Friday, February 27, 2015

Final Fun Friday in February

February has almost come to an end, so I feel like it's time that I drop a quick line. Last Monday, MaryBeth and I returned safe and sound to Linz after a wonderfully unforgettable trip to Turkey, more specifically to Istanbul, Pamukkale, and Antalya. I have 2,500+ photos to make my way through before I can finalize a post about our trip, which we appropriately titled "Operation Thanksgiving." I have needed a few days to recover from such a on-the-go trip and to fall back into the old work rhythm. Part of that old rhythm involves the pesky, yet insatiable travel bug that gets my mind racing about where I could journey next. With Easter break only four weeks away, it seemed necessary to start making a plan of action...please keep reading to the end for that update.

Today, I started a new position as an English assistant at an elementary and middle school for a deaf and hard-of-hearing school in Linz. Nothing has changed with my other two schools; till the end of April, I will be at this third school every Friday. I had the opportunity to work with three highly-enthusiastic classes with students ranging from 9 to 15. Their energy levels were much higher than I'm used to working with from my typical students, aged 16 to 20. Some students called me Mr. American, which made me smile for sure. Their curiosity was heartwarming as they asked a variety of questions, ranging from about my relationship status to life in New Jersey and why do we have big yellow school buses in the States. Overall, students and teachers alike seemed excited to realize that the English they are learning can be used to speak with people who do not know German. The morning left me with a great first impression, and I'm looking forward to meeting some other classes next week...and wearing a microphone again.

With my adrenaline still pumping, I opted to cross a few things off my Linz Bucket List. I set the goal back in October that I wanted to at some point take each tram line in Linz to the last station. Starting from the center of Linz, I did that today for all three tram lines. Yes, I stopped at every tram stop (on lines 1, 2, & 3) in Linz today. It may not sound like everyone's cup of tea, but it was a wonderful chance to people watch and see other parts of Linz. Plus, it didn't cost me anything with my monthly bus ticket. It was a beautiful, clear and sunny day to uncover a few new, mostly residential corners of Linz. But unfortunately in each tram, I was surprised to see how many people had buried their faces in their phones. I know I have been guilty of this, but such a warm, sunny day does not come around all the time in Linz.

 SolarCity is at the end of the No. 2 tram line. Like the name suggests, this is a 
community in Linz that focuses strongly on then environment. 
I kid you not, every house or building had at least one solar panel.

My tram joyriding lasted for about 4 hours.

As I switched trams one last time to head back to Katzbach (where I live in Linz), I finally purchased a pastry at Knott Bäckerei (Bakery). It was a sweet treat, especially since my last name shares the same pronunciation [kuh-note]...but I forgot to ask for the family discount.

Now to my final update: my Easter break plans. Turkey was wonderful, but I felt like I was at a disadvantage since Turkish is a language that I do not understand. That language obstacle finally convinced me to pick the final contender for this upcoming destination. Trips to Bulgaria/Romania or Finland/Estonia/Latvia were strong considerations, but I ultimately decided to book a flight to No. 2 on my Country Bucket List: Barcelona, Spain. (If you're curious, Sweden is number one on the list.) My plans are still pretty open, but Barcelona and Madrid are top priorities. I cannot be happier about my decision because I will finally be able to put my Spanish major to the test since graduation...this should be interesting to see how "Germanized" my Spanish has become.

Happy weekend und schönen Februar noch!
LG (Liebe Grüße)
Matt

Friday, February 13, 2015

Föhniger Februar

Winter has arrived and made its presence known in Austria. I suppose we can all thank Punxsutawney Phil. The Austrians are now able to go about their typical winter activities, i.e. skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing, and hiking with snowshoes. Snowmen don't seem to be all the rage at the moment, probably because the snow in Linz tends to melt away by late afternoon the same day. I've spent the first two weeks of February continuing to adjust to this alpine country's outdoor climate. That has mostly consisted of biking/slipping to school and doing my "keep warm" dance while waiting for the bus. In other words, it has been low key.

