Leah, D. Bachelor of Business & Law
Vienna University of Economics & Business (WU) (Semester 2, 2016)
WU and QUT differ in a number of ways – it’s not a good or bad thing, it’s just different. As WU only recently moved to its current location, every building is modern, inside and out. The highlight is undoubtedly the library: a place where students study in silence – which I will admit, is a little weird after the vibrancy of QUT’s law library. The academics are passionate about what they do, and something that WU does which is really good for class engagement is allocating a lot of marks for active class participation (on average, about 25%) – it creates a much more collaborative learning environment. Something they do which is also quite frustrating is because of this, most classes are quite small: there is only one time for a class, not 4 or 5 as there are at QUT, so if you miss class registration, it can be very difficult to find subjects and create a timetable that doesn’t clash.
Another thing to be aware of is that the timetables are rarely consistent: whereas you might have Marketing from 10-12 every Wednesday in Z411 at QUT, the classes at WU are at different times every week, in different rooms. A class might go for 2 hours, or it might go for up to 8 if you choose a ‘block course’ – similar to a summer semester here. This inconsistency is both a blessing and a curse as an exchange student – it means you’re not locked into a bad timetable, and are thus able to travel still, but it does mean you never know where or when your class is.
The cost of living in Austria is a little less than that of Australia, even with the exchange rate. You could get lunch from the on-campus grocery store for about €5 or less, ($7AUD); and you could get a decent hot meal for €7 ($10AUD) on-campus, or at local eateries. Although they pride themselves on their coffee, it’s surprisingly expensive compared to other things: a regular melange would cost about €3.50 (~$5). Thankfully, there’s vending machines around campus that have good coffee for 60 cents (80 cents AUD), or €1.20 ($1.7AUD) if you want a larger cup. Rent through the recommended organisation is quite expensive, but it is the most common option. If you are more adventurous, and are looking to save a couple of hundred Euro a month, looking into alternative accommodation is a good idea.
Austria is very centrally located, and this enables you to travel extensively for relatively cheaply, thanks to budget airlines, cheap buses, and the rail network. Whilst I was on exchange, I managed to travel to 13 countries, including Slovakia, Iceland and Portugal, and over 40 cities. It’s important to not discount travelling within Austria too – I would say that one of my favourite trips was to Innsbruck, in Austria’s west. Culturally, I found Austrians can be a bit standoff-ish. It’s something you adjust to, but it was initially quite jarring to go to the grocery store and not have the cashier talk to you at all. Austrians living in the suburbs tend not to speak much English. My German skills subsequently developed a lot more than I expected.
One of my unfounded worries in moving to Vienna for exchange was that I would struggle to make friends. Not true. Within three days I met people who I was friends with for the rest of exchange, and I’m sure I will stay friends with into the future. ‘Exchange time’ is a weird concept: time is compressed, everything is sped up: where becoming close friends may normally much longer in normal circumstances, it only takes a couple of hours or a day to become very good friends with someone. At the same time, your time away both lasts and eternity, and is over far too soon.
Another highlight of my trip was seeing huge seasonal changes: when I arrived in September it was about 30 degrees, and then the leaves changed to classic Autumn hues, and then they dropped off, and snow came in: in fact, it was Vienna’s coldest winter in about 30 years. Travelling was also a huge part of exchange, and it was incredible to see how different cultures and foods and languages were geographically so close to each other. Being able to explore such amazing places with new friends cemented our friendships further.
Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend Vienna as an exchange destination: there’s so much to explore, and such a rich culture and history in the country, and nearby.