From Anfängerin to Austrian: An ab initio year abroad

[I actually wrote this while I was still in the UK, but due to not having any internet until today I wasn’t able to upload it. So here you go! Servus from Kitzbühel!]

As the second half of my year abroad begins, I figured that it’s time for a little story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. No yawning!

Once upon a time, there lived a naïve first year called Helen who came to university to study English Language and French. Unbeknownst to Helen before her arrival, first years had to choose three subjects to study until the following summer, so she plumped for German. As the year progressed, it transpired that English Language was the ugly sister of French and German, and a disenchanted Helen decided to drop it completely. German, on the other hand, became a firm favourite and she decided to change her degree to study the two foreign languages. Two and a half years on from that fateful freshers’ week, Helen discovers that her new hometown of Kitzbühel is her Prince Charming.

Admittedly, the transition from German newbie to year abroader wasn’t as easy as that. After my first ever lesson, during which the teacher had spoken only in German, I remember walking out of the class grumbling “How am I going to learn this gobbledygook?!” and telling my flatmates that I’d made the wrong choice. But at some point during those first twelve months, things started to come together. I was still confused by those dastardly cases and I’d often use the wrong gender, but I was beginning to actually speak the language.

Then came and things took a turn for the worst. That spring, I’d decided to spend a couple of weeks in Germany during July in order to help my speaking skills. Being a poor student, I chose a Help Exchange: work in exchange for food and a bed. I found what sounded like the perfect set-up just a train ride from Berlin, which would involve helping out at a riding school during their summer camp. You can read about the positive aspects of my experience on this article. In summary: My German did improve, I made a couple of good friends with whom I’m still in touch, and the horsey aspect was brilliant. However, after realising that what I’d got into was not at all what I expected, I had to leave (read: flee) early. But that’s another story!

Fortunately, second year came around and my love for everything German was restored. When it came to selecting our year abroad choices, I plumped for the language assistant role in Austria rather than Germany. I confess this was a decision largely motivated by my love for The Sound of Music, but I also was keen to live in a postcard-perfect Alpine town and learn to ski. My dirndl dream came true when I was placed in Kitzbühel, located in the Tyrol.

Knowing my track record with German, my Austrian adventure may well turn into a comedy of errors… stay tuned!


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