Picture of the skyline of Graz

This is a copy of my study abroad blog, moved here as a backup. The original post can be viewed here.

"Austria's Greatest Hero"

March 7, 2015

First week of school! Finally, after being here for over a month, my classes have begun! I’m still not used to how they do things here though, As out of the classes I’m taking, three of them simply didn’t meet this week, and instead start next week. Maybe the professors want a longer break, or don’t quite have enough material to cover? I’m unsure, it seems very strange to me. In any case, I ended up going to four classes this week with… differing impressions.

On Monday, I would usually have had two classes, but as I mentioned last week, my German course doesn’t meet until this next week, so I only had one course in the morning – GIS Fundamentals. As far as I could tell, this would be a class about how we gather geographic data and stuff like that, which sounded interesting enough. I arrived a little bit early to class on Monday morning, waiting outside the room with the other students. The class was held in a fairly large lecture hall, with rows of long benches that you had to sit and scoot your way down to get where you wanted to sit (This is an important detail to the story). I sat in the middle of a pack of students in the second or third row, with my pen and paper out all eager and ready to learn. The professor comes in and then proceeds to address the class in German, and continued to talk in German for the entirety of the class period. I’m very confused, as I double checked that this class would be taught in English, and I even checked again during the lecture that yes, the class was indeed supposed to be in English. I learned later that most professors will ask the English speaking classes whether or not anyone really needed English, or if it was okay for them to just use German. However, the professors typically ask this question in German, which means you really have to be listening for the word “Englisch”, and then yell out that yes, you do not speak German. From what I could tell, this guy skipped that process entirely, and just left some of the students out of luck. So here I am, stuck in a German lecture for an hour an a half. In order to sneak out, I would’ve had to either make a dozen other students scoot out of my way, or just climb and walk over the desks to the door. I decided neither of these were viable options, and instead sat there for the entire time looking at the pictures in his powerpoint. I ended up dropping the class, which is a bit of a shame, for what I could understand looked rather interesting. Oh well.

Tuesday was a bit rough as well, but for a different reason. After I dropped the GIS class, I also decided that I should definitely drop my ‘maybe’ Space Weather class that was entirely in German. In order to make up for these two lost classes, I enrolled in a new class that meets on Tuesday evenings called “Data Processing in Solar and Space Physics”. Exciting, I know. Well, this class didn’t meet this week, meaning that I only had one class to go to this Tuesday – Number Theory. I took a class somewhat similar to this last semester, and from the course description, I figured that this class would be easier than that one. I believe I was mistaken. This weeks meeting wasn’t a proper lecture, but instead a meeting for anyone who hadn’t taken his class in the past, which consisted of me and a student from the Czech Republic. The professor covered a brief overview of the course, and while he spoke good English, I probably would’ve understand about as much of the material if he were talking in German. To be fair, I recognized a fair amount of the things he went over, and I definitely knew more than the Czech kid. From what I could tell, the class he taught last semester would’ve been the next course in line for me to take, so this class is one level above where I should be. In addition, where all of my other classes meet once a week for about an hour and a half, this one meets twice a week, with an additional recitation session later on Tuesdays (I think that’s what it’s called, I’ve never had one before). This means this class is three times the hours of my other classes, in addition to being overly difficult. I haven’t decided whether I’ll drop it yet, depending how classes go this week, but it definitely looks to be a lot of work.

