To all my wonderful friends who have been diligently reading my blog, I thank you. I am sorry that I haven’t written since last week, but all that is about to change. And this is going to be a long one. Get excited. :)
First of all, I really do want to apologize for not writing recently. The technical difficulties initially made it impossible to access my computer. I had been borrowing the plug converter from a girl from Oklahoma, but then she left for London to travel around Europe for a month, taking her plug converter with her. That meant that I had only a limited amount of battery with no way to charge it until my new one came in the mail. That further meant that I had to ration my computer power, so I couldn’t take the time to blog. Then when I finally had a viable power source, I was really super tired, so I would go to bed instead of writing. Anyway, I am sorry. But now I can write again! Yay!
Wow, where to even begin? So much has happened in the last week that I can scarcely believe it. Let’s see...
My German class. It officially started last Thursday. I found out that I was placed in B1, which is the first level of intermediate. I’ll admit it was kind of disappointing; I thought my German was better than that, you know. Apparently not. I’ve kind of struggled with that during the last week, feeling like I failed or something, but my attitude has gotten much better. I absolutely love my classmates; there are 17 of them—all girls except Peter from Hungary. Jodie from Calgary, Canada, is also in the class, so we can walk there and back together, which is really nice. Our teacher is named Albert Eiler (?), and we all like him a lot. He’s kind of goofy, but I don’t think he realizes it, which makes it even more amusing. For instance, he really likes to sing (I’m pretty sure he said he is or used to be in a choir). He found out that three of my classmates were music majors or had been in choirs, so yesterday (the 9th), he brought an Austrian folksong and had us all sing it together. Only we didn’t just sing it. No, he split us up into two groups, sopranos (aka those of us who can’t sing at all) to do the melody and altos (experienced singers) to do the harmony. (Side note: he ended up moving one of the altos into the soprano group because we were that bad on our own.) And then—get this—he sang the third part… the extra-super-duper high part. No kidding. And he even had a portable tuner. Uh-huh. You have permission to laugh; I tried my best not to. It was really, really funny. He’s a good teacher, and I’m definitely enjoying his class. I’m glad I’m in it. Oh, and he has two guinea pigs, which officially makes him awesome in my opinion. :)
I think my German is getting better, but it’s hard to tell, especially since the Erasmus students seem to all speak English as their second language, rather than German. Speaking of Erasmus students, I love them! They are so, so, so cool! Technically, I’m not actually Erasmus, but according to the International office at this university, I get to pretend to be. I even got at Exchange-Student-Network (ESN) ID card with my picture on it. I feel so official. :) Last week, we had our first Stammtisch (regulars table) at a bar/restaurant called The Propeller. For all you Americans out there, let me take a moment to explain Stammtisch. It’s basically a group meeting, but instead of having it in a boring classroom, and fitting it into your schedule between other meetings that evening, and usually not having food but maybe having pizza if you’re lucky, Stammtisch meets at a tavern or bar, people drink and socialize, and you stay as long as you want. There’s no agenda, no stuff to do. You just get to talk and make friends until you decide to leave. Sounds pretty nifty, eh? We Americans could learn a lesson from that, I think. :) Ha ha.
Anyway, the Stammtisch was really fun. We had one last week (I guess it was actually a welcome party, but it was basically a Stammtisch) and then another one last night (the 9th). Normally, they are every other week. Via the Stammtisch, I’ve gotten to know people from Serbia, the Czech Republic, France, Croatia, Hungary, and all over. Another note: I find myself consciously avoiding Americans and not wanting anything to do with them. That hasn’t been hard to do; the majority of Amis seem to have come here to intoxicate themselves as often as possible, which means we haven’t had much of a chance to hang out. Also, I came here to make friends from all over the world and to improve my German. In other words, an American-only bubble would seriously cramp my style.
That being said, it’s kind of ironic that the best friend I’ve made here is an English-speaker from Canada. Her name is Jodie, and she lives two floors down. We get along really well and go most places together. She’s the best friend I’ve made her so far, and I am so thankful for her. One of my biggest fears about coming to Europe (aside from being safe) was that I wouldn’t make any good friends. Before I came here, I prayed a lot about it, asking God to bring someone along to be my friend. And as of right now, as far as I can tell, Jodie is definitely an answer to that prayer. I’m super duper thankful.
