Spontaneous Solo Slovenja Weekend: Slovenian Cuisine

I love trying the local cuisine when I visit new countries, especially the things I could never find back home in Australia.  Being as picky as I am when it comes to meats (I am not the biggest fan of … Continue reading

Dogs of the Slovenian Coast

 I thought the Austrians loved their dogs, but it seems it is the whole of Europe!   I saw so many beautiful dogs of all shapes and sizes during my time on the Slovenian coast. Locals and visiting pooches – yes, … Continue reading

Spontaneous Solo Slovenja Weekend

The majority of my weekend on the Slovenian coat was spent walking from town to town along the busy shoreline.  Stretching just 40 kilometres, Slovenia’s coastline is basically a long line of ports so close together they could easily connect … Continue reading

European Outdoor Film Tour 2013

All images are courtesy of European Outdoor Film Tour      Yesterday evening, the 2013 European Outdoor Film Tour was held in Salzburg.  I planned to attend the evening screening, but could not find where to buy tickets.  So I headed … Continue reading

Apfelstrudel gebacken (Apple Strudel Baking)

My chef du jour of a flatmate, Daniel, had a strudel making extravaganza one rainy afternoon. I often come home to him cooking up a storm and tease him about his traditionally Austrian, gourmet concoctions; looking on with green eyes … Continue reading

New Species of Dolphin Found in Australia

Article from National Geographic: New Species of Dolphin Found in Australia These funny-looking, recently discovered dolphins, remind me of Jop, my adopted dolphin from Veli Losinj: Left:  Jop, the deformed bottle-nose dolphin swimming with other bottle-nose dolphin near Losinj, Croatia … Continue reading

Spontaneous Solo Slovenija Weekend: First stopover Maribor

Oh the joys of living in Austria:  After catching up for a drink with my Slovenian classmate, Katja, on Tuesday, I was inspired to take a trip down to the coast of the neighboring country.  So Wednesday night I booked … Continue reading

Austrian’s in water: like fish out of water

When I decided to take my first visit to the local pool here in Graz, I did not expect it to generate enough interest to suffice an entire blog post.  But how wrong I was and how humorously eventful it was!

I had conveniently found a large swimming center within a 5 minute walk from my flat, with multiple outdoor pools and an Olympic sized indoor pool with diving platforms of varying heights. There was a club training across seven marked lanes and an open space, 4 lanes wide with no barriers, for the general public.  After my first lap I was so confused I had to ask someone catching their breath at the end of the lane “Do you swim on the right or the left?” to which he replied “Neither”.  Apparently its a free for all over the entire space and you just weave around the other swimmers and hope you don’t bump into anyone.

Back in Perth, we may not have the same courteous and calm driving etiquette as the generous Austrians, but at least we have pool etiquette!!  First there was the lane thing; then every time I came to the end of a lap I would have to detour two or three lanes over to get to the wall.  After a lap or a set, swimmers pick a spot on the wall to catch their breath and don’t move for anyone or anything, making for very awkward tumble turns during long distance sets.

Now please allow me a moment of a vanity.  I am far from my peak swimming form and would struggle to make the times and distance I did back in my club and competition days, but I felt like a swimming sensation next to the Austrians.  Even amongst the public lanes back in Australia there are always more accomplished swimmers leading the lanes, but here I felt like king of the pool – or the non-club lanes at least.  I was swimming laps around a group of fit muscular young men. I finally see what my coaches had tried to explain in all my years of competitive training: “technique is so much more important than strength or physique”.  I had better not go too often or I won’t be able to keep my big egotistic head afloat!

Every time I get back into swimming I remember how much I enjoy it and wonder why I ever stopped, this time I had a legitimate excuse: travelling and moving to a new country.  But without the consistency and commitment of being in a club I always start off strong then slowly decrease my personal training sessions until out of nowhere a couple of months have pass before I’m back in the pool again.  Here in Graz, one of the other universities operate a swimming club open to all students, but it is at a pool on the other side of town and I was a bit put off when I read the prerequisite for the ‘advanced’ class  was “100m breaststroke without pause”.  I will have to look for a club a bit closer or a swimming partner to keep me motivated.

