At the beginning of December, I packed my bags and hopped on a train to Vienna to start the next part of my journey as an exchange student in Austria. I was leaving behind everything I had learned in Salzburg, and would now have to relearn a new and different environment: new host family, town, friends, school, etc. I was as excited as I was terrified of what was coming my way.
Stepping onto the platform, I waited for my coordinator to pick me up to bring me to my new host family. While waiting, I observed my new surroundings. There were no mountains or snow, like in western Austria. There were a lot of tall buildings and even more people. It’s not like these things troubled me—it was just different.
Strangely, I had more of a culture shock moving from Salzburg to Vienna than from Chicago to Salzburg. I’m aware how strange that sounds considering I come from a city of almost three million. But, I guess it just changed my perception on Austria and what I thought I already knew. From 146,000 people in Salzburg to over a million in Vienna—everything felt so surreal in the sense that it was brand new to me. I was getting a chance to start over and to meet a whole different side of Austria.
What I once initially saw as overwhelming differences between Salzburg and Vienna, I now see as changes. Within my first month of moving, I have managed to fall in love with two marvelous cities, Korneuburg and Vienna. Both have their own special kind of character and people.
Korneuburg reminds me of my hometown of Oak Park, Illinois, because it has a town square where you can do things such as eat, shop and meet up with friends. It is also accessible to trains coming and going to just about everywhere. You get the benefits of living near everything without the hustle of living in the city.
On the other hand, Vienna fulfills my needs of being in a large city. It provides a lot of things to do and see. There are too many places to list that I have seen in Vienna, but a personal favorite of mine has been Stephansplatz.
Besides doing loads of exploring, the one thing I have gotten in touch with is hip-hop dance. It took me a while to research and find a dance studio that had what I was looking for. For those who don’t know, dance has been a huge part of my life, even when I was a young child. I took a break for the first part of my exchange (three and a half months) and now hope to get back into it on a weekly basis.
I have really enjoyed meeting so many new people. My peers at school are younger than me, but have nonetheless welcomed me with open arms. Another plus is that I have gotten to know more exchange students from different programs. This is a bonus as I get to learn not only about Austria, but cultures around the world as well. My goal is to build close bonds with the local and international students as I keep continuing my exchange.
Summing it up, I appreciate the people I met, what I learned and got to see in Salzburg, but I am looking forward to continuing to grow as a young adult. Over the past couple weeks I’ve had to teach myself to stop comparing the new things to the first part of my exchange. As an exchange student, you have to expand your view and realize that what was once so new and intimidating is now your new normal. It’s an unsettling experience, but it is something you must learn to do to expand your worldview.
Vienna/Korneuburg, it’s only been less than two months, but it feels like you have been my home all along.