Chance Encounters

Isaac Alter
June 30, 2014

Well, here I am on my last Saturday in Vienna. I originally had planned on going to Prague this weekend with some friends, but after realizing that this is my last weekend before heading back home, I opted to stay here and enjoy this beautiful city.  My post this week focuses on something a bit less monumental and exciting than past ones: two completely unrelated encounters with strangers who taught me a lot about what it’s like to be abroad.

The first occurred on Monday night, when I was in line to see Tosca at the Staatsoper (it was magnificent, not surprisingly).  I had just come from my performance class, so I still had my flute case with me.  Out of the blue, a middle-aged man came up to me and asked if I played flute, to which I of course responded yes, and then we got to talking.  Turns out this guy was a Ukrainian national who plays flute in a theater in Ukraine, and who happened to be visiting Vienna on a trip through Europe.  He spoke very broken English and very broken German, so we communicated in a combination of the two, as well as descriptive gesticulations.  I only spoke to him for about twenty minutes, about flute and opera and Tosca, but in that moment I realized the all-too-cliché fact that people who live on the opposite side of the world from you and have completely different life experiences can really be a lot like you.

My second encounter was perhaps a bit less by chance: my father works with a man whose younger brother (Andrew) lives in Vienna, and so we had set up a meeting on Thursday night to get drinks together.  We met at Westbahnhof and went to a small, but absolutely marvelous, artisan beer pub, where we ended up staying for about five hours.  As we get to talking, it came to light that Andrew came to Vienna also as a twenty-year-old studying music; he lived in the apartment building just across the street from the pub we were sitting at, and he met his now wife because she was a bartender at this pub.  He knows the owners very well, and they welcomed me and gave me some really delicious beers.  Despite the similarities in the circumstances of our visits to Vienna, Andrew has followed a very different life path than mine, culminating in his decision to move to Vienna for love, despite speaking no German; he’s now lived here for 7 years.  It was so fascinating to hear about where Andrew’s life has led him, especially since he’s only 9 years older than I am, and how completely unexpected twists can completely change your life.  Of course, we also discussed how much we loved Vienna, but I truly got a lot out of just hearing about the experiences he’s had and how being abroad has shaped him.

Anyway, that’s enough of my inane musings; I’m off to the Donauinsel (Danube island) for a huge fair/music festival they throw every year. Auf Wiedersehen!

Isaac Alter

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">My name is Isaac Alter, and I&#39;m a rising junior at Harvard College, studying stem cell biology with a double minor in art history and music. Outside the classroom, I work both as an admissions tour guide and as a research associate in a stem cell lab, I am a music director for the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club, and I am a flutist and board member for the River Charles Ensemble, a conductorless chamber orchestra. I&#39;m beyond thrilled to be taking a journey to Vienna this summer, to pursue and explore music--one of my great passions--in what has been the center of classical music for centuries. In my free time, I love taking spontaneous trips to New York, cooking, and exploring nooks and crannies of Harvard&#39;s vast campus. My career plans at this point are wildly up in the air, but I hope that my experience with music this summer will help me on that front.</span></p>

2014 Summer 1, 2014 Summer 2
Home University:
Harvard University
Biological Sciences
Explore Blogs