I must admit, twelve months prior to living in the city, I'd never even heard of the Graz, never considered living in Austria and went to the UQ Abroad office the day before applications were due asking for recommendations on where to go… Three months into my stay I loved the place so much that I organised all arrangements to stay on an extra semester! I’m pretty certain almost anywhere you go on exchange is going to deliver the most amazing time of your life and for me this was Graz, an absolutely under-the-radar gem of a city, bustling with student life and a simply perfect place to study for a semester or two abroad.

I'm now in my last semester of a Bachelor of Arts at UQ, majoring in German and history. Whilst my German is (especially now) good, I didn’t feel confident enough taking all of my subjects in German but this was no problem; there is an abundance of English-taught humanities and other subjects and the language school offers more than enough German classes to keep you up to speed and make up your ECTS. Pretty much all of my subjects were seminars which are like our tutorials but there is no lecture attached, so all of the learning is done in one class and it’s a lot more interactive (plus it forces you to go because you have to make 80% attendance to pass the course!). If you are a history buff, try and take a class with Siegfried Beer – he is a seriously wise man!

As for cost of living, I found Europe in general to be much cheaper than Australia. I lived in three different places in Graz (long story) and the cheapest I paid per month was €280, the most expensive €360, all places including all bills. If you’re only staying a semester, then the student accommodation that the university organises is definitely the best option; it’s cheap (in fact free for Aussie students if you are happy to bunk with another person for 5 months, otherwise you just pay the difference for a single occupancy room), social as you’re around other exchange students and super easy. A lot of people staying for a year ended up finding their own places in the second semester and this for me was one of the best experiences as I lived with a bunch of local students who became my really good friends, but think about this if you get to that point (wggesucht.de is a good place to start, in any case). Apart from accommodation, I probably spent €30-€50 a week on groceries and a night out for dinner and drinks can cost you as little as €20. I’ll never again criticise our welfare system in Australia as Youth Allowance was practically my saviour whilst studying abroad and all of the other international students were absolutely shocked as to how much money we receive (I know, right?!).

And without further ado as I get carried away with words, my five top tips for Graz are:

  • SPEAK GERMAN. It sounds absurd, but it is actually so hard to speak German in Germany and Austria! Most people have very good English, often better than your German and will end up speaking English with you because it is just easier. MAKE THEM SPEAK GERMAN TO YOU! Respond to them in German, constantly ask them to just speak German with you, go to German movies, always try to order in German; you will not have a better opportunity to learn or improve your German than when you are immersed in it. Plus the comfort of other exchange students, who are really your first point of contact, makes it easy for you to only need to speak English most of the time... GO OUT AND SEEK GERMAN-SPEAKING FRIENDS! My German improved more in the last three months than it did in the whole year I was there because I lived with two girls who wouldn't speak English with me! It was the best thing that anyone could do for my German.
  • Take an internet cable and pay your rent before you get there if you can! Probably the most practical advice someone could have given me. There is no wireless internet in the WIST student dorms and you don’t get your internet password until you have paid your rent… Which, unless you have the cash, you have to do via internet transfer! Even if your accommodation is payed for by the university you still have to pay it and they reimburse you once you have opened up an Austrian bank account. It’s the most frustrating system, so if you have your cable with you and you contact WIST to get on top of payments before you get there, your first few days in Graz will be a lot less stressful than mine were!
  • Drink cocktails at Stern. It's like a quality Brisbane cocktail bar with seriously the best cocktails I've ever had for maximum €8.50 and during happy hour everything is €5.50. Spend your early evening there and the nights tend to last a lot longer and bring many more adventures... (If you are living at Wienerstraße, which a lot of Australian students do, on your way home on these nights be sure to grab a Käsekrainer hot dog from the Nachtwurstlstand at Lendplatz… Deee-licious).
  • If you're there during our second semester, buy your winter jacket there. It's warm when you arrive and you are much better off getting a cheaper and European winter-appropriate jacket there that you don't have to account into your baggage allowance on your way over. In the same context, don't take that much stuff. H&M (in fact, European shopping in general) is seriously addictive.
  • Travel as much as you can but make time to appreciate life in Graz as well. Graz is located smack bang in the middle of Europe, and while flying to and from is a bit difficult (RyanAir only flies Graz<->London), get yourself a Vorteilscard (a discount card for the Austrian train system) and jump on a train every few weekends to a nearby (or further if you don't mind the long train rides) city. In a year I got to see France, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain, England, Scotland, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia and Sweden and I’m so pleased that I made the most of my time and location. BUT in order to really make friends in the city and really appreciate living in such a beautiful and foreign location, don't forget to leave weekends free to lay in the sun in Stadtpark drinking beer with a bunch of friends or go to the Weinachtmarkt and get giddy on Gluhwein.
  • Did I mention speak German?

Ich wünsche dir eine schöne Zeit in Graz; es ist eine wunderbare Stadt und fünf Monate sogar ein Jahr ist einfach nicht lang genug. Viel Glück und viel Spaß. Baba!


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