Rotary International Youth Exchange began in 1929. Since that time Rotary International has sent young people around the globe to experience new cultures. Currently, about 9,000 students are sponsored by Rotary clubs every year. Typically, students are sent to another country for a year-long stay, generally living with multiple host families during the year and being expected to perform daily tasks within the household as well as attend school in the host country.
Today (7. Oct) is the day after my two month anniversary with my new soulmate, Austria. My general impression of Austria so far could be described as a tangled mess full of all the different kinds of good feelings you could experience. With some more time I think these feelings will slowly start to be untangled as my culture shock and disbelief over living in a new country wear off. For now, however, I am content with not having to define that!
Rotary usually gives you a general explanation of each stage of your exchange so that you are prepared for the feelings that come with each time period. These stages run along the lines of culture shock, extreme language absorption, homesickness, etc. These stages didn’t mean much to me as I was trying to see them through the eyes of others. But now as I am experiencing every little thing so richly for myself, I understand completely what they meant and am even starting to paint a picture of what my exchange means to me. I am able to recognize my own personal stages, learn more about myself from how I cope with each new challenge, and strive to thrive in this crazy new life.
Most every exchange says on their return that they now have two lives. Two families, two sets of friends, and two homes. Currently, I feel as though I am transitioning into this mindset. Within my meek little two months I have already built a foundation. I have met friends, have gotten to know my host family, and have tasted the surrounding areas. I feel like I will only build upon this foundation until I too will feel as though Austria is my other home. Then in 9 months I will again have to leave home to live in another country (I really can’t catch a break on this one). Now, on to more exciting things! 🙂
Tauplitz Wochenende (September 19-21):
Two weekends ago I was blessed with another Rotary getaway in Tauplitz, Steiermark. Here I finally met the 30-ish exchange students from the southern hemisphere who arrived in January and will also leave in January (AKA our “Oldies”). That makes a total of about 85 rotary exchange students living throughout Austria! On Friday those of us living in and around Vienna met up and travelled in our massive group to the other 50 or so exchange students. On Friday after we arrived we were able to relax, talk to each other about our experiences and host families so far, and exchange lots of love that only exchange students know how to give. I really don’t know what I would do without this exchange student love and encouragement!
The next day was the day that we all hiked around two gorgeous lakes high in the Alps. A group of 10 or so students with the best gear and the lowest intelligence took the hardest hike straight up a mountain where they died (kidding, about the intelligence part). The rest of us were out and about for about 7 hours on our leisurely and gorgeous hike. You have probably already seen the photos of this since you are most likely only reading this from my Facebook page. There are no words to explain how breathtaking these views were. Combined with the fresh Austrian air and surrounded by amazing friends, it was completely rejuvenating. There is no way that someone could not have been happy in this setting.
That night we took a tiny little train-type vehicle across town (this “town” was a small collection of hotels and houses in a huge meadow tucked safely in the Alps) to a dance “club” where we danced through our exhaustion into the wee hours of the night (perhaps until 10 pm). A weekend well spent and much needed!
The weekend was the birthday of the Schneider Oma, or my host father’s mother. All of my host grandparents are extremely sweet and I always leave their homes fat and happy. 🙂 This is really nice for me as I haven’t ever really been able to experience having grandparents so close by! The birthday girl last weekend was Erna and for her birthday we all had dinner together. “We” includes my host family and the family of my host father’s brother. Karina’s (my host mom) parents also joined us that Sunday at a Gasthaus for lunch and more celebrations.
The next weekend we had another birthday, this time for the lovely Karina! For Karina’s birthday we went with practically the rest of the town (all of the friends of Karina and Korni) to a music concert. I dragged Facundo from Argentina along and together with my host family, decked out in funky crazy clothes, we danced until late into the night to some great funk and soul music by the band “74Tea.” This was also the 20th birthday of the band and it is this band that my two uncles play in! Feel free to look them up on youtube as they really are entertaining. Sunday was again a nice slow day and we ate Karina’s birthday lunch at a fantastic Gasthaus from her family. For those of you who don’t know, a Gasthaus is a restaurant and sometimes also a hotel owned by a family that serves delicious and authentic Austrian food.
Some other activities that I managed to squeeze in there is a festival in Retz and a short visit to the Oktoberfest in Vienna. There are several festivals this time of year coinciding with Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. It is Dirndl season in Austria and I can’t get enough of it! 🙂
Vanessa is starting to run out of basic German to learn and her German progress is starting to slow down. Vanessa is frustrated because Vanessa wants to speak German jetzt.
