Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Grüß Gott!" It's been 10 Years

It's been 10 years since I first said those words, "Grüße Gott!". (pronounced groose got)

10 years ago, at the age of 19, I spent my fall semester of college in Europe.
I was very fortunate, as it didn't matter what your major was. It was the basic core classes offered, staffed with American (mostly) professors, English speaking. I (an Education major) was there with pre-med students, nursing students, theology, was pretty cool.

Truly a unique situation, compared with other university's overseas program.

In the foothills of the Austrian Alps lay the gorgeous campus.
If you can even really call it that.
We lived in a 14th century monastery-turned-housing-for-students.
Incredible architecture, with even more incredible scenery.
Many times I've thought that this semester, alone, made the student loan debt worth it.

I flew over from South Carolina to Austria by myself.

Never flown more than a few hours, and off I want. My family walked me to the gate (it was pre 9-11).
I was nervous as all get out.
But, it was the only way. My gracious parents redeemed their frequent flyer miles for my ticket, but it required me to leave the day before the rest of the group (could have met up with the other students at the JFK airport). I flew over solo, then stayed by myself in a Vienna hotel for one night until I could meet up with my group.

Talk about nervous!

I did have jet lag (6 hour time difference, I think). I remember being awake in the middle of the night at the hotel, and the only English-speaking thing I could find on TV was Powerpuff Girls. Remember them? LOL
Oh the memories that stick out.

The campus was in the tiny town of Gaming. No student had a car (how would we?), so walking was what we did. We'd walk just down the road for the bank, the SPAR grocery store, the bar Urs. You know, the essentials.
The locals seemed to enjoy our American company, most of the time. As we'd pass on the street, we'd nod and say "Grüße Gott!".
At first I felt silly saying it, but by the end of the semester, I came home feeling funny not saying it here.

I could go on & on about the daily life there. And since this is one of those posts that's for me, anyway, it's tempting. I can't devote that much time right now, though. Maybe at a later date, when I can scan pictures to add (oh yes, this was also before everyone had a digital camera).

I feel so incredibly blessed to have traveled and experienced all that I did.
It's a whirlwind of emotions to think about. In some aspects it feels like it never happened. You know, it was before 9-11, before the Millennium, even before the Euro became the norm. (we used shillings)
But this semester was such a transformation for me.

My spiritual life finally became my own. My experiences, I'm sure, led me to develop that true personal relationship with God.

I felt more cultured.
I felt more grown up.

Some things and places to note:
-I've traveled to: Vienna, Salzburg, Poland, Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Prague, Switzerland, Lichtenstein.

-Poland was pleasantly surprising. Not just because it's cheap. Nor because the language is ultimately confusing.
Poland was beautiful in its own way. Poland had amazing souvenirs.
Poland had Auschwitz.
I walked the grounds that the prisoners of the concentration camps died on.
I touched the prison cell where St. Maximilian Kolbe was such a witness to Christ.
I was inches away from the big dome where they burned the bodies of the poor victims.
I noticed that, around Auschwitz, you really didn't hear birds chirping. Even with the sun out.
I walked through the buildings, now set up in museum fashion.
I saw a glass case full of toys and dolls that belonged to little kids. Little kids that suffered there.

Talk about a lesson in humanity. Auschwitz and Burkenau were the hardest places I've ever seen, but so necessary.

On a brighter note, most things weren't so depressing or deep.

Like Salzburg.
I toured and saw where The Sound of Music was made.
I enjoyed the best Irish pub in Salzburg.
I had my first Cafe Mocha in Salzburg.
I toured Mozart's bith place.

I went to Oktoberfest in Germany. Too bad I didn't really like beer back then.

I toured the Eiffel Tour, and saw the daily countdown flash across it in anticipation of the Millennium.

I had the very best Italian food and wine of ANY PLACE in Assisi.
I toured Vatican City. We went down into the catacombs. I went to Confession at one of the major Basilicas.
I saw Pope John Paul II. I was down there, looking up at him in his window as he prayed over us.

My parents came over for parents' week, and with their rental car we drove to Switzerland. I remember driving through a 6 mile tunnel, feeling queasy from it.

I remember doing shots of Grappa with my parents in downtown Zurich, and seeing my mother's most hysterical facial expression as the alcohol burned her throat.

I fell in love with Prague. Ironically, Prague is a part of my heritage, as my father is 50% Bohemian.
I was homesick for the States while in Prague, so my friend Kelly and I ate at a Dunkin' Donuts and a TGI Fridays, in PRAGUE.

I remember my gondola ride while in Venice. I can still smell the fish odor all around.
And boy, do I ever remember that delicious gelato! American gelato does not even compare.

Consequently, I remember gaining nearly 10 pounds that semester, too.

I remember setting off on a train with friends, only knowing the city of our destination. We did not know where we'd be sleeping, or the expense it would be. God provided. We always wound up in a mostly-safe hostel, sometimes a hotel.

Ireland...oh sweet homeland. I remember Ireland, but I've shared that before. I'll go back one day.

I remember buying something small for my niece in every single country. I remember buying rosaries for each sibling of mine, having them blessed by the Pope.

I remember going to the shrine of St. Philomena in Italy, and offering many prayers there for my brother that is mentally ill.

I remember not liking Europe when I first arrived (culture shock), and crying so hard when it was time to leave. I grew accustomed to it. It became my temporary way of life.

One of the most beautiful sights? Seeing the snow blanket the area. Looking up at the massive mountains-the Alps-and seeing them covered with white.

I firmly believe that everyone, if possible, should experience uprooting yourself from your own comfort zone, and experiencing the many other cultures out there. I feel so strongly about this, I will do whatever it takes for my kids to have the same experience.

It's been 10 years, which feels like a lifetime. I miss it, still.
Austria was amazing. The semester over there was life changing for me.
Never again will I have such an opportunity.

I thank God I was able to go, even if I am still paying for it. ;)
And of course, I thank my parents for making it possible.

I could go on with so many more stories, but this is longer than I expected, already.
If you read even this far, thank you. It's great to share some of my most incredible life moments.


Sue said...

well, i'm a little sad my bday post didn't stick a full day but this does make me think of the yummy cake we had for you before you abandoned your goddaughter. ;)
perhaps you'll make it back there before another 10yrs are up! (this time "just say no" to the cigs.

the JOHNSON family said...

Sharon, you just took me on a wonderful trip down memory lane. I was there the semester after you but so many of my experiences and emotions were the same as yours. Michael and I HAVE to get back there someday! You do too.....start saving an Austria change jar!

Greg said...

I'm jealous!!

Bethany said...

It's SO weird to read this because most of it I could have written. Amazing that even though we went years apart the program and places mostly stay the same. I miss the Spar, and Urs and saying "Grüße Gott!" How fun would it be to go back?!?!

Tim said...

Sharon, I almost cried reading this... I miss it so much! What a wonderful, crazy, amazing time we had over there!!! I was an 18-year-old kid when I went, and a much more confident adult when I left... at least, that's how it felt! I felt like I could do ANYTHING after that.
We never had a honeymoon so we are hoping to go there someday when the kids are grown up enough... Gaming and Lourdes, anyway! And yes, we do have a change jar. ;) (Unfortunately we've had to dig into it a few times... but we'll get there eventurally. ;) )
*Sigh* 10 years later, Gaming still feels like home!

Nell said...

This is the coolest post! You're a cool gal my friend.


Chrissy said...

I can't believe it has been 10 years either! What an amazing time. I miss it too. It is nearly painful thinking about what an amazing time that was. You really captured it though. thanks.

Erin said...

10 years, wow! One day I'll go back, hopefully.