Last weekend, I volunteered at the AFS Upper Austria chapter's mid-stay camp in Linz. AFS is the high school exchange organization I did my exchange year with - this opportunity feels like it brought my time with AFS full circle. I have the fun job of interpreting German into English (and Spanish as well at times) for the students who didn't understand. The group of students and volunteers were great - we had three days of fun in small groups, group activities, and a nighttime hike lit by torches. It was nice to be adopted by another AFS chapter - I'm already signed up for the next camp in March. 

Subsequently on the Sunday, I went to an American Brunch that one of my colleagues invited me to at their apartment. Her husband is American, so it always nice to speak with another humorous native speaker of English...although in my colleague's defense, when we speak English, I forget she's Austrian. The pancakes and bacons reminded me of a Jersey diner.

Although winter won't be thawing for a while, I have started to get the feeling that I understand how the Austrians tick. I've been doing well with their dialect, and I've got their humor (sometimes lack thereof) down. My colleagues are a hoot, and they are enthused that I've started to take an interest in the Mühlviertel (Upper Austrian) dialect. In class, I learned that a portion of my students still don't know that I speak German...although I answer (in English) their questions which they ask in German. (One class was astonished that I could count to ten...I suppose they have low expectations for the American). Moreover, I do comment on the way it sounds when they speak German, and they find my impressions hysterical. Sometimes I wonder how classroom instruction can feel so much like a comedy skit. 

Another thing that I've needed no time adjusting to is the amount of breaks and extended weekends their school calendars have built in. It wasn't six weeks ago that I was in Germany celebrating Christmas. Winter break is now in full swing for Upper Austrian schools. Most Austrians use the week to ski. MaryBeth and I have decided to head to Turkey, stopping in Istanbul, Pamukkale, and Antalya. This is country number 32 for me, and my first new country since 2013. My Irish passport is getting its first stamp; this will be my first time on the Asian continent; and this is all happening on Friday, February the 13th. But no worries... Firstly, it's also pay day. And secondly, before this trip, I received a festive Mardi Gras package from my Aunt Nancy. 
(Vielen Dank, Aunt Nancy!) MaryBeth and I devoured the Kings Cake. The traditional goes whoever finds the Baby Jesus in the cake will have a year full of luck. Friday morning, MaryBeth found the baby in her breakfast slice, so I'll be sticking close to Ms. MaryBeth the Lucky! 

We took a two-hour train, a two-hour plane ride, and lastly a three-hour airport shuttle to reach our hostel. It's good to finally be in Turkey...let the adventure begin!

Liebe Grüße aus Istanbul
Matt

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Highlights vom Jänner

In my opinion, Austrian German is not as similar to the standard German, or Hochdeutsch, as many say. Between standard German and their local dialect, most Austrians are practically bilingual. Plus, Austrians use some words that I've never heard in German. Instead of "Januar," Austrians say "Jänner" [yen-ner] for the month of January. It's one of the words that has trickled into my daily speech...I have to be cautious that I know the difference when I speak to a German or an Austrian. The language nerd in me gets a thrill (and a simultaneous feeling of frustration) from learning/noticing such differences.

Besides the language thrills and frustrations, I have found many clusters of fun in Linz and more broadly, Upper Austria. January did not end up to be depressing, like my previous post may suggest - in fact, I felt like everything had gone back to normal. But I'm not kidding when I say that time has continued to fly by. Happy February, by the way!

The weekdays have been full of classes (some good ones, some less-motivated ones), lovely conversations with colleagues and students, and many cups of tea - in cafés and at home. Skype and Netflix deserve a shout out as free time activities as well. I particularly enjoyed learning more about how Edward Snowden exposed the NSA back in 2013.

