Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Jaa!! Sie hat sicher das Bieber Fieber!"

The "sign" for some Magistrate office in Krems. Not. Helpful.
It's been... a weird week in Austria. Because of holidays and my nice schedule I only had 2 days of classes this week (so, like 8 hours of actual work, ha!) but they ended up being very tiring days... I guess I'm realizing this is 'real', that I really do have to pay 4 months rent (2 months = deposit) before every getting paid, that I really do have to get that legal stuff done to be here (which I can't seem to figure out how/where/when to do, and also costs money), that I really did choose to live over an hour away from my workplace and that that TOO costs money... bleh. All these 'adult' things stress me, basically, and I don't want to deal with them. I don't know how people my age do it, be successful! I think I've spent too much time in laid-back Portland and at the University of Portland with their kind yet excessive handholding.

 One of my schools, the business school (HAK), can be very frustrating for me. The students don't really care or want to learn, and it reminds me of American high schools where you only go to school because you have to. But, the nice part is that the teachers don't care at all what iI talk about, which reminds me of language classes in the US! I can remember talking about all sorts of random German things with basically no theme at all. Anyway, I hate to have students blankly looking at me. I had 4 classes with the HAK yesterday and it just kind of wears down my spirit a bit.

Despite my stress, there have been some really positive moments that remin me that being here is most likely worth all my frustration.

Today, I taught in the HLF tourism school, which I certainly like better! I was told to teach a lesson in the way teachers generally say... 'So, talk about __ and then lead a discussion on it!'. Now, I'm no certified teacher, but I do remember that the last few times I've had lectures on subjects I could care less about, I have very nearly fallen asleep. And frankly these kids don't care about immigration, or Seattle, or politics... so I've devised on-topic games and ignored my instructions, and it works quite well! I did that in a classroom today of a teacher I really dig, though I forget her name (I think it's Lizi, but there's 2 of them and I don't know what the difference is). After class she talked to me for 10 minutes about how the kids really like me, and how I should be a German teacher (or, marry an Austrian and teach English, but we agreed there were a lot of problems with that plan). Now, I've definitely thought about that before but know that my German isn't perfect enough to teach, buuut it's nice to hear from someone who I speak German with and I teach English with that she thinks it would be good. So, that was really nice. How awesome would it be to get some kids seriously excited about German!? I could totally do it better than Frau Taylor. I got excited.

And I do think the students like me! Story tiiiime: so, a couple weeks ago a student said hello to me at the train station. Actually, he said 'Hel-Low KAYtie' in that really great Austrian pronunciation. Anyway, our conversation went like this:
Him: Hello Katie!
Me: Hi, how are you?!
Him: I'm Sebastian! I was... in the class....
Me: Oh, uh... no, how are you doing?
Him: I am going home!
Me: Okay, super, where is home?
Him: (somewhere in Austria)
Me: Cool............. bye. (thinking, it's going to be a longggg year...)
Sooo yesterday I was scampering down the hill to the train station fully aware that I had about 2 minutes to make a 5 minute walk AND buy a train ticket, looking like an idiot, when Sebastian says to me in perfect English 'you will never make it!' and from there we had a nice lengthy 2 hour discussion while we waited for the next train. It was cool! I mean, I enjoy my job because I am a teacher, yes, but also I can just be normal with them and talk about whatever I want. Sebastian took me to see the Danube, finally! It was... super pretty. I think I will paint the moment because it was just nice with the sunset and the mountains and the river and a bridge and dogs and bicycles and all of my favorite things. But yes, turns out Sebastian CAN speak English. He told me all about how to get home from Krems at 4am (the trains are unlocked – just climb on and go to sleep), where to ski (helpful? No. English? Yes.), why the school is called HLF (höhere lernen fremdverkehr, or something, which means high learning tourism, but since their school/Austria is stubborn it is hlF not hlT), annnd other fun things (he hates his English teacher and lived in Salzburg this summer!).

I feel kind of crazy being here because I realize how American I am! Austrians are generally very private people, never really asking much about others or talking about themselves, whereas I vomit my life story all over classrooms (30+ so far) and on this blog and whatever! Facebook is totally changing the way we communicate, of course, and now everyone can basically know anything about my day to day life, but even before the internet Americans are always all about that. It's strange. But in my eyes it makes it easier to get to know me/us because you don't have to worry about what questions to ask or whatever, it's already been said! When I don't speak my thoughts, it's probably a sign of something wrong (again, look at me unearthing all of myself publically). Anyway, it can be difficult to chat with some of the teachers because they don't much like to talk about themselves, but luckily most of them are kind enough to keep talking to me and turn the conversation back to me, or something. Sellllfcentered. I have been told that I wear my heart on my sleeve (thanks Fr. Art) and I'm realizing too how true that is...

I'm staying in Vienna this weekend, which will be nice. I'm looking forward to sleeping in and then walking about the town on adventures! There are some places I've been wanting to see in the city but haven't had time to go to after school, so hopefully I can fit those in on this 5 day weekend. 

Did I mention I accidentally bought black licorice flavored toothpaste? I constantly smell like a European...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Unspeakables!

So, one of many observable things in Austria is the difference between what is and isn't publically accepted, both in real life and in my schools. So... let's begin. Disclaimer: not trying to offend anyone, these are just my ramblings.

