Indiana University Overseas Study

“My Father would say there’s no point to them…[Concerts] don’t help you get on…which is of course what’s so wonderful about them”
‘An Education’ (2009)

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”
William Yeats

There seems to be a rather dutiful post of self-reflection, which every blogger makes in these long waning days of cosmopolitanism. And yet for better or worse, every time yours truly sits to prepare for the moment of reflective self-rendezvous, his intentions are effectively crushed not by the weight of what he has learned, but rather, by God, how much there is still to learn.

Dear readers should note that this statement is not coming from a sudden realization of ignorance; I have, to the best of my abilities, lived as wholly native as I could manage. And this is more difficult than it appears.

For one, I forced myself into giving up my wonderful English literatures in favour of Herr Harry Potter (Und der Stein der Weisen) and the wretchedly difficult novels of Graz native Peter Handke. From there, the process was the equivalent of making a meal of grocery store free samples; I nibbled everything Austrian from cuisine and music to mountain climbing and Arnold Schwarzenegger (another Graz native) movies.

Yet even when one puts aside that little problem of language differentiation, ‘cultural assimilation’ is an imposing force and one that cannot be mastered except through a long period of keen observation, because, after all, culture is more instinct than anything else. For this reason, study abroad is a tricky term to understand and a fair amount of students sally through the program as little more than glorified tourists. They emerge certainly more learned, yet there’s hardly the hint of Europeanism about them. Which of course is not a bad thing.

However, for those of my lovely readers who seek more than just the extended Rick Steves; who would like to find the obscured back door into a whole new consciousness, I offer a bit of the lesser known yet invaluable observations here.

There’s no need for such pragmatism

The title’s a bit loose, and yet it fits nonetheless. Austria is certainly not the go-to country for solving the world’s problems, and it could be for this reason that not many people are as liable to be instantly aroused by a political or religious discussion. While it’s most definitely of integral value to the country to have such a strong-minded citizenry, American friendships suffer daily under the wrath of such vituperation. Would it be a stretch to say that a strong-willed Roman Catholic and an Atheist could retain a healthy and fruitful friendship without eclipsing into debate? Austria replies with a cheery nein, and America should take note.

Not everything must be taken personally and not every political or religious discussion needs a championing arguer to score points. Austria shakes a kindly finger and tells us that not everything is always about you. In order to play the European mindset well, a good stance to take in any potentially lethal discussion is neutrality. And if you must keep your fighting words in reserve, then at least choose the anonymous skirmishes, like forum debates (or something) where no one has to affix a face to words. Even better than neutrality is the reliever, which, when one only has a few foreign phrases at his disposal (the most used being: “I don’t speak__” and “I wish I spoke more__”) is outstandingly easier.

Proper Dress Etiquette

Unfortunately (or fortunately), it exists. And it makes for a veritable people-watching feast. Whereas clothing in America has, for many a sorry soul, decayed into nothing more than, well, clothing, the Austrian, or rather, Graz, citizenry reminds in splendid fashion that walking and wearing are still art forms to be cultivated. One is hard-pressed to find basketball shorts and pajama bottoms on the streets, and strictly comfortable is fortunately not in vogue. When one spots a suit or a sport coat, one does not see sagging shoulders, three inappropriately buttoned buttons, tangled hair, and sneakers; one sees a tidy frame fitted near to the point of claustrophobia, gleaming slick hair, and a confidence that swaggers. Although I can hardly claim to be a fan of the multi colored Mohawk, I find it extremely difficult to say I’m against it when it compliments the rest of the ensemble so well. The same could go with the popped collar, which has a surprisingly ability to offset the claims of ‘toolishness’ if paired correctly. This is expressionism at its best: deliberate yet casual, strong but not pervading. Although it’s true that the people of Austria are some of the most financially successful in the world, they spend their money well and are liable to shell out more for Burberry coats and leather book bags rather than for any sport car. It’s a strange thing to promote proper dress code as a means of culture, and yet it’s invaluable. Good form and good dress possess a fantastic inheritance of both better concentration and heightened confidence.

Cheers to you and all your undying days! 

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