Monday, July 29, 2013

The Wrap-Up

Once again another apology in order for the infrequency of my blog posts. Unfortunately, this will be my last about my study abroad trip. My last few days in Vienna were bittersweet. I had a marvelous time living with my Austrian friends yet my ever looming trip plagued our time together. We celebrated our time together, and said our goodbyes. My flight back was long and tedious, but strangely relaxing. I've been at my aunt and uncle's house for the past few days spending time with my family. Now I'm writing this out on the porch lit like the Lumineers Ho Hey music video with my dad snoring on the couch next to me. With sweet sounds of Norah Jones drifting into the night, and my pooch at my side- all feels right. Now down to business.

The first idea I would like to emphasize in this post is the isolations of the two worlds that I have just existed in. For some reason my initial assessment of Vienna was that it really wasn't significantly different from the states. In a lot of ways I think there is a great deal of truth in that. A great deal of people speak English, politically there are very conservative people and liberals, there's unhealthy food, there are self-interested and selfless people, and life is comfortable. But now coming from that world to this, it all feels so strange. I haven't been noticing the similarities, but rather the differences. No one sounds significantly different in accent, no kebab, the buildings aren't as magnificent, usual tasks aren't complicated with the task of translation, and life is strange. I guess my reference point has  changed. I went into the experience looking for the similarities and left noticing the differences.

My next reflection is the people that have been supportive of me. These people come is three categories. The first set of people that I'm appreciative of are my friends and family back in the states.   Whether it was someone who chatted with me on Facebook, skyped me late in the evening, or gave me any type of encouragement, it was truly appreciated be definitely needed. The next group of people were family and friends that I spent time with from the states. It was weird for me to see people from the states in Europe. It's totally contextual. I feel that when you get to know someone in a certain context and you find them out of that context it's strange. It was nice to see those people again and gave me a taste of my return. The last group of people that provided me with support are my European friends. Of course companionship has been great on my time abroad. It has been my international friends that helped maintain my sanity. I found that it was easy to go to a new place and disappear, but I've found that situation is not ideal in almost anyway. The time spent out at dinner watching movies, playing games, strolling in the park, cycling through the countryside, or chatting politics was incredible. I've truly been blessed to have met so many incredible people on my travels. To anyone that fits in those categories or has been a part of my life in the last few months I'm truly thankful to you.

A popular question I've been asked is "Would you do it again?" My answer is simple yes. My time abroad has been riddled with reflection and new amazing experiences. I find those are the periods of growth in persons life. I definitely feel like I've grown in a few ways, and I would suggest to anyone considering studying aboard to jump in. Life is full of adventures go out and experience them. As this being my final Vienna post, it would only be fitting to leave you with an Austrian farewell. Tchüss Baba.

God Bless,
Christian Webb

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Weekend at Heidi's

Last weekend, I traveled to the beautiful city of Graz. This trip was going to be different for me because this time I was going to travel the entire time with my friends Marcel and Radka. We started early on Saturday morning, and took a wonderful train ride through the hills of Austria. We passed ruined castles and quaint villages on the journey to Graz. We had some interesting discussions, and after the two hour journey we arrived in Graz. We met my friend Heidi, a native of the city, and began our tour of the city.

Marcel, Radka, and me on the Grazer Schloßberg overlooking Graz
Graz is capital city of Styria, the second largest Bundesland (State) in Austria. The city has rich historic roots, which were strongly reflected in the preservation of the old city and the palaces. We spent the fat of Saturday walking around the city and touring the old buildings. In the center of the city the Schloßberg stands over the river Mur. We climbed to the top of this fortified hill to witness the expanse of the city and it's outlying suburbs. The view was amazing, and I can add it to my growing list of fantastic overlooks. That evening we spent the night at Heidi's brother Paul's place. We played a game called Jungle Speed and had some discussions of our respective countries.

