by Sarah Lime, Greenheart Travel’s high school exchange student in Austria
“Why did you chose to study abroad?” This is a question I am presented with two to three times each day. While I would like to have a concrete answer to this broad question, my decision to study in a different part of the world for a semester was quite spontaneous… actually very impulsive. I suppose I had a few reasons and goals for going abroad before I left my hometown, but as the homesickness slowly begins to torment my mind these last few days, I have begun to reflect on my logic more in depth. And after three weeks, these reasons have transformed rather greatly.
Originally, I was drawn to Austria’s incredible landscape, and I was intrigued by the outdoor lifestyle that accompanied it. Since I’ve arrived, my family and I have hiked up two mountains, gone on multiple trail runs through heavily-wooded forests, and I’m excitedly awaiting ski season. Along with my interest in the physical features of a different country, I was curious to meet kids my age and compare their lifestyle to my own.
Thus far, I have found the differences and similarities between my peers and myself fascinating. I thoroughly enjoy observing their behavior and being introduced to their life inside and outside of school. Since I have arrived, I have decided it is not solely about comparing and contrasting with my new friends and classmates, rather building relationships with them. Many of the people I have met are eager to spend time with me and learn about my culture. Forming these relationships is perhaps the most important aspect of my time abroad, because although I will leave this beautiful country behind eventually, I intend to stay in touch with many of the people I meet for the remainder of my life (I already promised my host parents an invitation to my wedding).
Along with relationships, my desire to learn the German language has increased greatly. Generally, German is viewed as a harsh language, but the more I listen to the people around me, the more beautiful and compelling it is. This language, and specifically the dialect of Kaernten, is a large part of the culture. Being exposed to a new culture was a large contributor to my decision to study abroad, and since I’ve arrived I have learned that the cultural differences are more prevalent than I expected. Whether it’s the food consumed at dinner, the common clothing style, the interaction between pupil and professor, weekend activities, the etiquette at mealtime, or the home decor, I am presented with rich culture every second of the day.
Overall, I’ve realized this experience abroad will allow me to find myself. Yes, this is cliche, but it is also very true. Each day I spend in Austria, my knowledge of myself expands and my self-confidence grows. I have realized I will be forced to ask others for help regularly (something I am not particularly good at), and I will make mistakes often. I must push outside of my comfort zone, whether it is navigating my way through an unfamiliar city, introducing myself to new people, or experimenting with my sparse German. I will learn about myself from how I chose to handle situations with my friends and family, such as cultural differences, and personal dilemmas, such as homesickness or getting lost on my way home from school. My confidence, passion, and view of the world as a whole will continue to grow with each challenge I face, and this is an idea which makes me extremely excited.
P.S. I captured the photo on this blog during my first mountain climb! It was spectacular.