Hi everyone, welcome back! Time has been absolutely flying by with the craziness of midterms, and I cannot believe that I am already halfway done with my program. It feels like yesterday that I was on my flight from Newark, scared about what was ahead of me. I feel like my whole world has spun on its axis in just eight short weeks. It may be cliche, but studying abroad does actually change your life.
One of my biggest takeaways so far is how surprised I am at how comfortable I have gotten in Vienna. A city that seemed so overwhelming initially, with neighborhoods I could not pronounce, has now become something I feel genuinely confident maneuvering. A significant part of that is how I have learned to use Vienna’s public transportation system, the U-Bahn. Their efficient public transportation system is why I have been able to explore all the crevices of Vienna and gain confidence in my ability to explore.
Another major takeaway I have thus far is how comfortable I have gotten with being alone. I have had the pleasure of making phenomenal friends while here, but much of the growth from studying abroad comes from becoming comfortable on your own. I have gone to restaurants, stores, museums, and events by myself, all things that, in the past, I would have felt awkward doing on my own. Being in a new place with a language you are only starting to understand; you have to figure out so much on your own.
I will say, though, that the biggest culture shock I have experienced so far in my time in Austria is how much people do not smile. It sounds silly but coming from Pitt, where most people will smile at others when holding open the door or on their way to class, it has been a considerable adjustment to get used to not expecting smiles from others and to avoid smiling myself. I noticed that at the beginning of my time here, I thought that the lack of apparent smiles equated to a lack of friendliness which is not the case. That made me afraid to ask for help or interact with salespeople when in actuality, the vast majority of Austrians I have interacted with have been incredibly kind. The sole exception to this has been the grocery stores, however. The cashiers check you out very quickly, to the point where it feels like an Olympic sport trying to bag your groceries and pay before they start ringing up the next person! I cannot wait to see what else I learn about myself and my temporary home during the second half of my time here!