Name: Gergana Ivanova
University: University of Vienna
City and country: Vienna, Austria
Major: English and American Studies & Political Science
Year: Erasmus exchange in my second year
The University of Vienna is a really old and prestigious institution. In 2015 it will celebrate its 650th anniversary! Being founded in 1365 it is the oldest university in the German-speaking countries. There are 91,900 enrolled students in the university. The one word that I tend to use to describe it is HUGE.
I was there on Erasmus exchange, so all my impressions are based on my experience as an exchange student. The Erasmus team at the University of Vienna is very helpful and it was pleasure working with them.
The education is free. All you need to pay no matter if you are a full-time or exchange student is 18 Euro fee per term for the Student Union. The union will spam you with emails and won’t organize anything useful for you (in my opinion, comparing the services the unions in UK provide) but still 18 is not big deal if you compared it to the prices in most of the world top universities.
Vienna is vivid, colourful, prestigious, respecting, stunning and fabulous! It is a city that must be experienced! There is a lot to see and do in Austria. You are tempted to travel around Europe because you feel in the middle of Europe and everything is so close. About 185 00 students live in Vienna and its surroundings which makes up nearly 10 % of the whole Viennese population.
Some practical stuff: Opening an Austrian bank account is easy, there are offers and gifts; the banks are competing to get you as their customer, so you can choose the best one for you. I got a free e-reader when I opened mine. J
Within three days of your arrival, you need to register in the municipality (and this is compulsory). Without being registered you can’t do anything, even enter a library. If you are staying longer than 3 months, you also need to register in the EMA 35, which would cost you 30 Euro, but you will find lots of information about that when you first register.
Since the university is huge, many fields of study offer a wide range of course in English. In the Department – Anglistik und Amerikanistik (English and American Studies) all the courses are in English. I am very much satisfied with the quality of teaching, especially in some subjects. However, it is very hard. I find it more difficult than in my home university (the University of Aberdeen). They have their own style sheet for referencing the literature in the academic essays which I find strange and unnecessary hard. You will spend so much time learning something that you will never use again because this is a style sheet invented by their lecturers and used only in their department. In the Department- Politikswissenschaft (Political Science) the only courses in English available are seminars. There are no lectures in English which is not a problem because the seminars are not related to the lectures. Seminars usually do not have exams but only homeworks and final papers. There are no reading weeks or proper “exam time”. The exams are “in between”, usually in the last week of the term. This is very hard because you don’t have enough time to prepare. February is a holiday. There are no classes. Yeaaaah!
Difficulties experienced during the first year
I would say one of the main difficulties I have experienced was finding accommodation at a reasonable price. The university doesn’t help you much with that. Another problem could be the language barrier. The administrative support is adequate if you speak German. If not, sometimes it can be harder. But there is always a solution. You can attend language course in August/ September, but you pay for it and for the living expenses by yourself. I haven’t done it personally. Most of the courses available cost 330 Euro.
On the university administrative level, I am not much satisfied. There are too many students and probably that is the reason why the support is limited. There are some units in charge of student support but they do not support you a lot. Student Point is one of them.
My personal opinion is that in Austria there is a bit old fashioned system in every field; you need to get stickers for almost anything (and literally stick them to your ID) for eating in MENSA, for the library, for using the printers. (I found the printing system totally strange- you buy non-refillable copy-cards and print with them.)
Some very useful websites to overcome the difficulties are:
http://www.wihast.at/home/ – Very good company for student dormitories
The other companies are: STUWO, OeaD http://housing.oead.at/de/
University library & literature
The University Main library is a lovely and magical place. It smells like a 650-year old library with unique books.
There are also more than 35 departmental university libraries. What is more, there are many more state libraries in the city. The University library is free for students. The state ones are really cheap- 10 Euro per year for students.
USI is the Sports Union in Vienna where you can find a variety of activities, including dancing classes on reasonable prices. The courses have 50 % discount for students. For example, a dance class would cost you 50 euro per semester. An aerobics class is 20 Euro.
Once you are in the center of Europe, you will be more than tempted to explore it. If you are willing to travel, I would recommend you- Student Agency. This is a Czech company which is very cheap which provides you with hot chocolate while travelling. 😉
In Vienna the social life could be fantastic, again, depending on how much money you can afford to spend. There are lots of concerts, festivals, theatres, all kinds of events.
I would recommend:
Standing tickets for the Opera – 3 Euro per person if you go there 1 hour before the performance
Ladies Nights at the clubs- in some clubs like PraterDome ladies get free drinks as well on Fridays
If you speak German- last minute tickets for the German theatres.
S-Bahn is the cheapest way to go to the airport. City Airport Train is the quickest one.
All the gardens in the city are amazing, literally ‘flower masterpieces’ and they are all free of charge. What else would you want from a sunny afternoon once you have a book and a bench in a garden 😉
Cultural and social events
A MUST is to visit:
The Viennese coffehouse is well-known around the world. The coffee in Vienna is not just a coffee, it is a culture. A must to try is the Melange- mix of frothed milk and coffee. All the cafes in the city are gorgeous but the most famous ones are Café Hawelka and Café Central.
If you are an exchange student, Erasmus Student Network and Erasmus Buddy Network are active in Vienna. They organize mostly social activities, such as parties, but sometimes charity events as well. You can buy ESN card for 10 Euro and you will get discounts for their events.
Cut the costs
Vienna is really expensive city, the costs depend on you but as an example- the Erasmus grant could cover my accommodation only. You can cut the costs using all the loyalty cards of the shops, if you avoid shopping in the City Center and if you don’t drink very often J The alcohol is crazy expensive.
Insurances and transport
If you arrive before September, 1st, your “semester ticket” for travelling in Vienna would cost 75 Euro; if you arrive after this date, it is 150 for the first semester and 75 for the second. The date on which you register in the municipality is taken into consideration. Weird but fact.
For insurance, I was using my European Health Insurance Card. The local insurance costs 50 Euro per month and gives you lots of benefits and discounts on drugs.
Jobs and work permit
This is a useful source of information.