My friend Paul and me on a tandem bike
 The next day we traveled by bike Arni (Arnold Schwarzenegger) Museum, Marcel's mission in Austria. We decided to take bikes up to the museum tucked away in the hills of Graz. I then got to fulfill my dream of riding on a tandem bike. The ride winded through the hill and passed tiny meadows and streams. Definitely a highlight of my stay here. The museum was hilarious. The two most interesting parts were the de-emphasis on his family and the four different life size depictions of himself (the varieties were body building, politician, Terminator, and bronze statue depicting his giant muscles). We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around a lake, tossing the disc, and some enjoying some tasty ice cream. Overall, I had an excellent time.
The view from the Arni Museum on the outskirts of Graz
Last Wednesday, I resumed my concert tour with a visit to the Gasometer to see the XX. The venue is a converted petroleum tank with a concert hall in the basement. I had a delightful time watching the light show and listening the piercing electric rifts and the smooth bass guitar. It was a great afternoon spent with my friend Kira. We had huge burgers in park and took the longest possible route to the venue, but thankfully we made it on time. This time I saw the show from up in the gallery. It was different sitting and watching the show opposed to standing in the masses. Usually, I'm up for the sway and dancing of the fans, but sitting down totally dampened the dancing vibe. I definitely appreciate the experience and look forward to more good music from this group.
The XX live in Vienna
Now a bit on how I'm doing personally. Winter has passed, and Spring has brought new energy to me. I'm trying to maintain this new energy by keeping my focus on spending time with friends, as well as keeping an interest in my field and potential work to be done in the future. Yesterday, I spent the day in a seminar about scientific publishing. It gave me a renewed interest in contributing to a body of knowledge. In these last weeks, I've also had a good conversation about what my talents could be used for other than publishing. I come to the realization that I should also be focusing on extension and mentorship. I've witnessed scientists that can have great influence on public policy and positive changes brought on by discussions with politicians and young people interested in the field. That's a general focus now, but I'm open to be influenced. Thank you to my family and friends for the support and prayers.

God Bless,
Christian Webb

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Dulcet Tones of Americana

First, I would like to apologize for the large gap between my last post and this current one. My last few weeks have included a tour of the best bands Americana has to offer. As the name suggests, Americana includes music that reflects traditionally "American" styles of music. My tour included a trip to Cologne, Germany to see The Lumineers, a visit to a local venue in Vienna to witness Mumford & Sons, and a hasty weekend trip to Munich, Germany for The Avett Brothers. These adventures were all great, but they all are symbolizing a recent trend in my musical habits since arriving in Vienna.

Spoiler Alert: If you don't want me to alter your expectations of any of these live bands, you may not want to read the following section. Skip down past the section break for my conclusions and analysis (No Spoilers).

My trip to Cologne was plagued with illness. The night before I left for Cologne, I had come down with cold. In retrospect, I should've probably stayed in Vienna, but I was determined to see The Lumineers. I boarded my plane and flew off to Cologne. A summary of my time in Cologne would be occasional trips to the Cathedral (one of the largest in Europe) and walks around the Rhein river, but mainly trying to recover from my new bout with disease. So I ended up spending a great deal of time sleeping and reading in the hostel. After a two days of rest, I had finally come to the expected climax of this journey, the concert.

The Lumineers were everything I hope for. At the concert, I had met other two other Americans on break who had also decided to make the same pilgrimage. They were studying in France of the semester, so we exchanged our European experiences and notes. It was definitely comforting to meet others like me, after traveling by myself in an unfamiliar place.

The band was excellent. I had been listening to their self titled album for most of the last eight months, and they certainly delivered. Their sound blends together a delightful mixture of acoustic guitar, gentle cello, and an eclectic and folksy tones. I had a really nice spot under the lead singer Wesley Schulz. A majority of the concert included him stopping around the stage. At one point of the concert, they had move into the middle of the crowd and performed their major hit Ho Hey. They did something I respect, which was to tell everyone to put their cameras and phones away and sing with them. As they began, the cameras began to pop up, so they proceded to stop and point everyone out who disobeyed. Eventually, the crowd began singing along and it was definitely an awesome moment. In my opinion, their best performance was Stubborn Love. It's one of their songs that is very easy to sing and dance to. Overall, it was an eight months dream come true. The conclusion to this adventure was a short flight back to Vienna, and a week of recovery in bed.

