Del’s Blog #20- Study Abroad in 20/20

August 15th, 2010 by Del

If you haven’t read my introduction or earlier blogs yet, please check them out before continuing.  Navigation links for Del-specific blogs are at the bottom of this entry.
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Monday, August 16, 2010

STUDY ABROAD IN 20/20

So, I have been back in the States for about ten days.  It’s strange.  In some ways it feels much longer than that.  Maybe it’s just the load of boring left-behind business that I have had to take care of between my return and now: stacks of mail, mounds of bills, several tedious appointments.  Or it could be that I feel like I have been trapped in my apartment for months because of the severe heat wave currently pressing it’s fat, sweaty thumb all over Clarksville. Ugh.  Our heroine does not venture outside in 100° heat and humidity unless there’s a Wörthersee in the mix!  Whatever the reasons, Austria is now starting to seem more like a memory than an immediate reality.

For me, returning from a trip is always an occasion for mixed feelings, and not just because of the aforementioned chores.  Many people get through end-of-travel disappointment by focusing on what they miss at home: family, friends, pets, favorite foods, or – in the case of Americans in uncharacteristically hot summers- air conditioning.  I definitely looked forward to all these things, and it was immensely wonderful to see my loved ones and cuddle my cats and devour a long-craved hamburger (okay several hamburgers; I had been nursing a hardcore jones for about three weeks).  However, these things didn’t quite erase my post-trip melancholy.  I still kinda wanna go back.  As Erik said, “Uh, I think I forgot something over there.  I better get it.”

Kidding aside, perhaps there is some truth to the notion that I left something behind back in Europe.  Not anything physical (that I know of) but connections.  After all, I made what I consider to be real friends, both from APSU and internationally.  I hope we will keep in touch, but it’s never quite as easy at a distance.  Besides, the Study Abroad was a bit of a suspended moment.  We were all living and working in kind of a bubble apart from the responsibilities of our everyday life.  The feelings that go with that are sometimes hard to sustain.

I can’t deny that some part of me also feels like returning to Tennessee is a step back.  I mean, I love the United States; it’s just that I want to try living abroad for awhile and, after this brief taste, I’m more invested in that dream than ever.  Hopefully, over this next year, I will be able to lay the plans necessary to return to Europe after I graduate.  I would like to either to pursue a Master’s or to work in a German-speaking nation.  In fact, the latter possibility is partly why I took this language immersion course in the first place.

Anyway, even if I am having a bit of trouble missing Austria, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It just means it was an incredibly good trip.  I think, in retrospect, that this particular Study Abroad is so very wonderful because it is an unusual blend of experiences.  Semester and year-long programs generally require integrating into one particular foreign university or culture.  Shorter trips are often travel heavy, and, while they may expose you to lots of people in lots of places, you don’t stay to make friends. „Deutsch in Österreich”, gives you the best of both worlds.  You have a home base, but you are also part of a truly international community.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Anyway, I guess that’s it for me.  So many thanks are owed to the Office of International Education for this opportunity and to all my fellow students for, not only putting up with my picture snapping and blog chatter, but befriending me despite it.  This project proved to be a lot of work for a slow perfectionist like me, but it was worth every moment.  I truly enjoyed sharing my Study Abroad experience, and I hope you enjoyed reading about it.  Hopefully I was able to convey some of the wonder and excitement of this program.  It’s the real thing, baby.  But don’t take my word for it… go grab an adventure for yourself.  That way, the next time I can read about you!

For the last time- Tschüss!

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Del’s Blog #19- Happy Moments

August 15th, 2010 by Del

If you haven’t read my introduction or earlier blogs yet, please check them out before continuing.  Navigation links for Del-specific blogs are at the bottom of this entry.
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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

HAPPY MOMENTS

Early on in my Study Abroad experience, one of my teachers asked me a question that I couldn’t answer.  It wasn’t academic.  Hey, it’s not exactly blog-worthy news when I fail to explain the dative case or to correctly outline the nuances of adjective declination.  No, this question was about life.  It went as follows: “Can you describe a moment when you were really happy?”  … Uh…. gimme a minute, gimmie a minute….  Dang!   Shouldn’t I have a fairly immediate response to that?

Perhaps because I couldn’t come up with a quick answer, I  have thought a lot about happy moments since I was asked the question.  There have been many over the last month.  Even in this hectic last week, there has been a lot to remember fondly.  On Monday, for example, the Freizeitprogramm took us to the nearby town of Villach to see a street festival.  We had dinner, then Erik, John and I watched two fire shows during which I think I was probably as wide-eyed and delighted as any child in the crowd.
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Or try this: yesterday, Erik surprised us by cooking dnner for the APSU group.  He made ravioli with a side of butter onions.  The main course was excellent, the company was excellent and those butter onions were like candy, cheese, spatzle and every other deliciously addictive food rolled into one.  I CAN STOP ANYTIME I WANT… (but why would I)?

