While the south of France has been filled with sunshine and warm weather up until November, over the past two weeks Aix has begun making the transition to winter, bringing with it cloudy skies and rapidly dropping temperatures. Instead of taking the weekend to escape the cold weather, my friends and I decided to embrace the incoming winter season with a trip up north to the beautiful town of Annecy! Fondly nicknamed “the French Venice,” Annecy is a beautiful and historic town situated on the edge of the French Alps and centered around a crystal blue lake, complete with no shortage of beautiful architecture and canals. This town is not just the perfect place for a weekend getaway, but also the perfect place to spend a birthday, which is exactly what we were going there to do!
We began our weekend/birthday festivities with a beautiful bus ride through the French countryside, which took us to our Airbnb that resembled nothing less than the home of a 19th century French noble. This Airbnb was selected by none less than the birthday girl herself, because what is a queen’s birthday without a castle? We spent our weekend enjoying our temporary home, exploring the cobblestone streets and beautiful lakeside, and eating as much as we could stuff ourselves with. As a Vermonter at heart, the Annecy landscape, complete with the mountain-surrounded lake and autumn foliage, reminded me of home… despite Vermont’s devastating lack of castles.
While every second in Annecy made me feel like I was living in a real-life fairytale, this trip for me was more importantly a reflection on the relationships I’ve built since coming abroad. Spending a weekend in a beautiful place, surrounded by people I didn’t know the names of just two months ago, and celebrating one of my best friends, I felt overwhelmed by love and appreciation. I went abroad for many reasons. For the culture, for the language, for the learning experience… but being able to share this experience with new people and learning how to form deep connections in different situations has only allowed for deeper personal growth.
So instead of this being a post to the town of Annecy (although its beauty should not be overlooked), this is a post for my friends. As we enter the last month of our abroad semester, I can already feel that the last few weeks are going to fly by. Instead of being sad about the end of this chapter I hope to cherish every moment of my time left here, in this beautiful place and surrounded by the amazing people I’ve met along the way. Starting a new life somewhere, even for just a few months, can be both terrifying and thrilling, but being rewarded by new experiences, new memories, and new life-long relationships could not be more fulfilling. These newfound friendships have helped me grow both as my own person and as a global citizen and only make me more excited for my future travels and what new people I may meet along the way.
The first week is no doubt always the most difficult to get through in any situation. You’re out of your element and are needing to adapt to a new lifestyle for the next few months. During that first week I never believed that from that single first day, the rest of the days would fly. It is currently October 16th and it’s been a full month since the program started in September. Midterms have come and gone and the week after this upcoming week, we get a week off of school. I believed that the days would be so long and I would get very homesick. I did get homesick and I still do because I do miss things from the States every now and then and I do miss my old lifestyle and my friends and family and my dog. However, one thing to note, is that you can most definitely have those moments, it’s not a good idea to stay in them because that will not make your trip enjoyable. There are a few ways that I was able to get over the homesickness quickly and those examples are: hanging out with the friends that I have made during this time, going out to eat and finding new hangout spots, taking nice walks around the city and along the river that is nearby, journal, talk to my family. Now that talking to family one can be a hit or a miss depending on mood.
During the first week for me the biggest struggle was remembering the time chance between here in Austria, and back in the United States. Where I am from there is about an 8 hour time change so it was (and still is) difficult to hold back from calling mom first thing in the morning when it’s usually either late at night or early in the morning. Now, another difficulty was just going to school. Usually when you go to Europe from America, you go to take a vacation and not for school so I did not really want to go to school but, I had to and that first week we were fortunate to be able to go to whatever classes we wanted to try out what we wanted before submitting a final form to finalize what classes we wanted to take this semester. I pretty much already knew what I wanted to take therefore I just went to my planned classes already. It was nice to meet my professors (though here they don’t really call themselves our teachers rather than just teachers) and know what their teaching styles are. Something that I definitely appreciate is that they don’t assign a whole lot of homework to do outside of school. It seems that the teachers and staff in this program seem to have an understanding that us students are here to study but also to explore and live life. The work so far has been so much easier and has caused so much less stress than what I was used to. So that definitely be one thing I will miss when it is time to leave!
That first week not much happened. The program organized a few activities for us to do to get to know each other and to get to know the city more, people hung out together and really it was pretty calm and relaxing. The school part was relatively easy to get the hang of the real headache was the bus. I was not used to taking the bus back in the USA so coming here to where the bus is the preferred way of getting around was difficult. Luckily we were provided a monthly bus pass so after we got it stamped we didn’t need to worry about getting bus passes every day and just got on the bus and got off at our stop. However, because pretty much everything is in German, I really did struggle to listen to what was being said over the radio system in the bus. There is an English translation but it’s a bit odd when you’re listening to someone speak in German one second and the next moment English is being spoken so you can’t always hear the English. I had thankfully gotten an Austrian SIM card already so I was able to use my maps and other apps offline with no problem so I did know where to get on the bus and where to get off the bus and pretty much every day there are groups that go to the study center together so I got the hang of things pretty quickly. I wouldn’t say that for the first day though… we almost got on the wrong bus that would have taken us the completely opposite direction had someone not spoken up and told us we were getting on the wrong bus. So, definitely pay attention to which direction the bus is going in!
As for my living situation I am staying in this “dorm” like building. It’s not necessarily called a dorm as there are more than just students living here but it’s not really an apartment either so I really couldn’t tell you what type of building I’m living in. I was put in a single and some others were put in doubles. In the beginning I was a bit upset that I was put in a single because I do remember selecting the double option for when we were filling out and sending back forms and such but I did realize that it was probably better this way because I do like to have my own space and I do like my alone time as much as I like hanging out with others. It just means that I would need to work a bit harder on making connections and making plans with others which I have learned that I am okay with doing. It’s been an adventure to say the least. There’s a shared kitchen on each floor but we all get our own cabinet and small box in the fridge both of which have locks that we have the keys to. The program provided us with pots and pans and cooking stuff after paying a small deposit. I’ll admit that I was a bit too scared to use the kitchen for the first few days of being here so I did spend some of my money on takeout. However, over the weeks of being here I have grown more comfortable using the kitchen and have even met some really nice people while cooking.
Overall, I would say that it is okay to be scared and during the first week or so it’s common. You don’t know many people, you don’t always know the language, everything’s pretty much new so to go from living your life in your home country to living a new life in a new country is completely normal and understandable. I still get scared sometimes! However, for me, I have made some new friends that have made the transition a lot smoother and easier. I do get homesick sometimes still but I really am enjoying my time here in Austria and have learned a lot about the countries history and its people. I am always looking forward to what the day is going to bring me.