I went on exchange to the University of Essex in the second semester of 2015. The University of Essex is situated in Colchester which has claimed to be the oldest town in Britain. Colchester is a relatively small, historic town but is fast-growing. When I first arrived, I was surprised to see how small Colchester is compared to Brisbane as I already thought Brisbane was a small town. It is also home to the Colchester Castle. Colchester is only a 45 minute train ride to London and an 1 hour bus ride to Stamford Airport. This makes it easy to take weekend trips to London. Ryanair , a budget airline mainly flies from Stamford Airport to a majority of the European destinations which is very convenient when travelling during the semester.
The University of Essex is home to 10,500 students coming from 130 different countries. The nationalities are very diverse so you won’t feel as you are the only foreigner. Many facilities available to the students such as a gym, sports centre, theatre, night club, hairdresser, campus store, banks, restaurants, post office, bars and many more. There is also a market day happening every week where people come onto campus and set up stores selling a variety of things such as sushi, flowers, curry, cake, old record CDs, t-shirts and many more as the stores change every week. There are also two lakes right beside the campus if anyone wanted to enjoy a nice day out on the grass.
The dorms are situated in the campus which makes it very convenient to get to class. It usually only took me 2-5mins to get to class from my dorm depending on where the classroom is. I shared my dorm with 6 other people of the same gender where we get our own bathroom and bedroom but share the kitchen. I chose to stay in the Courts as I appreciate having my own bathroom. The room was quite pleasant where a desk, chair, bed and bedside table is provided. However, you will have to provide your own bedding. There are also heaters in every room, even the bathrooms in the United Kingdom, so there is no need to worry about freezing in winter. The kitchen was supplied with a kettle, rice cooker, fridge and cabinets. You will have to buy your own toaster if you wanted toast and any other cooking utensils. The kitchen are cleaned once a week and garbage are emptied every day. However, it is up to you to clean your bathroom and bedroom. The other option is the Towers where rent is a bit cheaper but you share a dorm with 12 people and have no private toilet. However, it allows you to meet more people and there are parties happening every week at the Towers.
I studied law subjects on exchange which were pretty easy to match with the units back at QUT. The University of Essex has three terms instead of two semesters and give different assessments to the exchange students. I was only required to complete one 100% essays for each subject. The University of Essex also has less students as compared to QUT, thus their classes are smaller as there is usually only about 30 people enrolled in one subject. For each law subject, I only had a 2 hour lectorial. However, it is required of the students to tap into their class every lesson to mark attendance and failure to attend a certain number of class will require an explanation. I recommend booking transport such as buses, trains and flights in advance as they go up in prices as much as 4x if you book last minute. Also be aware of pickpockets in Europe as they are everywhere and are very creative in the way they try distract and steal your things.
I budgeted around $15,000 for exchange as I travelled before and after the semester. I also travelled to Asia after leaving Europe. The only way budget way to get around town is taking the bus which is more expensive compared to Brisbane. There is no card system such as the oyster card which is used in London and everyone is required to buy paper tickets when they board the bus. There are also no concession fares. Food is around the same cost depending on where you shop and what you are buying. It is a bit cheaper to shop in Aldi then Tesco but it is a bit inconvenient to get to Aldi in Colchester. There is also a shop called Poundland where everything is one pound. You can find a variety of things from pasta sauce to plates, cups and Halloween costumes so it’s highly recommended to go shop there for essentials before you go to Tesco to buy the rest. I used a Citibank debit card because there is no withdrawal fee. I also had a travel card from Commonwealth for back up but I mainly used my Citibank card.
Going on exchange has given me a valuable experience which I would not be able to gain otherwise. Being able to live in another country for three months was very valuable as it has made me more independent, mature and grown up in many different ways. There were many issues where I had to make my own decisions and figure out how to solve it. Unexpectedly, my biggest dilemma throughout my exchange is what I should cook for my next meal. I also appreciate the opportunity to travel to many different countries I would recommend anyone to go on exchange as it provides a rare opportunity to live in a different country and gives you a chance to explore and visit different countries before you are stuck in a 9-5 full-time job. I had second thoughts before going due to many different issues but decided to go in the end and had no regrets.