Hi, everybody! I’m Laura Bailey, a third year Foreign Affairs major here at UVA and also one of the students managing the Hoos Abroad Blog. I thought I’d share how my study abroad experience was different from being a tourist. I went to Salzburg, Austria, last semester and it was life-changing. I cannot wait to go back!
My camera could always be found around my neck and I had my map and list of things to see and do close by. Attempting to read the metro maps in French or converse with the waiter in Hungarian was stressful, yet memorable. I was constantly on the go and always telling myself to look and walk and drink up all the sights and sounds of the city. These weekend trips throughout Europe, from Paris to Prague, were both exciting and overwhelming; they were quick, adrenaline-filled excursions where I got to unleash my inner tourist. At the end of those trips, I was always happy to see the Alps as my train chugged along into Austria. When I pulled into the Hauptbahnhof in downtown Salzburg, I was instantly at comfort and ease. I was no longer a tourist; I was home.
Getting to spend four months studying abroad in Salzburg was such a gift. I got to spend Monday mornings grocery shopping, to go to a cozy café where the baristas knew my name, to have a sunny spot by the river where I would study, and so much more. I was able to put down roots, to explore and truly know the city. It was different from a tourist trip because I didn’t just swing by the highlights. I got to poke around parts of the city at my leisure and to talk to locals asking where they loved to go and then getting the chance to experience it myself. Studying abroad allowed me to know Salzburg as a local and as a student. While I definitely took advantage of all of the touristy Sound of Music tours and the chance to try on dirndls and eat endless amounts of pretzels, I also I hiked an Alp on my own, went to Maibaumaufstellen and cheered as kids shimmied up the pole in lederhosen, and learned that Austrian trains are fickle and will oversell tickets causing you to stand for three hours, but giving you great stories to tell later. One time while wandering around, I stumbled upon a local soccer game and heard the chants of friends and families booming as if it were the World Cup. I will never forget the roar of that crowd.
Unlike being a tourist I didn’t have 48 hours or a week in a city, I didn’t stay in a hotel, I didn’t always go to places that spoke English. I was lucky enough to throw myself into a brand new culture and have the time to appreciate it and learn from it. While being a tourist is fun and gives you a taste of what could be, studying abroad lets you sink your teeth in to new experiences and leaves you with the sweet realization that you found a new home.