I never thought I was “good at languages.” I took Spanish classes for four years and liked it, but never felt confident speaking. My parents stopped attempting to teach me Hebrew when I was little because I was stubborn. Even with English, I never had a proper grammar class and often can’t think of the right words to say. German is not easy and I make mistakes all the time, but I love speaking German. I feel motivated to continue learning, especially because I want to return to Vienna.
My last few weeks in Vienna were strange. Even in the last two days I felt like I still had all the time in the world. I process change slowly and my brain has not gotten over jet lag and does not know how different things are yet. That’s okay, I know this about myself.
I spent a good amount of time with two Austrian friends in my last week of being in Vienna. We talked like we always do, some in German and some in English, about the differences and similarities between Austria and the States, Vienna and NYC/Atlanta, family and friends. I went to Berlin for a few days in between my last final exam and my last few days in Vienna. The differences between the two cities are striking. First of all, German German and Austrian German have many distinctions, and there are more specific dialects between the regions. Germans say “Aprikose” for apricot, while Austrians say “Marille.”
Vienna is preserved, even much of what was bombed was rebuilt to look how it was before, like the Staatsoper Haus. The population is generally very relaxed, conservative in clothing, organized, and predominantly Catholic.
Berlin felt like Manhattan, which I didn’t anticipate. Glass buildings, modern cafes everywhere, and dirtier subways compared to those of Vienna (which are squeaky clean). The population is younger and more diverse, a result of Germany’s better policy toward refugees, immigrants and anyone seeking to live there. I heard more accents and more languages, not of tourists, but of Berliners.
Vienna is diverse too, but not as much as Berlin. Vienna is liberal too, but not as much as Berlin. Berlin is beautiful too, but not as much as Vienna.
I was most excited to go to Berlin outside of Vienna, and it was very fun to be with one of my friends in a city with so much history and progress, but almost felt too familiar. Again, my tendency to compare dominates. Berlin is very different from New York City, but how different actually?
There’s no question: I loved everywhere I visited, but Vienna has my heart. Signed, sealed, delivered. The history, the present, the people, the social welfare, everything makes sense to me except… smoking. Yes, that’s Vienna’s greatest flaw in my mind. A contradiction to the awareness and promotion of health and environmentalism.
Of course like I have mentioned, racism and xenophobia are still present, and the center right government that has a coalition with the far right is beyond alarming. But the situations in my other two home countries, the USA and Israel, are not necessarily better or worse in my mind. I love the places I identify with while openly criticizing aspects of the culture and government. Nowhere is perfect, but why not live where it feels closest to perfect?
My fantasies of Vienna are not taking away from where I am now. It is strange to be back in New York, but spending time with family and friends has made things a little less strange. I originally envisioned sitting down and pouring out stories of my time from the semester, but that’s not how things naturally happen. I love hearing what my friends and family have been up to recently and in the past months, and as things come up, I talk about a few specific things in Vienna. I don’t want to be that annoying person who can only talk about their semester abroad.
I will be in New York City for a total of about ten days before heading to Atlanta for the summer to do research with Emory. Keeping busy helps me move forward and not dwell on the past. My memories of Vienna are strong and fresh, but I do my best to focus on the present and future. Maintaining a blog has helped me organize my thoughts and is good documentation for me to look back on and reflect in the future.
Vienna will always be there. I will always be me. I know we will meet again.
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Naomi Keusch Baker
<p>As a math and computer science major and music minor at Emory University, my passions range from increasing diversity and inclusion in technology industries to advocating for arts education. I want to combine my skills in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) to work toward social justice in my community and beyond. On campus, I am involved in Girls Who Code, the Interdisciplinary Exploration and Scholarship (IDEAS) Fellowship, Refugee Revive, Hillel and the Media, Literature and Arts Outreach (MLAO) themed house.</p>