Trip Start Aug 05, 2008
3Trip End Jul 2009
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Warning: don't expect pith, proper grammar, or a logical train of thought. These excerpts are mainly answers to questions from a few different emails and may cover some subjects twice (I'll try to edit out the repetition, but it's 10 o'clock, I have cooking class tomorrow, and I'm listening to Julian Peretta, a really cool new artist that makes me want to dance. So yeah, some stuff is probably going to slip through.)
(Side note - I'm at school, so I am using a German
alphabet keyboard. It's not that big a deal, except the z and y are
switched, there are ü, ä, and ö, the @ sign is hard to find, and I have
to use shift to make an apostrophe. Kind of annoying...)
Speaking of school, I go to a Tourism school here in Bad Ischl.
It's like high school and technical school mixed together, which means
I take some normal classes such as math and English (which would be
like taking German or Spanish in America), and I take classes like
cooking and serving. I also have a sport class, but it's only once a
week, which is kind of sad. Sports are not really a priority here; Mrs.
Warriner would love it. I am, however, taking Tae Kwon Do lessons with
my host sister. It's crazy different from anything I've ever done,
making it really frightening and interesting at the same time. That's
kind of the story for everything I do here.
For instance, today there is a traditional Christmas celebration
in my town. It is the anniversary of the sainthood of St. Nicholas. A
man dressed basically like Santa comes into town along with big, hairy
monsters with scary, horned masks that run around town trying to catch
people and hit them with long bats. These are called Krampos or
Perchten. For realz. They actually go around trying to hurt people. I
don't know how this is legal, but it is. I am excited to see this
because there is nothing like it in the US, but I also don't want to
get beat up by drunken, masked devils.
As to the parties... funny you should mention that...
Last weekend four of my American friends came to my town to
celebrate Thanksgiving and go to my host sister's ball with me. (Btw,
the dances here much more than the ones in America
because they are mainly ballroom dancing, and a lot of it is choreographed. It looks pretty cool, and I imagine it would be pretty
fun if I knew how to do it, but as my friends and I did not possess
this knowledge, we got kind of bored.) The next night we went to a
birthday party for an Austrian friend of one of my American friends.
Basically a lot of alcohol. I have nothing against drinking in general here [Don't worry, everyone who is reading this, I'm legal, and I'm smart about it. ] other than I don't particularly enjoy the taste of alcohol. However,
when it is taken too far... well, then I am not so fond. The problem
is, the Austrians are used to drinking a lot, but Americans are not (or
shouldn't be if they are minors). Hence exchange students tend to drink
past their limit and do stupid things. Or they completely disregard
their limit and do stupid things. Either way, they end up doing stupid
things. When I drink here, I am careful not to choose either of these
options because I don't particularly relish the thought of not having
control of my actions and/or not being able to remember what I did the
night before. So I guess to answer your question, yes, I do drink here,
and yes I have been to wild parties, but no, I do not get drunk, and no, I am not wild.
Drinking is such a cultural thing here, that I would almost feel bad if
I didn't at least try some of the things. And when I say cultural, I
don't mean frat house cultural, I mean Europe cultural. It's different
(not that I've ever been in a frat house; I'm basing this off my
extensive movie knowledge).
I am now using my Mac to type this. A few weeks ago I figured out
how to make umlauts really easily. For me the combination is "option u"
then whatever vowel I want to change. An es set (ß) is made with
"option s." [I left that in as a fun fact for any of you who have a Mac and an itch for unlauts.]
My school is a Tourism school as opposed to regular high school
(Gymnasium). Tourism schools are somewhat common (maybe one or two in
every region of Austria). This is due to the fact that Tourism is
Austria's largest industry. There are four sub-schools in my school:
hotel management, Gastronomy (serving & cooking), languages (but I
think they also do something else b/c everyone takes languages), and
outdoor entertainment (skiing, mountain biking, hiking, etc.). I am in
the Gastronomy school, so I serve or cook every Thursday (best day of
the week). However, I also take classes like geography and math (mixed
easy stuff from classes like algebra, geometry, and trig). It's pretty
awesome, although I do spend a large portion of my time reading while
my classmates do real work. So you don't think I'm slacking all the
time: apart from the last Twilight book which I read on the plane here,
I have been trying to read books I will need in college or that have
some merit besides pure entertainment value (the New Testament, The Screwtape Letters,
Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Grapes of Wrath, A Woman of No Importance). I am about to start 1984.
