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Kostya Soloviov

SFU Student Undergraduate
Beedie School of Business › Finance | Beedie School of Business › Strategic Analysis
Study Abroad › Exchange

Going abroad gave me the opportunity to meet new people and experience new cultures, all while studying for my degree.
Experience Details
Introduction + Preparation
Previous Experience

I had travelled solo around Europe a lot before this trip, so I felt at home. If you have never been abroad alone, try doing a shorter trip on your own before going. I know some people who struggled to get used to living alone and in a completely different country and culture.

To avoid unwanted anxiety, focus on your needs first - shelter and food take priority. After those are taken care of, I suggest getting to know your fellow exchange students and spending time with them.

Location Research

I chose Vienna for the location, history, and the school. Thanks to Vienna's location in Europe, I visited eight other countries during my stay - the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, Portugal, Great Britain, and Ireland - with reasonable travel times and distances. In continental Europe, the train system allows for convenient and hassle-free travel for short and medium distances. Long-distance travel was taken care of by Ryanair and Easyjet. Vienna's museums, palaces, and other attractions kept me occupied when I wasn't studying or travelling. Vienna is an ancient city and a former imperial capital (Austro-Hungarian Empire), where centuries of history and architecture can be admired just by walks around the city - a highly suggested pastime. Vienna's University of Business and Economics (WU), meanwhile, is a very highly rated undergraduate school with a large alumni network all over Europe and the world.

Financial Preparation

I had solo travelled around Europe a lot before this trip (pre-COVID), so I knew the rough living expenses that I would have. The lack of travel opportunities during COVID meant that I saved money instead of travelling more, allowing me to not worry as much about budgeting during my exchange. Having said that, I strongly advise everyone to keep an Excel spreadsheet to track all their cash flows while abroad - just in case you start overspending.


My trip started in February and finished at the end of July, making packing complicated as I had to include both winter and summer attire. My advice for packing would be to pack light - it's easier to travel with little luggage, and if you really need something, you can always buy it. If you're packing and include an item because of a "what if" thought, the odds are that you're overpacking and don't actually need it.

Travel and Transportation

For intercontinental or long-range travel, flights should be booked as soon as you have your accommodation (though make sure to check flight prices beforehand to avoid expensive and unwelcome surprises). Pro tip - ask your parents if you can use their travel points/rewards to make your flights cheaper. If your parents are repeat airline/alliance customers, you can usually use that to get into nice lounges - regular airport seats suck.

Travel within Europe is cheap and convenient - Ryanair/Easyjet and trains run often and are comfortable and practical. I often get on a regional flight/train without even booking my accommodation as Europe has plenty of cheaper Airbnbs, hostels and hotels available for last-minute booking. I do this because I have a lot of solo-travel experience and have travelled to most European cities. If you're new to travelling, I would avoid doing this.

Within Austria, I suggest taking trains and avoiding flights. Outside of Vienna, OBB - the Austrian national railway operator - is your go-to. A student pass costs about 20-25 euros and gives you 50% off all train trips - domestic and international for an entire year.  Vienna has an excellent public transportation system under the Wiener Linien umbrella that includes trains, buses, and trams. Students can get a semester-long travel permit with Wiener Linien for 75 euros. In general, tickets are not checked, though random checks sometimes occur. I was only checked twice during my semester-long stay, though the fine for riding with no ticket is 100 euros, so it makes sense to spend the 75 for peace of mind.

Preparation Tips for Future Students

Currently, there's no Austrian embassy in Vancouver. The closest embassy in Canada is in Ottawa; there's another one in LA. This makes getting an Austrian student visa very complicated. You have another option: the Austrian government allows Canadian and US citizens to apply for a student visa after arriving in Europe. This is done at the closest embassy to Vienna - the one in Bratislava, Slovakia. The train from Vienna to Bratislava is about 50 minutes and is very cheap. However, to qualify for this loophole, you need to meet several criteria:

  1. Your place of arrival within the EU needs to be in Vienna (the airport).
  2. You must apply before your classes start - preferably within the first week of your stay.

Make sure to research and prepare all your documents in advance to avoid getting caught and not receiving your visa. In my case, I made the mistake of not preparing enough, meaning I had to get creative with my visa situation.

Due to a lack of research, my first mistake was arriving in the EU in Lisbon. As this is not Vienna, this automatically disqualified me from the aforementioned Bratislava visa option. Since I didn't know this, I still applied for a visa after two months in Austria in hopes of not getting kicked out due to overstaying while studying. This didn't affect my travel within the EU - Austria is part of the Schengen border-free zone that includes most of continental Europe, so you can still travel without worrying about being stopped. I flew around for the first 90 days (Canadian citizens get 90 days of visa-free stay every 180 days of the year) without worrying; after that, I used the train system as there are usually no controls when using this method of transport. I knew that when flying out, I would have to present my passport for exit passport control (this isn't a thing in Canada and the US; have your passport ready). I was lucky that my exit airport from the EU was Rome's Fiumicino - a highly automated airport with passport scanners for EU, Canada, US, UK, Australian and Japanese passport holders. This meant that once I was scanned in, nobody checked the total number of days I was in the EU - sparing me a potential fine and further trouble. In hindsight, I was fortunate to avoid fines and other punishments that I put myself at risk of due to a lack of research and preparation. Learn from my mistakes - prepare well in advance. As visa requirements are updated quite often, make sure to check with the embassy for the most updated information before you travel. 