Oh, speaking of Jodie, guess what?! Next weekend (19th through 21st), Jodie and I are going to Budapest, Hungary! We booked our train ticket and hostel a couple days ago. I’m so excited! This will be my first real intra-Europe trip. Needless to say, I’m pretty pumped! :) But before that, I have this weekend to look forward to. The ESN put together a day-trip to Venice (auf Deutsch: Venedig). We leave Saturday morning at 5 am and come back Sunday morning at 1:30 a.m. It’s a five-hour ride via charter bus, and we get to be in Venice all day long. And in case you aren’t up-to-date on your Catholic holidays, let me state that this Saturday isn’t any old Saturday in Venice. No. It’s Carneval (or Fasching or Mardi Gras). In other words, it’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Steffi. I’m so excited! :) One big all-day party.
Speaking of parties, there are a lot of them here! Unlike OSU, the weekend starts on Wednesday, as far as parties go. In fact, there is a party tonight that Jodie and I might go to. I went to a party last week with a bunch of Erasmus students. As far as I can tell, Austrian parties and American parties are pretty similar, except here the beer is better (so I’ve heard) and there’s a lot more smoking. It seems like everyone smokes here, despite the size 108 font on the side of all cigarette cartons, reading, “Rauchen kann toedlich sein” or “Smoking can be deadly.” Even Marta, the Spanish girl who lives down the hall, smokes in her room. It’s crazy.
Speaking of living down the hall (Wow, I am all about the segues today, aren’t I?), I got another apartment-mate. But no, it’s not one of the Chinese girls. On the contrary, it’s a computer-science grad student from Santa Barbara, California. His name is Jonathan, and he is really, really sweet. He moved in on Saturday evening sometime, but I didn’t see him until Sunday afternoon. In the meantime, I was rather confused because suddenly a pair of HUGE Merrell shoes (like my size! So big!) and a Columbia jacket had materialized in the entry way and some manly Gillette deodorant had appeared in the bathroom. I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why a Chinese girl would use manly Gillette deodorant (with an English package, by the way) and how in the world a Chinese girl could have such gigantic feet. But then I met Jonathan, and realized quickly that he was not a Chinese girl. Ha ha. :) Anyway, like I said, he’s really nice. He’s 26 (or 27?), has a girlfriend of 6 years (I hope he gets engaged soon), is a genius at computers, and watches Glee. In other words, he’s officially cool in my book. :) On Sunday evening (and by “evening”, I mean really late) we went to the Propeller to watch the Super Bowl. But we only made it through Carrie Underwood’s national anthem before we realized we were too tired to stay. Congrats to the Saints, though. Way to win.
Hmmm…. What else? Oh, speaking of Sunday, I went to church! And by “went,” I mean that I walked to church in the snow an hour each way, but I made it! I’m learning that being in Austria has accentuated certain parts of my personality. For instance, it has made me even more outgoing than usual, since there are so many people to meet. On the other hand, though, it has also made me get lost a lot more. I’ve gotten really good at going in circles. It’s rather frustrating. I’m hoping that I’ll get better at finding my way around. On the bright side, though, hopefully all the walking will help me work off all the incredible chocolate in which I have been indulging. Anyway, it should have taken me 45 minutes to get to church, but it lasted at least an hour because I accidentally went way the hey out of my way. In the end, though, it was definitely worth it. I arrived in the middle of the sermon, but in time for Communion and some worship songs. I underestimated how cool it would be to go to an Austrian church, to fellowship with other believers in a foreign country and to sing and pray and take part in a worship service in German. Wow. So amazing. After the service, I moseyed over to the area where the college students were congregating. I met some really nice people, including a 20-year-old med student named Lisbeth (in Europe, you don’t have undergrad. You go straight to specialty schools, like medical school. Crazy, huh?). Lisbeth is really sweet; we talked for about 30 minutes after church, and she invited me to her small group Bible study on Tuesday (last night, Feb 9th). I went (and got severely lost along the way) only to find out once I got there that it had been cancelled because the girl leading it was ill. But all was not lost; I got to spend an hour-and-a-half chatting (auf Deutsch!) with Lisbeth and her older sister Clara. I hope I get to hang out with them more in the future, and I’m so thankful that God led me to their church this week.
