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Vienna, Austria

Jessica sitting on the steps of Wiener Karlskirche

Sitting in front of Wiener Karlskirche while I was exploring the city

I have officially been in Vienna, Austria for three weeks and so far I’m having a great time! To start off, I’m going to list a few facts about Vienna.

  1. Vienna is home to the world’s oldest zoo, Tiergarten Schönbrunn.
  2. The Universität Wien is the oldest German university, celebrating its 650th birthday this year.
  3. Vienna has over 300 balls a year where everyone is welcome to come and show off their waltzing abilities.
  4. About one fourth of the population of Austria lives in the capital, Vienna. Currently the population of Austria is over 8.4 million inhabitants.
  5. Vienna is continuously ranked as one of Europe’s top cities in Quality of Life surveys. Because of Austria’s Gross Domestic Product per capita, the World Bank and International Monetary have rated the country in the top 15 countries in the world (Jamboree News n.d.).
  6. Lastly, the Viennese love meat filled dishes like “Schultzkrapfen” and of course “Wiener Schnitzel” but they are also known for “Sachertorte”, “Apfel Strudel” and a variety of coffees.

Settling In

Before leaving for Vienna, I found a room in a Studentenheim (a student home) through a company called homes4students. I am sharing my room with another girl. The two of us share a washroom and the entire floor shares a kitchen and dining area. I wanted something that wasn’t too expensive since I hope to travel a lot during the holidays. I was able to find my room for 320€ (about $475 CAN) per month and I’m within 20 minutes of the main university building. I’ve been exploring the city and was able to find a train station with two different train lines. I encourage anyone who moves to a new location to explore their surroundings so that they know what’s close by, especially things like public transit stops.

Arrival

Jessica on a large set of steps in front of Parliament

There are a lot of inexpensive ways to explore the city and it’s history. I was able to take a tour of parliament for only 2.50€

a large schnitzel on a plate with a lemon garnish

Schnitzel!

I arrived in Vienna on August 29, 2015 and began a three week intensive German class at the Universität Wien on August 31. I made the mistake of arriving only two days before the placement test. I recommend to everyone going abroad to arrive at least five days before classes begin so that you have time to get over the jet lag and have time to explore how to get to and from class. I am lucky enough to have a friend that lives in Vienna; she helped me adjust quickly to my new surroundings, but I still found it very overwhelming.

The Good and the Bad

I knew that when I arrived in Vienna, I would have a lot of things I would need to do as soon as possible. My list included:

  1. Picking up my residence permit. In Austria, students that are staying for more than 6 months need to apply for a student residence permit.
  2. Opening an Austrian bank account so that I could pay my monthly rent as well as being able to pay for everyday items without paying an exchange fee with my Canadian bank.
  3. Pick the courses I was going to take for the upcoming semester.
  4. Register with the municipality to say that I will be living in Vienna for the next year.
  5. Buy a student transportation pass.
  6. Get my student card from the university. You need proof that you are a student and will be living in Vienna to get the discounted student transport pass.
  7. Get a phone plan.
  8. Buy items I would need for my stay in Vienna, such as pots and pans, plates, cutlery, clothing hangers, hand soap, etc.

When going through the list above, it is very important that a person stays calm and make a physical list so that they can see exactly what has been done and what still needs to be done. Even though I had done this, I ran into a lot of problems, or at least it felt that way.

The previously mentioned German course ran from Monday to Friday from 9:15-13:00. The available move-in times were on September 1 from 9:00-12:00 and September 2 from 9:00-10:00. Due to the times over-lapping, I had gone to the Studentenheim a day early to arrange for me to come in later during the day on September 1. Due to a miscommunication, when I arrived on September 1 there was no one there with my keys. I immediately called the company and asked what was going on. As it turned out they had thought I had said I would be coming in that morning during the allotted move-in time while I had thought that they understood that I would be coming in later that day, outside of the allotted times. This meant I would have to wait until the next morning to get my key, but I had already dragged my two suitcases and two heavy backpacks across the city to move-in. I was still getting over my jet lag and I quickly became more stressed from the growing list of things to do, so naturally I was very upset. Luckily, I met a very nice Bulgarian girl that lived down the hall from my room and she offered to keep my things in her room until the next morning when I could come back and move them.

Tip: when in another country, never make assumptions. Cultural differences can lead either party to assume something different which can lead to problems in the future. Make sure to always ask questions even when you feel like they are basic questions that you wouldn’t normally ask.

