Sian - University of Vienna

B. Health Science
Semester 2, 2017

Academic experience

Due to majoring in Nutrition at UQ, I was enrolled in the Masters of Nutritional Science at Uni Wien, however, had the freedom to do subjects from other areas too. I studied 5 subjects, which came to a total of 23ECTS, equivalent to 3 subjects at UQ. These included 1 nutrition subject: Global Nutrition with Special Emphasis on Public Health, 2 psychology subjects: Biological Basis of Experience and Behaviour, and Social Psychology, a biology subject: Immunology and Cellular Biology, and finally an English and American studies subject: Culture, Society and the Media. I had saved my electives for exchange, which is something I strongly recommend doing if possible to make subject selection easier. 

I encountered many challenges initially including subjects that I’d put on my study plan no longer being available, clashes between classes (some were in ‘blocks’, whereas others were weekly), subjects being cancelled on the day they were meant to begin due to not enough people registering, as well as 100% final exams which are common for lecture (‘VO’) subjects. I managed to sort it all out, it just took a lot of time, planning and stress.

Classes/registration also wasn’t as organised/structured as UQ, which was a surprise, and took a little while to get used to. 

One aspect that I did enjoy was the small class sizes that a lot of my subjects had – the smallest only having only 5 people! This enabled really good learning and connection with the professor. 

The system was also really different (which had benefits and limitations), in the fact that each subject was either a lecture (VO) OR a proseminar/seminar (PS/SE) instead of being combined into one subject, with lectures having the 100% final exams, and proseminars/seminars tending to be more presentations, assignments and quizzes. 

Personal experience

I made some really close friends which made leaving Vienna very hard/sad. I didn’t participate in many of the Erasmus events (for exchange students) so most of the friends I made were either Austrian, or completing their full degree in Vienna. We shared dinners, cultural differences, had games nights, went to Christmas markets, travelled together and they became a really large part of my life there. Going on exchange provides an opportunity to make life-long friends in another country. 

I travelled for 2.5 months prior to beginning exchange to take advantage of the European summer. In this time I visited 8 countries: Austria, Slovenia, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Turkey and Greece, mostly in the mountains hiking. Two main highlights were the two multi-day hikes I completed: the Tour du Mont Blanc in the Alps, and the Likya Yolu on the Coast of Turkey.

Whilst studying/in the Christmas holidays, I also managed to visit England, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belgium and Iceland! Each country was amazing and different in culture, customs, food, landscape and language, and all really added to my exchange experience. 
I didn’t actively try to learn German (by doing a language course), because I didn’t feel I would be able to learn it to a good enough level in the 4 months I was there, however just by living and being immersed I managed to pick up a small amount, for example: greetings, purchasing things, signs, menus etc.

Accommodation

There is no ‘on-campus’ accommodation at Uni Wien, however there is lots of student (dorm) accommodation available. I didn’t choose this option, because I prefer share houses (called WG for short in Vienna). I left organising my accommodation to until I arrived in Vienna and actually had a lot of difficulty finding something, but that may have also been due to my searching criteria and wanting to live within the ‘Gürtel’ (Districts 1-9).

I ended up living in an unusual living arrangement, with an old Polish lady, an Indian family and a Japanese lady, in a beautiful apartment in the 6th district: Mariahilf. I loved the location and my room was amazing (massive!), and I could go to my friends’ houses to have fun, so that made up for the whole situation. 

I’d definitely recommend living within the Gürtel, and in particular districts 1,6,7 and 8. Additionally, the U-Bahn (underground train) system is great and frequent, so as long as you live close to a U-Bahn station you can get anywhere pretty quickly!

Despite personally not wanting to live in dorm accommodation, it definitely suits some people and is very convenient, because you pre-organise it before you get there (which is also required to some extent for the visa), and is a great way of meeting lots of other students.

Budget

Overall I found living expenses in Vienna to be fairly similar to Brisbane, with some things costing slightly more, and others slightly less.
Rent is paid monthly and the price tends to depend on the size of the room in square metres (as well as obvious things such as location and appearance). Smaller, less nice rooms could be found for €250 - €300 a month, however most places I was looking at were about €400 - €500 a month, which seemed fairly similar to Brisbane to me, if not cheaper. I ended up spending €500 a month (including bills), which for the size of my room (30m^2) and location was a really good price. 

There was a great system for students for the public transport system in Vienna. I bought a Semester Pass for €75 (≈$120) which gave me access to all the U-Bahns, S-Bahns (trains), trams and buses within Vienna from September until the end of January, which was a really good deal. Note: to purchase this you must register your primary residency as your address in Vienna, otherwise it’s €150. 

Vienna is located very centrally within Europe which also means you can travel to other cities/countries very cheaply and quickly!
I tend to be on a fairly low budget when I travel, by doing things like cooking my own meals/buying street food, couch surfing and free walking tours, so I didn’t spend a large portion of my budget on travel.

Professional development and employability

I think I learnt more than I realised on exchange in Vienna. Firstly, I learnt to deal with/solve any difficulties or problems I encountered whilst there. This included the skill of having those ‘challenging conversations’ that I just felt like avoiding or forgetting about. This was also made more difficult by the language barrier and broken English.

I also learned better time management and study/life balance. If I wanted to go travel on the weekend, or hang out with friends I had to finish my assessment/study and not procrastinate. 

The Global Nutrition with Special Emphasis on Public Health course which I completed at the beginning of the semester was something that I also benefitted from greatly. It had a large focus on developing countries and malnutrition which was very different from the usual focus of chronic diseases/obesity/over nutrition. The professor was a very interesting guest lecturer who spent a lot of time working on programs in Africa, and had a lot of real life examples to share, rather than it just being theory. This course really made me realise that there are many more career options out there that I hadn’t even begun to consider!

Highlight

It’s really hard to choose just 1 highlight of my time in Vienna. I met amazing people, who really added to my experience/taught me a lot, and were good support in the more challenging times.

Additionally, the opportunity to travel to so many unique places while studying was also really enriching.

Ultimately though, I have travelled a lot before and met incredible people along the way, but it was really new and interesting experience for me to actually be living and getting to know a new city and culture. Vienna is so beautiful, I would walk down the streets amazed that the old fancy buildings weren’t museums, but just ordinary peoples’ apartment buildings. Being there in winter, as cold and grey as it was at times also brought things with it like the Christmas markets throughout the city, ice skating in the snow in front of the city hall and ‘ball season’ – the fanciest balls ever! Going to a Viennese ball is something I’d really recommend!

Top tips

  • Make sure you are organised with deadlines/documents to save a lot of stress – especially get on top of organising your visa ahead of time!
  • Take advantage of the ability to travel and experience different cities/countries, but also spend time enjoying and exploring the city you live in!
  • Just do it! Whether exchange is the best thing that ever happened to you and a life-changing experience, or just a really interesting, new, enjoyable time, I doubt it will be something you regret, and you will have memories and friends to last a lifetime!