When in Vienna: A Reflection Upon my Travel Experience
K. Lindsay Berg
As my classmate placed our shared red plastic tray on the table, I looked at her and then at the two beers on the tray and thought to myself, “When in Vienna!” We were at McDonald’s, and, though the restaurant was familiar, this experience was in many ways foreign to me. Now that I am back on familiar turf, I cherish moments like these. I cherish the moments in which I allowed myself to loosen my somewhat tight grasp on my own rules of living and to begin to explore those of the Viennese. When I reflect upon my time in Vienna, these are the experiences that I remember most fondly.
During my vacation from my own culture, I did many things that I do not normally do. I rode public transportation, and I read at a café in the park. I spent time with my classmates in the evening instead of watching television. I slept with the windows open at night and brought my own bags to the grocery store. I consumed copious amounts of meat and carbohydrates, and I lived without air conditioning. More than an American woman seeing the sights of Vienna, I was an American woman experiencing what it might be like to live in Vienna. I loved partaking in Viennese culture and enjoyed the culture’s minimalist approach to living as well as its emphasis on social encounter. As the days passed, I began to feel less like I was observing Viennese culture and more like I was participating in it.
By participating in another culture, one might potentially feel culturally dishonest. Sometimes, the ways of living of another group contradict the ways of living that one embraces as a part of her particular identity. I felt that way at times. There is, however, a distinct rift between watching what others do and doing what others do. While we might be able to appreciate another person’s culture by observing it, I think that we cannot begin to truly know it until we participate in it. As I slackened my allegiance to my own cultural identity while in Vienna, I found myself focusing less on maintaining “me” and more on experiencing the way of life of others. As a result, I began to look at my own way of living through a slightly different lens.
I think that contact with another culture that moves beyond observation allows one to question the helpfulness of the boundaries within which she lives and, quite possibly, to create new boundaries of living. While in Vienna, I challenged the boundaries of what is comfortable for me and intentionally suspended my belief in the primacy, even if only for me as an individual, of my own chosen way of living.
This process of letting go of one’s own story in order to participate in that of another happens in counseling sessions too. As counselors, we are called to be both firm and flexible in our own identities. We must know who we are as individuals in our own cultures and know how to care for ourselves and for others out of this identity. We must also be able to acknowledge that our way of life is one of many and be eager to learn about the lives of those we meet.
Both as wholehearted travelers and as counselors, we must be able to look at another person with a fresh perspective and say to them, in our own words, “Let me experience who you are.” I think that travel teaches us to experience others in ways that cannot be taught in a classroom or learned through clinical experience. I am profoundly grateful both for my experience of encountering the Viennese culture and for each of the moments in which I allowed myself to do something outside of my cultural comfort zone. Sometimes, this was as simple as choosing an alternative to a Coca-Cola product at McDonald’s.
Department Group Leader: Pamela Karr
K. Lindsay Berg
Leigh Zick Dongre
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