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I am spending my gap year between undergrad and grad school teaching English in Austria.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Halloween Weekend: Wine Country and Vienna

Griaß di!

So due to Austria being a Catholic country, I had a 4 day weekend for Halloween! Yay! But no one really celebrates Halloween here, so I spent the time adventuring.

My friend invited me to her family's home on the other side of Austria for the weekend, and so our story begins...

First up was the Wachau. It's the famous wine growing region of Lower Austria (the province I was in). They are also famous for their Apricot Blossoms (think D.C. for Cherry Blossoms). Unfortunately, being there in the Fall, everything was starting to die, but regardless it truly was breathtaking.

 The Wachau. Vineyards with Duernstein in the background.
 What a beautiful sight!
 Taking a stroll along the Danube.
 Hogwarts? Or a fortress in ruins...
 The most popular photo of the Danube. Aggstein fortress with the river.
 Through the looking glass...
Across the Danube to Duernstein. The castle on top of the hill is where Richard the Lionheart was held captive for over a year.

It was quite the Halloween adventure. While touring the ruins of Aggstein, I saw two little knights fighting to protect the fortress and a witch preying on young children (some kind of show). But Halloween wouldn't be complete without a party. Since not many people here dress up, I just wore a Halloween shirt. The party was in a large tent outside that you could smoke in! Needless to say, the smoke at one point built up to the point where I could barely breathe and see. Definitely not used to this, and I hated reeking of smoke afterwards.

But the party itself was fun! Although the DJ didn't start playing good music until midnight. Also for the record, "Who Let the Dogs Out," "I Like to Move It, Move It," and the Baywatch theme song all played. What amazed me the most is how drunk people were at 10 pm before the party even really started! People pre-gamed so hard that they could no longer stand up, but they kept drinking and security did nothing! I was told if they threw people out who had too much to drink, there would be no one left. It was a curious Halloween indeed, but still a lot of fun.

Trying to understand dialect...

We didn't stay too late, because the next day was a Viennese adventure! While I've been to Vienna before, there is so much to see that it definitely takes multiple trips.  It was so nice to be in a bustling city again, and definitely the pick-me-up I needed. It reminded me again why I love Austria so much, and wanted to come here in the first place.

 State Parliament
 National Art Museum
 Outside the Natural History Museum. The elephant statue is of Suliman (Suleiman in English). He was adopted by the Hapsburg Archduke Maximillian II in Spain and brought to Austria. Suleiman is named after an Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, and was the first elephant that Austrians had ever seen. He became a national treasure, hence his memorial statue.

After putzing around Vienna a bit, I became determined to find the national treasure that I most desired to see, but last time failed to find... the Prunksaal (State Hall). The Prunksaal is a library, but not any old library. It is a maze of old books surrounded by frescos and gold leaf. Some of the photos below may look a bit familiar to you. That's because the Prunksaal is one of the two libraries that the Beast's library (from "Beauty and the Beast") is based on. The other is also in Austria, the Admont Abbey library, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I will get there before my time is up here. Nevertheless, finally seeing the Prunksaal was a dream come true. This is my heaven...
From the entrance looking straight back.
 There are hidden rooms behind the bookcases!
 The magnificent fresco in the center of the library. I stood here looking up for at least 5 minutes.
The center of the library. 
 From the back looking forward. Look at the amazing symmetry.

Moral of the story. When I was a kid, I could care less about the Prince, I wanted that library.  Now that I've seen it, I want it even more. A man can sweep me off my feet not with roses, not with chocolates, but with books. Specifically old books. The Prunksaal just smelled of knowledge, and I wanted to jump the barricades and leaf through all the leather bound books.  To any potential suitors reading this, I will automatically say yes if you propose to me in this library. That is all. I think I've geeked out enough for one day.

 The State Opera House
Happy as a clam basking in all the glory that is Vienna.

As you can tell from how enthusiastic I was, I had a great Halloween weekend.  I finally saw blue skies and the sun, after too many gray and dreary days in Saalfelden. I fell in love with the countryside, pretended I was at Hogwarts, and finally realized a life long dream (while as long as I can remember watching "Beauty and the Beast"). Austria is full of amazement and wonder, and this trip reminded me of that.  Come gray skies or snow, it will not deter me from exploring the hidden gems of this country.

