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Creating Community on Another Continent

December 14, 2023 | Dr. Megan Peach

Long-time Bozeman resident Dr. Megan Peach, a member of YTI’s Community Advisory Board, recounts challenges—and blessings—that have come with living in Vienna, Austria, for the past year.

It has been just over a year since we left my parents at the Bozeman airport with a single suitcase each and flew to our new home, a tiny 900 square feet apartment in Vienna, Austria. We left our beloved community with grand ideas of introducing our kids to the world and immersing them in a new culture.

Navigating the rules of a new country was overwhelming and the first few weeks felt a little bit like grief. Sending our kids to German speaking schools not knowing if they would be able to communicate their needs brought a sense of helplessness, and the damp darkness of the Austrian winter was isolating. Not exactly the grand adventure that we had originally thought. Trying to overcome these challenges while removed from the safety of our community felt like we were very, very far away from home.

The strangeness of Austrian culture slowly faded, and we grew accustomed to our European life. We have grown to love the ever-present bells of the nearby abbey, the two-minute walk to school, and the five-minute walk to the grocery store, and even the absence of a vehicle in our daily life feels normal now.

We have had the privilege of traveling to some incredible places during the past year. We ate brunch with a chameleon in Budapest, snorkeled in sea caves in Croatia, explored Soviet-era ruins in Slovakia, visited the birthplace of our ancestors in Poland, and swam in alpine lakes in Switzerland. And while we are so grateful for these adventures, it’s the daily challenges that have changed us and provided each of us with a greater sense of self.

We have watched our kids learn to communicate in a language that we, as parents, do not yet understand. We have learned to embrace the Sunday shuttering of businesses and to shift the focus away from work and toward time with family. We have learned that time spent outside walking or bike riding is just as valuable as time spent on a big adventure. The Austrian lifestyle has allowed us to slow down and just enjoy our time together.

And, with time, we have created a community for us here that we belong to. Some of that community are people in our neighborhood who we greet with a smile because we do not share a language, but we share a physical space and we have become part of one another’s routine. And some of our community revolves around people who are very different from us but with whom we find common ground and belong, if at least for the moment. We can walk out our door now and find familiar faces in the crowd and the sense of grief that accompanied the sudden change of leaving our Bozeman home and coming to this once unfamiliar place has slowly evolved into a sense of belonging.

The clothes our kids came here with are getting smaller, our community here is getting larger, and our sense of selves has grown. As we reflect on this experience, we are so very grateful for the challenges just as much as the adventures, but it’s the challenges that have been the real gifts this past year. It has been in this process of finding community that we have been able to understand a little more clearly who we are as individuals, where we belong, and how grateful we are for the community we have be it only in this moment or the one waiting for us back home.

So, as you navigate your own holidays and reflect on your own growth this year, we wish you a sense of belonging, of community, and of course, of love.

Dr. Megan Peach

Community Advisory Board Member

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