Photo Update (part 2)

It took a little while, but we were finally able to get the photos into some online albums that can be shared. Your students should be able to add their own photos as they see fit, too.

Klagenfurt, Gesäuse, Wien:


On a separate final note, we just wanted to say thank you once again for sharing your kids with us this summer 🙂 Team ABC had an incredible time with them, and we are all very proud of everything they’ve accomplished. Please feel free to let us know if we can help them at all in their next steps in life! Gemeinsam hoch hinaus!


Photo Update (part 1)

Our apologies for the delay in getting some more of these photos to you! We are still working on creating an online photo album for all photos from the program, but here is a selection from our final weeks together in Austria.

Graz – Saying ‘Tschüs!’ 


Klagenfurt & Gesäuse National Park


More to come soon!

Heimkehr (‘Coming Home’) 

Unfortunately our time in Vienna has been so packed full of excitement every day that there was hardly any time to write the follow-up entry to our adventures in the Gesäuse National Park. We went rafting, went geocaching, did a full day of team-building, and built a raft! The raft-building was unfortunately on a very rainy day, but all of the students worked together to build an amazing raft (complete with a blue flag, courtesy of Hayden’s quick thinking). The small break of being away from the hustle and bustle of the city, tucked safely as a group in the mountains, was just what we all needed to grow closer together and catch our breath before coming to Vienna.

Vienna has been busy, but full of high-culture and fun. On the first day (Thursday), we spent the whole day in the Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens. We walked through the state rooms of the Austrian Emperors and Empresses, viewed the older-than-America orangery, and spent an entire afternoon in the oldest zoo in the world!

The next day the students took us on a tour through the inner city of Vienna. In the Gesäuse all of the students were assigned a partner, with whom they put together a small presentation about the Johann Strauß memorial, the Karl Cathedral, the Hofburg Imperial Palace, the Viennese Secession Building, the Demel coffee house and confectionary, the Jewish Holocaust memorial, and the Anker clock. It was a great tour, and an even better learning opportunity for the students and us teachers. We even stopped for some cake and original Viennese coffee in Demel and in Cafe Central. After the tour, we went to the Prater Stern amusement park. We rode the big ferris wheel together as a group, then the students had some free time to roam around the park and ride rides.

The following days were full of museums and high-culture experiences, including the Imperial Crypt, the Albertina art collection (including original paintings by Monet, Picasso and Warhol), the Hofburg Imperial Palace, and the Belvedere art museum (where we saw the most famous kiss in the world, Gustav Klimt’s painting ‘The Kiss’). This afternoon, the students had the choice of visiting either the Mozart House or the house where Sigmund Freud both lived and worked. All in all, tons of walking, tons of learning, and tons of fun. Our last evening together was full of laughter and tears, signing each other’s program magazines and enjoying some pizza.
Tomorrow we leave the hostel at 7:00 AM local time. We’ll arrive in Chicago (if everything goes as planned!) at 1:25 PM Central Time. Please remember that it will take a bit of time before all of us have gathered our luggage and made it through customs, but we look forward to seeing you all on the other side! Despite our full program, the students have missed you all a great deal. It should be a great reunion.
In the case that you are late or in the case of an emergency (and please only in case of emergency), you can reach Catherine on her cell phone at 616-206-5800. Otherwise, if your student has their cell phone with them, please feel free to route any messages through them. Catherine and the students will stay together the whole time. Bis morgen!

Mountain Air

After saying some very difficult, tear-filled goodbyes to our wonderful host families in Graz, it was time to get on the road to our next adventure.

First stop: Klagenfurt. Klagenfurt is a mid-sized college town with a long history. Some highlights of our city walking tour were the several interestingly shaped fountains (dragons and other things), seeing an original Ernst Fuchs painting of the Last Supper, walking through the Klagenfurt market, and a quick visit to the ‘Wappensaal’, or ‘Coat of Arms Room’. Nearly every inch of the massive walls were covered with different Klagenfurt families’ coats of arms.
After lunch, we headed out to the Wörthersee, a glacial lake just next door to Klagenfurt. It was like the Caribbean of Austria! The water was a brilliant turquoise blue-green, and the water was warm. All around the lake were amazing views of the Alps. We took a boat tour around the lake (of course stopping for ice cream in the middle), and then got on our way further into the mountains.