Back to real life… the side of student exchange they dont tell you about

The semester is now in full swing and ‘real’ classes have begun.   No more slow mornings strolling into class hungover and an hour or two late, or ‘tests’ where we are provided the answers the day before.  Our German Intensive class has split up into their various faculties, it is a shame not seeing everyone every day.

I haven’t had the smoothest of starts to the semester, in fact the last three weeks have been more stressful than anything I have experienced at my home university.  Now prepare yourself for my rant:

  On the Friday before classes started I was told the units FH Joanneum (the university I am attending in Austria) had approved for me were not offered this semester.  The department heads had suggested and enrolled me in these units, but not bothered to check whether they were taught during the semester I was attending, until the start of semester!  It had been a long and painful 6 month process getting those units approved before I left Australia, but the most difficult part was yet to come…

It proved near impossible to find a new set of units to enroll in as most offered this semester were strictly German speaking classes – I can barely order my morning coffee in German there is no way I could complete third year university units!  To make matters worse my home university declined every unit available, claiming unit after unit after unit, to be too different from the units I would otherwise be taking back home.  Of course they would be different!  This is a different university, with a different system, in a different country – they even speak a different language!

With reluctance from my home university to cooperate and little assistance from the FH department heads who put me in this predicament, I spent the last three weeks in a constant pool of frustrated tears.  Being so far from home, trying to sort my enrollment, with little assistance, in a university in which I do not speak the language or understand the different and complicated administration system, was one of the most stressful things I have ever had to do – even more so than managing last year’s FTP Charity Ball!

  Eventually after a pile of empty tissue boxes, multiple angry emails and some job-risking, toe stepping, on behalf of my home university’s Dean, I have now been enrolled in classes!  In comparison, my classes have proved to be a much more positive experience.

 If you thought icebreakers were awkward enough, try doing them in another language

Within the first 10 minutes of my very first class, I was struck with guilt.  In Australia we complain about the international students in our classes.  That they slow us down with their lack of English or that they are a waste of space, sitting quietly in the corner, presumably too embarrassed to speak their second language – a feeling I now know very well.  Unfortunately, I have even seen student-erected posters around the Curtin campus, declaring the campus to be a ‘English-Speaking Only Campus’, criticising international students for speaking their own language amongst themselves during breaks – in their own free time!

But here at FH, students and teachers alike have been incredibly accommodating.  In each class the unit coordinator has visited and explained to the class in German that I could not speak the language and may need assistance from my class to understand, or the tutor has done so.  They have each asked the class for volunteers to team up with me throughout the semester and assist me with translation, a timely and scrupulous task for any student.  But in each class it has taken only a few seconds for the majority of the room to raise their hands, almost bringing me to tears, on one of my more sensitive days.  Even the tutor, in my first class, who spoke very little English, struggled in front of her brand new class to try and explain how they could accommodate me in the German speaking class.  I could tell she was completely out of her comfort zone but I was so grateful for her willingness to try and include me in the class.

Despite the kindness and understanding of my classmates, I still feel awkward and completely out of place in my classes.  The lectures are delivered in German, so I sit there trying to assemble any understanding from body language, voice expression of the tutor and images on the lecture slides.  Or when that fails, I sit blank faced, embarrassed and feeling like I wouldn’t be smart enough for a Kindergarden class, let alone university.  However most classes have been slightly altered to allow for my German incompetency.  In one class, presentations were delivered in English by the other students, for my sake.  Which is very humbling but at the same time makes me feel like I am a hassle, adding difficulty or creating extra work for my classmates.

Things that I didn’t give a second thought to, in classes back home, are suddenly problematic.  Just sitting in class is a struggle and at times I am even too nervous to turn around and ask the person next to me to borrow a pen in case I say a wrong word and embarrass myself, stumbling through a simple everyday question.  Of course my classmates all speak brilliant English, but I also feel rude initially speaking to them English, as if I just expect them to speak my language.  As for contributing to class discussions in German, I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon!  As I am usually a big class contributor and a bit of a nerd, this is something I think I will struggle to get used to throughout the semester.  But I will have to take this exchange for what it is:  a new and completely different experience of learning and living.