So I leave you with that...

Pfiat di!

Teaching in Austria

Griaß di!

So the number one question people have asked me is what classes are like. I only teach 13 hours a week, but every other week I have a different class. Basically I have 24 classes, so I've experienced many different classroom environments.

What's the number one question Austrian students have for an American? "Are house parties really like in the movies?" "Are college parties like in the movies?" Actually kids, they are even crazier sometimes.

I teach in 3 different schools. One is a technical school, so it's mostly boys. The second is a business school, which is mostly girls. And my main school is a normal high school with focus on sports and languages, so my classes are mixed.  In each school, I have a very different experience depending on the class. Sometimes graduating classes don't talk as much as students in the Sophomore year!

However, as in all schools, there are some stellar students and some students who could care less. I try to make my lessons as interactive as possible, because just sitting there taking notes is boring. But the same lesson works with various degrees of success in different classrooms. This year is certainly teaching me to be flexible, go with the flow, and adapt to the environment. Good life lessons overall.

I also learn an amazing amount of vocab in the classroom as I try to translate things for students struggling for a word. Of course, I have also learned a lot about myself as well.

The greatest moments in the classroom? I have three. One is my students telling me America gained its independence from Britain after World War II. The second is when one of my boys told me, "Your eyes shine brighter than the stars." Boys in Austria think they have as much game as boys in America.

The greatest moment ever though is playing the Austrian "national anthem" for students aka Edelweiss. The horrified and puzzled looks on their faces says it all. Most Austrians have never even heard of the Sound of Music, let alone seen it. Explaining the American stereotypes for Australia Austria has been a great way to bring greater cultural awareness in the classroom.

And while I'm on the subject of the von Trapps, below are some of my favorite Maria moments from a hike I begrudgingly went on behind my school.
 The hills are seriously alive with the sound of music

 The castle behind my school, my dorm and my town :)
 Basking in the sun of a glorious day
Why do I have a fear of heights? I think these depictive memorials of people being impaled after falling off the side of a mountain don't help my case at all.

Pfiat di!

I am a horrible blogger... aka October catch-up

Griaß di!

So much has happened in the past two months, that I find little spare time to relax, let alone to blog. I apologize for my lackadaisical efforts, but I promise to enlighten you to all I have learned thus far.

We can begin with my greeting. You may notice it's spelled differently from last time. Well that's because Austria has it's own unique set of greetings, spellings and pronunciations, which has not failed to confuse me these past few weeks. I discovered I had been spelling and pronouncing this typical Pinzgau greeting wrong. Whoops!

I am starting to gain a better grasp on Austrian pronunciation, but still sometimes, I find myself tuning out people and shutting down my brain. It's really stressful and actually physically hurts to try to listen to dialect think of the High German translation and make sure I understand what's going on, whilst keeping up with the conversation. It's much easier just to go into sleep mode, which I consciously have to avoid.

It's actually been an issue here just staying up because I live in one of the foggiest regions of Austria. By foggy I mean sometimes I can't even see the mountains or trees outside my window. The sun is completely blocked out, which means, my internal clock has been thrown off. I'm told though that with the snow in Winter, the sun comes back. Let's hope so...
Where'd the mountain go?

Anyways, to try to keep my energy up, I have been discovering Saalfelden. Below are some of the fun things I found.
Outside a cafe
 Outside the Catholic Church
 World War II memorial in the Church gardens
 St. George slaying the Dragon with the Rathaus in the reflection
 My favorite building... it's actually a bank
Go Stags!

Pfiat di!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Orientation Week!

Gruss di!

The epic blogging catch up game continues... (Read to the end... trust me you'll want to)

Last week was orientation week for English TAs.  To my surprise, it wasn't just for Americans but also for Brits, which led to 5 days of miscommunications.

For example: (American=British)

1. Holiday=Festival
2. Dumpster=Tip
3. Tired=Knackered
4. Pants=Trousers (A lot of Americans got weird looks because pants means underwear in British Eng)
5. Fannypack=Bumbag (This is probably my favorite miscommunication ever)

It was a great week meeting other TAs not too far away.  And it was comforting to know, I wasn't the only one struggling to understand people in my town.

