I arrived in Graz last Sunday and the first week has gone by unbelievably quickly. From moving in to my new apartment, meeting my roommates, making new friends, getting acquainted with a new city and university, and of course finding time for some quintessentially Austrian activities, it is no wonder that the first week of my exchange has flown by. I want to share some of my first impressions of Graz, the University of Graz, and Austria.
Graz is the second largest city in Austria and the capital of the province of Styria and it is absolutely beautiful. Since it is located in the southeastern most part of Austria, it is much warmer and sunnier than the rest of the country. It has been in the mid-20s and sunny since I arrived here. The historic city is well preserved, as Graz emerged relatively unscathed from the two World Wars. The city has a population of approximately 40,000 students, which gives Graz a certain buzz that other middle-sized cities lack. Here are some pictures of my new city:
My first week in Graz consisted mainly of orientation at the University of Graz, on everything from course selection, to the international student network, to registration for classes at the athletics facility. (NOTE: Students camp out OVERNIGHT to be first in line for registration for sport classes. That’s right, no online registration. Luckily for me, my roommate grabbed me a number, and I successfully registered for a Yoga class taught in German!). Overall, the adjustment to my new university has gone very smoothly, and this is in large part due to the wonderful organization of the Office for International Relations at Graz. They really go out of their way to ensure a smooth transition for international students, which can be especially tricky considering the language barrier that many, including myself, face. I am really looking forward to classes starting next Monday, and on getting more acquainted with my new school.
Finally, time to talk about some of the typically Austrian things I have encountered in my first week here! I was lucky enough to arrive in Graz on the last day of Aufsteiren, the largest festival of the year, which essentially celebrates all things Styrian. My mentor (the University of Graz has a wonderful system for international students, where you are paired up with an Austrian student who picks you up from the airport and helps you navigate the bureaucracy of both the city and the university) picked me up from the airport last Sunday dressed in traditional Austrian clothes. The entire city was full of Austrians dressed in lederhosen and dirndls. Aufsteiren basically involves traditional Austrian clothes, music, food, and of course drinking! I can’t imagine a better way to start off an exchange than the chance to experience one of the liveliest weekends of the year.
On Saturday, I had the chance to experience another typically Austrian activity: hiking up mountains! A bunch of international students and Austrian mentors organized a day of hiking at Bärenschützklamm, about 40 minutes outside of Graz. The hike was brutal (8 hours long!), but offered some spectacular views of the surrounding country. I will let the pictures speak for themselves…