It’s Monday night, the 7th of November. I write this at approximately 18:00, sipping Earl Grey from my London mug as I am whisked alongside the Austrian Alps on a train from Salzburg back to Graz.
Guess what tomorrow is?
For those Americans reading this, yeah. You’re hyperaware.
Hillary. Trump. Not quite sure why we don’t refer to them both by surnames.
2016 is a big year.
I was talking with one of my international buddies from Spain about my feelings over the impending American doom when he asked, “Ahh, mein Gott. I don’t understand this American dilemma. Is there anything to like about Trump?!”.
My reply threw him off guard: “Well, there is one thing”.
When Europeans recognize my American accent as I’m traveling, many flock to ask my opinion on the masochistic Trump. He’s such an unbelievable airhead, such an international joke to pin on such an internationally influential United States of America; non-Americans are just as baffled as we are.
It takes two hands to count the amount of late-night pub discussions I’ve had with my international buddies on the topic of Trump and politics. I’ve discussed American politics with locals while hiking up mountains in Slovenia. I’ve given my opinion while hitchhiking around Lake Garda in Italy. Trump and politics were the forefront of a conversation I had in a pub-hostel in rainy London with a Scot and a Brit. An Aussie chick I met in a hostel and I pillow-talked over American politics late one night in Salzburg. I’ve met many-an-Austrian on the bus to Uni with this topic.
Don’t get me wrong; if I wanted to only talk about American politics I would go back to America, it’s not my all-time favorite subject. But it’s such a great launchpad for other conversations. Talking about politics–and especially the fanatical Trump–has launched into stories of “one time I was involved in a Madrid city protest over government reform that ended in the militia getting called” and “my grandfather was one of the troops who liberated Auschwitz” and “in my country, it is legal to burn effigies of political leaders as long as those effigies are wearing capes”.
I will be truly truly sorry if Trump is elected our leader come tomorrow. He would undoubtedly lead our country into some kind of international chaos, I see no benefit whatsoever to electing him President.
But I am thankful for the conversations he has inspired and sparked.
Peace & Blessings
A more descriptive title for this post would have read along the lines of: “I Came to Austria as a Native English Speaker and Everyone Here Speaks English; Why Do I Need to Learn German?” but I received a firm too lengthy from the publishers.
It’s hard to find someone here in Austria that doesn’t speak conversational English. Especially in Graz, an international city featuring thousands of international students.
I came to Austria because for three reasons: I wanted to learn a different language, I wanted to immerse myself in a different culture and I wanted to be nestled amongst mountains. But upon arrival, upon finding copious amounts of pals who speak flawless English, the first reason unraveled. The unraveling of the second reason followed quickly, as I lost interest in pretending to not be American as I had to pick my way around Austrian bureaucracy in order to not get banished from Europe.
I underestimated how difficult German is to learn as a language: I’d heard stories of immigrants who learned German in 5 months, of students studying abroad in rural parts of Germany who became fluent after a year. Everyone told me stories of how easy it is to learn a language when you’re in the country and surrounded by it.
Pretty much just thought I’d show up and then be fluent shortly after, but..
Languages don’t work that way. Not even a smidge.
Fundamentally it takes motivation. Intrinsic motivation. Motivation beyond I could impress other people with this talent. I realized that I lacked a good reason to learn German, and reinforced by the fact that everyone speaks my native tongue. Those people that learned German in 5 months? It was because they had to.
First step: find actual, good motivation to learn German. Process: YouTube.
Benny Lewis’ Ted Talk Hacking Language Learning is what I attribute my change in perspective. He proclaims that you cannot experience a culture if you force that culture to speak your native language over theirs.
Imagine if someone who only spoke Spanish came into, say, the bookstore where you work; you happen to know Spanish after four years of studying it in University, so you engage the speaker in a Spanish conversation. Yeah, you’re perhaps “fluent” in Spanish: but you can’t tell that person about the one time you read this book and how it made you feel, because you don’t know the exact phrases and metaphors to convey the exact emotion. You can’t fully express yourself because you have to compensate with the language.
I can imagine how frustrating it is to be linguistically limited in that manner.
Do you want to actually immerse yourself in culture? Do you want to be part of a different world? Do you want to be exposed to things and people you’ve never experienced before?
You have to learn the language.
Lewis talks about the things stopping people from a pursuit of language learning; lacking a “language talent” gene, fear of frustrating native speakers, not being in a country where the language is spoken. Then he goes on to explain how shallow these excuses are, that there is no one “language talent gene” only people who are more motivated than others (or perhaps have a talent for memory), that native speakers love speaking in native tongues because they can actually express themselves fully, that we have so many tools for language learning thanks to the internet.
I’m out of excuses. I’ve already applied for a residence permit, already set up my Austrian bank account. I’ve already chosen my classes and figured out Uni. It’s time to stop saying ein bisschen and “I’m learning” when people speak to me in German. It’s time to start watching How I Met Your Mother in German. To engage shopkeepers in broken German sentences.
