Brittany – Vienna University of Economics and Business – Austria
Semester 2, 2022
Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Fine Arts
Going on an exchange semester had always been something I wanted to do; partly to prove to myself that I could be independent and brave. But also to be able to travel around, and visit numerous other countries! Having just completed a semester studying at the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU), I can say it was everything I’d ever hoped it to be.
Maybe I am a little bit biased, but Vienna is certainly my favourite city. Walking through it for the first time, marvelling the city’s baroque architecture and magnificent palaces was an immediate highlight of the experience. All the cafes spilling onto the street, the amount of greenery lining the streets (especially in comparison to other European cities!), and even just how the streets were impeccably clean.
I found it was also the perfect size. Just small enough to navigate the inner city by foot, yet big enough to keep you occupied for days (arguably even months!).
The public transport system was also excellent (the Viennese insist it is the best in the world, and you can certainly see why!). No matter where you are in the city (even right near the outskirts!), you will always be within a twenty-minute walk to a subway/bus stop/tram stop. And once at that stop? The only time you’ll be waiting for more than ten minutes is very late at night.
Once home to the likes of Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss and many more famous composers, classical music is a very important part of Vienna’s history and culture. Subsequently, there are classical concerts pretty much every night; usually held in various churches, palaces or theatres. Sitting back and enjoying a pastry at a Viennese coffee house is also a must-do experience. These coffee houses are so integral to Vienna’s culture that they are part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. And the Christmas markets! Vienna’s Christmas market at Rathaus (the city hall) is highly-regarded as one of the best Europe has, and includes its own ice-skating rink. But Vienna also has dozens of other markets all throughout the city, each with their own special little Christmas mug that’s also exclusive to the year (I may be guilty of racking up quite the collection of mugs!). The locals spoke very highly of the Christmas market at Karlsplatz, which was also one of my favourites.
New Year’s Eve is also quite the experience in Vienna. The entire city celebrates in an event known as “silvesterpfad”; which is quintessentially a city-wide party held in the inner city. Numerous concerts and stalls are set up through the streets, starting at 2pm and ending at 2am. An estimated 800,000 attended this year’s NYE’s party! After the Christmas period, Vienna still has a lot going on. The entire area in front of the city hall becomes a massive ice-skating rink until early March. Vienna’s ball season also takes flight, with more than 400 balls within the season. Like the concerts, Viennese balls are traditional events that date back to the 18th century and are also an integral part of Vienna’s culture.
I did get a bit of culture shock when arriving in Vienna. The most major shock is that most businesses are closed on Sundays. This does include grocery stores. The only grocery stores that will still be open will be the ones located at train stations. On a similar note, while Vienna does have some shopping centres, they are usually few and far between. Most of the time you do get groceries, you’ll be going to a smaller grocery store on the side of a street.
Student life at WU
Classes at WU are very different to QUT. The timetable arrangements take some getting used to. Do not expect the classes to be the same day each week—or even to be one day a week at all! Some classes were all day, every day for a week, then that was it. Others were very sporadic. And classrooms are also different each class. The classes themselves are usually small, with lots of class discussions. Most courses will also mark you on class participation.
The Erasmus Buddy Network also plans numerous events and trips throughout the semester, creating ample opportunity to hang out with other exchange students and travel (e.g. Budapest, Krakow and Hallstatt).
What is an exchange semester without squeezing in some travel? Throughout my exchange, I was able to visit fourteen other countries. Within Austria, Innsbruck and Hallstatt were both gorgeous. Hallstatt is a picturesque medieval town wedged between mountains and a fjord-like lake, whilst Innsbruck is a bigger city that seems to combine Vienna’s baroque architecture with buildings that look more reminiscent of those in an old German town. It’s actually very similar to Salzburg, but without the crazy number of tourists!
Beyond Austria, however, the cities I enjoyed most were Edinburgh, Prague and Krakow. Edinburgh was practically a massive medieval city that would have seemed to have been frozen in time were it not for the cars. Prague’s countless spires were a beautiful sight, especially in the fog. And Krakow had much more history and culture than I had been anticipating. Switzerland was also a big hit—places like Interlaken and Grindelwald; typical Swiss countryside surrounded by looming mountains. But my favourite trip would have to be a twelve-day cruise along the Norwegian coast in early January, spending most of the time above the arctic circle. The snow, the scenery, the husky sledding, the polar night…
And, of course, the northern lights.
Even the way it brought everyone together was amazing. Once the ship sounded out the “northern lights alert”, almost everyone was up on deck, laughing, pointing, chatting to each other—even if we’d never so much as uttered a word to each other before. Truly phenomenal.
The biggest difficulty I found was battling homesickness. I remember questioning what I’d done; why had I wanted to go on exchange, and be alone? I found the best remedy for homesickness was to spend time with other exchange students. Doesn’t matter if you don’t know them well yet—or if it’d be your first time meeting them. If there’s an opportunity to spend time with others, take it. Friend groups will form within the first couple of weeks; after that, it is harder to make friends with other exchange students. So meeting others as early as you can helps a lot in that aspect, whilst distracting you from being homesick.
If making friends is something you are worried about, also look at booking accommodation where you share common areas (e.g. kitchen and bathroom) with one – five other students. You’ll often spend time with each other while you each cook dinner, or perhaps you’ll share your dinners. I ended up becoming good friends with my flat mate, and even did quite a lot of travel with her.
Coming out of exchange, I am far more comfortable with myself than I was before. I have come more independent, providing for myself for the full six months (it’s almost been more of a challenge moving back in with my family!). And whereas before, moving overseas permanently seemed more like a distant dream I wasn’t even sure I completely wanted, now? It’s my next “big goal” to strive for. Something that now, I know I can do, and definitely do want!
Ah, the ease of traveling around in Europe! The cooler climate, the snow. And, to live in Vienna again, surrounded by those beautiful palaces. Using its impeccable public transport (Brisbane really needs to lift its game!), hiking on trails around the city—particularly when they’re covered in snow and ice. And to be just a short train ride from the alps…
Yeah. I want to go back. For longer. Much longer!
But in the meantime, my student exchange experience was truly phenomenal, and I’ve never been so glad to do something before. It has certainly helped me grow into myself, and the actual experience truly is priceless.
Find out how you can apply for exchange via the QUT Student Exchange website.