Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Einen guten Rutsch ins 2015

2014 has been quite the year. On my end, I have graduated, completed my swimming career, traveled to Aruba, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Europe, among other memorable milestones. Several chapters have concluded, while others have opened and are starting to get exciting. Along with the good comes some bad such as death, growing pains, and difficult people. The French say "C'est la vie," meaning, "that's life."Austria and 2014 in general have shown me to move forward but also to stay in the moment. Diane Nyad said in an interview that we are only guaranteed to have the present moment. I have to agree with her. 

I will be welcoming the New Year in Krefeld. In 2015, I hope to express more gratitude for my many blessings. Life is not always easy, especially when rather far from home, but optimism and a thirst for knowledge keep it interesting. 

In German, people wish you a "good slip" into the New Year, or einen guten Rutsch ins Neue Jahr. So I wish you a guten Rustch as well. May it be blissfully metaphorical as opposed to literal. Welcome 2015 like the present moment that we all have.

Camel's Hump State Park, Vermont (July 2014)


All the best for the New Year,
Matt

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Frohe Weihnachten 2014!

Winter has arrived. The nights have been crisp and long. That means for many in the northern hemisphere that the holidays are amongst us. On my end, it has been an exhiliarating holiday season in Austria. Lots has happened since my last post (which I’ll do my best to report on in 2015), but this post is to wish all my friends and family a very Merry Christmas and/or a happy holiday season.

Austria has some special traditions that you won’t find in the USA. The first that many admire from the Germanic-speaking world is the Christkindlmärkte, or Christmas Markets. These markets offer warm treats and beverages (i.e. mulled wine and cider) as well as an abundance of handmade trinkets and crafts. In Austria, they are the first sign of Christmas cheer when towns and communities start to build the markets at the end of October. That may seem unthinkable in the USA, but remember that Austrians don’t have Thanksgiving. (And yes, I did manage to celebrate Thanksgiving twice in Austria…with Austrians and Americans.)
Linzer Christmas Market at Hauptplatz
 

The second Austrian tradition that intrigues me are the Krampus and Perchten. In Austria, the Christmas Man is called St. Niklas (Saint Nicolas) and delivers presents into children's shoes on December 6th. The day before that there is the Krampuslauf (or Krampus Run) in virtually every town center. The Krampus is a rather horrific figure that may seem more suitable for Halloween. His job is to accompany St. Niklas as he delivers presents to the good boys and girls. The bad boys and girls receive a visit from the Krampus instead of St. Niklas. Perchten play a similar role of keeping naughty children in line, but they do not accompany St. Niklas. Krampus usually have 2 horns (on their hand-carved masks) whereas Perchten can have any desired amount of horns. With the bells and whips on theses furry costumes, they create an overwhelmingly loud presence that you always hear coming.

Perchtenlauf at PlusCity Mall

Landstrasse in full-on Christmas Spirit


The past week has been exciting leading up to Christmas because I’ve had the chance to talk with my classes about how my family celebrates the holiday in New Jersey/Delaware: with around 70 people, good food, egg nog, and Christmas carols. The laughter and shock on everyone’s faces only confirmed how awesomely we celebrate December 25th. Although after singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” a dozen times (check it: that’s 144 days of Christmas), I have had my fair share of Christmas carols. My teachers in Linz even spoiled me with Christmas goodies before I flew from Vienna to Düsseldorf.

I do wish that I could be there to enjoy this special time with my friends and family at home, but I think I’m blessed with an alternative option. For Christmas, I have returned to host family in Germany. It feels great to be back in my home away from home. It has been a whirlwird of reunions and culture shock with having to readjust to the standard German spoken by my host family. I didn’t realize that I’ve adjusted so much to the Austrian dialect spoken in Linz. From Krefeld to Saarland, I feel lucky and fortunate to still celebrate Christmas with loved ones. Cheers to old and new traditions!

As Christmas begins, I’d like to wish you all Frohe Weihnachten!, ¡Feliz Navidad!, and a Merry Christmas! May you all feel blessed and loved during this wonderful time of the year. Happy Holidays!

