It’s a sunny 28 degrees in July and here I am at an Olympic ski jump watching a 19 year old practice his landing, you know just your typical Thursday, writes Gemma Dickey.
Well for three weeks that was my reality as I packed my rather over-sized suitcase and headed to Austria on a YFCU exchange to see what the country has to offer.
On Tuesday, July 3rd I arrived in Vienna for orientation with eight other international exchangees from all over the world and had a whirlwind tour of the beautiful city thanks to Landjugend and IFYE.
The next day the journey really began as we all went our separate ways and headed to our first host families.
Over the course of my three weeks I was hosted by two families who welcomed me into their homes and gave me a taste of rural Austrian life from a native’s point of view.
After a brief drive up the mountain on my first day, it became evident that I had left the green flat fields of Northern Ireland behind for picturesque valleys, lakes and ‘small mountains’ where the cows roamed in the summer.
The only sound to be heard in these mountains is from the herd themselves as I soon learned when I turned to see 30 heifers coming down the hill to the melody of the bells around their necks.
One of my biggest concerns when preparing for my exchange was my lack of German and my host’s potential lack of English.
Thankfully though the language barrier only served as a source of entertainment for everyone that I met, as I had a few moments where I found myself quite simply, lost in translation.
It wasn’t until I had got to the 1,800m high entrance of Dachstein that I realised my denim shorts were not the attire required for the tour of the ice caves I was about to embark on.
And there was me thinking my host was crazy for making me take a coat as the sun was beaming through my window.
Needless to say from that point on, my sign language turned into an elaborate game of charades and the language barrier transformed itself into an adventure every time we sat down to a traditional meal or went out for the day.
Thankfully in Austria many people have basic level English and my second host was fluent meaning that my blonde moments took a back seat and the tours of the mountains and beautiful scenery could really begin.
From waterfalls to natural lakes, summits of 3,700m to ice caves hidden within the mountains, Austria has so much to offer beyond the typical skiing holiday.
During my time I was able to see beyond the stereotypes of dirndl (Women’s traditional dress) and lederhosen, that Austrians do eat more than just Wiener Schnitzel and that rural life in Austria much like in Northern Ireland is dictated by the weather.
I would like to thank the YFCU and IFYE for giving me the opportunity to go on this exchange representing our wee country and the organisation.
I wish anyone who is interested in taking part in an exchange in the future all the best of luck.
It is certainly an experience I will never forget!