Or tonight… The APSU group decided to have one last European hang session.  We went out for bowling and Chinese food.  It felt frankly bizarre to be doing what we think of as such an American activity in very Austrian surroundings.  And color me culture shocked: that the bowling alley in Klagenfurt uses the exact same monitor graphics as the Pinnacle in Clarksville.  Weiiirrrdd.  Perhaps bowling is the real universal language!

All of these experiences could be answers to the riddle of a happy moment.  When I think about it, though, I know that they are not my answer.  It turns out that my answer is not at all what I would have expected when I was first asked the question.

On Sunday, you may remember, Andrea, Brooke, Lewis and I biked back to Klagenfurt from Rosegg some 18 miles away.  Given the length of the trip, and the fact that we left Rosegg at about 5 p.m., it was dark by the time we neared town.  At one point, we came to a place where the trail crossed a railroad.  The bar was down and flashing.  Suddenly, a train burst upon us.  I was standing to the back and a little downhill from the group, and I could see the others balanced on their bikes in front of me.  Their faces were lit by the cross lights, and the sleek European-style train streaked dark above them.  It snaked down the track and into a moonlit sky.  In that moment, with that somehow distinctly “Study Abroad” view in my eyes, with the train roaring a wall in my ears, with my hair writing in the draft, I suddenly felt incredibly alive.  It was such an intense feeling that I actually laughed out loud: deep, bold and unstoppable.  For some reason, my whole being had come together and invested itself fully in  that moment and, because of that, I was HAPPY.  It’s crazy… all the cool things we did on this trip, and this my answer.  I guess it’s true that the little things really are the big things.  And maybe that is the most important lesson I can learn from this Study Abroad.

In the end, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the many wonderful experiences here, it is going to be very hard to say goodbye.  There are great things waiting for me back home- new happy moments- but that doesn’t make bidding farewell to the ones I have had in Austria any less difficult.  At least the next time someone asks me to describe a happy moment, I will have my answer.

Tschüss!

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Del’s Blog #18- Boats, Bikes, Beasts

August 15th, 2010 by Del

If you haven’t read my introduction or earlier blogs yet, please check them out before continuing.  Navigation links for Del-specific blogs are at the bottom of this entry.
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Sunday, July 25 2010

BOATS, BIKES, BEASTS

In the squishy-gray world of Del’s brain, there is a big section dedicated to categorizing “lasts.”  When an experience like this Study Abroad is winding down, for example, I’m the softhearted slob who keeps thinking things like, “This is the last time I will buy groceries at the Eurospar or this is the last time I will eat at the Uni Pizzeria;”  *SNIFF*  This is a shock, right?  I mean, I come across as so hardened and callous, and it turns out that deep down I’m just a sentimental fool.  What can I say?  I savor a good experience.

And man oh man, is today a day I want to savor!  It was our last full play day in Austria, and we made the most of it.  Yesterday, while Brooke and I were on our self-guided bike tour-o-rama, I asked her if maybe she wanted to take our rides out again today (we rented for the rest of the week).  I also wanted to spend some time on the lake, and I had read that you can buy a day-pass for the ferryboat and that bikes are allowed.  I thought we could cruise to the other side of the lake, see a few sites then either boat or bike home to Klagenfurt.  Brooke, smart girl that she is, thought that this was a pretty nifty idea, and Lewis and Andrea also decided to come.

So, this morning, the four of us set out fairly early (for a Sunday) to catch the 10:00 ferry from Klagenfurt to Velden on the other side of the Wörthersee.  After yesterday’s rain, clear skies have returned, but with blessedly cool temperatures still lingering.  In short, it was a perfect day to ride on the water.  We got a table on the upper deck so we could feel the sun on our faces as the turquoise water, deep green forest and picturesque shore towns drifted by.

Just before noon we arrived in Velden am Wörtersee.  We grabbed lunch at a lakeside café that had mediocre food but quite possibly the best graphics for their bathroom sign ever.  From Velden, we biked 3.5 miles to the neighboring town of Rosegg.  Unfortunately (or fortunately if you are Lewis and have too much energy) there was a mighty big hill in between the two.  Normally, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but, with my legs are still rubbery from yesterday, it was definitely a workout.
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In Rosegg, we visited the Tierpark: a small zoo that primarily houses native animals like deer, sheep, lynx and bird.  Unlike American zoos, it is set amidst castle ruins.  Also, at the entrance, you can buy a big cone of alfalfa pellets for a few Euro and feed all the animals.  If you are, like me, easily delighted, it’s totally worth it.  However, a word of advice: keep your palm up and flat when you feed the deer.  An elk tried to chew off my whole fist at one point.  I think ungulates in European zoos just have it in for me.  A few years ago, I got bitten by a mean nanny goat in the Munich zoo.  Maybe I’m fruit-flavored or something.

