Having just left the opera house, I decided to take a walk down Karlsplatz and appreciate the Christmas lights displayed all over downtown Vienna. I had just left a performance of the best opera I have seen in my life, Peter Grimes. I saw a café, and went inside for what would be my last Austrian coffee and a bit of warmth. I ordered a hot chocolate and an apple strudel, of which I ate way too much during my time in Vienna. I sat there alone, contemplating all the life changing events that happened this term. I didn’t quite understand how much Vienna would mean to once I left. I was focused on getting my medicine in order, finishing my final paper, and making sure everything’s all set for my trip home. In some ways, things have not changed, I got back to my family, and we were still ourselves, and I was able to ease right in. But there was a deeper and better understanding of myself and the world I’m in that I got through my semester abroad.

Vienna is a city with its own splendors and charms which makes it unique and beautiful, but it is not magical. In Vienna, I found I was not able to distance myself from issues at home, and it would be a lie if I said I fit in right away. I was an oddball. I was living alone, in independent housing, trying to find a way into the most elite musical culture to ever exist. I didn’t have very many goals, I wanted to take advantage of every moment I was there, use the opportunity to listen to as much music as possible and gain a stronger, deeper understanding of what it means to be a musician. I wanted to network with possible musicians, in hope that I can find someone to commission me, and give me a reason to come back. I did not make very many friends, but I made a few that I deeply admire. I didn’t get the chance to meet a lot of musicians, for I had not anticipated a wall into the music scene, and I had not anticipated the anxiety of asking someone to coffee, in a different language.

Another thing that separated myself from many of my peers was economic class. My family could not afford this semester on our own, we looked for every bit of funding we could get. The IES Abroad Scholarship was among the first of many sources of income I had gathered to fund my semester, and when I received it, it was in that moment that I knew, it can be done.

I didn’t meet my goals, but instead, I became such a different person that by the end of the program, I understood that personal growth is much more valuable than professional growth. I had learned what it really means for me to be a composer, and what incredible power that holds. I learned to trust in myself, and forge my own path focused on making myself the best person I can be. So I didn’t do a lot of tourism stuff, I didn’t travel every weekend, I didn’t go clubbing or shopping. Instead I spent my Saturdays volunteering for refugees, speaking to them in Arabic about what it means to be an Arab new to the city. Then I would invite some of them to join me for a concert, they would decline (they usually had other, more important things occupying their time), and I would get standing room for whatever opera was playing. My Sundays, I wake up at the fresh hour of noon, make myself a quick lunch, do some work, then go to another concert. Mondays I would be at the refugee house again, and either go to a concert in the evening, or go on a walk. After every concert, I made a tradition with myself, to go to a café, and simply appreciate being in that space. I would compose a couple notes, just like Beethoven would have done in his time. I went out to the Alps, and composed while enjoying nature, just like Mahler did in his time. And the music I wrote there showed the progress I made in my personal growth throughout the semester.

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