Liebe Grüße aus Deutschland
Matt

P.S. In case you were wondering, Christmas presents are also delivered and opened on Christmas Eve in Austria and Germany by the “Christkind,” or Christmas angel. That seems quite contrary to the old, fat, and jolly man who delivers our presents in the USA, eh?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Der wechselhafte Stundenplan

Let me begin by apologizing for going into hiding the last few weeks. Honestly, I have nothing beyond the typical excuses: too busy, too tired, too lazy, etc. However, I have used this time to consider how I wish to continue with this blog. Like I mentioned in my previous post, the daily reports were becoming too repetitive and lackluster. To begin this new chapter, I shall share a bit about what brought me to Austria in the first place: my job as a US Teaching Assistant.

I'm in my seventh week of teaching, and the overall experience thus far has been fantastic. What makes it fantastic? There are three aspects that have impacted my experience in a positive way: time, the location, and the people. Let me delve into the different components of this USTA life of mine.

Time:
I teach 13 classes a week, plus about 3-6 hours of lesson planning. By having Fridays off, I have a three-day weekend every week. Am I gloating if I mention that I'm usually done by 11am on Thursday? Throughout college, I was always busy. Particularly my commitments (varsity swimming, two jobs, finishing a double major, and the International House) during my senior year were especially time-consuming (but still quite rewarding). Free time is a new concept to me.

Some of that free time has been dedicated to Netflix and sleep. But more importantly, I have had the opportunity to travel, start learning Swedish and the Waltz, tutor English, lead an English Conversation Hour through the Austro-American Society of Upper Austria, and participate in Spanish/German and English/German tandem. (In an effort to improve one's language skills, tandem is a language exchange where two native speakers of two different languages meet and speak half the time in one language and then switch to the other.) I'm glad to say that I've met a variety of interesting people, and I've enjoyed life with less stress.

The location:
Like most USTAs, I work at two schools. Mine are two vocational schools in Linz-Auhof nearby the Johannes Kepler Universität (JKU). My main school (Stammschule) is the HAK, a business high school, and my second school is the HLW, a tourism high school. There are so many different types of secondary/high schools in Austria, I'm not sure if the list outnumbers the stars in the sky. I wish I was exaggerating. That is a blog topic for another day as I'm still trying to understand the whole system.

One advantage to my situation is that both schools are housed in the same building. Technically, there are 3 different high schools in this large school complex. That means my commute is the same Monday through Thursday, versus other teaching assistants who have varying commutes. How long is my commute, you ask? Door to door, I need 7 minutes by bike and 12 by foot. My apartment has a bike path that leads right to my schools, and with the bus and/or tram, I need about 25 minutes to get into the center of town. It's a peaceful part of Linz.

The people:
At school, my colleagues have been nothing but supportive and helpful. Both schools have made a solid effort to make me feel comfortable and happy. From the secretaries to the teachers, I can usually turn to the closest person and ask them for assistance. While education is the main prerogative, everyone has been very friendly and welcoming. In the teacher's room (Konferenzzimmer), I enjoy our wide range of discussions from the weather to lesson plans and weekend plans. And in case you're wondering, I requested that everyone speak German with me. Everyone has honored this wish, except for when I speak English with the teachers in front of students. The point of this is to make the students believe that I'm not very proficient in German. That plan is slowly unraveling.

Back to the teachers, the English teachers at both schools rock! They are each enthusiastic, creative, and friendly in their own way. They have been clear in terms of lesson planning as well as open to allowing me to add my own flair to the lessons. I have enjoyed working with each of them and continue to benefit from their feedback and advice. I can honestly say that there isn't a "weakest link" among them. My mentor teachers have gone above and beyond to make my adjustment much easier - they also made my schedule to give me Fridays off! I have certainly been counting my blessings that I get to work with such a great team.

I certainly love life in Linz. But not everything is peachy and sunny. As per my weather reference, my schedule and the weather have required a bit more getting used to.

My schedule:
At my main school, the HAK, I teach the same seven classes each week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It's pretty cut and dry. The HLW, however, has thrown me through a few more loops. In the first month, I had six variations of my schedule. The frustrating part was that I was never completely up-to-date about when I would be teaching a certain class. Fortunately, the teachers have been great in communicating these changes with me, but of course it's annoying when you prepare for 4 classes and only end up teaching two.

