My senior year of high school, my friend and I made a ‘senior year bucket list’ on the Notepad app on my phone a few weeks before school started. Most of the ‘must-do’ items on the list were pretty harmless and things that really aren’t very difficult to accomplish, but seemed like heavy burdens at the time. The first on the list is ‘master liquid eyeliner,’ which I have worn daily for years now. ‘Get accepted to college,’ ‘graduate,’ ‘rap an entire song beginning to end,’ and my personal favorite, ‘twerk,’ which shockingly does have a check mark next to it.
The one that stands out to me now is ‘do an activity where I don’t know anyone.’
There’s a check mark next to it, though I couldn’t tell you what activity it was. In middle school and high school, I refused to do just about anything where I was the only person that I knew. Seventh grade volleyball camp? Only if Katie was going. Church mission trip? Only if Kathryn was going. Three-week exchange to Germany? Only if Charles was going. I was incapable of reaching out and meeting new people unless I had at least one person that I already knew.
So three years later, here I am, the only Georgetown student studying in Vienna this semester. It’s forced me to actually try to interact with people, to make room for myself in conversations, and to get to know other people. I sat down at orientation and introduced myself to the girl next to me, who later introduced me to her enormous friend group in Vienna, with whom I’ve gone on adventures with — from picnicking on the Danube to walking around Budapest.
Since arriving, I’m much more willing to reach out for help when I need it. In previous German-speaking adventures, I would employ the ‘smile and nod’ technique when I did not understand something, which got me into trouble at times (and if you saw my performance in the 2017 Funniest Human at Georgetown competition, you know a little bit about this). Like many Greek heroes, hubris has been my downfall in the past. I hate admitting that after eight years of formal German education that I still don’t understand things. And I hate asking someone to repeat themselves. But it saves a lot of trouble in the end.
I am also a chronic overthinker, which can be debilitating in speaking a foreign language. You’re so focused on where the verb goes in the sentence or if you’re using the right case that you end up butchering the sentence or sounding as clueless as you feel. When I first arrived, I would stutter my way through ordering a roll at a bakery. I’ve started to think less and trust myself more. I can order with confidence and talk to Real Life Austrians in German with some mistakes here and there, but with a more fluent speed and flow.
Vienna has also forced me to adapt. In the United States, I can probably count on two hands the number of times I have gone to an ATM to get cash out. However, some of my favorite spots in Vienna are cash-only, so if I want to pay for food or tickets I have to have cash on hand. I can only buy a few days’ worth of groceries, since food goes bad more quickly here with fewer preservatives than I’m accustomed to. I have to use public transportation to get around the city since my daily needs aren’t consolidated on a gated university campus. I have also been forced to bag my own groceries at the grocery store, which I can never do fast enough to please the locals, but I have more of a system now.
So has study abroad changed me? A little bit here and there. My daily life has certainly changed (but will change back before I know it), and I am much more open with people than I am normally. At the same time, the transformation process may not yet be complete. As Hoyas start studying for finals, I am still two months away from my exam period — so I have two more months to explore this beautiful city. Here’s what I would like to accomplish in the next two months to finish out my abroad experience:
- Visit the Albertina Museum
- Learn how to make Apfelstrudel (apple strudel)
- Swim in the Danube (which is apparently clean and socially acceptable)
- Actually finish the assigned readings! (not sure if this has ever happened for me at Georgetown)
- Find the best study café in all of Vienna
- Take a trip to Salzburg (home of The Sound of Music)
- Pass all of my exams (at the end of June)
- Have the time of my life
Will my Vienna checklist be as successful as my senior year high school bucket list?
Will study abroad change me forever?
I can’t wait to see what the next two months have in store!