To tell you the truth, I hated the idea of studying abroad.
I hated that I would miss a quarter at a college I love so much. I hated knowing I would have to move. I hated that I would have to figure out a new city and culture when I was already comfortable where I was. The only reason I forced myself to apply was because everyone who has studied abroad before swears by it, and most people who haven’t say they regret it.
How tightly I held on to the known.
On Sept. 1, 2013, my plane landed in Vienna, Austria. I was tired and grumpy and needed a good shower. If some people have rose-colored glasses, mine were sludge-brown, with a tint of cynicism thrown in for good measure. I spent the first days jet-lagged in my room, frustrated that I couldn’t understand anything or anyone, and exasperated that I didn’t know my way around. How I look back now and chuckle at Past-Lauren. She didn’t know that on the other side of those sludge-colored glasses were the beginning of the best days of her life.
After about a week, I had completely shaken my jet lag and finally had the energy to explore. My new city was beautiful. It was apparent by wandering through the city that there was no end to the adventures I could have!
On Mondays, my friends and I would head to Café Alt Wien for the schnitzel special. On sunny days we’d stroll over to the Habsburgs’ summer home, the Schönbrunn palace, to see the gardens and visit the zoo. If our homework was light, we’d spend the weekend in Budapest, Bratislava, or Prague. Or, if our homework was heavy, we’d walk two minutes down the road from our dorm to ride the Riesenrad Ferris Wheel at the world’s oldest amusement park.
When the Christkindlmarkts began to pop up as the Christmas season began, we’d drop by after class to warm up with a glass of Glühwein. We went to more than a few world-class operas, and proudly represented our home country at the USA vs. Österreich soccer match. My friends became my family. We did everything and went everywhere together: Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, England, Scotland, Malta, Switzerland, Germany – you name it. My experience abroad was enhanced by the people I share my memories with.
Studying abroad made me more mature in ways that I could not have fathomed before my departure from the United States. No longer do I fear new cultures. No more am I afraid of stepping outside my comfort zone. For what I have discovered is that adventure is found outside my comfort zone. All my other college experiences pale in comparison to the experience of being dropped into what has recently been named (for the fourth year in a row), “the world’s best city to live in,” according to Business Insider, and making it my own.
When I think of Vienna, I think of a warm day in mid-September. A day when bright sunlight poured upon the worn cobblestones of that age-old, grandiose town and warmed the ground beneath my feet. The smell of coffee and horses wafted throughout Stephansplatz Square over the din of dozens of languages being spoken at once. I was getting ready to wander down an old Austrian street with my friends and explore the nooks and crannies of the beautiful city for which my heart aches to return. Vienna is my second home, and I don’t know why I ever got on the plane to leave.
Submitted by Lauren Riensche, Class of 2015