Making the most of my time in Vienna

Olivia R, Bachelor of Business/Laws

University of Vienna (Semester 2, 2016)

Travelling to Vienna, Austria, I was overwhelmed with the prospect of studying human rights law in the place so deeply rooted in the fundamentals of legal first principles. As my classes were in English, and many exchange students were not from English-speaking countries, the subjects themselves were quite light on. It was fairly disheartening, though allowed me to realign my future goals. The main building of The University of Vienna is incredible, though only history and English subjects are taught in that building.

The main staircase of The University of Vienna & throwing a cheeky snowball in Stadt Park, Vienna on the first snow day.

Prior to departure, I had been told to budget more than other exchange destinations. Vienna, Austria, is renowned for its extravagant coffee houses, long nights at the State Opera House, and elaborate palaces. While its First District, the Inner Stadt, is notoriously expensive, on par with Sydney or Melbourne, not too many students venture out to the restaurants and hotels in this area. As long as you have a budget figured out, and are pretty good at sticking to it, there’s no reason you can’t occasionally treat yourself to one of those famous coffee houses. Part of my budgeting was to live in student accommodation a bit further out of the city, in order to take advantage of the plethora of Eastern European countries at Austria’s doorstep.

An autumn sunset in Vienna & christmas lights in Vienna’s Inner Stadt

Over my five months in Austria I managed to pack in 11 other countries. A quick 50-minute bus ride east will find you in sweet little Bratislava, Slovakia. A small and relatively quiet capital city usually, Bratislava played host to the international White Night Festival the weekend I was there. I feel that I saw Bratislava at its absolute best—a light, culture and food festival lasting from 6pm-6am, and the Slovakians were out in full force for it!

Looking up to Bratislava Castle.

Next was Ljubljana, Slovenia. As a bit of an underdog city, I had no real idea of what to expect from Ljubljana. I went with two other exchange students. Having no preconception whatsoever of Slovenia, we had an absolutely incredible weekend. Slovenia is certainly an up and coming country, with many local designers and concept stores lining its streets. Ljubljana was awarded the greenest city in Europe for 2016, and no wonder! With cool social enterprise restaurants that charge per minute you’re inside and bikes stationed all over the city. We even made it out to Lake Bled for a chilly afternoon.

While I could write at length about each country and culture I visited, I feel these two places were their own kind of highlight. Were it not for the proximity of these places that Austria facilitated, I may not have ever travelled to these trendy places. These were such memorable destinations purely from the pleasant surprise of how much I enjoyed them, and a kind of opening of my world view when it comes to travel.

At the Vienna State Opera & The 180 Degrees Consulting Team.

Vienna itself provides a multitude of cultural experiences, from the State Opera House, to the extraordinary Albertina Museum and the historical significance embedded in its very identity. Vienna is truly a destination for history buffs, with plaques commemorating World War II significances, infamous psychologists and composers on almost every corner of the Inner Stadt.

While in Vienna, I was privileged to be a part of 180 Degrees Consulting Vienna. I was part of a team advising a firm that established an online job platform for Austrian refugees. For me, this was the definite highlight of my whole trip. We were also awarded the best project for Austria that semester. I met some incredible and impassioned people using social enterprise, who I am sure I will keep in contact with. It has encouraged me to join the 180 Degrees Consulting UQ team.

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?”

 

 

 

Living & Studying in Vienna

I’ve been living in Vienna for two months now, (which is kind of scary in itself – I’m over a third of a way through exchange and I’ve somehow survived 2 months of solo living). In these two months, I’ve realised Vienna is an incredible city to live in.

