First days in Vienna

Trip Start Sep 09, 2006
Trip End Dec 23, 2006

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Flag of Austria  ,
Tuesday, September 12, 2006

As a disclaimer to this entry, I haven't gotten a chance to take many pictures yet, as I have been very busy getting situated. I will make sure to provide a good number of pictures with the next entry.

I arrived in Vienna at about 2:00 p.m. local time, which is 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. The airport was fairly easy to navigate through and I got down to baggage claim to pick up my bags. This was a fairly easy process as the bags came out within a few minutes.

Most of the exchange students have buddies in Austria who meet them at the airport and help them get to their dorm. My buddy had some sort of other commitment. So she explained to me how to get a taxi, but wasn't able to pick me up. This meant that I was on my own to get from the airport to my dorm and get situated! This seems like it would be pretty hard considering I don't know any German and its my first time in the country.

The next challenge was to carry my two huge bags and my backpack from the baggage claim to a taxi stand a little ways away. This proved to be pretty hard and instead of carrying the bags, I mostly dragged them across the airport to the taxi stand near the street.

I found a taxi attendant who spoke English, and told him where my dorm was located. He told me that the fair was about 30 euros. The exchange rate right now is about .78 euros to one dollar. This means that the taxi fair cost me about $40 with tip. The taxi ride went fine it was nice to see some of Austria on the 45 minute cab ride to my dorm.

Vienna doesn't have any huge mountains in the immediate vicinity, despite the fact that mountains make up most of Austria. When my plane was landing in Vienna, I was able to see the huge snowcapped mountains in the distance that surround towns such as Innsbruk, a place that I hope to get to very soon. In Vienna, there are some gently rolling foothills and I am pretty sure that you can see the mountains from some point in the City, but I haven't gotten a chance to take a look yet.

The part of the city that I saw on the way to my dorm looked fairly modern and there was a lot of construction going on. I later found out that "downtown" is the older part of the city that looks like a traditional European city, and the area you would associate with the heart of Vienna.

I was dropped off in front of my dorm, a building that is about 15 stories tall. This is fairly big for a building in Vienna, and so most of the rooms have a pretty good view of the city. I don't have a picture of my dorm for this entry, but I will make sure to put one in for the next one.

I dragged my two very heavy bags into the main entrance of the dorm and found some students talking in the main lobby area. They were speaking in German, but were able to speak English when I asked them how to get the key to my dorm. I found out eventually that the office where I was supposed to get my key was closed since it was a Sunday, and my buddy should have picked up my key for me. I then called my buddies cell-phone from a payphone using the European currency that I had gotten at home. (Thanks Henry). Diane, answered the phone and I found out from her that she had not gotten a chance to pick up my key! It wasn't looking good for my first night in Vienna.
Fortunately, I was able to get in contact from a friend from Babson who had flown into Vienna earlier that day. His buddy was able to pick up his key, so he offered that I sleep in his room for the night.

After I met up with him and his buddy from Austria, I dropped my bags off in his room and we spent the rest of the afternoon doing a little sightseeing in Austria. Ufortunately, I didn't bring my camera a long as I wanted to try and see the city a little bit without my big camera and just relax. Nick's buddy, Agnus, took us on the subway/bus system around some of the city. When taking the public transportation you are supposed to pay by swiping a prepaid card in a machine either on the subway/bus or at the stop. Agnus explained to us that they rarely check if you have paid or not and consequently she has not bought a ticket her whole life and has only gotten two tickets of 62 euros so far. We followed her and stepped on the bus without paying, although I think we might buy a pass in the next few days.

Agnus took us to the top of a hill surrounding Vienna where we were able to see the whole city and the landscape around it. The hillside that we were on was on the North side of Vienna and faced south.

After that we went to a restaurant close to where we looked out over the city and got some good Austrian food. We then took the public transportation back to the dorm where we were promptly went to bed. I had been up for about 36 hours before I got some decent sleep for the first time.

In the morning I got my room key and moved into my room. I have a single room that is quite big. It's a little bigger then a single room at Babson. (Pictures will be provided soon) The single has a small common room and a bathroom, shared with another single room attached. I met Mike, the guy who lives in the other single later that day and he is from England, but currently living in Whales. He goes to the Manchester business school and is on the soccer team there. We decided that we would go shopping the next day for food since we did not have a meal plan and we were responsible for cooking our own meals or going out to get them. We still have yet to get to the supermarket, but hopefully it will be done in the next few days. Nick and I have been grabbing food at stands and going to the occasional restaurant so far in the trip.

After getting settled in, Agnus showed us how to get from our dorm to the school. It is a pretty easy process that involves a short bus trip and a subway ride. The whole thing takes about 10 minutes at the most. We were supposed to meet in a big lecture hall for an orientation program as well as a German class.

As soon as we got into the lecture hall, we were greeted with a huge line that started at the door and extended to a desk in the middle of the room where two ladies were sitting. They were holding a huge checklist of names, and were trying to take attendance by checking everyone's name off in the line. This was a painstaking process in that there were people from all over the world with quite unique names, and the two ladies were having a hard time finding each one on the list. It became apparent quickly that Austrians are very lade back and not very efficient. They could easily have passed the list around the room once everybody was seated and have the students find their own names. But instead they insisted on doing it this way. Since there are 500 kids in the program, this whole process of checking in took about 45 minutes. During this time though, we were able to meet kids that were in the program. There were a lot of people from the US and then a bunch more from around Europe. We met a lot of kids from Bentley college in Boston as well as Oregon state. I talked about lacrosse for a while with a kid who plays rugby for Middlebury. He knows a lot of the kids on the lacrosse team at Middlebury, and 3 of them are from Old Greenwich.