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By the time we were done with the Tierpark, we were too late to make the last ferry, so we decided to bike back.  It’s about 18 miles, but, except for the killer hill between Rosegg and Velden, the route is flat.  I thought the ride was wonderful.  We stopped for dinner… uh… somewhere.  Pörtschach maybe?  I don’t know, I was in the moment.  It started to get dark, but the trail was decently lit and our bikes have headlights (powered by front-wheel friction, which the latent science-geek in me thinks is cool as crap).  The trail at that point runs right along the shoreline, so we got beautiful views of lights on the water.  At one point, we came across a park with two ginormous chess boards.  Of course, with this group that was nothing if not an opportunity to fool around and take silly photos.  I love my Study Abroad peops!  :P
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Tschüss!

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Del’s Blog #17- The Bike Tour Apprentice is Now the Master

August 15th, 2010 by Del

If you haven’t read my introduction or earlier blogs yet, please check them out before continuing.  Navigation links for Del-specific blogs are at the bottom of this page.
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Saturday, July 24, 2010

THE BIKE TOUR APPRENTICE IS NOW THE MASTER (well, sort of…)

It’s happened!  It’s happened!  The insidiously, uncharacteristically, swelteringly hot weather has finally broken.  Ahahahhahahaha!   It was only something like 78° today… 78°, people!  Pardon me while I huddle helpless in the corner and weep with relief.

In part to celebrate the weather and in part to make the most of our final weekend here in Klagenfurt, my darling roommate Brooke and I decided to take a bike tour of the area.  From the tourist information center in downtown Klagenfurt, we got a brochure that lays out some possible routes.  We decided to mesh a couple together to make a ride that would take us past a few area castles and churches.  Brooke also wanted to find a field of wildflowers so we could take pictures of her running and jumping like Maria in The Sound of Music.  I’m not even sure Brooke has seen The Sound of Music, but who am I to argue when someone wants to leap about like a hyperactive bunny?

After renting bikes from a shop near the university and grabbing a quick lunch, Brooke and I started on our way.  We had several maps and directions, but I’m going to go ahead and say that this is as much a story about getting lost as it is about finding our way.  Anyone remember what I said about the way city developers in Klagenfurt seemed to have an aversion neatly laid out streets?  The same attitude plagued their countryside cousins.  For that matter, so did the halfhearted use of road signs.  All the maps in the world can’t help if you don’t where you are in the first place!

Determination conquers much, though, and, after repeated brain-trust huddles on the side of the road, Brooke and I located the trail (up a truly thigh-punishing hill, of course) to our first stop Schloss Hallegg.  This palace is now a hotel, but its two courtyards are open to the public.  I felt a little odd wandering around because the only other people there were workers setting up for a wedding.  However, the lovely, arcade-ringed spaces were too interesting to pass up.  We also found an funny little bathroom with what had to be the worlds tiniest sink.  I love European bathrooms.  Maybe in my next life, I will dedicate an entire blog just to their many idiosyncrasies.

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From Schloss Hallegg, we whizzed downhill toward the village of Tultschnig.  At the bottom of the hill: lo, a possible Sound of Music-field!  Although we didn’t get her perfect photo (okay, mostly we got scary Exorcist-appropriate images), we “laugh(ed) like a Brook(e) as it trips and falls over stones on its way.”  :D !  Oh man… I’m such a cornball.  Given the topic, I was dying to use that oh-so-fitting song lyric from the movie.  Hey, sometimes the gravitational-pull of inner geek is just bigger than the willpower of outer heroine.  :P   Incidentally, later in the day, we did find another spot grown over with coveted purple flowers, and a couple of those shots weren’t quite so rife with the forces of darkness.

In Tultschnig, we stopped at the little church to look around and get out our rain gear. It was actually going to rain!  For the first time in weeks!  I shouldn’t be so excited, but, as I have mentioned once or twice (or 27 times), endless armpit-twisting heat is rough on a poor refugee from the northern states!

From Tultschnig, continued toward Lendorf where we intended to split off onto part of another bike tour.  Unfortunately, we took a wrong fork.  In one sense it actually worked out for us.  We didn’t see the other castles and churches on the tour, but we did ride past lovely farmland and wild areas framed by the Alps.  We also found the most beautiful cultivated field of pick your own blooms.  We spent a long time taking pictures there because the color was so unbelievably explosive.  What a cool thing to be able to come and cut as many fresh flowers as you like for only 80 Euro cents apiece.

