I am writing my final post from the Graz airport, about to embark on the twelve hour journey home for the holidays.The last week here has been quite hectic, what with packing, school assignments and saying goodbye to everyone. Waiting in the airport is first time this week that I have had a chance to take the time to reflect on my experience in Austria and on my exchange experience in general. When I first arrived, I had no idea what to expect with my new city and new school. The key to a successful exchange experience in my opinion, is staying open to the newness of everything, and managing and adapting your expectations as you adjust to your new environment.
A few comments about the academic dimension of my exchange
From my experience at the University of Graz (and I imagine this to be the case in other universities), I found the academic standards to be lower than at the University of Toronto. This was especially with regards to the other students, not so much the professors and assignments. This was most likely a function of the high proportion of exchange students and undergraduates in my classes, in contrast to the graduate classes I have taken at UofT that have been mostly a mix of Master’s and PhD students. Other academic adjustments included dealing with a university library with a small proportion of English language books, that in no way match the UofT libraries. Finally, while I thoroughly enjoyed my three classes at UniGraz, there was definitely not an abundance of English-language seminars for me to choose from. In spite of all this, I still feel as though I got a lot out of my exchange. My words of wisdom for other students (undergraduate or graduate), is to not have the same expectations as you have at UofT with your exchange institutions, and to manage your expectations as your exchange progresses.
One of my main motivations for going on exchange in Austria was to improve my German. By far my biggest disappointment was the German language course I took, offered by the language school at UniGraz. The course only met once a week for two hours, and did not match the quality of the German courses I have taken at UofT. Where my German most improved was with my oral comprehension, which has always been my weakest point, and my speaking, through the tandem partner program I participated in. It takes quite a dedication to learn and improve a new language, and in the hectic-ness of my life in Austria, my commitment to improving my German was not as strong as it could have been. Nonetheless, I still feel as though it was a worthwhile experience from the language dimension, and even more so for the cultural experience and friends that I have made in Graz from around the world.
I absolutely loved my time in Austria, for so many different reasons; the new friends, chance to experience a new culture, and the many opportunities to travel are among the top reasons. Academically, my exchange was also satisfying, although it did require some adjustments in comparison to the first year of my Master’s at UofT. If anything, I wish I was here for longer than a semester, since the time passed so quickly. I encourage anyone reading this blog who is considering going on exchange to do so! It is such an enriching and amazing experience, both academically and non-academically.