Final Goodbye to England

I’ve been putting off writing this last entry for a few weeks now. At first I told myself it was because I wanted to relax; get used to being back in the country. Now however, I’ve realised it’s because this is the last chapter in what was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

When I was fourteen I knew without a doubt that I wanted to study overseas. I wanted to travel, experience another culture and make lifelong friends. That is something I can now say I’ve achieved. But with that achievement comes a sense of loss. Because now that I’m home the travel is over, my friends are in another country and the culture I’d come to know and love is a 23-hour plane ride away.

In previous posts I’ve talked about why I chose England, what the differences are, what the university is like and about my travels. What I haven’t mentioned is why England is the number 1 choice for a study abroad experience. So, with my last blog I’ll let you all in on a few things.

My main reason for choosing the United Kingdom was because of the history. I’m a grade A nerd who needed a fix of culture that was over 300 years old (sorry Australia) and that’s exactly what I got. From Westminster palace, to Stonehenge; a Jack the Ripper tour to hundreds of castles. There’s something special about being in a country with so much history. There was always a historical landmark to see or celebration to be a part of. I walked along the same paths as some true historical icons and I’ll always love the UK for giving me that opportunity.

My second reason? It’s. So. Damn. Close. To. Everywhere. I organised a trip to Edinburgh with some friends before I left. These British girls had lived in England their entire life but had never made the 5 hour train trip to Scotland. To an Australian, the concept was ridiculous. A 4 hour plane journey got me to Norway and 5 hours to Greece. As far as a central hub goes, the UK is the perfect place for the prospective travel to base themselves.

Third reason? Weather. Not once did my oh so pale skin fry in the sun in the six months I was living in England. There was rain and clouds for the majority of the time… which is maybe not so great for a gal with frizzy hair, but hey, you get used to it. Even when there was sun and my flatmates were walking around in singlets and shorts (no thongs in sight) I was happily rugged up and exposing none of my pastiness to the sun. PLUS my childhood dream of seeing snow was also fulfilled so really, the UK is a sun/heat averse person’s dream.

The fourth? The people. Yes the brusqueness of Londoners is difficult to adjust to at first but once you get used to it… or move down south like I did, the people of England really are the greatest. Everything is solved by tea (or toaster waffles). Greetings are a ‘you alright?’ and the students are just like being back at home. So, if you want exchange without a huge culture shock… England all the way.

My final reason is purely dedicated to my flatmates. Without them my time in England wouldn’t have been anywhere near as enjoyable. They were there for the fun times and when things got hard. They were there to party or watch a scary movie. They were my second family and without a doubt the number one reason I’ll be returning to the UK as soon as I can. So if your reasons to come to the UK aren’t travel, or weather or history, or even a slightly similar culture – come because I promise the friends you make will be friends you have for a lifetime.

For my final post. Goodbye England.

 

Beautiful Italy – Milan Exchange

Catlin, B. Bachelor of Design (Fashion)

Politecnico di Milano (Italy) (Semester 1, 2017)

I completed my exchange semester in Milan at Politecnico di Milano, Bovisa Campus.  Politecnico have two campuses in Milan – Bovisa and Leonardo. In comparison to QUT Politecnico is very, very different.

Avoiding pigeons at Duomo di Milano

The Bovisa campus is considerably smaller with most classes being in one block only, where they have all the design labs; including but not limited to fashion, knitting, prototype, photography, etc.  I found the facilities were quite limited compared to QUT in most aspects, but they also had facilities that QUT does not have – such as a knitting lab.

 

The classes and how they are run is also extremely different to QUT, being very heavily centred around group work.  This may be due to the limited facilities and surplus of students, however I did not like the dynamic of the classes at all. That being said I also completed some masters subjects which were taught in English and they adopted a much more individual centred approach to the assignments. They are also very strict on attendance, it can sometimes be worth up to 30% of your final grade, which I find unnecessary and not conducive to productivity with some classes being up to 9 hours in length.  The general level of academics that was being taught I didn’t find challenged me at all, and was at a much lower standard to that of QUT.  In general I didn’t learn anything really from the actual classes and found them to be extremely easy – another reason I found the attendance rule so frustrating.

