As a student at Universität Wien, I studied International Law, German Language and International Relations. However, due to the broad scope of UQ’s IR major, I was also able to take classes in the faculties of History and Scandinavian Studies.

As their marketing campaign highlights, the University of Vienna is “Neu seit 1365” (new since 1365). I spent most of my time in the lecture halls in the Hauptgebäude (main building) and the Juridicum (law building). After studying at our relatively “young” university in St Lucia, the main university building, in particular, looks more like a palace than an institution of learning. Complete with cascading marble staircases, fresco ceilings, colossal libraries and the imposing busts of distinguished graduates from seven centuries observing the Great Court, the university is nothing if not atmospheric. The impressive entrance hall, officially international territory, like many other places in the university, reminds visitors and students of the turbulent national-socialist past of Austria.

As the seat of many international organisations including the UN, IAEA, OPEC, OSCE, IOM and the VCDNP, lecturers hail from all over Europe making for a very interesting learning environment. Many lecturers are also professionals and offer invaluable insights into certain issues; for example, my International Human Rights Regime lecturer was the UN former Special Rapporteur on Torture.

I made a wonderful group of friends from all over the world and also got to know the domestic, Austrian students. There are a large number of international students studying at the university and it is a popular ERASMUS and Joint-Study Program destination making for a fantastic mix of people. The ESN Student Network is also very proactive in organising exchange student events.

Due to the large number of block courses offered by the university, getting subjects approved prior to the publication of the completed course catalogue for my actual exchange semester was largely useless. Also, I had to do a lot of juggling due to clashes mainly caused by block courses (eg. a subject may only run for two weeks of semester and you will have the class every day for those two weeks). Courses with the classification “Seminar” or “Pro-Seminar” mean missing a class twice, or in some cases once, will result in an automatic fail. Also, to achieve your 30ECTS points most students take between 8 – 10 subjects per semester and it is not uncommon for assessment to be due months after the end classes. SWOT-VAC is also noticeably absent from the semester timetable.

I chose Vienna for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, I speak German and have already undertaken a year exchange in Switzerland and an intensive exchange in Germany, so, by a process of elimination of German-speaking countries, it was Austria’s turn. I have also always liked the city, for me its identity is a mix of both Paris and Berlin, and I wanted to live in a capital city for the first time. In 2012, for the fourth time, Vienna was rated the world’s most liveable city. The living costs in Vienna are significantly less than in Brisbane, particularly where groceries, eating out, nightlife, entertainment and transport are concerned. A student semester transport ticket will only set you back 75€ and with the u-bahn network (underground), which also runs all night Friday and Saturday, you will never wish you had a car. Although, when it’s warmer, you may prefer to walk. The city is designed around a ring road on which all the major sites sit, the main university building is right next to the city hall, which neighbours the Parliament (you get the picture). Vienna is also world-renown for its theatre. While the opera and classical music are arguably the best in the world, art and ballet are also of a very high standard. Standing tickets to the theatre are available to the public from two hours before a performance and will only set you back 3 – 4 €. Even if you aren’t the biggest fan of the arts don’t miss seeing the opulent interiors of the Vienna State Opera House and the Burgtheater. During my time in Vienna, I managed to see several ballets and meet the Artistic Director of the Vienna State Ballet. Vienna is also referred to by many as the, “gateway to Eastern Europe,” and train, bus and flight connections are very reasonable. During my exchange I visited France, Spain, Portugal, England, Italy, Hungary, Denmark, Germany, Croatia, Turkey and within Austria itself, Graz and Salzburg (home of the Sound of Music).

Perhaps one of the biggest draws as an IR student, however, was Vienna’s status as a UN city. During my exchange, I volunteered for the Academic Council on the United Nations Systems (ACUNS), through which I participated in and assisted with conferences on Femicide, Human Trafficking, Peacekeeping, Nuclear Energy and Development. I visited the UN and associated institutions numerous times and met a multitude of ambassadors, academics and professionals from various fields as well as students from all over the world with an interest in International Relations. I was thrilled to be awarded an internship at the Thailand Institute of Justice in Bangkok after being graded as submitting the best responses to an international webinar on “Trafficking Prevention and the Victims: New United Nations and Academic Perspectives" held at the UN in partnership with the UNODC.

A highlight of the semester was experiencing the Viennese Ball culture. I attended a university ball at the end of semester with friends, held at the Imperial Winter Palace. The surroundings were suitably regal for a palace, which was once the seat of an empire. With five different ballrooms to choose from boasting live music to all tastes, the evening was nothing short of magical. So, don a ball gown (ankle length only ladies), pick up a dance card and don’t be shy when a local asks for the pleasure, they are more than eager to educate you in one of Vienna’s most famous exports, the Viennese Waltz.

Other tips:

  • Avoid securing housing through OeAD, student dorms/colleges. They are overpriced, far out of the city, not social like in Australia and wrapped in copious amounts of red tape. Don’t be nervous about getting private accommodation it’s easy enough and will give you an instant network of friends. 
  • Be sure to enjoy the beautiful Christmas Markets and lights during the festive season.
  • Don’t miss experiencing the famous Vienna Coffeehouse culture. Although the coffee is often more foam than fluid, the sweets are divine and you can stay all day on one cup and never be asked to leave. Famous haunts like Demel, Café Central and Café Sacher (home of the original Sacher Torte) are a must visit, but after you’ve experienced them, and their tourist prices, you might want to find yourself some more local spots.
  •  Devour the famous Wiener Schnitzel somewhere that doesn’t charge more than 10€ and gives you a piece of meat that doesn’t have a prayer of fitting on a regular size dinner plate.
  • Take a tour of the Austrian Parliament for 2.50€ (once the parliament of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). The entrance hall and ceremonial chamber are nothing short of colossal.
  • Home to artistic elite Klimt, Schiele, Wagner and Hundertwasser don’t miss seeing the colourful and crooked Hundertwasser Haus or Kunst Haus Wien. Also make sure you visit “The Twins,” which house the Art History and Natural History Museums – go in for the architecture if for no other reason.
  • For all those not phased by heights, pay 4€ to climb the dome of the famous Karlskirche, you may never have the chance be this close to a fresco again.
  • Catch some sun on the grass in Stadtpark.
  • Drop some cash on Vienna’s exclusive Kohlmarkt!
  • Grocery shop like a global foodie should at Julius Meinl.
  • Check out the wide range of clubs in Vienna. Don’t head out until 0200 and don’t expect to be kicked out until lunchtime!
  • Explore the incredible State Hall of the National Library for 5€.
  • Don’t be surprised if you constantly smell of smoke. Vienna is often referred to as “the smoker’s last paradise”, laws creating non-smoking sections in cafés and restaurants are recent and pretty much everywhere else goes!
  • Finally, grab a deck chair on the Uni Wien Great Court and do some study while soaking up some much-needed Vitamin D.

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