Austria experience unites generations

By Mia Brounstein 

When Becky Brounstein woke up on a chilly, overcast morning in October of 2022, she opened her hotel room window and her senses were met with a scene that she had held in fond memory for over two decades. 

 The air smelled like pine trees, rain and the hot breakfast being cooked up in the Mensa. She could distantly hear the creek rushing through town and the gentle chime of cowbells in the pasture up the road. 
A breeze was ruffling the trees on the steep hill behind the Kartause, and the red roof tiles of the Maria Thron chapel shone, damp from weeks of rain. Students, coffee mugs in hand, shuffled across the gravel courtyard to class. 
In 1998, Becky had been one of those very students, sleepily rushing to a lecture while mentally running over her travel plans for the weekend. Twenty-four years later, she was in Gaming, Austria once again to visit her daughter Gabi, a junior Franciscan University student participating in the Austria program. 
Though much changed in the time between the mother’s semester abroad and the daughter’s, their experiences were also deeply linked. 
Gabi said that it was her mom’s initial encouragements and stories that prompted her to apply to study overseas. 
“Hearing about all of the transformative experiences that she (Becky) had been through when studying abroad and how it affected her views of the world made it seem like a worthwhile experience,” Gabi said. 
Gabi added that she quickly found the practical reality of European travel to be different from her mom’s stories of travel in the 1990s.  
“We used phones at every stage of travel and the travel planning process,” Gabi said. “We bought train and bus tickets on apps; we used Google walking maps to walk through cities. 
Becky said, “My experience was very different. When we traveled, there were really no reservations.” 
Becky said that she and her friends would consult travel guides from the Kartause library when choosing to visit a new city and would buy tickets for trains and attractions at the door. She added that they would often find lodging by simply walking through the city and checking into the first hostel they came across. 
“We pretty much planned as we went, she said. 
Becky added that she and her friends had to navigate the winding alleys of ancient cities with paper maps, a far cry from the convenience of a mobile map app. 
These technological challenges were not the only thing to differentiate the Austria experience for Gabi and Becky. During Becky’s time abroad, the European Union was not yet widespread, which meant that the euro was not as widely used as it is today. 
“That was really complicated, because every time we got to a train station in a new country, we had to get our money changed,” Becky said. 
Gabi added that she only needed to get her money changed during her travels to Poland and the Czech Republic, two countries that Becky never got a chance to visit. 
“Eastern Europe wasn’t really safe to travel to,” Becky said. “You really didn’t hear of people going to Budapest or the Czech Republic; people almost exclusively went to Western Europe.” 
Gabi had a different experience, saying that she loved all her travels to Eastern Europe.  
I felt like Western Europe was very forced, very tourist-facing. Eastern Europe felt more authentic. 
“I thought the people (in Eastern European countries) seemed a lot friendlier and more welcoming because they get less tourist traffic,” she added. 
In spite of these large-scale differences, Becky said much remained unchanged in the 24 years since she had last been to Gaming, from the academic rigor of the classes offered to breakfast at the Mensa: rolls, canned peaches, yogurt and granola. 
“Town is still the same … the Spar is in the same place, the post office is the same, the little bakery and café are the same,” Becky said.  
Gabi added, “That’s what I love about Gaming. It’s frozen in time.” 
Similarly, the two shared a love for several of the cities they both visited: Assisi, Vienna and Florence. 
“There’s so much rich art and architecture packed into such a small space,” Gabi said. 
Both Becky and Gabi agreed that their time living abroad was life-changing. 
“I learned more about myself in those three months than in all the rest of college,” Becky said. “It’s all the art and history and culture that you’ve studied in school coming to life. 
“To learn that I was capable of traveling to all these places where I didn’t speak the language gave me a lot of courage to do things that are unknown.” 
Gabi said, “Living in Europe gave me the very strong impression that wherever you are physically in the world, God can impact you there … wherever you go, God can unexpectedly reach out to you through an experience.” 
Becky and Gabi both agreed that living abroad also gave them a stronger sense of the richness and variety of the world and grew their sense of wonder. 
It’s hardly a surprise, then, that later in the afternoon, Becky and Gabi could be seen standing side by side at the Gaming bus stop, backpacks stuffed for a new journey. Their destination was Hallstatt, Austria: a city that Becky hadn’t gotten a chance to visit as a student and that Gabi had been dreaming of for months. 
The bus rolled in a few minutes late, hardly a surprise for the seasoned traveler duo. They boarded, laughing and chatting, and hung out the window to take in the view of the fall colors cloaking the Gaming mountains before the bus pulled away and their next adventure began.