The weekends (especially my weekly three-day weekends) have continued to allow me time for exploration. In Linz, I enjoyed the ball for the Johannes Kepler Universität, several museum visits, and meandering through the snowy Linz center. In Upper Austria, I enjoyed a second weekend in Freistadt with my friend and fellow USTA, MaryBeth, and a day in Bad Ischl, where I got to admire the snowy Alps. The snow has finally made its way to Linz, in manageable portions and without the dramatic weather predictions. Snow may be cold, but it also provided the cheer I needed to perk up my spirits. I'm going to let the photos elaborate on these highlights for my January 2015.

Friday, January 17, 2015
 As a last-minute decision, I purchased a ticket for the Johannes Kepler Universität Ball. I had a fun time with the group dancing, watching the performances, and admiring the Austrians who gracefully waltzed along the dance floor, accompanied by the JKU Orchestra. 

 Some impressive performances. 
The midnight performance (seen below) managed to stack four people on top on each other.


Friday, January 24, 2015
I pass this museum every time I go into town. It illuminates nightly in a flurry of LED colors - a true gem in Linz! I finally made my way into the Ars Electronica Center. I meet in Café Cubus on the top floor every other week for my conversation group with the Austro-American Society, but I did not realize the vast array of exhibits that this interactive, technology museum presents. I explored five floors that contested internet privacy, an interactive station that present demographic information about Linz, and another exhibit about optometry equipment. After a few hours, I did not make it through the entire place. I look forward to returning. 
Earlier in January, I also paid a visit to the Lentos Art Museum, the other museum that lights up along the Danube.

Saturday-Sunday, January 25-26, 2015
Weekend in Freistadt: MaryBeth and I watched TED talks, YouTube videos, played quiz games, and then we took another shot at making Whoopies. Our first batch was tasty, so we went in to the process feeling like experts. It took us half the time and the result was again very delicious. We still got very creative with making a waterbath with a ziti pan and a pot top to melt the chocolate for the filling. We even made vanilla and chocolate ones!

The finished product: Whoopies.

Thursday, January 29, 2015
The snow in Linz likes to stop by in the morning and melt away by the afternoon. It's good for street conditions, especially since this alpine country will never call a snow day. Biking is a challenge in the snow, but I do my best by taking it slow. Above you see my schools and where I park my bike every morning.

Views of Linz from the Eisenbrücke (Iron Bridge)
A snow-frosted Linz is gorgeous compared to the cloudy, gray side that I had seen for weeks.

 Pöstlingberg. I took a spontaneous trip up to this wintery wonderland. There were even a few surprises, such as:
 Reindeer...and...
a view of the Alps in the distance! 
I have yet to see such a wonderful view out onto Linz since I arrived.


 Friday, January 30, 2015

 Fellow USTA, Harriett, and I paid a visit to the Botanical Garden in Linz. We enjoyed the greenhouse full of exotic plants and butterflies before we wandered around outside in the snow.
 Linz Botanical Garden
  Linz Botanical Garden



Saturday, January 31, 2015
This past Saturday, Rachel, Harriett, and I traveled to Bad Ischl, a spa town in the Salzkammergut. This is the salt region of Upper Austria where the Alps begin. We skipped the thermal baths and Kaiservilla. (It was closed, but it's where the Austrian monarch, Franz Josef, signed the documentation that declared war on Serbia a century ago and marks the commencement of World War I.) Instead we headed right for the Katrin Lift to admire the mountain views. The day was gorgeous and crystal clear. I was not prepared for the immense sun, and I had a slight sunburn by the end of the day...plus a few more squint lines on my face.
Awesome Austria!

I took one step too far and landed in thigh-high snow.
This happened to me seconds after Rachel did the same thing.

Rachel, Harriett, and I

Bad Ischl on the Traun River

As a final treat, we went to the Zauner Confectionery Shop. I enjoyed this delicate marzipan treat with chocolate cake....a true masterpiece.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

This was technically February 1st, but it was my last January weekend. I went to the Linz Liwest Blackwings ice hockey game with French teaching assistant, Laetitia. We got a standing place right behind the goalie. It was exciting (and at times terrifying) to see and  hear the players collide with each other against the glass. I feared that I would temporarily lose my hearing when the puck hit the glass so loudly. The Blackwings won 5-1 against the Bolzano (Italy) Foxes. It was a great crowd, and nice to hear cheers that did not insult the other team. And I learned that the referees speak English at games when the teams hail from different countries, partly because so many of the players are native English speakers.
 Above: Welcome Ceremony to the Linz team on the ice
Below: Break time entertainment

Well, that wraps up January. Cheers to February!

