I’ve been living in Graz for 57 days now and I think they’ve honestly been the best 57 days of my life. I always used to think that the phrase “Erasmus year will be the best part of your university life” was a wild overstatement, but, so far, it only rings true.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I got here. All I knew was that I was 850+ miles away from home, away from my family and everything I’d ever known, and that I had to prepare for whatever Austria threw at me. I knew that European universities worked in a very different way in comparison to universities in the UK and honestly, I feared the worst. There seemed to be so much that students have to do for themselves, timetabling, emailing Academic Tutors, attending Intro meetings, but it turned out that Graz was amazing at guiding us all through all of the different things we needed to do.
It turns out that all my worries about Austrian universities were unfounded too, as all my tutors are lovely (we even Duzen!) and incredibly helpful. My classes are all really interesting and they’re just challenging enough so that I learn things, but not so challenging that I’m worried about the work or scared to attend classes and lectures. The university itself is beautiful and really well-equipped, and while it’s a city-based university instead of a campus-based one, all the buildings are fairly close together and really easy to reach on public transport.
It also really helped that I found an amazing place to live really easily. I live with three other people above the City Library in an amazing flat with parquet flooring, a balcony, a bath, and a huge bedroom just for me. The best thing, however, is that I’m a few minutes walk from the tram line that takes me pretty much directly to the university!
I’ve found that people here are incredibly friendly and really patient with people who don’t speak German natively, even if their accents can be a little hard to understand sometimes! But I think that’s a part of the charm of studying in Austria, even in the second biggest city, there’s so much folksy alpine charm to enjoy amongst all the modern hustle and bustle.
Graz isn’t that much bigger than Reading, so you can find almost everything you need here. Public transport is fairly cheap (especially with the Styrian TOP-Ticket for students!) and it’s all really well connected, so it’s easy to get to the more out-of-town shopping centres. Sundays and bank holidays can be a bit of a pain since almost every supermarket closes, but if you need something then there’s always the Hauptbahnhof supermarkets to save the day! I think every student in Austria spends at least one of their Sunday’s stuck queuing in the Hauptbahnhof Spar with what feels like half of the city!
Foodwise, sometimes typical English meals can be hard to cook here, but it’s easy enough to find the ingredients you need or similar substitutes. I’d say food, especially meat and vegan food, tends to be a little more expensive here but overall I don’t think it’s any better or worse than Reading, especially when the rent is far cheaper on average! For all of you who like a cheeky drink, Graz is a student city, so there’s plenty of places to score good deals and the local Erasmus network holds an International’s Night where you can get discounted food and drink! They also arrange hiking trips, ski trips, and other really fun events throughout the year, which means it’s super easy to make friends and learn about other cultures!
Speaking of excursions, there’s so much to do nearby. Graz is a fairly flat city, but it’s surrounded by mountains which means you can be up high hiking within an hour or so! Not to mention it’s only about an hour by train to the nearby Slovenian city of Maribor (or Marburg in German) which I highly recommend! Both upper and lower Styria are really famous for their wines and Maribor is home to the oldest wine vine in the world and a museum and bar dedicated to it! Vienna is also easy to get to, and it can be really cheap too! The first time I visited, our train fare only cost 30 euros for a return ticket and the views you get to see on the 2 1/2 hour journey are amazing! I really recommend getting the TOP-Ticket which gets you unlimited public transport throughout Styria as well as the ÖOB’s Vorteilscard, which gets you some great discounts on train fares. The Vorteilscard is only 20 euros for the year and you get free transport throughout Austria on your birthday! The TOP-Ticket is about 162 euros per semester, and it’s 100% worth the money. I think that in just shy of two months I’ve probably already gotten my money back based on all the times I’ve taken the tram/bus/train. A 24-hour ticket for Zone 101 is 5 euros 80 for context!
In terms of getting to and from the UK, Graz has an airport, but I don’t think there’s any direct connections to UK airports. This just means that you’ll have to transfer in either Frankfurt or Munich most likely, or maybe even Amsterdam. This isn’t too much hassle, but it’s also super easy to get to Vienna (and cheaper!) and fly from there. I’m actually taking a trip to Copenhagen next month, and with the flights and train, it was less than 100 euros there and back!
And, since everyone will ask, yes, of course, there are some low points of studying abroad. It can be hard to travel back home between classes at short notice if something emergent happens back home, and it’s hard when you have days when you feel down and you can’t surround yourself with people you know and love. And you will miss your pets. A lot. But Graz is very dog friendly so you’ll have no trouble spotting some adorable dogs on your daily commute or just while going for a walk, and that really helps, trust me! And once you start attending classes and events, you’ll make friends really quickly!
Also, speaking German constantly? It will tire you out so much! But that’s the thing, you learn to use it even when you don’t feel capable or confident! You get surprised by people speaking to you in German when you least expect it and you’ll find that you’re totally fine and you understand and you can answer them! The first day I was here, a lady in the supermarket asked me to read an expiry date to her because it was very small and faded, and I did it and she was very grateful! It’s a great feeling when you get out of those situations and you know you’ve been fully understood and it’s such a boost to your self-esteem. As I said, the Grazers are used to having a city full of international students who speak varying levels of German and they’ve usually very patient with non-natives!
I plan to make more blogs about my experience in Graz throughout the year, which I’ll post here, but in the meantime, I post more regularly on Instagram (@blaiseoskar) if you want to see some photos of my time in Graz.
Servas, servus, bis bald, and until next,