My exchange semester in Vienna

Written by | Exchange, Opinion, Uncategorized

Everything started as all good adventures do, from below. Low self-esteem, low temperatures, few of everything else. I arrived in Vienna without really being there. I read a book by Stefan Zweig on the plane that told the story of the Viennese bohemian life, but I was not there. In the book, I mean.

I landed, and it wasn’t snowing yet. As the snow began to fall, it filled the streets, painted the trees, and Vienna painted me with her own colors. It’s a molding process, sculpture, it’s art the way we let ourselves fall, free of prejudice in a land that becomes our own.

The first month was the loneliest. It was necessary. I was trying to run away from the routine of being stuck to myself and not allowing any additions yet. I went to almost all the cafés, where I would spend hours snuggled by the many books that were my company in this first month. I made myself get out of the house, walking in the cold, my nose frozen and watching, with dry eyes, “Vienna, so large, draped in snow, dressed by the night”. I went to every museum, the palaces, the giant wheel.

In the second month, the Erasmus activities started. This was when I got out of my cocoon. I had to. There were infinite opportunities in people.

In the beginning everything seems to be so fake, so superficial. We are all afraid of giving too much and that the others will take away parts of us to the other side of the world. We are less here.

But Time takes everything away and gives us everything. As the smiles curve into real, true lines, as the alcohol sets us free, we create tailor-made friendships.

The classes at college start and we feel useful, we feel we have one more reason to be here. There is a certain despair while you are looking for something, when what you find is so out of your world. When it seems that the molds in which you were born are not applicable in this world anymore. This is the actual challenge of this experience: be our own mold, adapt it without lying to ourselves.

Sometimes I ask myself what the recipe for a lasting connection is. There are some that we solely exchange words without ever really talking. In this, nothing stays, we don’t retain any personality. We are lucky, though, for the people who stay. They compensate it all.

I met most of the people in my group of friends, the ones who stayed until the end, in Prague. A guy I met asked me if I was interested on going to Prague with him and some Erasmus people he had met before, and I said yes, without thinking twice. And this was the best group I could have asked for. We were always together conquering Vienna and Europe. The feeling of belonging, of possession. We belong with each other and we possess the world.

After some parties, walks and trips the plainness emerges in people and it seems we cease to think, and we start to just be. Friendship arises.

It is so simple: being. We are in the age of simple things, and this is where we should remain. We should keep the happiness we have right now, in our simplicity.

My favorite nights were the ones under the moon in the Donau Kanal, with wine, seated on the floor until I couldn’t feel my back. It is when there are no distractions from people. It’s just us and the river. And the river flows. We should stay a little longer there.

In the last days we realize that we left too much evidence. We are screwed. The city keeps all our moments, the world, the ecosystem we created there. We already speak the language, we live there. Permanently. And now we have to go back?

Yes, we are homesick. However, what if we stayed? These mixed feelings split our souls.

On my last day I walked, feeling the city for the last time. The notion of “last” was terrifying. The same way that when I got here I was not actually here, now it is the same. Half of me went back to Portugal.

I ate Apfelstrudel in Café Hawelka. In the evening I went to Prater. I climbed to the high swings from where one could see the whole city. The park lights allied to the clarity of the full moon. When we came down, to the Earth, we came back to reality. This is the part for which no one is ready: goodbyes.

There is a knot in your throat, a weight in your chest when in the last hugs everything we achieved and will never, ever lose is illuminated by the alliance of the lights.

Geography can be a bitch, but a part of all of us stay in Vienna, in this second semester of 2018.

Today I woke up without land below my feet. I am drifting in this train. What is the next stop? Is it really “home”?



Isabel Monjardino

Isabel is an undergraduate student taking the Bachelor’s degree in Management. She is the Head of the Cultural Department of NOVA SU. You can find more about her on her website


Last modified: 17/09/2018