Next stop: Palfau. A few hours later we arrived at the Gasthof Eschau, our home for the next two nights in Palfau. Gasthof Eschau is a family-run inn with cozy rooms and friendly owners, nestled between multiple mountain peaks. Part of the land is used by the Free Life camp for hiking, archery, a high ropes course, and rafting equipment storage/preparation. We were excited to get settled and see what the next four days had in store for us.
After a hearty meal of Wiener Schnitzel and potatoes, we talked about the week’s coming activities and got ourselves oriented. The next day would be a full day of hiking, followed by full days of rafting, geocaching, team building, and raft building. It was a busy week! Stay tuned for the low-down on those activities very soon.

((Unfortunately, as we write this entry, our internet connection is not stable enough to support photo uploading. We will try and find a better connection soon to post another few group/individual photos if possible. In any case, each of the students will receive access to all of the program photos after they return to the US on Monday. They’re all dying to show you all their photos, too!))

Wrapping things up

It is hard to believe we only have just over 36 hours left in Graz! Early Friday morning we will be saying some hard goodbyes to our amazing hosts in Graz, and heading on to our next adventures in Klagenfurt/Wörthersee and the Gesäuse (‘ga-zoy-za’) National Park. We’ve had several highlights in our last week in Graz.

Last week Thursday we enjoyed an afternoon outside in the city playing beach soccer on the Freiheitsplatz, which has been transformed over the last few weeks into a full-size beach volleyball / beach soccer area. We had a lot of fun, and it was great to see everyone dive right in with such enthusiasm. A great indication of the kind of energy and excitement we all hope to see in the Gesäuse!

Last week Friday we spent a full day hiking, touring an old fortress in Riegersburg, and indulging in an all-you-can-taste tour at the Zotter Chocolate Factory. It was an exhausting day, but we all left with full hearts, full bellies, and bags full of chocolate for home (spoiler alert!)

Currently we are putting the final polishing touches on our farewell show for the host families tomorrow evening. The students really flexed their creative muscles here and came up with a fantastic and funny program – Bergsteiger Bingo, an all-encompassing quiz show that showcases several of the things we’ve learned and loved during our time here. Pictures to follow! It will be difficult saying goodbye to so many generous, thoughtful, and loving people; these host families really are the reason this summer has been going so well. For our part, we instructors can’t imagine a better group, and we’ve heard from nearly all the students that they don’t want to leave yet. We’re all looking forward to having tomorrow night to show them just how much we’ve enjoyed being here.

**One important note: In the Gesäuse National Park we will likely not have very reliable internet access. We will continue to update the blog as regularly and thoroughly as is possible, but it may be especially difficult to load pictures. So you’re up to date: on Saturday we will begin the activities at the Free Life sports camp, starting with white water rafting. The three following days will be taken up with geocaching, team building activities, and raft-building. On Wednesday we will continue on to Vienna for the last leg of the trip.


Communally Engaged

Last week we had the opportunity and privilege of getting to know two new sides of Graz. Following the model of the site in Chile, IUHPFL is expanding the commitment to not only enjoy but also give a little back to the greater Graz community.

Thanks to help from our on-site coordinators, we made contact with the Volkshilfe Organisation, a non-profit organization that provides support and volunteers to different social assistance groups in the area. Our first visit on Wednesday was to a nursing- and assisted/independent living home in Wetzelsdorf. The students were really great in coming up with creative ideas for a small program, and Team ABC was impressed with the students’ grace and ease in interacting with the residents. As a group (under direction of Arne) we sang two traditional German songs (Die Gedanken Sind Frei and Kein Schöner Land), which the residents really enjoyed. Sarah and Jarred both played songs on the guitar, and Hayden played a song from the movie Amelie on piano. Seth, Claudia, Emma, Jordan, and John took turns reading from two different poems by the Styrian poet Peter Rosegger. After our small program the students divided into pairs and conversed with the residents about questions they had prepared in advance. All in all, it was a huge success, and we think the students and residents both got a great deal out of it.

On Thursday we traveled a little bit outside the city, to a suburb called Gratwein, to visit a youth center where we would meet with a group of young refugees. We were also joined by students from a religion course in Graz. While waiting for the refugees, our students made some great connections with the other Grazians, playing foosball, pool, and cards. Once the refugees arrived, all of the students split into groups of 3-4 and worked together to come up with 4 things they shared in common. There were some language barriers, but we think the students were able to see that language barriers don’t always block communication. It was an eye-opening experience for our students, too, to see first-hand that even though these other teens came from extremely different circumstances than their own, as people we are not altogether different. We all have things that make us happy, interest us, and make our lives full. Some students had similar career aspirations, some found physical similarities between themselves, and nearly every group had ice cream and soccer at the top of their lists. 🙂 What an enriching way to spend an afternoon.

