Matthew Johnson (’18) on being the only Bates student in Austria
Vienna was the leiwandsten five and a half months of my life (leiwand = Austrian German for cool). While all of my classmates at Bates were discussing where to study in Germany, I decided to do something drastically different and study abroad in Austria with IES Vienna. To be honest, at first I had no idea what to expect, but I quickly became captivated with Austria, and I never regret the decision I made to study there.
I was the only Bates student in the entire country of Austria, thus studying in Vienna gave me an entirely unique experience that my classmates at Bates, both in and outside the German department, did not experience.
There is no way I could properly explain all of these meaningful experiences, so here is a short list of a few of my favorite memories:
- Running daily through the palace gardens of Schloß Schönbrunn, the summer residence of the former Austro-Hungarian emperors, located less than a half-mile from my apartment;
- Memorizing the entire layout of the Kunsthistorisches Museum after one too many class excursions for my Renaissance art course;
- Waking up to my host family’s cats, Stinki and Muzi, meowing on top of me at six in the morning;
- Living in a gorgeous 19th-century apartment that was a former brewery, with a host family that was incredibly kind and considerate to me;
- Exclaiming “oida” with the other disgruntled Austrians when the Straßenbahn was over a minute late;
- Walking along the famous Ringstraße with friends on brisk nights and marveling at the gorgeous landmarks, including the Rathaus, Parliament, Volkstheater, and University;
- Attending a world-class opera at the Vienna State Opera for only four Euros;
- Sitting at a café with friends for hours trying to decipher the difference between a cappuccino and a Wiener Melange;
- Attending the season opening of the Vienna amusement park, the Prater, and seeing all of Vienna from the top of the Ferris wheel;
- Becoming a coffeehouse connoisseur and tasting nearly every type of cake I could find. Sachertorte, Biedermeiertorte, Cremeschnitte, Apfelstrudel, and so many more!
- Finding hip and inexpensive restaurants and bars in the Naschmarkt or along the Gürtel;
- Taking advantage of Vienna’s location in central Europe and taking impulsive adventures to Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovenia;
- Falling in love with the art of Egon Schiele and the other Viennese expressionists;
- Visiting the city of Graz in Steiermark and attending an Apfelblütenfest (Apple Blossom Festival) in the village of Puch;
- Picking a random district with my American classmates and just wandering through it for the day, becoming hopelessly lost and forging lasting friendships during the journey
- Hiking through the Wienerwald in Spring (or at least trying to!);
- Spending hours at the Secessiongebäude, Albertina, Leopold Museum, Academy of Fine Arts, Belvedere, 21er Haus, and so many other museums;
- Meeting and befriending local Austrians;
- Climbing to the top of the Kahlenberg in Döbling and seeing an absolutely stunning view of Vienna;
- Visiting former Bates German teaching assistant Anissa Kersche in Innsbruck, and trekking around the beautiful city and surrounding Alps with her.
Austria was a fairy-tale dream, and I do not exaggerate when I say my time in Vienna was the best time of my life. I encountered so many wonderful people and meaningful people who have completely changed the way I perceive the world.
I feel as if I entered and left Vienna a radically different and more mature person, and this experience was critical to my personal and intellectual growth. A part of me will always be in Austria, and there is nothing I want more than to return to Vienna.