Moving to a new place is hard. There’s a lot people expect you to know, but it goes unsaid. To help make things easier for future exchange students in the area, I developed a list of the top eight most valuable things I’ve needed within the first two months of living and studying in and around Vienna:
This is number one on the list because it has saved my — as well as many other exchange student’s — life(ves) in Vienna. Scotty is a public transportation app that lets you know how to get around and the time schedules for trains. It may not sound like a big deal, but when you’re lost and have no idea how to get where you’re going the first couple weeks in the big city, Scotty has your back.
Words cannot express how important it is to have a (fully charged) power bank and an extension cord with you at all times. If you can, buy multiple power banks. My phone always dies at the worst possible times. If you’re an iPhone user, you know how easily our phones lose energy in the cold weather (note: Austria is cold in the winter). The last thing you want is to be exploring an unfamiliar area all alone and your phone runs out of power — speaking from personal experience. Another exchange student I know sometimes carries up to four power banks. At first that seemed crazy, but I learned sicher ist sicher or “better safe than sorry”.
For those who don’t know me, I have an obsession with small backpacks, but only because they are so handy. I normally don’t carry much on me, so a small backpack is more practical. It takes up less room, you look a little less like a tourist, and they are more comfortable. You also learn to only carry what’s necessity, and leave the rest behind at home.
Bargeld is just German for cash. You will run into plenty of situations where credit/debit/bankomat isn’t accepted as a form of currency most times. For example, no bakery will ever take a card. I have asked and every time they reply with a nein. I admit, I need to practice what I preach because I find myself only really carrying cards in my wallet. It may be the American way, but it’s not the Austrian way. The only time a card is 100% necessary is when paying your phone bill online. Don’t be “that person” who pays for a seventy-five cent item on a credit card at the local grocery store (which I am guilty of doing least twice a week).
When you’re a student in/near Vienna, one of the smartest things you can do is buy a train pass for 60 euro. I know that as an exchange student, whenever we buy something over three euro it feels like splurging. You could take the more risky route and do schwarzbahn (riding the train without paying for a ticket), but that’s highly illegal. If you get caught, not only is it embarrassing, there is also a pretty hefty fine.
Keep your school ID on you as well. When they do surprise checks, your train pass is not valid without your ID. Again, there is a fine.
Before I moved to Europe, I just threw random necessities into my jacket pockets and called it a day. This isn’t acceptable while doing your exchange here. Not only will you look unorganized, you’ll feel unorganized. This really isn’t a good feeling when you’re just trying to figure out your new life. I recommend a sturdy wallet, which doesn’t necessarily mean its got to be expensive. I got my wallet in a knock-off store in Salzburg for twelve euro. Get one that has plenty of those card slots, a built-in coin purse, and a pocket for bargeld. You will thank me!
LEO is a German to [insert your language here] translation app. It is not always completely accurate, but it’s a lot better than Google Translate and less frustrating than playing a game of charades with the natives. I know how hard it can be when you want to say something, but don’t know exactly how to say it. LEO understands your struggle and is there to help you learn and use new words.
Whatsapp is basically a free calling/texting app. You absolutely need this because your Austrian friends, classmates and host family will use it. They do not use SMS. I didn’t even know Whatsapp existed until I moved to Europe. Now I use it all the time. It’s a great way to keep in contact with people, especially other exchange students through group chats.
These eight valuable tools should help you transition more smoothly into your exchange in and around Vienna. They may seem simple, but can go a long way to help, especially at the beginning. Viel Glück!