My next problem came with the phone card. I had brought my iPhone 5s with me from Canada with the intention of getting an Austrian SIM card for it. When I was preparing everything at home in Canada, I made sure to go to Koodo and unlock my phone from the provider. This way my phone would be able to use the foreign SIM card. I also made sure to ask Apple when I was buying the phone last year if the phone would be able to function on the different service frequency. As it turns out, either Apple or Koodo still had my phone locked, which made using the Austrian SIM card impossible. I tried everything here in Vienna, from going to an Apple store to having my mom call Koodo back in Canada. Nothing worked and both companies continued to blame the other for the mistake. Fortunately, my friend in Vienna’s mom had an old phone that she didn’t use anymore, so I have been using it since. I am now waiting for Christmas to go back to Canada where I can go in person and ask both Koodo and Apple what’s wrong with my phone.

Lastly, the Austrian bank account! The housing company uses SEPA to directly take money from my account each month for the next month’s rent. To open an account here, you need to prove that you are a student at a local university and that you are living in Vienna. I had all of the supporting documents, but the woman that made the appointment made it with another woman who didn’t speak English. Not only was I in a situation that I’ve never been in before, I also had to put all of the German I knew to the test. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about with the Austrian bank account. The woman spoke slowly for me and thanks to the two years of intensive German at Carleton University, I was able to understand everything she said! The hard part came with transferring funds from my Canadian account.

Tip: when going abroad make sure you have enough of the local currency for the first month, so that you can pay for smaller items with cash (as opposed to a credit card) and make sure if you’re using your own money, you hand over the ability to control your home account to your parents or guardian. I needed to do this so that my mom could go into the bank and wire transfer my Canadian money to my new Austrian account. A wire transfer involves you going into a local branch to perform the transaction. Had this not been done, I don’t know how else I would have been able to get my money in Canada to my account in Austria, other than going to an ATM every day for the next while to take out my daily limit of cash and then depositing it into my Austrian account.

All-in-all, I’ve learned now more than ever to take the good with the bad and celebrate the small achievements. Especially when adapting to a new place, keeping a positive attitude is crucial to the adjustment.

Summer Language Class

As mentioned previously, I decided to do a three week intensive language course in September before university started on October 1. I highly recommend this to everyone no matter which country you go abroad to. These courses allow you to get to know the city, meet new people that will be staying for an exchange, and improve your language skills or refresh them after not using them all summer. I did a placement test on August 31 and I believe that I was placed in a lower level compared to the courses at Carleton, but it did have its advantages. I was able to make great, new friends and solidify the foundations of some of the harder concepts of German grammar. Since I didn’t need to focus so much on new vocabulary, I was able to really improve my German speaking abilities, making me more confident when I go to the supermarket and ask where something is or asking someone for directions.

Additionally, the Universität Wien offers language course discounts to students that are registered to study with them for the upcoming semester. It only cost me 100€ to do the course as opposed to the original 440€ that non-students need to pay and you can get 4 ECTs (the credit system that most schools in Europe use) for the course as well. The catch is that you need to pass the course to get the discount at the end, but as long as you do the homework and participate in class, you will do well. The course in Vienna also offered excursions to local towns, restaurants, hiking trips up mountains and a large variety of other activities for everyone taking the course. This was a great way for me to discover the city and meet people outside of my class.

To Sum It Up

Life in Vienna is great and I’m really making the most of my experience here. When living abroad, be sure to put yourself out there so you can really get to know the city you’re living in and the people you’ll be sharing it with. The memories I’ve been able to make in only three weeks because of this personal goal is really amazing. If you would like to see some of my photos from my experience in Vienna feel free to follow me on Twitter, the link is on my profile page, or on Instagram at jessicarutley! Feel free to look at some of the photos I’ve been taking of my new home!

a view of a park with buildings in the distance from city hall

The view from city hall on the free entrance day

Wiener Karlskirche lit up at niht

Wiener Karlskirche

a scenic view of Vienna overlooking Schonbrunn Castle

Overlooking Schönbrunn Castle and all of Vienna

a view of Stephansdom from the street

Stephansdom

a view of the vineyard from the top of a hill against a blue sky

The view on the hike up Kahlenberg of one of the many vineyards and the beautiful city of Vienna

Until the next post!

Jessica

Thursday, September 24, 2015 in , ,
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