My choice of Antwerp as my Erasmus destination which was – admittedly – a random matter, turned out to be just right for me as it exceeded all my expectations and certainly varies from my daily routine in my hometown Vienna.
Student life in Antwerp is – in many respects – pretty similar to Vienna. We share a general understanding of a good night out as we both enjoy drinking, dancing and music and we also have a thing for shopping, hanging out, going to the movies and gossiping. Let’s say we have the typical student attitude towards life and our surrounding in common. However the way students in Antwerp organize and how they create their own atmosphere that fits perfectly with the spirit of this city, totally differs from everyday study life in Vienna.
First and foremost it is a matter of dimensions. Although Antwerp and Vienna both are junctions of the academic and cultural scene and attract students from all over the country, the University of Vienna is much bigger and in a way more impersonal than the Stadscampus here. The smaller scale of Antwerp’s University provides a much friendlier and personal student environment. Everybody literally knows everybody. You all attend the same parties you are next-door neighbors, you all participate in regular student activities and most of you are involved in one of the many student clubs. The University of Vienna on the other hand, is just too large to maintain such a cozy, intimate atmosphere. Back there you would be just a number to most of your professors, who would probably not even recognize you on the street, even if you attended their class about a minute ago. You would all have you individual circle of close friends kept separately from you study life.
Apart from that, Vienna applies a totally different grading system. Instead of assigning points from zero to twenty, we get marks from 1 to 5 – 1 meaning the best and 5 indicating a failure. In case of a failure Austrian students are able to retake an exam three times before being kicked out of university.
Moving on to the nightlife, Antwerp’s city structure offers a much greater deal of fashionable student bars and clubs, that are being frequented from lunchtime until late at night (the bars not the clubs). In Vienna most students stick to the rule “Kein Bier vor vier” meaning “no beer before four o’clock”, whereas here beer also embodies the perfect thirst quencher during lunchtime. And although beer is mostly served in half liters back home, the chances of feeling tipsy after a cute little beer in Antwerp however are far more likely due to the cheeky alcohol levels. With regards to the late night food supply Viennese students rely on McDonald’s, kebab and ‘Würschtlstände’ (wurst stands) while Antwerp is equipped with frituurs and a great number of nightshops. Besides that, it is extraordinary that all the great parties take place during the week, especially on Thursdays, rather than on weekends like in Vienna, because apparently most of the Belgian students go home on Fridays.
Apart from the better weather conditions in Vienna and sometimes strange opening hours, university life here in Antwerp has a hell of a lot to offer and differs greatly from the Viennese student environment.