As you may or may not know, I’m originally from Wisconsin, but I’m spending my senior year abroad in Austria (so yeah, my classes are all in German…) Going with this month’s theme of Back to School, I’m going to compare American and Austrian schools. If you’re not familiar with Austria, it’s a country in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. Some of the most famous people to come out of Austria or who lived in Austria are Sigmund Freud, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven. (And you can read more fun and interesting tidbits about Austria here!)
First, a bit of background: I go to school in Vienna, the capital city, so my school is in the big city, but it’s not how Americans generally picture urban schools (run down, dangerous). I feel perfectly safe walking around by myself and the buildings are beautiful. It’s a very safe place.
Speaking of walking, the first main difference I noticed was how students get to school. In the US, people normally walk, bike, drive, or ride the school bus to school. Here, the majority of people use public transportation, even in smaller towns. To get to my school, I take a car, a train, an UBahn (basically a subway that’s above-ground… but not a train, if that makes sense), and a tram (a cable car). All of this takes nearly two hours. Back home, I took a car to school. This took approximately five minutes. And I should emphasize that EVERYONE uses public transportation. I’ve seen six year olds on their own, perfectly at ease, going on an UBahn to school.
Now, onto the actual school itself. There are many differences, both subtle and outright. One of the most striking differences is that you stay with the same group of twenty or so people for the entire day (and basically your entire school career). In the US, once you get past elementary school, you switch classrooms, people, and teachers for each lesson. Oh yes, you generally stay in the same room for the entire day, unless you have a specialized subject, such as a science or gym class. This sounds stifling, but it’s really not. You have a ten minute break between each class, so you can move about then.
One break you do not have, however, is lunch. That’s right, Austrian schools have no time for lunch. And yet, kids don’t starve (of course). There are two main reasons for this. First, food is allowed during breaks (and, at least in my school, during class as well). People eat when they feel like it. Secondly, school days end early compared to the US. They vary as well. So far, my school has been ending around 2:00 PM or earlier. I’ve gotten used to eating lunch later. And if days end later, you’ll usually have a free hour where you can go and get food.
Notice the time difference? In Wisconsin, my school day was always 8-3. Here, I’ve had days that end at 11, and ones that end at 5. Once the year goes on, my schedule will become more orderly, which each day having a constant schedule, whether each day ends at the same time or not, but for now, each week is a little surprise.
Classes themselves are different as well. My school in Wisconsin had students take eight subjects, the majority of which you can choose. Here, I have at least thirteen (honestly, it might be more…they use acronyms on the schedule, and it’s quite hard to decipher), and most are compulsory (except for religion, and you can choose a language, as well as an arts subject). The teaching methods are different as well. American learning focuses on group work, while here, it’s mainly discussion and lecture based (which I’d normally love, if I could understand enough to participate… Oh, German).
The subtle differences are fascinating as well: Students stand when a teacher enters, and stay standing until the teacher instructs them to sit. Some Austrian schools require “house shoes” (basically slippers) indoors to keep the floors clean, though mine doesn’t. Extracurricular activities don’t exist either. At my school, you can choose activities such as sport or drama, but these are counted as classes; I believe they’re graded as well, and take place during school hours. Schools are also quite low tech, with blackboards (they move up and down!!!), as opposed to my old school which gave each student an iPad. This isn’t bad, of course, just different.
In conclusion, the schools here fascinate me. I enjoy noting all the differences, as well as enjoying the experience, as school is the main focus of my life here in Austria. If you have any questions about Austrian schools, or Austria in general, feel free to ask me!
Have you ever been to a school in a country that you’re not native to? What were your experiences? Leave a comment to let me know!
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