Now during our week, we learned many important lessons.  The first being: never trust an Austrian when hiking.

They will tell you it's not very steep; they will tell you you are halfway there; they will tell you it will be easy from this point on.  LIES... ALL LIES.  Walking up a mountain to the 1500 meter mark is never a gradual uphill climb, they have no judgement of where halfway is, and it just gets harder, especially as the air gets thinner.

It was not a fun climb with asthma, especially as the air got thinner; however, once you make it up there and look at the valley... it's so worth all the pain.  See what I mean...

Besides, we needed a way to burn off all the calories from the food provided (which consisted of one food group... carbs).

Another way we burned some calories was at the traditional folk dance night.  I was more under the impression that we were just going to watch the dancers, but it was very interactive and they kept choosing people to dance with them.  It was SO much fun. 

The men even did incredible Schuhplattler dances.  If you don't know Schuhplattler, google it. But you probably do. If you've ever seen men in Lederhosen slapping their thighs and shoes... that's it.  They even got guys from our group involved!  Then they did a maypole dance... Sorry the picture is kinda blurry.  Oh and I think he is just scratching his face (I hope).

Of course we also entertained ourselves visiting the local bar, the Hexenhaeusl.

The witches themed bar, also came equip with a bar game. No not billiards, not darts, not Foosball.  Austrian bars prefer a much safer game for drunk people...
Yes, those are nails and yes that is a hammer.  The point is to tap the nail into the block with the thin end of the hammer. If you hit your nail, you get to go again.  If you miss your nail, the next person goes.  But don't worry, the hammer is connected to a chain.

Anyways, Thursday was our last full day.  So that night there was a celebration.  We learned Scottish partner dances, performed skits and songs for each other and danced.  My group performed the Sound of Music in 60 seconds, which was tons of fun.

Oh yeah... AND I SANG HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MARIA VON TRAPP.  My life is complete.

Now it's not Maria like Julie Andrews, the movie renamed all the children.  Maria von Trapp is the second oldest daughter of the von Trapp children.  She is the only of the original 7 children to escape Austria that is still alive.  She just turned 99.  Apparently, one of our teachers is good friends with her.  So we called her up and sang her favorite Austrian song and Happy Birthday in English.  She was so excited and adorable.

Told you it was worth it to read to the end...

Pfiat di!

Austrian Bureaucracy and Kaiserschmarrn...

Gruss di!

I'm trying to make up for all the posts I did not make in my first two weeks...

Some of you may have seen my Facebook rant about Austrian bureaucracy, but let me paint a more detailed picture for all of you.

On beautiful day, on which it was not supposed to rain, I travelled to the town next to me Zell am See, to pick up my residency permit.

This was within my first week here, so I was still a bit jetlagged and getting used to the Austrian way of life.  But I figured out the buses without any issues, so I thought I was in for a fun and easy excursion.

I was wrong...

The NYC consulate had emailed me in August that my residency permit was ready to pick up at the Bezirkshauptmannschaft (district commission) located at Stadtplatz 1. I arrived just after lunchtime, as most things here close for lunch. When I asked the receptionist where to go, she looked at me like I was crazy and replied, "Residency permits are in our third building, on the other side of town..." Granted this was also said in German with a heavy Pinzgauer accent.

She gave me a map of the town, and sent me on my way.  Of course I got lost... her directions were not very precise.  However, I knew the town was small enough that I would eventually find my way.  When I arrived at the third building, I asked the receptionist there where to go. She said one floor up.  I was apprehensive that I was in the right place, simply because the building looked like it was straight out of "A Clockwork Orange" or something. Here's the main hallway:

Nevertheless, I climbed the stairs to the first floor, and couldn't find anyone in their office.  Finally, someone came out of the breakroom to tell me that I could only come in for my permit in the mornings... a fact that would have been nice to know in the first place.

So, hungry and annoyed. I walked back to the center of town, when it started pouring... When it rains, it pours.  I decided to stop at a local cafe and catch a later bus back. God was just chilling out the window of the top floor of the cafe...

My delicious Austrian lunch, complete with horse radish!

