The last few weeks I spent in Vienna were such a whirlwind that I couldn’t possibly fit everything into one last blog. It was a wonderful end to the semester and I know I’ve already written down a few culminating thoughts regarding my experience, but I still have a little more to say, so first of all: CHEESE! I sampled a lot of cheese during my abroad experience and honestly some of it was pretty weird. There are some particularly smelly, hard cheeses in Austria and certain American favorites like cheddar were quite hard to come by. Similarly, Austria has not yet discovered the wonders of combining cheese powder with other snacks such as crackers and corn puffs. On the other hand, they feed their livestock actual food so the eggs are yellower, the meat isn’t pumped with hormones, and the cheese is actually cheese and not just chemicals. If you don’t already know how we feed our livestock in the US, I suggest you look into it. It’s gross. Anyway, some of my favorites this semester were camembert and soft cheese rolls coated with chives (I think it was either goat cheese or sheep cheese; I didn’t bother to check even though I bought one almost every week). I also ended up sampling quite a few cheeses in various Easter markets and pesto cheese may be the best thing I’ve ever tasted. Other than that, I don’t actually have a whole lot to say about dairy even though I’ve been meaning to talk about it since my first blog, so enjoy some photos.
I also wanted to mention a trip I took to Mauthausen, a former concentration camp located a few hours away from Vienna. I don’t mean to trivialize my visit by including it in such a light-hearted blog, but because I am a paid blogger, it feels like a bit of a scam to make a second blog about Mauthausen after I’ve already ended my semester. So I’m cramming everything into one blog. Anyway, I visited Mauthausen as part of a psychology course on prejudice and discrimination. Only a section of the original camp still exists, but we toured barracks, old showers, gas chambers, and crematory ovens. It was disturbing enough to walk through the site, but perhaps more disturbing is the fact that the camp is located so close to the town of Mauthausen. Some of the nearby farming families could witness the brutality of the camp from their backyards and prisoners were brought to Mauthausen via the town train station which the locals used. It’s important to understand that genocide is a process; mass murdering Jews and other prisoners of war became slowly normalized over the better part of a decade which is why these horrors were met with such little opposition from bystanders. It may seem drastic to draw parallels between the holocaust and the current political climate in the United States, but we need to recognize that dehumanizing minorities, creating social divides based on economic crises, and utilizing racist propaganda are often just the beginnings of much bigger genocidal acts. I think touring Mauthausen and discussing the psychology of genocide with our tour guide was both informative and alarming in that it made me realize how precarious societal moral standards can be and how subtle desensitization to brutality can be. Anyway, I didn’t take any photos. It felt kind of disrespectful to have my phone out as if Mauthausen was just another tourist site, but I’d encourage anyone to check out some of the old original photos online.
In regards to the whole semester, I have a little more reflecting to share. I’ve been home for a week now and it feels as if my semester abroad never happened. Geographic distance equals psychological distance I guess. Despite the fact that my entire experience feels a world away, I gained a lot from my time in Vienna and learned so much about myself. I learned to balance schoolwork with adventures, to take advantage of unique opportunities, and that one should always list things in threes when blogging (because listing only two things sounds awkward). Saying goodbye to everyone and everything was surreal, but I realize that I am both fortunate and privileged in that I have the means to come back to Vienna someday and the technology to keep in touch with the friends I’ve made. Knowing that I could revisit Europe or even attend grad school in a different country makes me feel a sort of agency I haven’t felt before. My sense of home is no longer linked to one place, but follows me wherever I go, and that’s very freeing.
Anyway, it’s nice to be home. I came back just in time for Mother’s day and I’ll be in the Seattle area for another week or so before going back to Walla Walla to work for the summer. While Vienna is a lovely city, my time abroad has really heightened my appreciation for the Pacific Northwest. It’s nice to be surrounded by so much green again. Now that I’m home, it’s time to sign off for the last time. I feel like I should make some sort of Star Trek captain’s log joke, but I can’t think of one. Thanks for keeping up with my adventures!