A Homecoming and a Leap of Faith
by Audrey Williams
So, it turns out “The Pilgrim Soul” was an appropriate name for my travel page, because my trip to Vienna began with two pilgrimages. Sort of.
Neither of my destinations is tied to something religious or holy–at least predominantly. Both, however, hold a special place in my heart. The first locale was Schönbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the Habsburg dynasty. The second locale was the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Many of my friends are well aware that when it comes to national identity, I’m rather confused. Since most Americans are immigrants or descended from immigrants, it’s sometimes difficult to develop a cohesive sense of identity. Even when someone is “American,” they usually feel a sense of connection to the countries from which their families immigrated.
I’m a third generation American, and my great-grandparents and grandparents did a good job of diversifying our bloodline. As a result, I’m quite a mutt. German, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Polish, Spanish, Georgian–all of those nationalities run through my bloodline. However, if I had to choose a nationality with which to identify–other than American–it would be Austrian.
There’s a legend in my family–maybe more like a myth–that we’re descended from the Habsburgs, the family that dominated the Holy Roman and Austro-Hungarian scene from the 13th century to 1918. The story goes that my great-grandfather was some sort of prince (I’m not sure how credible this is), and when his family arrived in the U.S., they tried to shorten their name to Haps (short for Hapsburg, an alternate spelling of “Habsburg”). However, a typo was made on Ellis Island, changing this name to “Gaps,” my mother’s maiden name. The typo story seems a bit more viable than the prince story. Either way, someday I hope to do more research–and maybe even a genealogy test.
In any case, traveling to Austria has been a type of homecoming for my family. And visiting Schönbrunn was more than just a touristic venture. It was a return to the past. The palace is magnificent–you don’t need a personal connection to marvel at its beauty, breadth and history. However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel an emotional connection to the structure–and to its history. Even though my personal connection is likely weak and distant, walking through the halls and imagining those who came before me was an inspiring experience. I did my eighth grade research project on the Habsburgs, and I’ve been intrigued with them ever since. If anything, as someone who has spent much time learning about this family, seeing evidence of the family’s glory–and its tragedies–was a dream come true.
My second pilgrimage was a less emotional and more pragmatic journey. Most of my undergraduate career has been spent preparing to enter the field of nuclear nonproliferation policy. I currently have an internship at The Stanley Foundation (where I work mostly on nuclear material security policy), and since my first semester at university I have had my sights set on the Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies M.A. at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. As such, I always knew a trip to Vienna would require a visit to the International Atomic Energy Agency. I could never have imagined, however, that the trip would be less of a guided tour visit and more of a business meeting. Thanks to my opportunities at The Stanley Foundation, I was able to connect with a professional at the IAEA’s Office of Nuclear Security. Thus, while my family spent the day sightseeing, I spent my morning and afternoon meeting with the IAEA and also with professionals at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation. My visit coincided with a report launch on IAEA reform, a happy coincidence that I couldn’t miss. All in all, my meetings further reinforced my desire to enter this field.
Even more importantly, the meetings were a leap of faith–a test of my viability as a young professional and a future expert. I’m very new to the “professional world,” and my first experience with policy meetings was only two weeks ago, in D.C. At those meetings I was a sidelined observer, since I was accompanying a TSF colleague. My meetings today, however, were a test of whether I can stand alone as a professional, seeing as I had to set them up and attend them alone. I won’t act as if I did anything important at the meetings. They were rather casual, after all. However, I did my best to represent myself well and to engage in conversations with those who were kind enough to host me–and I even mustered up the courage to ask questions at the event, an act that earned me recognition from some of the guests. I do not mean to stroke my ego or pretend I have some sort of clout or expertise. But as a young professional with one year of undergraduate studies left, I’m starting to feel very comfortable with the work I have accomplished. And I’m finally starting to realize that I may, indeed, be cut out for this line of work.
It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Vienna for only two days. It’s harder to believe that I’ll be leaving on Friday. My family will head to Salzburg and Munich. However, I wish that I could stay longer. Thanks to these two pilgrimages, I’ve developed a fondness for Vienna that is rooted in nostalgia for the past and hope for the future. Both ties are strong, and I’m sure they mean I’ll end up in Vienna again, sooner or later, and hopefully for a longer span of time.
Here are a few more photos form the past two days: