A ship is safest in the harbour, but that's not what ships are for

remember this place?

In the summer, it seemed imposing and absolutely enchanting with a  prospective of a fairy tale. Nothing had changed, only that it was more of the former and less of the latter. 

My first day of school was probably one of the most scariest experiences of my life. 

Usually when I am nervous, I flutter and cry and talk anxiously. My stomach turns loops, I can't feel my hands, my fingers quiver, and my mind floods with "what if...?". But I felt nothing. I was absolutely calm and numb. It was a death march to school, walking silently amongst the mist and trees that I got to know so well during the light of the summer...only then, they seemed menacing and somber. 

I met up with Anna, a girl from my class, and she led me to class, introducing me to many Austrians along the way, many who did double takes after our retreating figures. "Ein Amerikaner? Ich glaube es nicht!" We finally made it to our class, 7c, and at the door were students. I was so tempted to turn back but Anna grabbed my arm and marched me to the door "Nein!" and began introductions again. Only this time, they were incredibly important because they were my classmates for the rest of the year. I didn't remember anyone's name. We went into the class and thus it began... All of my classmates had been in the same class, together, since they were 11. They instantly knew their seats (which had been the same since they were young) and so I was left with the only open seat which belonged previously to a AFS French foreign exchange student. I sat down...and imdediately the two boys near me struck up a conversation with me auf deutsch. I was completely dumbstruck and tongue-tied. Before I could muster up an answer, Anna saved me with a "Sie sprecht nur English!". All heads whipped around and stared. Staring was probably the most common thing of the day. Everywhere I looked there were...eyes. Curious eyes, disapproving eyes, blank eyes, friendly eyes. 

I've had a week of school now and I believe I'm settling in quite well. I've had victories and failures, as expected. Somedays I come home from school incredibly discouraged because I understood nothing in physics, and other times skipping because THEY talked to me and invited me out for coffee. On Friday, when I was greeted with a bright "Gute Morgan, Leeebee!" and the European kiss, it was the *ultimate* victory. My classmates are slowly getting used to their chatty American addition. My teachers...not so much. I have a few teachers that don't speak English at all, and communication is difficult. My classmates always post disclaimers on their English, but truly they are amazing. We get into the most hilarious discussions about America, and the questions I get asked are...umm, interesting. I laugh and cry and groan on a regular basis. Stereotypes regarding Austrians are false; Austrians are warm, friendly people. And not because of a hidden motive, no, they truly are there. When they ask how are you, they mean it. They also have quirky senses of humor. It's hard to keep up; they are so dry and sarcastic yet absolutely genuine. I truly don't understand how people can come out of this without Austrian friends when they are so willing.

School is very lax. Sometimes teachers are up to 30 minutes late; students can leave at anytime; they can pull out their cellphones in class and answer calls/text while the teacher is talking; the environment is subdued. For anyone who thought I should receive grades here...that is now ridiculous. My teachers don't expect me to do anything. I sit in silence, listen to my ipod, journal, and do page after page of elementary German grammar. I understand little, and then on top of that they are way more advance than what high school in the USA has to offer, even AP or IB. The only class I receive homework in is English and German, thank goodness...! I love English, because everyone regards me as the authority, even above the teacher. It's a lovely change. I am taking some of my German classes with the class 2d...which is for the 11 year olds. They are adorable and so eager to learn English and practice with me; it's probably my favorite class. 

My classes:

Chemistry, AustrianHistory/EuropeanHistory, English, French, Architecture, Philosophy, German, Math, Art, Vocal Music, Current Events, Religion, Physics, Sports. Worst class? Math and Physics are killer. English bores me to tears half the time. In Religion, I can understand the teacher, who speaks high German. Everyone laughs a lot, which is...slightly awkward, especially if they mention the word "Amerikaner". 

people in my class: do you see Alexandra? Everyone knows me because I'm staying with the Ugovseks'. I sit next to Tamara, Sophie, Dominik, Bernhard, and Victoria. They are lovely.

(is Wolfgang not the most hardcore name ever?)

class photo from last year. African student was an exchanger from France, no, we don't get any diversity here in Austria. Alexandra sits opposite from him. 

& my Rotary weekend!

I went for my first Rotary weekend here from Friday the 18th to Sunday the 20th in the Styrian Alps. It was my first opportunity to meet with the January inbound group (I'm apart of the August inbounds) and have some desired time with my friends from the August group. As expected, I had absolute loads of fun.

 I came home early from school, and hauled myself and my bulky luggage (I have not lost the tendency to overpack) through the Klagenfurt bus system to the train. There I waited anxiously until my train came and called the two other Carinthian exchangers who were already on it, stepped on the train, looking, and then Nolan (USA) stepped out into the aisle. Chantel (Canada) ran on to the train as it was departing, and after a reunion, I realized how much I missed exchangers. My classmates are beautifully Austrian, but they don't understand. They haven't left everything they knew behind...matured within weeks...said goodbyes to last a year... tried to fit into a society opposite of their own...sobbed over pages of German grammar and photos of family...realized they were more and less than enough...opened their eyes to a new world.

We were the last group to reach the meeting point...and when we did, it was a reunion to end ALL reunions. The floodgates opened. The Vienna, Bregenz, Salzburg, Graz, and Linz inbounds were all there and seeing each other for the first time in 3 weeks was incredible. Hugs were generous, laughing was necessary, and I could scarcely breathe between the fruitful conversations. It was...perfect. Like going back to your family.

The rest of the weekend was absolutely gorgeous. There were times I felt a void of home that Klagenfurt had helped to fill, and the gaping wound of the US reopened, but other exchange students kept my mind occupied. I feel that out of the inbounds, I have suffered from continuous homesickness that physically hurts and many are aware of this. I feel blessed to have so many people watching out for me; so relieved and assured. 

This was called a "Hiking Weekend in the Alps" and so we were prepare to hike...however not for 7 hours. It was probably one of the more difficult hikes I've ever accomplished. Many of my Canadian/American friends led the group...however I grew content with the easy going attitude of the slow group rounding up the back. It was desperately hot going up with the furious glare of the sun burning daggers at the mountains; the top of the mountain was positively frigid and scarce in environment. We climbed...and climbed...and climbed. I will never forget the feeling as we approached the bottom of the mountain. One word: RELIEF. Although many of us were exhausted, at nightfall we gathered again after free time for another Rotary planned activity which turned out to be a night hike with torches to a disco. Imagine the absolute most black of blacks, a curtain of glittering luminescent stars suspended in a web in the tranquil sky, the swish of flicking flames against this dark backdrop? It was unreal. Halfway through the weekend I realized I was in most incredible, awe-inducing location in the world to be able to see stars like no other. The Austrian Alps...so isolated from the beams of European city life. 

so much more awaits. Tschüss!

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