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VIENNA. The best place to go for Erasmus.


VIENNA. The best place to go for Erasmus.

“How come you don't have the UK as a destination for an Erasmus exchange? ”

This was the only question I thought to ask when, being a minor and a high school student at the time, I went to the orientation days hosted by my university, trying to choose what future to undertake. When I decided to enroll in the Economy and Finance program, I was well-aware of the extent of this choice in terms of the hosting university. Time has flown by and, last April, I came face to face with a freshly-printed Erasmus notice.

It's hard to explain the sensations which preceded my departure: filling out loads of documents, choosing the destination, quarreling with the dean to validate my exams, the feverish waiting for the final list. I have mixed memories of that period, probably too involved in that change of life which I had always waited so much that I couldn't make it real. I didn't understand it when I was given my chosen destination, either. Also that was the fruit of a troubled reflection. Because in the end you go to Erasmus according to the valuation parameters. What are you looking for? Pure amusement? Then, you should go to Spain. Do you want to study? Then, look for a tougher faculty. Do you want to travel and enjoy nature? I suggest you go to Norway.

Personally, I was looking for a destination which allowed me to have fun, to travel, to take the 6 exams I needed to complete my semester, without having to fill my wallet and bank account with 1500 euros every month and, hopefully, without freezing during the Winter months.

VIENNA. The best place to go for Erasmus.

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The University

The answer was Wirtschaftsuniversität of Vienna, more commonly known as WU. It's the largest University in Europe for Business and Management, ranked 33rd in Europe for reliability, concreteness and academic level. Also, it is a public university and open to everyone, with nearly 650 incoming students each semester. It has many ad hoc courses available for Erasmus students; I was spoiled with so many options that I was able to accelerate my progress towards attaining my degree. On top of that, it boasts a great website, helping whomever may be interested in searching for accommodations and courses and grants you the ability to enroll in an intensive German course, as well as in an orientation program in the city. Called “Ok program”, this orientation program is the stepping stone to make new and lasting bonds with other Erasmus students. For those who don't have in their store of knowledge the study of economics, there are other important universities in the city, all rigorously public. For those who do not have an educational background in the field of economics, there are other universities of importance in the city, all of which being strictly public.

Accommodation

After having chosen the university and faculty, the city was still unknown to me. What was Vienna going to be like? I was told it was rather “boring”, “grey” and very cold during the winter. And, coming from the South of Sardinia, I can't deny I was really scared. I didn't want to freeze to death.

But, I thought, let's think about things in order. After which, I immediately began to look for accommodation. In Vienna, there is an association called OEAD, which handles the all of the dormitories throughout the city, which is a lot. With a modest deposit of more than 600 euros, they will search for a room for you according to your expressed needs. What you pay for is not the result, but, rather, their performance. In fact, there is no guarantee that they will find a room in your dream dorm. This is attributed to the fact that the best-recognized dorms (like Haus Erasmus) are also the most requested and highly sought after. The price for a single room is around the 340€; a double room is cheaper at around 280€. The majority of these buildings are newer, with many comforts (often including a gym and sauna) and the kitchens are either shared among whole floor or shared among many rooms, like smaller apartments.

But I, who didn't have enough liquidity (savings) to pre-book a room without compromising my first month of Erasmus, ventured into finding a private room. There is a really useful German website, that when linked to Google Translator, allows people to search for a room or a flat. The prices are more reasonable as a single room costs around 250-300 euros.

Catering

On September 3rd, 2010 I set foot on Austrian soil and the smell of food immediately filled my senses. So, you know the würstel you usually eat, right? Well, if you are not German or Austrian... Forget about them. Tasting them in Austria or Germany will probably make you forever forsake those of your country. Then, if combined with the classic kartoffeln, they are a delicious meal, keeping your stomach busy for a few days (but don't worry too much about that). After all, in Vienna you're never at risk of going hungry; the typical restaurants are called Heurigen, scattered everywhere and make you spend around 10-15 euros per meal. The historical center, Stephansplatz, is oozing with many forms of catering. In the main shopping street, Mariahilferstrasse, to take-away is cheap and, therefore, much appreciated: such as sandwiches with sausage, noodles with meat, slices of pizza and so on. With only 3-5 euros, you are still spoiled with choices. Even breakfast can always be found, from Aida's in the very centre – very expensive! – to the more traditional Starbucks or Anker, the bakery that offers pastries and coffee. The cost of living is not excessive, and with a private room, 700 euros a month is more than enough to live simply and comfortably. That is not bad taking into consideration that it is a capital, right?

