If you would have told me that I would be spending 6 months in Europe my junior year of college I would have said, what are you, crazy? But now that it has happened, I murmur to myself, what would I be without those 6 months abroad? Would I have grown in the ways that I did? Would I have discovered a society where I ironically felt more at peace, that when I lived in my society of origin? Initially, my study abroad started off as a dazed and confused rushed string of events. From boarding the airplane and having to stuff my carry-on underneath my seat, keeping myself up for over 24 hours in order to follow logistical orders, to persevering through a month-old stomach illness that would only go away with strategic napping, let’s just say my first weeks in Austria were not alive “with the sound of music.”
Nevertheless, as I floated through orientation in the secluded village of Mariazell, I slowly began to feel “Austroscized,” experiencing a strange feeling of baptism, shocking me into the realization that I was bravely piercing into a strange world, equipped only with my mind, a recovering stomach and a sense of adventure. My heart you ask? Well, let’s just say I was working on it. Nevertheless I will never be able to shake off my memory of that eerie yet oddly peaceful tour of the Mariazell Cathedral. We crept in, noses wet, shoes soaked, ears bright as roses, yet our eyes still managed to drink in the beauty of the Baroque art. Taking a seat, our tour guide asked us to close our eyes and to let ourselves be transported to another world. Retelling the story of how Mariazell became a pilgrimage site, my heart felt a new wall fall. A wall of constant desiring of stress, business and productivity, all classic American values, melting off my mental map. Her cool voice, her gentle words and her ocean like speech rhythm enveloped my mind in an audio immersion of Austrianess and European charm. Having left that cathedral with a refreshed heart, I was wound up for what only could be a time to remember.
As my studies in Vienna progressed, I began to see just how alternative and different Austria was. Of course, like most countries in the European Union, Austria qualifies as a modern developed democratic country. Nevertheless, there is a reason the 2nd Republic has been able to survive into the 21st century contrary to the failure of the 1st Republic. This new society’s acute sense of identity not only inspired the 2nd republic to keep its vision of the future clear but it also made a surprise stealthy entry into my world view. Embracing their mix as a unique blend of Germanic industriousness and Italian cultural sophistication, and their historic role as a melting pot between Eastern Europe and Western Europe, this Alpine country has created its own original sense of self. Cemented by Kreisky’s independent foreign policy and pragmatic attitude towards domestic politics, Austria does not obsess over being the best, rather it focuses on being useful, enhancing, and adapting modernity to fit its own needs and letting go of the unnecessary. It has thus transformed itself into a hub of serene zen spiritual energy that also has a knack for fashion and the latest hair styles.
It is thus this rooted sense of self that I was able to discover while abroad, leading me to see the value of accepting one’s gifts, rediscovering the virtues that are already in us. Undeniably, Austria made mistakes along its route to finding its identity. Their sense of loss from the monarchy’s dissolution coupled by the aggressive encirclement of Hitler’s pan-Germanic dream suffocated Austria’s road to recovery, leading her into a false sense of self; a mistaken sense of self that led Austria to believe that she was not enough on her own and believe that she could only survive if she lost her uniqueness to another power, letting another tell her who she was. Nevertheless, brave like a warrior, she arose from her setback and put herself back together. Learning to focus on what she could do, and celebrating her virtues, she realized who she was and how to work with her own internal spiritual wealth. Now, back in the states where America’s great values of stress, money, and social success are constantly surrounding me, Austria’s understanding of the self is more important than ever. I see the magazines, the movies and commercials, the glamour the beauty each displaying “the best.” Yet, I see them now as white noise. And instead I embrace Austria’s courage of rediscovering the self, celebrating the organic spirit within, and taking life as it comes.
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<div><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);">Ramon, originally from Boston, MA, is a Junior currently studying History at Columbia College. Specializing in Eastern European history with a focus on the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, he hopes to deepen his understanding of the fundamentals of the dual monarchy during his time in Vienna. Through comparative research of geo-politically marginalized regions, he aims to find new ideas to aid development in the 3rd world. Strongly believing that everyone has an inner child, he actively works to raise awareness on the rights of children worldwide through is involvement as co-president of the Columbia Child Rights group. However what most captures Ramon’s imagination is his admiration for one of Europe’s greatest institutions, The Eurovision Song Contest itself! Eagerly following year round developments, Ramon enjoys watching how countries choose to represent themselves to the world and how they project their national identities unto this unique international platform. A passionate fan of music, he spends as much time as possible following the music industry. He can usually be found reading Rolling Stone magazine, keeping his eyes peeled for new emerging music genres, and eagerly looking out for new artists on the rise!</span></div>