When I set off to Austria in September 2007, I wanted to accomplish three things:
1) improve my German
2) discover if I could actually "live" in Austria
3) figure out what I want to be when I grow up
The easiest decision was #3. After a month or so of doing academic research, I realized that I don't need to be a professor at a high-powered research university to be happy. I'd much rather stand before a class of students and tell stories, and if that doesn't earn me the big bucks, well, I've proven that I can live comfortably on less than €1000 a month ($1300-1400 depending on the exchange rate). While I don't want to do academic research, I do want to write. So when I'm not at school I will be working on stories that have rattled around in my brain for far too long.
Integrating into the culture (#2) depends a lot on communication (#1). The first year in Austria all of my friends were either native English speakers, teachers of English, or people in the Enns Valley who spoke dialect nearly exclusively. It was frustrating to understand only 40% of the conversation.
What a difference a year makes! The adult English classes in Aigen gave me a chance to get to know people my own age who understood that communicating in a foreign language is difficult. I helped them with their English, and they helped me improve my German (or at least my Stoansteirisch!) I no longer sit silently in the corner because I can't follow the conversation. In fact, I might even tell a story or two!