Exchange in the Historic City of Lisbon, Portugal

My main highlights during my exchange semester were: the history and architecture, the amount of cultural activities available in the city and being pushed out of my comfort zone and immersed in the Portuguese culture.

Campus

The Universidade Catolica Portuguesa campus is located approximately 30 minutes by underground metro from Lisbon’s city centre. This is a very easy commute once you have a monthly transport card set up. The campus is near a Hospital and other universities so it feels safe to walk around, even when you finish study later at night. I had a very positive experience with Universidade Catolica Portuguesa. They were highly organised making it easy to find most information out by myself online. There were good contacts in person if required as well. They had a student association which helped with queries and organised welcome events and social activities particularly for international students. I was the only Australian and amongst very few native English speakers in my cohort. This was not a problem at all though and I ended up proof-reading a few students’ assignments and resumes to help out.

 

Language Barrier

Overall, most people in Lisbon speak English well and were very friendly. Approximately half of the Catolica University cohort were international students. Mainly from European countries such as France, Italy, Germany and Netherlands which meant they often spoke between themselves in their own languages. But as all business masters courses were taught in English, they were also very comfortable in speaking English and appreciated having a native English speaker in their group assignments. I completed the Portuguese Language Crash Course at Catolica which ran for 6 hours per week for 5 weeks. Personally, I found this course unstructured and difficult to follow. It also took a lot of time during the first few weeks when I was trying to find housing etc. For people that learn languages easily, this course would be great but for others, I would recommend going to a privately-run language school.

 

Accommodation

I stayed in a hostel for my initial arrival in Lisbon and used a student housing agency called InLife (inlifeportugal.com) to find permanent housing. This worked well for me as you can book in for a housing tour on your desired date. During the tour, you are shown 3 apartments and if you would like one then you can sign a contract on the spot. This was convenient but my apartment turned out to be premium price rates compared to other students. I did have to stay in a hostel for approximately 6 weeks until the house was ready though which was difficult during summer peak holiday season. For noting that many other students had issues pre-booking with Uniplaces (uniplaces.com). For example, being unhappy with the other housemates, contracts being difficult to exit from, the apartments looking different to the photos online and requiring to pay a lot upfront without seeing the apartment.

 

Culture

Lisbon is a very creative city with lots of start-ups moving to Lisbon (the new Berlin), and as a result there are always plenty of cultural activities happening. For example designer markets, music festivals, dance lessons, seminars on start-up culture. The history of the city and coloured tiles were a major highlight for me. The city centre is easy to walk around. It is very hilly but most restaurants, cafes, bars are very easy to reach by metro, walking or by a cheap uber ride. There are a lot of affordable events on and other key European experiences include surfing, going to the Football, having an espresso and pastry at bakeries or joining along the activities running in the city squares.

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?”