I don’t think I could have fit any more German learning into the first month if I tried; my knowledge level spiked. However, I have pretty much now learned all of the basics and the process is now a bit slower. Naturally, this is frustrating for someone who would learn the entire German language overnight if she could, but unfortunately life doesn’t work like that and I will have to be satisfied with steadier learning growth for awhile. Here are all the things that are currently contributing to my Deutsch lernen…
My Unterlage in school (or that thing that you put on desks for note taking, a calendar, etc): Every day in the subjects that are boring or that I don’t understand enough to participate in, I write vocabulary words on my Unterlage until I can’t fit any more. It probably holds about 200 words. Then, I keep this Unterlage for a week or two, practicing these words. When I am tired of them, I cross off the ones I know well, copy down the ones I still need to practice on my next sheet, and begin again with new words I have found somewhere. It works well because I’m learning German, my teachers think I’m working very diligently on school work, and it cures my stark boredom.
With my new class schedule I am now in 5 different classes with German. I have German with my own class, and then 4 different classes with little kids (ages 11-12). I have at least two German periods per day and at most, 4 (out of 6). I can already understand and do about 70% of their work. It also gives me a chance to find more useful vocabulary words that I will then copy down and translate at home. At first these classes were my most difficult periods but now, I enjoy them.
On my computer I have also created several lists of verbs, past tenses, phrases, and general vocabulary that I enjoy making and adding to, but should probably actually study more often.
When I have free periods in school I read children’s books in German, which I would probably still read for fun even if I didn’t have to learn a new language.
Let’s not forget the constant German speaking at all hours of the day. That certainly helps (until morning and late at night, when my brain starts to rejects any and every language thrown at it)!
Questions & Answers:
As I mentioned in my last post, feel free to email or Facebook message me with questions and I will do my best to answer them all in my blog posts! Here are the questions that I have been asked over the course of the last several weeks:
What are your favorite Austrian foods?
I love Knödel and of course, Wiener Schnitzel is always a safe bet. Knödel can be made out of potatoes (to go with meat, gravy) or dough with a sweet filling. In this case I prefer the dessert! Schnitzel is chicken or pork breaded and fried the Austrian way and usually served with french fries or potato salad.
How are Austrians different from Americans?
Well, the subtleties are too many to count and these subtleties fit in with the different lifestyle in Austria. But in general, I would say Austrians are a bit more reserved. They greet good friends with a kiss on each cheek, but they almost never hug. I have really missed being able to hug everyone in America! However, although they are not as openly affectionate as what I am used to, they are still very warm kindhearted people and once you get to know them, you see that more and more.
What are your general impressions of Austria so far?
What kind of a question is that! Austria is a beautiful little country with a huge heart, and it already has a special place in mine. If you want some more information, it’s all right here in the blog. 🙂
Have you been homesick yet?
A little bit…every time after I Skype with my niece and nephew, and when I have any problems with anything here in Austria. Every time I have even the slightest problem, it is magnified by the fact that everything is foreign and this makes me miss familiarity.
Do you like the school?
The school is very different, but yes, I enjoy it as much as one can enjoy school. 🙂
Does your new family have a kitty?
Yes, and her name is Julie.
Do they have the same style in Austria?
In general yes, something stylish in Austria would also be stylish in the US. However, they dress up much more often in Austria. In other words, something in the US that wouldn’t be considered stylish but would be accepted because no one really cares would be absolutely unacceptable to wear out and about in Austria. For example, boys wearing basketball shorts to school or anyone wearing sweatpants out of the house. Sorry, 75% of students at Chelan High School!
Are you going to come back?
We’ll see. 😉
My German, in my opinion, is coming along wonderfully. I can understand mostly everything that is spoken directly to me, but I am still not able to follow along completely in a normal conversation between two native speakers. My grammar is terrible, but I will have to worry about that later because if I worried about my grammar now I wouldn’t be able to say very much at all. 🙂 My German teacher at school (for little kid German) did not believe me when I told her that I did not study German in my school in America!
On the other hand, my other languages have been noticeably deteriorating. It is a lot harder to speak English and sometimes I wonder if my English is even correct, but oh well I don’t need English anymore anyways. If I must sacrifice some English eloquence to be fluent in German, then so be it! My Spanish has unfortunately been neglected to the point of no return. If I try to speak Spanish in my Spanish class, I immediately revert back to German. My brain just can’t handle that yet! Sometimes I feel like I am in the stage where I have no languages and I just can’t communicate for awhile.
