Moving my kid abroad and practice in managing my expectations – our first two days in Austria

Midlife Sentence | Weiner Neustadt Austria

I don’t ever remember being that little girl who envisions her wedding. I don’t remember setting any particular expectations of parenthood, or thinking about what my first house might look like.

There is one little daydream I have long entertained, though, without really ever thinking about it: that of our kids going to the same university their dad and I were attending when we started dating.

Since the boys were little, we’ve been taking the six-hour drive North to Moscow, Idaho, for a football game every fall as often as possible. There were years we couldn’t make the time, or waited too long to get a hotel room, but there was a while when we made it a regular habit.

We joked about indoctrinating our kids as future Vandals. We bought all the swag, we took tours through living groups, we showed them where we’d lived and hung out. They dug it. And who wouldn’t? The Palouse is ridiculously gorgeous in the fall when we would visit, and the 130 year-old campus is the picture of time-honored tradition, with cobblestone lanes weaving through stately brick buildings. I’m sure most of it doesn’t look much different from when my grandparents attended in the 1920s.

Midlife Sentence - Idaho Vandals

I didn’t realize how much stock I’d put into that daydream until these last two of days of helping Jack get set up in his dorm at the University of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschule), Wiener Neustadt, Austria, about a 30 minute train ride south of Vienna.

It wasn’t until after Jack returned from exchange that he seemed to be giving any serious thought to college. A lot of my friends with college-bound kids had been looking at programs they thought best for their kids’ prospective careers. They visited campuses. If they had the means they put some thought into ranking. The kids poured through class catalogs and applied for scholarships.

People have been asking us how Jack settled on this particular school. It was actually an exhaustive, complex process.

No it wasn’t. Jack had two priorities:

  • Studying in Europe, and
  • Affordability

Actually, the affordability thing was his parents’ priority, but I like lists to have more than one thing for aesthetic purposes.

So fast forward and Jack settled on a school and we left for Wr. Neustadt on Tuesday.

Folks were laying odds on how often we’d argue, which was silly because we actually get along quite well, unless either one of us is too hot, cold, tired, hungry, or anxious. So I knew we’d be fine once we got over, like, all the things associated with travel and life.

Which means that by the time we arrived in Jack’s new town, we had argued no fewer than eleventy-gazillion times over things like whether the icon on my phone is a train or a bus (we’ve each been right at least once, so I think the icon is the same for busses and trains), where to get train tickets, how fast to walk, whether to worry about whether there was something to worry about, where the school administrator’s office was, and why his dorm key didn’t work.

So, yeah, it was rough at first, but things improved once we started ticking to-do items off our list and taking in the sights. Wr. Neustadt is like a lot of European towns, with the cutest little town square.

I wish sincerely cute was the word I’d use to describe the university campus. It’s not. The “campus” just a nondescript looking cluster of buildings in the middle of a light-industrial-park-like area near the airport.

I was disappointed even though I’d seen photos and knew what to expect. Sure, I was being a little harsh. Not everyone needs ivy-covered brick buildings to get a good education, and my kid’s going to get a belly full of quaint town squares and stuff like lederhosen and sauerkraut and the Alps, so he’ll have advantages we never had.

It’s just that there’s just this little knot in my stomach when I think about not going to homecoming weekends or buying all the parent swag. I guess I really wanted that Vandal mom sweatshirt. But other little things have been giving me heartburn as well.

Yesterday we worked on figuring out the bus system, checking into Jack’s dorm, registering with the local authorities (a little bit of a surprise there, I didn’t realize we had anything left to do after the long and arduous process of applying for a country permit with the Austrian Consulate was done).

As for the dorm situation, Jack will share a kitchen and bathroom area with another student, who apparently didn’t realize anyone was due to arrive that day, because the place was a wreck. At least Jack will have a private bedroom.

At the end of the day I was feeling a little bummed out about Jack’s living conditions and the lack of a picture-ready college campus. Maybe it was the jet lag, or the record-setting heat.

Maybe I just need to get over my vision of football tailgate parties, parent weekends, and homecoming parades.

Today, we worked on outfitting his room. I spent about three hours online trying to figure out how to find the equivalent of a Target here. It wasn’t easy, but I finally found this place someone on Yelp describes as “just like Bed Bath and Beyond.” So, Bingo.

By the way, the German word for fitted bed sheet is spannbettlaken, duvet is bettdecke, and pillow is kissen. Aaaand it turns out Jack has a google translate app on his phone that he forgot to even show me until about two stores after this one, which was fine. I love gesturing and pointing with sales clerks (and we just argued again over German vocabulary, so make that eleventy gazillion and one times)

Midlife Sentence | Wiener Neustadt
Reiter Betten & Vorhänge GmbH

Oh, and I’m pretty sure the sales lady who helped us with the spannbettlaken and bettdecke also tried to sign me up for a store credit card, which I think is something you probably shouldn’t do if you lack a common language, but I digress.

Getting around has sometimes been challenging, even with Jack’s limited German and my enthusiastic hand gestures. But we’re getting the hang of it. Everyone we meet says they speak a “little bit” of English. Everyone. We’re learning that sometimes “little bit” means “I know quite a bit of English, but I’m very modest,” and sometimes it means “My cousin Karl taught me this phrase, and it’s all I got.” It takes a surprising amount of concentration and gesturing to tell the difference (phone apps don’t help with real-time conversations, just so you know).

In the end, we were successful in buying everything Jack would need to outfit a bedroom, bath, and mini kitchen, and without going too far over budget. All the spannbettlaken and bettdecke covers fit, and we were able to finish up with a late lunch of schneitzel and bier, which is 100 percent motivation for my setting foot into not one, but two malls on the same day (uh, Jack differs with me on his definition of mall, so eleventy gazillion and two times).

Oh and when we returned to the dorm, we met Jack’s roommate, who had cleaned things up considerably. He had emptied out the kitchen and bathrooms completely and was in the process of disinfecting the kitchen pantry area because there’d been some problem with an infestation that should be taken care of in a week or so. In the meantime, Jack and his roommate will use the kitchen in the unoccupied space next door.

I’m reading through all of this wondering if I’m freaking out all the grandparents and various and sundry other folks who care about our kid, but I have to tell you Jack is stoked about all of this, and rightfully so, and we are proud of him. We won’t see as much of him in the coming years, and we’ll learn to live with that.

I’m going to have to adopt someone else’s kid though, so I can legit wear my Vandal Mom sweatshirt.






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  1. Aww! So cute!
    Your son will be just fine. Austria is a lovely choice.

    I’m a British expat in Germany. My husband is German and our son is 16, he’s at college now, and even though I’ve been living in Germany for 19 years, it still hurts that our son is growing up and in just 2 years will opt to leave home. Ha! Forget about campus life as we know it. As I say, I’m British have many happy memories of university campus life, but does our son want to go to university in the UK? Nope! He prefers Berlin where we live.

    I don’t blame him in the least obviously, and will use the money that we save (UK school fees), to set him up re- a GAP year abroad, an apartment, and driving lessons. He can buy the car himself!

    p.s. I found you via Kristin of Camels & Chocolate.
    p.p.s. Are you British yourself ‘cos I’ve had a quick scan of some of your articles and you certainly have an English sense of humour!

    1. My son loves Berlin and almost went with a university there. I’ve never been, but it’s on the bucket list.

      I’m not British, in fact. Born and raised in the US Northwest, but I’m going to take as a compliment that you think I might have a British sense of humor! Thanks 🙂