The next day, Friday, I ventured back to Zell am See in the morning.  Which is no simple task, because it's hard to coordinate the busses.  But I had to go, since the next week I would be in training Monday-Friday...

Back I went to the correct Bezirkshauptmannschaft, and I found the office for residency permits.  I told the man working there, I wanted to pick up my permit.  It took him 10 minutes of searching through paper files to even find my application.  I was getting really nervous that my file was lost.

Upon finding it, he turns to me and says, "But you were never fingerprinted. We have to do that first." Now, I have been in the process of applying for this thing since June.  NOT ONCE did anyone EVER mention fingerprinting.  And, when someone emails you that your permit is ready to pick up, you think it means it is printed out and ready for you. Nope, not in Austria.

The man then tells me that they have to process everything and print my residency card, and they will send me a letter in the mail when everything is ready.  I ask if he has my address.  Thank goodness I do since, surprise surprise, they don't have my address. So I would have never known if my permit was ready.

After enduring that frustration, I needed an amazing Austrian lunch.  Lunch here is the biggest meal of the day, and since I didn't have many groceries to make myself dinner later, I decided to eat away my sorrows. 

Now I knew that I needed Kaiserschmarrn that day, but I also figured I should eat something real first. I went to the Crazy Daisy, a popular spot among locals, to relax.  I ordered a cappuccino and just a wurstl from the light menu.  This is what is considered a light meal in Austria...
What a lovely cappuccino :)

The insane amount of food would not deter me though from my Kaiserschmarrn.  For those of you unfamiliar with my obsession for the delicious Austrian treat/what it is... let me tell you first off I blame my father.  When I was studying abroad in Germany, and my parents came to visit, we went to Austria for Easter.  My dad had read how Lindsey Vonn, the American skier, would only cheat on her diet for Kaiserschmarrn.  So we had to have it at the Easter market, and an obsession was born.

What is this Kaiserschmarrn you ask?  It is the fluffiest and lightest pancake you've ever had in your life, covered in powdered sugar, and traditionally served with a warm plum compote.  Everywhere you will find different variations, mine below had raisins.  But regardless, Kaiserschmarrn is God's gift to mankind.  I dare you not to like it...

Tomorrow, I will probably have to return to Zell am See (after checking my mail for my letter). And I will have my third Kaiserschmarrn of my stay... so far once a week. And don't worry, I won't gain 20 pounds, because I live on the side of a mountain and up 4 flights of stairs.  So far, Austria is kicking me into shape.

Below are some more photos of Zell am See, which are also available on Facebook and Snapfish for your viewing pleasure.

 World War I and II memorial
 A picture of Mary and Jesus that dates back to the 1500s
 The lake that Zell am See is named for
Is it a castle? No. This is just the Rathaus (townhall). No big deal.

Pfiat di!

P.S. Fun fact: Zell am See is where the Von Trapp family grew up :)

This place is a Bob Ross painting...

Gruss di!

I figure successfully surviving my two weeks in Saalfelden, Austria deserves a post or perhaps even better a prost!

First off, funny story Saalfelden am Steinernen Meer literally translates into "Halls of Fields on the Stone Sea." So I decided to ask a friend here if the stone sea was a lake or what, she laughed hysterically.  All she could say is "There are no seas in Austria!" True. Austria is landlocked, so what is this stone sea? It's a mountain... should have guessed that one since I'm surrounded by mountains...

So far I have been settling in and crafting to make my room look like home. I am still getting used to waking up every morning to a Bob Ross painting.  Seriously look at those happy little trees and the glorious mountains...

This is the view out my window by the way...

As per usual, I have been exploring as much as I can. Unfortunately, it rained all week upon my arrival, but my first weekend was been beautiful Fall weather.

So far, I have also learned that I do not speak Austrian, especially the strong dialect here (Pinzgauer).  Everyone looks at my like I'm crazy, whenever I speak in High German (which is all the time).

I can't help but compare my time here so far to my time in Heidelberg:

1. In Heidelberg, I could understand everyone... if only I could understand anyone here. SAT time: High German:Austrian::British English:American English... they use completely different words and pronunciations :(

2. In Heidelberg, public transportation was awesome and no one drove cars. Here, everyone drives their car everywhere, and the buses are not very convenient.

