January 12th — two months ago — I arrived back in Vienna; it seems like a long time ago. A welcoming committee of friends from church met me at the airport, which was really lovely, and then my pastor went to the visa office with me to make sure I really got my visa (which was supposed to be picked up by the 12th — I hadn’t means to cut it quite that close, but my flight out of NY got delayed by a whole day). Later I wandered over to the university for a meeting scheduled with a professor regarding some translating work. I didn’t expect to be greeted by a German academic with a warm hug, but it welcome, nonetheless. In the evening, I decided to show up at a church small group dinner, where I reconnected with my roommate and several other friends — and also realized I was overdosing on social input on top of jet-lag and had better call it a day.
The following week or so was strange. I unpacked and began making appointments to see friends. People asked me if I was glad to be back? What should I say? Yes, glad to see friends — but so lost, so visionless. So glad to be alone, quiet. It felt like a diabolical cloud was hanging just over my head, demanding that I decide “what I’m doing with my life” — but couldn’t I have just a little peace, a little living-in-the-present-moment?
I wouldn’t say that the intervening weeks have exactly provided all the answers, inspired crystal-clear vision, or brought a settled peace, but the atmosphere has lightened overall.
Delights of a Cold Winter
Strange to say, but the most obvious way the ominous cloud lifted was a Sunday afternoon lark to the Danube River with my roommate. A long series of cold days led to the Neue Donau (the part of the river that parallels the Danube shipping lanes and cuts a straighter course than the original, meandering Alte Donau) freezing sufficiently to entice dozens of gleeful risk-takers out onto the ice — people skating, flying kites, walking dogs, bicycling, ambling with strollers. My roommate and I were as captivated as the rest — and with an afternoon’s sunshine, comradery, a dose of risk, and healthy sport, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning.
It’s tricky not being perennially busy. Tricky to know when to say “no,” when you don’t know beforehand how tiring such-and-such is actually going to be. But, being away for six months certainly invites re-evaluation! One of my big goals has been trying to take more time for rest and quiet, and time alone. I’m not sure how much I’m succeeding with that goal, but it’s at least a work in progress! (My roommate and I have decided that balance is a hopeless ideal, whereas the word tension does a better job of describing the tight-rope act of setting priorities, establishing routine, and being flexible!)
The first couple of weeks, the main priority was finishing up the university semester, which had about 2 1/2 weeks yet to go. I attended all of three lectures for a course entitled “Grundkurs Patrologie” (Introduction to the Church Fathers) and passed the oral exam, even if not with flying colors. The only other course I’d decided on for the semester, “Religion at Ground Zero: Theological Responses to Times of Crisis,” only demanded a paper, which I rather enjoyed writing, despite the heavy topic. (Note: If I hadn’t take any courses in the fall semester, I’d not only have wasted university dues already paid, but also necessitated a fuller load in the spring, assuming I want to renew my student visa this coming summer.)
With the university term ending at the end of January, it was time for diving back more fully into work — but, first, a few days skiing and enjoying Austrian hospitality!
I spent a week with my friend Rebecca in her hometown in western Austria. Two mornings we joined some of her school students for ski outings. The first morning that meant showing up to school with ski gear in hand, and then walking clumsily in our ski boots to the nearby bus stop, and getting off at the nearest ski slope! Rebecca and I were in charge of just four students — all delightfully well-behaved 9-1o year-olds.
The next day Rebecca and I took the train to a big ski resort — so big that we hardly repeated any slopes all day long, and I lost track of how many lifts we rode. Austrians do love their skiing and certainly have dedicated a good bit of technical innovation to the sport. The funniest thing was the lift with heated seats.
Besides parts of four days skiing, we had time for good conversation, sitting by the cozy tile stove to read, a bit of cooking, visiting with church friends, etc. I also was extremely glad to reconnect with another friend, Inge, for a special evening at her home for Austrian Käsespätzle (think macaroni and cheese with gnocchi-like “pasta,” incredibly strong cheese, and a hearty helping of sautéed onions) and a good talk….
A New Routine
Back from Vorarlberg, it was time to take up a new routine — my three part-time jobs, studies, and other activities. A brief summary for the curious:
Job number one consists of 10 hours of assistant teaching at a private Catholic school. The school offers a special English-focused track, and participating classes have some of their core subjects taught in English once per week. The regular teacher offers the subject-area expertise, and I offer the native English expertise. This semester I’m team-teaching 5th, 6th, 8th, and 10th graders — biology, geography, history, religion, and music.
Job number two is working as the administrative assistant at my church about 7 hours a week — sending out newsletters, posting sermons to the website, helping plan services, running errands, etc.
Job three is doing some translating (German to English) for a professor at university — a new adventure. In the next few weeks, I’ll get the required official work license for Sprachdienstleistungen — ah, those long German words and that love of official, specialized documents!
Since I’m here on a student visa, March means starting back to university for the new semester. Actually, I’m still sorting classes out, but so far so good.
Other regular activities, besides church and a church small group, include Monday evening “English Cafe,” a low-key conversation group for anyone wanting to practice their English. It’s always an interesting mix of personalities and nationalities — last week, our non-native English speakers were from Austria, Israel, and Egypt.
My other weekly commitment is the choir I’ve joined! …The Sunday afternoon I went ice skating on the Danube, I very “randomly” started chatting with a German women, who in the course of the conversation mentioned the choir she is part of. Amazingly, the group is exactly what I was looking for (style of music, frequency of practice, number of singers, etc.) It really feels like a gift just dropped in my lap. Right now we’re working toward a concert in April, the biggest piece being a Bach motet based on Romans 8 — beautiful and uplifting….