The Carthusian monastery I’m currently living and studying in has steep, slick roofs and Austria has snow built up on every surface from recent storms: the perfect equation for an “avalanche.” At any time of day, heavy snow will unexpectedly slide off the roof and crash to the ground, disturbing the silence and even waking people from their sleep in the midst of the night.
In a way, the beginning of this semester has been like an avalanche. An avalanche of learning. Learning how to recover from jet lag. Learning how to adapt to Austrian culture, speak basic German, and live away from home. Learning how to be a student and a traveler. Learning how to find balance. Multiple changes are thrown upon you at once, but the chaos is vanishing, just like the snow is waiting for spring to come so it can melt and disappear.
There’s been a perfect combination of hustle and fun. You study hard during the week and reward yourself with travel on the weekends. Since my arrival in Gaming, the university has brought us to different excursions around Austria: Melk, Salzburg, and Vienna. These trips provide the perfect opportunity to experience a small taste of Austrian culture and tradition.
Honestly, I sometimes forget that I’m in Europe, living amongst a totally different culture. I casually walked through an old Benedictine Monastery, situated on the Danube river, where the Austrian imperial family would reside when travelling. I went to the city where Mozart first played and the Sound of Music was set and filmed. I sang Billy Joel’s lyrics “Vienna Waits for You” as I walked through the streets of the capital. Here it feels so easy, almost too easy, to pass through the alleyways of a historic site and for it to feel “normal,” because you’re constantly surrounded by them.
The local Bishop, Bishop Kung of St. Polten, said mass today on campus and he stated something that stuck out to me: “Your life is an adventure between you and God. The Austria program is the place where you discover who you are as a person. You learn a great amount about yourself as you travel.” That statement couldn’t be more true. For instance, these past few weekends I’ve seen city’s that are hundreds of years old and walked on their cobblestone sidewalks and passed their rustic buildings and statues and still chose to go to McDonald’s for lunch (FYI they’re way healthier in Europe). I guess I’ve personally discovered that I occasionally like a small taste of home and I am 100% proud to be an American. But the bishop stated it so well. You learn a lot about who are as you venture through life, crossing borders from country-to-country.
As I’ve mentioned before, there is a tremendous amount of things that are not expected when travelling, like an avalanche, and that’s why it seems to be the perfect metaphor for this semester. As a student and as a traveler I have no intention of slowing as I cascade through my months here and while I experience the “crash” of learning, and at the end of the semester, I’m positive I’ll be sad that the Austrian avalanche melted away, but so glad that it piled up and came for a little bit.