Speak Softly and Wear All Black: Lessons I Learned from Studying Abroad

by Abby Brummel

Human Connection

Traveling and I have a love/hate relationship. I love it in theory, hate it in practice. Who wants to lug a 50 pound suitcase onto a 9 hour flight where you sit sausaged in a middle seat? Not this girl. But that’s what this girl recently did.

On May 7, I packed myself into that middle seat on Austrian Airlines and landed in Vienna for a month-long study abroad program with Hope College. When everyone asks, “How was your trip?”, I normally respond with, “It was great! I had an amazing time!”, because I don’t want to bore anyone with the multitude of things I did while I was gone. That conversation could, and probably would, last for hours. That being said, there are a few distinct things I learned from the culture there that I think I could summarize.

Lower your volume.

One distinct part of Austrian culture is noticeable as soon as you walk off the plane. Literally. The Vienna Airport was deathly quiet even though it was noon. Take a short bus ride into the city of Vienna, which is approximately the size of Chicago, and you won’t hear a single car honk. Riding the tram around? No one will talk to you, let alone the people they’re traveling with. My host parents, a couple in their mid 70s, wore headphones around, even in their own home. The only time I heard music playing aloud in their apartment was when my host dad was “JUUL-ing” (but that’s a phrase and a story for another time). 

I spent a lot of time in silence while I was gone, which was something I never expected from a trip to a big city. Instead of silence being isolating like I imagined it would be, it was actually really soothing and invigorating. I felt refreshed from just listening to the sounds around me. Because I don’t speak any German, I couldn’t even eavesdrop on the little bits of phrases I heard here and there. Instead, I listened to the tenor of their voices and the rumbling of the tram on the tracks. I looked out the window at the world I was passing, trying to take it all in while I still could. Now that I’m back, I’m never going to take quietness for granted again.

Streamline your process.

My friends and I would always comment on how well-dressed the women and men around us in Austria seemed to be. They always looked put together and it didn’t take long to figure out why: most of then wore all black, from head to toe. 

Believe me, I like color as much as the next girl. I could talk to you about the versatility of the color yellow for hours if you really wanted me to. However, I think the Austrians, and Europeans in general, have it right: wearing all black is really stylish. It also makes it so much easier to pick out clothes in the morning. You never have to worry about if something is going to match or not because it always will! 

I’ve incorporated this into my own life, and man, is getting dressed in the morning easier when you’re only working with solids. The fact that I’m wearing all black as I’m writing this right now proves my point.

Take a breath.

Coming back to America was a harder transition than I thought it would be, and it wasn’t because of the jet lag. Before I left for Vienna, I had been going, going, going. I was a full-time student at Hope, working 20 hours a week for Navigate, as well as a smattering of other side jobs. When I wasn’t sleeping, I was studying, working, or trying to keep a grasp on my social life. It took going to Austria to realize that not everyone goes at 100 mph at all times like I was. People in Vienna were at a very different pace than most Americans are. They take long breaks in the middle of their work day, or their work day ends at 3. People don’t rush to get to their next place. If the tram makes them late, no one worries about it.  These are the kinds of things that don’t happen very often in America. I envy their lifestyle. 

All I wanted to do when I got back to the U.S. was take my life at the same pace I did in Vienna, but that wasn’t exactly possible. I’m not saying that we have to move physically slower in any sense. I think that we need to switch our mentality about how fast we should be moving because, every once in a while, slow and steady does win the race.

There are a lot more things I could have written about from my time abroad. I learned a lot. I think everyone who travels abroad, or just travels in general, does. Since I got back, I’ve started living a quieter, slower, and darker life (at least fashionably speaking). Expand that philosophy on your life at your own discretion. But for me right now, it’s making all the difference.