3. In Heidelberg, everything was rather organized. In Austria, everyone has no stress (which stresses me out). I start teaching class on Tuesday and I still don't know my schedule!

The BIGGEST difference though is everyone in Austria is so friendly... It's actually a nice change from Germany. When you walk into a restaurant, you greet everyone there; and likewise, when you walk out of a restaurant, you say goodbye to everyone there. And other customers respond! Same thing goes on the bus or even just passing a stranger on the street. It's actually quite lovely.

To end, I give you some lovely photos of my town. All photos are available on Facebook (AUSTRIAN LIFE) for your viewing pleasure... For those of you without Facebook, all photos are also on my Snapfish under the same album (Austrian Life). Below is a link:


Rathausplatz (town square) on a beautiful Fall day!

A view of town... and lots of cows

Ritzensee... the lake in Saalfelden.

Pfiat di!

P.S. You can find out right away when I post a new blog by adding yourself to the email list on the sidebar :)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sorry for the Silence... Updates!

I may be the worst blogger in the entire world... in fact, I'm so old-fashioned that I've been keeping a HANDWRITTEN Journal of my experiences here, that I have forgotten about this little blog that I promised to keep updated. But never fear, I shall improve my blogging skills and create a long enough post that hopefully makes up from lost time.

Since we left off...
I took a tour of the main location of John-Michael's company, B.A.S.F. It is absolutely huge and has over 30,000 workers in this one location, Ludwigshafen. There was a comparison map of the factory's size to cities; BASF is roughly the size from Penn Station to the Museum of Natural History (almost 50 city blocks)! They also have their own fire station, hospital and theater. Here's me "Working in the Lab" just like JM...

I had the entire month of February off. It was really nice to take a break and settle in.  Unfortunately I was sick for most of February, but I still was able to travel a bit.  I visited a lot of old friends from when I was here in high school.  One friend lives in Göttingen, a very beautiful and typical German city not too far from Hannover. This is the Gänseliesel (Goose Girl) in Göttingen. When medical students graduate they celebrate by bringing her flowers, kissing Gänseliesel and drinking Champagne with family and friends in front of the statue.

The next trip that I took was to Münster in the northwest of Germany and then to the University city of Groningen, which is in Holland. The old city of Münster is one of the prettiest areas I have seen in my life; it reminds me a lot of Cambridge, Massachusetts with all of the brick. This is the main Cathedral in Münster.
 Next, I drove with my friend to Holland. I brought my passport with me just in case, since I am not an EU citizen, but there was no border control. Very strange! Groningen is in the far north of Holland, so it was mostly grey skies and drizzles all day, quite like St. Petersburg.  I was very excited to understand most of what people are saying since Dutch is very similar to German and English; however, sometimes it sounded so foreign. My favorite part about Holland was how cheap the groceries are compared to Germany. I stocked up on Peanut Butter and Coffee while there. I also bought sprinkles and chocolate shavings. In Holland, a typical breakfast is toast with Chocolate and Vanilla sprinkles and Chocolate shavings! It is quite delicious; I don't know how we didn't think of this in the US! That purple blob is me on the stairs of the main building of the University of Gronigen. This building was built specifically to be a part of a University, if only Fairfield's buildings were this pretty.

Now that it is March, I am in another German Review Course. Class in Heidelberg is a much more serious atmosphere than in Mannheim, yet I feel that I gained more in January.  On Mondays and Fridays, I am taking an optional Literature course, which has helped my German a lot. Every day we read a new excerpt from different foreigners who have learned German and their experience with the language. Last Friday we read Mark Twain, which made me giggle. He has the same frustrations as me with German grammar, so it comforted me to know that for years English speakers have had trouble with grasping German grammar, it's not just me!  Last weekend two of my friends from Fairfield came to visit from Paris. We had beautiful weather the whole time, so I finally got around to doing the touristy stuff as well, including climbing over 300 steep stairs to the top of the castle. Below are some highlights...

The tranquilty of the Neckar River... I see this every morning on my way to class

A view of the Castle from the Old Bridge

The view at Sunset from atop the Castle

View of the Castle at night from the Old Bridge

View of the Gates to the Old City at night

Liebe Grüße