My mother is very superstitious and so when I arrived in Vienna a week ago and saw that the time was 11:11, I figured that must be good luck. It’s these little things that become the big things on a journey like this. Traveling to a destination by myself that I have never been to before, where I know no one and cannot speak the local language. All the ingredients for an interesting mid-year overseas adventure.
I had nightmares every night for a week before I arrived as I was totally convinced that this was a mistake; that I wasn’t really accepted to attend the Summer School at the Vienna University of Technology. That they had given my place to someone else, or worse that I was really part of an elaborate plan to steal money from innocent university students from around the world. Throughout my 30+ hour flight I had developed a whole scheme where I was going to be kidnapped, held hostage somewhere in an underground cell and my family had to beg the Prime Minister of Australia to release me.
Instead I was greeted by a lovely Austrian man at the airport, taken to a perfectly safe hostel not too far from the city centre and introduced to my roommate for the next three weeks – an architecture student from the Czech Republic. Through her I met a few other Czech students as well as people from almost every other continent. Although the course is taught in English, for most students it is not their first (or preferred) language. In fact, at the welcome party, I had trouble finding a group of people chatting that I could understand!
The adventurous part of me would usually dislike the regimented qualities of the summer school. We have classes every morning Monday – Friday, as well as tours of significant buildings and areas within the city. I now appreciate that having your days mapped out like this, by people who live, breath and love Vienna, allows for opportunities that an outsider wouldn’t experience. For example, yesterday I traveled by ship along the Danube, surrounded by mountains and vineyards and arrived at a town called Dürnstein. My supervisor then proceeded to explain that we should climb to the top of the mountain, where we would find a castle ruin with a great view. With no time to think about it, and a ‘you-only-live-once’ attitude, I made it to the top – something I never would chosen to do at home. If it wasn’t for the photos, I doubt my family and friends at home would believe me that I actually did it.
So one week has already passed here and I feel like a Viennese local. I can navigate the amazing underground subway system and I watched an opera rehearsing in a courtyard. I no longer freak out when I see dogs everywhere (seriously, from supermarkets to public transport), and last night I celebrated the climb with my new Czech friends in Museum Quarter. Although, I still find people smoking in restaurants weird and the 30-degree humid heat and sunburn gives me constant reminders of a Brisbane summer.
Nevertheless, I am enjoying my time and this is just what I needed four months away from graduation.