They say every little girl’s dream is to be a princess. When I told a family friend that I’d been accepted into the Salzburg Global Seminar and would be living in an 18th century castle, that’s exactly what they mentioned to me.
“You’re going to be a real princess for a week just like every little girl’s dreamed of!”
Well, it was more than just living in a castle. The week was filled with intense lectures on peace and global relations, group activities, Austrian cultural enrichment and passionate learning (along with a profound experience at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany). This was my first time leaving the U.S. of A., and it was an experience I won't forget anytime soon.
Stepping foot in Salzburg, I first noticed the differences in Austrian culture. A small city compared to my hometown of San Diego, Salzburg looked like one big dollhouse. The houses were all picturesque and similar in architecture, colors, sizes and styles. Everything was clean; I noticed there was virtually no graffiti.
The smells were another trait I noticed. The air was so fresh! One reason for the lack of pollution, I realized, is that you’re more likely to get hit by a bicycle then a car here. I rarely saw someone who was overweight – and more often than not, it was a tourist like me.
Another huge difference I noticed was the garbage in Austria: on almost every other block, recycling receptacles are thoughtfully divided into three bins for plastic, paper and glass.
I couldn’t keep my eyes off the natural beauty surrounding Salzburg. I saw the famous Alps seemingly within arm’s length. A beautiful, clear blue river runs through the middle of the city (which I even used as a guide to get back safely to the Schloss Leopoldskon when my group and I got separated.)
The arts, music and foods of Austria were personal favorites of mine. I’m passionate about all three cultural aspects, and to be in this historical city known for all three was euphoric. Salzburg is the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and as a Musicology major, I felt inspired by my degree during this breathtaking week.
It’s also home to the Sound of Music, which used this small city as a backdrop for the film. Being a movie buff, upon arriving at the Schloss I immediately recognized that we were living and working in the actual Von Trapp family household! It was mesmerizing to see the Alps and the lake right in front of the castle where I was standing and to know that Julie Andrews stepped foot there.
Like a musical geek, I started to sing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music…”, then “Do, a deer, a female deer / Re, a drop of golden sun / Mi, a name I call myself / Fa, a long long way to run…” at the top of my lungs – and under my breath when in public (ha).
The art too was inspiring. I wasn’t looking at copies shipped in from another country, I was looking at authentic pieces that had made the Schloss their home. I even touched the paintings (ever so carefully of course) to make sure they were real. Art was everywhere in the Schloss, the streets, my bedroom – even the bathrooms were different if you looked closely.
In Europe, thoughtful consideration is put into both work and pleasure, with pleasure being as important as work, if not more important. Breaks every three hours were a daily thing for all of us students while we were there. I was very much fond of this cultural difference – hopefully the U.S. will pick up on this soon?
By far the most surreal, unforgettable experience that week was our trip to Germany into the Dachau concentration camp. When I saw the sign “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Brings Freedom”) and entered the gates, my body was shaking.
At that moment, all the knowledge I’d picked up through textbooks, Hollywood films, documentaries and the History Channel left me; I experienced the concentration camp with overwhelming raw emotion. The feelings of being trapped came over me. As I walked through the camp, it became clear how the thousands of Jews and other captives had felt. Of course my fear was just a small fraction of what they felt, since there was one big difference: I knew I was getting out.
I teared up when I saw the showers, and after the documentary and long walk through the barracks on that dreary, rainy day, I was sobbing. When I finally made my way to the Brausebad I was numb. I left the camp drained and sad. That whole night an unusual peace and warmth filled me.
The Dachau experience was so intense and moving that I am tearing up as I’m typing this. It reminded me of the obvious, yet sometimes forgotten fact that we’re all fragile and vulnerable creatures in need of love and acceptance. I am truly grateful to have had an opportunity like this.
As I wound up my time in Austria, I felt more mature then the week before and sensed a stronger connection to a global community. The music – a language spoken by all – and the Austrians’ sense of pride in Mozart and classical music was particularly inspiring. Salzburg’s beauty will not leave me anytime soon, and I will without a doubt be returning in the near future.