What studying abroad taught me

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There are so many things I could say about how my study abroad experience was the best three months of my life (because it was), but I want to start off by explaining the things I learned during this time. I truly was pushed out of my comfort zone and did go through some hard weeks, but overall I had the best time of my life with people I truly love and adore so much.

I am still processing most of these, but here are the main things I learned during my 90 days of traveling:

Life isn’t about being perfect. It is about enjoying every single moment. I learned that life is truly what you make it and your attitude has the biggest effect on your day. I find myself trying to be perfect and my classmates helped me realize that I just need to be myself, mistakes and all. This is life and it is truly beautiful, crazy, amazing, confusing, and sad. Embrace it all!

Things don’t always go the way you plan, but they might turn out to be an awesome story later. Also, things can turn out to be way better than you planned…

I know that my future husband will need to have a love for travel and adventure. I won’t always want to go on adventures by myself 🙂

Don’t be afraid to try new things. Before going abroad, I always viewed traveling and going to other countries as just a dream, now I know that things are not as out-of-reach as I thought. Now I will definitely consider my possibilities abroad after college and before I would have never even considered finding a job or internship in another country. I’ve learned that if you don’t try new things, you will always be stuck in the same routine and mindset. Trying new things is definitely worth the risk!

How to be friends with guys… this one is probably really funny, but before I studied abroad I didn’t really have any guy friends. We had a lot of really great guys on our trip and I am so happy that I can call some of them my best friends now.

You don’t need a lot of STUFF and ALWAYS pack lighter than you think! I seriously realized that I own way too much and life is truly simpler without a bunch of “things”.

I learned to be more confident in my decisions and that I need to rely less on others to make decisions for me. Although I still have a lot to work on when it comes to my confidence, I feel like I have grown a lot and I am not afraid to do things on my own.

One of the things I learned from one of the classes I was taking is that it is perfectly okay to ask questions and be honest with God. He doesn’t expect us to have all the answers and he doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He wants us to live our lives in sync with Him, including Him in the good and the bad.

XO, Lana

Kahlenberg hike (Class post #13)

IMG_4176This group hike up Kahlenberg was the perfect way to end our study abroad trip!

Kahlenberg is a hill located in district 19 in Vienna. It is right outside of the city and is a perfect day trip if you are looking to get into nature and get out of the city. It is easily accessible if you take the U4 (green line) all the way to the end and then catch the 38A bus to the top! There is a perfect overlook of Vienna located near the small church, St. Josef.

Kahlenberg was uninhabited until the 18th century. It used to be where wild pigs lived and houses were built after Emperor Ferdinand II took the mountain. Today it contains lots of vineyards and paths where people bike and take walks.

Our group took the bus to the top and then spent some time looking out at the city. After hiking halfway down, we stopped to have our last group devotional. It was nice to worship with these people again and realizing how close we had become over the three months was so special. We took communion and shared things we had learned and were thankful for. I shared that I was thankful for God’s goodness because he has definitely been so so good to me in the past 90 days. Looking back I can see that God was there during the trip even when I was having an off day. He has blessed me with so many new friends and a new perspective on life. Seeing Him work in my classmates lives and changing us has been so sweet. I am very thankful for having had this experience and being able to see God in so much of the world.

After finishing our time together in the vineyards we enjoyed a delightful dinner at a cute restaurant a little further down the mountain. We ate our final Wienerschnitzel and Apfelstrudel and were entertained by two awesome musicians!

I enjoyed my experience walking through Kahlenberg and hiking through the beautiful vineyards. I wish I would have known about Kahlenberg earlier so I could have gone a few more times. I would recommend that anyone who visits Vienna go at least once to see the countryside and the gorgeous view of the city.

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Auschwitz and Birkenau (Class post #11)

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Located in Poland, these two concentration camps have been the points of so many horrific things during World War II when the Nazis persecuted millions of Jews and political prisoners.