Let Austria be fully Austria.
Peace & Blessings
The very air is sleepy; homework lies teetering off the edge of the desk in a manner so unmotivating that I want to give it a good satisfying push and watch the papers and ink pens scatter amongst the dust of the floor.
Dirty clothes threaten to cave the hook from which the overstuffed laundry bag dangles, dead weight.
An unacceptable amount of mugs are strewn across my paper-filled desk, echoes of the past days teatimes after Uni; thumbprints of black coffee stain the plates on which they recline, crumbs from hurried cheese-and-cracker lunches lay nestled in their folds.
O Austria National Day, you beautiful piece of a Wednesday-off-from-Uni.
I wake later than usual, stretching away a late night with friends. I dance my way to the bathroom, feeling my toes flex and bend against the hardwood floor after the disuse during sleep. Splashing water on my face and rubbing away all last signs of sleep, I give myself a stern glance in the mirror:
What shall we do today, dear Josie?
First of all, let’s clear the air: yes, I do talk to myself in third person. Yes I do call myself “dear” and “sweet stuff” and “rocketgirl”. I like to pretend it’s speaks to self-love, but we might as well just admit that I’m a smidge off my rocker.
Hmm, well. Laundry needs to be done, dishes could get a rinse, homework should be tackled, sheets could be washed. Plans for the upcoming London trip could be revisited, emails might be answered. We could get ahead on some online coursework, maybe write a few extra blog posts for when the upcoming weeks get a bit busy.
I towel off my fresh face and spurt back to the room, feeling elements of motivation for tackling lists of to-dos.
I look around at the visual urgencies of my to-dos strewn around the room.
I do a double-take.
I realize that I have no desire whatsoever to accomplish anything.
I give a metaphorical middle-finger to my mental list of tasks and hop to the closet, shimmying into my running clothes and moseying into Ann the Trusty Trail Shoes. I download the most recent Rich Roll Podcast episode, snag a banana, and charge to the bus stop half a kilometer from my flat.
A little suburb of little Graz, situated alongside rolling tree-covered mountains, quiet and peaceful with miniature horses grazing on hills and hens clucking around gardens.
I’ve never been to Gösting; I have no map, no agenda. I have nothing to see, nobody to please, no one to impress. All I have is time and Josie.
I take myself out for a jaunt, passing bemused through woods and mountains, powering up grassy hills and side-stepping trickling streams. I make it through the Rich Roll Podcast and turn my phone off, letting the cool air tickle into my ears where the buds had been.
I run for hours, exploring sights that people wouldn’t go out of their way to see. It feels so much more personal; as if my presence in this place is welcomed and rare, as if where I am is accepting me not as a tourist, but as a local.
“They are simple activities, common as grass. And they’re sacred. Pilgrims seeking bliss carry water and chop wood, and they’re simple things, too, but if they’re approached with mindfulness and care, with attention to the present and humility, they can provide a portal to transcendence. They can illuminate the path leading to something larger than ourselves.” (Scott Jurek, Eat and Run)
Finally I find myself nestled back on the city bus, powering back to Graz, a bit sticky from running in the humidity from the morning rain and pleasantly buzzing from the exertion of the hills.
I get back to my flat; homework still sits on the desk alongside dishes, dust is still visible on the windows and the floor, my laundry bag hasn’t broken the hook yet but it might at any moment.
Time for a shower and nap, I’d say.
Peace and Blessings,
Yesterday was such a grand day.
A group of pals–a Frenchie, Slovakian, Slovenian, Turk, American, Aussie, two Fins and I–danced amongst the magical village of Hallstatt yesterday, taking a break from the slightly toxic air of city life to meander amongst the mountains and lakes of the Austrian Alps.
We could have relied on public transport, but that would have meant an early 2 hour bus to Vienna followed by a 5 hour train ride to the village directly opposite Hallstatt on the lake, followed by a final ferry transport to the village itself. The process in reverse at the end of the day would have concluded the actual Hallstatt pursuing to last roughly 30 minutes. Not to mention the added costs of so many transport changes.
So we threw public transport to the wind and decided to rent two of the cheapest cars we could–which ended up being beautifully spacious–making it to Halstatt in 2 ½ hours on a grand total of 18€ per person.
The drive there was as much fun as being in Halstatt itself. Once you get a half hour out of Graz you are amongst mountains. Rocky mountains, snow-capped mountains, tree-covered mountains. Mountains with little Austrian huts nestled amongst the trees, mountains with cows lazily munching the soft mossy greens. And it was Autumn. Every tree was a phenomenon of fall colors, exploding from the inside out, dazzling in the saturday sun and shining through the morning mist.
The drive was made all the more enjoyable by the presence of my wonderful buddy Aimee from Australia. She’d seen snow a grand total of 3 times prior to the day, and every snow-capped mountain we passed ignited a rocket of “Oooooooh!”s and “Ahhhh!”s and not-a-few tears of excitement. Such a bout of passion for a beauty that I’ve completely taken for granted made me see with new perspective the bedazzlement of snow.
