Well, here I am, writing my last Austria column. This semester has gone by in the blink of an eye, and I feel like it was just yesterday that I was sharing with you all both my excitements and apprehensions for the semester, both my joys and my fears.
Pushing through our final weeks in Gaming, we here at the Kartause are currently immersing ourselves in yet another aspect of Austrian culture: holidays and festivities. While Thanksgiving is obviously not celebrated on this side of the pond, we do get to mark the occasion with an Austrian ball: Women will be donning dirndls, and men will be sporting lederhosen, and well-dressed pairs of the two will learn different folk dances. In addition, we students get to join Gaming residents as we stroll around the Advent market, trying traditional foods and possibly running into Krampus. And the few of us who are still traveling this weekend are pretty much staying within Austria, tired of Paris and London, appreciating the simple beauty of the Austrian countryside.
But, while Austria’s great and all, here’s how I would personally like to utilize my last words in this column: talking about how much I truly love living in America and how I cannot wait to go back.
Everyone is always elated before beginning their semester abroad; many who have never left the country before have this very idealized vision of how Europe will be, how it will be this beautiful place of adventure and opportunity. And don’t get me wrong, it definitely is all it’s cracked up to be in that regard. But at the moment, every fellow student to whom I speak actually cannot wait to go home. Europe is great, but America is home. And there truly is no place like home.
Right now, I really miss American Thanksgiving. I also miss having pancakes, waffles and bacon for breakfast (as opposed to just plain bread). I miss tortilla chips at sports bars, and I really miss not paying for public bathrooms.
But these are all, admittedly, trivial things. What I think everyone here truly misses is the country and culture around which they’ve built their lives, in which their families have grown up and in which they’ve learned, grown and made friends.
Being away truly makes you grateful for what you have back home. It is far too easy for us to complain about the stank and crime in dirty little Steubenville. But right about now, I would give so much for a coffee date at Leo’s, a midnight trip to Walmart and a simple hang-out with the many friends I left behind to come here. I did not predict feeling this way at the beginning of the semester, but right now, I really miss our campus, our town, our professors and everything that makes our home what it is.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is definitely truth to the old saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
A few nights ago, the branch of the Veritas Society here in Gaming put on a debate in the Kartause asking if European culture was superior to American culture. Many people seem to hold this idea, and it’s not necessarily wrong. Europe was built on hundreds of years of Catholicism and, while obviously much less faithful now, is still standing on those strong foundations. But you better believe that, at this debate, the crowd was angrily and eagerly chanting in support of their home, the United States of America. There’s a reason that America is infamous as the most patriotic country in the world — we do a good job of seeing the good in our culture, despite all the bad, and being grateful for what we have.
As I dress up in my dirndl this weekend and indulge in schnitzel for the last time, I will be looking fondly at this culture that I’ve gotten to know this semester, while also saying goodbye to it for the sake of returning to the place I love even more.
If there’s anything this semester abroad has given us, I believe, it’s a wider perspective — a wider perspective of both what treasures are out there in the rest of the world and also what treasures we already enjoy in our seemingly mundane lives in Steubenville.