As a record number of Franciscan students arrived for the spring semester in Austria this past week, the school was brimming with students wanting to explore, adventure, and trip-plan. Each student wanted to begin his or her own “Austrian Experience” in a big way.
Coming into this experience, I, too, was excited for all the big moments — the trip to Rome and Assisi, cliff jumping, and exploring the islands of Greece on segues. But if I have taken one thing out of this past week, it is how inspiring the little moments can be. From walking through a town without distracting billboards to a city where most people prefer nature walks to watching Netflix, Austria is a place that allows you to notice aspects of life you have never before appreciated.
This past week, I had the opportunity to go on a hike through the foothills of Austria. Hikes have quickly become the favorite activity of many students in Gaming, partly because of Austria’s beauty, and partly because it is one of the only activities that is completely free! A large group of about 20 of us set out with only a roughly sketched map to find a well-known waterfall on a nearby mountain.
Along the way, we encountered a babbling brook with water so clear that we could drink out of it. The trails were dotted with massive piles of logs hinting at the fireplaces many Gaming residents use to heat their houses. Later, we passed by a pasture of majestic horses.
Two hours later and in the pitch dark, it had become clear that we were lost and would not end up finding the waterfall that day. Although we never made it to our destination and by all means should have been disappointed, we realized that the trip was far from a waste. The adventure was worth it, regardless of whether or not we arrived at our planned destination. We also noticed that we had all become much better friends, simply through this single experience.
I think the biggest reason why everyone is able to get so much enjoyment out of something like a simple hike is because of the sense of wonder we all have for Gaming. In Philosophy of the Human Person with Dr. Wolter, we have been learning about the gift of wonder. Basically, it is the ability to see the world with the same sense of awe and innocence that a young child has.
This wonder is easy to experience in Europe. In fact, a familiar picture over in Gaming is that of a sea of students with their mouths wide open— jaws literally dropped in amazement of the surrounding beauty. Because for the students, every day, every view, every mountain stream is something new and fascinating.
Gaming is special in that way, as it throws students into a completely different environment that is both terrifying and exciting and calls the students to reevaluate how they see the world. Best of all, everyone gets to go through the experience together and in one of the most awe-inspiring places in the world.
And I believe that is one of the most distinguishable gifts of Austria — the sense of wonder it inspires in us all.