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

WU has two orientation sessions, each one lasting two days. The spring semester orientations happen in the first and last weeks of February, with the semester officially starting on March 1. The orientations provide a fantastic opportunity to meet your fellow exchange students, get your student ID card, and learn about and join some student organizations. I suggest joining the Erasmus Buddy Network (EBN), which organizes cool trips like the annual ski trip to Zell am See. 

Accommodation and Living

I spent my semester staying at OEAD - a company that provides dorms for students all over Vienna. I stayed at the Molkereistrasse location, a very convenient 5 minutes walk from the Vienna University of Economics and Business. I suggest finding accommodation that's as close to your place of study as possible. I had a few friends staying at another location that is 30-40 minutes from the university, making their 9:00 a.m. classes a very painful experience.

In general, you can get to any point within Vienna within 30 minutes using public transport (rush hour times may be a little longer if you have to use the bus or tram. Walking when the weather was nice was my go-to, as Vienna is one of the most beautiful European cities.

Grocery stores are everywhere, so you should have no problems getting food - however, all are small, don't expect Superstore or Costco. Hofer and Lidl were my budget-friendly weekly shopping destinations; I suggest you use these. I would avoid Billa - the higher prices aren't worth the marginally better selection. The Spar chains (Spar, InterSpar, EuroSpar, Gourmet Spar, etc.) have excellent choices and decent prices; however, these are less common, so they aren't as practical for day-to-day grocery shopping.

Day to Day

The day-to-day student life is similar to Vancouver. Classes are generally very short - of the five courses I took, two were one month long, and the other three lasted two months. A semester at WU is about four months (March 1 to mid-to-late June), so having more than three classes at any one time is rare. I know some students who completed their courses within the first two months and spent the rest of the time travelling. Classes don't happen every day - it's rare to have a class every day of the week - and last a few hours per day, so there's always time after class for activities with friends.

Learning and Adaptation

Most, if not all, classes are taught in English. The grading is heavily weighted towards tests, with most exams being around 40% to 60% of your total grade. Some classes also have mandatory homework that will count towards the remaining part of your mark. A class I had had a minimum number of hours required - meaning you had to be in the classroom a certain amount of hours/lectures to pass the course - attendance was checked rigorously. In this particular class, this structure only allowed one missed class before the next miss caused you to automatically fail the course.

Accomplishments and Challenges

In some EU countries, all stores (including grocery) are closed on Sundays. I forgot this the week I moved into the dorm. This resulted in a short starvation before I figured out the local equivalent of Uber Eats (Mjam) and ordered some food. Also, the subway in Vienna only runs until 1:00 a.m. Monday to Thursday, so if you go partying on those days, it's a taxi back to the dorm.

Cultural and Environmental Observations

The Viennese are very proud of their culture, and you will find yourself slowly assimilating - especially if you become friends and spend time with local students.

Social and Extracurricular Activities

Aside from the previously mentioned EBN that arranges student trips, most dorms will have their own group chats where you can meet and arrange activities with fellow students. Outside of the university environment, I joined the local rugby club that played in the Austrian and Czech leagues - they weren't very good and were reluctant to take me on at first due to the short time commitment I represented (one semester).

Wrap Up

The exchange was a fantastic experience. It took quite a bit of planning, and some things went wrong, but I looked at it as all a part of an adventure. It allowed me to see past the negative aspects of some things that went wrong and enjoy my exchange to the fullest. When you go abroad, you have an amazing opportunity to make lifelong friends and memories - you just have to approach everything with an open mind and a smile.

Reflection & Tips

Looking back on it, I'd do it all again in a heartbeat. Going to every social event, travelling with friends, and doing as much as you possibly can is a fantastic experience. I'd just make sure to get the visa this time.

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

The friends and memories I made played a huge role in the fantastic experience I had when on exchange. The material you learn in your classes can also be learned at SFU, but living in the moment and meeting new people has a value all of its own.

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

Aside from the courses I took that contributed to my degree, I expanded my network and learned about potential career opportunities in the EU. One of my finance professors at WU was an alumnus/visiting lecturer who would only teach this one class once a week in the evening. His actual job was as a portfolio manager at a large European multinational asset management firm. I not only learned a lot of theory in his class, but I was also able to establish a personal relationship with him and potentially create a "way in" should I ever wish to work in the EU. 

Advice for Future Students

Just do it - you won't regret it!