As efficient as my schools have been, with teachers on sabbatical or leaves of absence and diverse class offerings, schedules are constantly changing. When I ask why there's not a cookie-cutter master schedule that could be used year after year (like my American high school), it was explained to me that this is how they have always done things. In orientation back in September, they called it "the Austrian way." I, like Idina Menzel, figure I should "let it go." Plus, my dynamic schedule has introduced me to the intricacies of scheduling and provide a new cultural experience...and I enjoy discussing this cultural difference (between the US and Austria) with anyone who is willing to listen.

In the meantime, I have learned how to read and comprehend the master calendar (Supplierplan) and realized that my schedule may not be as fixed as I'd like it to be. One English teacher told me, "A week that goes according to schedule will be a strange occurrence." I've learned to laugh it off and keep things in perspective. These changes are being communicated with me in a timely manner, and I still have Fridays off (knock on wood)!

The weather:
I was warned about the weather in Austria. I expected snow, but apparently, there won't be much snow in Linz this winter. Thanks to the Danube River, it's foggy on a daily basis. For that reason, I can expect a foggy winter. (But seriously, what the fog?) The entire Linz/Wels region of Upper Austria is called a Nebelzone or fog zone. You think I'm kidding? The fog was literally rolling in this morning as I rode my bike to school:
It hasn't been too cold yet, but I've started to miss the sun. I find overcast to be rather dreary, and with daylight savings, it's dark here by 4:30pm. 

I acknowledge that I will still be playing a bit of catch-up for the past month. While I'm taking care of that, I invite you to view the albums I've already uploaded to Facebook:

It feels good to be back. :)
Bis bald!
Matt


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mal sehen.

It's November, and I'm not sure what to do with this blog. It has become a job that has lost its luster. Over the years, I have transformed this online journal into a way of sharing what I've done each and every day of my time abroad. It's a nice memory book, but it's also quite exhausting, and now that I feel like I'm playing catch-up, it feels unnecessary. By now you're probably thinking, that this is the final post. Fear not, I am not a quitter. And I do still enjoy blogging and sharing my experiences. I will continue to blog, but I just feel it's time for a different approach.

I do spend a great deal of time preparing (and procrastinating on) my posts, like any academic paper. Yet my process of daily note-taking and posting in small spurts of "catch up" has not felt like the best way for me to present this blog. Of course, my posts will continue to reflect my recent experiences - those have always been the center of my ideas and inspiration. Instead, I'd like to focus on what strikes me funny, rather than the details of the daily grind. My daily report style needs to take a hiatus to allow for that.

I'm not certain if there will be a dramatic change hereafter, but I felt it was important to announce that my goals with this blog have changed. So I thank you again and again for reading. Now, I'll get back to writing about life in Linz.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen
Matt

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Innsbruck: All Föhn and Games

Friday, October 10, 2014

After a tiring first full week of school, I was pumped to come to Innsbruck. I saw a few photos online that had me convinced that the city was stunning, and with my friend and old co-worker, Hannah, living in Innsbruck, it seemed like the perfect weekend for a reunion. 

The train brought me from foggy Linz to mountainous Innsbruck in about three hours. I'm not sure what impresses me more to this point, the wonderful landscapes or the selective punctuality. In the meantime, I did my Swedish homework and my inner language nerd was in heaven. I'm definitely looking forward to next class. 

In Innsbruck especially, the Föhn is an Austrian obsession. This is a weather phenomenon where the warm winds come up from Italy and warms up the autumn cooling. The Austrians believe that the Föhn carries disease, laziness, and confusion with it. In New Jersey, we'd call it humidity. Nonetheless, the Föhn yielded a lovely, warm weekend for my stay in Innsbruck.

Back up to my arrival, Hannah picked me up at the train station. My first lesson was that everything in Innsbruck is within walking distance. Thus, we strolled to her apartment, which not only included some hilarious roommates, but also boasted clear views of the mountains all around. I wasn't sure if I died and went to heaven.

