I’ve been in Vienna for almost a week now, and it’s been quite jam-packed!
Background info: I am a Commerce student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada. I am currently studying for one semester (four months) at Wirtschaftsuniversität-Wien, or in English: the Vienna University of Economics and Business (or simply WU for short). I will be studying in Vienna, Austria, and travelling around Europe from September – December. All photos are my own unless otherwise noted.
I chose Vienna because it was somewhere I’ve never been before. Having travelled previously in Europe/UK (albeit for only days at a time, doing touristy things) to Spain, France, Italy, Germany, England and Ireland, I wanted to experience something completely different. Vienna is a highly reputable destination, being the most livable city in the world for apparently more than 5 years running. WU is one of the biggest schools in Europe focusing solely on business and economics… And not to mention, Austria is in a very central location to travel around Europe! 🙂
I arrived in Austria six days ago from Vancouver with two fellow UBC business students, Amanda and Jason (I found out recently there are 14 of us in total from the Sauder School of Business). Our very first experience in Austria was not a particularly pleasant one: our luggage was lost! Here is the story: we nearly missed our connecting flight through Toronto because of a previously delayed flight in Vancouver. Luckily, our sprint through Toronto Pearson Airport meant that we made our flight just in the nick of time, but there was no way our luggage could have made it with us. When we arrived in Vienna, we waited over an hour and a half for our bags, and they never showed up! We felt horrible for making our buddies (through the EBN Buddy Network at WU) wait, because they’d volunteered their time to pick us up from the airport and help us get settled in Vienna.
When we arrived, it was raining! We knew Vienna’s weather was similar to Vancouver’s, but we were not expecting rain at all in early September. It ended up pouring at night, and we had to whip out our rain jackets on the first day. After losing our luggage, I’m so glad I packed it. Luckily, the weather has been getting better with highs of 24-26 degrees!
This week has basically been used to complete the numerous administrative errands it takes to move to a different country for an extended period of time: registering at the district authority, moving into dorms, obtaining a SIM card, opening a bank account, buying a transit pass, attending student information sessions, collecting important materials and school information, etc. What shocked us is that many of the organizations we had to correspond with (the WU registration office, the housing office, the bank, etc) have very limited hours! This is because it is still holidays for many of these organizations, as classes don’t actually start until October. So, many times we had arrived at our destination, having traveled 20 or 30 minutes, just to find the office closed. Some of these shortened summer hours were from 9am – 12pm. Or 11am – 1pm. Yes, very small windows of time! It was definitely a frustrating experience, but it taught us to do our research and to not assume things are always open during “normal” business hours like in North America!
Overall, I am not worried about the cultural differences here in Europe versus Canada. Perhaps this is because I had travelled to Europe before and I have an idea of what to expect, but also because I consider myself quite adaptable when it comes to cross-cultural interactions. However, it’s still interesting to notice how caught up we can be in our own rituals and social norms when we’re presented with a different cultural environment, no matter how subtle those differences may be.
At UBC, I’ve taken three semesters of German language courses. Normally that would be pretty impressive for a non native-speaking university student, and I do love to learn new languages, but in Vienna I feel like I have the vocabulary and sentence structure abilities of a 2 year-old (probably less). As with many people who are learning another language, I can understand more than I speak, but one of my goals over the next four months is to expand my vocabulary and improve my conversational skills. Even just in the week that I’ve been here, I’ve already seen my German improve and I am beginning to summon words more quickly and understanding more colloquial language. Baby steps!
On Friday, we had our first session for the Orientation and Cultural Program, a voluntary three-week program that takes WU students on day trips and outings within Austria, teaches exchange students about Austrian history, politics and facts, and above all, initiates interactions between exchange students. In the brief afternoon and evening I had to interact my group, I’ve already met people from all over the world: Czech Republic, Finland, Peru, Hong Kong, France, USA, Russia, China, Taiwan, Belgium, Moldova, Spain, Denmark.. even fellow Canadians!
We’ve had some time to explore our neighbouring area as well as other central parts of the city. We’ve wandered around the city, sometimes not really knowing where we were going, but Vienna’s rather laid-back atmosphere, beautiful architecture and rich history have kept it interesting. It seems there is always a story behind every building and street corner, or maybe I’m just astonished because Canada’s history is nowhere near as extensive as Europe’s!
I can tell this exchange is going to be an absolute blast and I can’t wait for the Orientation & Cultural Program to continue. I will attempt to keep this blog updated every week, so keep checking back! 🙂