[Originally published by The Troubadour]
I am flying home in 28 days. All my traveling is done and the only thing standing between me and home are four papers and finals. The students in Gaming just returned from the 10-day pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi and it’s starting to hit me that I’m going home soon. I don’t want to go home quite yet.
I would love to fly back to the States for a week or two and visit main campus to say “hi” to my friends, then go home and hug my family. But I want to get back on a plane after that and come back. A little village in the middle of the Austrian Alps has totally and completely captured my heart and it’s going to be difficult to say goodbye. There is so much I still want to do, but there is just no time or money to do it.
I’ve had Kevin Hieder’s song, “God in Austria,” stuck in my head for the past week and I keep reflecting on how my travels and adventures sound as lyrics to that song.
I saw Lourdes where Mary came, calling us to pray for sinners; I saw where Winston Churchill led the world to the end of World War II; I visited Napoleon at his tomb in the Imperial Museum.
I was so close to the successor of St. Peter that I could see what color his eyes were and the wrinkles on his hands. I learned about the life of St. Francis in the town where he lived and breathed, and prayed where he prayed. I walked through the same door St. Clare walked through to escape her family and follow St. Francis.
I saw where St. Michael sheathed his sword, ending the plague in Rome. I got lost in the city with no cars. I dipped my hand in the same fountain Julie Andrews did in the Sound of Music. I walked over twenty miles mostly uphill to visit a wooden statue of Mary and Jesus that is hundreds of years old.
I pressed my forehead on the door of the cell where St. Maximilian Kolbe died. I prayed in front of the baptismal font where Pope Saint John Paul II was baptized. I saw where wine of the Eucharist transformed into real human blood.
I visited the famous works of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt, Vermeer and Bernini. I walked on the beaches of France where thousands of American soldiers died to liberate from German Third Reich.
I told an Austrian woman who spoke little to no English to cut eleven inches off of my hair and crossed my fingers that she understood and it would turn out okay.
There is so much more too. Those are just highlights. Austria was life changing. I found God in Austria by simply being grateful for the opportunity to come to Europe. I called on Him when trains were missed, papers became difficult to write and friendships were tested. You can’t come to Austria with Franciscan University and not feel a deeper connection with Christ.
For anyone who is debating whether or not they should go to Austria, I would highly encourage it. If money is the issue, it’s easy to stick to a budget. I know someone who came with only $800 and managed to survive on that. If homesickness is the issue, it’s not a problem when you are actually in Gaming because you are so busy and always on the go, you almost forget to miss home. If class schedules are an issue, talk to your adviser. Every adviser on campus knows what a valuable experience Austria is to students and they will work with you as much as they can to get you to Austria.
Franciscan calls Austria the “Semester of a Lifetime.” There is so much truth to that. I can honestly say through all the struggles, through the stress, through the high and lows, I wouldn’t trade a single moment of my time in Europe for the world.