Goodbye all American girl, hello Austrian frau:

by Kaitlyn Porter 15′

Being given the opportunity to travel somewhere new can be both exhilarating, and terrifying. If that place is over 5,000 miles away, those feelings are escalated. Many would argue traveling can be life changing, but this is especially true for one Pacific Lutheran University student.

First-year, Kalina Springer was given the opportunity of a lifetime two years ago when she was asked to be an au pair (nanny) in Austria. She was hesitant to leave home, but after journeying halfway around the globe, she realized someday she wanted to call Austria, home.

Springer studies a German history book outside a coffee shop in preparation for her next class. Photo by Kaitlyn Porter.

When Americans think of Austria, their minds immediately turn to a picturesque mountain hillside, where a troop of children frolic and sing with their beautiful nanny. The Sound of Music ideal may not be spot on, but she said it is not completely incorrect either. Springer commented on the natural beauty, the fresh food, and the environmental consciousness of the Austrian people she encountered. “I love how environmentally friendly they are over there, everyone recycles, everyone composts, I remember thinking, these are my kind of people,” Springer said.

During her yearlong stay, Springer said she began to delve into the culture. Springer quickly realized it wasn’t just her surroundings she was falling in love with.

A passion for linguistics

A friend of Springer’s aunt from Austria was visiting Olympia, Wash. when she purposed the idea of becoming a nanny to Springer.  “ I was scared, I didn’t know the language,” said Springer. After weighing the idea for over a month, Springer accepted the offer. It would be one year before she boarded a plane overseas.

In preparation for her journey, Springer took a German class at school and studied Austria for her senior project. “I loved learning the language, I had a knack for it,” Springer said.

German is known as a guttural and direct language as compared to other languages. The words tend to be lengthy and the tones low, with a variety of dialects. More than 13 percent of the European population identifies with German as his or her main language.

After arriving in Austria, Springer was surrounded by the language everyday. She learned that the formal introductions she had learned to give in German class were met with funny looks followed by questions of her background.

She was surrounded by native speakers which helped her pick up the language. Springer then realized she had a real passion for language. Before leaving for Austria, Springer wanted to study biology. Learning the language and uncovering the Austrian culture, she said she had a change of heart.

Describing her new goal Springer said, “This [studying biology] is what I thought would lead me to success; this is what I thought society wanted me to do, but language is what I am passionate about”

A few months in Springer began to assimilate to the culture and found she was making friends who treated her as if she were Austrian.

Becoming Austrian

Spending time with her new Austrian comrades, Springer realized she was no longer just the American girl. Going out, adventuring and becoming involved in new activities like kickboxing, Springer’s time in Austria started to feel more like home.

“I stopped identifying myself as the American girl,” Springer said.

Introductions now included her name and occupation as a nanny, not her American heritage. People commonly mistook Springer as a local. Springer has blonde hair and blue eyes and this combined with her sold grasp of language, made it hard to tell she was 5,000 miles from home.

Heading Home

Springer’s year abroad finally came to an end. After boarding her plane for home she said she knew she would be back one day.

“My life had changed so much in that year, I had changed so much in that year,” Springer said. “That was my community I wasn’t an outsider anymore.”

Readjusting to American life, Springer started school at PLU and prepared for her future in Austria. She is now a German major and said she hopes to pursue business in graduate school.

A fellow classmate, first year Anna Smith, said “you can tell Kalina will be good at whatever she chooses to do, she is so passionate about everything she commits herself to”.

Learning a language and a culture helped Springer to uncover her true passion in life. It is with this passion that she will follow her dreams back to the alpine hills of Austria.


Categories: Nation & World, Other, Profiles, Student Life

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