A week later Mumford & Sons rolled into Vienna. They had just come off a best album of the year award at the Grammy's, and they didn't disappoint. I got there an hour early to get a good spot, and thanks to the easy concert going nature of the Europeans, I got relatively close. When they eventually got onto stage I was right by the upright base. He great to watch because he made some excellant faces throughout the concert, and was really interactive with the crowd, mainly chatting with us. They are very passionate, especially for Broken Crown and Dust Bowl Dance. During Dust Bowl Dance, Marcus Mumford basically knocked down all of the drums and microphones in a rage. What I appreciate about them is the poeticism and rawness of their lyrics. Marcus Mumford won over the crowd by saying that Vienna has the most beautiful architecture, he had ever seen. Classy move. It was really cool and an fun experience.

The weekend before I saw Mumford & Sons, I had spent some time watching the Little Desk Concert put on by NPR. I had already heard a great deal about The Avett Brothers. But when I had watched them in that performance on the podcast, I had decided I wanted to see what they were all about. Coincidentally, they were touring through Germany that same week. I quickly snatched up those concert tickets, and bought a train ticket to Munich. So, the day after Munford & Sons, I took a morning train from Vienna to Munich through the upper Alps. 

I spent the day walking around the city, then I went to the concert an hour before the gates opened. I was once again surprised, by the ease of European concert goers. I was first in line! In line I met some huge fans of The Avett Brothers. One was from Hamburg, Germany, and the other from California. They were touring with the band throughout Germany, and had already seen them two times before. They were really kind and let me join them for the concert and breakfast the next morning.

As for the concert, I had probably the best spot in the house. They were super electric and enthused to be playing for us. They brought a certain presence to the stage that I've never quite experienced at a concert. Even though I had only heard a few of their bigger hits, all of their songs were super accessible. At one point in the concert, the brothers performed Through My Prayers and Backwards with Time. They both wielded acoustic guitars and sang into one microphone. And all of this happend literally right over me! I felt that their best performance of the evening was At The Beach. It is a really upbeat, peppy song, and very danceable as well. Even though, I wasn't really familiar with them as much as the previous two bands, this was my favorite experience of the three. 

To reason out my recent habits, maybe you should know a little about where I'm at personally. I've definitely been feeling a bit of homesickness. I believe this stems from the mindset I have been operating under. I feel that during my time in Europe, I've been operating under a "vacation" mindset. For me this includes: the excitement of the unfamiliar, the shock of removing oneself from the normal, and the idea that I soon return. But that last idea isn't true. I'm not going to be home soon, I've got three more months left. So, I've been trying to change that mindset. It needs to change from one of a visitor to one of a resident. That change hasn't been easy or quick, and it is still underway. It is definitely a time of reflection, uneasiness, and a slight feel of loneliness, but I feel that none of those things are necessarily bad, their just different. It's a time that I've spent trying to understand what makes me tick, and what's really important to me.

During this time, I've turned to things that are comfortable. This does include a bit more Facebook than usual. It also includes more effort in maintaining relationships through electronic communication, than I may have spent in the past. And, It definitely includes listening to Americana music.

The concerts haven't been exclusive to my music experiences in Europe. Whenever I do any traveling, I listen to music as my primary form of entertainment, mainly from the Americana genre. It's almost a subconscious choice to listen. I've come to the conclusion that it has a comforting effect on me. In this new place, it is something that is familiar to me. It  may be because it is in English, or reflects on ideas on home and some existential ideas. It's most likely a combination of both. What I do know is listening to music has a strange effect on how I feel, especially during my time here. 

