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Getting in touch with my European roots

Jackie Mirandola Mullen | Sunday, September 7, 2008

I’m writing this column from Salzburg, Austria. Rather than cheering for our football team to a victory Saturday, I spent the day walking through thousand year-old castles, climbing up mountains, and listening to grand pianist street performers (Do you think he carried it on the bus with him there?).

This year, I write you from the German-speaking country of Austria; Innsbruck, to be specific. As Notre Dame’s oldest study abroad program, we … okay, that’s not really relevant to anything. We’re just old.

In preparation for this column, I had a few primary worries. First of these was that my German has already crept into my Englisch skills. If you notice any choppy or backwards-sounding sentences, or can’t pinpoint where an idiomatic phrase came from, please recognize the mistake quietly to yourself, maybe share a laugh with a few dining hall acquaintances, and then continue reading.

Simultaneously plaguing my mind as I brainstormed for this column was my noticeable geographical distance from the University. How can I connect with the students of ND when I have not been there since before a new group of 2,000 people became a part of our family?

The answer to this question, like so many anxieties that we worry ourselves with but can’t seem to isolate and tackle (maybe not being able to isolate and tackle is just an ND thing …), came to me when I least expected it.

We were hiking up to Gaisberg Spitze: the peak of the mountain Gaisberg. My fellow hikers were a bit ahead of me, but the steepness of the climb kept me a little farther back; maybe for safety, maybe to view the picturesque surroundings, maybe because talking when you’re trying to muster together enough air to properly breathe tends to drag you down.

But no matter the reason, I was going a little slower, and found myself on the ground more than once, tripping through the mess of the bumps and tangles of the trail.

“What are you doing back there Jackie? Pick up the pace!”

And then I knew it. I knew the real reason why my pace was slow, why the trail’s unbelievable sights every three steps compelled me to linger and absorb the beauty that saturated the hills, the rocks, the plants, the breeze.

“Don’t wait on me, guys. I’m just getting in touch with my European roots.”

And I was. Touching them every step of the way up the mountain. Everyone I ever knew who participated in Study Abroad told me that it was the best experience of his or her life. That you could never imagine such old, majestic, and effortlessly cultured cities. That the train system amazes whether on a cross-continent or cross-city trip. That the language and the people are all different, but with time, you realize the reasons behind their distinct patterns of life, and you assimilate, even bringing some of the new perspectives with you home to America, to ND.

But not until I got here myself did I realize that the roots of Europe were also a part of this cultural experience. That the famously mountained Austria does not have an Austria of the cities, an Austria of the yodeling Alps, an Austria of the pastures, and an Austria of the ski season. No, rather, they are all the same. I can walk through pastures, past 500-year old wells, and hear mountain music on my way to some of the most serene and strikingly tranquil places I have ever been.

Here in Europe, it’s more obvious that natural beauty does not require a parking fee, nor does it necessitate driving 2,000 miles west. Walk past the yellow houses with intricate brown Bavarian trim, step by the goats tended by a young man in lederhosen (no joke), enter the paved road to a hotel high on the hill, and you will see that the sights and sounds of nature are there with you all along. It doesn’t always feel like this in America, but maybe that’s just because we need to get in touch with those European roots.

Jackie Mirandola Mullen is a junior History and German major. She has been practicing her yodeling, but still won’t do it in public without wearing a dirndl.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necesarily those of The Observer.