Cigarettes: as a non-smoker, this activity makes zero sense to me. I mean, look at the negative side effects: expensive, gross cough, other diseases including deathly ones, smelly clothes, bad teeth... aside from a small, temporary head buzz, there are no benefits! However, people in Austria smoke all the time! At my fancy dinner last week, after the second course, ALL the students left for a smoke (or at least, to be with the smokers).... yet none of the adults did. Herr Gutmayer commented that he thought it was ridiculous that they all had to go smoke, but clearly the kids weren't in trouble! They are all of smoking age (16... though it might be 14?). Another time, a teacher told me that she's having problems with her students because they want to go on a 'Language Week' to London, but since they are doing a homestay, they can't smoke all week... as a result, the students don't want to go. Their teacher, however, told me 'I KNOW that they'll smoke no matter what, I just can't tell them that it's OKAY for them to smoke at these homes – why can't they figure it out!?' Interesting. Anyway, I think America, or at least the Northwest, has Europe beat on this one.

Alcohol: this topic is much less black and white for me. In theory, imagine how great the world could be without alcohol! People would be healthier, would learn how to interact better socially, would save money, would do less stupid things. But alcohol is a real component of society in most cultures, especially Western. Not that Austria/Germany (don't tell them I'm clumping them together, they'd hate it!) is really the lederhosen-wearing, beer stein-drinking ideal that some movies make it out to be, but it is commonly found. I had an interesting discussion with Rene, the new Austrian director for the Salzburg program. He mentioned that he doesn't see why students shouldn't be allowed beer or wine in the Center (which they are), and that it's completely normal for Austrians to have a beer with dinner... but he cannot support excessive drinking in any way. So, that's a 30 year old's opinion for you. I think it is logical. Anyway, I want to get back to the topic of WHY we drink. I don't support people saying 'man, I was so drunk last night, I did this stupid thing' because really, it was stupid, and maybe you shouldn't be forgiven just because you got yourself into this child-like mindset. There is something comforting about having a drink to 'loosen your tongue', so to speak, and I am very aware of this since I am often socially uncomfortable! But what if I just had to suck it up and talk to people without the use of some modifier? Would it be okay for me to still be out at the bar? Could I do it without judging people for their drinking? Not that I'm proposing that I'll stop drinking, because sometimes I really do like the taste of beer or wine, but I think that society has seriously figured out how to brainwash everyone into thinking that drinking is cool. Not that it'd be the first time society has brainwashed us... Also, another note, my students DRINK wine in school. Not just talk about it, but become wine connoisseurs. Somalier, if you will. Living in Krems aka Wine Capital A.U.T., they have to know how to make wine, taste wine, sell wine, etc. It's pretty crazy, considering I know next to nothing about wine. Anyway, talk about reinforcing drinking habits.

Nudity: Walking to the subway station, I pass at least 3 posters of somewhat naked women. Not doing anything scandalous, but getting a massage or a vacation thing or whatever else. It's normal here to see nude art and not make fun of it like we did when we were 7. The nudes are almost always women though... I wonder what it does to the developing teenage girl to see attractive, naked women everywhere! You never see ugly naked women, or naked men for that matter. It's definitely... different. But don't fret, my students still have to cover themselves completely, more than we did in high school (they let us get away with those little cheerleading skirts? Really?).

Drugs: Again, talking to Rene, he described how vehemently opposed to marijuana most Austrians are. He studied criminal psychology, and was talking about how by smoking, you reduce your ability to make rational decisions. Also, they punish anyone associated with drugs much more than they would in the U.S. I heard this and thought, oh yes, that does make sense Austria! If it's really affecting the long-term, it probably should be condemned. But then I get on and read that they might be legalizing marijuana completely in California! What a contrast. I understand it is part of the Californian economy, but.... well, I don't know, I am not really informed enough on the topic to give my opinion. But I do know that all of my students say that America has a lot more drug use than Austria, and I'd say that's probably true – especially for drug use on a regular basis, not that I'm familiar with the opium dens of Vienna like Fr. Art feared I would find, but people who do any drugs here seem to do it in a much more isolated situation.

Aaanyway. Things are different in Austria. Surprise!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Snowy Salzburg, among other things

The last couple days have been a whirlwind of activity! Let me summarize, hopefully in order.

On Wednesday, I was invited to a formal dinner with one class of my students (3C, for the record... so they're 16/17). It was... awesome! I showed up and found half of the girls in dirndl while the other half wore rather short shiny things, which I guess is typical for 16 year olds. Anyway, the food was outstanding, including pumpkin soup, (my favorite!! thanks Mom for that one), some sort of lamb with pesto risotto, a meat dumpling, a plum dumpling for dessert and endless wine and bread and other things - 6 courses in total. It was served by another class (3D), which was fun, since they knew me and had to speak English with me. By the way, Herr Gutmayer was also there, of course, because that man hooks me up with food wherever I go. I was pleased, to say the least. At dinner, I sat next to their class teacher (like a homeroom teacher, he is their teacher for all 5 years of their time at the tourism school) and we had to speak German for about 3 hours so I was really on a roll. I've told the students that I can't really speak German so they don't try to speak with me, but some of them complimented my German throughout the night so I guess the cat's out of the bag on that one. Anyway, I was honored that the students invited me and I hope to go to have dinner there again! Normally it costs 20euro for a fancy dinner like that, and you have to make reservations in advance. I unfortunately didn't take any pictures, since I left my camera in Vienna, but I'll try to steal some from the students.

I got an awesome email last week. Let me copy it....: "So is also the problem that i have any others free evenings, You know! When can we meet us, I needed some help from you! ;)" Ah, Austrians. This kid wants help tutoring, which is super. The only reason I mention it is because, after making fun of him for a second, I then responded to an email saying "We can meet us on Wednesday". AH, bad job Katie, why am I teaching English!?