What a blessing to have friends who have international driving licenses, high-quality cameras and an eye for the beauty of nature. We reached Halstatt around 11 just as the sky was peeling back the morning clouds to let the sun warm Austria. We meandered up and down the main street along the lake, ducking into Lebkucken (gingerbread) stores and snapping glorious pictures of the sun hitting the lake.
Lunch was spent on cushions at an outdoor cafe and featured dishes of Hungarian goulash, fresh oven baked pizzas and Apfelstrudel. Feeling warmed from the inside and nutritionally refreshed from a full morning of travel, the nine of us hiked up Salzkammergut; a beautiful mountain with a breathtaking viewing platform at the summit.
We took our time at the summit, sipping beers and water (thank you Austria for the practice of putting pubs and restaurants at the top of most mountains) and basking in the fact that we were in such nature. The entire day was made 100% more enjoyable by the past week featuring 5 days in a row of cold, drizzling city rain and Graz tourists with huge cameras oscillating suuuper slow in front of you as you try to walk to Uni.
We had a car which we had to get back to Graz by midnight. That was our only obligation for the entire day; nowhere to be, no pressure to do anything but reap enjoyment out of the countryside, simple like-minded international buddies adventuring together.
The drive back was perfection. We were in a state of contended bliss, sleepy and comfortable from a full day and refreshed from not having to be students in a rainy city for a day. The four of us in our car cruised into Graz around 7, and after the painstaking debacle of filling up the car with petrol–the full tale of which unfortunately has been sworn to secrecy–Emma, Robert, Aimee and I dropped the car off and headed to the city square for some well-deserved dinner.
It was quite brisk and chilly when we got back to Graz, and not having eaten much since lunch before our mountain jaunt, the four of us were positively ravished by the time our soups, sushi, rice and noodles hit the table at 8:40.
I got back to my flat around 10, jumped in a hot shower and shimmied into my warm pjs. It had been my roommate’s birthday the day previous, and out of the kindness of her soul she had left me a generous slice of hazelnut cake which I warmed in the oven. I whipped up an orange-zest honey syrup which I added to a fresh mug of chamomille tea and snuggled down amongst blankets for a few episodes of Scrubs.
Happiness doesn’t have to stem from feeling put together. From feeling confident. From feeling smart. It exudes from the peace one feels when one is exposed to the beauty of both nature and friendship.
Peace & Blessings,
The day was a crisp, sunny day with soft white clouds juxtaposed against the sharp edge of the early winter breeze that tickled the nose until it ran. My neck was bundled in a new fluffy scarf, my hands were protected from the wind by my sturdy black gloves.
There was nothing openly gloomy about this day; that didn’t stop my mood from souring. Today was an off-day. I felt…disconnected and internally shaky and tired and anxious. I felt out of control and out of luck and out of time and out of mental capacity.
It takes me 37 minutes to walk to the Uni. It didn’t matter that I gave myself plenty of time, I still felt really rushed. I felt like I was late. I felt like I had to hurry myself on up.
I stopped by the market on my way home from Uni to get groceries for the next two days. I’m usually quite the fan of grocery shopping and meal planning, but for some reason it took me ages today to think about what I wanted to create. And again, anxiety oozed into my grocery shopping experience. I started to think about all the other things I could be doing with those 6 euros I was going to spend. I started thinking about all the other things I could be doing with the time I was wasting staring at rows of seasonal veggies.
I couldn’t plan very well and I couldn’t deal with my own lack of indecision, so I grabbed what was on sale. I found myself shuffling home with a net of six oranges, a jar of local honey and a bag of frozen vegetables.
After stumbling around with the key in the lock, I threw open the door to our flat and hobbled to the kitchen table, plopping down on the squeaky chairs feeling rather defeated for no understandable reason.
My stomach started growling so I grabbed the oranges. As soon as I started digging my fingers into the thick orange peel something changed. The citrus tang began to laze its way up into my nostrils, dancing with my sinuses and trickling down my throat. The first orange wedge was almost miraculous; my teeth aligning perfectly with the natural edge of the slice, the juice flooding my mouth and going to join the scent of the orange down in my throat.
Suddenly my posture became straighter. My shoulders relaxed. I sighed deeply and tucked my knees into my chest, feeling the weight of the day lift off as I finished my orange.
I know what you might be thinking; what a dramatic rendition of a moment eating this orange, you diva. But this is almost exactly how it happened.
I love nutrition. I love macronutrients. I love planning a day around obtaining as much nutritional balance as optimally possible. Moving to a new country hasn’t left much opportunity to prioritize nutrition. I didn’t expect it to but I shouldn’t have forgotten about it.
My meals haven’t necessarily plummeted in nutritional value; however, they have become much more processed. I definitely have spent a fair number of dinners feasting on cereal or on plain cooked pasta or on crackers and peanut butter.
