Within this review section former exchange students to Vienna share their stories, experiences and opinions with you.
Make sure you read this experience report by an American exchange student before starting your term at WU Vienna!
My stay at the WU Wien
The best information source for the Wirtschaftsuniversitaet (WU) is probably its website, www.wu-wien.ac.at. This is where you sign up for courses, read the syllabi, and access the International Programs office. For information on social events, the Buddy Network at WU sends out weekly emails with all the parties and stuff they sponsor, but I found that it was best to just make friends with other exchange students and Austrian students on facebook to find the real social events. I usually got movie information from my friends, so I don´t know where to find that online, and for shows and city events I just look at all the posters down in the U-Bahn stations. The most useful website I found for getting directions and travel information was www.oebb.at.
International office at host university
The staff was generally very friendly, and as for relevant information I did not receive, it was mostly from the advising office at my home university, and I received this information eventually by trial and error. The one thing to keep in mind about the international programs office at WU is that it has very limited hours, from 9 to 12 and sometimes random hours later in the day. I would highly recommend signing up for the OK Program and the Intensive German course, since the OK Program is very well-done and you get to see a lot of Austria in your first two weeks, and the German program is a good review or introduction, depending on your level. It´s also the best way to meet the other exchange students you will be having classes with. Separate from these programs put on by the international programs office, the OEH (student union) has a program called the Buddy Network for exchange students. They provide “buddies” who meet you at the airport, which I signed up for, and also different social events, which turned out to be excuses to get really drunk and party a lot. After the initial airport pickup, I didn´t have much to do with the Buddy Network. I made my own social activities.
The WU specializes in business study, and has both graduate and undergraduate-level courses. I took both levels, and I didn´t find much of a difference in content and how they were taught. There are about 20,000 students at the university total. Enrollment is online, and the online syllabi are released a couple weeks before you actually sign up, so it´s a good idea to have a schedule and a couple back-up ones ready. International students have the option to take their courses in English, which I did besides Business German, and international students also get to register about a week earlier than regular students. Make sure you get on in the first 5 minutes because otherwise everything is pretty much gone. If you can speak German, I would recommend taking at least a couple regular German courses, because a lot of times the lecturers aren´t too good with English and it´s hard to learn anyway. Lectures are different than at home, because there is usually only one class section offered, they have about 30 students, and usually meet just once a week for a couple hours. There are also block courses that meet for just a couple days, but for 8 hours a day, and even on Saturdays. In my experience, the professors are reachable via email/ office hours.
Some courses didn´t have any homework, some had textbooks that you should read continuously, and some just had papers and group assignments. The WU is pretty big on group assignments. I would say I did on average 5 hours of homework per week, but it really varied. Most of the time the homework (papers, group work) was graded, but sometimes it was just exercises but they don´t really tell you that. I had one exam per course at the end of the course, and they were all essay/short answer. They weren´t hard exactly, but it´s definitely a change from multiple choice at home. Each one took about an hour and were usually just given during normal class time. Grading is on a scale of 1 (best) to 5 (worst) and wasn´t curved, I think. Sometimes homework and papers factored into the grades, but some were just based on one exam, and participation, hopefully. I thought that was kind of weird because they weren´t always clear what you were being graded on.
The campus is fairly centralized, on about 4 blocks, and has 4 main buildings, plus a library, which I didn´t really need to use. Students hang out on the front steps and across the street at the coffee shops. Computer labs are located in the UZA II building and actually keep pretty decent hours. That´s where I did all of my printing, too. Usually I didn´t hang around campus too much because I preferred to study in parks or at my dorm.
I needed to get a visa for travel/residence in Austria, which I got through the Chicago consulate. I just mailed my information and it turned out all right, and it was also free for students. Just go to the consulate´s website for all the information.
Public transportation in Vienna is amazing; they have subways, trams, and buses that are all covered by one semester pass that you buy from any major train station. I didn´t need to buy a bike, it´s very walkable. Taxis are kind of expensive and I only used them in emergencies. Everything shuts down at 12:30 am, but there are night buses that stop at all the major areas and most of the dorms, so it was never a problem for me.
I didn´t open a bank account in Austria and just used my ATM card to get the lowest rates, but apparently it´s pretty easy to get an account at any of the major banks. There are also people at the university that solicit you, too. It´s a good idea to carry about 100 Euros of cash with you since a lot of places don´t accept credit cards yet. The grocery store just started, actually, and it was a huge deal. I would stick with Mastercard because it´s the most universal. You do need to find someone with a Maestrocard to pay your student fees at the beginning of the semester, though. ATMs were very plentiful around Vienna.
I felt entirely at ease in Vienna, but you still shouldn´t walk around by yourself at night or do anything you wouldn´t normally do in a big city. The crime rate is really low, except I think there a lot more knife fights as opposed to guns. I had some friends who ended up using the emergency room, and I guess they are pretty good there, except it gets interesting with the insurance companies. I brought full supplies of all my prescription medications with me, because I don´t think they do refills on foreign prescriptions.
At Europahaus you´re not allowed to use phone cards on the room phones, so I never even used the one I brought with. All of my phone calls were made on Skype, which are 2 cents per minute all over the world. I didn´t want to buy a cell phone at first, but then I caved just because it´s a good way to keep in touch with the people you meet and for group projects too. I would say to spend about 30 Euros on the phone, and then go with Yesss service, which lets you put credit on your phone and that you buy from Hofer supermarkets. Definitely do not buy your phone from the sketchy places that are all over, like I did, just buy it from Niedermayer or some other electronics store.