Melk, with the Abbey in the foreground
On Friday, Luke (our Burgenlandfreund), Jenni and I took off to Melk to meet up with another TA there, Charles. Charles teaches IN the Abbey of Melk, which is insane. We wandered around the Abbey and the gardens for a bit, then headed off to Amstetten, where Charles actually lives (about 30 minutes away). There are 2 things you should know about Amstetten. #1: The top Austrian men's volleyball team comes from Amstetten (and they all live with Charles. THEY ARE TALL.) #2: Josef Fritzl is from Amstetten. Google him - it will tell you a lot about the people in Amstetten. Anyway, we actually did enjoy ourselves. We went to a volleyball game (which they won, duh) and cheered like silly Americans, then wanderered about the town. Twas nice.
Proof that we snuck into the Melk Gardens (not worth our 2euro)
But the nicest part was the next day!! The 3 original travellers hopped on another train to a familiar city, Salzburg! Jenni and I got the AOK from the new director, Rene, to stay in the Center for a couple nights, so that we did. Lots of things are still exactly the same, though little things are different. Hopping off the train in Salzburg, we got our first sighting of Untersberg, but the train station was different and we felt foolish! No matter. That night, we showered at the Center and then went off for dinner with another TA in Salzburg, Karen. Karen is kind enough to let Luke crash with her even though he is a complete stranger (they split the TAs up into two groups in Austria). That night, we went off to Augustiners for a beer then headed back home to the Center, since we were pooped.
Being back here is crazy. On Sunday, Jenni and I wandered around the Center in our pajamas like it was 3 years ago, and no one seemed to mind. The students here are still pretty fresh into the program, so we aren't invading their space so much as providing a chance to give advice. It's been fun talking to people about what they should do in the area, what we're doing in Austria and how they should practice German, etc. Not that we're full of all sorts of advice, but we've been there! On Sunday, we hiked Kapuzinerberg, my favorite spot in Salzburg, and got a nice view of the city and whatnot. We also went to S'Guate for dinner, yummm. Everything tastes delicious and just as good as before, though we have yet to get the Knusperchnitzel and will be going back there tonight for dinner.

A very Austrian meal, minus my Kurbiscremesuppe

Last night we were also invited to the Sunday Dinner followed by Sunday Meeting. This progam in Salzburg is seriously a formula, of sorts. I mean, the students do the exact same thing and it produces such similar results! With 40 students in a one-year program, you obviously find that not everyone is your best friend, but already you can see that the students are finding their "people". We found the old guestbook that students from our year signed and were reminded of how, when we left here, everyone was seriously like a sibling. I mean, I think that if anyone from my Salzburg year program called me and said, hey, Katie, I need you, I would go help them because I know too much about them to not feel a connection with them in some way. 

Salzburg... where is the Festung?
The best moment of the weekend so far was waking up this morning. I opened the window and saw two fantastic sights: Frau Strobl, and SNOW! Yes, snow. Yesterday it was essentially fall, and today it is snowing! Jenni and I had plans to climb Untersberg today, but decided that if it's snowing down here, climbing a tall mountain might not be the best plan. So instead, we climbed Moenchsberg, which is the large hill the Fortress is on. It was a nice pretty walk with the snow and whatnot, and we ended it with delicious pretzels from near the Cathedral and a massively Austrian lunch. I was reminded of what COLD feels like, and am already afraid of what an Austrian winter will do to me. Also on this adventure I saw a sight that made me... laugh? Fear my future? I'm not sure yet. But anyway, what I saw was an older woman walking 3 cats, in the snow. The cats looked unfriendly but not unpleased with the situation. I tried to pet one but was rejected. I realized the fatal flaw of cat-lovers is that as a tourist, you never see cats! People have their dogs everywhere in Austria, on the subway, in restaurants, wherever, (always with a muzzle which makes them look terrifying!) but no one ever has their cats out. I'm hoping to find another teacher who has cats who will let me visit...

Snowy rose in Mirabellgarten
Salzburg is seriously a wonderful city. It makes me jealous of Karen that she gets to be here, because this city is so great! It's smaller than Vienna, and thus much more manageable. I have yet to find "my" coffee shop or "my" restaurant in Vienna, and though it's nice to feel so comfortable in my own apartment, I would like to know more about the city. Not that Vienna isn't wonderful, but I still feel like there's a lot I need to discover, and it's a bit overwhelming with so many options. Plus, finding special places is expensive! You can't sort through all the bad and the good without trying everything. Anyway, I would love to be in Salzburg again, because I know I'm not the same person I was 3 years ago and I would love to find things that suit my life now. Plus, it's fun to be in a city where I have an excellent sense of direction, because we can wander about and still know where we are! All weekend, Jenni and I have been trusting this strange feeling, like "I'm not sure of the in-between steps, but I am sure that this is the right direction....". Ah, memory, I don't understand you but I do appreciate you.
View from Kapuzinerberg

I think one thing I'm really noticing I've learned is how to ask for help, and to say what I want. Maybe it's a bit of an arrogant attitude, but people here in Austria like me because I am American, and want to help me! All I have to do is find the courage to ask, which is getting easier to do with time. Jenni also pinpointed something I've been thinking about a lot lately, namely what I should do with my "life". Still not sure, of course, but I do like being able to have a position of small authority with students. Working in the UP Studies Abroad office was always fun, because I got to talk about something I like (Salzburg/studying abroad) while also being a pretty much professional representative. I think I'm a pretty relatable person, but also like being organized... so anyway, don't know what that means for a "job", but I would like to work with people. Anyway, we're back in Vienna tomorrow, a national holiday so we have no school. Only 2 days of school until another 5 day weekend! Man, this job is so hard...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How to be a V.I.P.