We toured a bit of the compact and charming Altstadt. We stopped by an overwhelming ornate cathedral where we ran into Nadine, a teaching assistant I met from orientation a few weeks back. I didn't even know where she lived. Nadine joined us and we continued to meander the city and parks. We crossed the glacial blue Inn River. It was much hillier as we made our way to the Hötting neighborhood. There we met Gary, a second-year U.S. teaching assistant, and continued the hike up to Hungerburg - my first vantage point of the city. 

View from Marktplatz

Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof)

One of the figurines moons spectators because the artist was never paid the promised price.

Sankt Jakob Dom / Saint Jacob's Cathedral
(where Hannah and I ran into Nadine!)

Hannah and I crossing the Inn River

As newcomers to Innsbruck, Gary and Hannah encouraged Nadine and me to take the Nordkette gondola to the top, known as Hafelekar. They promised some astounding views of the city and surrounding mountains. Words cannot describe the wonders in which I was immersed. The changing autumn trees transitioned to gray, stone mountain peaks..and each view was only more impressive than the previous. Also, to make the world a tad smaller, we met another USTA at the top, from New Jersey no less!

Nadine, Gary, Hannah, and I
Hiking up to Hungerburg!

"No Trepassing" - Oops.

Taking the gondola up to Seegrube

View of Innsbruck from Seegrube
(the windy road was for mountain biking)

"In reality, every summit is just a detour to the next pub." -Hans Kammerlander

Innsbruck from Hafelekar

Nadine and I made it to the top of Hafelekar!

Hafelekar (Top the Nordkettenbahn)

Hafelekar (Top the Nordkettenbahn)

Beer available from the soda dispenser.

What a view!

Evening music on the Nordkette (at Seegrube)

The evening setting on Innsbruck

This adventure was particularly unexpected to my comrade, Nadine. As she left her apartment, she planned to buy a kettle, not make her wait to the top of the mountain in ballet flats. She definitely earned the "trooper" award. We soaked up the views for about three hours from Seegrube and Hafelekar before we caught up with Hannah, Gary, and a handful of other U.S. Teaching assistants at the French market. It was a groovy evening as we concluded the evening at a 70s concert in the Treibhaus Cultural Center and the Moustache Café. From get-go, I was having a ball in nature-enthused and laid-back Innsbruck.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hannah and I took it easy in the morning. The intended scrambled eggs were upgraded to deluxe omelettes as her roommates contributed a few ingredients. Avocado was the final touch to complete the breakfast. I shan't forget the stories and intercultural opinions shared from that breakfast anytime soon.

Afterwards, Hannah and I meandered a bit more of Innsbruck. First, we walked along the Inn River towards the university and then made our way through the Saggen neighborhood prior to returning to Hannah's incredible apartment.  


Park signs clearly define what is and is not allowed.

Some impressive bus maneuvering. 

Hannah had to help out at a hockey game, so I opted to go on a hike with Gary. First, we lunched on a Flammkuchen from the French market. Then, we wandered the town a while before heading uphill to Berg Isel, another vantage point of this city nestled in the Alps. It rained for a fair bit of the uphill hike, so we took refuge in a museum café once we reached an outlook point.

Flammkuchen - dough, cheese, bacon, and onions = ¡delicioso!

The hot chocolate and strudel were rejuvenating, but I was not ready for what I was about to see. The sun broke through the rain clouds, and the sun shower produced two full-arch rainbows that stretched the entire width of the city. My trigger finger got a small blister after all the photos I snapped. Nonetheless, that added a mystical memory to my Innsbruck experience. 

View from Berg Isel
Rainbow - View from Berg Isel

View from Berg Isel

Innsbruck's airport is a 7-minute drive from the city center. It's regarded as one of the most difficult airports to land at...pilots are required to obtain an additional certification.


Saturday evening sunset

Gary and I made our way back down the hill and rejoined Hannah for a homemade pasta dish that we prepared at Gary's cozy apartment. The pink sunset skies over the glacier blue water set a picturesque scene beforehand. Following that, we all met up with Hannah's roommates for a movie, Get On Up, the life story of musician, James Brown. It was a long, yet interesting movie. After 5 years, I'm still trying to come to grips with the fact that you can have beer in a movie theater.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hannah taught me how to make oatmeal from scratch! I certainly have this weekend (particularly Hannah's culinary expertise) to thank for broadening my cooking abilities. Need I say that with musli (cereal), boiling water, and honey, it was a simple masterpiece.

