Country of origin: United Kingdom
Learning and Development Manager, British Gas
Lancaster's Study Abroad scheme meant that Cerys was able to spend the Autumn Term of the final year of her Business studies degree at Austria's top business school, WU Wien (Vienna University of Economics and Business).
She later went on to complete a Masters degree at Maastricht University before joining Centrica's graduate scheme in HR.
I might not have been on exchange for a year, but it certainly felt like a lifetime of unforgettable memories and experiences in the term that I spent in Vienna.
Getting to grips with the system in Austria, especially with the opening hours of public offices and banks, took some getting used to. The University, and in particular the International Buddy Network, provided really insightful and helpful information before I arrived in Vienna, so that I was at ease knowing what to expect.
I chose to participate in an international orientation month in September before starting the academic semester. I felt that this fully introduced me to the culture, the lifestyle and the city while providing an environment in which I could make friends easily before the term started. Even before the semester started, I had been to Graz, Melk and Munich on trips organised by the Buddy Network.
The international exchange system at Wirtschaftsuniversität Vienna involves approximately 600 students from institutions in many countries. My closest friends were American, German, Canadian, Belgian, Danish, Austrian and Czech – to name just a few.
Being immersed in a completely international culture encouraged me to learn so much about different people, but also being surrounded by outgoing and similar-minded people was a great opportunity for new and exciting experiences. The Austrian housing organisation OeAD is a simple way of finding accommodation with other international students before arriving in Vienna, and the buddy system within the University also pairs you with someone to meet and greet you at the airport with a set of house keys, completely taking away any anxiety of being able to find your way in a new country.
The University is one of the leading business schools and is the top-ranked business school in Austria. Some of the lecturers were names that I recognised from academic papers in England, which demonstrates the high level of teaching.
The education system at Vienna was completely different to England, with smaller discussion classes rather than large lecture theatres. Most of discussion was group-led and presentations to the rest of the class formed a significant proportion of your overall grade. In addition, with between 20% and 30% of the final grade resting upon participation in the classroom, seminars were usually very interactive. The mix of different cultures within the classrooms meant that I was able to learn about the subject within the context of a variety of countries and cultures. The University offered numerous courses to choose from in English, including some that I wouldn’t have been able to study at Lancaster.
I chose to take part in an intensive German course in the first three weeks of term, which I then continued as part of my studies throughout the semester. The intensive course was hugely useful in the first few weeks, when I was still trying to find my feet. Not only did locals really appreciate that I was trying to speak German, but it also made sure I overcame some initial errors such as buying bird feed instead of cereal at the supermarket! The University also had a system in which I was paired up with a native German-speaker, providing opportunities to practise and improve my German.
At the end of my stay in Austria, I felt as though I had spent a lifetime there. My life in Austria was full of opportunities and friends, which I describe as my ‘Vienna-Bubble’. I felt like Vienna was my city and also my home. Friends that I made there have become friendships that will last a lifetime. Since coming back to England, I can see that the experience has led to a real change in my personality. And I have an updated CV that has already led to job offers!
My advice is to ‘choose Vienna’, but I can’t recommend strongly enough that any study abroad is the most insanely, unbelievable opportunity – just go out and get it!
After graduating from Lancaster I started the MSc International Business: Management, Change and Consultancy at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.