Embarking on a journey to pursue a prestigious Master’s degree, I found myself in Salzburg, Austria—my first venture beyond the familiar borders of Nigeria. Stepping into this historic city in my mid-20s, armed with a wealth of information about living abroad, I anticipated the picturesque streets and cultural richness that awaited me. Little did I know, my first day of class would lead me on an unexpected detour – straight to a police station.
Let’s rewind a bit.
It had been 2 weeks since I arrived in Salzburg. Surrounded by the beautiful tourist scenery, and charming architecture adorned with pretty flowers in their porches, I immersed myself in the city’s rhythm. Salzburg’s aesthetic allure extends beyond its architecture to its people. The city’s inhabitants, seemingly as pretty as the structures around them, always moved with purpose as evident in their hurried steps. Their apparent indifference to strangers, as seen in their nonchalant street interactions, stood in stark contrast to the nods, smiles, and random compliments freely exchanged by strangers back at home. What stood out most, however, was the scarcity of Black people. In a city of few, spotting another Black resident became a rare and amusing encounter, marked by exchanged glances and shared laughter.
The anticipation for my first class pulsed through me. Armed with Google Maps, I thought I had it all figured out – until I found myself aboard the bus, wordlessly repeating my bus stop to myself. Nothing could possibly go wrong. But I was clueless about the red button labeled ‘STOP’ in large, friendly letters. So I watched the bus slow down at my supposed stop, and then pick up again, past the traffic light, and took a turn. Out of panic, a cascade of events had me frantically shouting my bus stop name to the stern driver. She couldn’t speak English, neither could I speak Deutsch, so the breach in communication did nothing to assuage my panic, nor did it hide her disapproval at my rookie mistake of not pressing the STOP button.
Finally disembarking at an unfamiliar stop, late and internet-deprived, I questioned the merits of leaving home. As I navigated the streets, the sign “POLIZEI” caught my eye—a beacon of hope. Inside, I narrated my problem to a sympathetic police duo. The ease with which they swung into solving my problem calmed me. They not only helped me with directions but also escorted me across busy roads. 15 minutes later, I walked into class, sweaty, angry, and embarrassed; the unexpected police pitstop forever etched into my Salzburg saga.
After my first-day-of-class police encounter, I had to face a quintessentially European rite of passage—I learned to ride a bike! Back in Nigeria, cycling was a childhood pastime, but here it became a mode of independence. The day I was able to sit on my bike without falling off, I smiled and smiled, and let all my friends back home know. And the day I finally pedaled, I whooped so loudly in the street that I scared off a few birds. It was an astonishing feat and I was excited to ride to the university. The bicycle became my passport to exploration, a liberating alternative to the enclosed spaces of buses and a nod to self-reliance in an unfamiliar city.
Life in Salzburg has introduced me to a tapestry of novelties—from the self-checkout marvels of supermarkets to the chestnut tree-lined roads, to the enchanting lakes. The meticulous architecture parallels the thoughtful road designs, where designated lanes for bikers, pedestrians, and cars create an organized beauty in this city of Mozart. The city’s respect for time resonates with my own values, but not all revelations have been pleasant.
Navigating through clouds of cigarette smoke from strangers and grappling with coins challenge my senses. Coming from a country where physical coins were non-existent, using, collecting, and carrying coins has been a major inconvenience for me. But a few Euros’ worth of coins later, I have realized the need to embrace this new aspect of the currency. Furthermore, as I adapt to the slightly colder weather than I am used to, donning jackets, hoodies, and socks daily, I anticipate winter with a mix of excitement for a ‘White Christmas’ and internal panic about surviving the cold.
However, beneath the surface of captivating experiences, the elation at starting further studies in a prestigious program, the thought of life abroad, the plethora of friends, and new places I hope to experience – I still can’t shake off the feeling that I am constantly hungry… for food.