on monday this week isabelle and i packed up all of the supplies we would need to spend two nights, three days with 12 children in a small hut in the mountains in lower austria. the hut is called buschberghutte and it is one of about 40 huts scattered throughout the austrian mountains, where hikers and campers can stop to eat and sleep. buschberghutte happens to be stationed at the lowest altitude, compared to the other huts.
after a 1 hour bus ride from vienna to lower austria, we unloaded all of the children at a bus stop in a tiny village situated at the base of rolling hills, and then with all of our backpacks and sleeping bags, we began hiking away from the village along a tiny path into the forest with nothing to guide us but an occasional sign post with an arrow and the words buschberghutte written across it.
i think that first day of hiking from the bus stop to the hut was the most difficult of the three days, especially for the six american children. they expected the bus to drop us off right in front of the hut, and not to carry all of their bags up a winding path in and out of the forest and the hot sun. at some points, we stopped to set our things down and sing songs in the middle of fields, which did seem to help a bit.
when we finally arrived at the hut, the american children were especially surprised at how cramped their living quarters would be for the next three days. there were complaints from the children of not wanting to be there and missing their family, and it was honestly a difficult first day. thankfully isabelle and i work really well together so after lunch we facilitated a group discussion about how everyone was feeling and why. we then created group rules for our time at the camp, including how to treat everyone, what time we would wake up and go to sleep, and what inclusion would look like.
we then talked about what cultural differences the children have noticed during their time first in the united states and then in austria. the austrian children talked about how difficult it was to live with air conditioning in the united states – too cold! – and how the food servings were way too big. they also noticed that people who work in the service industry are so friendly and attentive – in austria they barely make eye contact with you! – the kids said.
over the next two days, we played countless physical activity and running games. isabelle and i had made jerseys from an old sheet for each of the children and then wrote numbers with permanent marker on each jersey. the kids were then split into two groups – odd vs. even numbers – and had to hide throughout the hills and then begin to catch one another. a bit like hide and seek combined with tag but you also have to call out the person´s name and number before you get them out. the kids loved this game.
we also hiked to another nearby village – this time without carrying our bags – and visited a school museum that was really beautiful. in the lobby there was a knowledge chair which was a silly invention from germany that involved pouring books into a large funnel which was then placed next to the pupil´s ear. it was meant as a way to learn subjects very quickly without actually having to read! this made for a great photo op with the kids. we then toured the school which had been operating since the 1800s and were quizzed by our tour guide on a bit of mathematics, literature, and science, as we moved through each room.
on our last day at the hut i worked with an austrian man named norbert in the kitchen to prepare a typical american meal for all of the children as well as the families of the austrian children – about 30 people total. the american children decided that this meal would consist of baked beans, sloppy joe´s, french fries, and corn on the cob. i had actually brought two gigantic cans of bush´s baked beans and several packets of sloppy joe seasoning from pittsburgh especially for this dinner. the kids then performed a skit for the families as donald trump vs. hillary clinton in a debate ranging from gun control to gay rights. it was really entertaining.
oh – and just before the families arrived, one of the austrian girls was doing a cartwheel and landed on her foot awkwardly. she was taken to the hospital that night and we just learned today that she actually broke her foot. as sad as i am that she broke her foot i am also relieved that it happened on the last day. so there it is – we survived three days in the austrian mountains with 12 children and only one broken bone.