I’ve oscillated between plant based vegetarian and vegan for a time now. It comes down to the simple fact that my body really likes whole foods. My body responds really well when I chalk it full of veggies and fruit and nuts and green tea. I got distracted and negligent and I forgot to listen to what my body was trying to tell me.
Maybe for you too eating something with a lot of nutritional value could have the power to transform a day. What it comes down to is more than that, though. You have to know thyself. You have to listen to thyself. You are the one who meets your needs.
Peace and Blessings,
I listened to the NPR podcast TED Radio Hour on a run a few months ago on the topic of Disruptive Leadership. Bunker Roy, an Indian social activist and educator, gave a talk titled Learning from a Barefoot Movement; I highly, highly suggest popping over to YouTube for a look.
As Roy was tackling the problem of launching a credible education system fit for those with little financial means, he discovered the almost immeasurable benefit of employing grandmothers; an often overlooked demographic.
“One lesson we learned in India was men are untrainable. Men are restless, men are ambitious, men are compulsively mobile, and they all want a certificate. (Laughter) All across the globe, you have this tendency of men wanting a certificate. Why? Because they want to leave the village and go to a city, looking for a job. So we came up with a great solution: train grandmothers. What’s the best way of communicating in the world today? Television? No. Telegraph? No. Telephone? No. Tell a woman.”
Roy goes on to describe the wisdom of the grandmother demographic. They have the experience with selflessly devoting a significant portion of their lives to investing in the life of their child; that ability to be so selflessly devoted still exists in the grandmother but without the commitment of a child at home. Women after becoming mothers develop an intense sense of protection. Who are the animals to avoid? The mother bear. The mother hen. The mother duck. If a mother believes in something, you better believe that she is going to do beyond her power to protect it.
Furthermore it is almost poetry to watch some women in the grandmother category interact with their husbands. The husband tends to be a bit older, a bit rougher, a bit more distracted by life; the grandmother takes all of the energy that previously went into her share of raising their child and inputs it with warmth and delicacy into the care and upkeep of her husband.
Obviously this is not in every case, and this is also not meant to be a feminist or anti feminist critique. It is mere blanket observation. I find that as a society we tend to place grandmothers in the unidimensional box of “jolly grand baker”. This is a serious under representation of the kick-ass-ability of some grandmothers out there.
Down with putting people in boxes!
This TED talk has stuck in my mind since I first listened to it. It’s true, grandmothers have an incredible amount of potential to fix our broken, angsty society and should be utilized for more than flakey apple pie or good hugs.
Bunker Roy’s wisdom came back to my mind today as I was walking home from a hiking day with my buddies. I ended up walking behind this elderly couple for quite a ways; the woman had a deep hunch and a significant limp and used a gnarly cane to swat the ground in front of her. Clearly she had pain in her joints and an aching body. The man on her arm fared slightly better; his limp was smaller and he carried no cane or hunch. While he protected her outwardly from the cascading people swarming around the city square, she was the one who would swat the legs of the pesky oblivious teenagers who would mindlessly get to close to her or her husband. It was a very subtle and private action that carried more weight than the protections of her husband.
Why do we think older women like this can’t protect themselves? It was clear to me that had she a husband at her side or not, she would not have been bothered by the hoards of people.
Down with putting people in boxes!
Bunker Roy puts societal problems in such a beautiful conclusion when he says:
“I’ll just wind up by saying that I think you don’t have to look for solutions outside. Look for solutions within. And listen to people. They have the solutions in front of you. They’re all over the world.”
Peace and Blessings,
As the noontime cathedral bells finish chiming, I find myself situated at the Café Elephant in Leibnitz, Austria, sipping regional Steiermarkish red wine and enjoying a perfectly crafted slice of Apfelküchen while I write this.
I woke up this magical Sunday morning with insatiable desire for an introvert solo-adventure; packed a lunch, filled my backpack with assigned essays for my Metaethics class, checked the timetables and bought a €3,30 round trip train ticket to the wine-country nestled town of Leibnitz, Austria.
After wandering without agenda through the beautifully well-kept Leibnitz Stadtpark, finding benches on which to read Immanuel Kant, I snuggled down at this beautiful cafe. So prepare for something inspired, it’s been that kind of day.
Yesterday I hiked Bärenschützklamm with 8 of my international buddies. We found ourselves jaunting through an oasis of well-established trails and well-built wooden platforms dancing up the face of the stone mountain, allotting for a pristine relationship with the spurting waterfalls.
I adore the way the Austrians hike. They choose rugged landscapes and skirt away from any notion of taming the land, instead fixating on preservation and admiration for the miracle of mountains. Most notable when it comes to Austrian hiking are the little cozy mountain huts nestled beside the trail every 45 minutes or so, typically featuring a very tall, very blond Austrian mountain man offering schnapps to hikers.
On our descent we reached a meadow, featuring a very old, very abandoned wooden barn with moss cradling its walls and the smell of old books wafting through its structure. Around this wooden barn could one find the remains of an old stone well, a firmly built hunting platform, a pleathora of crab apple trees, and an acre or so of soft mossy meadow.
