Horns meet world. World meet Joseph Voss. Joe is a Mechanical Engineering major who went to Vienna on the Introduction to Engineering Design and Graphics Maymester program. He was able to travel around Austria and found himself going through a mode of self-discovery during the trip:
This past summer I participated in a Maymester study abroad trip in Vienna Austria. I had traveled abroad before but this was a completely new experience. Instead of just passing through various cities, I got to experience what it’s like to live in an entirely new environment, immersed in an exotic culture while still being able to pursue my studies.
From the second I got off the plane, the cultural difference felt like a slap across the face, especially after accidentally buying a bottle of sparkling water. As I took the train into the center of Vienna, I was surprised by how sudden the city appeared. For a while it seemed like the train was slowly and lazily traveling through the countryside, but then all of a sudden, I was surrounded by large apartment buildings. To all of the other cities I went to throughout the program I experienced a similar phenomenon. The cities were very concentrated and crowded, but with everyone living in apartments so much more land was able to be used by the public. The center of Vienna was periodically punctuated by large public parks, completely open to the public. Instead of every resident having a small yard that they never use, that land was consolidated in spectacular parks. These large open parks felt strange and otherworldly compared to the dense urban corridors which made up the city, and provided a temporary escape from the hustle of daily life. Honestly, the parks of Vienna are one of the top things I miss from my time abroad.
Another benefit of these densely populated cities is that they reserved more natural land in the surrounding countryside. One of my favorite days in Vienna was spent hiking through the forest covered hills surrounding the city, a luxury that’s non-existent in the US. Even in the villages throughout the continent I still felt free to wander. One day some friends and I tried to go hiking in a national park near Salzburg, only to realize that the hiking trails were interwoven with the small picturesque nearby village. We’d climb up the side of a hill for an hour through dense forest, only to step out into isolated section of farmland and houses. It seemed as if the entire area was preserved, like the village hadn’t swelled in population or became abandoned like so many small towns in the US. It remained constant, much like it had for hundreds of years before that. There were small plots of private farmland carved out of public land, which was otherwise left undisturbed. I’ve never seen this before, especially in Texas where the countryside is completely dominated by private ranch land. If someone tries to wander outside of Austin they’ll be met by highways and barbed wire fences guarding empty plots of land, not quaint villages and hiking trails.
Despite this constant mixing with nature there were definitely aspects of American culture that I began to miss after a few days. For the first week or so I was just awestruck by the Viennese atmosphere. Afterwards, though the cigarette-smoke filled air started to feel oppressive, especially combined with the sheer multitude of people that were everywhere at once. I started to miss things about home, like my friends, being able to drive, even fast food. Apparently it’s normal for travelers to feel homesick like this after a few days abroad, but it was still frustrating. I knew that while I was traveling I would miss things about home, but the second I got home I would start wishing I was back in Vienna. I wish that I could have been more accepting of where I am and been able to appreciate the things that I missed while abroad. After a while though I started to recognize the similarities between Vienna and Austin, which seemed pretty weird. It started out with really basic things, like realizing that a kebab in Austria is like a hamburger in the US (cheap greasy meat sandwich), but then I started realizing how similar people were to people I experience back home. Whether in the US or in Europe, teenagers dress and act the same, babies still cry and cause a fuss, families play in the parks, etc. It totally makes sense, but I never thought about how people actually lived and acted in different nations. This realization made me feel really small, just to try and comprehend the sheer number of people around the world, each acting and having similar experiences to the people living right next door to me. Everyone has a story, but trying to visualize 7 billion stories happening around the world is more than a little disconcerting.
Overall though, the biggest impact that my travel had on me was making me more mature. This was my first time really living without a support group of family and friends available. Doing simple things like laundry or grocery shopping always felt like an adventure and nothing felt as easy as it did back in the US. It felt like I was starting off with a completely clean slate. I brought next to nothing with me, didn’t know anyone traveling with me, and had very little obligations to do anything other than my schoolwork. Each day after class I could do almost whatever I felt like, and I learned more about what I enjoy doing and who I am without all the distractions that normally get in the way. It was a very liberating experience, and it felt more significant because it was in such an exotic place. Coming back to the US afterwards was very strange though, because although I had changed so much, I was expected to fulfill the same role I had before I left. I started working again, started hanging out with my friends more, but it really just never felt the same. It seemed like I had changed so much while the world around me stayed in one place, and I still haven’t felt like I really am fully adjusted to being back in the states. The effect that traveling had on me was indescribable. I can’t place what about it changed me. It’s like I had 5 years of self-discovery and learning pressed into one month, and I’m nowhere near the same person now as when I left.
If you enjoyed reading about Joseph’s experience check in with us next week to see where else in the world our Horns pop up!