My sister just sent me a copy of Anne Frank's Diary in German from her
museum in the Netherlands. I think I will
try to tackle that next...
I have traveled quite a bit within Austria. In fact, I went to
Vienna this past weekend. That was my fourth time there I think. It's a
3 hour train ride w/ only one train change. Pretty sweet. I've also
been to some places right around where I live to visit other Rotary
kids. I've been to Germany three times, although the last two were back
to back days in the same place, so I'm not sure that counts. The first
time was to Munich for Oktoberfest w/ my host dad and 15 yr old sister.
The last 2 times were for a movie and shopping in Passau. When my
parents and sisters come to visit in March we will probably visit a few
other countries including Germany b/c my parents studied there in
college. Then in May I have Eurotour w/ all the Rotary kids. We will
visit Italy, France, Spain, Andorra, Belgium, Holland, Germany
and the Czech Rep. And I am currently trying to work out a deal w/ Rotary
officials here that will allow us to go to the Rotary International
Convention in Birmingham, England in June (but that probably won't work
out). [Update: it didn't work out. alack, alack, alack, however, just very grateful to be here at all]
My favorite part of Austria are the transportation systems. The
experience of an exchange student here is so different than one in
America largely in part to the many convenient forms of transportation.
Let's start with in town. In most towns, even the fairly small ones
like mine, there are handy-dandy buses. Granted, they can be kind of
expensive (2 Euro per ride), but if you ride often enough, you can buy
a 24hr pass, a 7 day pass, a month pass, or a year pass. (These passes
are also good for anther mode of transportation I'll mention in a
second.) As someone completely dependent on other people for
transportation due to my lack of means or permission to operate a
vehicle, it's nice to have this option. It's also much better for the
environment than transportation in, oh let's say, LA. Sometimes these
buses also go between towns, but I have yet to use such a bus. In
Vienna there's also a sort of subway system called the UBahn which I'm
assuming stands for Unten Bahn which means Underground Railway. It's
really easy to use, much easier than in NY. The passes I was talking
about also work for the UBahn. Perhaps my favorite mode of
transportation here is the train system. It's quite comprehensive with
stops in even the smallest, most out of the way places (well, most of
them, anyway). This makes travel between towns crazy easy. What would
be a strenuous 3 hour drive over the mountains from Prosser to Seattle is a relaxing train
ride from my town to Vienna. It gives me the freedom to move around
Austria at my leisure, enabling me to visit my exchange student friends
in a way not possible in the US. (Consequently, my best friends here
are 3 other American girls who live in different places all over
Austria. Due to our shared passion for Nutella, we call ourselves the
My least favorite part...hmmm, maybe that
everyone is so freakishly skinny. Their fat girls are even skinnier
than me. With lots of yummy new food and a lack of emphasis on sports,
esp team sports, I am not getting any smaller. This is another thing I
don't like about Austria, or at least my town: there are basically zero
opportunities for girls to play team sports. Very, very sad. I also
don't like how everyone smokes. I don't really care that they do, I
mean they're mostly just hurting themselves (aside from secondhand
smoke), but the smell is everywhere, and it sticks to your hair and
clothes and everything. It's awful.
As to the Krampus, well, all you really
need to do to make a birch rod is get a bundle of leafless twigs and
bind them together. Pretty simple. Although, you should probably get a
mask too, otherwise people will come hunt you down for birching them.
To do this, kill a sheep and attach its horns to a hand-carved, hairy,
wooden demon face. Presto, you're a Perchten!
