A New Life Overseas

Austria was everything we dreamed, but we decided to come home

| January / February 2004

Austria was very much in the news in the late summer of 2000, when my husband, Walter, and I shipped the last box of our son's baby toys to our new apartment in Salzburg. We were leaving the United States to pursue our dream of living and teaching abroad; Walter had accepted a job as the music teacher at the American International School, a storybook boarding school (green shutters, alpine views) that we later learned was popular with Eastern Europe's new rich, who wanted to protect their children from the thuggish reality of their sudden wealth. As a member of the English department at the University of Salzburg, I would teach introductory courses on American English and culture to students who, after apologizing for their terrible language skills, gave flawless oral presentations on the media theories of Marshal MacLuhan and the finer points of Star Trek.

That we had both managed to secure visa-sponsoring positions in a city of only 120,000 never ceased to feel short of miraculous. And this glow of good fortune set the tone for our expatriate experience. At a stage in life when most people settle into a more stable and predictable routine, Walter and I were -- toddler in tow -- striking out on a great adventure. We were ready to leave the United States and its obsession with work and possessions behind. We also hoped that moving abroad would dilute America's influence on the tabula rasa we believed (or hoped) was our son.We wanted to raise Peter in a culture that was less saturated with violence. A place where his imagination wouldn't be kneaded, sculpted, and fired into a Disney figurine. Although we had spent the last two nights of our honeymoon in Salzburg, we knew nothing about the city's life beyond the confines of the tourist-heavy Altstadt, or Old Town. Salzburg existed for us as the ultimate European cliché, a Sound of Music-themed, baroque-accented backdrop for the photographs that documented the dreamy early days of our new marriage.

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