Teaching English in Austria: Celia Heidbrier

Celia Heidbrier graduated from Baylor University in May 2012 with a BA in German. She was selected for a prestigious English Teaching Assistantship in Austria, and is now spending a full academic year teaching English in Deutschlandsberg, a small Austrian town of around 9,000 people. We asked Celia to check in from time to time and let us know what her experience has been like. This is the first of what we hope will be a series of blog posts.

Hello from Austria
By Celia Heidbrier

Grüß Gott, Baylor and friends! Welcome to Deutschlandsberg, Styria, Austria! I am working as an English Teaching Assistant here this year for the Austrian-American Educational Commission. Basically, I’m a native speaker. Sometimes I feel like more of a spectacle than a teacher, but hopefully I’ve imparted useful knowledge to someone here.

I started working on Oct. 1. Currently I’m teaching at a Gymnasium, the type of school one attends before hopefully, going to a university. Mostly I work with the Matura-level (senior) classes, whose teachers tell me that the kids are strong in writing, but that it’s more important for me to try to get them to speak.

One successful activity I’ve had so far was my introduction. The students guessed from where I came, and once they figured out that I was from Texas, I played “Two Truths and a Lie” with them, in which a person says two true things and one false thing about him- or herself. The students had to guess which one was false, and I’d ask them to explain their reasoning. It was a great way to clear up stereotypes and get them to speak. We laughed a bit, too. The choices were:

1) When I was little, I played the piano.
2) When I was little, I had a horse.
3) When I was little, I shot guns.

I tricked a lot of students!

There are so many holidays in the school year here, mostly due to Catholicism. Before a month was up, we had a 10-day vacation. Oct. 26 was a national holiday, and Nov. 1 and 2 were religious holidays; the school administrators decided to combine the three days into one long break. I asked my mentor here what most people do during this time, and he told me that most people go to Venice. I ended up spending half the time here, and half the time in Munich.

Even though the Catholic faith plays a big role in the holidays here, its numbers are low. At our English Teaching Assistant’s orientation, we were told that about 66 percent of the population is Catholic on paper, but less than 10 percent are practicing Catholics. There are four churches in town, two Catholic and two Evangelical. When I registered to live in town, I was required by law to write down my religious affiliation so that I could be taxed accordingly. When I got my first paycheck, I calculated that my own church tax was around 2 percent.

The first church service I attended was at one of the Evangelical churches. That particular Sunday was the national Thanksgiving. I sensed the reverence in the holiday, but honestly, I only understood the announcements that time!

There’s a hint of Catholicism in the dialect, too. People say “Grüß Gott” here as a formal greeting, which literally means “Greetings to God.” Whenever I walk on the pathway, strangers and I say this to each other, but there are a few people on the trail sometimes who prefer to ignore others. If people know each other well, they’ll greet each other with “Servus.” They also sometimes say what sounds like “Buh bah” when someone leaves. “Mal Zeit,” meaning “meal time,” is the Austrian form of “Bon Appétit.” When one passes anyone eating or drinking, it is polite to say this to the consumer.

I am excited to share this journey with you! Next time I won’t talk so much about church and state. I’ll give you a virtual tour of the town and a virtual taste of some of the local delicacies.

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