Hofer, Euros, U-Bahn, IKEA—What to Expect from your First Several Days in Wien

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Blake Nicholas
September 9, 2023
Image of St. Charles Church

It makes sense that back-floating along the shimmering water in the Danube River with your friends, being held upside down 30 feet in the air on the claw ride at Prater Wein for fifteen seconds at a time, and voyaging through the largest subterranean lake in Europe in a gold-colored ship all seem like activities for those curious about new parts of the world. However, never did I expect that walking into a standard IKEA would be one of my first exploratory experiences in Vienna, yet here I am.

The thing about being abroad though is that simple tasks, such as shopping at the local grocery store or taking the subway, can feel so adventurous when you first try it because so many things are new.

The other day I rushed through IKEA about half an hour before it closed to pick up some apartment essentials. I was busy earlier in the day and somehow being in this store made me feel so overwhelmed. I felt so peculiar staring at the seven expansive levels above me. All the items and aisles being labeled in German, the hectic pace of the cash register, and having the time crunch on my mind somehow all got to me.

I was having culture shock at an actual IKEA.


It seems like such a small task: just shop for home appliances.

However, having so many elements to your life change at the same time makes the tiny changes to the things you did not expect to change feel that much more like roadblocks.

But I have started to find amongst many people here that small or even large bumps in the road are completely normal for the study abroad experience. Even within my first week here I have realized that there is no one right way to study abroad and it is completely unrealistic to expect every day to be the most enchanting day of your life here. Yes, studying abroad has been incredibly entrancing and wonderful so far. A majestic city with endless possibilities that can only stretch as far as my abroad bucket list could surely make anyone’s hearts grow fonder. That is pretty much implied. But here are some tips that I have gathered from the small amount of time that I have been in Wien. Obviously, my experience is not universal. But take my advice as you wish.

1) Expect to have phantasmagorical, euphoric moments.

By my fourth day here, everyone was divided into groups based on their academic program. As a philosophy major, I was put on the Arts & Humanities day trip. We all traveled about an hour and a half from Vienna to the Alps bordering Styria. As I gripped the handrails on the Gondola up to Raxalm-Berggasthof, I was completely in awe of the looming mountains nearby covered in vivid greenery. And by the next day, the hypnotic purple glow of the lights at the club on Friday felt completely surreal to me as well. Today I made another dreamlike memory as I trudged up the spiraling stone staircase of St. Stephen’s Cathedral to be finally met with a gorgeous view of the city at the top of the tower.

2) Expect to have some free time as classes have not started yet.

It may seem daunting to have some free time in a new city when you do not know anyone yet. But remember that you will have plenty of time to get to know the area and it is okay to take your time familiarizing yourself with the city. I do think, though, that so far, IES Abroad has done a fairly good job keeping us busy with DiscoverIES activities, social meetups, day trips, and German-intensive classes. I am sure that I will also fall into an even more structured routine once my full course load begins.

3) Road bumps are normal. But on your first day if you do not have any Euros on hand for a Taxi, just take an Uber to get from the airport to your apartment.

I ended up taking a Taxi with some other IES Abroad student who was in the same district as me, but I did not have cell service, so I was not aware until we arrived at his apartment that my address was a 20-minute walk from his drop-off point. I inquired to the taxi driver if I could pay him with a card to drop me off at my apartment next, and the taxi driver replied that he only took cash. Mind you, I did not have my Digital SMS card installed yet, so Apple Maps would not work for walking directions. I was also carrying a 200-pound backpack and two luggages full of my wardrobe for my new closet space, so walking was completely out of the question.

Luckily, my IES Abroad peer lent me some cash and I paid him for the difference. However, to avoid this little road bump, I recommend taking an Uber to pay drivers with a credit or debit card. I also recommend having your exact address and zip code on hand, so you are completely sure of where you are going.

It has now been a bit over a week, and I am starting to get into a good rhythm of things and daily tasks are starting to feel much more normal now. I have started a list of all the adventurous things that I do each day, to encourage myself to do at least one thing each day that scares me. The saying goes that if you do things that scare you, you will not get scared anymore. I suppose we will see how dauntless I become by the end of my adventure here, hehe ;)

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Blake Nicholas

I was born and raised in San Diego, CA, and go to Occidental College located in Los Angeles. I am a philosophy major and an interdisciplinary writing minor. In most my free time, I like to dance. My favorite styles of dance are ballet and lyrical :)

2023 Fall
Home University:
Occidental College
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