A Year in Austria Broadens Scholar’s View

September 24, 2018



Photo courtesy of Nathan Maass — Nathan Maass, a senior at The ASK Academy, spent a year learning the language and culture of Austria.

ASK Academy scholar Nathan Maass spent all of last year studying abroad in Austria. He is back at the Academy this year as a senior. The Catalyst’s Skylar Morales spoke with him about his experience as a foreign exchange student.

The Catalyst:  Why did you choose Austria to study in?

Nathan Maass: “(The German) language has always been interesting for me and the program I was with only sends one student to each country, and Germany is very popular. The odds of me getting (Germany) were pretty slim. So my dad had a brilliant idea–Austria! They still speak German, and that’s all I really wanted, so Austria was my first choice, and I’m very glad that’s where I ended up.”

TC: What program did you go through to study abroad?

Maass: “I went through Rotary Youth Exchange. Rotary is the largest humanitarian aid organization in the world. They do a number of things including ending polio, and sending exchange students abroad.”

TC: How long were you abroad?

Maass: “About 11 months. I left August 17 and came back July 17 of this year.”

TC: Did you come back to the states for holidays?

Maass: “No, in most programs that’s not a thing; you stay the whole time. Having Christmas in Austria was wonderful!”

TC: Was it hard being away from your family for so long?

Maass: “The correct answer should be yes, but I didn’t. I honestly just didn’t, I was fine with the host families, the friends I made, the whole community.”

TC: Where did you stay?

Maass: “I stayed with three host families, in a small farming community in a little village of about 150 people.”

TC: How was living in that small of a community?

Maass: “It was wonderful; very different from America, but still great. Everybody knows each other, they have traditions for Easter, Christmas, and just all the holidays. It’s just a nice community feel.”

TC: What did your normal school day look like in Austria?

Maass: “ I’d get up about 6:45 a.m. when the bus leaves for school, which takes about 45 minutes, but it was good because I had a friend to talk to. Then I would get to school and we would have class. Every day in Austria the school was different. Some days it would be 9:30 a.m.to 2 p.m., or 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but most days it was about 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. I would go home on the bus and have lunch at about 3 p.m. In Austria, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. Then afterwards I’d study for school; I did a lot of German studying. Or sometimes I would stay in town with a friend. Or it was just a nice place to just walk around, or do a bit of hiking. I definitely did a lot of that.”  

TC: What is the biggest difference between high schools in Austria versus American schools?

Maass: “The ASK Academy, I have to say, is a wonderful school. In Austria you simply had a teacher walk into class, and lecture on a board. Lecture! Lecture! Lecture! Then at the end of class you get a paper, fill it out, do worksheets, and that was all it was. But that wasn’t even the biggest difference. In Austria, you are with the same class the whole day. The same 24ish students, in the same classroom, and the teachers rotate classrooms. It can be quite boring. ASK Academy is a lot more creativity, and has more projects; it’s much better.”

TC: Describe your social life in Austria.

Maass: “It is a bit easier than in America, because they have  a lot of trains and buses. My friends and I would meet after school, which was about 5 minutes away from the inner city of the town that was near me. We would go to the movies, go out for lunch; it was a lot easier. You didn’t have to drive so much, and there is a lot of freedom to meet up with people. A lot of times I would just say, ‘Hey, um, I’m going out, I’ll be gone the whole day. Bye!’ and it was fine.”

TC: Do you still keep in touch with the friends you made abroad?

Maass: “In fact I do! I text them or even call them relatively regularly, and my host families as well.”

TC: What were you most nervous about going abroad?

Maass: “School was probably the scariest thing, because I know if someone tries you can always make friends, you can try and fit into the culture and maybe it might be hard, but you can still do well. But school is tough because before, I was with the same class every day, who knows if they would like me, and speaking the language. In the beginning I couldn’t do school, they were speaking German so I didn’t know what they were saying. But in the end it was fine.”

TC: What is one thing you miss now that you back in the States?

Maass: “I could say food but I suppose you could say that about anywhere. Something particular to Austria would probably be the traditions, the culture, and having all the different holidays throughout the year. And also the language and being able to speak German. It is probably the language and culture I miss most.”

TC: Would you recommend studying abroad to other high school students?

Maass: “Absolutely. It is such an experience that so many people aren’t going to have, and it really broadens your horizons. You see a new culture, another place, and you get to adapt. And sure there are struggles sometimes, and it can be hard, but in the end it’s so worth it. To see the places, experience the cultures, make international friends, and just to be part of another country; it’s like having two homes. Everything about it was wonderful.”

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