I’ve never gotten so close with a group of people so fast.

Each day was pretty much the same on the weekdays.  We got up at the same time, ate our meals at the same time, and survived 6 hours of learning German. The German class itself wasn’t actually terrible. My teacher, Roland, was an English professor at the University of Vienna, and, since I was placed in the highest German class, spoke slow but fluent German with us the entire time. I never spoke much German at all in my German class in the US, so the course was good for me because Roland made us speak only German. At the end of the 2 weeks, we had to take a final examination. I think my German improved a lot throughout the German course, and my final examination confirmed that.
On the weekend, the entire group made an excursion to Hallstatt (That’s the city you always see when you look up “Austria” on Google Images) and on another day we all went hiking up a mountain. We always had events on the weekend-Rotary always kept us busy.

Me swimming in the Traunsee with the Traunstein in the background

Me swimming in the Traunsee with the Traunstein in the background

Some highlights of language camp included:

  • Making dozens of new friends from all over the world
  • Buying Almdudler from the nearby grocery store 2 liters at a time and drinking it every night out of wine glasses with Emma Fairchild while having deep conversations
  • Eating Turkish Kebabs at a nearby restaurant and making friends with the Turk who owned the place
  • Swimming topless because this is Austria and it’s completely normal and legal here
  • Learning traditional Austrian songs and dances
  • Attending a local Rotary meeting
  • Seeing the Alps for the first time during the trip to Hallstatt (I almost cried)
  • Seeing the Europe’s oldest wooden staircase inside a salt mine in Hallstatt (3,000 years old)
  • Going to a thrift store in the town next to Altmünster and buying “The Polar Express” chapter book in German for only 2 Euro
  • Chugging 2 liters of Almdudler with Emma while reciting all 50 states and every president of the United States for the talent show
  • Eating Semmel several times every day

Like all wonderful things, language camp felt slow at the beginning, but time passed by so fast at the end. I imagine this is how my exchange as a whole will also play out Despite how lovely the entire camp was, by the end I was excited to go home, because I was beginning to miss my host family and also alone-time. Overall, I loved language camp! It was a beautiful 2 weeks and I love my new exchange family!

I will update soon about how school is going!

xx Ashlyn

Arrival and First Day in Austria

On August 6th, I said goodbye to my family, got on a plane, and left basically everything I’ve known and called home for the last 16 years of my life. As terrifying as it initially was, it has already proven to be the best decision I’ve ever made.

I had a total of 12 hours from my departure from Minneapolis to my arrival in Vienna. My flights went well and I successfully made my short 1.5 hour connection in the CDG Paris airport with time to spare. In the days leading up to my departure, I began second guessing myself and all the decisions I had made that led me to where I was–packing my bags and saying goodbye for an entire year. However, the day I left and all throughout my flights I felt mostly at ease. I felt ready, prepared, and excited for the new adventure ahead of me. All of the uncertainties of the next year of my life that previously terrified me, I now saw as memories and adventures waiting to be made.

My second flight from Paris to Vienna was probably the longest 2 hours of my life. I had my travel journal out in the last hour, documenting the checkpoints that brought me closer and closer to my new home. At 11:18 AM, I looked out the plane window and saw the Alps, and then cried a little. At 11:26, I felt the first drop in altitude. At 11:40, I saw Vienna and got chills all over. The last thing I wrote in my journal before I landed was “My adventure begins now.” in German.

I had an initial struggle at baggage claim with my checked suitcase being broken, but I bought a trolley and wheeled more than my own weight past the “Welcome to Vienna” sign. I immediately saw the smiling faces of my host father and younger host brother Johannes. At the time my other host brother Max was on vacation in Portugal, and my host mother who is a flight attendant had a long distance flight to New York, so I met both of them later on. After the initial hugs and small talk about my flight and the bags, my host dad asked me if I wanted to see Vienna or go straight home and sleep. I slept for most of my international flight, and I was too excited to be tired anyways, so naturally I chose Vienna. We drove to the 1st district of Vienna, which is the center. My first time in Vienna felt so unreal. It was even better than the pictures. We stopped at an outside cafe for lunch, where I had my first meal in Austria: Wiener Schnitzel. Definitely one of my new favorites, and probably one of most Austrian meals possible. After that we got some Italian gelato and made the drive home, the three of us talking and singing to the songs on the radio. After only maybe 20 minutes, I was finally at my new home for the next year of my life. I live in a very small town called Seebarn, with a population of only 300. A few miles away from Seebarn is Korneuburg, a city of about 12,000 people. That is where I’ll be going to school.

My home is so beautiful. My bedroom is so big–it has a work area, a huge couch, a piano, a TV, and a staircase that leads up to a loft area that contains my floor bed and is quite literally Ashlyn-sized..My head just touches the ceiling when I stand up. The rest of the house is just as nice. In the basement there’s a sauna and wine cellar, which apparently are both normal in Austrian households. Outside there is a beautiful garden, terrace, trampoline, and pool. I think I tried to get situated by starting to unpack my suitcases, but I gave up and joined my host dad and brother in watching a soccer game (Go Rapid Wien!).

After Rapid won 4-1, the three of us took a walking tour of Seebarn, my small town. Directly next to my house is a beautiful trail that leads to a road of dozens of wine cellars, each separate little buildings. We visited my host family’s wine cellar. We took stairs that lead down to a dark, cool, underground cellar filled with bottles of wine. These wine cellars were built between the two world wars. It took only 45 minutes to walk through Seebarn before we made a full circle. I love Seebarn just as much as I love Vienna, even though they are so different from each other. It’s so nice to have 3 cities here that I can call home- The tiny but beautiful little Seebarn, the middle sized city of Korneuburg, and the huge city of Vienna. I’m getting a taste of three totally different environments and cultures with the different city sizes.

After our walk, we had a small dinner of bread (the food that I have found to be a recurring theme in this country) and I asked my host dad the First Night Questions, which are essentially just basic questions that exchange students ask their host families such as “what time is my curfew on weekends?” (which I guess happens to be 2 or 3 AM if you were wondering). Overall my first day in Austria was overwhelming but so great. I love my host family, my town, my house, and this beautiful country.

I have been so busy but I will try to post more soon about my language camp and my first week in Austria!

Liebe Grüße, Ashlyn

Introduction

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Me, directly after I found out I was going to Austria on exchange

My name is Ashlyn Neader, and I am 16 years old. I’m from La Crosse, Wisconsin in the USA. When I was in middle school, I watched as my older brother got involved in Rotary and became an exchange student to Denmark through Rotary’s youth exchange program. I was immediately sold on doing the same thing as I watched all the beautiful ways his exchange year transformed him.

Now it’s my turn. I started the process in the fall of 2015. I went to the informational meetings, filled out my application, and passed two sets of interviews. In January, after my first Rotary get-together in Madison, I got the phone call that changed my life (while shopping at TJ Maxx, of all places!). This phone call told me the country I would be living in, since Rotary doesn’t allow you to simply pick a specific country. My Rotary club called and said “how does Austria sound?” I responded “it sounds great!”, then proceeded to cry of happiness in the middle of TJ Maxx.

Around 7 months later, it’s all finally beginning to feel real. I’m feeling so many different feelings at once, every day. I have only 4 days until I leave the US. I’m sad to say goodbye to my family, friends, cats,(honestly) and country. However, I’m excited to begin a new chapter of my life and explore the beautiful country of Austria.

I will use this blog to give updates on my exchange year in Austria. If you would like to get an email each time I add a new blog post, you may subscribe using the form below:


 

Feel free to ask me any questions (or kick me if I’m not blogging enough, haha).

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