What the Wittgenstein?

When you’re a child, the world tells you, constantly, that you can do anything. However, I believe that one of the hardest lessons of growing up is realizing that you can’t do everything. I have always been the type to do it all, to be involved in everything, and to be the best. It seems to me that the older I get, the shorter the days become and the less and less that I can accomplish with a measly 24 hours. Unfortunately, as a student in a foreign country, this problem, disguised to outsiders in exotic glamour, is multiplied, magnified, and maddening.

Monday, February 17th

Before we left the good old United States of America, our professors warned us of the three stages of Culture Shock. Number One: The Honeymoon stage, in which everything around is a new, exciting adventure, a treasure trove waiting to be explored. Number Two: Disillusion, in which the culture, experience, and expectations become overwhelming and anger-inducing. Number Three: Home, in which you have learned to love living in this new place, and you begin to call it home.

Stage Two hit me like a freight train. Classes started to take their toll in ways that I had never experienced. I love school. I am good at school. But it becomes such a burden not having time to do everything I need to do and at the level I want to do it, not to mention that filling my days with endless assignments leaves me with no time to enjoy the beautiful city I live in. When I reached this realization, it had been just over two weeks into the program, and I realized that in those two weeks and some odd days, I had seen practically nothing of Vienna. I had seen plenty of the insides of my schoolbooks. I had exhausted my fingertips from incessant pounding on my laptop keyboard. But I had yet to visit a museum, contemplate a monument, or even get hopelessly and beautifully lost. This experience wasn’t even an experience. I didn’t feel like I was living at all, but merely existing, going through the motions in order to get as much accomplished as possible, but accomplishing nothing for myself and for the sake of my own heart and mind.

I had become increasingly distressed about my courses. On top of the incredulous homework loads, I felt like a failure in the classroom. In German, I had been losing confidence in my ability to learn because I could barely understand when the teacher would speak to me, and I felt like everyone else was progressing so much faster. In my other classes, I began to feel like discussions led nowhere. We were constantly talking in circles. Many people just don’t care. They want to get the grade and move on with their lives, but the learning doesn’t matter. Others either don’t get the point or have no desire to open their minds and move beyond their current modes of understanding. This is not education. Education should not be about learning to a test or eagerly swallowing a professor’s spoon-fed dogma in order to regurgitate it word for word.

After a long talk with my roommate about these feelings, all of which she shared, we decided that we needed an afternoon to decompress and do something purely for ourselves. Walking along the winding cobblestone paths in Vienna’s famous Schwedenplatz neighborhood, we found Shakespeare & Co. In this tiny English bookstore, I had an epiphany.

I am stressed and overwhelmed. My head is a tangled jumble of assignments, expectations, and deadlines. But the hardest part is realizing that in the midst of it all, I truly have forgotten to appreciate the beauty around me, the things in this city and in this world that ignite me with passion. In this cluttered room, adorned from floor to ceiling with the thoughts and passions that motivated, troubled, and ignited countless thinkers, I found my escape. I was reminded that I matter too, more than any deadline, more than anyone’s expectations for me. So I climbed a ladder; I found a book (or 3). And I spent a little time (and 57 Euro) on myself, getting lost and wonderfully confused in the words of Naomi Klein (a new discovery), Bertrand Russell (my favorite philosopher), and Ludwig Wittgenstein, an eccentric but uniquely brilliant Viennese philosopher (although his logical progressions make very little sense and his words have inspired great debate among philosophers as to their meaning, which no one can quite figure out). Wittgenstein, in spite of all his mystery, made perfect sense to me when he said, “What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.”

“What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.”

There is only so much that can be expressed in words. The rest simply must be shown. So, Mr. Wittgenstein, you caught me. I’m living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and I need to remember to really experience it, in ways that cannot be confined to the limits of the words on the pages of my schoolbooks.

shakespeare and co


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