I've had some pretty good moments in Austria the last few days that I'd like to write down, so I don't forget them. Also, because maybe someone else will think they're interesting.

Yesterday, I walked down to the school restaurant for lunch, as I often do, and was interrupted by a Herr Gutmayer (I never remember his name, I just looked it up on the school website!), as often happens. Herr Gutmayer is my best friend. My first day in Krems, he showed me how to get to the restaurant, and got me some free Kaiserschmarrn! Great start. And, he was the one who introduced me to the school lunch that I have blogged about before, the really awkward one where I was "VIP". He's really hooking me up, and I think it's because I'm American. Also, he likes to practice his English, which is quite good (and British-accented), so we can communicate like normal humans. Anyway, yesterday he pulls me into a room full of students that stinks of fish. Oookay, I'm learning to just 'go with it' in Austria because things often work out. He sits me down, pours me some water and pulls out a nice... fish. Trout, to be exact. And then watches as I pick out all the bones (since it was cooked by students) and tells me to be 'very very very' careful to not eat the bones, but they are everywhere! To top it off, 2 other professors come in to claim their free lunch (yes, free. Ah the perks of working at a tourism school...) and they can eat their fish neatly and nicely and are not having to pull bones out of their teeth like I am. Anyway, it was fine, but I felt like a barbarian. After Fish #1 is gone, out comes Fish #2! A different kind, and I must be 'very very very' careful not to eat the skin. Okay. So I after eat the fish I realize that all I've eaten for lunch is fish, but, hey, at least it was free!

Then, in the afternoon, I was waiting for the U-bahn in Vienna (have I mentioned that the U-bahn is the subway? It is.) when 2 teenage boys run up to me vomiting their Viennese dialect all over me and pointing at something... turns out they want to read me my horoscope. So, I tell them I'm a Krebs and find out that romance is in my future. At this point I am questioning whether they are making this up to get them some points... but decide they're just funny. After some more dialect has overwhelmed me I finally tell them they speak too quickly and they realize, hey, she's not Austrian! So they guessed where I'm from... Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, Germany, Spain....... AMERICA?! yes, America. Anyway, they were stoked. Thanks Obama for making us look good.

I didn't take this picture, but I think it's time
 I showed a picture of Schönbrunn!
Finally, another really perfect Austrian moment. I was running in Schönbrunn (I really dig this, by the way. It's great. Hills everywhere so I can run up and down wherever, paths through the woods so I can get all dirty and muddy and feel like an 8 year old boy playing cops and robbers, lots of other runners to remind me that I should actually run... etc) and got tired, so I was walking a bit. I decided to take off my headphones (unusual for me) and listen to the world, and it was... awesome. I realized I've been in cities or trains for almost a month! It was so quiet and nice, really. I loved hearing my footsteps and my breath and the leaves all around me. At one point, I looked up and a leaf was just spinning in the air, I thought it was a bird! I felt seriously connected with the world. Anyway, continuing on my walk, I come across a horse-drawn carriage (common in Schönbrunn) that has just recently been emptied. I guess I was eyeing it, but really I was just wondering if I'd ever ridden in one (answer: no.). This kindly man offered me a ride to the exit, since he and his horses were going home. It was just... perfect. I mean, I chitchatted with this guy about his English (he knows only phonetically how to say 'and to your left are the gardens' or whatever) but mostly about how he's from Hungary and loves his job. It just reminded me of how when I stop to appreciate things, I get rewarded! If you knew me in February you may remember my 'Great February Experiment' in which I made myself happy by finding the positive in every situation, and as a result I started to stumble across great things everywhere in my life! This moment reminded me perfectly of it. So, moral of the story, stop and admire the changing fall leaves, and the smell of rain, and whatever else you get.

Aaaand stepping off my soapbox. Sorry if I'm bragging, but these perks of my life have been pretty great.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I ran into an emu today... really.

As of today, I've been in Austria for 3 weeks. Though these weeks have seemed like forever, I am somehow avoiding massive homesickness and really enjoying myself! A routine is developing here in Vienna, and though it's unlike any other routine of my life, I think I can take it... I mean, there are things I miss about home, people (and cats) especially, and I don't think I could live here forever, but for now I'm feeling February-esque and quite positive.

Bratislava's main drag. Happenin!

This weekend was a bit chaotic, to say the least. For two nights we played 'hostel' for 3 out-of-towners, and we dragged them along on some adventures. On Saturday, we went to Bratislava for the day! It started as a typical weekend trip – slow, a bit hungover, wondering what we're doing, but we snagged some cheap tickets and caught the train (1 hour) into Slovakia. It was fascinating, actually. Though it's only one hour away, we could see symbols everywhere of their time behind the Iron Curtain. Huge parks were just deserted, it was so odd! In the picture here you can maybe see how the buildings are just chipping away, and this is on the main tourist street in the old town! Bratislava really has no tourism industry, so we spent more of our time eating some delicious (and CHEAP) food and then walking slowly around te castle on the hill.

