I write sitting in a quaint coffee shop located on the stunning campus of Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien or WU. This is the largest business school in Europe and revered amongst Europe to be an incredible place to garner an education. With that being said, I have yet to really experience being a student on this modern campus, because even though it is October, I started class yesterday! Consequently, this blog is going to be a bit different.
The past few weeks have been filled with traveling and making friends here in beautiful Austria.
My trip to Austria was preceded by exploring the country of Iceland. Because I was flying to Europe anyways, I figured I would take advantage of WU’s late start time and do a little bit of wandering before landing. I am a photographer but taking photos in Iceland is so easy anyone who takes a picture looks like a DSLR champion. My incredible companion John Burke (who’s insightful experience is readable a few posts earlier) and I decided to camp through the chilly September nights. Needless to say, Iceland has its name for a reason, and I quickly learned that I do not have the insulation of a polar bear. Despite the chilly nights, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to take photos in a place that I used to only dream of going to. This would not have been possible if I stayed in comfortable College Station.
After the wheels of my Austrian Airlines Jet scraped the foreign pavement of the Viennese airport, I was quickly integrated into the Cultural Program. The program is sort of like Howdy week, but a lot less “red-ass”. If you are reading this and planning on hopping over the big pond (the ocean) to Vienna, then I definitely recommend spending the money for this program. It has been the main source of my friendships here and we did tours of places and cities I would not have done otherwise, but nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed. Like, would you think of booking tickets for a bird show in Melk? Didn’t think so.
Once the program ended, I felt like I was starting to get a grip on the city, but you’re only in Europe once. So, I have tried to travel a good amount. Now, as I mentioned before, I am a photographer, and my travel agenda looks a bit different than most people’s here. I love beautiful cities, experiencing culture, and eating different foods as much as the next guy, but if you put a ticket in my hand…my plane is taking me to the rural regions of God’s green earth. I have some pretty exciting plans lined up and in the works for this semester but have already seen some sweet places.
Last weekend I was able to go to the Zillertäl with a friend and hike up to a hut in the range. Our journey began with me taking to long gathering my equipment at our train stop and gazing at my friend zoom by on the platform as I was still on the train (going the wrong way now). It took me about an hour to get back, but what’s a journey without some surprises? Speaking of surprises, our steep climb began with incredible cloudy skies and pleasant weather, but as we approached the latter third of the hike it started snowing. And when I say snowing, I mean we were in a blizzard the White Witch from Narnia would be proud of. I almost lost a couple fingers from frostbite and was loving the squishing of my cold wet socks as we crested the mountain (remember when I said my agenda looked a little different?). Pictured is a good doggo thriving even amidst the storm.
We made this journey with an Indian man named Harsh who loved taking phone pictures and commenting, with a thick accent, on how the hike was more like “the world’s tallest staircase”. We stayed the night and I woke up to capture the sunrise, and boy was it worth it. Below you can see a picture from this surreal moment, with Harsh in frame.
We then hiked down the mountain with new friends: Harsh, Fatai (from South Africa), Latta (from Finland), and Christine (from Russia). I share this story to show how the preliminary parts of this study abroad have been regularly filled with people from radically different locations. Somehow moments like this are normal over here. Getting to know others from some of the craziest places is part of my daily routine, and that is not just in the Austrian Alps, the cultural program is called the “cultural” program for a reason. Getting to know people from all around the globe has been the most unique parts of my study abroad experience thus far.
In Iceland I shook hands with Josh, a glacier guide who used to mush dogs in Norway. In Zillertäl my shoulder felt the enthusiastic grasp of Harsh as he expressed his delight in having a traveling companion. I recently greeted my Italian friend Elena: one kiss on the left cheek and another on the right (I was then warned that the Spanish do it the opposite way, which could humorously and embarrassingly result in a kiss on more than just the cheek). Within my first month of being here, I have greeted kind hearts from at least 27 different countries, yes, I counted. And even though I have encountered drastic differences in lifestyle, beliefs and personality I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t at least say hello. Although approached differently, the meaning rarely changes. Whether it’s the popular German “Guten Tag,” Dutch “Hallo,” or a kiss on the cheek, I hear people saying: “I see you, despite our differences.” So in the spirit of seeing the world and the people in it, Shalom from Vienna.
Here’s to seeing others,