Thursday, February 25, 2010

Paprika, Puddles, and PDA

Greetings fellow earthlings.

You thought it would never happen; you thought wrong.

That’s right, just when you thought I had fallen into the abyss of cyberspace never to blog again…. I’M BACK!

Yay! Yet again, I am so incredibly sorry that I have been so terrible about updating my blog. It hasn’t been due to lack of things about which to write; on the contrary, I’ve had so much going on that I am just now getting the opportunity to tell you.
I am currently sitting on my balcony (yes! I have a balcony! Isn’t that wonderful?!), gazing out over the city of Graz. This section of the city isn’t particularly beautiful; I can really only see the tops of some nondescript buildings and a little of the Lendplatz square below. But in the relatively-close distance (oxymoron, I know, but true nonetheless) there are lovely mountains and, since this balcony and my room’s windows face the west, I have the front-seat view of a very picturesque sunset.

The weather here has been gorgeous, by the way. Today the high was 60 degrees Fahrenheit, although I think it actually reached 64. The sun was shining, a gentle wind was blowing, and fluffy white clouds dotted an impeccably bright blue sky. Positively perfect. :)

Okay, enough about the weather. Chances are that you didn’t make the effort to log onto my blog to hear a meteorological update…

The last week has been incredibly busy and more than a little bit overwhelming. Things have calmed down significantly now, but let me clue you in about what happened. Last week was orientation. Four hours of pure fun for two days in a row. Sarcasm. Dripping sarcasm. Orientation at European universities, though entirely necessary and incredibly informative, is anything but fun. Basically, we learned everything about being a student at the University of Graz, from the enrollment process, to the types of classes we can take, services (or lack thereof) on campus, and everything in between. And the intensity of these orientation sessions, combined with 3.5 hours of German every morning, made for some very l-o-n-g days.

Enrollment became an adventure in itself—an adventure I wish I hadn’t had to go on. To be a full-time student at OSU, I need to take 12 U.S. credit hours while I’m here. 1 U.S. hour equals 2 ECTS hours, so that meant (wait, let me pull out my calculator), that I need to have 24 ECTS hours in Graz. Fortunately, the German intensive course counts for 6 ECTS/ 3 US hours, which left me with 18 ECTS / 9 US hours. That sounds easy, right? I only need 5 or 6 classes here to get that. No big deal. And with the Uni-Graz Online site, I should have been able to enroll easily on my own online.

“Should have”.

In reality, it turned out to be an extremely difficult and frustrating process that was anything but easy.

Before coming to Austria, I had to fill out a form called a “Prospective Study Plan.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: I had to check out Graz’s courses online and see which ones I could take to fulfill my OSU requirements. My academic adviser in the history department and the adviser in the study abroad office had to approve each course before I left. On my list, I had 15 courses. Mathematically, that should be simple. I only needed 5 or 6; 15 potential courses should have been plenty. Again “should have.” Actually, it turned out that some of them were no longer offered, some were actually from last semester even though they were listed as being offered this semester, and finally, some were master’s level classes, meaning that I was not eligible to take them.


But wait! God provides!

The week before last (the week before orientation), I randomly met a guy in the elevator at my dorm. His name is Niklaus, and he’s from Switzerland. In our 30-second conversation, we discovered that we were both history majors. Weird. You don’t find those very often. He got my name and added me as a friend on facebook. Then last week, the night before the first orientation, he sent me a message on facebook. He asked me about enrollment and then gave me a list of history professors he likes. I went to the online course catalogue to research these professor’s courses and discovered a few more potential classes to add to my list—the list that would shrink very quickly the next day after orientation.

Okay, so now I have maybe enough courses I can enroll in. This is definite progress. Now all I need to do is enroll. Easy, right?


I’ve known for a long time that technology hates me. Whenever a technical difficulty can arise, it will, just for me. When I logged onto my Uni-Graz online account to enroll, I could find the courses, but it wouldn’t let me enroll. I clicked the right button. It should have said “wait list” or “you can’t enroll” (in German, of course), if it was a master’s level course. Regardless, it should have showed that I was on the waitlist for the class. Christa Grassauer, the amazing Austrian woman in charge of U.S. international students had warned us that we would likely be waitlisted and that we should talk to the academic advisers to get us into the courses we needed. But I wasn’t even waitlisted. I didn’t even appear to exist.
Well, crud. That can’t be good.