Wandering the Alps... or something
On Sunday, we planned an entirely different excursion! With some other friends, Jenni and I went south of Vienna, hoping to go hiking near Semmering. Well, since our train was 5 minutes late, we missed our connecting train (although we rode THROUGH Semmering on the way there...), so we ended up stuck in Mürzzuschlag. Mind you, we know nothing about Mürzzuschlag except that one of Joe's students met a murderer there. Anyway, we wandered around the town and decided to go on a hike anyway, so we walked up the hill and found ourselves first in a neighborhood, then a logging road, then a real trail in the forest!, then a mudslide hill, then a cow pasture. It was... interesting, and fun to be in the real Austrian countryside. I've been constantly shocked how different my view of Austrians is now than when I studied in Salzburg, because we are constantly surrounded by them and I'm really trying to understand them as much as possible! Anyway, as our train passed through Semmering on the way home, it was snowing. So maybe Mürzzuschlag was really a blessing in disguise, since I had no coat.

School is going well. I'm realizing that my job is pretty much a constant comedic routine, in that I just keep the students entertained and if things get boring, make an awkward joke... One of my fallbacks is this great story about the importance of following rules in Austria: One morning, I bought my ticket for like 556 train, and read on the ticket 'Bitte Entwerten' (please validate). Now, if you speak German, you may realize that the word 'entwerfen' (to throw away) looks dangerously similar to 'entwerten'. I'm not an idiot – I decided throwing my ticket away would be a bad choice. However, on the train I was scolded by the ticket checker who repeated 'bitte entwerten! Bitte entwerten!' multiple times before stamping my card like normal and wandering away. Now, what, pray tell, does it matter if I did NOT entwerten!? I have no idea, but I was left confused.
Jenni at the Naschmarkt, excited about her vegetables.
In other news, I might have a favorite class. My very first day they invited me to an Abendessen with them... and it's on Wednesday! I really have no idea what is going on at this dinner other than I should show up at 6 and look nice, and there will be wine (duh, it's Krems). Soo I'm excited. They are also my favorite because they're very nice and interested, and funny! We were talking about stereotypes of America today and one boy had written down that Americans are 'rich, cute, funny, beautiful'.... thank you?
Anyway, in January we have to decide whether or not we want to extend the program for another year. Until recently, I was positive I would only do it for one year... but now I'm not sure. I mean, I really enjoy teaching the kids, I like hanging out in Vienna, and I really don't want to look for a job (the thought makes my stomach bubble – why is that, by the way? Human bodies are so strange!). So really, for what purpose would I be going back? Something to think about... soonish. 

And finally, today, I ran into an emu at Schönbrunn Schloss while running. Yes, an emu. Needless to say I was caught quite off guard.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Kein Morgen ohne Heute!

Today was a great day in Austria.

Woke up at my usual time, 4:45 (my mind still screams when I think of that, but my body is pretty much used to it), caught an early subway and made it to the train with plenty of time to spare. I know this is pretty basic, but it's really nice to not be stressed at 5:30 in the morning... anyway, my classes were good and interesting and normal, with kids asking interesting questions (Do you own a gun? This magazine says 50% of American women own guns.) and whatnot. BUT let's get to the good stuff.

My school has a restaurant/cafeteria. Sounds normal, right? Wrong! It's at the bottom of their HOTEL. So after class, I wander around the building until one of my kind students reminds me where the restaurant is, and I try to sign up for a lunch card but am told I cannot today. No problem, I'll just pay the normal amount (€3,30! Such a deal.) . As I get out my money, I find myself being ushered through the restaurant, past all my students and fellow faculty, into a nearly empty room. This room has a table full of important looking people drinking wine, a lone woman, and me, another lone woman at another table. Uhm, okay, I sit down in a seat pulled out for me and 2 of my students are instructed to take my coats. At this point I realize I'm getting some sort of royal treatment. When the instructor walks away, I ask one girl why I'm sitting here all alone, and she tells me it's because 'you're special! you're VIP!'.. hokay. So, lunch comes to me. Garlic soup first, and my every spoonful of soup is carefully observed by 3 students (wearing dirndls or suits and ties) and their instructor, who as soon as I'm done reminds them to remove my bowl. Very good. I am also offered salad, which, they are very sorry, I have to retrieve by walking through the main restaurant room, so I'm escorted by a student who serves me what I say I want (stewed tomatoes, 'the best lettuce in Austria' and 'oh you must have these... uh... I forget the word (pumpkin seeds)). I'm feeling pretty awkward at this point and crack many lame jokes with this poor 15 year old, Anja. Anyway, salad is consumed and out comes the main course! Turkey with couscous in sauce. It was... delicious. The best food I've eaten since Graz! Mind you, my eating habits are being carefully observed so I'm sitting straight up, elbows off the table, carefully cutting etc etc and feeling awwwkward. Very nice Anja had to remind me to put my napkin on my lap... oy vey. It's interesting though, because these students are doing this for their 'practical' part of their education, and are basically being graded on doing what they should be. Finally, my plate is whisked away and out comes dessert - Apfelstrüdel! It was truly delicious, better than anything Frau Strobl ever tried to give us. Anyway, after my dessert is consumed and I'm truly full, a girl helps me put on my coats and I awkwardly laugh and joke and make my way out of there in a hurry.

I was told this would not happen every time, thank god, because I was really looking forward to chatting with some students or faculty or whatever! But for such a cheap price and such a good meal I guess I can take some awkward, since I'm awkward all the time anyway... but it was interesting.

