Wednesday, May 27, 2015

January: A Wintery Mix of Homesickness and Joy

With the lack of sunlight in Linz, I was concerned that I would start suffering from a vitamin D deficiency. After settling into a relaxed Christmas break with my German host family, I was flown back to my "grown-up" life in Linz. I was trying to save money for some bigger trips I had planned, so more of my adventures were local. These involved museums, the botanical garden in Linz, two weekends in Freistadt with MaryBeth, and a snowy day trip to Bad Ischl. It was a great time for me to really appreciate Linz and Upper Austria...for which in hindsight I'm especially thankful since life got really busy in 2015.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

December: The Hype of Weihnachten

Christmas is a magical time in Austria. That means there are Christmas markets with malted drinks (especially Glühwein) and countless forms and combinations of Wurst (sausage) and dough. Despite the brutal cold, Austrians emit pure joy during this time, in part thanks to the warm alcohol, I think. My travels in December revolved around the markets: in Graz, Klagenfurt, Gmunden, Linz, Vienna, and Kleve in Germany. I can attest that these festivities keep you warm and full of Christmas spirit, even on the coldest and rainiest days.

I have shared this before, but just as a reminder: I did not return to the States but rather to Germany to celebrate with my German host family. It was a blissful reunion but the time was trying at times with homesickness and the realization that I had immersed myself more into Austrian culture than I initially believed. I guess the differences between Germany and Austria then became more obvious to me. Either way, it was an ideal way to conclude 2014 with one of my families.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

November: Feeling at Home in Linz

As the weather in Linz really started to cool and the not so sunny days of wintery fog settled in, the excitement of life abroad started to dull slightly. My trick to conquering the boredom was to stay busy and made each day feel like an accomplishment. For me, it was this feeling of productivity that helped me to make Linz feel like home. 

My weekend trips and adventures found a new gear in Bratislava, Slovakia, and Zürich, Switzerland (where I visited my good friend, Marco, who also studied in Leipzig for a semester). But more importantly were the grand events which were celebrated in Linz: the Maturaball and my Austrian Thanksgiving dinner.

Each secondary school in Austria has a Maturaball (an Austrian prom which is celebrated during the wintertime leading up to graduation). It was a grand ball with formal Austrian dances, everyone dressed to the nines in formalwear, and several choreographed numbers by students and teachers. It seemed almost royally extravagant to me. It was the first time I felt officially a part of my schools...and things only got more interesting after the ball concluded at 2am and continued with an after party through the night. I called it a night at 5:30am, a new record for this old soul. 

Thanksgiving is usually a day where I can't help but miss home. In Austria, it's just another regular day, in fact, the Christmas markets were already in full swing in Linz. The Austro-American Society of Upper Austria organized a Thanksgiving feast with a live band and I participated in a skit that presented the history of the holiday for our non-American participants. It was a fest-filled evening with many servings and laughs. The following weekend I had a fancy time blending the intercultural customs when I visited a total of eight Christmas markets in Vienna and subsequently took part in a Thanksgiving dinner with my friend from NJ, Noemi.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

October: Alpine Beauty

My responsibilities in school had commenced and the weather in Austria was still cooperative. It was time to start admiring one of Austria's finest attractions: the Alps. A weekend in Innsbruck showcased why so many people love it here in Austria. The fresh air, landscapes, and outdoor adventure are each distinctly breathtaking. After our first payday, it was an opportune time to check out Dachstein, the highest mountain in Upper Austria. In fact, it marked the day I fell in love with the Salzkammergut - the southern mountainous region of Upper Austria where the Alps more or less begin. 

In addition to admiring the landscapes, hiking was a pastime that I gladly took up. The physical challenge of reaching new heights and relishing the views at the top are always worthwhile, or they end up being a good story when experience the challenges of hiking in the fog.

Lastly, I wasted no time in exploring some of the not-so-great secrets, hidden by the rolling hills: remnants of the Holocaust. Tours of Mauthausen concentration camp and the Limonistollen (WWII bunkers constructed by political and religious prisoners from Mauthausen) humbled my appreciation for social advancement in the last century, albeit there is some progress still to be made.

Monday, May 18, 2015

September: Explorations and Friendship

This was a brief month since I arrived in mid-September. The highlights were certainly the USTA orientation in Saalbach-Hinterglemm and my birthday. Orientation was a wonderful introduction to our role as teaching assistant as well as a hysterical time to get to know the other USTAs, who would become some of my closest friends and exploratory companions here. With a fresh excitement off of orientation, my birthday rolled in the day before we would officially start work. It was a splendid day with kind folk and spectacular views of Linz from Pöstlingberg. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Home Stretch

Hi, y'all! 

I apologize again for another hiatus. I have a tendency to over schedule my life, and the past few months have been no exception. My time in Linz is nearing the end in about a week with a visit from my parents. It is a time of mixed emotions - I am ecstatic to see my loved ones and friends from home, but I'm sad to depart from where I've called home the last nine months. I have a lot to physically and mentally pack up.

This year, Linz has been home, but Europe has been my playground. This explorative time has brought me to a total of ten countries, including five new countries (in bold) that bring my lifetime country count to 36: Austria, Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany, Turkey, Spain, the Czech Republic, Italy, Vatican City, and Slovenia. 

However, my time in Europe is technically not yet up. I'm pleased to say that I will be back in September for another school year but this time in Vienna at two Gymnasiums (university-track high schools). I have a lot to look forward to in the upcoming months: a summer at home and Vermont as well as my eventual return to Europe. But for now, I'd like to complete a review of my stay in Austria with highlights from each month over the next few weeks. For the sake of time, I will do my best to be brief and will depend on my photos from Facebook. 

I hope you enjoy and thanks again for following!

Viele Grüße
Matt