View from Hannah's place.

It was another spectacular day, weather-wise. Hannah and I journeyed (a five-minute walk) to the Stadtturm (city tower) for yet another pristine view of Innsbruck and the Alps. We gravitated back to the Inn River to catch up and people watch. It was an excellent conclusion to my visit. We grabbed a pizza for lunch; Gary stopped by again, and then it was time for me to take the train home. I did not want to leave.

View from the Stadtturm (City Tower)

Each street sign shares a tidbit of history or is dedicated to a history event/individual.

Innsbruck and the lovely Alps!

It took 3 ticket machines before we successfully purchased my ticket. The train was packed, but I made myself comfortable on the steps and admired my final moments with the spectacular Alpine views. The ride home was a nice chance to realize that Linz is starting to feel more like home. This became even more prevalent as I skyped with friends from NJ and Germany later that day. In the days following Innsbruck, I yearned for the views and the people, but I have found that Linz has its own charm. Plus, I hope to return to Innsbruck in the winter months to enjoy some snowy fun. :-)

A special Danke to Hannah, Gary, Nadine, et al for the spectacular weekend!

Liebe Grüße
Matt

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Case of the Mondays that only Got Better

Monday, October 6, 2014

This has been quite the exciting week with this new teaching position. Monday at school was like pulling teeth; I mean, the students all seemed to have a case of the Mondays. For one class, I chose a rather challenging article about outsourcing. This proved very difficult to get the students to participate in English. Lesson learned: when unsure, select the easier option as it should foster more conversation.

On another note, the ratio of girls to boys in my classes is on average 4 to 1. I have yet to figure out why there are so many girls, but if I find out why, I'll keep you posted...I'm also trying to find my place in the classroom hierarchy. In terms of classroom management and correcting their English, each teacher has their own style. My goal is to fit to their teaching methodology without stepping on any toes.

Teacher's room

The rest of the day was exquisitely exciting because I started Swedish class and tutoring. My beginner Swedish class was enthusiastic and a diverse group of people - people of different ages from various European countries. Being from New Jersey, I came from the farthest distance. The world only got smaller when I found out that the woman next to me was from Duisburg, Germany. (For those who don't know, Duisburg neighbors Krefeld, where I did my exchange year in Germany.) Directly after class, I had my first English tutoring session. The first time and a certain level of fatigue provided their own challenges, but the session seemed to be a good one. At least, I'll take that since we scheduled another tutoring session.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My classes on Tuesday were the complete opposite of Monday. I taught five classes, and they were each a success...but certainly exhausting. Right after school, I met up with a few USTAs for some tea prior to the welcome reception from the Austro-American Society of Upper Austria. Both meetings were lovely as I had the opportunity meet others who express a fervent interest in the the Austrian-American connection.

Lovely Linz

Tea time!

Austro-American Society's USTA Welcome Reception

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My first class was rescheduled. My second class went along as planned. And when time came for the third class, there were no students. To be fair, the teacher's mother passed away after second period and word got around that she was heading home. When I arrived, a teacher had already told the class that their English teacher would not be in class today. I got to leave school a bit earlier.

The last few days had caught up with me, so I took it easy hanging out at the apartment. Later, I had another tutoring session that was even more successful.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Today was a rather diversified range of classes. I covered a class about fair trade banana wealth distributions, led a debate about the options of study abroad, talked about stereotypes, and had the final class rescheduled to Friday. Since I am heading to Innsbruck tomorrow, I was excused from making up the class...my fellow teachers have been overwhelmingly supportive and insist that Friday remain my day off. :-)

Lastly, at the HLW, the tourism school, one of the teachers informed me that cat is out of the bag: the students have realized that I speak German. I'm curious to see where this next chapter of reinforcing English conversation.

My view from lunch

The leaves are starting to fall!

Mozartkugeln:
a super kind thank you from one of my teachers, 
for who I helped revise a few internship cover letters.

Have a great weekend! Fingers crossed that the weather will continue to be as pleasant as it has been this week.

Liebe Grüße aus Linz
Matt