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Finally, after about six hours and 15 miles of hilly riding, Brooke and I headed back to town for a much needed pizza.  I can truly say, and I think Brooke would agree, that this was one of the best days we have had so far in Klagenfurt.  I love all the planned activities, but there is something to be said for finding your own path now and then… even if (or especially if) that path is a little winding.

Tschüss!

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Del’s Blog #16- Like Sands Past the Wörthersee…

August 15th, 2010 by Del

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Wednesday, July 21 2010

LIKE SANDS PAST THE WöRTHERSEE…
(SO GO THE DAYS OF STUDY ABROAD)

Remember when you were a little kid and you would wait with complete anticipation for something?  Maybe it was summer vacation or perhaps Christmas or your birthday.  Whatever it was, you starting thinking about it months in advance.  You lingered over what would happen, how the day(s) would go, what you would do.  Then, finally, finally, your anticipated event arrived.  OMGOMGOMG.  Bliss! :D   Or… disappointment. :(   Yet, no matter what happened on that day or days- whether it lived up to every wild dream or whether it was nothing like you hoped- it was always, ALWAYS over too soon.

Some things don’t change.

This Study Abroad has been my point of little-kid anticipation for the last half year.  I looked forward to it so long and so hard, and now I’m dismayed to realize there is only a week left.  What happened?  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I won’t enjoy going home.  I think most of us have felt a little homesick at one point or another during this trip (I was hit pretty hard around the end of the first week).  However, it also seems like there is still so much to experience here.

The only thing we can do, of course, is make the most of the time left.  To combat the continuously hot temperatures, several of us have spent more than one afternoon neck deep in the Wörthersee.  It’s odd.  Although it is an easy 10 minute bus ride, I didn’t make it over there for the first time until last Thursday.  There were just too many other things going on, I guess.  I have my teacher, Anna, to thank for giving me the kick in the calves that finally propelled me.  When she found that I still hadn’t been to the beach, she flat out ordered me to go.  Best. Homework. Ever.

So was it worth it?  First off, let me say that, initially, the Strandbad (beach) at Wörthersee is a little confusing to those of us raised on the notion of open-access lake shores.  It is a walled fee area, and all patrons enter through a building filled with cashier windows and automatic turnstiles.  A day pass is a couple of Euro.  Once you are through the entrance, the area is reminiscent of the old boardwalk beaches of the East Coast.  There are restaurants and ice cream stands lining a broad sidewalk.  As you walk toward the water, you pass a lawn dotted with changing booths and spread with sunbathers.  Next you reach a short sand beach (fewer sunbathers and more yelling children), and finally you come to three massive wooden docks that extend far into the turquoise water.  These docks have become the favorite hang place of those of us from APSU; we always seem to find good spot toward the deep end and, although the water remains warm past the shallows, there are fewer people.  For those that really want to get away, there is a floating dock even farther out.  Last Friday, Brooke and I swam there and did cannonballs.  For such a tiny girl, Brooke makes a pretty kickin’ splash.  I don’t think the sunbathers on the dock were as impressed as I was, though.  :P


In addition to enjoying the Wörtersee, we also continue to participate in the Freizeitprogramm.  Monday, we took another bike tour.  There were no strenuous hills this time: just a pleasant ride along the Wörthersee to another area lake.

And last night, we rocked an entirely different kind of activity: karaoke.  I didn’t actually sing mainly because, musical short-bus that I am, I didn’t know most of the available songs.  However I did lead the YMCA dance while Erik sang.  For her turn, Brooke absolutely belted We’re Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister.  I knew what to expect having had her wake me up on several occasions with a loud (and frighteningly accurate) rendition of the opening song from The Lion King.  However, I think some of the rest of the audience was a bit shocked.  The funniest performer of the evening was probably my Italian friend Oscar.  While he was skimming through possible songs, I saw Like a Virgin by Madonna.  I jokingly shouted out a request for it, and, good sport that he is, Oscar sung it through in a surprisingly convincing falsetto (with matching sashay choreography).  Oh man, I think I will giggle every time I hear that song now.

Tschüss!

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Del’s Blog #15- Salzburg Squall

August 15th, 2010 by Del

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

SALZBURG SQUALL

Given all the skipping-through-the-daisies, la-la-la, going-abroad-is-AWESOME talk you have read over the course of this blog, there is something you might never guess.  It’s a secret I keep pretty closely guarded.  However, I’ll tell you, if you promise not to spill the beanos to ANYONE.  Ready?  Sometimes, travel makes me crabby as heck.

Such was the case yesterday during our second big Freizeitprogramm excursion.  This time the destination was Salzburg and <insert whiny voice here> I didn’t WANNA go.  My reluctance had nothing to do with the destination or my fellow students or anything concrete, really.  We have just been going-going-going nonstop for almost three weeks, and I was TIRED.