Alright, to Austria:
There are 80 total exchange students in all of Austria. I am the only one in my town (just got a new girl from Argentina who lives 10 min away!), and one of the only ones in my region (Oberösterreich, or Upper Austria). There are a bunch of kids in the Vienna area. Sometimes I kind of wish I lived over there b/c Vienna has so many interesting things to do, and I would be closer to people who understand me. But overall, I am very satisfied with the town in which I live (Bad Ischl). I don't remember if I told you or not, but it was the vaca spot for a really famous emperor (Franz Josef), so now it's a tourist destination. People come from all over to see the various cultural demonstrations, eat at the Emperor's favorite cafe (Zauner, pronounced Ts-ow-na), and stay at the bath house/hotel place. Basically, it's a cute little town surrounded by Alps. This is usually a good thing. However, they have this special kind of wind/weather here called Föhn (pronounced foon) that comes b/c of the Alps. I think it's pretty much just sudden warm winds, but it can cause headaches... such as the migraine I got on Friday. Not fun. Right now I have about 2 feet of snow, and today was the first sunny day in a few weeks, so it was basically the most gorgeous day I've ever seen. For the most part, the area I'm in gets a lot of precipitation, way more than Prosser anyway.
There are about 20 or so Americans. We also have about 7 or 8 from Canada, a few from Mexico, a couple from Ecuador, a handful (albeit a giant's handful if we're taking about holding people) from Argentina, two from France, one from Ukraine, one from Finland, a few from Brazil, a couple from Colombia, one from Japan, two from Taiwan, and probably a couple other countries I missed. That's just the newbies though. About 30 people, the oldies, just left. They were mainly from Australia (one even from Tasmania, which I guess is part of Australia. crazy.) with a few Brazilians, a South African, and a Kiwi (New Zealander). A bunch of new kids just came from Oceania. We eagerly anticipated their arrival as it marked the end of our term as the inexperienced ones. The flip side of this is that we are over halfway done w/ our exchange, which is kind of mind boggling and more than a little frightening.
We actually aren't allowed to work here. Something about us being here on student visas and not having permits to take away from the workforce. However, going to a Tourism school and being a tourist to some extent myself have given me a little insight into at least the Tourism aspect of the economy (which, btw, is the biggest part of the Austria's economy as it is a fairly tiny country and relies on The Sound of Music to bring in a lot of its revenue.)
I live about 30 miles (45 min by car) from the border. I've actually been there a few times, once for Oktoberfest (that was interesting to say the least).
Ich habe sehr viel Deutsch gelernt, aber mein Deutsch ist noch sehr schlecht. Ich verstehe mehr als ich kann sprechen. So yeah, hope that answers your question [about my German skillz].
A couple weeks ago we had a really cool Open House type thing at my school. Every school has one to try to entice kids to come to their school. Ours was really cool b/c my school is all about cooking and serving. It was Texas themed (I have no idea why), so all my friends and teachers wore jeans and cowboy boots and hats and leather jackets and bandannas. They built a paddle wheel boat (like on the Mississippi), a gas station, a Starbucks, and two little restaurant stands. They also brought in 3 or 4 Harleys. They served hamburgers, lasagna, a million different kinds of baked goods and pastries, cocktails (nonalcoholic I think, but there might have been some w/ alcohol, I know there was beer b/c one of the Harley owners came to look at my cookies and let me take a picture w/ him and his beer), and some other stuff I didn't see. I had brought in chocolate chip cookies to my cooking class a couple weeks before, and everyone liked them so much (they were described as "geil" which is equivalent to "cool" in English) they asked me to make them again for this event (I think more b/c they were American than due to actual taste though). They were incorporated as part of the Starbucks and were a big hit. I plan to make sugar cookies next week w/ little candy hearts on them to celebrate valentine's day. [Update: totally just did that for the kids at my school, my host family, and the host family of a friend Omaha. Austria needed to know the beauty that is buttercream frosting]
