When I told people that I would be spending part of my year abroad in Austria, it was terrifying how many people responded with “Do you speak Austrian, then?” *eye roll*
It’s a lot easier to travel to Austria than it is to, say, the United States, so why is this stunning Alpine country apparently so little known by us Brits? Aside from its obvious cultural connections (think Mozart, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and that film), Austria is also renowned for its ski resorts, amazing architecture, and scenery straight out of a tourist brochure.
My home for the next four months is Kitzbühel, a multi-coloured toytown nestled in a valley in the Tyrol region. I arrived by train on a wintery Monday evening and was collected by my new landlady. I live in a hostel in the centre of town, just 10 minutes from one of the schools I’ll be teaching at. As pathetic as it sounds, I was so happy to see that it was a real wooden chalet complete with snow-topped roof!
Let me explain what I’ll be doing here. I will be working as an English language assistant for the British Council, which can involve anything from holding conversation classes with a couple of students at a time, to teaching whole classes. My time will be split between two schools: one in Kitzbühel and one in the nearby town of Wörgl. Both schools are business schools and take pupils who are upwards of 13 years old.
I’ve been here for five days so far, and in that time I’ve been getting to know the town and its numerous nooks and crannies. I can’t believe how lucky I was to get placed here! The high street may seem beautifully quaint from a distance, but look closely at the buildings and you will notice a Louis Vuitton boutique tucked next to a newsagents and a Rolex shop sitting snugly near a supermarket. Kitzbühel is probably most famous for its annual Hahnenkamm ski race, which is held every January on the mountains that loom over the town. But it’s not just professionals who take to the slopes, because neon ski gear also seems to be the clothing du jour of the locals here.
I took the train to Innsbruck on Wednesday to buy everything I’d forgotten to stuff in my bulging suitcase. Innsbruck is the capital of the Tyrol, and while it is bigger than Kitzbühel, it is still on the small side for a city. But it’s a gem! As well as being perfect for a spot of retail therapy, the Altstadt has got some intricately designed buildings including the Imperial Palace. On a less classy note, I also caught a glimpse of the (in)famous ski jump which is currently playing host to a load of British “celebrities” for a Channel 4 show. Alas, I didn’t see Joey Essex pacing the aisles in H&M!
I’ve noticed quite a difference between the Austrians and their Swiss and German neighbours. I’m not implying that the latter two are miserable, but all the Austrians I have met so far have been so friendly and lovely! No doubt my British accent is horribly obvious and I make mistakes left, right and centre, but I am always met with (pitying?) smiles and warm greetings when I try out the local lingo. Even just walking down the road, it’s not uncommon to be bombarded with a cheerful “Grüß Gott!” by every passer-by.
Today I was able to visit the school in Kitzbühel for the first time, although I won’t be officially working there until a week on Monday. My tour guide for the day was fellow Brit Katie, the school’s current English assistant from whom I’ll be taking over. I was able to meet the English teachers who I’ll be working with over the coming term, and all of them were so welcoming. I was also given coffee and biscuits, which is always a bonus! I was also given the opportunity to watch some current students’ English presentations, which were really good. I can’t wait to start working there!
One peculiarity of this school (and perhaps other Austrian schools) was that all the pupils wore slippers! Not just slippers, actually: Crocs and Birkenstocks teamed with socks were also popular. Bearing in mind that the temperature outside is below freezing and there’s about a foot of snow, this seems very strange. The reasoning behind it, however, is sensible: The school doesn’t want lots of snow and slush being brought into the building, so the students use a cloakroom near the entrance to change out of their snow boots and into comfier shoes.
So I’m settling in well and have a week of travelling ahead before the hard work starts. Ich liebe dich, Kitzbühel!