All of the students were given a folder with either a pink sheet or a green sheet inside of it. Nick and I noticed that most of the Americans were getting the pink sheet, but we got a green sheet for some reason. We were told that the color of our sheet told us what orientation group we were in for the different orientation programs in the next two weeks. When we divided up into our groups, we went to the green side where everybody was talking German. A tour guide came over and started talking to everyone in German. Of course Nick and I had no clue what the guide was saying, and we followed the tour for a few minutes trying to pick up on the little German we knew. After a few minutes, we decided that it was hopeless and we dropped off of the tour to give ourselves a self guided tour.

As we were walking around, we found and American tour group and we heard them talking about the process of getting the College ID cards. This was not supposed to be done until the next day, but we decided based on how the check-in process went that it would be beneficial to try and get the ID cards that day before the rest of the students went. So we started going around trying to find out how to get the cards. Needless to say, the whole process took us about 2 hours. We kept getting sent downstairs to do something, then upstairs to do the next step. I can't imagine doing everything with a huge line like the Kids would have to the next day. It became clear that I wasn't going to enroll in an Organizational Behavior or Efficiency class at the school.

After we finally got our ID cards, it was time to take a German language test to figure out which German level to be put in for the Orientation. Nick and I decided that were going to be put in the lowest level anyway, so a few other Americans and us figured out that we didn't have to take the test. Instead we took the subway down to some stores to work on getting a cell-phone. Until that point, we had purchased a calling card in order to call home. The calling cards were the cheapest way to call the US, but we needed a cell phone for people to reach us in Europe and to have just in case. We went to a few stores and decided that the best deal was to buy a prepaid phone for about $50 and then buy minutes every month. The deal we got was that if you buy $20 a month in minutes then you get 9 cents a minute for calls to Austria, with a little more for calls to the rest of Europe. Calling the US was about $.75 a minute.

Nick and I got a bite to eat on the street and then went back to the school for our first German class at 2:30. One question you might be having at this point is how we were able to make it around the city and get food without knowing any German. Well its actually not that hard. Most people speak at least a little English, and you don't need that much verbal communication to order a sandwich. Pointing always works the best, and then you give the attendant your money, and they give you back the appropriate change. I slowly began to pick up on the language as we heard people speaking it and also from our German class. Hopefully by the End of the semester, I will know enough German to have a conversation with someone.

The German class was pretty easy, and we met a lot of other American students in the class. However, we experienced another Austrian Inefficiency in the way the professors told al 500 students what German class they were in. You would think the best way would be to post a list of names in a few places and have the students look to see where to go. This whole process would take roughly 5 minutes. But instead, a professor called out all 500 names one by one telling each student what class to report to.

We have to take the class for 2 hours a day for the next two weeks. Hopefully we will be pretty good by the end of it!

Monday night, we were told that was everyone was going to a nightclub where there would be free drinks for the first hour. Getting there was sort of a challenge in that the group of students I was with went the wrong way on the subway the first time, but we eventually made it there. The club was jam packed and it was a little hard to move around at first. Eventually after the free drinks went away though, the place cleared out a little bit and it was fun meeting and talking to people from around Europe and the US. I met a lot of kids from Oregon State in the US, and then Europeans from France, Norway, England, Sweden, Belgium, Spain, and more! I also met my Austrian buddy and her best friend who goes to school In England. We talked for a while and she tried to help me with some issues I might have in Austria. The last subway on Monday nights runs at 12:30, so we of course caught the 12:29 subway back to our dorm.

The next morning was another orientation program that we had to go to that dealt with getting your student ID cards, the process we had already done. It also talked about the different trips that the school offered. I decided to sign up for a ski trip that is in Early December and goes for 4 days to a mountain in Austria about 5 hours away. The mountain is guaranteed to have good snow apparently since it is on a glacier and has snow year round. After the orientation program was done, Nick and I got some lunch and then had to head to our German class which went until dinner.

Everyone in the dorm decided to take it easy that night considering that we were up until about 2pm the previous night and no one had gotten that much sleep. I got a chance to organize my room better, meet some more people in the dorm, and also get some email done on my computer which I finally had internet access to. This was another process that took a while to do, and I had to drop my computer off the previous day so that they could install some software on in order to give me internet access.

In summary the first two days were very interesting and quite fun. I feel like I am still settling in here, but it is good to have my feet on the ground. Hopefully in the next few weeks, I can start to explore the Austrian Culture, do some sightseeing, and take some pictures. There is a week break between when our orientation program stops and when classes begin. So Nick and I are trying to figure out what to do for that week. It looks like we might go explore some of the cities in Western Austria, or go up to Munich for Oktoberfest, which happens to be at the end of September when we have our week break. Train tickets are about 20-40 euros each way to most places in Europe, with a discount card, so its not hard to get around. I am sure that we will do some traveling a good deal during the semester.
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