Balling and the number 1.


Last night, I went to a ball.

IMG_20140614_192505And people waltzed and danced and wore fancy dresses from places all over the world. It was the MultiKulti Ball, which means that we saw saris, dirndls, ball gowns, lederhosen, all manner of African apparel that I don’t know the names for, and just about any other outfit you can think of.

I stayed up til 2am, a rare occurrence. And this morning, I felt like I’d been up til 7 and had drunk copious amount. In actuality, I just had apple juice.IMG_20140615_113208That’s what happened when I tried to spoon yogurt on my müsli this morning. At least I know that I can’t do late nights very often.

The ball was worth it though. There was an orchestra and a jazz band and some mimes. We weren’t totally sure why the mimes were there, because they weren’t silent. They just wore all white and had their faces painted and carried chairs around and meandered from place to place all night, kind of like you’d imagine a court jester would act. Still not sure what was going on there.

Because food and drinks were expensive, we just got juice and soda.

Cheers. If you got alcohol, you got a glass, but juice and soda people got plastic bottles.

Cheers. If you got alcohol, you got a glass, but juice and soda people got plastic bottles.

Then, after we’d enjoyed some jazz in the library, we headed out for some sustenance. McDonald’s here is actually good. They have to source their food locally. I got mozzarella sticks, a salad, and waffle fries, all of which were very satisfying! We did stick out a bit in our formal attire though.

Good end to a classy evening.

Good end to a classy evening.

On the way there, Rachel (far left) and I walked while the other two went to grab a jacket, and we encountered a pair of guys who seemed to have had a little too much to drink. Contrary to my experience with the Jerkface the day before, these guys just waved at us from across the crosswalk while we waited for the light to turn green… for a solid two or three minutes. The only thing I could catch from what they were saying was, “schön”, which means “pretty.”

Much better than the day before.

Speaking of days, I am at the 19 day, 20 hour mark until my departure. Seeing the number ‘1’ in front of the number that says how many days left is a little disconcerting. Any other number seems big, but this one seems like the end is near.

In some ways, I’m ready to go home, and in some ways, I’ll never be ready to leave. There’s always more to experience, but I’ve had such rich and varied experiences that I can pause my international adventures in 19 days and 20 hours to go live a structured life again.

 

 

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Mixed bag day.


What a Friday. It was one of those days that doesn’t have a category, but if it did, it would be something like “All Over The Place” or “Tilt-A-Whirl”.

The allergens here haven’t let up much on me, so even though I take my antihistamines, I wake up with a pretty, puffy face. So, naturally, my eyes want to stay shut since everything’s just a teeny tiny bit swollen. After I got myself up and going today, the swelling went down a bit, and once I’d talked to Jesus, had some bread and yogurt and coffee for breakfast, and put my clothes on, I felt ready for the day.

I carried my laptop with me in my backpack, which often feels like I have a papoose or a small furry animal breathing heavily on me since it adds so much heat. So, I arrived to print my paper with my friend Maggie rather sweaty since the day was already pretty warm. We printed off our papers for our history class and headed over.

Our final exam is coming up, and since this particular professor has a tendency to wax eloquent about nothing that seems like exam material and tends to be rather scattered in his lectures (with the guise of being a calm, organized, collected older man), I had emailed him the day before, indicating that I wasn’t sure what to expect on the exam based on what we talked about in class.

So he begins class saying that some of us seem to be afraid of the exam. Afraid? Who’s afraid? I just wanna know what the heck is going on. This class is 75% self-taught. Heck yeah, it is. You pick a monograph and write a short paper and do the readings – these texts are invaluable. Yeah, they would be if we had a skeleton of knowledge to stick them on. There’s no context, MAN. 

I felt reprimanded and completely justified at the same time. The class was actually a bit more coherent than normal, and afterwards, as per our Friday tradition, my friends and I got pizza.

I was sleepy in my next class and slightly annoyed at the way my professor seems to see Americans, but the annoyance might have been due to my sleepiness.

On my way home, I just kept telling Jesus, I feel like I can’t connect today. It’s too much work to bridge the culture gap. It’s too hard to communicate. I don’t like Austrians. Just kidding. I love Austrians. I love Austria, but it’s so exhausting to constantly be filtering meaning in communication. Then, what should happen but that I would run into a fellow exchange student from my class. We had a nice little chat as we walked the same way, and as we parted, I felt buoyed.

I took the tram (an unusual happenstance) to an English-speaking gathering of believers and met some nice Germans en route who needed directions. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to not be the one needing directions for once.

