I want to make a quick interjection from the maddening chronology of this blog. I promise to go back and fill in the blanks between March 15 and April 15 because goodness knows there is much to say, but for now I want to talk about the events of and leading up to this past Tuesday. I must say, it feels strange talking about something that didn’t happen an entire month ago.
One of the requirements of my study abroad program through Lipscomb University is that each student participates in a community service project. I started thinking about how I could possibly give back to a city that I feel has offered me so much during these past 3 months. During this brainstorming process, I realized that one of my greatest regrets of this entire program has been that I have been so busy with constant schoolwork and travel that I haven’t gotten to form relationships with any Austrians, or anyone outside our small Lipscomb University community of 20. And what better way to give back than to give of yourself? So, five of my classmates and I, for our service, organized an English (and German) Language Conversation Café.
We started by making a flyer that we could pass out at the Austro-American Institute and post on Facebook to spread the word. This was the biggest challenge of all in the planning process, because we wrote the flyer in both English and German, a true test of our language skills that we have gained in our time here. We posted the flyer all over Facebook and emailed it to any Austrian contacts we could find through our personal and Lipscomb University connections.
The day finally came. We decorated the conference room at Das Millicanhaus, bought WAY TOO MUCH food and coffee, and waited to see if anyone would show up. To our initial dismay, we only had three guests, but it ended up being much better that way. We got to know them much better than we would have had we been forced to entertain many more guests. Their names were Katrin, Maisa, and Teresa, and they were students in their 20s at the University of Vienna. Katrin was connected with Lipscomb University through a former study abroad student that had met her in Vienna in 2009, and Maisa and Teresa were two of her friends that she brought along with her.
The cliché that states that people are the same everywhere in the world is actually quite accurate. Our group of 6 was able to relate to these three girls in so many ways that it surprised us. We started by talking about each other’s education. Katrin is studying to be a mathematics and German teacher. Maisa and Teresa are both fashion design and merchandise students. It was easy, because they already spoke perfect English. They did try to mix it up a bit and speak to us in German so we could get some practice too, which we greatly appreciated.
They watch the same movies and TV shows and read the same books as us. Maisa and I were excited to find out that we shared the same favorite book, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the same favorite movie, Forrest Gump. They love American music, especially Beyonce. In fact, they told us a story about one time when they drove four hours two see her in concert for two hours and then four hours back the same night because they had class the next morning. They are young, and wild, and free, just like us. And it was refreshing to finally connect with people outside our own group. Not that we don’t love each other here at the Lipscomb in Vienna program, but it has been three months, and we see each other every day, all day.
One particularly interesting part of the conversation was when we were talking about the differences in the American definition of “dating” and that of the Europeans. For example, every young person in America knows that dating is synonymous in our vocabulary to being in an exclusive relationship. It is not quite as common for Americans to date multiple people at the same time, in the European sense, to go out on dates with one person one night and with another person the next night, just having fun. If this were to happen in America, usually one of the “dating” parties would get offended and feel cheated, even if the relationship has not been established as exclusive. Yes, it is much too complicated, and I believe the Europeans do the whole “love” thing a little bit better than we do. Sometimes I think young people in America take it way too seriously. You better not date anyone if you don’t see yourself potentially marrying them. In Europe, this perspective is laughable. If you happen upon a person in the dating process that seems like a winner, THEN you establish an official relationship, and it may or may not lead to marriage. That is not the main focus. The main focus is to be happy and have a good time in love.
After three hours of uninterrupted, stimulating conversation, we all realized it was getting pretty late. So we exchanged Facebook information and promised to keep in touch. In any good service, the people providing, myself included, get just as much fulfillment out of the experience, if not more, as the people being served. And I truly believe that happened today.