When traveling, change is inevitable. From the type of food to even body language, change will follow you every step of the way. For me, this had hit me bit by bit while attending high school in Austria – until it hit all at once my first month in.
Before my orientation, my coordinator sent me a questionnaire about finishing month one out of ten. One of the questions asked if I was homesick. I didn’t even have to think about it: I said yes. I miss riding the CTA into the city, my dance troop, chicken and waffles, street performers in the loop, and open mic events held at the Harold Washington Library. The list could go on, but to make it short, I missed home. An hour or so later, she made a point, If you wanted the same like home, you need to stay home.
I thought about that sentence for a while, hell, I still think about it now. She was right, of course Salzburg is going to be anything but the same as Chicago – they are two separate places on two opposite sides of the world.
One of the main places where I noted the most differences was at school. For one, I live an hour from my school here, whereas I only had a ten minute commute to my school at home. There are only one thousand people who go to my gymnasium here in Salzburg. Meanwhile, almost four thousand kids go to my high school back in the States. There is block schedule, which is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because three out of five days I only have five to six hours of school, but a curse because I have nine to eleven hours the other two days with two hours of sport (gym class). There is also no cafeteria (I once got asked if the school cafeteria in America was “like in the movies”).
Schools here have something called Hausordnung, which translates to ‘house rules’, one of them being that you aren’t allowed to wear your shoes inside (even though everybody still does). It makes sense once you think about it because then the floors stay as clean as possible. But, it just seems so foreign to me. At my high school at home, people would give you funny looks if you were to walk around with no shoes. All I have to say on the subject is just don’t be shocked when you walk around the halls to see everybody wearing socks. It’s actually normal somewhere.
Another change is the eating habits. Mittagessen (lunch) is the biggest meal of the day. On most days, I end my school day around 1:30pm and go home for lunch. I always walk into my house greeted by the smell of something good cooking by my host mom. In many circumstances, home-cooked meals are much more preferred over going out to eat.
I noticed how people tend to eat a lot healthier. Not to totally enforce the Americans-eat-McDonald’s-everyday stereotype, but you definitely wouldn’t see the majority of people at my U.S. high school with fresh fruits or veggies for their snack. Austrians do have better quality junk food, if I do say so myself. There isn’t as much of the obnoxious neon lettering or questionable ingredients. I’m convinced that instead of the “freshman fifteen” it will be the “gap year twenty-five”.
When I first got to Austria, my Englischlehrer (English teacher) asked me what I knew about Austria. To this, I replied, “The Sound of Music”. To any American, this would seem like an appropriate answer. At that moment in time, it was a huge mistake. I say this because it’s likely no Austrian (and I mean no native Austrian) has ever seen this movie (nor do they plan to). So the moment I opened my mouth, I felt a thousand eye-rolls from my classmates. If you find yourself in Austria, save yourself the eighteen euro and do something else instead of The Sound of Music tour bus. Please.
One thing Austrians care about is the environment (umwelt). If you just think there are only two trash bins – one for plastic and one for everything else – think again. My host family has a different one for plastic, paper, tin/glass, compost, and one for actual trash. There are no garbage trucks here, so you drive up to a place and drop off each trash category into its specific bin. Even in public areas, there are trash cans sorted by material.
I could go on and on about the plethora of differences, but then my article would be ten pages longer. So far, I have loved seeing the differences of the two cultures. You can either let the differences scare you off, or you can let them consume you. Learning about a different way of life is beneficial to an open mind, and once you accept these changes, you only grow more. I chose to embrace these changes in my life, and hopefully can apply some to my daily routine when I return to Chicago.