The gathering was lovely, and I decided that since it was such a nice night, I would walk home (though it’s like a 35-40 minute walk)  and soak up all the Graziness. (not a real word… forgive me)

I’m always slightly trepidatious when walking past groups or pairs of men, just because they so often give me a you-are-an-object or a you-female-must-gawk-and-make-you-feel-awkward look. It’s not a compliment. It’s unsettling.

So, I’m walking alone, on a well-populated and well-lit street (don’t be worried, Mom and Dad). There’s a guy in my way, and he says “Entshuldigung.” (trans: excuse me) I don’t intend to stop because I’m alone and don’t want to talk to him, but he’s in my way, so I slow. “Eine Frage” (a question), he says, waving his pack of cigarettes in the air.

Then, here’s what made my blood boil.

Jerkface (I would use stronger words, but I don’t use those words) points to the lingerie store next to me and asks me if I would wear the mannequin’s outfit for him.

I wish I had punched him somewhere that he would have understood my response. I know violence isn’t the answer, but I’m still mad as I type this. Instead, I answered a calm but firm, “Nope” without making eye contact and continued to walk.

As I walk away, he says, “Why no?”

Ohhhhhhh. You will never have a fulfilling relationship with a woman, ever. And I should pity you for the erroneous image you have of women. I should pray that Jesus will touch your life and change your heart. But I really just wanna punch you and tell you that I’m not a piece of meat. Not eye candy. Not a thing. And I don’t owe you, so you have no right to heckle me.

Okay, rant over.

Because the story does end on a happy note.

Remember that group of Germans I met on the tram? Well, since I chose to walk home, I was about 15 minutes away, at a stoplight, when I thought I saw them.

Yep, it was them. Turns out they weren’t sure how to get back to their hotel. And I got to walk them back since it was right by my dorm. I had a lovely conversation with the one who spoke English, and it redeemed the night for me.

Quite a mixed bag of a day, wouldn’t you say?

Sunset


I was hoping to wake up to a thunderstorm this morning. Instead, I woke up to the whir of yard work tools and a hot, humid bedroom.

It’s easy to say you love summer in the winter, but when it hits 90 degrees before the season officially starts, I have my reservations with loving summer. I suppose the season is better when you have easy access to a lake.

Yesterday was hotter and stickier, however, so I’m grateful that we have the promise of rain and cooler temperatures this afternoon.

I spent most of yesterday writing a paper about the East German secret police during the Cold War because *surprise, surprise*, it’s due a week earlier than I originally thought. It helps that this is a factual paper rather than an opinion paper, so it’s easier for me to write.

Then I walked through the un-air-conditioned city to a blissfully air-conditioned classroom to talk about Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People” in the Gothic Fiction class. Then I returned to the still un-air-conditioned but slightly cooler city paths to walk home. Cooking dinner was a hot task, but it was worth it. Then, as a study break we all needed, some of my friends and I hiked up the Schloßberg to watch the sun set.

It turned out to be a slight disappointment because, of course, though the entire day had boasted clear skies, the evening brought clouds to the west side of the city. Yes, right over the sun set. We ate strawberries while we waited for it to get pretty, though, and talked about school and weekend travels and how we really should be working on our papers right now, but we would rather be there.

Then, just as we were thinking we wouldn’t see any pretty colors, I caught a glimpse of pink and purple and ran to get a better view. Just out of our line of sight from where we were sitting was a little bit of pink, purple, and a cloudy ball of orange. So, we did get to see the sun set, even though it was less grand than we imagined. Apparently mountains affect how much you see of the sunset, something I never have to deal with in my Midwestern home.

 

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So, there it is: the sun set from the Schloßberg.

Then we got ice cream from our favorite place on Sporgasse (Erdnuss-Schoko for me… peanut chocolate) and walked to the Mur to enjoy the city a bit more. People were out and about, walking along the river, eating at the outdoor cafes on the cobblestone streets, having a drink outside since it was cooler than during the day. We joined their ranks and sat and talked for a while.

I’m slowly settling into exit mode, realizing that even good things come to an end.

Being born.


When I was around 7 or 8, I told my parents that I wanted to be baptized. I don’t remember my thought process at the time, why I wanted to do it or if I knew what my baptism was saying. It might have been in part because I wanted to do everything that Brooke did, which included baptism in early elementary school. I suppose I’ll never know exactly what I was thinking at the time.

My view of baptism coincides with something the former pastor of my current church said (did you follow that??): “Baptism is an outward expression of an inward change.” We get dunked in the water in front of our church family or some body of believers to show that God has dunked our souls in the Holy Spirit to make us new and set us apart for Him. I don’t think it’s what saves me, but I think it’s important nonetheless.

