Studying “Abroad”? About Being a German Psychology Student in Vienna

Studying “Abroad”? About Being a German Psychology Student in Vienna

Schönbrunn Palace

It’s become a cliché: if your Numerus Clausus (your grade from the last years of High School) doesn’t fit, you simply cannot get into a German university to study psychology. So, what are your options? Well, either you find something else or you’ll have to go somewhere else.

And many of us who prefer the latter option choose Austria. 

I mean, how could we not? There is this small country right next to ours, in which they speak the same language and where they have no college tuition fees. Plus, they have this wonderful policy that your high school grades do not count. You’ll just have to take a test in your field of interest and score off better than the three people sitting next to you and that’s it: you’re in. And that’s not all: after preparing for the test you even know what you signed up for.

I really love this policy. It’s more than fair and better than being judged by what you achieved during your teenage years where you think you know everything but mostly know nothing (#insertObviousGameofThronesReference).

Vienna’s 1st district

There are so many German psychology students here. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like I am in a different country. But then, I simply need to go to a supermarket to remember. Same language? Not quite. At first, I didn’t even know what I was ordering in some restaurants. There were so many foods with fancy names. But they weren’t fancy. They were normal everyday vegetables (for all German speaking people who don’t know what I mean: Melanzi, Paradaiser and Karfiol are nothing more than Auberginen, Tomaten and Blumenkohl). There are different expressions, greetings and farewells, different ways to talk about furniture, food, months (my birthday is in January which is called “Jänner“ here instead of “Januar“) and most importantly: shopping bags! (For the Germans: Never say „Tüte“. Just don’t. Always use the word „Sackerl“, no matter how weird it sounds when you say it for the first time)

I could go on and on about linguistical nuances but I’ll spare you.

What else was unexpected? I’ve never considered myself to be rude but it turns out that there are many subtleties that a German will easily miss but that will never go unnoticed by an Austrian. They are usually very polite and like their courtesies and titles. Things will mostly turn out fine as they will simply excuse your rudeness as “Germanness“. And, fortunately, it won’t matter all too much to your fellow students (I mean most of them are German anyway…and the others are already used to it because of all the Germans). But if you are ever in a formal situation (work, at school with a professor etc.), better choose the politest way to deal with it in order to avoid any kind of awkwardness.

As Vienna is the birthplace of psychoanalysis, of Freud and of all his theories, you might expect that the city has a lot to offer in that respect. That you will learn everything about Freud at school, that there is a huge museum where you can find out all about the rich history of psychology. If you do so, you’re mistaken. To not quote Nietzsche: Freud is dead. And Vienna doesn’t have many memorabilia of him left. You may hear Freud’s name in some casual accessory sentences but he has little to do with nowadays psychology and the museum is so small, you’re surprised that they can fit in any history at all (all of the interesting stuff has actually been moved to London where he spent the last years of his life due to the German occupation). And since the museum used to be his former home, you’ll also be surprised to find out that apparently, size didn’t matter that much to Freud after all…

So yeah. There were many things that took me by surprise and many things that took me some time to get used to. But don’t get me wrong, I do like it here. Austria has a lot of merits: Austrians have this sort of easy-goingness which is quite comfortable and infectious. They always take their time, there is always room for a coffee break, they never haste. And did you know that they get salary 14 times a year instead of 12? It’s called Christmas and vacation money but it’s in essence twice a year another pay-day on top of your usual salary (only with less taxes so it is even more).

And the wine… It is amazing. Had a long day at work or at university? Just enjoy 1/8 of glass of Grüner Veltliner or a Spritzer at the next “Heurigen“ and everything is forgotten. You can taste that Austrians take their wine as seriously as their coffee.

View from St. Stephens’s Cathedral

Not to mention cultural affairs: If you’re interested in Art, Theatre, Opera, Museums – Vienna has such a variety of activities to offer that there is always something for everyone.

Insider Tip: during the summer time the Vienna opera house broadcasts its operas live outside of the building. You can just prepare a small picknick, take a seat in front of the opera house and enjoy the show for free.

It never gets boring here.

To sum this all up: yes, Austria is (sort of) “abroad“ from Germany. There are clear differences in language. They have a different culture with distinctive habits and it is another country with its own unique history. Even though there are a lot of Germans here. So for anyone who is thinking of moving here, of doing a semester abroad or whole degree (especially from Germany but also from everywhere else): do not underestimate cultural nuances, always be open to learn of them/from them/about them, be wise but also have fun and enjoy the experience.

It is worth it. 

Author: Paulina Hiersch
Study Abroad Responsible (EFPSA)
Student at Vienna University, Austria | email:

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