It didn’t help that I apparently have a much more readable face than I thought.  I always fancied myself good at dropping a bland Vulcan facade over my volatile emotions, but I guess I have been deluding myself.  Either that, or people here are just crazy perceptive, because the moment I got on the bus at the unhappy hour of 7:15 a.m., folks were asking what was wrong.  “It’s no big deal.” I told friends, “I just feel a little off.”  And that was the truth.  No big deal, but my low-grade bad-attitude still clung to me like a bleak smog  all the way to Salzburg and throughout the whirlwind walking tour with Boris and Martina.  If anything, the tour fed my sour mood with the triple fodder of heat, humidity and street-clogging gaggles of tourists.


Even in a less-than perfect situation, though, I couldn’t help but appreciate how incredibly lovely and well-preserved Salzburg is.  We began in the Residenzplatz (Residence Square) whose fountain, like many Salzburg sites, was made famous by The Sound of Music.  From there we walked past the Dom (cathedral) and through Petersfreidhof (St. Peter’s Cemetery).  The cemetery is overlooked by a monastery where the residents still practice vows of silence.


Since Salzburg is famous for being the birthplace of Mozart, Boris and Martina shared some stories about the famous composer as we walked by his birth house and the more prosperous home the family moved to after he became famous.  We ended the tour in the gardens of Schloss Mirabell: a palace built for the mistress of Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau in 1606.  The views from the garden are inspiring, especially looking in the direction of the old city center and Hohensalzburg.  Hohensalzburg is the fortress visible from pretty much every point in town.  Its enormous, but Martina told us that it was never a residence; it was used only to shelter the populace in times of war.

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After the tour, we were released with three hours to explore on our own.  At first, me and my crabbiness were quite ready to slink off by ourselves to sulk.  While awaiting final instructions, though, the group wandered into Zwergelgarten: a courtyard of Schloss Mirabel filled with statues of dwarves.  Dr. Puskar offered to take my picture with one.  This set off a chain of goofy snapshots: Andrea flirting with a swooning dwarf, Brooke bumping fists with another.  It sounds silly, but sometimes this kind of little moment is what it takes to start turning a lousy mood.

Feeling slightly better, I decided to go with Erik, John and Andrea to try a restaurant recommended by Dr. Puszkar.  Even if the food had been bad (which it wasn’t), my funk
would have been lifted by the garden dining area and its incredible views.  It was so nice that we lingered over lunch eventually sharing a traditional dessert: the Salzburger Nockerl.  It was, in my opinion, a rather tasteless puff of air, but it was worth the cost just for the fun of eating/playing with such a bizarre concoction.
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I thought it would be impossible to top that restaurant, but oddly enough, I think the bus ride back to Klagenfurt did.  That sounds weird… I mean, it was several hours on a bus.  However, our route followed a breathtaking winding back road through the Alps.  We even got a chance to stretch our legs in a little ski town and, get this, for the first time since arriving in Austria, we felt honest-to-puppies cool mountain air.  If I had still been holding onto crabbiness, that would have blown it away!  Ahhh.  And that takes us back to the great things about travel: sure, there are mood squalls, but there is always something exciting or wonderful or just plain fun to help them blow over quickly.  :)

Tschüss!

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Del’s Blog #14- The Most Important Blog EVER

August 15th, 2010 by Del

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Friday, July 16, 2010

THE MOST IMPORTANT BLOG EVER!

Yesterday I realized that, halfway through this trip, I had yet to write about school.  Then I discovered something even more shocking: I haven’t yet written about food.   What is WITH me?  I can only assume that I was kidnapped by aliens and mind-controlled into forgetfulness.  There is no other way I would miss a chance to talk about my favorite topic!
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Those of you who know me in the real world know that I have a serious love affair with food.  There are times when I will actually bring tears to my own eyes by describing rolls with real butter or cake with made-from-scratch frosting.   Don’t get me wrong; my eating habits are not unhealthy.  I like my comfort food, but I (grudgingly) limit it to special occasions.  Nonetheless, I firmly believe that human beings share their best moments at the table.  We celebrate through food, we form new relationships over food and we even explore through food.  The tastiest way to learn about a culture is via their cuisine!