In cooking class I mainly watch and help out w/ things I already know how to do (such as chopping vegetables) so I don't get in the way. My favorite thing to do is decorate the desserts. Since presentation is just as important as taste, I get to make swirlys out of vanilla and raspberry sauce, stick random pieces of decorated chocolate on top of pieces of cake, and other little things like that. My favorite thing to eat is the Apfelschlankerl which is kind of like apple pie in a loaf shape. It's similar to Apfelstrudel, but I think it's more delicious, especially when my host grandma makes it. Are classes challenging? Well, I guess they are for my classmates. We're almost done w/ first semester, so they're all getting their grades. It's a 1-5 scale, 1 being the highest. They have to redo some stuff or take a test if they get a 5 in a class. Most of them are getting 3s and 4s. While this seems odd to me, they don't seem too torn up about it. Perhaps this is due to the fact that their semester grades aren't final. The only final grade is the one at the end of the year, so maybe they can still make up some stuff. Taking English has been interesting. My classmates are so fluent that instead of learning grammar and random vocab and stuff like that, they actually study things in English. We started the year w/ talking about the environment, and now we're discussing stress and life goals. I serve as more of an encyclopedia for the other kids rather than actually doing much myself. However, I just joined a new English class, and the teacher has a much different style than the one I was w/ before, so I think I'm going to have to start doing stuff. My first assignment: talk for a few minutes about a famous person who failed at the beginning of their career. I think I'll talk about Abraham Lincoln. Or the girl from Center Stage. It's a hard choice.
[If you haven't seen Center Stage, go watch it right now. Seriously, stop reading my blog. This movie is more important. I don't recommend the remake, except for the lead guy's Boston accent, but you can just ask a male model to stop pronouncing his r's and you'll get the same effect. That is, of course, if you know any male models.]
No school uniforms, but if there were, it would incorporate skinny jeans and scarves.
Is stuff expensive? Well, that depends...I guess stuff in my town is b/c I live in a small town. In bigger cities like Salzburg and Vienna you can generally find stuff pretty cheap if you take the time to look. Prices don't seem that high, but then I have to remember that they're in euros not dollars (1 euro = 1.27416 dollars right now, when I got here it was more 1:1.6). At McDonald's there is a Euro menu :) As far as malls go, they're basically the same as in the US. However, there are more small shops and boutiques here than where we live in America (probably more comparable to the east coast).
Christmas is basically the same here in the sense that the celebrate the Christian version. However, there is much more focus on religious tradtions (Catholic church) and much less emphasis on gifts than in the US. My family went to church every Sunday of Advent (I only went once b/c I was out of town the other times). This is the only time they have ever gone to church other than when my host grandma was here once. We also went all through my house w/ incense and holy water to purify it and drive out the bad spirits. The Christmas tree (Weihnachtsbaum) is really cool here, esp at my house, b/c it's huge, probably 20 ft. We decorated it w/ tinsle, pretty ornaments (different from back home for me b/c we have a lot of homemade stuff and we each have our own box), and hangable chocolates (yum). Ooooo, they also put candles (yes, real, burning candles) all over it. Very pretty. Very dangerous. I guess we only lit them once, so it wasn't so bad. There were plain candles as well as sparkly ones that reminded me of baby fireworks. Christmas cookies are a big part of the holiday season. We were given 3 or 4 huge tins of them as gifts as well as the ones my host grandma made. Unfortunately, they weren't as delicious as cookies back home (probably due to a lack of frosting), but they were delightful. Oh, and they here celebrate on the 24th, not the 25th.
I hope this has been somewhat delightful for you. It was marvelous for me to be able to cheat the system a little bit. If you want to see pictures of my stay here, they are all located on my Facebook. It's become a sort of photo diary (probably b/c it's faster to write a caption than a blog entry). You can add me if you have your own Facebook, create one if you don't (and then add me obviously), talk to my parents (they might be able to help facilitate picture viewage...), or wait til I get home and can give you a private slideshow.
Thank you to everyone who's been praying for me and who has supported me in my endeavor to discover another little piece of the world. Special recognition goes to Wasabi (you should know who you are, think middle name...) for pestering my mother who in turn pestered me, resulting in this blog entry.
'til I finish my other entry (or cheat again and publish something I've already written for something else)