A Polish Experience

Clay A, Master of Business

Warsaw School of Economics (Semester 2, 2016)

I have just completed one semester at Szkoła Główna Handlowa w Warszawie aka the Warsaw School of Economics (SGH) in Warsaw, Poland. It was a truly fantastic experience.

SGH Main Building

SGH is a reputable business university in Warsaw located just south of the city centre. The campus itself is spread out over a couple of blocks in various, interesting looking buildings. The university itself is quite old, as are some of the teaching methods (over-head projectors, no lecture recordings, and best of all black boards with chalk) and I enjoyed every second of it. There are also very modern classrooms as shown below.

The main difference I noticed between SGH and QUT is that SGH is far more formal and the students are treated more like young adults. The students at SGH are required to call the lecturers ‘professor’ as opposed to the more casual approach at QUT. This formality is most likely reflective of Polish language and culture as a whole, which seems generally more formal. One thing I have noticed in my time abroad is that Australia is an extremely casual and laid-back country, and that we never get views like this from our classroom.

International Finance Lecture Room

Don’t let the formality of Polish culture put you off, this formality is mainly limited to the older generation. The younger Polish people I met in Warsaw were always very interested to learn that I was from Australia and were eager to practice their English speaking skills on me especially some Australian slang that they had picked up. The general consensus of people I spoke to referred to Australia as a ‘dream country’. Not many people I met had visited Australia but all of them seemed to have a distant relative or friend living in Australia. The cost of travelling to Australia played a major role in deterring people from visiting.

Always snow out of the window

The currency in Poland is the Polish zloty (pronounced zwotie), which equates to about 1/3 of an AU$ which was ideal for me and the other foreigners as the cost of living in Poland is very cheap, especially compared to its neighbouring countries in the EU zone. A 6 month student public transport card for unlimited travel was the equivalent AUD$100. The cost of food in restaurants, even very fancy places, was significantly cheaper than any major city in Australia.

I really enjoyed the Polish cuisine, especially during the colder months. It consisted of lots of different soups, meat (pork knuckles, beef tartar, ribs, duck legs etc), potatoes and cabbage (boiled, stewed, pickled). But the most notable of the Polish cuisines was the pierogi! Pierogi are Polish dumplings, the encasing of which are not too dissimilar from a Chinese dumpling, however the fillings are mainly cabbage, mushroom, beef, pork and are often covered with a bacon/oil sauce. Delicious!

Various styles of Pierogi

There were many international students at SGH, a large portion was from Germany but I also made friends with many Italians, Spanish, Portuguese, South Americans and even Egyptians. Two notable highlights for me in my time abroad was firstly having a Christmas party in my apartment with all my SGH friends, everyone came wearing their ugliest Christmas jumper and bringing with them a native dish from their country. The night ended with karaoke with everyone singing songs in their mother tongue. There was a total of 6 different languages sung, something which is very rare in Australia, but probably far more common in Europe.

The other highlight for me was travelling all over Europe, visiting a total of 16 countries in 5 months. The most memorable was travelling to Italy over the Christmas break, I was lucky enough to be invited for Christmas lunch to a friend’s family home I met at SGH in Treviso, Italy. I had a memorable and very delicious experience which was possible because of Erasmus experience at SGH.

I would highly recommend taking up the challenge/experience of studying abroad.

International Christmas Party

Austria: Centrally Located, Great for Travel

Exchange isn’t only about living in a new city, a long way from home. It’s about seeing as much of the world as you can that is now suddenly at your doorstep.

Vienna has many perks. A historical and cultural hub, a lively city and a wonderful coffee culture. For this post, however, the most important perk is its central location in Europe.

Whilst my classes were on, I have been incredibly lucky to have been able to take five subjects, one pre-semester language course, and still have been able to travel to 12 cities in 9 countries.

Devin Castle

 

Bratislava, Slovakia 

Likely to be the first international trip for many of Vienna’s exchange students,

Bratislava is a mere 45-minute train ride away (literally less time than it takes me to get to uni from home in Brisbane). The city itself is small, but the food is cheap. My tip: take a bus out of town to Devin Castle (pictured). It’s a 6th Century ruin that sits at the fork of two rivers, and it undoubtedly adds to the Bratislava experience.

The Chain Bridge and Parliament

 

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is about 2.5 hours away, and a very historical, interesting city. There’s quite a bit to see and do in Budapest, and a free walking tour is a great way to see a lot of it (they’re great in every city, not just

Budapest!), as well as hear stories about what you’re looking at. I also loved the tranquility of the thermal baths.