And my parents did as well. When I told them that I wanted to be baptized, my dad made me a couple worksheets where I could express why I wanted to be baptized (maybe he understood even at this early age that I express myself best on paper). He gave me some verses to look up and asked me what I thought they were about.

One of them was 1 John 3:4, “Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God.”

But I wasn’t very aware of the 1 John and Gospel of John distinction, so I found this verse instead, John 3:4: “‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?'”

It still fits with the whole message of salvation and the way that God makes us new, but it wasn’t what my dad was going for. I now know the distinction much better.

Since then though, every time I read that verse, it strikes me that I really have been born again. I’m a new person because of what Jesus has done in my life. I think of what Nicodemus must have been thinking when he heard Jesus say, “You have to be born again.”

People typically paint Nicodemus to be a literalist. What? You mean I’ve gotta scrunch myself up and gestate for nine months in my mother’s womb and be born before I can see the Kingdom of God? I don’t think my mom will agree to that. But when I was reading that passage again this morning, I wondered if, perhaps, Nicodemus just didn’t believe that people could change.

He was a Pharisee, someone who believed that following the right laws and doing all the right things in the right order and after washing your hands was what made him holy. That’s why he met Jesus at night to chat about this. He had questions, and I don’t think he was stupid. He was intelligent enough to realize that he needed to get answers from this man who showed that God was with Him through his miracles.

The Holy Spirit probably wasn’t a part of Nicodemus’ life. He hadn’t experienced that kind of presence in His life, the presence that changes you and makes you new.

I think that’s why Jesus responds to him, “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life… you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

Even after this response, Nicodemus still says, “How are these things possible?” He still doesn’t get it. So Jesus goes on to say that it’s not something that can be explained. It’s experienced. Then he gets to the most famous verses of all time: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. Got sent his Son into the world not to judge the world but to save the world through him.”

Ah. The hope. The hope that we can be made new. The hope that perhaps Nicodemus didn’t understand. He was surrounded by stuffy people who were living in old ways according to the laws that God gave and additional laws that man gave. He didn’t know how the Holy Spirit could make him like a newborn baby in spirit. Perhaps it seemed foolish to even desire a young spirit.

This is all my speculation, probably because I can relate to Nicodemus. It’s hard to believe that God can make you new…. unless you have experienced it.

So far.


I’ve come up with a few things I’ve learned since I’ve been here. So I’m listing them here, in no particular order, before I’m done learning.

I love mountains.
I enjoy a good cup of tea, though it can’t replace my coffee.
Trains are my favorite way to travel.
Packing light is always the way to go.
Yes, you can wear that again before washing it.
How to navigate a foreign city.
Staying in people’s homes is such a beautiful thing. (also, I look forward to hosting when I have my own home)
Often the most beautiful things come from the most unlikely places.
Four and a half months just barely scratches the surface. It would take years to know this place.
It’s not “tsv-eye-bul”, it’s “tsv-ee-bul”. (zwiebel)
You can’t make everyone love you but you can show love to everyone regardless of the way they feel about you.
Jesus never leaves my side.
Community is essential.
Prosciutto is not a cheese.
Going broke can be worth it to have adventures.
Realizing that it’s hard and trying anyways is half the battle.
Be over prepared but still pack light. It’s a delicate balance.
Love finds a way.
Cultural boundaries are not high walls. They are gates.
European chocolate wins.
Strudel is possible to make. Difficult, but possible.
Love is always worth the effort.
Sometimes you just have to put your fork in your mouth and try whatever’s on it. Literally and metaphorically.
When in doubt, walk somewhere.
Life isn’t about how you look.
Smiles are pretty universal.
Even if the person doesn’t smile back, it doesn’t mean it didn’t touch their heart.
Tram drivers will not wait if you are ten meters away when the doors close. Even if you run.
There are worse things than being late.
Be alert when walking at night.
But don’t be paranoid if you can help it.
I love old stuff.
Austrian homes are just about the cutest things ever.
I like eggs.
A lot.
A little dancing can make your day brighter.
Ballet isn’t easy.
You see stuff differently when you walk. You can get away with being strange when you’re foreign. “Oh this is my culture.”
There are some incredibly kind and selfless people in the world.
The world is both enormous and tiny. Enormous because there’s so much going on and tiny because what? You know them too? How? That’s crazy!
Bikinis aren’t for me. Especially when they’re pink and sequined.
You don’t need to buy stuff to be happy. FaceTime and Skype are God’s way of reminding us that we are not alone.
T-Mobile is the best phone company ever for having international data and texting roaming included in their plans.
God meets you when you’re feeling low. God meets you on mountains.
God chases you down roads when you’re started walking without you.
God sends random people to change your life.
God loves me and you.
The amount of good food in the world is proof of that.
Jesus is worth my time.
And I love Austria.

