This past semester, I was lucky enough to spend a semester studying abroad in Vienna. One of the things that both the U of R and my program warned be about was culture shock – a feeling of personal disorientation or an unfamiliar way of life. While I was preparing myself to feel some sort of culture shock regarding the Viennese people, the food, and the social norms, I did not think anything of sustainability or recycling. However, I quickly realized that Vienna, or Europe in general, has a completely different green lifestyle than what we have in America. My culture shock was experiencing completely reliable public transportation that can take you anywhere you need to go, recycling areas on every street block, even dual flush toilets.
After just spending a few days in Vienna I quickly realized that sustainability, recycling, and a green future are extremely important to the people who reside here. This unfortunately is not always the case in many American cities. In Vienna, there are constant reminders and encouragements to do your part everywhere you turn.
Green thinking affects everyone in Vienna. If your child has a party at school, he or she is expected to bring his own cup, plate, and utensils – no disposable items are distributed. If you are at the grocery store, you must bring your own bags because none are provided for you. As you walk down your street to reach your public transportation stop, you pass an elaborate recycling “village” complete with areas to put paper, plaster, metal, glass, and compostable materials. As you sit on the tram to commute to school or work, you sit with 50 other individuals who have also decided to use public transportation for their commute. If you have to make a connection to another tram, subway, or bus, the most you will have to wait is 7 minutes. Even as you use the restroom, you have the option to choose how much water you need to flush.
Sustainability in Vienna isn’t a chore or a job; it is a way of life. The famous “Austrian stare” you’ll receive if you throw out something that could be recycled is enough to teach you to never make that mistake again. Forgetting your grocery bag once is a one-time experience – the inconvenience and the cost of having to purchase each individual bag you need ensures you will not forget anytime soon. The money you’ll receive once you make your first bottle deposit (up to 30 cents a bottle) makes you never want to throw away a bottle again.
The instant gratification of making green decisions made it easy for me to adjust into a green lifestyle in Vienna. I was lucky to experience a culture that introduced me to a more positive way of living. The lessons I learned in Vienna are ones I took back with me to Rochester, I am looking forward to sharing my experiences when I get back to class!