Finally on Wednesday, things started turning around. Both of my scheduled classes for Wednesday met this week – Astrobiology and Practical Training in Astronomy (The more I write, the more I realize I’m a complete dork). However, these classes were really interesting, and finally delivered what I’ve been looking for. Astrobiology had about 15 students total, and we went over what would be necessary for life on other planets and that sort of thing. It was super interesting, and is probably my favorite class so far. The Practical Training course met in a computer lab in the basement of the building, which took me literally 30 minutes to find. There were only 5 other students in the course, and the professor went over what exactly we would be doing in the course, and showed us the small telescope on the roof of the building. For this course, I’m going to be actually working in at the Lustbühel Observatory just outside of Graz, where the point of the class is to complete my own small research project by the end of the semester. He gave us a list of ideas to look over, and we meet at the observatory next Wednesday evening to get started. I’m really excited about this, as one of the downsides of not getting into some of my top school choices was that I wouldn’t be able to participate in the astronomy research projects that they offered, but apparently Graz has that too! The telescope on the roof of the physics building wasn’t anything to boast about, it was an old refraction telescope that was only used for solar physics and making illustrations of the sun. It didn’t have any computerized components, just a platform to put some drawing paper where the light focused, but it was still cool to look at. The observatory has a big 50 cm telescope, and I’m excited to see it next week. Hopefully I don’t get lost on the way there.

On Thursday, I think I ran some errands to the bank or something, I don’t really remember. Moving on…

Friday was a very exciting day. I went to a museum! *Queue fanfare* Whose museum you ask? Why, the most famous resident of Graz of course! Johannes Kepler, astronomer who figured out planetary motion? No, not him. Erwin Schrödinger, one of the founders of quantum mechanics and torturer of cats? Nope, wrong again. Nikola Tesla? Ludwig Boltzmann? Otto Loewi? Of course not! I’m of course talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yep, on Friday two friends and I went to the Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum, the only museum in the world dedicated to Arnold Schwarzenegger, believe it or not. The museum itself isn’t in the city of Graz, instead it’s in the nearby town of Thal, which is literally as far as your Graz bus pass will be able to take you. This is actually the first time that I’ve left the city since I arrived last month, and the Austrian countryside is really gorgeous. We’re at the bottom of the Austrian Alps, so the area around Graz is pretty mountainous. Apparently, there are a number of great hiking spots around Graz, so with any luck I’ll go on a few hiking trips once the weather warms up a bit. In any case, we took a bus through the countryside and stopped off in Thal, next to the big landmark of the town, the Thalersee lake. Luckily, one of the people with us spoke German, so he was able to ask directions, as there are absolutely no signs pointing towards the museum. We wandered around this town lost for over 30 minutes, before we finally found the museum itself. The museum building isn’t anything special, it is the house that Arnold’s family lived in, and has now been repurposed to feature the museum pieces, although it does have a large bronze statue of bodybuilder Arnold in the front yard. Each room of the museum was broken up into segments of Arnold’s life, with Governor Arnold on the first floor, and child Arnold, bodybuilder Arnold, and Terminator Arnold all up on the first floor, complete with wax sculptures. Please enjoy these fine images that I took at the museum for your viewing pleasure.

These pictures (and more!) are in the gallery. Probably. In any case, we went through the museum and traveled back the way we came to Graz. For lunch, we stopped at a fancy all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, which was very good. My only complaint is that the ice cream they had was very misleading. I got a bowl of what I thought was chocolate chip, only to find that it was actually oatmeal raisin flavor. My friend got a bowl of vanilla, only to find out it was actually lemon. Very weird.

That evening, a bunch of the international students were throwing a beginning of the year party, so I went. It was located in a shady basement of one of the other dorms, but it had a pool table, so it was a good time. As is customary for these events, afterwards we went and got kebabs at one of the nearby shops, which are still as delicious as last week. The best part of the party however, was discovering that across the street from this dorm was an old vinyl record store and a used video game shop, which I just went to earlier today. They had a really fantastic selection, it’s a good thing that European games don’t work on American systems, or I would’ve spent even more money on video games than I already do.

I honestly didn’t think I would have very much to write about this week, but this is already the longest post by far. Next week should be interesting, as three classes that haven’t started yet begin, and I start going to the observatory to begin my research. I can’t believe how long it takes to write these, its been about 1.5 hours, I really need to talk less. In any case, until next week!

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