People often ask me why I chose Vienna: the locals with a tone of disbelief in their

Climbing Kahlenberg, amidst the vineyards

Climbing Kahlenberg, amidst the vineyards

voice, and Australians with a genuine curiosity, bordering on slight doubt. For me, it’s because of the experience. When else will I be able to live in such a different country? Any move overseas takes courage. I’m not tooting my own horn here, but if you want to see how courageous you are, making your first move out of home to a country on the other side of the planet is a pretty good litmus test.  I did it to test myself. I can safely say that I’ve successfully achieved that objective. Whilst there have been moments where I’ve questioned my sanity in taking the leap to go on exchange, it’s

Gorgeous buildings that are just perfumeries or apartments

Gorgeous buildings that are just perfumeries or apartments

been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and the liveability and charm of Vienna has helped make the transition very smooth.

The metro system here (as it generally is throughout Europe) is great – it’s very efficient, interconnected, and the apps to figure out how to get from point A to B are also easy to navigate. I think when I come home, that’s going to be one of the things I’ll miss the most about Vienna.

I study at WU – the Vienna University of Economics and Business. Like at QUT, the staff are passionate about what they teach. However, the assessment style and the way classes are run are a little different from QUT.  There’s a heavy emphasis here on class participation, and assessment tends to be numerous smaller assignments, or assessed homework, rather than the traditional ‘Assignment/Mid-Sem/Final’ that we’re used to at QUT. Class length and regularity also vary considerably – some classes are 3 hours (generally semester-long), others can be 8 hours, because they’re

The QUT cube meets the WU Campus

The QUT cube meets the WU Spaceship (more commonly known as ‘The Library and Learning Centre’)

intensives (like Summer semester). Some classes may be twice a week for a month, or they may be once a week for the semester, or until Christmas: this is both a blessing and a (mild) curse. Blessing because it means you aren’t locked into a timetable, giving you freedom to traverse Europe through semester. It’s only a mild curse because you can’t remember your room or timetable.

 

The campus is also incredibly modern – the oldest buildings there are from about 2013, when the university relocated to its present location.  This lies in stark contrast to the rest of Vienna, where every building looks gorgeous, no matter how mundane its purpose.

Whilst Vienna is not quite as integrated with nature as Brisbane is, there are plenty of walks through green areas on the city’s fringes. These are all easily accessible by public transport, and you could very easily spend 4-5 hours just following the trails, like I did when I walked through the beautiful Vienna Wood.

City Walk 3, through the Vienna Woods

City Walk 3, through the Vienna Woods

Two months in and my exchange in Vienna is proving to be a fantastic adventure – I’m still always finding new things, and I can’t believe how the time has flown.

A Week in Vienna

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Swimming in the Alte Donaukanal (Old Danube Canal) with new friends

It’s been a week since I arrived in Vienna for a semester to study at the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU). Before I arrived in Vienna though, I was most worried about making friends with an entirely new group of people. I had back-up plans for other things: cooking failed? Go out and buy something. Got home sick? FaceTime. Got lost on the streets? Ask someone. There didn’t seem a viable alternative to not making friends, other than “independence” (not to be confused with “loneliness”).

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A night at the Prater, Vienna’s largest park

My fears were short-lived, and of course, totally unwarranted. I won’t lie – I had some help. My buddy picked me up from the airport, and after a few days of settling in, I contacted a friend who is also studying in Vienna. And although I only knew two people in Vienna, it doesn’t matter. Because those people know people who know people.

The fantastic thing about exchange is that everybody is in the same boat as you. Everybody is flustered at the thought of buying things in German (a language most exchange students can barely speak), everybody is running around sorting out paperwork (conveniently all in German) and struggling through getting groceries (you don’t realise how much you value pictures until it’s not English). You are not alone. It’s actually super easy to make friends – and often, the best friendships come from the most serendipitous circumstances.

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Admiring the sights at Schloss Schönbrunn

Within my first week I’ve swum in the Danube, gone on a rollercoaster, explored a palace and cathedrals, met people from Bulgaria to Brisbane to North America, been to the closing night of the Vienna Film Festival, explored Rathaus (the town hall), and the list continues.

I’ve only just scratched the surface and I can’t wait to see what the next 23 weeks hold in store!