I don’t even know where to begin. I’m not sure if it is possible to blog everything I’ve seen and experienced in these past hours. After listening to the trials of another exchange student, I am one of the lucky ones. I had Lisa. Lisa is my student assigned to me from the Buddy Network to help and answer questions. I’d be on the street corner sobbing and lost without her. She picked me up from the airport, from which we walked downstairs and caught the metro, changed lines, caught the bus and walked a good distance before arriving at my dorm. You can’t even imagine how many of the “little things” are different. Take the phrase, “Righty tighty, lefty loosy”. NO HELP in Austria. Turning the key to the right unlocks the door and turning the key to the left locks it. The lock system is pretty nifty though. My ONE key unlocks the front door to my dorm, my mailbox, the door to my apartment, and the door to my personal room. My roommates’ keys unlock the front door, their mailbox, the door to our apartment, and the door to their individual room. How… I don’t know but it’s pretty cool.
Yesterday Lisa dropped me off, she had to leave to go back to the airport and pick up her other Buddy Network friend, Kendra, from Vermont. After Lisa left, I’ve never been more overwhelmed. No internet to contact the two other UGA students, no phone, and I don’t speak German. Everyone told me that, “everyone speaks some English in Vienna; it is when you travel to the smaller cities in Austria you’ll find people that don’t know English”. These people have obviously never been to Vienna. I played shards everywhere I went yesterday. I first went to the grocery store (or nutrition store as Lisa says). I slowly made my way through the 3 aisles attempting to use my dictionary to translate things. Almost bought some tea because it had blueberries on box because I thought it might be some kind of jelly/jam. It wasn’t until I saw a picture of tea bag on it that I realized my mistake. I found the shampoo/conditioner/shower gel area of the store. The shampoo was easy. The word was written in big English letters. Conditioner? Not so much. I was able to translate shower gel on some of the bottles and apparently conditioner is not a needed word because it wasn’t in my dictionary. There were a few bottles that had German words on them that weren’t in my dictionary. I’m not sure if they were brand names, or what but they weren’t in the dictionary. I finally settled on a bottle that looked creamier than the shampoo bottles. Hopefully I’m not washing my hair with lotion or something but hey, it’s an experience.
After buying the basics of bread, jam, milk, oj, wine, eggs, strawberries and cereal, I headed to the checkout. You know how when you go to Kroger and WalMart, they give you more bags than you’d ever want? Well the experience is the opposite in Europe. During check out, I realized I didn’t see any bags, so I quickly grabbed a bag to buy (they were on side of check out like in US some people buy those bags to “go green”). After checking out, you put all your groceries back in cart, push forward to get out of way of next customer, and push to counter where you follow the Europeans. They began pulling plastic and cotton bags out of their purses or pockets and loaded those bags with groceries. I had bought one bag and I loaded the heavier items into my purse to carry the three blocks back to my dorm. Lesson learned: Buy less, shop more.
I returned to my dorm and to recover from that experience. While I was at the dorm, a repair man came in to fix a light in the dorm. I asked him how I was able to get internet and he told me to get a cable. I then asked where I could find the electronic store, and after he said he didn’t know because he wasn’t from around here, he directed me downstairs to ask the cleaning ladies if I could borrow one. Another small difference: I took the elevator down to floor 1. Apparently floor 1 isn’t the ground level. I got back on the elevator to see that there was a floor -1, floor 0 and floor 1. I chose the 0 floor to finally get back to the ground floor. I searched but couldn’t find this office of the cleaning ladies. After returning upstairs, I found the repair man leaving our dorm and he accompanied me to the office. Thank god he did because despite his poor English, he knew a great deal compared to the cleaning ladies and he translated for me. They were very nice and said I could borrow the cord for the semester so that saves me some money and peace of mind.
I didn’t realize how much having access to the internet can mean to a person. After connecting back to the world, I ventured out again. I found the dorm that the guys from UGA are staying in. They are about a 5 minute walk away. I’m in a really good location. I’m about a 3 block walk to the metro, which to get to school, I don’t even have to change lines or anything. I’m also apparently close to Parliament, city center, and most of the shops. While I was exploring, I found a Nokia store and the man spoke English. I felt like I was back in Mexico. “And for you… I’ll make it this much” despite the sticker price being much higher. He looked Middle Eastern and I noticed on the metro today I’ve seen a LOT of Middle Eastern people around. To Mom and Dad, I had an Egyptian woman sitting behind me on my flight from Toronto to Austria. I didn’t start a conversation though. By the end of the day, I found an electronic store and bought a hairdryer and straightener. Slept for 12 hours that night because the little I did yesterday wore me out.
Today has been much better. Lisa met me at my dorm and we met up with Kendra. We went to housing office to sign papers. We then had to go register with the city of Vienna. Apparently everyone has to do this and when we move out in June, we have to go back and de-register. We went to the Bank of Austria to get info about opening an account but apparently you have to make appointments to be able to be seen by anyone. Kendra and I will have to go back soon because apparently no place takes Visa Cards and stores take ATM cards (debt) but only the Austrian ATM card. I’ve been running off the cash I had transfered at the airport.
I think I must look European because yesterday when I was walking the street, a man stopped and started talking to me. I told him, “English. English” and then he began to point at the sky and say, “Count.” He also kept shivering as if he was cold. I was like, “Count? Do you mean cold?” And he then started saying, “Cold! Cold!” and then kept walking. It is cold here: 17 degrees in fact. We had snow flakes yesterday but besides that, there hasn’t been snow. I’m really wanting snow, but that’s because I’m used to Georgia. I’m sure once we do get snow sometime, I’ll get tired of it as well.
Other things I’ve learned these past few hours:
- Netflix and other sites don’t work outside of the US due to licensing agreements.
- Unlike metros in DC and NY, metro tickets have to be time stamped because even though you are free to get on and off the public transportation, if you are caught without ticket AND stamped, you’re in big trouble.
- Be aggressive if you want to cross the street, but still careful.
- Grocery stores close around 6 pm and are closed all day on Sundays
- Banks close around 3 or 4 pm
- Most departments of the University close around 12 or 1 pm
- Saying “school” refers to elementary school or primary school. “University” refers to college level
The cultural shock has already happened. I think once I get the student semester transportation card, open a bank account here, and actually meet my roomies (one has moved in but hasn’t been home– although I’m like positive she’s German by the note she wrote and her shampoo, etc in bathroom and I don’t think other has moved in yet due to lack of stuff in common area), it’ll feel more like home. I’m having to adjust not only to a foreign country but a big city full of trams, trains and the metro. Hopefully I’ll be able to call it home soon.