Laura - a GeoVisions participant and solo traveler reflects on a few things she wish she had known before tutoring English in Austria. Check out her helpful travel tips and honest reflections that made her struggles a worthwhile and life-changing journey.
1. Where to land.
Seems like a silly point to make, but it’s true. My host family lives near the Czech border in Austria, so I booked my flight into Prague; which is fine – if you’re an experienced, confident traveler.
I struggled with buying the correct train passes (because I can’t speak Czech). I had really tight connections and with signs only in the Czech language and me carrying all of my luggage it made for a very stressful day. Not to mention the hefty fine I received because I did, in fact, buy the wrong ticket. *oy vey*
If I could do over again, I would book my flight into the Vienna airport. The airport is very small and the best part is that there is a train station directly underneath and so, on your first day with all of your luggage- you never even have to leave the airport to get to your destination.
I also find the people in Austria are much more willing to help out.
2. If you think you know German, think again.
I came here wanting to improve my German. My perfect “hochdeutsch” that I learned at my college back home…. By the way, they don’t speak hochdeutsch here in Austria.
I knew they had a dialect here, but I thought the dialect would be like Georgia Vs. Texas… yes they sound a little different but, still the same language. Boy, was I wrong! Upper Austrian Dialect is like a whole new language and I have struggled immensely.
But, do not be discouraged! The people here are so friendly and they will truly appreciate any German you try to use with them.
Top 5 phrases to learn:
- Bitte – Please and You’re welcome. It’s a nice word to use. Know it.
- Danke – Thank you.
- Ich möchte zahlen – I’d like to pay (if you don’t know this, you will be waiting a very long time for your check at a restaurant)
- Sprechen Sie Englisch? – Do you speak English? (as much as I love to practice my German, sometimes it’s much easier and faster to just say it in English if possible!)
- Kannst du mir helfen? – Can you help me?
3. You will get sick… you will get sick a lot.
New country = New germs. Remember that. Also, remember to bring your hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer does not exist over here, and you will wish you had it when you step off the train.
Fact: Not all bathrooms have sinks here… so I will reemphasize: remember your hand sanitizer.
4. What to pack.
I come from Oklahoma. Oklahoma is very hot in the summer. That is the climate I am use to, and that is the climate my silly-self packed for. *sigh* Upper Austria is about equivalent to Seattle- it is cold and it is very very rainy (at least, this year it is). My first few weeks here I was sort of depressed because it’s my summer break and I am bundled up in a coat and scarf with no sunshine. Don’t be like me and only pack shorts and t-shirts.
CHECK THE CLIMATE of where you are going!! It will save you from having to buy new clothes when you arrive.
5. The refugee crisis isn’t that bad.
Let me rephrase that: The refugee crisis is very bad, there is nothing not bad about it… But, from one solo female traveler to another: you are safe.
When I signed up with GeoVisions to come to tutor English in Austria, it was about the same time things started looking bad in Europe. My family (and a lot of friends on Facebook) started sending me scary news articles and tried to discourage me from making the trip and I will admit, I had my doubts. I am so happy I listened to my gut, though, and not the media. I have been traveling solo over here for almost two months now, and not once have I felt unsafe or insecure by the Muslim refugees or anyone for that matter. Just remember, anything that can happen to you here, can happen to you in the US.
Moral of the story: Do what you want and do not live in fear.
I am a very independent person so coming into a new home with new rules was about the only “shock” I had. In the US, I am so used to the freedom of jumping into my car and going where I want, when I want. I am not used to someone asking me how late I will be out or who I am going with. Having to ask permission before I go out was probably my hardest adjustment at first. Lucky for me, my family here in Austria usually lets me do whatever I want to do, but out of respect for them I always tell them first so they know. After all, they are responsible for me while I am here!
Bonus Lesson: Pfefferoni does not mean Pepperoni
If you want a pepperoni pizza, just get a salami pizza. Pfefferonis are not what you think.
Finally, never forget you live and you learn.
I have learned a lot of hard lessons here; from forgetting my passport until I arrived at the airport, to getting fined at the train station. I have booked the wrong tickets and have lost a bit of money because it was nonrefundable. Part of the thrill of traveling is making mistakes and solving problems YOURSELF and learning to depend on your own abilities – it’s scary and exciting all at once but you will grow so much from these times and it is so incredibly worth it.