Studying abroad is a balancing act. I came to Europe with an overwhelmingly long list of travel destinations in mind, while also desiring to spend quality time in my home city. With only so many breaks and weekends in the brief semester, I quickly found myself trying to cram in too many trips early on. After I realized what I was doing, I put on the brakes and spent a few weekends in Vienna. Now, as I enter my final weeks in this city, I am still struggling to maintain a healthy mixture of time away and time here. I’ll be the first to admit that I paced my travels terribly and should have been more thoughtful as I scheduled the semester. I am usually such a planner, but I embraced spontaneity a bit too much when I got here. I recommend that you sit down with your calendar early in the semester, once you have your academic calendar, and decide which weekends you plan to travel and which ones you would like to spend in your host city. Yes, you can travel every weekend if you desire, but there are so many things to do wherever you are and you don’t want to go home with no significant experiences or memories from the place you spent the majority of your time.
I, for one, am in love with my host city. Vienna has become comfortable, and coming back always feels so right. If you study here, you’ll discover that Vienna truly is a gem of a city, and one that seems to be frequently overlooked as a study abroad destination. Vienna will spoil you in many ways and when you travel to other places, you will surely miss the city of music. Below, I have compiled a list of a few of my favorite things about Vienna, or the things that I miss the most any time that I am away. Also, if you didn’t get the Sound of Music reference, you’d better brush up on your knowledge of Austria! (Except that Austrians don’t know The Sound of Music- at all!)
I have praised the U-Bahn before, and I’ll do it again now. Vienna has the best public transportation I have ever used. I had very limited experience with any kind of metro system before this semester (I live in the suburbs in Texas, y’all), but now I have ridden metros in NYC, Boston, Washington D.C., Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Stockholm, Munich, and more. Every time I get on a different metro, I lament that it is not the U-Bahn. Not only is the Vienna U-Bahn always clean and well-maintained, it is also very logically laid out and almost always running on time. The buses and trams in Vienna are also excellent, but the U-Bahn has been there for me every day this semester, so I have a deeper connection with it. Do not take the U-Bahn for granted.
The German Language
There is no prerequisite language requirement for the IES Abroad Vienna program, but every student in the program has to enroll in a German course while here. This may seem like a pain to people whose majors don’t have any language requirements or who previously studied a different language, but it is to your benefit to learn even a small foundation of the language of the country you are studying in. You'll see that going to non-German speaking countries after a few weeks in Vienna will have you missing the familiarity of Deutsch. I find myself trying to use German in completely inappropriate locations. My roommate, after only 2 weeks of German class, said “Danke!” to the border control man in Croatia. It’ll happen. Additionally, you will realize that locals in other countries often don’t speak English as fluently as Austrians. Communication outside of Vienna gets much more complicated, believe me. If you truly invest yourself in attempting to learn and use German with locals, it will only enrich and add to your experience, even if you mess up royally each time.
Austrians may not come to mind when you think about the friendliest people around the world, but I have found that the Viennese are very warm and welcoming people- and I am from Texas, home of the famous southern hospitality! In Vienna, it is common and expected to greet people you run into- in your apartment building, on the street, in a shop. Not greeting or acknowledging someone would be considered rude; in fact, one of our neighbors was offended that we always kept to ourselves and averted our eyes when we saw him on the stairwell before actually meeting him. It was off-putting at first that people always greeted me, but it has now become an endearing part of my daily life here. When I go other places, I miss the familiar greetings of “Servus!” and “Gruß Gott!” I’ll probably go home and still end up saying “Morgen!” to people on campus!
The Cafés & Pastries
Okay, I know that many European cities are known for their coffee house culture, but Vienna has a long history with coffee and is famous for its many traditional Viennese cafés, some of which have been around since the late 1600s! The Viennese are very proud of their cafés, and rightly so. There are hundreds of them scattered throughout the city and the locals indulge in afternoon coffee and cake (or strudel) quite often! The thing I love most about the cafés here, besides the Apfelstrudel and Sachertorte, is that the staff never pressure you to leave your table or order more drinks. I have spent 3 hours at a café working on assignments and only had a single Wiener Melange (THE Vienna coffee- basically a cappuccino, but with a fancier name). No one is in a rush to turn your table, which is good because the Viennese are never in a rush to leave their tables when they are enjoying the afternoon. Something unique about many cafés here is that they actually serve your coffee on a silver platter with a cup of water and a chocolate. That will not happen in other cities, and you will be disappointed.
A few recommendations: Cafe Wolfbauer (near the IES Abroad center), Cafe Landtmann (fancy and expensive, but wonderful pastries and specialty coffees), Cafe Neko (the cat cafe!), Cafebrennerei Franze (if you ever find yourself in the 18th district), Cafe Demel (for cake!)
The Unhurried Pace & General Tranquility
Vienna is a relatively big city of about 2 million inhabitants, and yet it can manage to have small-town charm. Compared to many other European cities, it has very few tourists and is much quieter. The city actually has legally enforced quiet hours, which can seem like a nuisance, but now I find myself bothered by the excessive late-night noises in other cities I visit. People here also take life slower than most Americans and many Europeans. They take their time to enjoy life and not feel rushed. I like living in a city where it’s not all about the “hustle and bustle” that is so glorified in places like New York City. The pace here is reasonable and I settled into its rhythm easily. I’d like to believe that I don’t stick out as a tourist anymore, and the amount of times I’ve been stopped for directions or random interviews suggests that maybe I’ve successfully acclimated. However, the biggest hurdle to clear is convincing the street-side Mozarts- they can spot an American with impeccable accuracy!
I arrived at VIE in August with 100lbs of luggage and dreams of truly calling Vienna home. Now, over 14 weeks later, Vienna is my home. I have had an incredible time traveling around Europe and visiting other amazing cities, but every time I get off a plane or arrive at a bus terminal in Vienna, my heart beats faster and I get giddy with excitement. Only when I get back on my trusty U4 line do I finally relax, and when I hear the speaker announce “Margaretengürtel,” I breathe a sigh of relief that my little apartment is only a few blocks away. Nothing beats the feeling of coming home. However, my adventures don’t end when I return to Vienna. On the contrary, every day presents the opportunity to discover something new in my home city, whether that’s a cool museum, a tucked-away café, or, for these final weeks, another shimmering Christmas market. Even on weekdays, I can catch an opera in the evening or wander previously unexplored streets in the 1st district by the IES Abroad center between classes. As the end of the semester looms near, my heart has only filled with more love and longing for this city. I am heartbreakingly aware of how little time is left and eager to fill that time with rich and meaningful experiences. My unwritten bucket list scrolls through my mind at night and I stare at all the little saved pins on my Vienna map of places I want to go and wonder how I’ll squeeze everything in. I don’t have to cram every square inch of Vienna into my last 3 weeks, though, because these aren’t my last 3 weeks, not really. True, I have a flight back to DFW in exactly 1 month, but I will return again. I don’t know how, or when, or for how long, but I won’t be able to resist. Vienna may not be my only home, but it is one of them, and I will always find my way back home. I know, without a doubt, Vienna will be waiting for me.
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<p>Hey, y'all! I'm a cat-loving music education major from good ole Fort Worth, Texas. I sing Brahms and Mozart, but I listen to Taylor Swift, Hamilton, and much more! (My Spotify playlists says a lot about me!) I enjoy traveling because I get to meet new people, experience new places, and try new foods (okay- I'm mostly in it for the food). Follow along to see what kinds of adventures (and mishaps) I find myself involved in!</p>