It took me from 10 days to a week to receive a package/letter from the United States, and about the same time to send one. It cost about 1.40 Euro to send a postcard or a letter home, which is crazy! I just used the Austrian Post service, which worked fine, and there are offices in mostly every neighborhood.
Definitely bring a hat, mittens, and scarf, along with a warm jacket, if you´re going to be in Vienna during the winter. A laptop is really convenient too. The things that I really wished I had brought that I needed sent from home were bedsheets and towels, since they don´t provide those at the dorms. I ended up having to buy a hairdryer and battery charger with the Euro plugs so don´t bother bringing those from home. All you need is an adaptor for computers and other small gadgets.
All housing at WU goes through an Austrian-wide network, the OEAD. I was assigned to Europahaus, which at first seems really far away and in the middle of nowhere, but it is in a really green area on the edge of town, still on the subway line, and it is quiet enough that you can actually get homework done there. There is a hallway for international students so you meet a lot of cool people, and the rest of the students are Austrians and it is really fun to get to know them as well. I could really practice my German there. The building is also only 10 years old and is very clean and modern. There are lots of little game rooms, and even saunas, and the kitchens are definitely the nicest of any of the dorms I visited.
Shopping hours are kind of a joke in Austria, because most stores are open from 10 to 5 on weekdays and Saturdays, and not at all on Sundays. Keep this in mind, because it includes grocery stores, too, and sometimes I went hungry on Sundays. Stores are definitely not open on public holidays, and sometimes they´re even closed on days between public holidays and the weekend for good measure.
There is a wide variety of grocery stores throughout Vienna. I mostly shopped at Spar since I could just walk there, and it had good quality as well as relatively good prices. Billa was also good for those reasons. Hofer is like the Austrian version of Aldi and is very depressing, and the produce is nasty. Merkur is probably the most expensive grocery store but is most similar to American stores in terms of size and selection. I wouldn´t really recommend Penny Markt, except that it is cheap. Spar just started taking credit cards, but I´m not sure about the others. Prices were much more expensive even compared to Germany, which is also on the Euro, and were way more expensive than in the U.S. The Naschmarkt is the biggest and best outdoor market, and it´s fun to just explore it for weird types of food. The best prices are usually towards the end, so try to wait it out.
Ikea is a little bit out of the city, but there is a bus line that takes you there. I shopped mostly at Kika for housewares, which was really close to Europahaus and had good prices. For toiletries, I went to Bipa, because it´s everywhere and you can open a frequent shopper card. I think it´s relatively cheap.
I usually used my MasterCard at larger clothing store chains, because the more local shops generally don´t accept them. It´s good to have cash handy. For my dorm, you paid the rent every month, either through your Austrian bank account (which I didn´t have) or just in cash.
I set up all my travel plans on my own, although the Buddy Network did offer 3 trips around Eastern Europe. They seemed expensive, though, and people who went said that they were kind of free-for-alls and not very fun. I planned my trips using oebb.com (for trains), and wikitravel.com for looking up local budget airlines, which are really cheap as well. I probably wouldn´t recommend Ryanair, since they only fly out of Bratislava and not Vienna, and you don´t actually get assigned a seat. I used hostelworld.com and hostelbookers.com to arrange accommodations. I would definitely invest the 20 Euros in the OEBB Vorteilskarte, which cuts your train fares by 45% within Austria and by 25% internationally. I saved a lot of money that way.
All of the faculty and students at WU speak English, but to varying degrees. My buddy really couldn´t speak it at all, and some professors that taught courses in English were really hard to understand. I took German for about 7 years before I came to Austria, and I´m really glad I did because it makes it so much easier to navigate the city and even just order food. I also signed up for the Intensive German course offered through the International Programs office at WU for the first two weeks I was there, and although I didn´t learn that much, it was good practice. I found that I got a good impression of Vienna and Austria in general by just exploring the different districts, getting off at different U-bahn stops, and checking out museum exhibitions and performances going on.
The exchange students were a pretty close group, even though there were about 400 of us. A lot of them don´t speak much German but are trying to work on their English, so it kind of makes you the expert and you can spend a lot of time trying to help other people improve their English instead of improving your own German. I met a lot of Austrians at my dorm, as well as the students who led the OK program and the Austrians who were in my courses in English. That was a big part of why I wanted to study abroad, to meet local people, so I´m really glad it worked out. You can get kind of isolated with just English-speaking people, so you have to work to branch out. I didn´t really know of any student organizations and I consequently didn´t get involved in any. I thought the atmosphere in general was comfortable and friendly, and the university did a good job of getting the word out about student-related events and parties. One thing I noticed is that students dress up for class a lot more for class than we do in the U.S., which means no sweatpants and NO UGGS. Anyway.
This exchange experience was something I was looking forward to my whole life, and I really learned a lot about myself, the other people in my life, and about Austria and adapting to new ways of living. I felt that my home university did not have as strong of an exchange program as other universities did, at least in Vienna, and I feel that there needs to be an effort to change that and to keep the exchange students as up-to-date as possible regarding course equivalencies and deadlines. I definitely want to look into an international career, and I think going abroad makes me more well-rounded when companies are looking at hiring me. I feel like I may even move back to Vienna at some later point in time because I felt so at home there.
Aly from Wisconsin, USA