The Mole Diaries: Vienna (Volume 3)
Vienna is one of the easiest cities in Europe to reach. Flights are available from Gatwick (via Easyjet) or if you get in there early enough, from Heathrow with BA. BA let you have one bag in the hold for free and can be quite cheap if you get in there early and are willing to travel off peak. Both fly around once a day and are usually fairly full so get in there early and you can pick up a bargain.
If super budget is your style, then Ryanair fly to Bratislava, which is 45 minutes bus ride away (service runs hourly from the Bus Station at Erdberg to Bratislava Airport), from Stansted. Transfer from the airport is available by Bus to Westbahnhof, the slow-ish but cheaper stopping S7 Schnellbahn service from Wien-Schwechat to Wien Mitte (Landstraße U-Bahn) or the more expensive CAT (City Airport Train) which costs €10 one way between the Airport at Schwechat and Wien Mitte. Depending on your arrival date, you should be looking to book your flight/bus 1 to 1½ months in advance.
If flying isn’t your cup of tea then there is a daily bus service (in summer at least) from London Victoria to Vienna which is run by Eurolines. It takes 24 hours but is cheap at 70ish euros and paying for baggage isn’t an issue. It’s not for the faint hearted (or over 6 foot!) though. The Bus Station is located on the U3 at Erdberg, a short ride U-Bahn to the city centre.
Once you’ve arrived in the city, you can buy a daily travel card for all public transport (except the Schnellbahn) for €4,70 or a weekly travel card for €14. A Semesterticket costs €128,50 but is worth is as mobility is always useful and they do randomly check enough to keep you on your toes. If you are the beneficiary of a government grant (not a standard loan) then travel costs after the first £303 can be refunded.
What to bring?
Vienna has an alpine climate and whilst it can be up to 35 degrees Celsius in summer, the winters can be bitterly cold (we had it drop to -20 this year) so pack for all weathers and make sure you include a warm coat and gloves for winter. The slopes of the Austrian Alps are no more than an hour away by bus so if you ski or snowboard then bringing your equipment/clothing for that is a must.
Bring all your home and host university documentation and copies of it and I would also recommend bringing at least 5 passport photos for general use. Photocopies of your EHIC card, passport and other vital documentation like proof of financial support are also necessary to register as a resident in Austria.
What to do after you arrive?
You need to register at your local Bezirksamt for your district as a temporary resident of Austria. Go to the Meldeamt, fill out a Meldezettel (registration form) and you’re away. If you’re staying for more than 3 months, you’ll need to get an Anmeldebescheinigung from the MA 35 department in the 20th district as proof of a long term stay. You need to provide proof of purpose of living in Austria, proof of financial support and copies of your personal documents. This costs about €30 and the queues are massive so get there early and try to beat them if you can.
You will also need to register at the Erasmus office, pick up a certificate of arrival and sign yourself in before you can complete any bureaucracy that your home uni needs you to do. Both the Meldeamt and the Erasmus registration are doable on the same day without any trouble.
Once you’re legal, you can set about making friends and living the life. Beware of the crazy opening hours though. The Erasmus office is only open 2 days a week (longer in peak arrival times) and opening times of the Bezirksämte vary randomly by the day and according to each one.
If you plan on travelling, it may be worth picking up a >26 Vorteilskarte, which entitles you to much cheaper rail travel on öbb trains across Austria. It costs €20 but it pays itself off very quickly if you decide to travel. Forms are available on all main stations.
Universität Wien, where I studied, sent me information in early June about how to apply for halls through the OeAD (the Austrian academic exchange service). The benefit of this is that it’s something concrete to look forward to and it’s good for peace of mind knowing that you have somewhere to live. The sole caveat is that most of the OeAD halls are geared solely towards international students and if it’s language acquisition you’re after, then speaking German at home is a must. Those who have found WG’s (a flat share, basically) have really enjoyed them and you can find some amazing places for decent value. The worry here is often that you won’t find something in time. To which I would say this:
Did you hear about that person who was homeless on their year abroad?
The answer to this is no. You just don’t hear about people who go homeless. There are things out there and whilst the websites listed below are good, nothing beats being able to look at university noticeboards or chase things up on foot. Most people found something within a couple of weeks. Some lived in halls for the first month and used that as a base for their language course in the first month before the semester starts (more information below) and subsequent flat hunting. Other places to look are Austrian companies such as StuWo and Akademikerhilfe who both own groups of halls in the city.
In terms of areas Districts 1 (expensive but I know students who live right in the middle!), 2, 7, 8 and 9 are closest to the University of Vienna whilst 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 are closest to the Technische Universität, the second biggest. Districts 9, 18, 19 and 20 are closest to the Wirtschaftsuniversität. Most places within the city are very well connected and movement to uni and back is seldom a problem outside of a few cases.
University of Vienna offers a 3 week intensive language course in German for all levels (A1-C2) which is good because it coincides with the first week of the Erasmus programme’s organised events and provide an excellent opportunity to make friends from all over the place before the Austrian students return for the semester starts.
As an Erasmus student, you can get the course fees of about €400 refunded if you pass the course, which is simple enough and most if not all people do. I did C1/2 but there was a spread of people from British universities from B2 all the way up to around the level I was at. It may be advisable to shoot a bit below your level to start with (everyone is placed in a placement test anyway – B2 level is roughly where your language skills should be after A levels). The courses are also worth 4 ECTS, but check with your home institution to see if you can count these credits. Some can, some can’t. You can do language courses in term time too, but these cost serious money and cannot be refunded.
You can get an accommodation package with the language course which provides you with somewhere to live for that time. It’s also a useful base for flat hunting. Language Course Accommodation doesn’t get refunded like the course fees though.
Useful Link: Site for registration for language courses
There is an extensive course catalogue (Vorlesungsverzeichnis) online on which all courses are gradually loaded on to. It’s fairly easy to navigate and this also serves as the registration system, which in Austria is something you have to do yourself. You can choose what you want and effectively build your own timetable. Beware of the registration dates though and limitations on the numbers of students on some courses. Different departments upload their courses at different times and have different registration windows so make sure to make a note of when courses are open for business and when they start and finish.
The structuring of courses is different too. Everything is sorted by semester and unlike some of your modules at home, all courses only run for one semester at a time. There are also different sorts of lectures. Vorlesungen (VO) are big open lectures with little or no restrictions on attendance which are assessed by a written or oral exam. Übungen (UE) are much more like language seminars in nature and are assessed by smaller class tests and occasionally essays or oral exams. Seminare (SE) and Proseminare (PS) are discussion focused and are assessed by long essays or dissertations in the language and are probably best avoided, at least at first. Bear this in mind, as if you get it wrong your workload can easily get too much. Anything with StEOP in it is a lecture for students in their first semester and aren’t particularly Erasmus friendly as they’re often assessed alongside other modules as well as not being brilliantly challenging. Some of them are a good entry point though if you want to find out more about what’s on offer.
Your university should have made you fill in a Learning Agreement prior to departure, but expect this to change and your courses not to actually be finalised until you’re well settled in. There is a lot of trial and error and it’s all about finding the right balance, but the system does provide you with a lot of freedom.
Useful Link: Course catalogue