Graz, Austria

If you do the pre-semester orientation and cultural program, you’ll go to Graz, but because my friend and I didn’t, we took a spontaneous day-trip instead. Although it’s one of Austria’s largest cities, we managed to see most things, including climbing the hill to the Uhrturm (clock tower) in that time.

Porto, Portugal

Whilst I was on exchange, I was lucky enough to be selected and compete for QUT at

the University of Porto’s International Case Competition. While this involved being locked in a room for 34 hours to solve a case (albeit with 3 fantastic friends), it also involved meeting some amazing people from all over the world, and getting a guided tour by local students around the beautiful city of Porto. The comp was easily one of the highlights of exchange.

Team QUT in front of the Faculty of Economics, University of Porto

 

 

Douro Valley, Portugal

After the competition, QUT and several other teams went on a day trip to the world-renowned Douro Valley.  The valley was absolutely beautiful, and it was very refreshing to see such incredible scenery after Vienna’s relatively low tree-to-building ratio.

 

Inside the Sagrada Familia

Barcelona, Spain

(Unfortunately?) There are no direct flights between Porto and Vienna, so budget airlines tend to stop in Barcelona. We booked a couple of nights there on our way back, and got to experience some Spanish culture via sangrias, several walking tours, tapas, and paella. We were also very lucky to be able to spend time with people we’d met at various competitions (including Porto), and on exchange. Be sure to book online beforehand for Park Guell or the Sagrada Familia if you’d like to enter those, because they often sell out of tickets at the venue!

Berlin, Germany

I’d been interested in travelling to Berlin for a little while, but sadly I did it the disservice of not having enough time to truly explore the city (I would recommend 2-3 nights there, minimum). In the short time that I had there, I saw the East Side Gallery (pictured), the Brandenburg Gate, and visited the museum dedicated to the Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

The East Side Gallery, a large remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall decorated by street artists from around the world

 

Krakow, Poland

Inside the Basilica of St Mary

 

One year ago, if you were to ask me which countries I imagined myself visiting whilst I was on exchange, Poland probably wouldn’t have made it on my list. Enticed by my friend’s stories, 5 euro bus tickets, and a very large gap in my timetable, I decided to see Krakow for myself, and I was pleasantly surprised. The city has very student-friendly prices, and the old town square is bustling at all times of day. While I was there, I took a guided tour of Auschwitz, which was hauntingly moving.

 

 

Copenhagen, Denmark

I flew from Krakow onto Copenhagen to visit friends and see a beautiful city, and I was not disappointed. We ate authentic

Danish pastries, climbed the spire at the Church of our Saviour to watch a beautiful dusk and wandered through Nyhavn and Paper Island at night. Although Copenhagen is very beautiful, it is also quite expensive, and a surprisingly small city: my tip is that you only really need 2 full days to explore it.

View from the spire of the Church of our Saviour

 

Malmo, Sweden

The main square in old town Malmo

Many of the ‘Things to do in Copenhagen’ lists suggest ‘Take the train to Sweden’ – and

with my friend’s recommendation, I did. For the same price as entry to Copenhagen’s Tivoli you take the train across the bridge (famous in the TV series ‘The Bridge’) to Malmo.   Unfortunately, it was cold, windy and rainy for my daytrip, so most of my sightseeing involved comparing Swedish and Danish aesthetic (a little more colourful, but just as expensive), eating a delicious soup in a café that was also a record store, and eating New York cheesecake (thanks globalisation!).

 

Innsbruck, Austria

This trip was meant to be a trip to Milan with three other people, but ended up as a trip

to Innsbruck with one other person. It also ended up being one of the most beautiful trips I have ever taken.  We stayed at an Airbnb in Innsbruck, and our three days there

were filled with my friend and I turning every corner and gaping at the incredible scenery. One thing we did that I thoroughly recommend to anyone who’s interested in seeing Innsbruck is to not limit yourself to just the town.

View of Innsbruck

We took a “regional” bus, and stayed on until the end (approx. 20 minutes). Because the tickets are day passes, we wandered from one small town to the next (at most it would have been a kilometre between towns), and hopped on and off the bus as we pleased. It allowed us great freedom, and some amazing views (as seen in the photo below).

A stunning panorama outside the tiny town of Rinn

 

Vienna’s location allowed me to easily travel to all of these places with whilst studying. The question isn’t “Why Vienna?” It’s “Why NOT Vienna?”