Here comes another adventure…

So I emailed Christa, and she told me to email the adviser for history. He told me he couldn’t help me. So he gave me the name of a history secretary and told me to visit her.

Oh, I need to add an important detail. In Austria, you can only enroll for courses during a certain window of time. After that window of time has passed, it is impossible to get a place in the class. The history department’s window of opportunity was scheduled to close on Wednesday the 24th. I got the email about the secretary lady on the evening of Monday the 22nd. The clock was ticking, and time was running out.

As I already mentioned, my German course was from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every day of the week. That being said, I decided to visit the secretary lady, Birgit Tauscheck, immediately after my class. Easy, right? Wrong.

I don’t understand Austrian culture, but for some reason, they seem to have something against numbering their rooms. And giving actual building addresses. In the email from the history adviser, he told me to go to “Mozartgasse , 3rd floor.” There are 6 academic buildings on Mozartgasse. And each one has a lot of rooms on its 3rd floor. Not good for the home team.

Anyway, I finally managed to find the correct building (the history library seemed to be like a safe bet; fortunately, I was right). But when I reached the third floor, I discovered yet another adorable Austrian idiosyncrasy: Locking doors. And not just locking any doors, locking doors to entire hallways. That’s right, I made it all the way to the third floor (which in America would be the 4th floor; they number things differently here too), only to discover that the pretty glass door to the hallway was locked. Not good.

Frustrated, I walked back down the three flights of stairs, not sure what to do next. Looking down another locked hallway, I had an epiphany: what if I were to go around to the other side of the building? Maybe the doors at the other end weren’t locked. So I unhitched my bike and walked all the way around to the other side (I had to go around YET ANOTHER building to get there). Sure enough, the doors on that side were unlocked. Again, I tromped up to the third floor and checked the names on the doors. Finally, I came to the right one… only to discover that it, too, was locked. And the sign under her name read, “Opening hours Mo-Fri 9-12.” Double crud.
At this point, I was incredibly dejected and I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry. Then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, this short little Austrian man came up to me and asked, “Was suchst du?” (What are you looking for?) So I explained to him my quest to enroll and that I needed Birgit Tauscheck when suddenly he pointed over my shoulder: “Da sie ist!” (Here she is!) And sure enough, there she was! Turns out she had even been expecting me (the history adviser had forwarded her my email), and she was able to help! Apparently, I wasn’t crazy; the system had a glitch that kept me from enrolling. But after saying “komisch” (strange) a lot, making a couple phone calls, and pressing some magic buttons, she was able to enroll me in all but one of the classes I needed! Not even wait-listed—actually enrolled! Wow! I can’t adequately describe how incredibly relieved and grateful I felt. I’m just waiting now to find out if I got into the other waitlisted class; if so, I should be golden! :)

Sorry that was such a long story; I’m sure you didn’t come here to read about my enrollment adventure. But I wanted to share it to show you—and remind me—that God really is faithful, even—ESPECIALLY—in the little things. And although I was frustrated and angry and wanted to give up and cry, He pulled through at just the right time, with exactly what I needed.

Anyway, overall life is good here in Austria. I’m not homesick, which is certainly helpful. I finally figured out how to get my pictures on facebook, and Skype is letting me communicate with my family regularly. I have a roommate now, so that’s exciting. Her name is Gina; she’s from Korea, and she’s really sweet. Having a roomie makes me not miss the Kaydee house and my lovely sisters there quite as much. (Don’t worry, though! I still miss you all a lot!) I am finally starting to feel settled in here, with a group of friends to hang out with, with a bike to help me get around, and with classes I am enrolled in to take. I’ve gotten discouraged a few times, but mainly when I am really tired. My sleep schedule hasn’t been so great, so I’ve been tired a lot lately. Even when I go to bed early, I don’t sleep very well, and I wake up not feeling rested. That’s no fun. :( Other than that, though, things are wonderful, and I am having the best semester of my life. It makes me so sad to realize that a month—one-fifth—of it is already over. It’s flying by so fast, like water through my fingers. I just want to stop it, to put some sand back in the top of the hour glass, to freeze-frame the time that seems to be in perpetual fast forward.