Because I have been to Germany, I had some idea of what kind of food to expect in Austria.  I knew breakfast would be a mix of hard rolls, meat and cheese slices, fruit, yogurt and cereal of the meusli variety.  This fare is provided at most hotels and here at Mozartheim.  For lunch and dinner, restaurants serve a variety of meat dishes such as Schnitzel (breaded cutlets), Scwhweinsbraten (roast pork) or Bauernschmaus (a cold meat platter).  Around Wörthersee, fish is also popular as are Schwammerl (mushrooms).  Most restaurants have a daily special that is excellent if you aren’t a super-nervous eater.  I, myself, am only slowly learning to be more adventurous.  The other day, I was trying to decipher every word on a menu before ordering when it suddenly occurred to me that no food in Austria is likely to kill me.  I decided then and there that it is time to branch out.  I shut the menu and got the daily special.  It turned out to be mushrooms in gravy over a Semmelknödel (bread dumpling).  A few weeks ago I would have said that I don’t like mushrooms, but I would now quite literally eat those words.  Om nom NOM!

Of course, there is plenty of Germanic food that looks little weird to American eyes.  Wurst (sausage) isn’t as big here as it is in Bavaria, but I’m sure you can still stumble across Blutwurst (blood sausage… yuk; some things will NOT be part of my more adventurous eating).  Also, when you order fish, it often swims to the table with the head and tail still attached.  I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to eat when dinner is looking back.  However, that’s when you teach your napkin to multitask.  Although it’s not a ew-factor thing, it is often strange to Americans that you have to pay (handsomely) for water and there are no free refills on soda.  However, they often serve real-sugar Coke in glass bottles which is the-best-thing-ever-on-the-face-of-the-planet, so I forgive them.  Anywhoo, these few things aside, most Americans seem fine with Austrian food, and starch-junkies like myself are just plain in heaven.  I could eat spaetzle (a dumpling-like noodle) or knödel (dumplings of bread or potato) every day for the rest of my life.

By the way, they do have plenty of non-Germanic choices here.  Ristorantes and pizzerias are popular given the proximity of Italy.  There is also Asian food, but Austrians in general are not free with the spice rack, so the stuff I have tried tastes kind of bland.  The one thing you cannot seem to get is a good ol’ American burger.  Brooke tried in Vienna, but she said the meat was flavored in a weird way.  I suppose you could go to McDonald’s, but I’m never THAT desperate.  If all else fails, there is dessert.  The ice cream here is elaborate enough to require lavishly illustrated menus, and it is just as good as it looks.  The baked goods are also a revelation.  Personally, I am addicted to a particular type of chocolate dipped cookie.  No, not addicted.  I can stop any time I want.  Really.

Ugh, all this food talk is making me hungry.   Given that tonight’s Freizeitprogramm activity was a grill-out, that doesn’t seem possible.  We lounged on the lawn of the Mozartheim and devoured a sinful amount of wurst and potato salad.  True, we played frisbee and sang after eating, but, somehow, I don’t think I exerted myself enough to justify another appetite.

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Tschüss!

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Del’s Blog #13- The “Study” in Study Abroad

August 15th, 2010 by Del

If you haven’t read my introduction or earlier blogs yet, please check them out before continuing.  Navigation links for Del-specific blogs are at the bottom of this entry.
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Thursday, July 15 2010

THE “STUDY” IN STUDY ABROAD

Oh yeah, so did you know we have classes here too?

Today marks the halfway point of my Study Abroad experience (*sniff*) and I just noticed that I have not written about what we’re actually in Austria to do.  No, not eat (although I haven’t written about eating either… what is with me?)  Study!  There is no sinister reason for having, until now, avoided a description of classes.  I’m not part of a global conspiracy to hoard the secrets of language education for world domination or anything.  *shiftyeyes*.  It’s just that time flies when you’re describing fun, and I have had a LOT of fun to describe.  Hey, I haven’t told you about laundry either.  It’s not that laundry hasn’t happened.  It has been pretty sweat-worthy weather, after all, and I don’t think people would tolerate me if I didn’t do laundry.  The activity just falls slightly lower on the exciting scale, I guess.  It’s the same with classes.

Don’t get me wrong, I have really enjoyed school thus far.   You may remember that the first full day we were in Klagenfurt, we took a really pleasant little test (*cough*) to sort us into appropriate levels, and I was worried that I placed too high.  I made it into group 4 of 8, and that seemed like a lot for someone with only two semesters of German rattling around in her brainpan.  It turns out Level 4 is okay for me.  Oh, it’s definitely a challenge.  Most of the people in my class have either had much more German or have at least SPOKEN it more.  Heck, a lot of them live next door to German-speaking countries.  By comparison, my vocabulary is weak and I seem to be afflicted by a species of tongue-tying, mind-blanking parasite that strikes whenever I am asked to talk extemporaneously in class.  However, thanks to Dr. Puszkar, my grasp of grammar and writing are strong, so that picks up some slack.  In fact, we had our first exam today, and I actually think I did pretty well.

