When the time came in my second year at Edinburgh to apply to study abroad, I took it without much thought. When I was accepted a couple of months later, it suddenly felt as though I’d signed up for some competition months ago, forgotten about it, and now received an email to tell me congratulations, you won! But instead of winning a weekend spa trip, I’d won a third year abroad in a foreign country, in which my only way of communicating would be a blank stare and a pathetic ‘spra-ken zee english’? As I read my acceptance letter to Vienna University to study English Literature, I realised I hadn’t actually given this much serious thought.
With my parents, who had never heard of ERASMUS, convinced I was embarking on some sort of party/gap year (hopefully they’re not entirely wrong), I had to also convince everyone who asked incredulously ‘But why are you going to Austria to study English!?’ that yes, don’t worry; it’s all taught in English. As I was slowly bringing them around to the idea, I was simultaneously convincing myself. Visions of me twirling through the hilltops singing away my worries in-between lectures dominated any doubts over, say, not speaking the national language. And one of the best parts; a summer longer than the two weeks we (if lucky) experience in Scotland.
After a few months of talking about my move to anyone who did or did not ask about it, I realised how unprepared I am. I had so far prioritised my summer researching specific essential information – weekend trips to the Alps, Vienna’s average summer temperatures, and what the German is for important phrases such as ‘One beer please’.
As reality hit me, I luckily discovered the University’s support system which tackles nervous wrecks such as myself on a daily basis. They have a Buddy network which is essential for advice, or just to have someone you know in the city that will help you when you have the inevitable emotional moment of realising your mum and dad are 1000 miles away and Skype just isn’t good enough. I know this because on reading my acceptance email I did not hesitate in bombarding the office with a string of panicked emails. My course organiser – think friendly Austrian DOS – has always been at the other end answering them with saintly patience when, really, I’m even irritating myself with my irrational worries.
I recently arrived in Vienna. In truth, there have been moments already where I’ve been on the verge of tears – trying to squeeze past fifty angry Austrian commuters onto a subway with two huge suitcases and not even knowing German for ‘sorry’– but the feeling of excitement has so far managed to keep me from calling home and sobbing that it’s all been a huge mistake. With my trusty phrase book in hand, and sunglasses on (not being used to so much of this ‘daylight’ thing), I’m prepared to tackle this new city one mispronounced word at a time.