Rebecca - University of Graz

B Arts
Semester 1, 2017 and Semester 2, 2017

Academic Experience

I study politics and languages at UQ, but decided to try and get the most out my exchange by using course substitutes and electives to purely study languages on exchange. This was probably the craziest and best decision I could have made in regards to my studies, as I challenged myself to study four languages at once without any spoken explanation in English – German, Russian, Italian and French.

At the start of my exchange, I realised just how efficient Europe is at teaching foreign language and how this structure and attention to detail is reflected in all the students who learn them. The transition into this system, in what I can only describe as throwing yourself into the deepest of all ends, is definitely not for the faint hearted. However, after six months of sticking through some very confusing situations and over-emailing my teachers for clarification, I began to find my classes getting easier and easier, despite the fact that we were learning harder and harder content. After twelve months I reached such a level of understanding that I no longer realised that English wasn’t being used at all in my classes and that I could understand 100% of what was going on. My German knowledge was after two years of beginner courses at UQ at a very unconfident B1 level and by the second semester, I ended up taking every C1 course available.

Tip for German Learners: I highly recommend taking all your German courses through the University of Graz’s language centre – Treffpunkt Sprachen. These courses are specialised for non-native German speakers whereas the German courses at KFU are heavy on linguistics and definitely require a C1-Level or higher. I took courses at the Treffpunkt Sprachen for several languages and they all had great teachers, well structured material and offered extra assistance outside class.

Personal Experience

I don’t even know how to begin. I made hundreds of wonderful friends on both of my semesters, and because everyone’s in that ‘exchange mindset’, you all get close really quickly and are always out looking for fun things to do. It’s the exact opposite of studying at home. By staying for a year, I truly felt as though Graz had become my home, and I made friends with baristas in Cafes, Bartenders in bars, Austrians from my classes and even people I met on the streets. Being in this upbeat environment for such a long time gives you the confidence to just put yourself out there and try something new. Graz itself helped with this a lot though. This city has twice the liveliness of Brisbane in a quarter of the size, and regardless of whether you have people to go out with or not, there is something on every night, whether it’s a concert, pub quiz, movie night, conversational evening, opera performance or a festival.

I had so many opportunities to travel in my year and I have a lot of good memories from these. In the European summer holidays, I decided to go full existential and complete the ‘Camino de Santiago’ pilgrimage in Spain. Thirty days of summer sun, deep self-contemplation, beautiful Spanish landscape, and great people - I cannot recommend it enough for the student looking for some well-needed self-direction whilst also saving money on travelling. Apart from this highlight, I would definitely recommend ditching Western Europe and instead heading Budapest, Prague, Ljubljana and Sarajevo.

Accommodation

I ended up staying in two different ‘Studentenwohnheims’ or student dorms in the first semester and found a private apartment with two other Austrian girls for the second semester, after I got sick of having to share a kitchen as well as a bedroom. Out of all these options, the private apartment was of course the best. I had a large spacious bedroom in a homely apartment with great roommates who considerably improved my German, and the apartment was on the thirteenth floor of a high-rise right around the corner of the university.

Obviously though not being in the country and wanting to find something a little easier to organise, I would recommend the second student dorm I was at, OJAB on Glacisstrasse. It’s located five minutes’ walk from KFU, ten minutes from the city centre and right across the road from Graz’s beautiful Stadtpark. The two young guys who run it are in their office ready to help you 6 hours every day and it still throws lots of great student parties for meeting Austrians and other exchange students. The only downside is that it is a little pricier.

The university will offer to place you in either one of the WIST or OEAD dorms, which are spread all over the city and contain both exchange students and regular students. Lots of my friends were totally happy living in these dorms and the bulk of exchange students end up there, but the reality is you don’t get a say over which dorm you are put into or the people you live with. A few people I knew including myself decided to change accommodation for this reason and it can really prove to be a hassle. Otherwise, these places are great for price and ensuring a solid social life.

Budget 

This is the part wants to have organised and keep exact down to a point. As someone who spent 12 months abroad, I really recommend just taking as much money as possible and having a good time. I myself did not worry about keeping a budget until the last three months of my exchange, and even then, I never sacrificed having a good time for the sake of ‘keeping to the books’. However, for those of you who want an idea, Graz is about two thirds/three quarters the price of living in Brisbane (depending on what you are looking at), but due to the structure of the city and the helpful advantage of being a student there are heaps of ways to keep costs down.

In regards to transport I recommend getting the monthly transport card (costs about 50 euros and works for all trams and buses) for the first month, to help you get to know your way around the city and then walk everywhere (like I did, the city is so wonderfully compact). Alternatively, you can easily find a decent bike for around 80 euros, which can then be resold at the end of semester. In regards to food/drinks/going out, I would recommend budgeting around 100 euros/week.

Graz is an ideal place for people who want to travel around inexpensively. Thanks to Europe’s greatest invention of Flixbus, you can travel all around for ridiculously low prices. For example, you can get to Vienna for 10 euros, Croatia and Slovenia for 12 euros, Prague and Budapest for 30 euros, and Italy for 40 euros. Flixbus also has a ‘5 ticket for 99 euro’ deal, so go crazy on your weekends and breaks.

Professional Development & Employability

My heavy academic schedule of nine courses meant that I definitely learned how to be organised. Working with four different languages at once, it is very important to not only do all your homework, but also constantly revise new words and previous material and be able to identify areas to work on within yourself. Changing between these languages also requires having the right mindset and paying lots of attention, so I learned a lot about the conditions in which I work my best.

This kind of work/party lifestyle (which was equally intensive at both ends) also demands really good time management, not only to complete the several essays and hundreds of grammar exercises that I had to do each week, but also to make sure that I wasn’t missing out on any of the great experiences that exchange has to offer. For a prospective career in translation and/or interpreting, both of these skills are key.

Highlights

The highlight of my exchange? I don't really think I had a significant event that stood out, but rather the combination of all the places I visited, all the new things I tried and the great times with the friends I made.

Top Tips 

  • Tip 1: Take the leap and go for the year. At the end of my first semester I was the only exchange student staying on and whilst I sadly had to say goodbye to all of my wonderful friends, they all told me they regretted not making the same decision. And come on! Who doesn’t want the fun to last even longer?
  • Tip 2: If you cannot or do not want to go for the year, then I highly recommend coming in the summer semester (Semester 1 at UQ). Many people would not really think about this having a great effect on your time abroad but as one of the few students who did both semesters, I noticed a big difference particularly in the attitude of other students. As it gets warmer and you make for friends, there is so much more to do and people always want to go to the park or the pool or play soccer and just find reasons to hang out. Whereas as it gets colder in winter people are more inclined to stay at home, and there is generally less stuff to do.
  • Tip 3: Drink Sturm (Austrian alcoholic fruit-juice) in the Stadtpark in the summer and try Feuerzangenbowle (Mulled wine with Rum) at the Christmas markets in winter. You won’t be able to live without either after you do!
  • Tip 4: Sign up for the ESN’s buddy system, become best friends forever and never leave them. Seriously, those guys are lifesavers.