How to Survive as an Exchange Student in Austria

Spending some of your student life as a foreign exchange student is probably just about the best thing you can do as far as your CV is concerned, and Austria is a wonderful choice of a destination.  Being removed from your familiar environment will broaden your horizons and will help you to develop as a person too.  If you find that you love the Austrian culture and lifestyle during your exchange, you might even decide to relocate there for good when your studies are complete.

Although studying abroad is undoubtedly an exciting and challenging experience, it can also be a test of your survival skills in the midst of so much unfamiliarity.  This article walks you through what to expect during your exchange visit to Austria and gives tips on how you can survive each new experience. 

Go Equipped

Austria has pretty much everything.  There are historic cities to explore including charming Salzburg and sophisticated Vienna, and the wonderful mountainous areas of Tirol and Innsbruck.  Austrian citizens are renowned for ‘Gemutlichkeit’ – their way of enjoying art, music and a fabulous coffee house culture.  They’re also passionate sports fans and skiing goes on all year round.

It will certainly help you to settle in if you do some research into the country before you go, and taking a few skiing lessons on a dry ski slope would also be a good idea if you can’t ski already.  Another popular pastime is hiking so it’s a good idea to invest in a decent pair of comfortable walking boots and some suitable all-weather clothing.

Winters are very cold and summers pleasantly temperate so make sure you take a suitable supply of clothes with you according to what time of year you will be living there.

It’s perfectly normal to feel homesick when you’re studying abroad away from your friends and family for a long period of time.  If it’s not practical to phone home regularly, keep in touch by text, email or Skype.  Remember that your family will be missing you too, and all your friends will probably be extremely envious of the opportunity you have.

Learn the Language

The official language spoken in Austria is High German and each different region has its own dialect.  You may also encounter Hungarian, Turkish, Serbian, Slovene and Croatian.  It really is essential that you have a basic working knowledge of German before you begin your exchange as this will help you to integrate with your host family more easily and also demonstrates your willingness to embrace their culture.

Although the majority of Austrians speak good English, you’ll enjoy your experience much more if you make the effort to speak their language, and you’ll quickly become more fluent if you speak German every day.

Embracing Family Values

Austrians value their environment and expect cleanliness, punctuality and good manners.  It’s really important to your survival that you respect these values and behave accordingly during your visit so that you don’t offend your host family.

It’s usual for families to eat together when possible.  They enjoy relaxed informal conversations about current affairs and show an interest in what others have done with their day.  Be prepared to join in; don’t just disappear to your room as soon as the meal is finished as this would be considered rather rude and antisocial.

Rather than sitting in front of the TV every evening, Austrians enjoy listening to music, playing an instrument or attending concerts.  If you can already play an instrument, by all means share this with your hosts, and if you can’t, express an interest in learning.

Roughly one fifth of Austrians actually live in Vienna with the remainder living in small suburban communities.  A patriarchal and somewhat authoritarian family ethic is the norm, so don’t expect the kids to be running wild.

Student Life

The majority of students hosted in Austria will go to traditional public Austrian High Schools or colleges.  Days begin at 8am and usually end at 2pm or 4pm.  This might sound great at first, but some schools have classes on Saturday mornings too.  The grade of class you are placed in will partially depend on your proficiency in German.

Student life in Austria is pretty laid back outside of school and college hours.  You’ll find that you’re allocated a pretty big slice of free time, although you’ll also be given a substantial amount of homework to do.  Students visit each others homes, go to the cinema or meet up to chat and relax in one of the local cafes. 

You should note that much of students' free time is spent enjoying family life and its associated activities.  It’s not usual for groups of students to go out clubbing and drinking until the early hours.

Unfortunately, the cost of living in Austria is high in comparison to other European countries and the US, and you might want to consider ways of earning extra spending money in between studying.

Eating In and Out

The Austrian diet is typically a healthy and balanced one, albeit with its fair share of rich pastries thrown in.  The most commonly available meat is pork and favorite local specialties include different types of pork sausages and cheese. Don’t worry if you’re veggie or vegan; Austrian menus include plenty of suitable options including veggie soups and salads.

Although junk food is available, Austrian families generally enjoy eating together and home-cooked healthy food is preferred.  If you’re prone to snacking and fridge-raiding, you’ll be disappointed as this behavior is not encouraged or approved of/

To avoid embarrassment and potential hunger pangs, make sure you tell your host before she prepares the family meal if you have any food allergies or there are certain things you simply will not eat.

In Conclusion

If you choose to spend your student exchange in the beautiful country of Austria, you will not be disappointed in all it has to offer.  Your exchange days will be something that you will remember fondly for the rest of your life. 

By researching Austrian culture and geography before you go and making the effort to prepare yourself by learning the language, you’ll be half way to surviving the experience.  Embrace the culture of the country, be respectful to your host family and keep in touch with those close to you at home and you won’t just survive, you’ll positively thrive.


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Alison Page

About Alison Page

Alison is a small business owner, freelance writer, author and dressage judge. She has degrees in Equine Science and Business Studies. Read her full story at

Alison Page

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