Feeling quite inspired, my buddy Katie and I started almost literally frolicking through this aforedescribed meadow. We scampered up the hunting platform, stroked the sap leaking from the hundred+ year old pines, pivoted over fallen stones from the looming mountain face. We ran down insane declines, unable to control the giggles from going at such an uncontrollably fast pace with no sort of actual control.
That being the ultimate example, the entire day was spent playing in the woods. We explored caves and waterfalls and spotted Austrian mountain animals. We met locals and mountain men and toasted to life. We found climbing spots and jumping spots and running spots. We finished our day as the rain began to drizzle in the chilly Bärenschützklamm dusk by hunkering down in this warm pub with soup and wine and tea whilst we waited for our train back to Graz.
Nature carries purity and innocence. I have no right to claim any part of the trail, but yet hiking still feels so intimate. So personal. Maybe for the reason that this relationship with nature is based on respect. As if the surrounding woods and nature have rewarded my devotion and are communicating with only me for a period of time. They tell me that the trail has never existed in the condition that it presently exists now and I am the only one to experience it in its current state.
There is something breathtakingly raw about playing in the woods. Maybe it’s letting go of certain man-made illusions. Maturity…growing up…these things are social constructs designed to input us into a society of producers. Of consumers. But what if we could just be contributors? What if we could allow our “immaturity” to swell untethered to societal constraints? The child that we all once were didn’t evolve into the adult we are now. The adult in us grew on top of our child, growing from memories and experiences and failures. But at the root of each of us there still remains the child.
What if “meeting your needs” went further than just feeding yourself, clothing yourself, giving yourself shelter? What if you could trace it all the way back down to meeting the need of play?
Adapt. Mature. Accept responsibility. But never truly grow up.
Peace & Blessings,
I know you are out there. I know that you are reading this. I want you to know that I am like you, too. That you are not alone. That it’s okay. Let’s say it together, out loud.
We know who we are; even taking off the watch for the shower is a bit disconcerting at times. What time is it? one might ask themselves as one pops up the wrist for a quick peek, only to fall back cognitively disillusioned at the surprising bareness. The unfortunate days that fall between one watch breaking and the securing of another watch are days shrouded in dissonance. It’s a time of subconscious confusion because underneath the facade of organization, we are addicted to the time.
This past week the Universe set up a personal session of Time-oholics Anonymous for me while I was moseying around Lake Garda, Italy with my three buddies. Half a day into our four day jaunt, my watch flashed the low battery you fool signal to me and promptly went blank.
I went through the stages. Initially I was a bit taken wholly aback, shock. Then I was optimistic and popped the watch into my bag thinking, I don’t need you!, denial. Then I began to get antsy as looking at my wrist no longer brought the initial waves of satisfaction over having control of my day that it used to, facing the problem. As the first day ended, I realized that not being controlled by this constant reassurance of time rendered me more capable of listening to my body. Listening to when I was actually hungry instead of knowing when dinner time was. Listening to when I was getting tired and cranky instead of knowing how many hours of sleep I would be able to get that night. Surrender. Self-awareness.
In all honesty, the first half day of not wearing a watch and not having a phone with the time easily on hand was noticeably disconcerting. When one knows the time, one can think, Alright, it will take 20 minutes to walk here, and then 30 minutes to explore this, and then 15 minutes to walk to the square, and then 10 minutes to find a place to eat, and then an hour and a half for a nice dinner, and then that should put us back at the train station 30 minutes prior to the departure of our train.
But a day subdivided with this kind of control is an illusion; when it comes to a day, especially a day traveling, we don’t have the control we think we do. Surprises happen, delays occur, traffic is heavier than expected, better things to see pop up in hidden places, the planned-upon restaurant is too expensive. When I believe that I have control of the day, I am inevitably disappointed.
A lot of this disappointment stems from being addicted to time.
After the watch came off, the vacation started. We ate when we were hungry, we slept when it was dark and we were tired, we were more in-tune with the timetables of departure. Not having access to a phone was magical, too; we hiked around Lake Garda walking from Salo to surrounding towns with nothing but a ripped-up map and our eager thumbs waving down cars.
We became explorers.
Traveling this way is how vacations should work. Vacation should be changing your routine as wholly as possible in order to give yourself a break from your well-established life at home. Don’t let time disappoint you.
Peace & Blessings,
Last Sunday I found myself amongst the beautiful rugged mountains of Krk Island, Croatia hiking to this beautiful hidden inlet Vela Luça with one of my newfound best buds, an Aussie named Dan. We were having the time of our lives scrambling up majestic mountains which dove straight into the Mediterranean Sea below, being blown away by the sharp beauty of Croatian nature, finding little pockets of seemingly uninhabited beach against turquoise waters.
As we progressed with our journey and as the day started heating up, we began to realize that these seemingly uninhabited beaches were actually quite populated; the inhabitants just blended really well with the sand because well, um, everyone was entirely naked.
