Before I left Sydney all exchange students received an email asking us to let the university know the train number and time that we’ll be arriving, so that someone from their international office could meet us at the station, give us a tour around the town and take us to our accommodation. This gives you some indication how small and organised the Fachhochschule Vorarlberg (University of Applied Sciences Vorarlberg) is. Dornbirn is small town in Vorarlberg, Austria’s westernmost state and also the area that is know to have (lucky for us!) the heaviest dialect of German. I was surprised to find out how little people back in Australia actually know about Austria (“so… do they speak Austrian there?”), and if they did know, they automatically assumed I’d be studying in Vienna along Arnold Schwarzenegger-lookalikes. The distance from Dornbirn to Paris is actually the same as to Vienna – the town is perfectly situated for weekend trips to other countries, and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing. In my first week here, I found myself getting lost whilst jogging and ended up in Switzerland. Likewise, Germany is less that 9km away. Two weekends ago we spent a day hiking in Liechtenstein and enjoyed an amazing view of the Swiss mountains during our picnic.
The university is modern, huge for its small amount of students and beautifully situated at the foot of the mountains. I often find myself getting distracted during class by the breathtaking view from the classroom. The system is quite different to Australia; our timetable is completely different each week, and some weeks we’d only have one subject and finish it in that week. Overall I find the teachers’ and locals’ English to be surprisingly good for such a small town, but sometimes I am thankful that I can understand German (and am slowly getting used to the dialect). I find the course content to be quite practical and technology-focused compared to UTS, it’s hard though to compare the workload since the timetable structure is so different here.
I love the European lifestyle; the food (weekly trips to the market for organic fruit, vegetables and amazing local specialities like strong mountain cheese), how ecologically-minded everyone here is and the Austrian culture.
The nature in this area is breathtaking and it’s a nice change to be able to be a 5-minute bike ride along the river away from university compared to my long CityRail commute in Sydney.
Madeleine Mouton, Visual Communication at Fachhochschule Vorarlberg
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