My time abroad is reaching its final hours. While I’ve been looking forward to going home, in the last couple of days I’ve started to feel a bit more mixed about the end of the semester. I’m excited to see my family again, and to have all of my guitars again, and to have access to greasy, American fast food. But on the other hand, when will I have another experience like this again? While there is a decent amount of variance around the United States, the difference between Detroit, San Diego, and Rapid City feels like nothing compared to the difference between Berlin, Bucharest, and Sarajevo. I can get on a train in Vienna and in an hour be in an entirely different country with its own language, history, everything. A one hour train ride from Charlotte might get me to Spartanburg.
Traveling to different places isn’t the only thing that I’ll miss. Just living in Vienna has been something special in its own right. While it has been a struggle or a hassle at times, I think what I’ll miss most is being immersed in German. Sure, it can be embarrassing to struggle to find the words to explain to the person cutting your hair what you want (and then convincing them that, yes I really do what my hair cut that way, since apparently buzz cuts don’t exist in Austria), but it’s nice to celebrate mini-victories everyday when you understand something new or get some other confirmation that you really have been improving your German.
I probably sound a bit like a broken record, but it really has been crazy how much my German has improved since January. When the intensive period started in January, it was a struggle just to keep up with what was going on in class. If I wasn’t 100 percent focused at all times, I’d basically have no idea what was being discussed until someone new started talking. Now, while it still requires more focus than a class taught in English, it feels reasonably natural to have classes taught in German. My understanding of cases and grammatical structures has improved to the point that I now tend to make just one or two mistakes per page rather than the one or two mistakes per sentence I seemed to make at the start of the semester. My ability to speak German has also improved by a noticeable amount. Most of the time, it doesn’t feel like I have to think of what I want to say in English and then translate it to German, but it can still be a struggle to find the words to express what I want to say. My speaking ability definitely still needs the most work and unfortunately it is also the most difficult thing to work on in the US.
Going back to things that I’ll miss about Vienna, it’s hard to say what I will miss. I think that many of the differences between the United States and Austria are rather subtle, so I probably can’t predict most of the differences that I’ll notice. Some things, like stores not being open on Sunday, I know I will, at most, be indifferent about. The access to good public transport is definitely something that I’ll miss. While I do enjoy driving, it has been nice to be able to easily go anywhere in the city without having to worry about navigating through a bunch of narrow, one-way streets and then having to find somewhere to park. One difference I’m still undecided about is the general dining experience. On one hand the wait staff in Europe tends to leave you alone unless you ask for something, but on the other hand, it gets annoying trying to flag down your waiter, who then gives off a vibe like it is the worst thing in the world that you want to order something.
As I said above, I am excited to go home, but I’m not exactly excited to leave. The only thing that I haven’t enjoyed about being abroad is that there is an unmistakable feeling of temporariness. It’s not possible to fit your entire life inside two suitcases. While you can bring many of the big things in your life, the little things you left behind start to add up over the course of five months. Some things, like watching baseball at a time other than 3 am, are impossible to solve. Others, like not having a bunch of guitars and effects and amps, are solvable, but aren’t practical to solve when it’s only a couple of months that you have to deal with it. It’s not an everyday occurrence, but if I had kept track of all the things I wanted to do when I got home, I would have a rather impressive list. Every time you add something to the list, it’s another reminder that the place you’ve been calling home isn’t actually home. There is also the always looming return date. For most of the semester it isn’t an issue, but as the countdown turns from months to weeks to days, the coming end starts to cause some problems. Namely, the fear of missing out. I would sometimes worry that by doing one thing, I would miss out on some other thing. Luckily, I could combat those feelings by thinking about all the things that I believed I needed to do before I left. While there certainly are some things that I would have enjoyed doing, I think I got to cross off all of the items on my ‘must do’ list.
I can’t say that there is anything about my time abroad that I would call a major regret. I probably should have traveled more around Austria, but I’m also not someone who can constantly be doing things. While it would have been nice to visit other places in Austria, I also enjoyed having relaxing weekends where the most I’d do was visit a museum or two. I also would’ve liked to visit more places in the Balkans, but again, I don’t know where I could have fit it in. I also overpacked a little, but I’ll take that over under packing. I suppose that if these are the worst regrets I have about the last five months, then you can say that I’ve had a very successful time abroad.