Monday, May 4, 2009

Reflections on My Semester in Vienna

It is hard to believe that in less than two weeks, I will be back home, in my own country, my own town, my own home. After being in Europe for twelve full weeks already, it would be misleading to say that I am not excited to get back to the United States, but I leave this continent with the confidence and hope that I will one day return to continue my travels. The memories made during these past three months will long remain with me, and as I continue to grow and develop, I know that my experiences here will serve me very well in the years and decades to come.

Spending a semester abroad is a chance that far too few people take advantage of, and in spite of my early hesitancy at leaving my home and family for so long, I am happy that I decided to travel to Vienna to continue my education. My eyes have been opened to new and different ways of living, to a different culture with different norms and values. While my German still may not be as great as I originally hoped, I cannot help but be impressed at the journeys-- both geographical and intellectual-- I have taken these past several months. From Vienna, Rome, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Munich, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Prague, I have been exposed to the best that Europe has to offer. Whether it was looking down at the gladiatorial ring in the Colosseum or up at the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin, I often found myself in awe at the history and culture of a continent that was, for most of human history, at the center of the world. Yet it was not only the traveling and the history that made this semester so memorable. I have been fortunate enough to meet a talented (and above all fun) group of eleven other students who have made my time in Europe exciting and go by all-too-fast. The laughs and memories that we have made since arriving will never be forgotten, and I hope that they have enjoyed my company as much as I have enjoyed theirs.

At the same time, it was not only my fellow students that have impacted me. I was lucky enough to go to Europe with a family that has been very accommodating, kind, and fun-loving. Professor Tullio has enhanced my love for film for example, and now I am seriously considering doing something with film studies for graduate school. Our Program Director, Tom, was always prepared and on top of things; I never got lost while following him (in fact, it seemed as though I had difficulty when he wasn't around!) on our excursions, and he often went out of his way to ensure that our class trips went as smoothly as possible. Last, but certainly not least, there were two young kids that I have shared many fun times with. Whether it was playing Star Wars on the computer (and around town too!) with Oliver, or trying to "escape" from the blockades that Lilly often set up, I always found myself with a smile on my face when I was around them. I hope that as they grow older they remember the fun times we had together; I know I will.

Though it is hard to peg down the things that I liked "most" and "least" about my time abroad, I feel that I should, in accordance with our culture's fondness for rankings, talk about the places and events that were my favorite. Though I liked all the cities I visited, Berlin, Germany is definitely my favorite. It is the city I would be most likely to return to next time I visit Europe. My love of history found much nourishment there, especially in terms of the history of the Third Reich. Germany itself is a country that has done much to remember and preserve its past, and consequently, there is so much to see. Visiting the Olympic Stadium, House of the Wannsee Conference, The Brandenburg Gate, and the countless memorials, I was completely absorbed. What is more, Berlin is a city that is always moving; there is always something to see and somewhere to go, even after the museums have closed in the evening. In terms of Vienna, the city where I spent the majority of my time while in Europe, I have much praise to give as well. It is one of the cleanest major cities I have ever been to, and the history, as in Berlin, is well-preserved. Having a local professor, Heinz Kr├Âll (who is without a doubt one of the most knowledgeable men I have ever met) to take us on excursions around the city helped to unlock the secrets of Vienna, many of which I would otherwise not have known about.

The Soviet War Memorial in Berlin, Germany
In conclusion then, it is obvious that my time in Europe has been overwhelmingly positive. The people, professors, and places that have formed the core of these past three months have made this experience one of the best of my life. As I am graduating in less than a year, I can confidently say that my time spent abroad is the best semester I have had in my undergraduate career. While I am ready and excited to return to the American culture and way of life (and I return with a stronger and more firm love of my country than before), I look forward to the next time I travel to a foreign country. While I may not travel alone, however, it is unlikely that my next trip will approach this one in terms of how much I get to do or see. And even though this is the end of one journey, it is also the beginning of another, as I prepare for graduation and my entry into the so-called "real world." In closing, then, it seems appropriate to cite a quote (one of my favorites) from Winston Churchill, who said:

"Now this is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

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