Ok, I know what your all thinking. How can I possibly be writing about my worst experience in Vienna? Surely it was brilliant all the time.
No, no it wasn’t
And actually I think it’s important for people to know about the bad things just as much as the good. Otherwise you’ll never achieve the full picture.
For example, when I was first told about the possibility of studying abroad, I was painted a beautiful picture by the organisers and honestly what they presented was not what I experienced. So people need to know that somethings don’t go the way you envisioned and sometimes you encounter problems or issues that you would never have previously considered. Of course, I’m sure there are other people who have absolutely loved their time abroad, this is just my personal experiences.
Now, before the country of Austria officially bars me for making this post, I will also be compiling a list of the best things about my time abroad, though I simply find writing about the bad things first easier, simply because those annoyances tend to stay in ones mind for a longer period.
Europe, and German speaking nations particularly, tend to be stereotyped as being mad about bureaucracy, a dirty word in other parts of the world. Now, I’m not saying there’s any truth to this stereotype; after all I was studying abroad for almost a year so there was undoubtably going to be some paperwork. But…
Mountains and mountains of it! I could die happily if I never have to hear the words Anmeldebescheinigung, Magistratisches or Meldzettel again. And with the piles of paperwork comes the endless queues and departments that one must manoeuvre around to obtain said paperwork. One time I spent 1 hour and 53 mins queuing at the Magistrates only for the actual process of retrieving the form I needed to take a grand total of 45 seconds. I’ll never see that time again. I felt robbed at the end of it. Robbed of life.
In fact there was so much paperwork that it was impossible to keep track of it all; which is something that appears to be quite unforgivable by Austrian standards, as I soon discovered. When I went to apply for an Anmeldebescheinigung I went through two different people, queued for a total of around two hours, only to find from the last person that I had brought the wrong Mendzettel form. Usually, back in Bangor at least, this would result in a explanation as to how to best fix the issue, but nope; instead the female magistrate opened a triad of pent up frustration upon me and accused me of staying in the country illegally. At this point, I literally thought this was how my study abroad would end; with me being accused of being an illegal migrant and thrown onto a plane back to the UK. But, no sooner had she done this, that she’d typed some words onto her computer and then told me (in a much calmer and collective tone) that everything was now sorted and I was free to go. In true British style I gave her only the frostiest of thank you’s.
So no, I did not enjoy the bureaucracy.
Ok, this isn’t just me being an ignorant, ‘Oh I speak English so everyone else must learn to speak English’. Truthfully, I was looking forward to learning German and I have always though it to be a necessity that one should learn an additional language. Living in Austria, I assumed this would be the prime opportunity for me to finally learn a foreign language.
Well its been a year later and I still don’t know any German.
So what happened? Well honestly it was due to poor timing and cost. See, unlike Bangor, Vienna charges students for language lessons, ranging from 200 to 400 euros. Honestly, it was an expense I couldn’t afford, plus when I did try to actually book a session, the only periods they had available clashed with my other seminars and if you missed just three language lessons, you would be thrown off the course altogether. Now, that itself is not a problem as Vienna has a large concentration of English speakers, and most Austrians under 60 can speak English exceedingly well. However, my own inability to communicate in the native language made me fearful of talking to anyone, just in case they didn’t understand me or I didn’t understand them (I struggle enough with just Welsh accents, let alone Austrian ones). There were a few bright spots of course; for instances I knew when people were asking if I could reach things on high shelves, but, well, thats because I’m pretty used to be asked to do that.
I just wish the language lessons had been more accessible and cheaper for international students.
3. My Own Anxiety
Well this is a big one. I’ve always been pretty shy as a person, but it wasn’t until I was thrusted into a landscape so unfamiliar as Vienna, that I realised that I was more than just shy, I actually suffered from anxiety, and in some cases it could be quite extreme. Admittedly, it was pretty terrifying, suddenly finding myself alone in a massive city which I knew next to nothing about and was unable to speak the native language. It’s enough to make anyone panic. I, though, was a prisoner of myself. My paranoia and fears grew so much so that I would avoid going outside in fear that someone would try to talk to me. I intentionally avoided contact with my roommates as I felt incredibly awkward around them. And worse, I refused to look at emails (the only way anyone had of communicating with me) because I was too scared of what they may say if I should open them up. Of course once I was walking about the city, or had mustered the courage to read my emails, or talk to people, I was absolutely fine. But every morning it was as if my fears would start anew and I’d once again be boxed in by my anxiety. As a result there are many things that I would have liked to do in Vienna but was unable to, simply because I could bare the thought of risking it.
I didn’t get to stay in the best place. It was alright to be honest, perfectly liveable; but there were some little things (ok, MAJOR things) that made living in Vienna a trial. Firstly, there was no oven or freezer in my apartment; meaning goodbye oven-cooked food and no long storing of food. This meant I had to go out twice every week to shop simply because I could never keep fresh meat of vegetables for very long. This was expensive, far more expensive than I would of liked, for sure. Because of this, and because I couldn’t understand the writing on any packaging, I was restricted in the sort of meals that I could cook (Pasta, chilli, curry, omelette; rinse and repeat) and that got so mindnumpingly….tedious after awhile, even as a tried to experiment with my meals. Secondly, my flat was located in Simmering, which is located right on the edge of the city, meaning it was 35 min train journey into the city every morning or whenever I wanted to get to anywhere. That certainly added to my anxiety as I’m pretty use to walking to my university. It also mean’t I got pretty lazy. No one is unfit in Bangor, not from after all the hill climbing you have to do just to get to lessons. But in Vienna it was just get on the train, get off the train and as it was the underground I didn’t even get to appreciate the beauty of the city as it whizzed by.