Kansas vs. Europe: definitely not socially acceptable in Kansas to be a nudist. But Europe? High-70s, humidity-free Croatia? All naked all the time is all okay.
Hmm, how awkward, one might think to oneself. Here you are, with your opposite-sex buddy trying to have a pleasant hike when all of a sudden these crazy yahoos are meandering around with all of God’s blessed personalized nature presented for the world to see. One might even insert a stern head-shake or frown.
While some of these thoughts crossed my mind initially, I soon found them to fade quite quickly. Suddenly the thoughts of, man, this is weird became replaced with an appreciation for people who appreciate life. These people were nudists in the same way that I am Josie. It’s entirely fluid: Josie is not something that I have grown up in like Kansas is, it’s not something I have been told I am a part of, like being American, it’s not something that others chose for me, like where I went to elementary school. Josie is something that has taken me a long time to figure out, something that is quite fluid and that is constantly changing and cannot be figured out to entirety and it a complicated arrangement of all the people I have met and my own genetic instincts.
And that’s what nudism is for many of these people, too. Many have subtracted the conformity and comfort of life from the essential of humanity and found that things such as materialism and fitting in and societal norms….these things don’t produce the same sort of emotions that vulnerability and minimalism do.
I don’t intend to be a nudist at the present. I mean, who knows who future Josie is going to be, but entering Austrian fall will find me definitely clothed. I do want to chase that same raw appreciation for life, though. I want to go places for days on end without keeping up with my every-other-day-shower-schedule or brushing my hair and jaunting around with nothing more than a backpack full of necessities.
American culture has taught us to fear our own bodies. We have grown up with the idea that it is common and it is right to be disgruntled with your figure. That one must strive to tan and to tighten and to lift and to smooth these parts of your body that are so stubbornly against change. New Years Resolution gym membership deals and a plethora of photoshopped pictures reinforces this dissatisfaction with the simple way that things are.
Full-frontal nudity is not necessarily the best option for everyone, perhaps especially in Kansas. But I think there is something incredibly empowering about self-love and self-understanding. Taking oneself at face value, whether metaphorically or literally. Ultimately it comes down to the simple fact that there is so much more to life than what we look like. Than how we fit in.
Peace & Blessings,
Last night I climbed Schloßberg–the picturesque “mountain” looming over the city of Graz, Austria–with my beautiful Ukrainian roommate, Vika, to watch the sun set behind the mountain ridges surrounding Graz and eat some fresh-baked Austrian Pita Brot (pita bread) with Grecian hummus and sautéed Roma tomatoes.
(View over Graz from Schlosßberg)
Vika is a pretty magical, wonderful human. She currently sits at 18 years of age, graduating from Ukrainian high school a year early at 16. With zero prior knowledge of either German or English (the only languages that are actually helpful to know in a German speaking country), she moved to Graz to study medicine at the Technical University.
Yeah, um, study medicine in German.
She came to Austria alone, at the age of 17, and had to register with the city, find a bank account, get a visa, find her way around, find housing–all of this that has taken about 4 years away from my life span–alone and without being able to speak any languages that people here know. And then she goes on to study medicine.
I don’t know how you are feeling currently, but this blows my mind. As much as I really deeply love Graz already and as much as I have intensely bonded with the beautiful friends that I have made, it has been no picnic to get everything sorted and accounted for.
So when I asked her, “Liebe Vika, how in the world were you able to go completely out of your comfort zone and move to Austria of all places?!” To which she stared at me for a while (half because her English isn’t very developed and I speak too fast anyways, and half because the question struck her as absurd) and replied,
“Vat are you talking abut? Dies ist not out of my comvert zone. Dies has been my dream forever. I am nut so gut at going out of my comvert zone.”
Translation: she honestly didn’t believe that any of this constituted as her going out of her comfort zone. She went on to explain that she has a home here and running water and showers and she likes her routine….she believes that she is in her comfort zone because she is so intune with miscommunication and adapting to things. All of her friends and family have done this, once they graduate high school they all move to different parts of the world for studies.
But for me, even though I have it much easier than she did, moving to Austria has put pressure on the circumference of my own zone. I am thrown into situations daily that I feel are out of my comfort zone–having to navigate through the safe parts of the city to get home alone at night, being paired with a far-superior-German-speaking-international-student for an oral German placement exam in order to be placed in the appropriate German intensive course level, going to sleep at 2:30 and waking up at 6:30 multiple nights in a row in order to both make friends and also make it to class the next day, having to deny my own pride in order to ask so many people to help me because I don’t understand how to do so many necessary things…
It’s easy to listen to Vika and think, Wow. I was only kidding myself when I thought that I was doing such a great job at expanding and going out of my comfort zone.
But then some pretty neat-o realizations began to take place. I started to talk about my intense passion and drive for Ultrarunning, the feeling of pounding through long, long distances alone and then finishing and wanting to immediately do it again. I started to talk about how I want to do a 100K and eventually work my way up to the 100-mile distance. I told her about my dream to thru-hike the entire Appalatian trail. I told her about my weekend plan to spend the day hiking Austrian mountains with a friend.