Soaking.


I’m training into the Alps right now, taking my second to last trip on the tracks. And my heart knows it. I can feel that slight heaviness that says this is ending.
I know I keep saying that the hills really  are alive, but they do feel alive. Even to without music. They’re all green and covered with trees and little tiny bits of snow in some places. In the sunlight they’ve got a bit of hazing right up at the top, too, like they’re still waking up.
I love Austria.
I love the mountains and the grass and the buildings that have been here longer than any person has been, or even longer than their ancestors. I love the way the train charges through valleys and mountains and past little villages and herds of sheep and brown and white cows.
There are still so many things I don’t know about this place. If I’ve been digging for information and experience while I’m here, I’ve barely scratched the surface, but I love it. It feels like it’s mine like I’ve got a very small bit of ownership here.
There, that little pile of dirt. I dug that up. I own it. That’s my Austria. That’s what I know about this place.
I’m trying to be less of a digger and more of a sponge in my last month here, to just soak up anything I can rather than try to dig as deep as possible. Soak up the people and language and sunshine and mental pictures.
I’m soaking it up and breathing it in. What other ways can you absorb a place? Oh yes, eating. Zwei Semmel, bitte. Two of those amazing rolls, please. I’ll take them on the train with me and miss them dreadfully when I leave.
And maybe someday I’ll get to come back. Maybe I’ll live in a little village by a mountain and own cows. Or bring my American family back some day and say, hey I know this place. I own a little pile of dirt here. It’s small and it’s old, but it’s mine.

Sewing difficulties.


Photo on 6-5-14 at 11.44 AM #3When Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, I think he could have just said it’s easier for thread to go through the eye of a needle.

I remember my mom teaching me how to sew, and it didn’t look that hard to thread the needle when she did it. (I sewed tons and tons and tons of little pillows out of scrap fabric and gave them to my sister. I don’t actually know what she did with them, but I do remember that her enthusiasm waned slightly after like the tenth pillow.) I think I’ve already spent thirty minutes of my day trying to thread this needle. Also, tying the knot in the bottom of the thread is harder than she made it look, too.

Thankfully, I eventually succeeded and hemmed my pants.

Who makes travel sewing kits? I’d like to know that. Because they obviously have never needed to use one when traveling.

These, friends, are not scissors.

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They barely open and close, much less cut thread. Thread, like the thinnest visible substance in the world. I could cut that with my teeth if I was feeling barbaric, but my dentist told me that teeth are not tools, so I tried to use the scissors and eventually made them work.

Anyways, I succeeded, as I mentioned before. And now my Creabelis aren’t too long anymore and can be worn! *claps*

The enthusiasm I feel is partly because I’m getting rather sick of all of my clothing I brought here and mostly because these pants are so comfortable, fun, and stylish. Check out their website (linked above!) to see what they look like, as I have no one to take my picture in them right now. Also, I’ve got a bag of frozen peas on my foot, which makes it slightly more difficult to photograph them.

I’ve got the green/yellow pair, just in case you want to see what they look like.

Today’s going to be a productive day, hence the short blog post. I’ve already hemmed a pair of pants, so that’s a good start. Now, on to reading about the East German secret police and trying to narrow down final paper topics. It’s crunch time, or nearly crunch time. I’m trying to avoid as much crunching as possible by pretending it’s crunch time before it is.

Enough delay, on to my studies.

 

German skeletons


I still use my deer-in-the-headlights face any time someone speaks a sentence longer than four short words to me. And I’ve really had to work for that level of proficiency. When I go to restaurants, I always try to order in German, but I have to practice my order under my breath a few times before the server comes back. Even then, sometimes I say things like “Ein Schoko-schokolade bitte…” when that’s not what I meant at all. Then the server winces and writes down the thing that I meant to say.

So, it is with all respect for second language learners that I go forward with what I have to tell you.

When people say, “Oh don’t worry about not knowing another language proficiently. EVERYONE in Europe speaks English,” they are misleading you. Like you wanted to go to a fancy hotel, but they’re taking you camping.