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I’ve learned about the Holocaust (1941 to 1945) all throughout school and going to Auschwitz and Birkenau was such an eye-opening experience. It wasn’t as sad as I expected though. The place was actually kind of beautiful and the birds were really chirping. It was hard for me to imagine the horrible things that took place in that very same location.

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The few things that did seem real to me were the gas chambers, the living situations, and the place where many people in the concentration camps were hung or shot. Those things made the horror come to life for me. The trip really got me thinking about just how many people were involved in the Holocaust. It wasn’t just the Nazis, but it included regular people who just went along with it like the train drivers, the office workers, or the people signing the paperwork. I was in disgust when our tour guide was explaining that the people who got to clean the “bathrooms” had the safest and best job because there were kept from harms way and they could go to the restroom whenever they needed to throughout the day. So sad!!

The most emotional part for me was seeing all of the items left over from the victims. Literally everything was taken from them including their hair, shoes, and suitcases to be used for the Nazis benefits. Just seeing how many shoes were in the display made me sick. It made the amount of people come to life in my mind and realize that it was a real thing. Those shoes belonged to real people who had real lives and they were destroyed for no reason at all.

Thinking about when the Holocaust occurred and seeing where it happened in real life made me realize that it really wasn’t that long ago that all of this happened. My great grandma was alive during it!! I am glad I got to experience it, but I know I will never be able to feel what the people felt or went through. It really made me rethink humanity and the way people treat each other. It makes me want to love others and to teach others how to love also.

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Stephansdom (Class post #8)

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View from the top!

This was one of the first churches that I saw in Vienna and I was just amazed by how big it was and how old it was! Buildings in the United States do not even compare anymore after seeing the beautiful cathedrals. St. Stephan’s Cathedral was the idea of Duke Rudolph IV and was built on top of two older churches. The first building (the ruins of the church before the current one) began in the 1100s.

Stephansdom is a Romanesque church that has been updated with Gothic style aspects. I recently went to the top of the tower in St. Stephen’s Cathedral. I’ll never forget climbing up the 300 some steps to the top and not being able to stop because there are no landings. It was very tiring, but the breeze and the view at the top were worth it! As I was going up the steps, I noticed the thick, Romanesque walls and small windows. From the top, the view of the city was amazing! I could see the Belvedere Palace and all of the other churches around the city. Vienna looked so much smaller than it seems.

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The inside of the cathedral is also very beautiful. It has 18 altars and has 6 chapels! The tombs of Eugene of Savoy and Frederick III are located in the cathedral. I went to an English mass one evening at Stephansdom and I was just amazed that a church so old was still having services. There was actual upbeat, modern music being sung and the message was great! It was one of my favorite masses that I had been to since being in Europe (maybe because I could understand what was happening). I am also amazed at how the cathedral can function so well as both a museum and as an active church.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral is definitely one of the things I am going to miss from Vienna. I’ll miss walking to Stephansplatz and seeing it surrounded by all of the modern buildings. It is just such a pretty sight and an important landmark in Vienna.

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Kunsthistoriches Museum (Class post #12)

This is one of the famous museums in Vienna located in the Museums Quarter in the 10th district. It was opened on the RingstraĂźe in 1891 at the same time as the Natural History Museum by Emperor Franz Joseph I. The museums were originally built to find a “suitable” place for the Hapsburg’s art and to make it available to the public. These buildings were built in Neo-Classical style and they are practically “twin” buildings.

Some of the famous artists that have work currently inside the museum are Jan van Eyck, Albrecht DĂĽrer, Rembrandt, and Pieter Brueghel the Elder. The museum has collections of art mainly from the 17th century, but it also includes Greek and Roman ceramics and treasures.

I was really interested in looking at all of the paintings and the Hapsburg artwork. I just love the way that paintings were treasured back then and I feel like I have a new appreciation for art now. Today we appreciate art in a new way and I really think looking at all of these paintings has given me a sense that they took pride in their work. It is fun to look at the silly portraits and I really love the paintings of landscapes.

