I go to Vienna, and my dad outfits me with a 110 camera. Not the smartest of moves in hindsight.

When I was a sophomore at the University of Delaware back in 1984, I did one of the coolest things a student can do. I studied abroad. I got my keister out of Delaware and spent 4 glorious months in Vienna, Austria. I had been miserable at college, and was seriously contemplating transferring schools, when I read a flyer in the Student Center advertising their study abroad programs.

After months of convincing my parents, taking German 101, and getting accepted in to the program, I found myself on a plane to Luxemborg, scared shitless about the journey was embarking on. Even though I’ve always been outgoing, I’ve also always lacked confidence, and the idea of spending an entire semester with the same 20 students was horrifying. If nobody liked me there were no other options.

I was sick as a dog, probably from nerves, for the first 4 days. I missed out on dancing in Luxemborg, beer halls in Munich, and our first night in Vienna. I didn’t feel normal until our first full day in our pension. This didn’t help me socially one bit – many friendships were formed during those first days of travel and partying where I was now viewed as the sickly drip who went to bed early.

The famous Pension Pertschy, my home while in Vienna

My roommates were an odd bunch. Four of us shared a nice sized room on the third floor of pension Pertschy, a very cool hotel smack dab in the middle of the 1st district. One gal was older – in her 30’s or so. Another was a nerdish type with a head full of frizzy black hair. The 3rd was a chubby slut who liked to party. I had quite a few run ins with her.

We attended school at the Austro-American Institute, where we took classes in Austrian art, Austrian music, Austrian theater, Austrian history and of course, German. Each day on our walk from the pension to the institute, we would pass the Hofburg palace, and when lucky would catch the Lipizanner stallions being led from their stables to the training ring. The rest of our time at the beginning was spent exploring the city, and finding new and interesting places to eat and drink.

Keeping one’s self fed became a game of sorts shortly after our arrival. The way our “meal plan” worked while we were overseas was that we were given money on a monthly basis that was to cover our food to the tune of $5 per meal. The pension gave you a daily breakfast of tea, rolls, butter and jam, but you were on your own for lunch and dinner. Living in the 1st district, which is like living on Rodeo Drive, made buying a meal for $5 near to impossible. Even McDonalds ran you more than that.

So we all got creative. We would hit the Billa, a local supermarket, a few times a week and purchase items like rice, ham, rolls and yogurt. We had a hot plate and 2 pans that we would all share to make pasta or rice. And once in a while, we would splurge and eat a meal out. I lost a lot of weight that semester.

glug, glug, glug!

And of course, you had to save money for beer. The vending machine outside my room had Pepsi, a soda called Lift, and Gösser Beer. Yes, Beer. In a vending machine. Outside my door. How splendid that was. Unless you didn’t have the correct change.

I spent a large amount of my weekend nights dancing at a place called The Atrium, drinking large pints of beer “ohne” lemon. For some reason, they would float a slice of lemon atop the beer, and I didn’t care for it so I always ordered it without. To this day hearing songs like “All Night Long,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and “Baby I Need Your Loving,” bring me back to that dark, underground dance club.

I attended 5 operas, 3 plays, had a date with an American diplomat, travelled to both Italy and Switzerland, and became somewhat competent in German – so much so that I took 2 more semesters of the language once I returned to the states. This after deciding to go for a BFA rather than a BA solely because the former didn’t require a language. Silly me.

I had so many adventures during that grand spring, many of which you’ll read about in future blog posts. I was so scared to go…so much so that I almost bailed at the last minute. But as I sat in the April sun on the grass in the Stadtpark, watching the ducks and swans piddle about on the water, I was so very glad that I made the trip.

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