Ambassador Scholarship Winner Nicoline Adapts to Austrian Lifestyle

Nicoline, one of our scholarship winners departed on her exchange program in September and is currently on exchange in Austria. She recently sent us a wonderful update on how her exchange is going.

“Hello Student Exchange Australia Team, 

The time has flown by so quickly that it's hard now to even know where to begin! But in this email I will try to present to you as best as I can an overview of the once in a lifetime experience I've had here so far. 

Twelve weeks ago I found myself sitting on a plane about to take off from the Sydney Airport tarmac. Sitting there alone, with all the goodbyes said and final preparations made, I was feeling a mix of emotions, but mostly an overwhelming sense of how crazy an idea this was. Moving to Vienna for 5 months to live with a family I had never met before, go to a completely new school, live a different lifestyle and do it all in a language I felt I barely knew- you have to admit it sounds pretty wild. Despite having hosted four overseas exchange students for long time frames before, I still couldn't keep a clear image of what to expect in my head. At this point of my exchange I still find the whole thing a pretty radical idea, but that idea has come to be my current life and I am already so glad that I took this leap. 

Upon arrival in Austria, I was flung into a new surrounding of host families, new people, new places, new language and new things. It definitely took me a little while before I could take in everything, a little longer before I felt I could give my new home a part of me (and talk in German), a short time longer before it didn't feel like being on holidays and still quite some time before I felt at home in my new lifestyle. The fact that my host family are the kind of people that met me with welcome signs at the airport definitely helped, but I still definitely feel right away like I belonged because everything worked similarly but was nevertheless so different from what I'm used to. I started school the day after I arrived, jet lag and all. Being in a school and living similarly to a normal teenager is such a great part of the program because you really immerse yourself in the culture, language and lifestyle, and it has also allowed me to find new friends and have new experiences. However, that's not to say it's all easy- trying to navigate classmates, lessons and language was a struggle at first, but it got easier and easier every week . I suppose you can grasp the main concept of this paragraph- the best things come with time, and whilst it can occasionally be frustrating until you reach the "settled in and comfy" phase, reaching it and knowing you tried really hard for it is a fabulous feeling!

Since the beginning of my exchange I've explored Vienna with new friends, travelled to Budapest, Bratislava and Burgenland with my host family, sailed the Danube, seen concerts, attending community festivals, started ballroom dancing lessons, began regularly running and biking, and eaten a whole lot of Austrian food. That's the most easily recognisable part of this adventure: the adventures themselves. I feel so lucky to have this chance of seeing and exploring so much of this beautiful country and city. But, there's a lot of adventuring beneath the surface as well. I'm very glad that I can keep my hobbies of singing and dancing while I'm here, but they themselves are an adventure with new classes, technique and structures. Then there's of course the language adventure- already in two months I've seen my language skills improve, especially in listening and speaking. Arguably the biggest adventure of all is the host family. In my Australian family, I'm the youngest child and I live alone with my parents and dog. Here, I'm the new big sister to a one and a half year old and a three year old! They are super adorable, and now that I'm used to them being around I really look forward to coming home from school for a play. It's not just the family structure that's different, it's also the family dynamic, expectations and timetable. Things like that are hard to talk about straight up, but I think the best thing to do is be as open and communicative as possible with your host family. Ask a million questions, listen to their answers and think about how you're in a different home before you do "bigger" things (like putting stuff on your walls... take my advice and ask specifically before doing that!). Also, make sure your family knows that you'd like them to talk with you openly too and tell you straight up if they would like you to do anything differently. Sometimes things get lost in translation or bounced off by cultural barriers, but your host family are always there for you and communication is really the key! 

The next big topic is homesickness. At first, I was so overwhelmed by all the 'newness' that I totally didn't have it in me to miss home. Then a few weeks in I was really missing Australia, especially my closest family and friends. After getting more settled in and feeling like a had a place of my own, the homesickness went away. Now I feel really happy here, and whilst I will love seeing my family and friends again, I am super content to be without them on this adventure of mine. That doesn't mean I've forgotten about Australia or never feel homesick- I still find myself occasionally thinking "I would rather be doing this in Aus", and I started crying when my parents sent me a tube of vegemite and the Australian Ballet 2020 programme. However, my working strategy is just to focus on the here and now, and integrate as much into my current life as possible to get to best experience out of this opportunity. 

As I said right at the beginning, wow how time flies! This is week twelve out of twenty four already! I still have so much to do and see and grow, but I feel confident in knowing I can do it- I'm halfway there after all. I'm extremely grateful to Student Exchange Australia New Zealand for enabling this opportunity for me. I know every exchange story is different (I realise that simply by talking to some of my other exchange student friends!), but they almost always share a common theme of growth and discovery which I myself have already started meeting in my time here. One of my favourite parts of every day is writing in my diary about all my progress and adventures. I can't wait to see what's just around the corner for me- starting with Austrian Christmas Markets on Saturday!

Best Wishes,