Sunrise from our apartment in Montalbino

Accomodation wise, I personally stayed in an AirBnB with another girl from my class at QUT; we originally weren’t going to stay for the whole trip, however, we were finding it very difficult being so far away and being able to find reliable and affordable accomodation so we decided to just book our apartment through AirBnB for the entirety of our semester.

 

This worked well for us but after meeting other exchange students from around Europe we realised we probably could’ve gotten a much better place through sites that they used such as Uniplaces, Easystanza or Erasmus. On the flip side of that, I have also heard that the Politecnico dorms are quite nice as well and they’re a great way to make friends and meet new people, just make sure you apply for them in advance as they do fill up!

Milan in general to live is again very different to Australia.

Lunch break at Polimi 1-2pm

The cost of living was mostly a bit cheaper; groceries, transport, etc were all cheaper (even considering the terrible exchange rate at the time which was 0.66c to our dollar) but rent in Milan can sometimes be quite pricey.  Milan has a great underground Metro system as well as many busses and trams to get you around.  The university will give you information about an ATM (Milan’s equivalent of Translink) travel card, which is like a go card however there is a reduced fee for students which is paid monthly and gets you unlimited travel with all of Milan’s transport systems.

 

The culture is also very different and I found the biggest culture shock for me was getting used to how Italians work – mostly very disorganised.

I also found that there seemed to be (especially at the university) a quite prominent language barrier – not because they couldn’t speak or understand english (because the vast majority of people all across Europe know English to some degree), but because there seemed to be a prejudice towards the exchange students as they did not speak fluent Italian.

Picnic with other exchange students in Parco Sempione

I knew some Italian going over, as did my friend, however a lot of the time we were treated like we didn’t know anything simply because we didn’t speak their language. It was quite a frustrating experience in that sense.

 

The main highlights from my exchange was obviously the ability I had to easily travel around Europe, but also the friends I made from all over the world. At first I was afraid I wouldn’t make any friends, but honestly they were what made it so worthwhile. Looking back there were a LOT of ups and downs but I’m happy that I did it because whilst the university wasn’t what I expected – I gained invaluable life skills, confidence, independence and a new perspective of the world.

My main tips (also known as – the things I wish someone had told me before I went) are these:

  • Italians are some of the most disorganised and frustrating people to deal with – the sooner you know that the better
  • Don’t expect everyone to be as openly friendly as Australians – a lot of the time people aren’t being rude they’re just not used to our vivaciousness

    Navigli canal

  • Don’t choose where you live based on the campus, chose a nice area as you will probably be spending more time at home than you think – places like Isola, Citta Studi, Porta Venezia or around Navigli, Cadorna or most places closer to the centre are pretty safe bets.
  • Speaking of Navilgli – make sure you pop by on the last Sunday of the month, there is an awesome flea market that runs down the whole canal
  • People are generally pretty nice in regards to the language barrier, but please try and give Italian a go – people appreciate the effort and the basics aren’t that hard.
  • Get an Italian SIM as soon as you can – google maps is your saviour
  • Coffee – order espresso, macchiato or cappuccino.  Their cappuccino is basically a latte and if you ask for “latte” you will get milk.
  • Most importantly:
  • Don’t pay more than three euro for a two scoop gelato!

Good luck!

Highlands, Bagpipes and Everything Scottish

Lateisha, A. Bachelor of Behavioural Science (Psychology)/Bachelor of Justice

University of Glasgow (Semester 2, 2016)

Being able to go abroad and study for a semester in Glasgow, Scotland, has given me the opportunity to learn much more about myself and the world than I thought possible. I would (and plan to) do it all again as it was one of the best experiences and recommend it to everyone that gets the chance. Though being honest it wasn’t all smooth sailing, there were some hiccups along the way, but that was all part of the experience!

My first day on campus

The first problem I encountered was that I missed the registration for events during O-week and fresher week meaning I couldn’t go. This made meeting people and making friends a little tricky as these events were where the majority of people met each other and made friends. The next issue I had was with

November Snow!

my units which was stressful. The units I had initially planned were cancelled and not run during the semester I was there so I had to find new ones last minute. Through the help of the staff at both QUT and UofG I was able to quickly find alternative units. The final challenge I experienced was the weather. The weather in Glasgow is very, very different from Brisbane. It was cold dark and damp for the majority of the time I was there, so after growing up on the Sunshine Coast and coming from Brisbane it took some time before I adjusted and accepted that seeing the sun only happened on rare occasions. Though it did snow one night in November which I was very lucky to witness as it was quite early for snow!

 

I lived in university accommodation, which was dorm style living. I had four other roommates, we each had our own rooms with communal living spaces. The hall was about a 15 minute walk away from campus through Kelvin Grove Park, and around a half hour walk from the city centre. The lectures I had were quite similar in style to those at QUT, however the tutorials and lectorials were generally smaller in size and felt more like large discussions, which I found interesting as that isn’t really something I’ve come across at QUT. The campus itself was absolutely stunning! The architecture of the buildings was amazing, it looked like something plucked straight from the past or out of a movie. I thought parts of the campus looked like something from Harry Potter which to be honest was part of the reason why I chose Glasgow!

Going on exchange allowed me to be 100% independent, which is something I haven’t experienced fully. It was a little daunting to begin with in the sense that I didn’t really have a family member or a friend who I could rely on, it was all up to me. After a while though I got used to it and really enjoyed having to be independent. Exchange in Glasgow also allowed me to travel around Europe and the UK, which is something I’d been wanting to do for a long time. I travelled Europe before my semester began with a tour company, and then towards the end of and after the semester I travelled by myself around the UK, which is something I would never of had the confidence to do without exchange. (I would add some snapshots but I couldn’t choose only a few).

Exchange has enabled me to find myself as a person in a time when I really needed to, as cliché as it sounds. My self-confidence has grown, I’m able to step outside of my comfort zone and challenge myself, I was able to immerse myself in a culture similar yet also quite different to my own and I made some really good friends.

Leeds Survival Guide, Part 1: Arrival

The idea of travelling and experiencing a life away from home seems fantastic; until you arrive in this strange place with no clue of what you’re doing here.

I’ve been in Leeds, England for about a week now. It’s been scary, but it’s also been an incredible amount of fun.

Coming from Australia, I assumed that I’d fit right in with British culture. I already speak the language so, how different could the UK really be? Very. And this is what they call ‘culture shock’.

From accidentally pulling an alarm chord (I thought it was the light), not knowing how to unplug a sink (turns out there’s a lever at the back) and adapting to the Yorkshire sayings (blog on Leeds lingo up soon), I was definitely in shock.

Even seeing a squirrel for the first time had me amazed!

It’s funny how such a common animal can be so foreign to some.

Although, within all of the bewilderment, there was one powerful thing that got me through: making new friends.

If I could give one major piece of advice to all those studying in the UK, it would be to get out of your little dorm room and go to every, single ‘Freshers’ event you can.

With international café meetings, food adventures and an array of parties, there are so many chances to meet other students who are as new and confused as you are. Below are some of the incredible people that I befriended at these events.

All the international friends that I met at various freshers events.

These new friends who share my shock of this new culture are keeping my homesickness at bay, giving me the chance to explore more and simply smile more.

My first week in Leeds is almost over, but with about 30 new friends on Facebook, I’m feeling much more comfortable in this new place. It’s time to let the real adventures to begin.

My Exchange Experience In France

Rosemary, K. Bachelor of Law/Bachelor of Journalism

Catholic University of Lille (Semester 2, 2016)

Enjoying a cheese picnic during Lille’s fleeting summer

Lille is a great exchange city. It is small enough that I could walk everywhere. The university is about a twenty-minute walk to the main train station and beautiful old town or there is a very reasonable and user-friendly bus. The university is close to a string of student bars that are so well attended on Thursday evenings that the police close the surrounding streets down. There are also antique markets, the famous La Braderie, streets of gourmet food shops and wonderful fresh food markets in nearby Wazemme. Lille has its own soccer team in the national league, which is fun to spectate, and there is a beautiful opera building that sells cheap tickets to students. There are shopping malls and networks of beautiful little cobbled streets lined with lovely little stores. Being on the border with Belgium means that Lille can offer the best of both countries. Belgium chocolate mixed with French pastries, Belgium fries and French cheese as well as beautiful French wines and famous Belgium beers meant I never came close to hungry.

I studied in the second semester from late August to mid-December. I was concerned about the cold but soon came to love the winter and the lead up to Christmas. Lille (and all of Europe) comes alive at Christmas with markets in the square, mulled wine and a huge Ferris wheel. I had to buy a new wardrobe and my first winter coat but that was a fun novelty in itself.

Lille is well located for travel with Europe’s excellent bus and train network. Cities such as London, Brussels and Paris are each less than two hours away. Amsterdam and Cologne in Germany are easy day trips as are beautiful Ghent, Brugge and Antwerp. Flying out of the Brussels Charleroi airport is very cheap and easy with a Flixbus connecting the airport to the Lille Flanders train station. There is also the Brussels International Airport an hour and a half away on the train. I had the opportunity to take many trips including Edinburgh, Italy, Norway, Ireland and Germany. People in the north of France have a similar reputation to the Australians living in Tasmania but they are open hearted and friendly people who are always willing to help with whatever English they know. They are proud of their country and happy to share it with foreigners, often going out of their way to find someone to translate my questions. Living in a country where you don’t speak the language well can be difficult and it is important to be easy going because things get lost in translation and getting an extra drink or meal or something slightly different to what you ordered can happen so I learnt not to be fussy.

Enjoying a day of playing inflatable games organised by the AEU

Lille is a very affordable city when you are living on an Australian wage. Groceries, rent, meals, movies and clothes were all cheaper than Australia. In fact the only expensive service was trains. I had many concerns about budgeting during my time overseas but the cost of living was so cheap and I kept an eye on my finances so I had no issues. My only qualm with Lille was the lack of decent coffee but my Melbourne friends and I discovered Coffee Makers on Paris Street early in the semester. They have the best beans in Lille and often sell delicious winter salads, curries and homemade tarts alongside their decadent Malteaser coffees.

University in France is a very different experience to university in Australia. Firstly, everybody lives on campus or near campus and nobody lives at home with their parents. I prearranged my accommodation with an organisation run by the university called the AEU. I was placed in a tiny little residence called La Maison de l’étudiant that only had seven rooms and was across the road from the university. The residence was a large apartment on the third floor of a converted French chalet complete with stained glass windows, marble floors and ornate plaster ceilings. All bills, Internet, cleaning and breakfast was included in my very reasonable rent. We also got fresh croissants delivered every week. All my housemates were French and Mauritian students studying their whole degrees in France. They were extremely friendly and welcoming, excited to practice their (very good) English and well and truly made me feel at home, caring for me when I was sick, taking me to the doctors and translating anything I needed. Living in an AEU residence also meant I could participate in their organised sports, attend French zumba, join their gym for 10 euro a month, eat at the outrageously cheap cafeteria (three euro for three courses!) and attend their welcome and Christmas parties. I also had the very unfortunate experience of being robbed and the AEU were able to help me call the police, translate a statement and find a new place to live, all of which would have been extremely difficult on my own.

University is very different to university in Australia but if you embrace change and respect the differences you will learn a lot. For starters, twelve subjects is a normal load. There are subjects offered in many different languages and structures: some are taught in blocks, some are taught weekly and some are taught every couple of weeks. Nothing is recorded and it is necessary to attend all classes, it would be naïve to think you could pass without doing so. Getting together a timetable can be a bit hectic, especially if you study across two faculties but that may be necessary in order to cobble together enough English subjects to satisfy the 30 ECTS requirement. The faculties within the university may as well be totally different: they are manned by different staff, have different rules and sometimes slightly different grading systems. I studied within the ESPOL and FLSH faculties, favouring the latter as ESPOL only started in 2012. I studied a broad range of subjects from sociology in the media to medieval history, European politics, French language and literature and thoroughly enjoyed them all. I think there is a tendency for people to not worry about their subjects and focus on their ‘exchange experience’ but I would advise choosing subjects you like because you will spend a lot of time studying. The university is well respected and France and the curriculum is heavy on rote learning and memorisation (hence why you need to attend class and take good notes) and involves less analytical processes than at QUT. It is a different type of learning, but it is still learning and I felt like I got a lot out of my time in Lille.

Exchange students at a Lille soccer game

The university has a well-established program for international students. They have dedicated staff members and orientation events, buddy programs and parties designed solely for international students. This enabled me to meet so many people from around the world. I made friends with people from Germany, Lithuania, Afghanistan, America, Ireland, Japan, France, Mauritius and even Australia to count a few. Lille is a beautiful little city but it is truly the people I met that made my experience. Sometimes living in a foreign country can be exasperating but having people to share in that exasperation makes it feel a whole lot less stressful.

Overall I had an amazing time on Exchange. I met lifelong friends from all around the world and I am very lucky to have had such an experience. Exchange is the easiest way to live in another country, as there are so many people and services set up to help you. If you are considering taking the leap I cannot encourage you more, it is an amazing opportunity.

True American Experience

Marshall, R. Bachelor of Business

University of South Carolina (Semester 2, 2016)

In the beginning, leaving the comforts of home in Brisbane for a new life in America was extremely daunting. When I applied to University of South Carolina, I didn’t know anyone from the school or anyone going on exchange with me. However, that changed very quickly upon arrival. Since the minute I unpacked my belongings, I began to meet lifelong friends.

I lived in Woodrow College with about 40 other international students as well as domestic freshman students. Woodrow had apartment style rooms which includes a kitchen, so I didn’t get a meal plan whilst undertaking my exchange. This turned out to be a very cost effective way to do my semester abroad as many weekends I was away travelling.

The first few days were filled with exploring the campus and all the facilities that it had on offer. This included over 30 restaurants, two gyms with pools, a rock climbing wall and five squash and basketball courts that are all available to students. After getting my bearings on campus, I began to explore the city of Columbia, where USC is located. Although Columbia is the capital city of South Carolina, it is quite a small city by American standards. This made it geographically manageable since it was walking distance to the restaurant district, the Vista.

In the first two weeks, the school organised many social events to get to know both my domestic and international peers. These events really helped make the transition into college life easier. I wanted to get more involved, so I joined an intramural American football team which was made up of other international students. It was quite a steep learning curve to understand the rules, but we made the grand finals of our pool and it was ultimately a great way to meet people.

Classes were substantially different from those at QUT which forced me to immediately adjust my learning style. The classes met twice a week for 75 minutes in classes of about 40 students and unlike QUT, attendance was mandatory for most classes. Final grades were graded on many smaller assignments along with participation and attendance, so it engaged students a lot more and increased participation.

College football is one of the most important past times to many Americans. Luckily for me, football season occurs in the fall semester, so I was able to experience a completely different environment than the sports we have back home in Australia. Tailgates are lined up for miles while everyone eats in and drinks before cheering on the Gamecocks at Williams Brice Stadium.

There were a lot of opportunities for traveling while I was here which allowed me to explore new cultures of a lot of amazing American cities on weekends and holidays. Throughout the semester I was able to visit Chicago, Athens, Charlotte and Charleston. With Thanksgiving break in November I was invited to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in Philadelphia which was on the highlights of my trip.

Overall, exchange was an unforgettable and life changing experience. While it may seem uncomfortable and scary at first, I urge students to challenge themselves and expand their horizons. The memories, friends, and experiences that exchange gave me are way more valuable than any reservation I had before coming to America. I would highly recommend exchange to every student, especially University of South Carolina. Go cocks.

Foods, Moods and Misadventures Abroad

Welcome to Hong Kong!

The land of skyscrapers, intimidating old women, sleep deprivation and nonstop action

I’m sure you’ll love it

I’ll be your tour guide and commentator for the duration of my stay, I hope you stick around

I’ll keep you updated on the crazy, scary and downright ridiculous stuff I get up to

 

Thanks in advance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cultures of Singapore

Aakanksha, B. Bachelor of Information Technology/Bachelor of Mathematics

Nanyan Technological University (Singapore) (Semester 2, 2016)

In the heart of South-East Asia, Singapore has more to offer than its incredible airport. Spending five months at the Nanyang Technological University as an overseas exchange student, I have learnt an immense amount about Singapore and myself. Singapore has most definitely established itself as being one of the most advanced cities in Asia, if not the world. So much so, it is the preferred location for many leading companies to have their regional APAC headquarters.

If regional culture is what you want to experience, Singapore is where you should end your search. Singapore is home to four main ethnic groups: Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (which everyone else falls into and is roughly 3.3%). As a result, of these four very different groups, it seems like there is holiday or festival every few weeks. While on exchange, I experienced: Singapore National Day, Diwali and the Hungry Ghost Festival, with each festivity bringing its own traditions. Being originally from India, it was awesome seeing how big a celebration Diwali is outside India. Going to “Little India” on this day, I felt like I was back in any Indian city.

If you are a foodie, or if you just want food that is cheap and tastes good, you can’t go wrong in Singapore. From hawker centres to high end restaurants you will never go hungry. NTU campus had over 19 food courts each having various cuisines. In most cases you may only need to spend $10-$20 a day, even if you are on campus. Cost of living in Singapore can vary. In terms of food and transport, it is significantly cheaper than Australia. The maximum you could pay for a trip would roughly be $4; this would only happen if you go from one end of Singapore to the other (which I had to do when going from NTU all the way to the airport). Transport within Singapore isn’t the only thing that is cheap, even going overseas is. For example, I was able to make a trip to Thailand to see Krabi and the beautiful Phi Phi Islands, which was most definitely a highlight.

Accommodation within Singapore can be very expensive. I was lucky enough to get accommodation on campus and had to pay a full semester rate that was equivalent to that of an apartment for only one month. If you don’t want to stay on campus I strongly recommend finding somewhere close to campus and share an apartment with other exchange students. An advantage of staying on campus is that you save a great deal of time on travel. The NTU campus is located in Jurong, which is located one end of the island. If you want to go the main city, it can take up to an hour by MRT.   

There is one word to describe life on campus at NTU: awesome. As QUT does not offer the choice to live on campus, this was something that I was seriously looking forward to. It is not only the flexibility of being able to walk to class, but the ability to forge friendships with local and international students. With these friends you can go to hall and campus events and even overseas trips. After spending so much time together, you know you have formed friends for a life time.

Saving the serious for last, academics in Singapore is challenging, especially if you are taking core subjects (I was taking four). The thing that is drastically different to QUT is the fact that Singapore grades on a “bell curve”. This means that your grade is scaled according to everybody else’s in the class. I didn’t let this effect me too much and studied hard to ensure I did my best.

If you want to be challenged academically, the opportunity to experience different regional cultures, eat great food, travel within South East Asia at amazingly low fares, Singapore is your place!

 

Vienna Exchange

Leah, D. Bachelor of Business & Law

Vienna University of Economics & Business (WU) (Semester 2, 2016)

WU and QUT differ in a number of ways – it’s not a good or bad thing, it’s just different. As WU only recently moved to its current location, every building is modern, inside and out. The highlight is undoubtedly the library: a place where students study in silence – which I will admit, is a little weird after the vibrancy of QUT’s law library. The academics are passionate about what they do, and something that WU does which is really good for class engagement is allocating a lot of marks for active class participation (on average, about 25%) – it creates a much more collaborative learning environment. Something they do which is also quite frustrating is because of this, most classes are quite small: there is only one time for a class, not 4 or 5 as there are at QUT, so if you miss class registration, it can be very difficult to find subjects and create a timetable that doesn’t clash. 

Another thing to be aware of is that the timetables are rarely consistent: whereas you might have Marketing from 10-12 every Wednesday in Z411 at QUT, the classes at WU are at different times every week, in different rooms. A class might go for 2 hours, or it might go for up to 8 if you choose a ‘block course’ – similar to a summer semester here. This inconsistency is both a blessing and a curse as an exchange student – it means you’re not locked into a bad timetable, and are thus able to travel still, but it does mean you never know where or when your class is.

Austria:

The cost of living in Austria is a little less than that of Australia, even with the exchange rate.  You could get lunch from the on-campus grocery store for about €5 or less, ($7AUD); and you could get a decent hot meal for €7 ($10AUD) on-campus, or at local eateries. Although they pride themselves on their coffee, it’s surprisingly expensive compared to other things: a regular melange would cost about €3.50 (~$5). Thankfully, there’s vending machines around campus that have good coffee for 60 cents (80 cents AUD), or €1.20 ($1.7AUD) if you want a larger cup.  Rent through the recommended organisation is quite expensive, but it is the most common option. If you are more adventurous, and are looking to save a couple of hundred Euro a month, looking into alternative accommodation is a good idea.

Austria is very centrally located, and this enables you to travel extensively for relatively cheaply, thanks to budget airlines, cheap buses, and the rail network. Whilst I was on exchange, I managed to travel to 13 countries, including Slovakia, Iceland and Portugal, and over 40 cities. It’s important to not discount travelling within Austria too – I would say that one of my favourite trips was to Innsbruck, in Austria’s west. Culturally, I found Austrians can be a bit standoff-ish. It’s something you adjust to, but it was initially quite jarring to go to the grocery store and not have the cashier talk to you at all.  Austrians living in the suburbs tend not to speak much English. My German skills subsequently developed a lot more than I expected.

Highlights

One of my unfounded worries in moving to Vienna for exchange was that I would struggle to make friends. Not true. Within three days I met people who I was friends with for the rest of exchange, and I’m sure I will stay friends with into the future. ‘Exchange time’ is a weird concept: time is compressed, everything is sped up: where becoming close friends may normally much longer in normal circumstances, it only takes a couple of hours or a day to become very good friends with someone.  At the same time, your time away both lasts and eternity, and is over far too soon.

Another highlight of my trip was seeing huge seasonal changes: when I arrived in September it was about 30 degrees, and then the leaves changed to classic Autumn hues, and then they dropped off, and snow came in: in fact, it was Vienna’s coldest winter in about 30 years. Travelling was also a huge part of exchange, and it was incredible to see how different cultures and foods and languages were geographically so close to each other. Being able to explore such amazing places with new friends cemented our friendships further.

Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend Vienna as an exchange destination: there’s so much to explore, and such a rich culture and history in the country, and nearby.

Ottawa Ontario

Joel, R. Bachelor of Mathematics

University of Ottawa (Semester 2, 2016)

My first night at the University of Ottawa in Canada’s capital city was 30 degrees Celsius and muggy.  Not at all the weather I expected, but perhaps that was simply thanks to my lack of research into my host city.  My housemates were chatting in the lounge as I walked into my new home, a Chilean, Russian and a Belgian rounding out our multicultural apartment, and they made the next 4 months far more welcoming than that first hot night.

Before arriving in Canada I took the opportunity to visit Europe, managing to visit Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Vienna and Munich before finally heading to North America.  I then spent another couple of weeks in Kelowna BC, Canada, a beautiful town which offers a huge amount of outdoor activities and natural beauty.

As the first weeks in Ottawa went by I took the opportunity to explore and meet my neighbours, generally fellow exchange students from places like Ireland, Sweden, England, China, the Netherlands and everywhere in between.  Ottawa is a curious mix between city and town, not as big or busy as Toronto or Montreal, but with just as much history.  Originally a frontier logging town, Ottawa prospered into the home of Canada’s government.  Separated from Quebec and one of its cities, Gatineau, by a large river, Ottawa is a city of beauty and variety as I came to discover during my time there.

Eventually the university semester started and I began my first classes in a new country, an experience that ended up feeling very similar to those I had at home.  Professors used technology to present lectures, answered class questions and gave assignments, just like they do at QUT.  The only major difference was the rack of winter coats hanging at the back of the classroom by the time cold weather came through in about November.  Snow followed soon after, transforming an already beautiful city into a winter wonderland (as corny as that sounds).

My apartment, while not luxurious by any means, was cosy and sufficient enough to keep me alive through the cold weather.  I was relieved to find the cost of living similar enough to Brisbane, with goods roughly the same or cheaper in Ottawa.  My housemates and our neighbours grew accustomed to the idea of spending 15 minutes or more just layering up enough to brave the -25 degree weather to go get some shawarma or poutine from the local store.

Through all the pitfalls of a new country, like dealing with tipping, winter clothes and the rules of hockey, I was lucky to have a tight group of friends to go through the same experiences.  We shared trips to Toronto, Montreal, Niagara Falls, even managing a week in Cuba, and meeting people like them has been the most important takeaway from my time overseas.  My advice to future exchange students is to focus on that network of friends, push yourself to talk to anyone and everyone.  Any city in the world has things to do, but it’s the people in that city that sets it apart and makes exchange a truly worthwhile experience.