When I started tour guiding, I was living the best 20 something life in Munich, Germany, working as a receptionist at the best hostel in town and drinking way too much beer.
How it all began
I remember a good friend came up to me one day and literally asked me why I was not a tour guide yet. It started with a joke, and before I even knew it, I was wearing a badge and guiding groups from the whole world around castles, mountains and beer halls.
When life brought me to Vienna, I soon realized that I was missing tour guiding more than one could think. The fact that you do not need a state license to be a guide in Germany definitely makes the profession more accessible to everyone who is up to the task. Of course, each German federal state and city offers specific classes and exams for local guides, but none of these are mandatory in order to be allowed to guide.
In Vienna, well, that’s a whole different story. One does not simply become a guide in Austria!
Before you even start learning, you should start researching, as there are different schools that offer classes for tour guides.
Goodbye weekends, hello knowledge!
After figuring out your ambitions and finding a school in your region, next step is figuring out what program works best for your schedule. There are mainly two options. You can either go for the intensive course and attend classes every weekday from 9am-4pm for 8 months or take it easy and enroll for the 2-year-course which will go on for 4 semesters. The long course sounds scary, however it is the perfect option for anyone who would like to attend evening classes, while still having a fulltime job.
I impulsively went for the quick and painful way, as I could just not wait to be a tour guide again.
I remember the first day of school as it was yesterday. I remember sitting in a class of around 20 people from different backgrounds, introducing myself, listening to everything we were supposed to learn in just about a year. I remember teachers warning us about the absolute loss of our social life within the next couple of months. I remember not taking them seriously.
It didn’t take me too long to realize that everything people had warned me about was the absolute truth.
Movie nights turned into reading nights, Sunday walks turned into museum visits, time off turned into a utopia.
History, geography, marketing, law, art history, culture, music history, biographies, architecture, city landscaping and traffic rules turned into my daily bread. Not even six months in, the Hapsburg family tree was hanging on my bathroom door – you know, every minute counts!
The final countdown
So how do you really become a tour guide?
After finishing classes and diving into museums and libraries, a candidate must successfully pass three exams.
The first one is a written test about marketing, law and finances in Vienna. It might be the most feared test of all, though it is one of the most important steps. In fact, most tour guides in Austria operate as freelancers, therefore it is fundamental for us to know the laws on our sides and the financial implications we’ll encounter in our business life.
The second examination is as hard as fundamental. Within one hour of oral exam, the candidate’s knowledge about Austrian history, geography, customs, touristic attractions and politics is meticulously tested by a commission. One can be showed a picture of a painting, as well as asked about a specific century in art or history.
On the final examination day, it is up to the future tour guide to gather all the strength, talent and patience in this world, take a deep breath, and jump on a bus with an unknown destination. The candidate will receive a destination from the examinators and direct the bus driver through traffic, while talking about things one can see on the route. All this, obviously, in different languages.
After surviving the bus journey, the commission will assign another destination to be reached, this time by foot. It is after the walking tour, that the examinators will “spontaneously” choose a museum, where to continue the tour.
Was it worth it?
It is almost impossible to put down to words the joy, relief and excitement felt in the moment you are told that you made it. After so many nights spent over books, so many days torturing friends and family with what we’ve learned, it all came to an end.
Was it worth it? Yes, yes, yes. The quality of your work is proofed by the clients’ reactions – each smile, word and handshake confirm day after day that this was the right thing to do. At the end of the day, it is not about us guides, but it is all about our guests, our customers, who trust us so much to spend a day of their precious holidays with us.
After so much effort and work, you are in, you are an Austria Guide. But this is not the end, it is just a new beginning. Now go out there and keep on learning, it will all pay off … and may Mozart be with you!
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