The City, the Weather

As an Erasmus student, I never felt like a tourist. Therefore, I didn't feel the need of discovering Vienna all at once. I preferred to savor it slowly, discovering Vienna's face at Summer's dusk, only to let myself be accompanied by the roar of dry leaves under my shoes when winter dragged them away. I was always without an umbrella and, as Southern girl, I adored the snow. Snow... was, and is, the icing on the cake. It makes the Viennese an enchanted landscape. It is cold there and how the temperature works there, I do not know. One day, it go from a summery +25C° to a wintry -15C°, but Winter is very dry and this was my biggest discovery; after having bought jackets and fleece sweatshirts, I managed not to suffer too much.

The city and the weather went hand in hand for me. The sun, when it rarely peeped out, gave a swerve to my mood which allowed me to walk around at with my jacket open; unluckily it was always a mirage, as the sky is always cloudy. Maybe, the only flaw of the place.

Five months, I found, were sufficient to visit Vienna. It is a relatively small city, concentrated around the city center, where the majesty of the neoclassical architecture peeps out. Passing by Stephansplatz, I often walked by the Opera, the cradle of Austrian theater. It is an imposing building that has bewitched me, despite not being a lover of operas. The Habsburgs residence is spectacular; it gives way to an immensely open green space from which one can see museums and the parliament in the distance. The Rathaus is just a stone's throw away, another epicenter of culture with its famous museums and bars. Far more distant is the Tower of the Danube, a structure located on the outskirts, where I could admire Vienna from above while sitting in a restaurant for dinner, only 250 meters high.

VIENNA. The best place to go for Erasmus.

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Travelling to and from Vienna

During Erasmus, I learned that distance is made relative by your capacity to shorten it. I always reached wherever I wanted to go in 20 minutes or less by metro. My city, compared to this, is third world. Even with the train appearing within a five-minute frequency, I would still get annoyed when I happened to miss the train by a second. Besides that, on the weekends it runs late at night and this always enabled me to go home late and attend parties without having to camp out or spend the night somewhere. The airport is a bit farther from the center, but the metro developed in its most important lines; Vienna is the belly button of Europe and, therefore, doesn't need an efficient airport system. However, it's different when it comes to buses, coaches and trains: you can go anywhere... Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and Germany have never been so close and easy to get to in my life.

Partying and Fun

They say Austrians are cold. I actually felt it, but it was never a problem. I knew I would spend my semester with Erasmus students, but I would have never imagined of being plunged into a European sub-population of crazy Erasmus people. The Erasmus Social Network is particularly developed, especially at WU. They organize trips for tons of destinations (Bratislava, Budapest, Krakow, etc. ) at profitable prices. I also had the opportunity of snowboarding for the first time in Zell Am See, a resort close to the border of Germany, and it was amazing. Imagine 250 Erasmus students in a hotel, skiing during the day and dancing at night. Every day of the week there is a event scheduled in some pub that has an agreement with ESN. If you worry that you won't hear or find out about them then fear not! There will be posters hanging everywhere. However, after two months, I couldn't stand it any more, and everyday I woke up promising myself to find one day per week to rest and sleep in. I'd say, you never get bored and amusement is guaranteed. If you want to do something different, then there are ice-skating parks, the Opera, or even a walk through the Christmas markets, if you catch the right season.

Conclusions

Usually people say that having expectations can disappoint you. Normally, this is because they are irrational and unrealistic. I'd say that my Erasmus experience was an exception to this rule. I arrived in Austria hoping, well, to have a good time and to keep up with my studies, which – as everyone knows – in Erasmus is almost a duty. I would have never expected to have had so much fun, to study so little and to make deep ties to those people who will be lifetime friends to me. My life in Erasmus was a journey to the moon... because such a peaceful, light-hearted period is hard to find in the everyday life, when commitments and routine overwhelm you and make your smile fade a little bit. Routine didn't exist, white is the only color I can associate to my 5 months there, because everyday I put some different overtone on it. I always felt happy with who I was, of where I lived and of what I was doing. It's the luck of not missing your home, because you feel at home everywhere you go. With a heavy heart I ended this experience, it was time to go. But, Vienna was and is all of these things and more. Is this enough for you?

Suggestions for Future Erasmus students

For Accommodation:

http://www.jobwohnen.at/

http://www.oead.at/

Transport:

http://www.oebb.at/

http://www.wienerlinien.at/

If you study Economics, this is WU:

http://wu.ac.at/


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