Grüß Gott! Antonia here, writing to you from a different century. Or at least that’s what it feels like sometimes…
I am currently on my semester abroad at the University of Vienna in Austria.
When people ask me about how my exchange is going, I usually catch myself using the same words: The city is a dream, the university is a nightmare.
Now, of course, anyone who knows me knows that I am very prone to exaggeration, so for those of you who don’t: let me explain my choice of words.
Vienna. A beautiful place with not so beautiful people. A huge city with a small town feeling.
The capital of Austria is full of oxymorons. While it is quite a smart city, with impeccably connected public transport (during the day), and one of the widest coverages of free wifi networks I have ever seen, walking through the streets you would never guess this based on what meets the eye. The city seems to be torn between its old history and the modern age. Someone referred to it to me as the capital of museums, which it could easily be. There are museums at every corner, with exhibitions telling stories about the history of hats, princesses, arts, sex, theater, hunting and so much more. Everywhere you go there is a story to listen to, a monument to analyze or a castle to get lost in. It’s fantastic for people like me, who appreciate the character of European cities that have a history.
The public transport is also a great example of new and old in one. While there are busses running on electricity, almost everyday I find myself sitting in a tramcar from 1966.
Walking through the city, I could stare at the buildings for hours. Every building seems to be built with the same stone, in the same era. Every house seems like it has a story to tell.
Coming from Germany, I am not used to restaurants and cafes allowing everyone to smoke inside. Having spent the last two years in the Netherlands, I had forgotten what it’s like to live somewhere that closes down on sundays. These (to me) outdated rules of society completely oppose other observations, such as those that can literally be made at every corner: almost all pedestrian lights here are picture homosexual couples. This city is truly confusing to me.
The Viennese can be considered as cold, even though their language is one of the most adorable things I have ever heard. I’m from the north of Germany, so Austrian sounds quite silly to me. Everything here is cute and sounds nice and fun, though the people here can be quite the opposite. For example, they don’t exactly understand how PUBLIC transport works. When there are two seats free, they sit on the outer one, making it impossible for another person to sit down, and do not move when asked if the other spot is free. It is also completely normal to just stay standing at the door, making it impossible for others to get in or out. That being said, I have met some truly wonderful, kind Viennese, and everyone is happy to help if you ask nicely - especially at the university.
With 1,8 million people living in Vienna, it is a metropolis full of people from many different cultures. And even though the city is so huge, the student culture is still thriving. Vienna has about 200,000 students, with 94,000 students enrolled at the University of Vienna alone. The prices here are student friendly, in most regards. There are student discounts almost everywhere and living prices are also acceptable. The Erasmus Grant this year was 270€, so in the highest category given by the RuG. This can almost cover your rent here, depending on where you chose to live. I live in a shared flat with two other people, though they are almost never home. I have a tiny room, which holds my double-bed, a tiny desk and a clothing rack. I would say my room is about 7 square meters, which is very small, but considering we have a great kitchen and a large bathroom to share between us three, and considering the fact that I will only be here for 3,5 months in total, and I am the kind of person who studies at the library, the room is perfect for me. The rent is 300€ which might seem like a lot for such a small room, but I live in the center of the city and it never takes me long to get anywhere. The location is amazing and I am happy to pay a bit more than some people find acceptable for where I live.
(The University of Vienna does not offer any direct assistance in regard to housing, but there are many student houses and online platforms as well as facebook groups that offer assistance. Start looking for somewhere to live early on and don’t forget to check websites like airbnb, you might get lucky!)
The city is full of wonderful things to discover, certainly in the fall and wintertime, with Christmas markets opening in November, ice-skating rinks popping up over town in October, and a multitude of parks to take walks in before and after it chills.
And if you’ve had enough of Vienna, and need to get away for the weekend, there are so many options it is hard to choose what to do first. Vienna is the perfect distance from the mountains for a skiing trip, or to other cities like Prague, Brno, Budapest, Bratislava, Munich, Zagreb and Salzburg.
So to everyone who ever has the chance: come for a weekend, a semester, a year. Vienna is a fabulous place. A dream come true.
Now about the reason I am actually here: studying.
I said the University of Vienna was a nightmare, but maybe I am not being fair. Perhaps it is just a nightmare if you are a spoilt student from the Netherlands.
The Con’s of studying at UniVie:
Registering for classes is a chaotic and confusing disaster. And I had to restructure my courses about 3 or 4 times.
Most classes are only weighted with 2, 3 or 4 ECTS, so taking on a full study load, achieving the 30 credits we need means taking 11 classes. Having an overview is pretty much impossible.
The library has opening times are a joke, take sundays for example: it it closed.
Only 2 of my classes take place every week.
Almost all other classes are so called “Block Seminars”, which means I have them for a couple of consecutive days throughout the semester. The first week of December has 4 Block Seminars, so I have many classes which are at the same time and attendance for all of them is (of course) obligatory…
Most courses offered are in German, which is why you need to be able to speak German to go to Vienna on exchange. However, even when you speak German, following most German taught courses requires you to have a good knowledge of Austrian Law and the German legal language, both of which makes it difficult for someone who has only studied law in English.
So finding enough credits in courses taught in English is quite frustrating. But it is doable, don’t let Manon tell you otherwise ;)
The Pro’s of studying at UniVie:
My classes officially started on 10th October (my first class was on the 14th), so I had one of the longest summers ever, and one of the latest starts compared to all the other 3rd years on exchange.
Because I am taking 11 classes, there is a large variety in my classes, which means it never gets boring and I am learning about a ton of different topics.
Only 2 of my classes take place every week.
Some of my Block Seminars take place at the end of the semester and some at the beginning. One course for example took place during a week in October, so I have already completed one course and already have some credits.
Because most courses are only 2 or 3 ECTS, the depth of the subjects and the amount of knowledge needed to pass exams is not as we know it from home. So achieving good grades is also easier.
So just to give a an overview, here are the courses I am taking:
Credits: Course Name:
2 Human Rights II - Special Issues
2 Introduction to International Juvenile Justice
2 Media Law (in German)
2 General Legal Framework of the Use of Outer Space Technologies
3 International Courts and Tribunals
3 Comparative Law of Religion
3 The Austrian Legal System - An Overview
3 Equality Between the Sexes in European Community Law (German)
3 The Law of Sovereign Debt
4 Policy and Law (Non-law course, German)
6 Cinema and Human Rights
When you decide where you want to go for your exchange, in the perfect scenario you want to go somewhere because of the place and the courses available.
In Vienna, the reason for me to come here was the place, not the courses and so far I have not been let down in this regard. Achieving the required 30 credits while you are here is not easily done, in regards to organization, but passing the classes once you have figured everything out logistically is not difficult.
So if you’re interested in coming to Vienna on exchange, these are my tips:
Make sure you are good at organizing your own timetable and have good time-management skills.
Come here for the city, not the university.
Be prepared to have to switch courses more than once and be prepared so you aren’t in a pickle when you don’t get into a course.
Start looking for somewhere to live early on.
Discover the city and have fun!