It also helps that I have friendly (and generally patient) classmates, and an absolutely fantastic teacher.  Anna is very upbeat and energetic, but she is also kindhearted when one of us has a colossal brain fart.  She excels at defining terms and describing new concepts to people who only speak half the language.  That’s an art form in itself especially since she doesn’t have the option of switching to English to make a concept clear.  Although most of the people here speak some English, she can’t assume it when eight of her eleven students are from somewhere other than the United States.  Anna does sometimes resort to a truly universal language: art (had to get the art plug in there somehow :P ).  She draws pictures on the board to define a word or illustrate a concept, though, admittedly, sometimes with less than complete success.  Her drawing for die Krawatte (necktie), for example, thoroughly confused everyone until she made it look less like a guy being daggered in the windpipe.

In terms of the practical stuff, classes meet every day from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  (with a half hour break at 10:30) in the student union and surrounding buildings of Universität Klagenfurt.  There is sometimes homework, but it is not overwhelming, at least for us Level 4 types.  I can’t really speak for anyone else, I guess.  In addition to regular class, we all take a seminar on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:30 to 3 p.m.  Levels 3 and 4 attend seminar together.  We had the option of choosing between two offerings: “Grammar” or “Travel and Global Culture.”  Really?  Is that even a choice?  As my sister said, “Why would anyone pick grammar over travel?!?”  I can’t answer that, Dana, because I picked travel the second the sign up sheet settled on my desk.

The teacher for my seminar is Arthur: fabled in song and blog.  Since Arthur speaks seven languages and has traveled to something like 160 countries, I don’t think he even has to prep.  As you might expect from what I have written about him before, he hosts a high-energy class that is a lot of fun despite involving quizzes that I’m pretty sure are designed specifically to remind Del of her exceedingly poor grasp of world geography.  Do you know the capital of Burma offhand?  I didn’t.  Maybe I need to spend some quality time with an atlas when I get back to the States.

Tschüss!

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Del’s Blog #12- Ain’t No Language Barrier High Enough

August 15th, 2010 by Del

If you haven’t read my introduction or earlier blogs yet, please check them out before continuing.  Navigation links for Del-specific blogs are at the bottom of this entry.
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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

AIN’T NO LANGUAGE BARRIER HIGH ENOUGH:
MAKING FRIENDS IN AUSTRIA*

One of the great things about being a student is that you get the chance to meet many people with similar interests, so it’s relatively easy to make friends.  By extension, when studying abroad it is (or at least should be) easy to make friends from all over the world.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I have already met people from pretty much every inhabited continent except Australia.  It’s not that the Australians are boycotting me, by the way, there are just none here.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps Koala Bears respond better to French.
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Anyway, when I signed up for this trip, I knew I really wanted to forge some international friendships.  I have always admired people who seem to do this effortlessly.  These are the folks that wander into a café in Mozambique and, despite not speaking a lick of Portuguese, end up becoming godmother to the children of strangers at the next table.  That kind of social wünderkind-ness is just not in my genes.

Of course, when you are trying to make friends abroad, there is the added issue of the language barrier.  Almost everyone here speaks English remarkably well, but it just seems disrespectful to me to default to it without at least trying to communicate in the language we’re all here to learn.  So I attempt to chat in German.  I won’t lie to you, though (at least not about this :P ): it’s tough.  Since it is a second language for everyone involved, no one can help the conversation along when it gets stuck.  And it gets stuck often.  For me personally, the problem is that it simply doesn’t take long to exhaust two measly semesters of German vocabulary.  My conversations go something like this:

“Hi, how are you?  Where do you you come from?  Yes, I like schnitzel.  Uh…  um…. Where is the library?

Uh… Okay, well see you later.”

That’s the point at which you wanna go hide among Americans and Brits so you can discuss Platonic philosophy or Quantum Physics or something else that makes you feel better about your brain function.  The problem is, limiting yourself to interacting only with other native English speakers can become a seductive trap, and it is one I, personally, have to work consciously to avoid.

Even though I haven’t been perfect in my quest to meet people here, I am proud of myself in that I have at least pushed myself out of my habit zone a few times.  The other day, for example, I went with two Italians and a Greek from Cyprus to Velden, the city on the opposite side of Wörtersee from Klagenfurt.  We explored the beachfront then had dinner by the water all the time chatting in a mixture of languages about family, food, work, school, and (mmmmmm) art.  One of the Italians, Oscar, lives not too far from Venice and was telling stories about the Venice Biennale, a famous contemporary art show held every two years.  I guess he attends every time.  Jealous!  I wanna go!

Then, tonight, I had another wonderful evening with international company.  This time it was part of the scheduled Freizeitprogramm (which has proven generally to be a nice way to meet people).  We went on a “Nachtwanderung” (night hike) with Boris.  It was a smallish group, but that made it easier to chat as we walked the 20 minutes from the Mozarheim dorm to a creek with a pond-like swimming spot.  Only a few of us got in the water and Jessica and I were the only Americans, so there was a wonderful opportunity to joke around outside my comfort zone.  By the way, you guys who didn’t go swimming don’t know what you were missing: that water was like silk.

After we finished swimming, Boris handed out torches and we walked back home.  Surrounded by fireight, I had another of those moments when I felt so incredibly, gratefully, luckily amazed to be here.

Tschüss.

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*In case you are wondering, I do have photos of the many friends I am making here.  However, for legal reasons, I can only show APSU study abroad students on this website.  That’s okay, though, because our adorable awesomeness is enough to satisfy even the most hardcore photo junkie, right?
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Del’s Blog #11- Just Another Afternoon in Austria

August 15th, 2010 by Del

If you haven’t read my introduction or earlier blogs yet, please check them out before continuing.  Navigation links for Del-specific blogs are at the bottom of this entry.
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Monday, July 12 2010

ALPINE SLIDE?  CHECK.  TORTURE MUSEUM?  CHECK.  GIANT PLATE O’ MEAT?  DOUBLE CHECK!  JUST ANOTHER AFTERNOON IN AUSTRIA

Have you ever have that experience where you stop for a second and look at your life almost like an outsider would?  For me, it’s usually a negative thing.  I’m blurbing on the couch watching some stupid show I’ve seen a dozen times when suddenly my consciousness pauses for a good look at itself.  It sees the hobo-chic clothes I’m wearing and the messy stack of papers on the desk and at the growing pile of shoes-that-belong-in-the-closet near the door, and it says, “Sheesh, what a lameo!  Is this really my life?”  Here’s the great thing about Austria, though.  I have had a couple of moments of self-reflection here, but they are more along the lines of, “Wow, this is really my life!”  I like that feeling.

I got a good dose of it today when we took our second afternoon excursion with the ever-dynamic teacher and guide Arthur.  The theme of the afternoon was “Witch Tour”, but this turned out to be a pretty loose categorization.  In fact most people who registered for the trip were drawn less by witches and more by the promise of a ride down a local alpine slide. Hey, I’m not criticizing.  I never said I wasn’t one of them.

For those of you not in the know, an alpine slide is sort of like a summertime bobsled.  You ride to the top of a ski lift (through gorgeous mountain meadows in this case), board a little one or two-man cart, calculate your plan of descent (it’s crucial to leave enough space), thrust the hand brake forward and zoom down the serpentine track doing a joyful Xena Warrior Princess call at the top of your lungs.   Well, that’s what I did, anyway.

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The alpine slide was fun enough (and I’m enough of a child-at-heart) that I would have happily played there all afternoon.  Heck… I would probably be content to do that with a regular slide.  Newtonian physics of motion bore the tar out of me in the classroom, but, under the right real-world conditions, gravity and low-friction acceleration are thoroughly Del-approved!  Alas, one ride was all we got, then we were on to our next stop: the Medieval monastery church and cloister of Millstatt.  Both of these 12th century structures are impressive, but I was particularly drawn to the cloister.  Whether by design or through some accumulation of hundreds of years of spirituality, it was exceptionally peaceful in the wide white hallways.  I wanted to stand with my eyes closed and just enjoy that “Wow, this is really my life!” feeling.  Maybe that’s why the history Arthur related didn’t stick very well with me.  I know we saw a carving of St. George and the dragon, but I’m honestly not sure how that ties in with the supposed afternoon theme of witchcraft.  Oops.  Oh well, I guess I can at least note that a dragon is more supernatural than an alpine slide  :P
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Our final stop was Burg (Castle) Sommeregg and its torture museum.  FYI:  whenever I hear the phrase “torture museum” I can’t help thinking about a museum that tortures its visitors (like a creepy Hall of Wax that leaves enduring emotional scars).  However Burg Sommeregg is a museum ABOUT torture.  On display are machines that saw actual use maiming and killing suspected witches, criminals and, as far as I can tell, anyone else who got in the wrong person’s way.  *shudder*.  It sure is sobering to see the myriad of methods humans invent to hurt one another.  I can only hope that places like the torture museum reveal barbarism in such a way that people eventually learn to grow away from violence.
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After seeing the museum, we had a little free time.  Most of the group went for food in the castle’s very medieval-looking restaurant.  A few of us went instead to the roof to look around, but we joined the others when it started to storm.  Death by zapping isn’t part of the vacation plans.  In the restaurant, Brooke and Andrea had ordered a Grillteller (n selection of grilled meat cutlets with veggies and fries).  They were kind enough to offer me nibblings.  Perfect, because it’s not the end of a day in Austria without a giant plate o’ meat!  :)   Mmmm, this is really my life!

Tschüss!

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