When people told me that before I left, I felt comforted. I was thrilled that I could use my favorite language, the etymological love of my life, while I am abroad. I pictured people understanding me the first time I spoke and responding with their beautiful Austrian accents, perhaps using some words incorrectly but still communicating what they meant. I pictured at least some people using English on the streets or in their everyday conversations just because they love it so much, too.

Yeah, not so much.

People here like German. And people in Germany like German. And people in France like French. They use it whenever they can. It’s about a 50/50 ratio of people who get annoyed that I don’t speak German to people who are accommodating with their level of English. Usually people underestimate how good they are and tell you they only know a little bit, when they actually know how to tell you what every pastry in the display case is made of (always helpful information).

So there are lots of helpful people who will use their English to help you, but my accent (accent??? since when do I have an accent?) sometimes throws them off. Or my vocabulary. Or slang. And typically, you have to say things a few times with pointing and hand gestures, attempting to meet them in the middle with your meager German. (unless you’re actually proficient in German)

All that to say that communicating is much harder than I thought it would be.

My German knowledge is like a partial skeleton, no muscle or tissue or ligaments or skin. Heck, not even all the bones are present. There’s no life or breath or soul in it. And often times, I meet English skeletons, too. Usually they have at least the musculature but not always the circulatory system or the lungs. Somehow, between the two of us, we usually* find a way to communicate, no matter how confusing it is initially.

*usually as in there are some times when you just give up

I’m learning how to negotiate meaning. And I’m also looking forward to being back in the land of English. Until then, I’ll take any excuse I can to use my hand vigorously when I talk.

Existing doctor.


Well, I planned to go to the doctor today, but even the best-laid plans fail sometimes.

Evelyn and I are going to a ball next week (no big deal, right?), so we were looking for a dress for her to wear on our favorite street, Sporgasse. The doctor’s office happened to be on a side street, so we popped over just before Dr. Ursula was supposed to open her doors.

We found number 9 and looked at the sign, but there was no Ursula there. So we just stared at the sign and wondered what happened to Ursula. Then, we heard a voice from an upper window. There, in between green shutters, a man asked us in German is we needed help (or something to that effect).

For some reason, this always catches me off-guard, and I have to think before I remember that I need to ask them to speak in English. I guess I just overestimate my German skills and wonder if I could carry on a conversation then quickly remember that I can only talk about fruit and animals and some household appliances.

“English?”

“Okay.”

“We’re looking for the doctor. Dr. _______.”

“Dr. _______ doesn’t exist anymore.” What a strange and slightly morbid way of saying that she isn’t practicing there anymore. “The new doctor is here.” He points to the next door down.

“Oh, okay. Thank you.”

“It’s okay.” I think that Austrians think that this means, “You’re welcome.”

Of course, New Doctor had exactly opposite hours as Dr. Ursula (whose webpage didn’t say that she “didn’t exist” anymore).

New Doctor was very friendly though, informing us that they had just closed, but I could come back tomorrow. Does 2 at night sound good? Yes, that sounds good. Okay, see you then.

No name needed to make an appointment, apparently.

Nearly four months here, and you’d think that I’d at least know how to find an existing doctor’s office during opening hours.

The “study” part


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You could say today was uneventful, but I think I should consider rest an event. I’m finally taking a trip to the doctor tomorrow to see what she has to say about my foot (which likely will be to come back another time for some kind of further examination), so I rested for most of today. Also, I’ve been watching Pushing Daisies in my free time, and I couldn’t resist watching a few episodes today since I didn’t have that much pressing on me.

Then Evelyn and I fulfilled our French fry craving by walking to McDonald’s, which is oh-so-much more classy here than in the States. It’s also more expensive, but it’s nicer. We talked about how sexualized commercials are and how much funnier they would be if they were realistic and how we tend to get a little too attached to fictional characters. It’s great to have people who understand these things.

Now that I’ve finished my exam, I have three papers, one presentation, and one more exam standing between me and being done with schoolwork. It’s actually pretty well spread out, too, and I have the added leg-up of being a native English speaker, which makes everything in my classes significantly easier for me.

Tonight, I’m on my second cup of rooibos while I read about the Stasi, the East German secret police of the Communist days. Of course, I started reading an article that wasn’t actually about what I thought it was about and had three pages of notes before I realized I actually needed a different book.

Whoops. Live and learn.

This week is when I actually get down to the “study” part of my study abroad, I suppose. I mean, I’ve been going to classes, reading, participating in forums, and such til now, but now the examination begins. (dun-dun-DUN) With American literature out of the way, we still have Creative Writing, Gothic Fiction, Hemingway, and Intelligence and War in the 20th Century to worry about work on.

Onward, good student. Go forth and conquer.