A guest post by Jenny Franco, an engineering master's student at Carinthia University of Applied Sciences in Austria.
Have you ever gotten lost in your thought, wondering what you want to do with your life, picturing what it would be like to live in another country?
Don’t get me wrong, I love coming from a small city in Colombia, but deep inside I knew there were so many things I could discover and learn from.
If you have similar thoughts, then we have something in common and hopefully, as you continue reading how I ended up in the small but amazing city of Villach in Austria, you pick up some helpful and inspiring tips for your own study abroad journey.
My life before studying abroad in Austria
As I mentioned, I was born in Colombia. I lived in California in the USA with my family for 10 years because my parents wanted to seek out the so-called “American dream”. Eventually, my mother decided that the best option for us to return to Colombia, so at the age of 14, my brother, mother and I returned to Colombia, where I finished high school and did my bachelors.
In Colombia, I lived with my parents and younger brother. We are a middle-class family - my father worked in construction for many years and mother is an English teacher. Growing up, my brother and I had the necessary things and a little more, but we knew that for our parents to pay our tuition fees and accommodation costs abroad was out of the question.
Of course, we always have their support no matter how big our dreams are, and for us that is more than enough. For this reason, I decided to do my bachelor’s in environmental engineering in Colombia (keeping in mind that my goal at this point was to do my masters in another country).
For some years during and after my studies, I worked as an English teacher (since English is my mother tongue). It was a great job to save money. During this time, I began researching the application processes, accommodation options, and legal documentation requirements of different countries, as well as the opportunities to study engineering (specifically environmental and geographic information systems).
By the end of this search, I had narrowed it down to two countries - Austria and Germany.
Then the big question was how was I actually going to get to these countries? For me, the only option was to work as an Au-Pair to continue saving and finally have that experience abroad.
Why I chose Austria to study environmental engineering
From a career point of view, I needed a country where I had the chance to combine my environmental engineering bachelors with a master's in geoinformatics. After talking to my colleagues and teachers I realized how much Austria had to offer.
In general, Austria offers many opportunities for engineering students. There are student jobs and internships available at many companies, whether smaller startups or bigger established companies. More and more of these companies are using drones and remote sensing for agriculture and land use management, which provides fantastic opportunities to grow and put into practice everything we are studying.
There are also many cities, such as Salzburg, that have a strong engineering community, with frequent seminars and summer schools.
Another reason Austria makes a great study abroad country for engineering students (or any student for that matter) is how central the country is within Europe, making it possible to travel to neighboring countries in your down time.
Austria has offered me so many opportunities that leaving this beautiful country will not be easy.
Life as an international student in Austria
I arrived in the city of Villach in September 2019. I was so nervous and excited, just a whirlwind of emotions!
I had met some other Latin American students through Facebook and mutual friends.
I had also found an apartment but couldn’t move in the same day I arrived because the girl who was there had not moved out yet. So, I stayed with a Mexican friend I met through the Latin group on Facebook. I stayed at her house almost until the end of the month. Even though she is the sweetest and kindest person, I was so eager to move into my own beautiful and very cheap (250 euros) apartment. It was the first time I had lived by myself so I was excited to start this experience.
The city is quite small but so comfortable to get around - you can get to all the stories, supermarkets, parks and rivers by just walking.
I managed to get myself a bicycle which I restored, and is my main transportation, taking only 13 minutes to the university. Going to the lake by bike is around 30 min, which is totally worth it as it’s the spot to gather during summer to sunbath, play some beach volley, talk with friends, and meet more students.
Also, I found a part time job at a restaurant. It’s only on weekends which is great as it doesn’t interrupt my classes during the week. What’s more, the prices in Villach aren’t crazy. With this salary I survive, pay rent, food, phone bill, debts back home and have enough to go out with my friends and enjoy student life.
Villach has felt like my home since I arrived. The university has so many other international students so it never feels uncomfortable to speak English. The people from Villach are so kind, usually they know that you are a student and never treat you differently. There are so many places to travel to, filled with rich culture and history. Villach is a great place to call home, to study and work and enjoy life.
My top tip: Be patient during the application process
Patience is key if you want to travel abroad for studies.
If you get a rejection, then do not stop. With time and patience, everything will work out in the end.
Once I started as Au-Pair (which is a whole other process) in Klagenfurt, a neighboring city of Villach, I searched for many universities and master programs related to Geoinformatics. During my research I found and applied for five different programs. These applications were six months prior to the actual deadline. In my experience, coming up with the documentation was the hardest thing, but once you have it all sorted, you won’t need to do it again.
My favorite part of applying to study in Austria was the visa process, which was so much simpler than other countries. Depending on your nationality, it can be done once you arrive in Austria and only took two weeks tops, which was far less stressful than doing it in the Austrian embassy back home which usually takes three-to-four months.
Don’t ever give up. The study abroad journey has a lot of ups and downs but believe me - it's more than gratifying when you take those first steps onto the university campus.
About the author
Jenny Franco is a Colombian student currently studying her Master’s in Geoinformatics at Carinthia University of Applied Sciences in Austria. Jenny’s friends would say she’s known for being too active. She goes to the gym everyday, she loves to dance (from salsa to hip hop). As a child she was a gymnast so everywhere she goes there is always a picture of herself on her hands doing some weird pose. The friends she has met in Villach are like her family, so very often they go out for a walk or a small trip on the bike, and most likely always cooking. During summer she is very eager to start playing basketball, volleyball near the lake and some soccer with her friends.