Summer Seminar: Austria

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Austria is my favorite place in the world. From the massive white-capped Alps to the people, the food, wine and culture. I love everything about it. I might be a little bit biased but I truly love the country.

I first visited Austria when I was in high school and so when I got the chance to go again to study music and art—two things that have deeply impacted my life; I knew I had to go.

By nature, I am an anxious person. I look confident, but deep down I’m scared. So, getting on a plane and flying half way across the world by myself was scary. The last time I was there, I was with my dad. This time, I did know one girl in my program who is a good friend, but nonetheless I was a little bit terrified. I didn’t speak any German prior to going, but I speak fluent French, so I was determined to learn some. I remember talking to my dad—who speaks fluent German and trying to learn some German phrases before I headed over there.

From the very start, it was a huge learning experience. I flew into Madrid and ended up getting lost in the airport and meeting a nice guy there who was also heading to Austria, and the first thing he said to me was “Sprichst du Deutsch?” And I was mortified when I had to say no. From that moment on I decided I was going to speak as much German as possible. I absorbed as much of the German language and culture as humanly possible in the short five weeks I was there—so much so, that most people assumed I was from there.

There are so many things I learned and grew to love in Austria, but I think one of my favorite things, was the amazing music and art culture that they have. I have studied and played music since I was 4 years old and as far back as I can remember I have been creating. So, to be immersed in a culture that truly values the arts was simply an unmatched experience. One of the first nights in Vienna, we went to this amazing market at night where an Opera was being screened and there were hundreds of vendors with food and drinks, and thousands of people of all ages just hanging out watching an opera together!

It’s one thing to take an art history class and think “okay this art is cool” or “I love that piece” but it is a whole other experience to see the art you have studied for so many years hanging on a wall right before your eyes and then to be able to draw and create your own art from that. And to be able to sit in a café drinking a mélange and sketch the man with the interesting face near you.

To be able to go to the public pool on a hot day and float in the water and meet locals who tell you their stories, and have the woman who runs your hostel bring you cookies and special breads because you have a food allergy. Having a cook who makes you special meals that are traditional Austrian foods. Drinking the best hot chocolate in the world and sitting and enjoying it, instead of always running to the next thing. Just strolling through the town square to go sit on the most beautiful fountain and chat with a friend. Hearing classical music played from the concert hall above you. These are the things that I think about.

Hopping on a train to head to München for the day, and trying to go see every beautiful church in sight. Getting lost in the alleyways of Getriedegaße on my first day in Salzburg, and deciding to get a gelato cone to pass the time, only to drop my euro coin in the gelato case.

Missing a bus and deciding it was worth the walk back home. Simply taking the long route because it was worth it. Making new friends and going out to the biergarten that has been there since 1621. Hiking up to the top of the fortress to see one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.

Spontaneously deciding to take a day trip to Hallstatt to swim in the crisp lake and to hike the oldest salt mine in Austria and almost get stuck in the town overnight. Conquering fears of heights, loneliness, exploration and maturity. These are the things I gained. I gained confidence and the feeling like I could conquer anything. I gained problem solving skills and learned that language barriers could be torn down. I saw some of the most amazing art. Played music. Got lost. And it may sound cliché but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

To be able to enter the workforce with these experiences, has greatly enhanced my ability to thrive and get ahead. I am more confident than I was before I went to Austria, I view people differently and I have a different perspective on work and quality of life. I appreciate art and culture much more and I genuinely try to enjoy life rather than just see how fast I can get through it.

Life is more intentional with an Austrian perspective.

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By: Rachel Margolis, Gordon grad, class of ’16

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