I usually have something planned every week for the weekend. The weekend before last I visited Wien with some other exchange students and then came back the next day for a hike and outing with several local families who are friends of my host family. We hiked up a small mountain to some old ruins, had a glass of wine, and enjoyed the sunshine while the children ran around and played games. Then we made our way into a museum full of only the most unnecessary inventions. For example, glasses with a tennis net drawn on the bottom half of them so you “knew how high you needed to hit the ball.” Basically it was just a building full of entertaining objects to make you laugh! After the museum we went all went to dinner together at something called a Heurigen. It was just an open area where are a large group of people could sit down, eat some good food, and drink wine. Many times the owner of the Heurigen is serving up his wine from that year, and if you ever visit Austria you may not leave without experiencing and authentic Heurigen.
Last weekend was first a Rotary meeting in which the three exchange students living in my district were formally introduced to our rotary club. That night all of us exchange students travelled back to my town of Hollabrunn where a pre-celebration of Oktoberfest was taking place. The next day was the traditional Oktoberfest celebration in which I got to wear a dirndl and listen to traditional Austrian music. The real Oktoberfest takes place every year in Munich, Germany and is popular for people all around the world. Hollabrunn, however, also has a much smaller Oktoberfest and this is what I got to visit with my host family!
I was nervous to start school where I knew I would understand nothing, know no one, and be completely out of my element. But in the end I really had nothing to fear. I am in the sixth grade (or 10th grade in America) and my class is completely nice and welcoming. I didn’t go into the 7th grade with kids my own age because in that class they do a lot of preparation for the final exam that all Austrians must take at the end of their general education. The Austrian school system is completely different so I will give you a quick rundown. You have only one class of 15-20 students that you stay with from the time you are kids. You are only with this class and in one room the whole school year. Instead of the students switching classes, the teachers go from class room to class room. The daily schedule is also different for each day of the week. You have 6 periods per day and these periods change all the time. In total there are 10-12 subjects that I sit through every week, but I only get a grade in 7 of these which I choose. My schedule is also slightly special since I have not learned and do not need to learn all of the subjects as the other kids. So for classes like French, Latin, and Religion I go to the first or seconds grades during their German periods.
School is also shorter in Gymnasium. On a normal day school is out at 1:20. We do not have lunch in school but instead two 10-15 minute breaks where we are allowed to eat a snack. After school I usually go home where we then eat lunch together. School can be boring sometimes as I cannot understand all of the German that is being spoken so fast during lessons. But that is normal for any school anywhere (except in Mrs. Jenkins class, or any other of my dear Chelan teachers who may be reading this)! I have already finished the only English book I brought from America thanks to these long hours of understanding absolutely nothing.
Hello everyone once again! Much has occurred since we last met. The week after language camp and before my first day of school was extremely nice and for the most part, relaxing! I met the family friends and more members of my host family. Again, I haven’t met a person yet who is not completely welcoming and friendly. I had the opportunity to attend the birthday party of another girl my age who is very sweet. I met a few of her friends and was very pleased when they all made their way over to ask me questions about my exchange, rotary, and myself in general. It really is a unique experience to learn culture and daily lifestyles through immersion and observation rather than through a text book!
One day of that week we also went to Gmund where we visited a glass blowing shop and a huge indoor swimming park. It was crowded but still very nice to spend a few hours watching people play in the water and having conversations with my host mom and her best friend. Another day, my host father Korni and I went to a party where many people from Hollabrunn were gathered to drink wine and eat a roasted wild boar. I was able to try some great wine from my area (I live in the wine quarter of Lower Austria) and practice my German with some new people! We sat with the mayor of Hollabrunn and his wife and son, who are all very lovely. Other activities throughout the week included going on walks through the fields of Hollabrunn, watching my little host sister play handball, and visiting the little children of my host uncle and aunt. Ganz toll.
Rotary Youth Exchange – Inbound Orientation Weekend
Over 33 different countries were represented at the Inbound Orientation Weekend that held Sept 6th and 7th in Pentiction, BC Canada. What a group of amazing young people with lots of talent! Due to the wildfires the Re-bound weekend usually held in July was re-scheduled and joined the inbounds for the weekend. There was a parade of flags from the different countries and the students from those countries performed a short skit or shared a song about their home country. The re-bound students who have just returned from being abroad each shared their best experience and their worst experience on exchange. Some of the stories were heartwarming, some were a little scary but when asked if they would go on exchange again all unanimously said,” YES”!.