Today the students went to school with their host siblings to get a peek into how Austrian schools work. On Friday we are looking forward to a full day of hiking, visiting another fortress, and, most of all, the Zotter Chocolate Factory (and its unlimited tasting tour)! It’s going to be another great week in Graz!


Politics, Palaces and Pumping Iron (sort of)

It’s been a busy past week for us here in Graz! Since we last left you, our courses have come into full swing and we have been settling in nicely to a daily routine. In addition to our everyday activities, we’ve enjoyed three main highlights.

City Hall

Last week Wednesday we met Councilman Klaus Frölich in one of the main chambers of the City Hall. The Mayor was unable to meet with us, but Councilman Frölich provided us with a brief but interesting peek into the more formal side of life in Graz. Arne and Volker spoke on our behalf, thanking Councilman Frölich and the rest of the city for receiving us with such open arms.
We also had the privilege of standing out on on the balcony directly over the main square – we all (including the guys!) practiced our ‘Queen’s wave’. The main square was overrun on Wednesday with men in Lederhosen and women in Dirndls celebrating Austria’s timber industry; Councilman Frölich explained that Graz was honored to host this part of the celebration, as timber is one of Austria’s largest and most profitable natural resources.
We ended our visit to City Hall with a reception complete with a selection of juices and a delicious spread of open-faced sandwiches. All in all, we couldn’t have felt more welcomed (and well-fed!)





Schloss Eggenberg

After a full day of school on Friday we made our way just outside the city to the grounds of the Eggenberg Palace. The grounds themselves were breathtaking, and a welcome change from the busy Graz city center. At the end of the walkway we even saw a peacock! By the end of the afternoon we had lost count how many peacocks there were on the grounds.

The palace is technically a 17th-century building, but parts of the palace began construction as far back as 1460. It belonged to the Eggenberg family, who served as one of the primary financiers to the Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick III and whose descendents later enjoyed high status as diplomats and advisors to the Emperor, until the family line died out in 1717.
We took a tour of the upper floor of the palace, where guests were received and entertained. Every room displayed a different kind of intricate decor–some rooms were decorated as an homage to high-profile visitors to the castle or exotic travel destinations, while others offered depictions of different virtues, or biblical scenes. The palace’s architectural design was planned around the Gregorian calendar, with 365 external facing windows for the number of days in a year, 24 state rooms in the 2nd story for the number of hours in a day, 31 total rooms on each floor for the maximum number of days in a month, and…I think you get the picture. This was done not only as a way of demonstrating that the Eggenberg family excelled intellectually, accepting new scientific findings of the day, but also because mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler (the guy who discovered that the earth revolves around the sun, and not the other way around) was a personal friend of the Eggenberg family.

After our tour we had a bit of free time to explore the grounds and some of the exhibits in the lower part of the palace. Most students decided in favor of the “Wundertiere” (‘wonder animals’) exhibit, which looked at legends and depictions of magical animals and monsters throughout history. All in all, we had a fascinating visit.

DSC00059Taking the tram to Eggenberg


‘Kunsthaus as a Gym’

This week we decided to mix a little bit of culture into our weekly sport activity! Graz’ Modern Art Museum recently opened an exhibit that invites visitors to view the building of the art museum as a place to work out, too. Bonus: Anyone dressed in sports clothing gets into the exhibit for free.

It felt a little weird at first, but it ended up being really fun. The different stations of the exhibit included a short jogging ring, an area to use everyday objects such as sofas and books as weights, a Greco-Roman wrestling ring, and using the museum’s escalator as a treadmill. Sadly, it didn’t all work out as planned. It appeared the museum staff was either unaware of or just unenthusiastic about the whole thing (despite the exhibit guide’s instruction to engage the staff as sparring partners), and the layout was rather confusing. We didn’t have a ton of time, either, but I think everyone would agree that we did get our heart rates up! All in all, it wasn’t the best thing we’ve done so far here in Graz, but everyone was a good sport about it all anyway. 🙂