Senior Salena Maurer immersed herself in Austrian culture during her junior year in Reindlmühl. Through the year she learned different things about herself and life away from home.
Maurer didn’t exactly know what to expect when she set off for her year abroad, just that she was going to meet her host family.
“You are basically landing in a place where you don’t know anyone, even if you have had contact with some people,” said Maurer.
To acquaint her with her new surroundings, her host family took her on a lot of trips in the beginning of the year.
“They took me to do small things like visit the big cities around where I lived, and then they also took me on a ski vacation for a week and taught me how to ski,” said Maurer. Maurer settled in to the lifestyle making new friends and finding familiar past times and picking up new ones.
Maurer went horseback riding like she did back home and also picked up the ukulele.
“My friends and I spent a lot of time on weekends or school breaks taking the trains to other cities and seeing new things. The public transportation system was amazing,” said Maurer.
In the midst of the past times Maurer attended school.
“In school instead of here where we change classes, we stay in the same classroom in Austria, and the teachers switch classes. Also some of the classes are a lot harder. They are actually taught not in German but a dialect for the most part, and some were German,” said Maurer. Maurer took English as a second language at her school as well.
The dialect difference caused for some struggle. Another struggle was with some of her peers.
Maurer said, “I was actually in a pretty small area, so a lot of the people were pretty small minded and so not everyone was that welcome to foreigners and so that was a little hard to deal with, like my class didn’t really like foreign people… they pretty much just ignored me or made fun of me while I wasn’t there or say that I didn’t understand them even though I did.”
Through the fun and hardships Maurer learned a lot.
“You definitely learn to become your own person and be independent,” said Maurer. She also improved on her German, becoming fluent after the first three months of her stay. She misses speaking German now that she is back.
Maurer encourages students to go on exchanges because “you get to experience something that most high school students don’t….Even if it seems intimidating, it’s do-able,” said Maurer.
Maurer did her exchange through the Rotary Club’s exchange program.
Not only did the Rotary club help her get to Austria, “Rotary took all of the exchange students to the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Andorra, Spain, Monaco and Italy.”
Rotary offers two types of exchanges, a long term exchange for up to a year and a short term exchange that takes place during the summer.
Student must attend high school in their host country. In some cases, participants will receive credit for their study abroad. In other cases, they will not.
Parents must provide round trip air fare and must purchase a specific health insurance program through Rotary International. The cost borne to the club is the insurance and the airline ticket, which normally costs $2,000 or less depending on airfare, according to Dick Sant of Webster Groves Rotary Club.
“An exchange is definitely something that changes your life,” said Maurer.