She began to get the same look on her face that I did when she was telling me about herself. “But VY? Vy vould you want to do dies? Do people do dies? Dies 100K running? Do they actually hike for 2 months straight vivout any showers or comverts?”
Translation: she was asking me how on earth I could enjoy going out of my comfort zone like that. Pretty much the same question that I had asked her.
Those things aren’t really out of my comfort zone, though. Running a half marathon or even a full marathon is just another weekend run, it doesn’t seem that long to me anymore. I don’t say this arrogantly, or at least I hope you don’t take it as such, none of these distances are run even remotely fast. It’s very within my comfort zone to stick to my well-thought-out plan of running increasing distances every day, by myself, with the pleasure of my podcasts and the pleasure of my gels and mid-run fueling. It’s out of my comfort zone to give this up because it has become so familiar to me and so comforting of an activity.
I have read so many memoirs of Appalatian thru-hikers. So many memoirs of intense ultra runners. I have listened to so many podcasts. I don’t think that my 50K race is anything super special (I mean, it is super special to me, but in the greater scheme), because I have listened to so many accounts of people running far greater distances with far faster times.
I came to realize this very important fact: the comfort zone–like almost everything else– is also completely relative.
Vika does not have a bigger comfort zone. Her comfort zone isn’t greater or more adaptive or more expansive than mine. Likewise, I do not have a “better” comfort zone than her. There are some people that I have met who tell me fantastic stories about the adventures they have gone on, things that are normal for them but extreme for me. But these people that I have met are older than me by quite a few years or they have lived in places that afford them these opportunities, so in no way is it justifiable for me to compare my comfort zone with theirs. We are different people.
You’ll go nuts. You’ll lose the plot, as my Aussie friends call it.
Some personal takeaways from this potentially obvious-to-you realization:
- The only comfort zone that I need to be mindful of is mine. All I can do is work diligently a little each day to expand my own comfort zone.
2. Stomaching the urge to compare myself with others, I can definitely gain perspective from listening to what other people are comfortable with. I come back to the flat after a long day of running around trying to figure Austrian life out and plop down on the floor in a state of being semi-defeated. Vika, noticing my obvious distress, talks me down and tells me everything is going to be okay, that she went through this too and that it wasn’t that big of a deal. That it’s going to work out.
3. Maybe I haven’t gone cross country skiing through the Alps. Maybe I haven’t been cliff diving off the coast of Indonesia. Maybe I haven’t moved to a country where I am 100% unable to communicate. But because I am an individual, because there is no one like me in terms of age, nurture, passion, tendencies, flaws, regrets, schooling, pet peeves, observations, processing abilities…because of these things, I have something to offer, too.
4. Just because it’s not about “anyone else” also does not mean that it is about me.
So, update from Austria:
I can’t believe it’s only been one week; honestly, I feel as if I have lived a couple of years in such a time. There are so many memories that I have already made and so many wonderful things that have happened that I want to share. But I’ll narrow it down for you:
Top 5 Highlights from the week: September 5-September 10th:
• Going to an organ concert with Vika in an Austrian cathedral in the middle of a thunderstorm was BOMB.
• Every Wednesday most of the international students go to an Austrian pub called The Office and my first experience of an Austrian pub was being surrounded by now-familiar faces and friends with whom I have become very bonded and close with. That was pretty tight.
• In a registration session reserved for only students studying in Austria for the full year (featuring some pretty disheartening news about FBI background checks and also more fees concerning not being deported from Austria) I met Rodrigo from Brazil. He asked me where I was from, to which I replied “Kansas”, to which he got excited and told me that for 5 months he lived in Manhattan, Kansas with his uncle who is a professor at Kansas State University. I go all the way to Austria to meet a new friend comes all the way from Brazil and has shared my hometown of MANHATTAN KANSAS. How insane is this world that we live in.
• A British tourist couple asked me for directions when I was on my way home from the university. Perhaps the first time that someone has told me, “I’m glad you speak English!”.
• Went out this morning for my first solo-run (I have found that I infinitely prefer this to group running) and found these pretty sweet trails that snake along the Mur River. Just me, early Austrian morning, leaping over roots and rocks and trying not to fall in the river.
Peace and Blessings,
My plane leaves the bustling metropolis of Manhattan, KS bound for Graz, Austria in t-minus 8 days; before this time, I need to solidify financial matters with ESU, settle bank affairs, find documents, figure out logistics of living in the EU, revisit Austrian-German basics, contact with the Austrian girl meeting me at the airport, and 23 other check-list items. Oh, and pack. I’ve got to do that.
People chant “Josie! Are you excited?!” at least five times a day, to which I reply, “Uh, yeah. Excitement is one of the thirty million emotions raging through my body”.
I am excited. It’s kind of a given. These things are almost by definition exciting. I am also a smidge overwhelmed. And perhaps a dash anxious. And maybe a sprinkle of petrified. But you know what? I have a plan on how to spend these next days in order to not only ensure I don’t get kicked out of Austria but also to do it without losing my mind.