Alles Beste
Matt

Monday, February 2, 2015

Winter-Blues

January in Linz has been an overall awkward month; awkward in a "middle child" sort of way. We have reached the halfway point of our teaching contracts which end in May. And January follows the Christmas season. So following the Christmas joy and stress and the new and old expectations for the new year, my month is Austria has created a lull in the experience that has welcomed spells of boredom and monotony into aspects of my everyday life.

I am not trying to suggest that my fun times in Austria have abruptly ended with the new year; it's been quite the opposite. However, it took me about two weeks to find the right gear to get back in the swing of things after returning from Germany. So what do I mean? After a few months, "new customs and ways" become everyday habits, thus losing their spectacle. As a whole, it was obvious that Linz lot of teaching assistants was overwhelmingly homesick, especially the first two weeks or so after everyone returned from the Christmas break adventures. Many wished to still be with loved ones from home, and Linz seemed pretty quiet. In short, it was a recipe for homesickness, granted everyone had/has been experiencing different levels of it. For example, some British TAs booked flights home for our winter break in February. And many who planned on staying till June or July have pushed their planned return flights up to the end of May. You could say that we are overcoming the winter blues...which is Winter-Blues in German. (Sometimes they have too many loan words from English.)

By not overplanning my weekends in January (to save money for my upcoming trip to Turkey), I have become especially aware with the large amount of free time that comes with this job. Technically, we teach thirteen classes per week. And most weeks, those hours are cut short because of schedule conflicts or random vacation days. Between vacations, holidays (federal and/or Catholic), and teachers calling in sick, I have gone months without seeing some of my classes I should see several times a month. What do I do with my time? I have been an avid Netflix watcher of multiple series, which I have started to call my Netflix binges when I lose track of the hours. The new year has also rekindled several friendships, with people that I've fallen out of touch. The marvel of Skype and FaceTime has made this another enjoyable way to pass the time.

The month of a January for me has also resulted in a reflective shift towards my future goals and plans. The reapplication process for the USTA program was well underway. The stress of trying to craft an elegant and sophisticated essay was a flashback to the initial application process. When it comes to applications, I don't handle them confidently. And on top of that, there were technological difficulties in which one of my mentor teachers never received her e-mail invitation to fill out a recommendation for me. In addition to figuring out where I could imagine myself in Austria next year, I spent a lot of time trying to see when I should fly home this summer. It required a lot of planning to organize my flights in conjunction with my parents' visit at the end of May as well as a lot of energy to think that far ahead in advance when all I want to do is enjoy the current moment. My flights and application have been taken care of on my end, and now it's just a waiting game. Right now, I can report that I arrive stateside on May 31st and will be back at the language camp in Vermont by mid-June for my summer employment...the other news should come in April.

In closing, January is a pivotal time in a school year abroad. Imagine that this year like a mountain that climbs and descends from the peak - January is the mid-point. (Disregard the metaphoric highs and lows of a year abroad because those can be unpredictable from day to day.) What I'm describing is how time feels. At the beginning, my stay feels eternal and the months in 2014 still felt like the beginning because I still have half of 2015 in Austria. Until January, I always felt like time was on my side as every street I wandered had something new to offer. Now that January has come to an end, time does not feel like it's building but rather like it's slipping away. I have reached the descent, and time seems to be accelerating. I'm just trying to take one day at a time.

Fortunately, as my flights are booked and applications are in, I can return to the daily joys of Linz. What are those you may wonder? They will be in the next post about January's highlights.

Happy Groundhog Day!
Liebe Grüße
Matt