Study Abroad: Milestone markers

Gabbi Calabrese/The Arka Tech The path leading to the stunning Mariatrost Basilica in Graz, Austria.

I’m about halfway through my study abroad adventures and it’s wild to think how fast time has gone by. Only three months ago I was completely baffled by public transportation, terrified to go to restaurants and stores and flooded with general uncertainty.

Now, I’ve settled into my classes, made new friends, explored the city and become more comfortable with my existence in this still-foreign land. Not everything has changed, though. The grocery stores still give me anxiety and there are a lot of things I still miss about the United States (pizza rolls being the primary example), but I’ve realized if I can survive—even thrive—in Graz, I can do basically anything.

In honor of my final column and my halfway milestone, I thought I’d share a few anecdotes that I will never forget about my study abroad experience.

Firstly, we have my penchant for breaking things. I probably shouldn’t be surprised, considering how many cell phones and laptops I’ve gone through in my twenty-two years, but I think I reached a whole new level of disaster in Budapest, Hungary, when I broke a washing machine.

My friends and I arrived to our AirBNB quite late, around 11 p.m. Of course, after a nine-hour bus ride, we were desperate to get some food in us. We consulted Google to find the nearest grocery store still open and, since we couldn’t figure out the transportation system, decided to make a thirty-minute trek to the store for frozen pizza and chicken nuggets. By the time we returned to our accommodations, around 1 a.m., we were exhausted, but I remembered that I absolutely had to do laundry because I didn’t get a chance before leaving. The washing machine was vastly different than any I’d encountered before, so I shoved my clothes in, pushed some buttons and hoped for the best. Bad decision. About a week later, I received an angry email claiming I broke the washing machine and that I should have just read the English instructions printed out right next to it. Moral of the story: I had to pay a $100 repair fee, somehow lost a pair of pajama shorts and developed a fear of foreign washing machines.

Ah, but it gets worse, because in Slovenia, the day after learning about the washing machine, I broke an ATM. I don’t take the blame for this one, as all I did was insert my card the way I was supposed to, but when the screen froze and then switched to an error message without giving me my card back, I certainly panicked. I had to go into the bank and talk to the teller, and when her stilted English made it seem as if I wasn’t going to get my card back, I nearly had a breakdown in a random Slovenian bank. However, they opened up the ATM and after a few minutes of searching found my debit card. The next day, when we walked by, the ATM was still showing the error screen. At least I didn’t have to pay anything! And at least I can laugh about and make fun of myself for both of these situations now.

Next: my inability to work doors like a functioning human and one of the many reasons my suitemate probably thinks I’m the dumbest person she has ever met. One morning I woke up for my German intensive course and trudged to the bathroom for a shower. I’d never locked the door before, so I don’t know why I decided to this day, but I did and I showered and everything was fine…until I tried to unlock the door. It’s a lock that you have to turn, not push, and I could not for the life of me make the lock budge. Wrapped in my towel, I began to freak out. Because I’m a millennial and apparently can’t go anywhere without my phone, I had it in the bathroom with me, so I frantically tried calling my friend Brent. He didn’t answer, which is unsurprising, considering it was about 7 a.m. As I was considering ways to break down the door, my suite mate knocked and asked when I was going to be done because she had to get ready for work.

In a shrill voice, I said, “Um, I’m done, but I locked the door and now I can’t get out.”

She was quiet for a moment—taken aback by my stupidity, I’m sure—before she said, “Just…turn it counter clockwise.”

So I turned it counter-clockwise, and, though it took a bit of elbow grease, the door unlocked just like that. My suite mate was standing outside with tired eyes and I looked like a drowned rat, but I squeaked out an apology and ducked into my room, mentally kicking myself. But, of course, that’s not the end of it because about an hour later we were both trying to leave at the same time, but I got to the door first. The door to our suite is one that requires a key to unlock whether you’re inside or outside. Feeling pressure after that morning’s debacle, I couldn’t help but make a fool out of myself once again because I could not, for the life of me, get the key in the key hole. It probably took me a solid ten seconds to unlock the door, with my suite mate waiting right behind me. Once I finally got the door open, I practically ran away from my suite mate.

Finally, I will never forget the day I accidentally flashed a courtyard of unsuspecting Austrians. There’s a popular mountain in Graz called Schloßberg that you can climb what feels like a trillion stairs to reach the top of, where there’s a neat clocktower. I climbed it for the first time in the winter. There was snow on the ground and I was wearing a dress and heeled boots, but the person I was with insisted we had to climb it that day, despite the fact that it was closed for the winter.

No worries, though, because the only thing blocking it off was a short, easily climbable gate. Climbing it to get in was easy enough because there was nobody except my friends on the other side, but on the way out was a different story. I’d just climbed 260 steps, which is difficult enough without worrying about slipping on the snow, so my legs were a little shaky and making it over that short, easily climbable gate suddenly seemed like much more of a feat. Long story short, I managed to get over it, but a dress was less than ideal for the moment and the people looking at me, concerned, waiting to see if I needed help getting over that gate definitely got a show.

I’ve embarrassed myself plenty in Graz, but I’ve gotten through it all and come out with a better sense of humor. At least the days like these give me something to tell my friends about. I’ve got three more months of embarrassing moments ahead of me, so I better be ready to laugh some more.