Thirdly, the constant construction taking place, seemingly right up against my bedroom wall. The working day starts early in Vienna, so I’d be awoken, often before seven, by a pneumatic drill burrowing away, causing my room, not only to be filled with the loudest buzzing you’ve ever heard, but also it caused my room to literally shake. It was so loud and so intense it hurt my ears. Of course, I didn’t complain because…well…anxiety.
Fourthly…flatmates. Now, I’ve already mentioned I tried to avoid these guys, which is unusual for me. In my first year at Bangor I made fast friends with my flatmates and we even all moved in together during our second year. But in Vienna, nope. Of course everyone was from different countries and that was interesting but in the end none of us really connected. They all had their quirks but one was worse than any others. He suffered from serious depression and was often incapable of cleaning stuff or even put things back in their place. I walked into the toilet once to find it unflushed, toilet roll all over the floor and both the soap and the hand towel were just piled into the soaking sink. It would get worse when he started to chuck around my own stuff, like towels, (which I often found in the sink) or my bathroom mat, which would just be discarded unceremoniously on the floor, day after day. He barely ever washed up anything (not even the stuff he stole from me) and he shed A LOT of hair, I mean our floor was tiled but you’d swear you were walking on a fur carpet. And of course, he never swept up his hair, and I ended up having to often sweep the floors and unblock the shower drain. I got woken up in the night and morning by him constantly pacing up and down outside my bedroom door.
I was going insane half the time, but I don’t really blame him. I’ve talked about my anxiety feeling like a prison, but depression is so much worse than that. Worse is that little things can always send you into a bad spiral so I certainly didn’t want to worsen his depression. It was delicate balancing act. I’d never just tell him to do something, rather I’d ask him and then engage him in further conversation, ask how he’s doing, about films and music and stuff. Just to make sure he didn’t go back to his room feeling like he’d messed up badly. I mean, yeah he was messy, but he wasn’t by any means unfriendly or a bad guy. Sometimes it worked, sometimes I’d find the bathroom clean, or my towels hanging where I left them and I thanked him for that. It wasn’t often, but it was enough.
Oh, also the one of the struts under my bed was broken, right where my tailbone rested, which meant my bed was never comfortable, and nothing was ever done about it. That was pretty annoying.
5. Closing Times
Shops shut at weird times in Vienna. I’m not talking about little small business shops either, I’m talking about supermarkets. Usually, supermarkets in Britain stay open until 10 at night. In fact, 9pm in Bangor is prime time for students who have forgotten to buy food for dinner. But in Vienna these stores typically close at about seven, which makes things incredibly annoying, especially when lectures stretch into the evenings. Also supermarkets don’t open on Sundays, what with Austria still being a Catholic nation and all. Same with Bank Holidays, and good luck if theres a Sunday followed by a Bank Holiday Monday, because then the shops won’t open for two days straight and with me unable to store big amounts of food in my tiny fridge and having to cook meals every night, this meant I’d have to really plan out my meals, in order to insure I had enough to cover those days. Worse is that Bank holidays seemed to occur once every three weeks; I’d never even known about some of these holidays like Corpus Christie, or Epiphany Day before.
6. Big City University
After almost a year of living in a big city, I’ve decided…I don’t really ever want to live in a big city again. The city of Vienna is great, but Bangor Uni is so much more…well personal. Of course, Bangor has significantly less students than Vienna University, but that’s part of the problem. At Vienna, I felt like I was just a faceless student, coming and going, studying and arriving for lectures etc. Whereas in Bangor theres always a stronger sense of community because you recognise people and other people recognise you. Vienna isn’t helped by that fact that it lacks any kind of social clubs or societies, whereas Bangor is packed with them, allowing all kinds of students to meet and greet one another. There its easier to build up friendships whereas Vienna’s size can just overwhelm you.
Additionally, some sections of the university are run quite differently to Bangor. You can’t browse in the library, rather you have to know what book you want and then ask for it, and it’s not open 24/7 like Bangor’s main arts library is. Secondly, instead of have subjects broken down into both lectures and seminars, in Vienna subjects were either seminar based, or lecture based, never both. This meant in some lessons there was never any discussion over what you’d learned and in other lessons all you did was discuss what other people had learned because there 30 people in each class and you could never include every single person over a single period. Frankly I think Bangor has a much better balance in this regard.
Finally, and my most pressing difficulty with Vienna though was simply the workload. I’d known things were going to be harder, especially since Vienna is so much more renown than Bangor. But I never really expected it to be as hard as it was. for my first semester I was doing 3 essays every week, plus reading books (not articles, books; 100 page books) and it was nearly impossible to keep up with everything. Some subjects needed 10,000 word submissions, which is the size of a dissertation at Bangor, while normal Bangor essays were at most about 3000 words. It was a slap of cold water to be sure, but somehow I stayed afloat despite the constant breakdowns. In time I learned you can’t just stubbornly approach your workload, rather you have to be smart and figure out what subjects are worth your time and what aren’t.
Now this may all sound pretty bad, but let me make this clear, I don’t, and will never, regret my time in Vienna. There were bad points for sure; some times I just wanted to run back to the airport and fly home to cry on my own bed, but I didn’t, I stuck with it, and now it’s over and frankly I think I’m a better student because of it. I certainly did I lot of inward looking, analysing my pressure points, what makes me happy, the extent of my anxiety and ultimately the sort of work I enjoy doing. I left Vienna knowing more about where I want go with my history studies, than from any of my other years at Bangor.
It was a flawed experience, but an experience worth having.
Don’t forget to check out my Instagram for more photos of my adventures.