To add to my good day, I saw from the train a white deer and old men fishing in a pond. And on the U-bahn I made silly conversation with an older woman about her nice scarf and her ring and the plastic seats and whatnot and she complimented my German (yess ego boost) and it was nice. Jenni and I also discovered the Naschmarkt... which is going to turn into a bad addiction. The Naschmarkt is the open market with fruits, veggies, spices, meats... everything, for a decent price and lots of free samples! Can't wait to go there again.

I'm really happy about Austria today.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Some observations.

I know I just updated my blog yesterday, but I'm not working today and have a lot to say so I thought I'd let the whole world do some reading! Someone once said that 'happiness is only real when shared' and I totally agree! There's no point in experiencing and appreciating unless you can find someone to share what you've learned with, so someone can learn to see the world in a new way. Not to say that my observations are that wise and intelligent, but hey, I Think they're interesting.

  • Today, I registered. So now the Austrian authorities will know where to find me until the end of May. However, this registration process is just.. silly. It's required that Americans do it in the first 3 days of their stay (oops) and you have to wait in this long line just for someone to type in a little info about my passport. Also, the office was covered in posters of fat babies (Anne Geddes style. Read further to hear my opinion about babies.) and I was sitting at a desk with a man, whose nametag said FRAU Geyner. Confusing, and maybe not offical? Austrians have to register every time they move, I guess.
  • On a related topic, I once heard an Austrian say that Austrian beaurocracy was so confusing and slow just so they could give more people jobs. Oy vey!
  • Austrians are simply not punctual. The teachers are all in the Konferenzzimmer until 5 minutes after the bell rings, discussing the newest hand lotion or drinking coffee or whatever. It seems that only the trains are ever on time, which is probably a good thing.
  • I've unearthed a strange form of baby fever while here. Mind you, I don't mean I want to have a baby... I just want to laugh at Austrian children. The parents wrap them in the strangest things to keep the cold away! Strollers with sleeping bags on the feet are totally common, and the other day I saw a baby entirely garbed like a teddy bear. Ears and all.
  • Speaking of babies, I feel like Austrian parents are much less affectionate/doting than American parents. I've witnessed many little ones crying or clearly wanting something, and the parents ignore it all the time! That doesn't mean they don't care, of course, but it's very different... encourages more independence. Which, while we're on the topic, is much more prominent among Austrian youth than Americans (except probably financially). Some of my students ride the train an hour to get to school every day! They say they can go to bed when they want, they drink and do what they want to a lot more... it's just different. They have to be more independent because they have to decide their 'adult' future at age 14! However, it's also in my experience that the Austrians depend a lot more on their parents for money even into their older ages, so who knows what's better.
  • My favorite thing is still little kids speaking German. From my balcony last night, I heard a little boy saying 'OPI!' (grandpa) in the cutest voice, talking about who knows what, and my heart melted. Someday I will be a Mutti, not a Mommy.
  • I have yet to have trouble sleeping here, which is AWESOME. I mean, the first 2 days I woke up maybe an hour early due to jetlag, but this constant exhaustion pays off because I sleep like a baby all the time! Even with all this sleeping, I'm still suffering from a slow moving cold... blurgh.
  • Der Wien-Wahl was on Sunday, thank goodness! Everywhere I've gone I've been offered fliers and balloons and candy and condoms even if I will just vote for this person or this party. I'm not sure why they vote on Sunday, but it does make it so they don't have to take time off their normal work schedules! I couldn't tell you who won this vote, or what was being voted on, but I CAN tell you that I'm quite pleased it's over.
  • My American tv shows are growing more ridiculous. Glee, seriously? What happened to the glory days of 'Faithfully'!? And yes... I still watch my tv, online, though we do have cable. Grey's Anatomy is a little confusing auf Deutsch, and I've got a lot of freetime.
  • My school has some serious vacations. The last week of October and first of November are both 3 days long (so, 2 for lucky old me), and in February we have a week off (apparently for skiing!). This job is easy.
  • Unless I'm incorrect, Jenni and I have yet to go to the market and NOT buy candy. This is a trend I'm entirely willing to continue.  
    I really enjoy running through the grounds of Schoenbrunn. It reminds me vaguely of fin de siècle Vienna, and I can picture elegantly dressed couples strolling and laughing about getting lost. Maybe it's a little too 'romantic' but it's nice to have something to day dream about while running... and I've been reading a book about 1897 Vienna.
  • Recycling is incovenient yet necessary here. We have a 'trash room' in our building, where you can throw away trash and recycle plastic bottles... but for glass and cans, you have to go around the block to the Spar (our more expensive grocery store - this reminds me of Kathleen O'Malley's 'beer store' aka QFC). As a result, we rarely take out the trash. 
  • I'm beginning to lose my faith in prepositions. They. Are. The. Worst. In English and German! They are absolutely not consistent between the two otherwise similar languages, and it does it really matter if I go zu (to) or nach (to) the city? Or if I go mit (with) or bei (by....with) someone!? I don't care and neither should the rest of the speakers of the world. Let's eliminate them!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Funday doesn't exist in Austria...

