A Fish out of Water: My first ever international travels
It’s 4am. The fire alarm had been set off. My roommate and I haven’t slept a wink from all the banging and crashing. Now we’re faced with some German-speaking police and firemen at our door that don’t speak a bit of English.
It’s safe to stay in your home country, where everything is comfortable. Everyone knows how to say your name and speak your language. But where’s the fun in that? I seem to constantly push myself outside of my own boundaries to see what will happen. The first time I properly did that was when I boarded a plane back in 2008 with a girl I hardly knew to study on a scholarship in Austria and Slovenia. We’d be there for almost 6 months in a University that taught mostly in German.
I was a mixture of excitement and nerves.
That’s when I first realised the torture of long haul flights, if you can’t sleep on planes. It was a very long journey with various stopovers, train and car rides. The kind lecturer picked us up from the airport and showed us around the University the moment we arrived. We were initially separated for the first few days until another room became available.
I woke up the next day wondering where the heck I was. I hadn’t slept in probably over 48 hours and now had no recollection of where anything was or who I had met the night before on our tour. If that isn’t feeling like a fish out of water, I’m not sure what is.
Time moved on and I met some really lovely Austrian and international students. Some of which have become my closest friends. I have visited my Lithuanian friend who I studied with there, almost every year since – often in different countries, most recently where she was married and now lives in Sweden. I caught up with one of my Spanish friends in Norway to see the Northern Lights, last year too. It’s amazing the distances friendships can span and still be strong.
There were some great times, and then there were some less great times that shall be known as ‘experiences’.
There was the time I tried speaking German to the bus driver and ended up in a small country town where no-one spoke any English. The bus driver had practically kicked me out of the bus.
Then there was the time that another student was having leaving drinks that resulted in absinthe being brought out and the evening going down hill from there…
My roommate and I decided we wanted some sleep so left the gathering of international students to their drinks. However, this lead to knocks on our door trying to get us to come back to the gathering, which progressively got angrier. Then with a crash and bang a fire alarm of some sort was set off. One student had removed the fire extinguisher, which meant that the fire brigade and police were automatically called.
Why did they end up at our door at four in the morning? Well the ‘smart’ student had sprayed the fire extinguisher all over the hallway and covered our door with it. There was no hiding that we weren’t the targets of the prank.
Less be said, the coming week resulted in a visit to the police station with our lecturer (aka interpreter). Several Austrian students were not happy that we’d been involved and at that time, would cause the students to all have to pay for the fire brigade to be called out (we didn’t realise this). The school that the ‘fire extinguisher’ student belonged to ended up paying for this since it had been his fault.
I now look back at this time and remember how scared sh!#tless I was that night. I probably would have been better to just open the door and hit the idiot student over the head with a frying pan or something. That being said, it all adds to the experience and gives me tales to tell for years to come.
The rest of the time in Austria was fantastic. There were weekly ‘pasta nights’ at the pub, the Euro cup, Sommerfest, the Highland Games and much more that many students participated in and made us feel welcome.
I joined a photojournalism class and learnt German while churning out 35,000 words for my postgraduate thesis. I travelled whenever possible and caught the travel bug.
My time in Austria was one of the best times of my life and it was incredibly difficult to have to leave, that I had to tell myself I would return to Europe. Which I did a year and a half later when I moved to London.
That’s my first fish out of water experience, what was yours?