Gert - University of Vienna

B Science
Semester 1, 2019
It was the year of premium

Academic experience

University of Vienna has a most curious academic system, full of contradictions. The professors have great range, some of very high standard, others of a very poor standard. This all is as a result of the lack of bureaucracy and the decentralisation of all the University's faculties. If you are willing to put the time and effort into researching courses and professors, studying in Vienna can be a very rewarding experience, however if you are dealt a bad hand, you may be left with professors who have little interest to help you, with the lack of regulatory oversight.

The lack of central bureaucracy means that course availability changes from year-to-year. As such, one should be careful in planning courses to have many back-ups in the likely case that some are not available. Moreover, courses are separated into SE and VO. As a general rule SE (seminars) are very assignment-heavy, often with a masters thesis as the final piece. By contrast VO (lectures) are non-compulsory lectures with a final 100% exam. Having said that, there are some very interesting courses available with low-impact assessment throughout the semester (in a manner similar to courses at UQ). These courses are less common and you should email the professor to verify the assessment for your desired course.

Having described all this however, I found studying in Vienna to be exceedingly rewarding as I engaged with topics far afield from my standard exposure. The Faculty of History has some amazing courses with professors hailing from all over (I had the privilege to study under a professor from Stanford). The non-lecture courses were structured as professor-facilitated discussions where opposing viewpoints and interpretations could be aired and argued. This tutorial vibe was one I was not accustomed to within UQ and greatly enjoyed.

Regarding enrolment to courses, the flexibility of the system allows for greater flexibility on your part, with no fixed sign-on dates across the board. Rather, lectures need not be registered to (with the exception of their exams, to which you may register until a few days prior), whereas other seminars and discussion groups require registration within unique time slots. As such, when registering for your classes, ensure to keep a close eye on the relevant dates.

Personal experience

Exchange was a time of great personal growth as I was thrust into a world most unfamiliar yet constantly surrounded with just enough tools to muddle my way through. I was lucky enough to meet a great group of people on my first day, yet continued to meet people until the day I left. Vienna has a great exchange network (ESN) which organise very regular (more than weekly) events. As such, it is nigh impossible to fail to meet new people. Moreover, every person on exchange is there alone - isolated from their friends, family and acquaintances of home - and as such, everyone is eager to meet people throughout the trip.

Vienna is also in a perfect location to visit Europe. From €4 buses to Budapest to overnight trains to Venice, Berlin and Amsterdam, Vienna could not be in a better location. Moreover, the surrounding countryside is absolutely gorgeous, as is the Austrian Alps (a definite must-go). Skiing in the Alps is such a profound and unique experience, it makes skiing anywhere else seem almost mundane. 
While I did not take the opportunity to fully immerse myself in German, one cannot fail to learn phrases and key words. While German gets a lot of flak for not being particularly easy on the ears, there is a certain beauty to the logic behind it.


There was no on-campus accommodation available, but a host of off-campus student dorms, host sites and (as always) Airbnbs. The most popular accommodation option was with OeAD, which used to be the government student housing institute. While OeAD claims to have the best service for incoming internationals, I would strongly discourage anyone from booking with them, as they have the least desirable apartments and locations for the most expensive prices. I was fortunate enough to be able to move between dorms during the semester going from an OeAD dorm to a STUWO dorm. STUWO was cheaper, in a better location, more appealing and better furnished (oven, gym, more laundry machines). I would strongly recommend researching well before choosing (and not simply choosing OeAD because they are well-known and recommended by the university.

As for location, I stayed in the 8th and 9th districts, both of which I'd highly recommend. The 9th district is very upmarket and classy, with parks, embassies and coffee shops (I was a block away from Cafe Weimar). I would recommend keeping to the north and west of the first district (especially the 8th, 9th and 19th districts are very beautiful). Having said that, the livelier spots of the city are in the 7th and 6th district, however all is very close with the semi-constant public transport.


As always, rent varied depending on the specifications of your room, however a rough price was 400 euros a month (excluding extra fees at the start and end of your stay). Food was marginally cheaper than Australia, however only once you found the cheaper grocery stores (Lidl, pennymarkt, hofer) and the cheaper restaurants (Der Wiener Deewan for all-you-can-eat, pay-as-you-will Pakistani fare). Otherwise, expect many cheap Doner, pizzas and wurstel. 

Transport within the city was a once-off price of 70 euros for the semester, which was extremely affordable given the sheer level of public transport available (trams/trains at least once every 15 minutes at the furthest extremities and up to once every 3 minutes in the city centre).

Travel was very affordable (especially with buses - would recommend the app Omio and obviously FlixBus), however trains were relatively inexpensive as well. OBB (the national rail service) also offers a card for students (Vorteilscard) which costs 20 euro and gives up to 50% off on train travel within Austria - however, ensure to have the card and your ticket with you at all times as there are hefty fines if you are found without it. 

Overall, I spent roughly $13000 (excluding flights) with very little budgeting (i.e. multiple trips to the Alps, weekly trips abroad and eating out fairly regularly). Vienna, while known for being expensive within Europe, still has the potential to be fairly reasonable.


The largest challenge was transitioning between the high of initially arriving and meeting people, to settling in to classes. It is a strange experience to settle in to a completely different country, especially one where there are no links to your ordinary life. As such, there is a level of independence (which while exhilarating at first, becomes something to be grappled with over time) that I hadn't experienced before. Once the initial rush had faded, I had to settle in to life in Vienna, which was eased by the solid group of mates I made there and by the establishment of routine. Anything from a running or gym routine, to a cooking, hiking or exploring routine can solidify your time there and ensure you don't become lost in the 6 months you have.

Professional Development

Exchange greatly pushed my limits in responsibility, organisation and planning. Ultimately, as time continues you realise that your time in Vienna (and whichever city you are visiting) is greatly limited and so, in the absence of proper planning, there is a good chance you will leave with regrets over missed opportunities. As such, I have never had a better chance to plan for myself and others and truly accept the responsibility of success and failure. 
Moreover, exchange really hones the art of conflict resolution. Over six months spent with largely the same group of people, conflict is bound to arise. Given that you all go to the same university and there is a limited pool of English-speakers with similar interests and travel availabilities, one must step up to mediation in the face of conflict.


It is an impossible task to distill the academic exposure, the exploration of the beaten and not-so track and the forging of life-long friendships into a single highlight. If forced, however, I would say the feeling of freedom felt when you jump on that first bus or train to a new city. The feeling of comfort and sheer content when you doze on an overnight train through the German pine forests and under a starry, mountain studded sky. The feeling of accomplishment followed by a spine-shivering awe as you crest the final hill of a mountain-hike or turn the corner on some forgotten Roman road to see yet another natural wonder. My highlight of exchange will be in the memories of moments and the feelings you only see of in movies, read of in books and hear of in songs - until you get to experience them yourself.

Top tips

It is likely advice that you have heard elsewhere, but I cannot reiterate it enough: when in doubt, do it. If there is an experience which you are unsure if you can afford, or for which you are afraid you might do poorly in a course, take the opportunity. You are there once and the truly unique experience of exchange happens only once. I cannot think of another scenario where so many people of similar temperament, interest and age could be gathered in a collective exploration of a city, continent and of themselves. It is a truly life-changing experience. I have friends who chose to study for an exam rather than visit Hallstatt and failed the exam. One of my best trips was a spontaneous (and very expensive) trip to the alps, but looking back I would gladly pay that money for another experience like that.