On February 3, I packed too many bags, said goodbye to my cat and headed to Graz, Austria, for a six-month study abroad adventure.
Exciting, right? Well, yes, but the thing about adventures is that they are often accompanied by fear and stress just as much as excitement.
I have an abundance of experience when it comes to being generally unprepared in life, but nothing I’ve experienced before this trip compares to the sense of floundering I felt the moment I left the familiarity of America. Frau Haulmark, one of the lovely German professors and the study abroad coordinator here at Tech, warned me about the obstacles I would face upon arrival in Austria, but I was nowhere near ready.
Let me just say, I’ve heard jet lag mentioned on TV and in books all my life, but I never truly understood what it was until I felt it. For the first week I was in Graz, I was tired all the time. I would be subtly smacking myself in the face on the bus so that I could keep my eyes open. That is, after I figured out how the busses work. Despite its many charms, Russellville did not allow me to develop any sort of public transportation skills. Fortunately, I’ve yet to board the completely wrong bus, but it took me a while to realize that if I would just walk across the road I could get on a bus going the opposite direction, and that I didn’t have to wait for the bus to go through its entire route before turning around. There’s definitely a learning curve when it comes to public transportation, but after being here over a week, I feel like I’ve mastered it (though I still sit in my seat tense, listening to each announcement with rapt ears in fear that I will miss my stop).
The most obvious issue I face daily is, of course, the language barrier, which is to be expected. The moment I agreed to this wild ride I knew my very-limited German would not be sufficient. I didn’t know, however, that for days I would listen to my stomach grumble because I would be too afraid to go to a restaurant or grocery store.
February 7 was my 22 birthday, though, so I worked up the nerve to go to a nice restaurant for my birthday dinner, and it really wasn’t so bad. Most people in Austria speak English, and most of them appreciate the effort to speak German.
Grocery stores, on the other hand, are probably the most stressful aspect of living in Austria so far. I didn’t see that coming at all, but Austria is a country that thrives off of efficiency. I’m used to strolling down the aisles of Walmart with my friends, making friendly conversation with the cashier and smiling apologetically as I fumble to put my money back in my wallet. Graz grocery stores are not having any of that nonsense. Shoppers move swiftly through the aisles, entirely unconcerned if they get in your way and I have received many scowls when I didn’t have my items bagged and my money at the ready by the time the cashier was done ringing up my purchase. Grocery shopping here is like an Olympic sport I have not trained for.
So, of course studying abroad is exciting, but it comes with a whole slew of anxieties and problems that I am conquering one day at a time. Every day I learn something new and accomplish something unexpected. Every day I grow a bit more confident in my European life. I feel as if I’ve already come so far and I’ve only been in Austria a little over a week. I can’t wait to look back six months from now and see just how many strides I’ve made.