Hello, again everyone! It has been a little bit since I last posted and there has definitely been a lot going on here in Austria. A couple of weekends ago we had our annual St. Francis Festival. Celebrating the festival here in Austria was somewhat different than celebrating on main campus, but nonetheless it was a lot of fun! We had the usual festivities, which included Mass, a special blessing of the animals, a re-enactment of the life of St. Francis, food, and dancing. I love being at Franciscan where we can celebrate this feast day in such a big way!
That same weekend was the traditional Oktoberfest celebration here in Gaming. It was amazing to be a part of this celebration and learn more about German and Austrian culture. The school allowed us to borrow traditional Austrian clothing (called dirndls for the girls and lederhosen for the guys), and we joined the local townspeople for a fun night of food, beer, fellowship, polka music, and dancing. The Austrians taught us how to dance the polka, and although we American students were not nearly as good at it as the Austrians, we enjoyed learning and had a lot of fun!
After all the weekend’s festivities, I will admit that it was very difficult to return to my studies. I had to “put my nose to the grindstone” because we had our mid-term exams that week and, since my primary vocation right now is to be a student, it was important that I do well.
After conquering midterms, I had a nice long mental rest because our school had our first 10-day break! I went with a group of 32 students and one professor on a mission trip to Romania. Seventeen students went to the small country town of Turts and I went with our professor and 13 others to the city of Cluj Napoca. Those of us in the city assisted a local priest and his family with various ministries and tasks throughout Cluj. For clarification, the priest is a Byzantine Catholic, and in that rite priests are allowed to marry and have a family. I spent most of my time there talking to students in a high school. We played fun games and talked about our different cultures. The Romanian students had a lot of questions about America and really appreciated that we gave up going to other major tourist sites in order to spend time with them and learn about their country. Other ministries we helped with included painting the cafeteria in a local kindergarten and spending time with the children there as well as painting some of the rooms at our host family’s “Family Center.” This center is where they hold a lot of events for the Catholics in the area to help build their community and help each other grow in faith. We were able to attend some talks and participate in praise and worship at this center, and some of us were blessed with the opportunity to give witness talks to these local Catholics. I was so taken aback by how generous and caring the Romanians were. It almost did not feel like a mission trip! They were so eager to share their country with us and were very excited that we came to serve in Romania that they would bend over backwards to take care of us. Our host family even took us to visit some old salt mines and some of us were able to take some boats and row around in a little lake that was at the bottom of the mines. It was very difficult to leave Romania, but I will definitely keep the memories and lessons learned there with me forever.
I continue to be amazed at the journey that God is taking me on this semester. I was told before coming that as long as I keep Christ at the focus of my travels, I will not be disappointed and I will gain even more from all these amazing experiences. So far, this has proven to be some of the best advice I have ever received. I believe that it is applicable to all life situations, not just studying abroad and traveling. It can be difficult as a student to balance studies, friends, and faith life, but I have found that if I put God first, everything else falls into place. I will continue to pray for you and humbly ask that you pray for me as well!
May God continue to bless you and your families.