Interview with Gwendolyn Bodner

Where did you GO, when did you GO, and how long were you there? 
I went on the GO Austria trip for three weeks in May 2015.  Why did you choose that trip?

Why did you choose that trip? 
There is not a time in my life when I can’t remember seeing my father’s framed poster of the inside of the Musikverein in Vienna hanging on the wall in our music room. We have moved several times since the first time I remember seeing that poster, but in every home we’ve made sure to have a music room where we can display it. Initially, I didn’t realize the poster depicted the famous concert hall in Vienna. However, when my father told me about his trip to Vienna and what it was like to see a concert at the Musikverein, I made a promise to myself to one day sit in the audience at the Musikverein too. My desire to keep this promise, my interest in Austrian history/culture, and my desire to practice the little German I studied at SU were all considerations that helped me choose Austria for my GO program. In a wonderful turn of events, not only did I enjoy the trip far more than I could ever have imagined, but I got to listen to Beethoven’s 7th Symphony performed at the Musikverein on my 21st birthday!

What was one of the craziest things that happened while you were abroad? 
As I’m sure every person who has gone on their GO trip can attest, crazy experiences are a wonderfully exciting aspect of traveling abroad or anywhere else for that matter. However, one of the craziest things I did while in Austria was take a tour of the salt mine in Hallstatt. After donning a “heavy-duty scrubs” to protect our clothing from the salt on the walls of the mine,  Dr. Steinau, several members of the group, and I walked into the depths of the mine. As our tour guide said, there was nothing better than the pure salt air to clear our lungs. It was like breathing in the salt air at the beach. Hallstatt roughly means “place of salt” which is why I thought it would appropriate to take a tour of the mine that gave this quaint place its name. While taking a tour of a salt mine doesn’t sound too crazy, sliding down the miners’ slide did turn this tour into one of the craziest I’ve ever taken. The slide is essentially two wooden banisters that you simply sit on and slide down (praying for no splinters!) There were two such slides in the mine that tourists had to use in order to continue through the mine (and the tour). At the end of the second (and steepest) slide, each person could find out how quickly they were sliding. Photos of everyone sliding down the slides were of course offered at the end of the tour; a wonderful souvenir of this crazy experience abroad!

If you could start the whole thing over, would you go to the same place? Why or why not? 
In a heartbeat! Since returning from Austria, I haven’t been able to stop talking about the trip and reminiscing about all the incredible experiences I had there. It doesn’t matter where you go, anyone who has gone on their GO trip can relate to how difficult it is to describe everything that happened on the trip so that someone who wasn’t there can imagine all the unique experiences that made that trip so special and memorable. Even in the months after returning from Austria, I have found the greatest challenge not in readjusting to being home, but in telling people just how amazing the trip was. It is perhaps the “homesickness” I feel for Austria and all the places we went and people we met that serves as the best reason why I would go to the same place if I could “re-do” my GO trip. Even months after leaving Austria, I still can picture in vivid detail the places we went, the people we met, and even some of the conversations we had. In a way I suppose I am going back to Austria; my little sister will be a freshman at SU in the Fall 2016 semester and she plans to go on the same GO Austria trip I went on in 2015.

 Do you have any advice for people who want to do the same trip?
To anyone going on this trip, enjoy every minute of it and don’t be afraid to try new things whether it be food or sliding down a wooden slide in a salt mine. As cliché as that advice sounds, taking it to heart will be what makes this trip one you will never want to end. I would also tell anyone going on this trip to do their research on the places included in the itinerary. When you actually visit those places, like the Hohensalzburg Fortress, they will be so much more meaningful and significant. You will appreciate why it is important to have the experience of seeing a five-hour Wagner opera at the Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) like we did when we saw Die Walküre on my GO trip. Lastly, talk to people! If you know any German use it! It doesn’t matter if you only know danke or bitte. The purpose of any GO trip is to become more globally aware and sensitive to your role in the world. People, and everything they can teach you, are an integral component of achieving that purpose. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn as much as possible about the country from those most qualified to tell you about it–the Austrians!

 Besides visiting the concentration camps, what was one of your most memorable experiences?  
Besides visiting the concentration camp, one of the most memorable experiences on my GO trip was celebrating my 21st birthday on the trip. I would have been happy to be anywhere in Austria on my birthday. However, what made it truly memorable was the itinerary planned for the day I turned 21. We began by doing a group “project” that involved walking around Vienna in groups of four to find famous monuments connected to the Holocaust. Then, we went out to dinner at Scala, this lovely Italian restaurant where the professors on the trip bought me a glass of Prosecco and everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to me. After dinner, I was speechless as I sat in the concert hall that I’d only been able to imagine since I was a very little girl. The overwhelming joy of (finally) sitting beneath the exquisitely decorated ceiling of the Musikverein, listening to Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, was the perfect ending to a day I will always treasure and remember. I couldn’t have asked for, or planned, a more perfect birthday.

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