Here is the one picture I took in the museum because I was excited to see “ancient” American money:

IMG_3986This American $20 bill was in the coin collection in the museum. There were coins and money from lots of different countries in different time periods. It was so fun to see the different coins that were used as money! Some were super tiny and others were very large. It amazes me that something as simple as a tiny silver coin could be worth so much value. It really made me evaluate my thoughts on money and why people spend so much time trying to acquire so much of it. If you put it in terms of the small tiny coins (or a simple piece of paper), it seems ridiculous to me to spend so much time trying to get small, silver coins. I guess the value of money just went down in my mind.

Romermuseum (Class post #9)

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The Romermuseum was opened in May of 2008 and is located in the Hoher Markt across from the Anker Clock. It was redone in 2007 to be more accessible for the public and to bring in more visitors and tourists.

We visited the Romermuseum in Vienna early on in the semester and I found it interesting to see the ruins of the medieval city underground! It really gave me an idea of how old the city of Vienna is and how it has been through so much history. Since it was so early on in the semester, at the time I couldn’t believe that remains that old could still exist. After a while in Europe, I got used to all of the old buildings and realizing that things last longer than I realize! While looking at the ruins, it amazed me just thinking about how so long ago people lived there and did daily life right there where I was looking. It is weird thinking that I was in a museum staring at a place that used to be someone’s home probably.

We got to see old limestone with ancient carvings on them, old pots and homemade clay jars, and lots of everyday items such as scissors, pencils, keys, safety pins, q-tips, and light bulbs that were used in different forms in the medieval ages. I thought it was so cool how they used different items for the same purposes that we do today! They were so smart and I was amazed to learn at how advanced people were during the Roman ages. These items helped us see how they lived life in Vienna in the Roman times and gave us an inside scoop on their lifestyles.

One thing that was really interesting to me was looking at the different tombs and tombstones that the Romans used. We got to see how tombs transformed through the ages. They used huge rocks and limestone to make tombs and the tomb stones were shaped in all different kinds of shapes. I never really thought about how people were buried differently back then, but these stones in the museum gave me an idea of what that would have looked like.

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Mauthausen (Class post #10)

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Mauthausen is one of the largest concentration camps in Austria. It is located 12 miles east of the city of Linz. It was in operation from 1938 to May 1945. This camp was mainly a labor camp where “workers” carried granite and worked in mines. The conditions of living were terrible and the Jews and prisoners there mostly died because of disease and harsh conditions. Towards the end of the camp, a gas chamber was installed and used for extermination before the war ended.

Here is an excerpt from my handwritten Mauthausen journal entry: “Today was a busy day! We got on a bus at 8:15am and left for Mauthausen, the largest Austrian concentration camp.

When we arrived, it was up on top of a hill, pretty hidden from the rest of the small country town. Don’t let that fool you though, throughout the tour we were reminded that the town knew what was happening and that it seemed like they were okay with it (or at least they were scared to resist).

I’ve seen what concentration camps look like in movies and learned about them, but nothing made it really real to me until I saw it in real life. I know I will never experience what the people and prisoners there went through and I don’t need to worry about it, but I can’t believe that these horrible things happened. Walking through the buildings they were sleeping in (in terrible conditions) and walking through the gas chambers was so horrifying. Seeing the cremation stoves and imagining how they were herded into the dark, basement gas chambers made me want to cry.

During the whole tour we were freezing! My toes were completely numb and I had on plenty of layers. This made the whole thing even more real for me knowing that many innocent people lived there in the harsh winter with barely any clothes or heat. I felt a lot of pain from the coldness, but nothing compared to what they experienced.

All throughout the camp there were memorials put up from countries all over the world representing the different people and groups that were impacted by the camp. There was also a room full of all of the names of people that died there. There were so many. It is unbelievable.”