Speaking of God, He has been teaching me so much: about trusting Him, about having faith in His plan, and about relying on Him to provide. I’ve gotten to see God’s hand so much in this first week in Austria, and I feel so very blessed. He has been so faithful to me, proving His faithfulness again and again, in both the big and the small things. He brought me my friend, Jodie. He had Jonathan move into the room down the hall, bringing with him extra converter plugs, one of which I am using right now. He put me in the class where I have made so many friends. When I got lost on the way to church, He led me to a flower shop that happened to be open on Sundays (nothing in Austria is open past 7 p.m. on weekdays. And NOTHING is open on Sundays), so I could ask directions. When I got to Lisbeth’s house last night and my phone wouldn’t work, he brought along a stranger on a smoke break who let me borrow his phone to make the call. When I got to the Stammtisch late and couldn’t find any friends, a girl from my class walked by on her way to the restroom and told me where her group was sitting. When I went shopping for boots today (Side note: Ugg-style boots do not work in European snow. They have no traction. It’s awful.), and I couldn’t find shoes in my price range—or my size—He brought me to the store with exactly what I was looking for, for exactly what I was willing to pay. When I didn’t set my alarm correctly on my iPod the first morning of class and would have easily overslept with the jetlag, He woke me up five minutes after my alarm was supposed to go off. When I’ve been searching all over the city for an inexpensive, used bike, He helped me find a Hungarian upstairs who is leaving Sunday and needs to sell his bike before he goes. This is just a short list of the ways God has specifically provided for me; I could probably go on for at least another page. I know they are rather small things, and they probably seem silly, but they mean so much to me.
The biggest way I’ve seem God’s hand, though, happened on Saturday. I had slept really late (out late with friends the night before), I ran a bunch of errands, and suddenly it was 4 p.m., and I had nothing to do. My friends were all sleeping; I didn’t have a phone to get ahold of any Erasmus people, and I didn’t feel like sitting in my room, especially since my computer didn’t work. Plus, it was snowing hard, my first Austrian snow storm, and it seemed like such a waste to be cooped up inside.
Then I felt this nudge, this sudden desire to go to the Schlossberg. The Schlossberg is an old fortress-castle that sits on a small mountain in the middle of the city. It’s relatively elevated, and one can see the entire city below. I hadn’t gotten a chance to go there yet, and suddenly I really wanted to. So I walked to the bottom, paid my 70 cents for a one-way elevator ticket to the top, and then was utterly amazed. It was so beautiful, the view down below, with the snow falling all around. But that wasn’t even the best part. Soon, I moved away from the area overlooking Graz and went deeper into the Schossberg, down a path through the woods. It was so quiet that I think I actually heard the snow falling. The late twilight evening made the snow seem to glow. And the beauty all around me literally took my breath away. It was as if I’d stepped into Narnia, into another world, or got a short glimpse of heaven. I don’t think I’d ever felt that way before; it was as if I could feel God giving me a hug. It was wonderful, so incredible, that I was left speechless for several minutes. And when I could finally talk again, I found that talking wouldn’t suffice. So I started to sing, with a small, faltering, off-key voice, but one that came straight from the depths of my soul, praising Him who had crafted this beauty and brought me there to see it.
And here I am, four days later, still in quiet awe of Him. I’m by no means a perfect person; I fall so short of His mark. Yet, despite the mistakes I make, the times I doubt Him, the times when I try to do things on my own, He still loves me. I don’t understand it. And He never quits loving me; all the time, His love is there. When I can feel it, like up on the Schlossberg, and even when I can’t. As my favorite band Tenth Avenue North says in their song “Times,” “My love is over, it’s underneath, it’s inside, and it’s in between…” No matter where I am, what I do, where I go, His love is here with me, and He never leaves my side. And because He loves me—because He is—I can do anything. That doesn’t just go for me here in Austria; that includes you too. Be encouraged today. And know that His love is over and underneath, inside and in between.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope you have an amazing day. Bis spaeter!