In visiting with the different students the one theme that kept coming up was that the students appreciated the local clubs being involved with their exchange by taking them to lunch, touring different businesses, enjoying an evening meal at different houses so they could share about their home country and town. Having others involved helps to fight off the normal homesickness that any 15-17 year old student experiences.
This upcoming year brings lots of opportunities to be involved. The Outbound Student Orientation will be held here in Chelan April 18-19th. Mark your calendar and come to visit with the students.
Jannik Tisher, our inbound student from Germany can be reached at his cell 509-423-1730 or at the home of Lori and Ken Jenkins 509-670-0723. Thank you to Lori and Ken for opening their home and hosting Jannik. Typically a student stays with a host family 3-4 months during their 10-month stay. This is a wonderful way to learn about a different country! If you are interested in hosting a student or know someone who is, please contact Lexy Lieurance or Tim Hollingsworth at Lake Chelan Rotary.
Obviously my very first impressions were hard to decipher through pain and blurry tears, but that did not stop me from noticing how gorgeous everything is. Mountains, lakes, and fields of flowers. Old churches, adorable stone houses with flowers lining every window, cobblestone streets. Everyone always dresses very nice and has very good manners. It is difficult to pick up on all of the subtleties that make people the way they are because of the German speaking, but soon enough I will be able to once more have conversations on a deeper level.
People drive crazy everywhere they go but if something is a 20 minute walk or less, they always walk or ride a bike. They are big on conserving energy and recycling here as well. You always turn off the light and close any windows when you leave a room, run the water for the least amount of time possible, and in most places recycle plastics, etc. It is hard to recall small differences now that I have been here long enough to get used to them. The doors don’t close like they do in America. In America doors close completely where they are pretty much flat with the wall. Here, there is a small lip that stays over the frame after the latch clicks into the hole. It confused me at first because I thought the door wouldn’t shut all the way. The pillows here are all square. They have the same length as US pillows but the width is extended. The toilets are usually separate from the bathroom and they are built a lot differently. Everyone uses shower gel here. I don’t know about you but in the US, shower gel is the extra thing in the toiletry gift bag that sits unused in a drawer until one day you decide to do a deep clean and throw it away.
Food is also different. There is bread available for pretty much every meal and of all kinds. Lunch is the largest meal here usually and when you eat you eat with your family all at once. There are different kinds of food in general but nothing crazy or disgusting and I have liked almost everything I’ve tried. One thing I found very odd at first though was the sparking water. They drink a lot of sparkling water either by itself or with flavored syrup, juice, etc. I’m not a big fan of plain sparkling water but with other stuff mixed with it, it’s great! If I think of anything else, I will fill you all in.
That is about it for my stay so far in Austria. Of course, I can’t explain to you all of the little feelings and experiences that come from being here first hand. Plus, I can feel my English deteriorating already. I haven’t had to write so much English in awhile because here I am either speaking English filler words, speaking German, listening to German, or trying to formulate a German sentence in my head. You will probably notice this with my future blog posts if you haven’t already! And this post was a little boring in my opinion because it was just a general surface run down of what has occurred thus far (which many people have requested). But in the future, I will probably be covering only larger events and more feelings and people than anything. I will have one blog post per month MINIMUM. Thanks for visiting and talk to you again soon!