Well, before I begin, let me first explain that my laptop cord is broken and thus I am using our desktop computer (yes, the awesome apartment has a desktop computer) which has a strange Austrian keyboard (€üöäß!!), so typing like a normal human takes a bit of effort. Also, that's why I can't post any pictures.  
Moving on... well, I've nearly made it to the 2 week mark. It's been an incredibly long two weeks, mostly positive but the sensory overload and culture shock make it drag on. School has gone pretty well, all things considered. Some teachers have me talk for 10 minutes and then move on with their normal lessons, while some just let me go for 50 minutes or so, which can seem long! So far all my lessons have been just introducing myself and allowing them to ask for questions. I've got a 2 week schedule, 13 classes each week, and every other weekend I have both Friday and Monday off! It will be interesting getting used to so many free days... for now, we don't get paid until November 15th so I'm not really thinking about too much traveling. The classes are interesting, with students ranging from 14 to 19, with some who barely speak English to some who don't really need to learn anything from me! We were told to avoid speaking German ever so sometimes I feel like I'm talking to no one who understands me... which is an odd feeling. The students usually are quite kind and interested in America. I've been asked in basically every class if I have facebook, if I have a boyfriend, if I ski, and if Americans really are all fat (at which point I usually accuse them of calling me fat... ha ha.)

Working only 13 hours a week provides a lot of free I'm grateful for my long commute, which takes up time! (Speaking of which, who wants to mail me books?! I've read 2 so far this week...) Evenings have been a bit boring and quiet this week, but hopefully with Jenni being healthy again and both of us wanting to adventure we'll start walking around at least. We hosted a 'family dinner' on Friday with basically all the English speakers we know, which was really fun! It was nice to see people and be reminded that we're not the only ones who feel confused. Last night we met up with our landlord's son's girlfriend, Veronika, who took us to see a movie with some of her friends (The Social Network... in English). It was fun to be with normal Austrians who are kind and patient and sarcastic! Looking forward to meeting up with them again sometime soon.

Life here certainly is different. I find myself being horribly awkward, often, (apparently taking pictures of weird looking babies is not a normal occurrance...!? katie, seriously, how awkward, can i be?) but I guess that's something I should get used to since I'm generally more uncomfortable than many people. I usually just laugh it off... but Austrians even think that is unusual.

Sometimes I feel so ridiculously confident being here, that this is the right thing for me, that I am a great and interesting person who just needs to get over this weird adjustment stuff and I'll be successful. Other times I feel nearly miserable, like I may never adjust to living here, and that I need to get better at being social or whatever because that's what 'normal' people do in life. It makes me miss the comfort of Portland, even though I know my life there was basically done, at least for the time being. 

Vienna is a cool city. It's kind of a small town on steroids, because it's hard to walk around without seeing someone I know! I'm already learning the lay of the land (thanks to my great sense of direction) and am LOVING the subway system. So far i have purchased only 2 u-bahn tickets, which may be troublesome but so far no problems! Vienna is pretty international too since it's between eastern and western Europe, so my food options are generally quite numerous. Jenni and I are going to get gain weight, it's inevitable, since all we do is eat bread and candy and random fried meats... but it'll be a happy fat :)

Anyway, it's Sunday in Catholic Austria and there's nothing to do since everything is closed. Off for a run through Schoenbrunn...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Shocked by culture?

Well, today was the first day of school! I guess I'll start with a little summary...

Woke up at 4.44. If you know me at all, you'll know that this is a MISERABLE time for me, yet I somehow am going to be doing it 4 days a week (I have Fridays off)! My train leaves a station about 25 minutes away at 5.56, so I'll be waking up before 5 every day... going to take some getting used to. Anyway, I panicked and thought I'd missed my connection to the train station, when magically the stop I needed appeared in front of me! In my excitement, I forgot to buy a ticket... The ticket man scolded me (in an intense dialect) and repeated 65,95 and then walked away, which left me confused, but still on the train so I just sat there and pretended we were all good. And apparently it was! 

I got to Krems an der Donau and followed some school-looking children up a hill to my school! I'm teaching in two schools, conveniently located in the same building. The tourism school (HLK) is my "base school", and is AWESOME. The tourism floor is completely remodeled, and I have a spot in the faculty room (since the students stay in one classroom always, the faculty have to have a place to put their things) and found out where the magic coffee is, so I'm set!  Students take lessons in all sorts of things related to tourism, like working at reception, cooking, serving, etc. They also must wear uniforms to school, with ties and nametags! The school has a kitchen in the basement, or wait, 4 KITCHENS, and when I was on my tour I got to sample the Kaiserschmarrn, a delicious dessert. 

I worked in 2 classes today, both tourism. The students were the same age but had different levels of German, but I did the same activity of getting to know a little about me. Weirdly, the students don't know of Microsoft or Boeing and barely Starbucks... but they do know the Space Needle from Grey's Anatomy and that Twilight was filmed in the area. Thanks pop culture.

The business school is much more normal-looking, with a crowded staff room and un-uniformed students. I haven't really had much interaction down there yet, but I'll be splitting my schedule between the 2 schools so I will get used to it soon. 

Anyway, I'm feeling a little crazy today. I don't know where my knowledge of German went, but it's really not there and I'm struggling to communicate much. The Austrian accent is pretty hard to understand, and it's difficult to not be able to understand fully and be able to communicate when I have a problem, or just to be myself and make jokes! I hope it comes back soon... but I'm such a perfectionist, I don't really want to sound like an idiot so I often just don't talk. I think I need to find some way to work on my vocabulary so I can feel like I know more than 10 words.

If I could do just one near perfect thing I’d be happy.
They’d write it on my grave, or when they scattered my ashes.
On second thoughts, I’d rather hang around and be there with my best friend...

