As I sit in the airport about to leave Vienna, I am reflecting on my semester abroad. There were definitely some challenges I faced when between language barriers and cultural differences. There were a few weeks to adjust to the new norms, but after no time I seemed to fit right into the Viennese life.
There can definitely be a lot of issues when an English speaker tries to live in a German-speaking country. I’ve ordered apple juice instead of apple strudel and eaten cream cheese thinking it was some sort of Austrian delicacy. I’ve also had awkward pauses when someone would ask me a long question in German and I had to wait until they were done before I could say “sorry, English?” and have them re-ask the question. It was definitely helpful to learn the basics in German to be successful in everyday life. For example, knowing “excuse me” is one of the most important phrases to know when living in a city since there are so many people in tight spaces.
There are also cultural differences that you will run into any country outside the united states. In Austria, when you go to a restaurant, they won’t seat you, you have to find your own table. In the beginning, I didn’t notice this rule and would stand by the door of a restaurant waiting to be seated for 10-15 minutes before waiters would notice that we were not from Austria and needed instruction. There also aren’t really lines to places, so you have to be aggressive when waiting for your turn. It was really helpful to read culture books and prepare myself for little differences, like bagging your own groceries and always greeting someone with a hello before you ask a question.
Living in Austria was a major adjustment in a lot of areas. You definitely have to be prepared to mess up and be a little confused most of the time, but that is also part of being a world traveler and an important life skill. You learn so much about the country you’re living in by the mistakes you make and the things you learn from your mistakes.