Jodie keeps reminding me not to think like that, to not focus on when I’ll have to leave but to focus on enjoying the time here, right now. I’m trying; it’s hard, but I’m trying.

Jodie is amazing; I am so thankful for her. She is definitely my best friend here, and we get along really well. Last weekend, we went to Budapest together, just the two of us. It was IN-stinkin’-CREDIBLE! So fantastic! If you want to see pictures, they are on facebook. Let me tell you briefly (does that word exist in my vocabulary?) about our adventure in Budapest…

At 1:26 p.m. we took a train from Graz to Vienna, then a rail-jet (high-speed train of awesomeness) to Budapest. Upon reaching the train station at 6:51 p.m., we proceeded to board a bus that should have taken us to our hostel. Except we got a little lost. We accidently got off the bus one stop too early and wandered around for awhile with our GPS before we finally figured it out. Anyway, we eventually made it to our hostel “The BackPack Guesthouse.” It’s a hippie-hostel, for lack of a better description. Bright colors, a Bob Marley-themed room (ours was aquarium-themed), hooka to share, hammocks for sleeping outside in the summer… the works. A cultural experience in itself. :)

The next day, we visited Pest. Yes, Buda and Pest are two different places, separated by the Danube river. I don’t think they advertise this very well. Don’t worry if you didn’t know that; I had no idea they were separate until reading the guidebook during the train ride. Congratulations, you now know something that 98.7% of the world’s population doesn’t. :)

Budapest is beautiful! Even the ugly buildings are pretty! That being said, we took lots of pictures of said buildings (the more beautiful ones, not the ugly-pretty ones), including the opera house, St. Stephen’s Basilica, the mansions on Andrassy Avenue, and many others. We visited the House of Terror, a museum honoring all the victims of the Soviet and Nazi regimes; it’s located in the former secret police headquarters. We went to Hero’s Square, which has been called Budapest’s response to Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. We visited the Great Market and sampled traditional Hungarian comfort food. We relaxed in the hot springs of the Turkish bath—outside while it was snowing! (When in Budapest, do as the Roman’s do). We saw the palace and got breathtaking views of the city, and we did many other things, including eating authentic Hungarian goulash and drinking lots of coffee. It was an amazing weekend. Here is what we learned about Hungary:

Hungary is the land of paprika (they put it on everything), of poo-poo (they apparently have no rules about cleaning up after dogs), of puddles (we avoided—and stepped in—a lot of them!), and of PDA (all people, all ages, all places—yuck)
That, in a nutshell, is my trip to Hungary.

I would write more about life, but now I need to go. Our German Intensive course is having dinner together tonight to celebrate the class being over… even though I think we are all a little sad. It was a great class. But I need to go cook some veggies and then head over to the dinner, so, like a banana, I need to split.
Thanks for reading! Have an incredible day—wherever you are! And know that you are loved—by me and by the One who made you! :)


  1. Hi Steffi! (This is Alesia Hallmark)

    I've tried commenting on your blog a million times but every time I hit "Post Comment" it just deletes everything I wrote. I think I fixed my 3rd-party cookie settings so now it'll work hopefully.

    I'm glad you're getting settled in Austria and that everything is working out for you!
    I had an internship in Philadelphia a few summers ago, and while that's not nearly as daunting as a foreign country, it was still a big adjustment for me. I'm sure you'll be getting around in Graz, finding places to eat, and acting like an Austrian university student like a pro in no time.

    Good luck on your continued adventures! and p.s., your post about going to the old castle and then walking along the mountain in the snow was so inspiring and beautiful!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hey Steffi, nice Blog you got here. It seems you got some problems enrolling lectures, if you had any problem of any kind in furture, there are people here to help you, feel free to Contact ESN team, you can also get a mentor which can you help with stuff and you can know the Austrian culture easier.
    Liebe Grüße