They say that home is where the heart is, and I found that to be true when I was in Vienna this past summer. I was initially really nervous about studying abroad. I’d never been out of the country before (aside from my 5 month stint in Vietnam before I was adopted when I was a baby) and I’d never been 5,000 miles away from my family. So on top of worrying that I wouldn’t know too much about Austrian culture and would commit a severe faux pas, I was worried about not feeling comfortable and missing home too much, a thing I’m sure many people who study abroad or go to a new place feel. I kind of didn’t want to go. I had spent 20 years home and happy in Alabama. Why would I jeopardize my streak like that?
Meeting my host mom for the first time was nerve-wracking. I was supposed to meet her hours after I had landed in Vienna, meaning after very little sleep on the plane and without a proper shower before. Would she be nice? Would she expect me to speak German well? Would she like me? All of these questions were going through my mind as I lugged my fifty pounds of luggage around the city, anxiously awaiting the first time I would meet “Doris”, who up until that point was just a name I read in an email.
The time finally came to meet the woman I was going to be living with for five weeks. She spoke English, so that was great. The first thing she did was take my bags for me, all of them, without my asking her to (This was both nice and off-putting.), then she took me and my roommate to a parade. And it was at that moment that I realized I was okay, because she did a lot of things that my mom would have done and a lot of things my mom told me to do.
As the weeks passed, it became clearer and clearer that Doris was a lot like my mom (except she never told me to clean my room), and I became more and more comfortable. Vienna is a pretty big city, certainly a lot bigger than Auburn and my even smaller hometown of Centreville. Not everyone in the city spoke English or spoke good English, so I had to speak German as best I could to get around (which was fine because that’s what I was studying abroad for). I didn’t know all of the customs and I definitely acted like an American (Who sits at a restaurant for 5 hours?), but at Doris’s the only really major difference from home was that I didn’t have to share a bathroom with eight other people. Doris has a really big heart and she is very, very nice. She made me and my roommate lunch every day and she helped us with our homework and taught us how to cook certain Austrian foods. She still sends me messages almost daily, updating me about what’s going on in her life and making plans for my future visits.
Thanks to my homestay, I ended up really enjoying my time in Vienna, despite the long class days and the almost consistent getting lost (I always found myself on the same street, just meters away from the U.S. Embassy.), and what’s even better is that because of this initial study abroad experience I’m looking to go abroad again soon. I’m applying for the Fulbright, hoping to go back to Vienna and my home away from home.
— Catherine Tabor
AU Liberal Arts – Summer Program in Vienna, Austria