I introduce you to: single-task days. I have created a master giant list of all of the things I need to accomplish, and then have split that list into 8 clumps. Each day is a different clump, and each day the entire clump of tasks is checked off to completion.
For example, yesterday was Bank Day (as shown by my Bank-themed blog post that I published). Yesterday I payed for ESU tuition and figured out my budget for next year. I researched the cost of living in Austria. I called the bank to tell them I will be out of the country. I researched the currency exchange and how credit cards work internationally. I spent the day devoted to checking off only the things on the Bank Day list. Because of this focus I was able to accomplish much more in a shorter amount of time than the alternative of running around overwhelmed by the length of the list and rendered incapable of doing anything productive because of how stressed I am.
I think this tactic can work for any daunting, lengthy task one might face. You have a weekend to complete a novel-long list of homework? Friday is Writing Day, Saturday is Math Problems Day, Sunday is Reading Day. It doesn’t have to be the whole day, it just needs to be all the items checked off the list.
This ties back to my post on Living Without Commitment to the Unfinished Laundry quite nicely, offering evidence of how much I have been relying on the single-task tactic in order to maintain sanity lately.
In case you are curious, today is Writing Day. Sorry for the back-to-back posting; just following the check list.
Peace and Blessings,
It’s not that I find bank people incompetent or slow or somehow lesser than I, it’s simply that my English-major mind doesn’t comprehend money matters. So as one might imagine, the biggest problems I ran into figuring out how to get to Graz and stay there were in the “figuring out banking” categories.
Specifically when it came to sending a deposit to my Austrian apartment. My task seemed simple:
1. Take the receiving account information I was provided with.
2. Drive to my bank.
3. Point at paper, ask for international wire transaction.
I honestly thought this might take, what, 15 minutes tops? I mean, I even left my dog in the car when I went in.
No, no, no. Friends, it didn’t take 15 minutes. It took upwards of an hour the first trip to the bank, 40 minutes the second trip to the bank, and then a grand-daddy of an hour 15 the third trip.
It didn’t come down to incompetence on anyone’s part, it was simply that international wires are tricky processes. I should have expected this. And I’m glad, in some pretty deep hindsight, that something as “simple” as wiring quite a few pretty pennies from my account in the States to an account far away from my current location takes more than 15 minutes. It should.
What happened was the following:
Josie: “Uhm, hi. Yeah. Hi. Uh, I’ve got to, wire some money…to this account in Austria.” *nonchalantly slides the banker a piece of paper with handwritten account details scrawled in a spotty ink pen across the plastic wooden desk, while simultaneously glancing around to make sure thieves haven’t overheard.*
Banking Man: *rolls eyes* “Okay! Yeah, for sure we can do that.” *click clack* “Identification, please?”
Josie: “Oh, yeah, Uhm, yeah. Here. That’s me. In the picture there.” *hands driver’s license to banking man and smiles to match the tiny frizzy haired picture. Points unnecessarily to the tiny picture.*
Banking Man: “Yes, very good, that’s you.” *checks watch*.
…Banking Man spends a lengthy amount of time with this, while Josie stares intently at his face trying to interpret every visual queue for signs of success. There are very little.
He tells me everything worked, that I will be charged a $45 “transaction fee” on top of the money leaving my account for the wire, but that everything should be taken care of. Great. Grand. Stellar. I would pay $45 to never
have to go back to a bank.
The additional wiring fee didn’t bother me, what bothered me was the “failed wire transaction” fee that I found in my account the next day, along with a second $45 “incoming transaction fee” and the sinking feeling that I would have to make an additional trip to the bank.
My second trip involved a lot of time listening to the phrase “well, it should have worked”. Ultimately I was told to come back again, because “I really don’t know why it didn’t work”.
The third time I got the chance to speak with a Banker Lady who very thoroughly checked the reasons why the wire failed the first time, and spent a lot of time calling the “higher-ups” to ask questions. She figured out that the money has to be converted to Euros before wiring it over to the other bank, because the international account in Austria can’t recognize or receive a wire that’s in dollars. Once she figured this out, she quadruple checked with
everyone and their mother to make use that it would work this time.
Then, a whopping one month later, I received an email from the account in Austria saying “Dear Student: We have not received your WIST payments. Please wire the money as soon as possible. Love, Austria”.
*internal organs rupture simultaneously*
I frantically, with obvious and extreme panic, emailed every person I knew in Austria to ask why the heck-fire it didn’t work. Two days later I received:
“sorry we r mistaken. Ur good. Love, Austria.”
Consequently I now fully believe that I can conquer anything. If the bank is something that stresses you out, too, dear friend, just remember: the only thing standing between you and the sunrise waking up the eastern Alps is the cold faux-wood door of your banking establishment. After you rough that, you’re home free. That and maybe a purchasing a plane ticket. And maybe a job that would pay for the plane ticket. And some social skills.
Peace and Blessings,