I know some of this will sound strange, weird, or over analytical, but I've had a bit of time to think of it. Also don't feel that I'm depressed or unhappy because that is untrue, it's just a new time in my life.

God Bless,

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Necessity Breeding Innovation

Over the course of high school, I had taken eight different classes of German. Even with all of this training, the moment I walked into the airport I was drowning in German. There are plenty of excuses why I hadn't properly learned German, but really it's completely on me. I never really needed to learn German, so I didn't really try. So over the last few weeks, I've been engaged in an intensive German Language course. Everyone in the class had never had any German learning experience before, but I still fit in pretty well.

The Viennese Rathaus at night 
It really made me think: why did I not retain any of my old training? Necessity. I'm best motivated when I need to something. I couldn't even use the washing machine this morning (it turned out pretty bad...imagine hot, damp, soapy clothes). The little everyday moments that you understand what a label says, how to order food appropriately, or even showing gratitude, I've completely taken for granted. It's these things that has spawned necessity. So now, I'm trying to innovate myself. It's strange for me to think this way...I need to make myself into something different to function in this country. What I really want is to fit in. I want to go up to a person and not feel like an outsider or a bother, but an equal.

It has been nice to be surrounded by others that were struggling with their new translational trials. We've practiced easy things in German like what we study, where we live, and how to order food. I kind of enjoy picking up the pieces of my lost language, but it would have been nice to remember a little more.
The car in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated 

Over the last few weeks, I've been spending my free time hanging out with new friends. We've gone ice skating in the city, eaten at authentic restaurants, and explored stunning museums. It's great to live in a place that appreciates the way their city looks. I've also met up with an old friend from Huntington had a great time catching up.

The painting on the ceiling of the art museum 
My plans for the next week is: Go to church on sunday, move out out of my apartment, travel to Cologne, enjoy the city for a few days, watch the Lumineers live, come back, and move into my new apartment, and then attend classes. It's going to be crazy, but I ready to begin my wandering again.

Best Wishes,

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The End of Monotony

Preparation. Rarely do I find myself completely prepared for something. Whether it be going out to coffee with a friend or living in a new country, I'm never truly truly prepared. So when I woke up on Tuesday morning with my bags packed and ready to go, I realized I wasn't truly ready. But I got on the plane and headed of to a new adventure anyways.

The experience of getting on the plane was weird. It was the first time I had been on a plane by myself, and I was a bit uneasy. Mainly, it was the thought of losing my effects. Thankfully, I had a great book to read, and the ability to fall asleep in most situations. The trip went of without a hitch, except for the connection in London.

I only had 30 minutes to get to the plane, so I hustled through a security check point and asked an attendant for directions. He had expressed to me that I had gone the wrong way, so I cautiously went back the way I came. I met another attendant who informed me that I was mistaken and I had to run back. I flew as fast as I could to gate and made it with a minute to spare. I learned two things in London Heathrow. One is never trust the attendants from Fly Emirates, and rule number one...Cardio.

The rest of my time in Vienna has been just trying to find my footing. I lost my baggage at the airport (I got it back), then I couldn't get into my apartment (I stayed in hostel and figured it out the next day), and I needed internet (thank you McDonalds). Now I'm at a place where I can enjoy the small things. Just being in a place with gorgeous architecture, beautiful people, and a rich culture is refreshing. But my hardships now lie in my ability to communicate. German isn't  necessarily hard to understand, but starting a conversation has been extremely difficult. Hopefully, the German class I'm taking next week will solve some of my problems. 

What I'm already taking away from this experience is that sometimes you should shock yourself out of your habits. My last two months has been filled with apathy, laziness, and a lack of motivation. For me it was a change of setting. I already feel more motivated and excited than I have in a long while. Thanks to everyone for their thoughts and prayers.


P.S. I tentatively plan to update my blog on Sunday's.