Some thoughts:
  • People are essentially the same. It was nice to be surrounded by all sorts of Americans and Great Brits to be reminded that just because Portland is ridiculously homogeneous, the rest of the English-speaking world (and the whole world) is just the same... some people you'll get along with, some you won't, everyone dressing the same, everyone basically valuing similar things... you just have to find the way to communicate with everyone.
  • Europe is more expensive without provided meals and a stipend provided for weekends...
  • Students in these classes are much more eager than students in the US. Even the quiet ones seem to always pay attention, and often they are just quiet because they don't speak the language.
  • The two ways to get out of things is to either act with confidence, or act with complete ignorance. When I forgot (literally) to buy a ticket this morning, I just acted like an idiot and got away with it!
  • The time change is more frustrating than I remember. But then again, sometimes there's just not much to say to people back home... but then again, I often feel like people will never "care" about what is going on in my life if it doesn't relate to them, which might (probably) be wrong.
  • The Viennese drink a lot! And, sleep very little. I am the opposite!
  • It's interesting to be surrounded by all this Catholicism. I feel like I've encountered a lot of people who just accept their faith as what was given to them, and it's such a part of life here that they just DO Catholicism, without questioning. Sure, the holidays are great, but I don't agree with believing something just because everyone around you does...
  • I don't miss home that much. I feel pretty at home in Vienna so far, though it's hard to not know where many things are. It's both a blessing and a curse to have Jenni with me. We can just sit and do nothing and be quiet, or go out and get lost together and that's fantastic. However, I have a tendency to not do things I should unless I'm forced to. Today I went by myself to get my monthly train ticket and did well! Spoke German, didn't get lost in the renovation of Westbahnhof... I just need to work on being independent more. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

We're heeeere! (name that movie?)

Ah okay so life in Austria has begun in a total whirlwind. I arrived Monday morning, all excited to be back on Austrian soil, only to find that my two suitcases had not arrived.... apparently 10 hours in DC is not enough time to move them. It was massively disconcerting to feel like I had nothing in the world that was mine... but luckily Jenni met me at the airport (she had also lost a suitcase - really!?) and comforted me and helped me realize that the 55-lb backpack I had was full of enough things to last me a year, let alone the 2 days until I got my bags  We then scampered off to our apartment (more on this later) for a quick shower and then a  train ride to Graz (the second largest city in Austria) with Fabian (also from UP, but a year ahead of Jenni and me).

Schlossberg, with a peek of the Uhrturm on the top
Our little orientation was in Graz from Monday to Friday and it was definitely worthwhile. We stayed at a castle called Schloss St. Martin, which was about 25 minutes outside of the city of Graz, overlooking apple fields! There are about 50 Americans and 50 British teaching assistants (TAs), so the hardest part of the whole week was trying to meet everyone, while also making somewhat good friends with people. It was exhausting to be so on the ball all the time... I hate having to meet new people and make the same conversation and whatnot, but I was actually pleased with how well I could remember names, so that's good! I was again SO lucky to have Jenni, because when I needed to vent about how ridiculous some things/people are, I could just be myself and not have to worry about offending anyone. Thank goodness! I can only handle these half-interactions for so long. Anyway, socially the week went well - I met some nice people who I hope to hang out with, since about 50% of the assistants live or work in Vienna.

It was interesting to meet so many people from all across both the US and Great Britain. I have never had so much time to talk to people from the East Coast or the South or the Midwest, and it makes me think on feelings I've had in Portland about how I can probably get along with everyone in some way or another... I mean, that's still probably true, but there are some people who are just not like me, and don't want to have anywhere near the same priorities as me, and it was stressful trying to figure out how to work and "play" with these people all week when really I would be happy cuddling up on my own.

A little snail I found on the grounds of Schloss St. Martin
Job-wise the week went well too! At first, it was pretty stressful... our teacher (of a group of assistants) insisted on speaking German, along with many other administrators, and I had to face the facts about my German deficiencies... my vocabulary has just disappeared over the last year and made speaking hard, though I understand a lot. Blehh it will take some getting used to, but I just need to be better at sounding like an idiot to get better. BUT the really encouraging part of the whole trip was actually being with students! We had a guided tour (in English) from some 14 year olds (from the Gymnasium) who seriously seemed to enjoy me, which was great, because I thought they were fun too! We also presented a mock lesson in a classroom, which didn't go perfectly but I think having 1 TA opposed to the 4 we had will make it much better, since teenagers generally think I'm great. :) Anyway, school starts Monday. whee.

Graz! In the foreground you can see the modern art museum, AKA the Friendly Alien, according to my 14-year old friends

Finally I got to UNPACK MY SUITCASE, which has been packed since I became homeless in mid-August! Ohhh  it feels great. Our apartment is, there's really no other way to say it, die Scheisse. It's fully furnished with nice furniture and kitchen things, it's huge, we have a desktop computer, a printer, a TV player, a balcony.... everything we could ever need! Literally the only downside is I sleep on a futon, and it's a bit more than I'd like to spend... but convenience plays a big role so I shall accept it. We also have a separate room for toilet and bathroom, which I find quite funny and a little irksome...

Tomorrow Jenni and I are going to take a day trip to Krems, where I'll be teaching, followed by Lange Nacht  der Museen, where the museums of Vienna are open until 1 AM! Hopefully this doesn't horribly disrupt my sleep schedule... but yes. I might even get a telephone tomorrow! Oh, and my address, if you're interested, is:

Bischoffsgasse 1/8 #14
1120 Vienna, Austria, Europe

yes, that is 1/8... Bischoffsgasse 1, stairwell 8, #14. It is confusing, but lots of things are.

I started accidentally adopting a British, or often Irish, accent because of being around these other people. Why is is that their accents are so much easier to adopt!?