August 24-Present (Home Again):
I got home yesterday around 2:00pm and we went straight to my uncle’s house where they were having a birthday party for Lorenz who turned 4. I met several more extended family members including my grandparents and my other uncle. My two uncles are in a band together which is very good. It is called 74Tea and I have a ticket to one of their concerts in the next couple months. Then I came home and finally unpacked my huge suitcase in my new room, which my little sister has so graciously sacrificed for the duration of my stay here. I am also learning the routine of my new home as I have finally been able to see what a normal full day is like. I could not have asked for a better host family. I already love them and I am excited for the months to come. My father is hilarious and always helpful with everything I need. I can depend on him to get me whatever I will need during the duration of my stay here in Austria. My mother is a primary school teacher which is more than perfect, as she is always teaching me more German and is so incredibly patient and kind to me. My 16 year old sister Mattea has shown me around town and introduced me to her friends, and I really enjoy having her around since she is my age and is also going to be a foreign exchange student in America next year. And finally my youngest sister Laurena is so sweet and such a goof ball. She always keeps me laughing! Tonight Kornelius, Mattea, Laurena, and I all did the ALS ice bucket challenge together and dumped cold water all over our heads. I am never bored. 🙂
August 10-24 (Language Camp/Sprachkurs):
In the morning we drove to Hollabrunn where I met with Facundo from Argentina and Sydney from Utah to take the 3 hour trek from Hollabrunn to Wien to Atnang Pucheim to Altmunster. We got settled into our rooms and met with all the other exchange students. There are 55 of us total from all over the world; we are representing the USA, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Finland, France, Bosnia, Bangladesh, Japan, and Taiwan. I love everyone and I can’t wait to see them all again on September 19th for a hiking weekend in the Alps! There are also around 35 other exchange students here in Austria that were not at the Sprachkurs, who have been here in Austria since January. They are from the southern hemisphere and mostly come from Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina, etc. We will meet them later!
Life at Sprachkurs was as follows: wake up at 7:20, breakfast at 7:30, class at 8:30, 30 minute break at 10:00, lunch from 12:00-1:00, and then Deutsch lernen again until 2:30. From 2:30 to 6:00 we have complete free time, 7:00-8:00 study hour, snack at 9:00, and bedtime at 10:00. Class was, of course, mostly boring but I did learn a LOT of German and I now understand much more. Our meals were actually very good most of the time and we got to taste a lot of Austrian dishes such as Wiener Schnitzel (<3).
In our free time we walked to Altmunster to buy chocolate, sit in cafes pretending to be European, buy more chocolate, swim in the Traunsee, and then buy some more chocolate. We would also walk to Gmunden, the neighboring town, which was much larger and had more sights, shops, and things to do. On the 17th, we drove to Hallstatt in a double decker bus and got to see one of the most beautiful and famous towns in Austria. If you don’t know what Hallstatt is, google “Austria” and it will be one of first few pictures you see. In Hallstatt we rode up a huge mountain to tour the oldest salt mine on earth. There is evidence of salt being mined there since prehistoric ages. In the salt mine there are long wooden slides that were originally used for the workers to get from one level to the next, but are now used just for tourists. At the end of the tour we sat on a little train and rode out of the mountain. We then ate lunch at the top of the mountain with a five star view, and then hiked all the way down to the catholic church. We visited the graveyard of the church with is very famous because long ago, they ran out of room in the cemetery and had to start exhuming bones and putting them in a tiny bone house with the name of the person written across the forehead of the skull. It is now a great honor which you can only apply for if you were originally born in Hallstatt. We then had some free time to walk around the town, feed the swans (which are everywhere here), and finally return to Altmunster. The last night there, we went to the old catholic church to a concert performed by the choir kids age 8-18 who were actually sharing our boarding school with us at the time. They are unbelievably amazing and so well trained. They serenaded us for an hour and half with mostly older hymns but also some traditional music as well.
Anyways, those were the highlights of Sprachkurs. It was extremely nice to be around people who spoke english and who knew exactly what you are going through in this crazy new place.
August 5-6 (Travel):
I didn’t have the best travel experience, as I forgot my passport at home and had to rebook all my flights, pay 200 dollars, and rush through everything else to make my new flights. Shawn and Andrea (my sister and brother-in-law) thankfully met us halfway and soon I was back on track (mostly). My new flight was 20 minutes early and the line for security was moving as fast as you would imagine a bored TSA agent could muster. My mother also insisted on getting a security pass to come to the gate with me, so this was more extra time that we didn’t really have (love you Mams). Finally we were through security and speed walking to the very opposite end of the airport when my mom now decides to dart off into a store to get me a travel pillow. “I’ll be right behind you!” Well she was already in the store and there was no time to argue so I was forced to keep going. Because of this she barely missed the subway to my gate so I wasn’t sure if I would even be able to say goodbye to her because of that stupid pillow. I arrived at my gate with 2 minutes to spare and I managed to get them to wait another few minutes for my mom to get there. She made it last minute and I did get to hug her goodbye. I almost started crying not because I was leaving for a year, but because I was so incredibly frustrated. I made it on the plane and there were no other travel incidents besides a four hour layover in Amsterdam which I would take over the other experience any day! The travel pillow was very comfortable, but I’m still not sure it was worth it.