Through Silja’s Eyes: My Austrian Host Sister Visits Me in America

Through Silja’s Eyes: My Austrian Host Sister Visits Me in America

From seeing tall buildings such as The Sears Tower (no, I will not acknowledge it as the “Willis” Tower) to exploring the streets of Pilsen and Chinatown, 18 year old Silja Kulnik, from Korneuburg — a small city outside of Vienna, Austria’s capital — saw it all. Throughout these past two weeks, she has experienced not only what a Chicago summer looks like, but a slice of what life is like in the United States.

For those of you who do not know me and happened to stumble upon this blog post, I lived in Austria from the Fall of 2016 through the Summer of 2017 as an exchange student during a gap year (for those who are also thinking about taking a year off of school for a life adventure, here is my blog post). Seven and a half out of my ten months abroad I lived at the Kulnik household in Korneuburg and Silja was one of my host sisters. Living abroad for the first time in my life, I found plenty of differences between Austrian and American culture. However, one doesn’t need to be abroad that long to spot some differences.

Silja couldn’t have arrived at a more iconic time — the Fourth of July. On her first day, she and I woke up bright and early and headed with my friend to the local Oak Park parade. Since it was her first time in the USA, it was only appropriate to show her everything that holiday has to offer. We ended the night watching the fireworks at my former high school, Oak Park and River Forest High School, and then went back to my place with a party of friends. We spent the night talking, laughing and eating watermelon, waving sparklers and trying not to be freaked out by the massive artillery blowing up right in the alley. Americans do love their explosions.

One of the biggest differences between Vienna and Chicago for Silja was the architecture. As a fan of mechanical engineering, architecture and history, the concrete jungle of Chicago was a good match for her. “In Chicago, there are many new buildings made of steel, concrete and glass. That’s very different than in Austria/Vienna; where there are many buildings made of stone. Besides that, the buildings in Chicago were strikingly taller than every building in Vienna.”

She then went on to say that not only do the buildings look different, they are arranged differently in that that in most European cities there are many small, branched streets that follow no pattern. In Chicago it is more of an “artificial/man-made” city (künstliche Stadt), arranged on a grid. She did find the grid helped her tremendously while exploring the city as she was able to find her starting point. In Vienna, there is also a “ring” in the city that typically a city wall once stood on during the middle ages, another reminder of how old European cities are in comparison to those in America.

Some other “small things,” written in Silja’s words, she found different about America compared to Austria were:

  1. There is air conditioning almost everywhere, while in Austria there are very few places that have it.
  2. You turn the doorknobs instead of pushing them downwards.
  3. The toilets have a lot more water than the ones in Austria.
  4. The behavior in restaurants in America is a lot different than in Austria. In Austria, it’s common after finishing a meal to sit longer (at your table) and talk during this ‘longer stay.’ In America it’s frowned upon to linger after your meal.
  5. Tips in America are also given to the waiter differently. In Austria you hand your waiter their tip while paying for your meal. In the United States it is left on the table.

Unlike Vienna, Chicago is also a racially diverse city filled with many people of a various ethnic backgrounds so Chinatown and Pilsen were highlights of her trip. One could consider Austria a more homogeneous country, which is why visiting different cultural areas around the city and trying different foods (including going to taquerias and Chinese cuisine) was a different — yet beautiful — experience for her.

Overall, it was an interesting two weeks filled with learning, trying and embracing new things for both of us. Very open about doing/trying new things, Silja was a wonderful addition to our household. It was a cool experience to not only have a relationship with someone where you can switch languages (in our instance, switching from German to English), have the tables turn and show her the place that I call home.


Interested in studying abroad in Austria and having a new host family of your own? Read more about our program by clicking here:

2 thoughts on "Through Silja’s Eyes: My Austrian Host Sister Visits Me in America"

  1. Katrin says:

    toll…. I love your blog Anastasia and Silja <3 thanks for sharing this with us

  2. Adam Kallish says:

    Great post and informative in terms of culture shock. We appreciated everything the Kulnik’s did and enjoyed both visiting us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *