An Unforgettable Exchange in Exeter

Jasmine B. Bachelor of Journalism / Bachelor of Laws (Honours)
University of Exeter, England (Semester 1, 2016)

It feels incredibly surreal now, thinking back to my semester spent abroad in England. Ever since I had heard about the unique opportunity to study on exchange, I knew it was something I had to be a part of. I’m pleased to report that the experience was even more remarkable then I had imagined. Between the international friendships made, exploring European cities, and getting to be a part of another culture, there really wasn’t a dull moment!

Host University: The University of Exeter

Above: Reed Hall, on the University of Exeter campus

University Campus

I spent my semester abroad in the Southeast of England, in the picturesque county of Devon. I studied at the University of Exeter (where J.K. Rowling graduated from, for the Harry Potter fans), using my electives from my Law degree to experience a range of disciplines, including: Philosophy, Sociology, Politics and Law. It gave me a great taste of their teaching methods, as well as enabling me to engage with a range of students. The campus itself is beautiful, built on the top of a hill overlooking the city of Exeter. It’s size and student intake is significantly lesser in size to QUT, which was fun to experience, as you often find yourself running into familiar faces around campus. The university hosts a combination of modern and heritage buildings, which cover a lot of great facilities including: student medical centre, pub, sporting halls, eateries, libraries and even a theatre.

Accommodation

 

James Owen Court University Residences

I undertook my exchange in the second semester of their academic year, which meant there were only a limited number of campus-run accommodation on offer. However, those planning on studying here in the first semester would have a larger choice of accommodation options (including catered, self-catered, ensuite and studio). My accommodation, as pictured above, was at ‘James Owen Court’ which was a 20-minute walk from the main campus and was located in the centre of the city. The location worked out perfectly, as I only spent two days at the University, so the other days I could spend enjoying cream teas and shopping in the city! It was a self-catered facility, where I shared a kitchen between seven other roommates. The rooms were ensuite, and a laundromat was available on the premises.

It was my first time living out of home, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the independence. I arrived in Exeter alone, but met a huge group of international students along the way, who all quickly grew to be close friends.

International Students Group

Exeter Cathedral Square

Host Country: England (Exeter) The cost of living in England is quite high, especially if you’re living in bigger cities such as London. However, Exeter was quite affordable, and there were a range of places to eat and shop at a more affordable price (I would strongly recommend the local hangout, ‘The Old Firehouse’ which apparently inspired the Leaky Cauldron from the Harry Potter series). When it comes to travelling, there’s some great ways to get around Europe on a budget. One weekend I flew with a friend to Dublin for the low cost of 8 pounds (approximately $16 dollars). So, if researched right, travelling can be very inexpensive! I even secured a paid internship whilst living in Exeter, which helped offset some of the costs and gave me an even better insight into the city and the locals. The great thing about England is that you speak the same language, and hold a lot of the same cultural views, so there really isn’t any culture shock to be experienced – apart from the constant rain, that is!

All in all, exchange was an unforgettable experience, and there wasn’t a single moment I didn’t enjoy. Exchange presents an incredible opportunity to challenge yourself, step out of your comfort zone and develop your independence and awareness of different cultures.

A few extra snaps from my travels in Europe:

Copenhagen, Denmark

Cinque Terre, Italy

Paris, France

Campus Life in America

Novita.R, Bachelor of Business
Illinois University of Technology, USA (Semester 1, 2016)

 

Campus and facilities

             

  • My favourite building is called MTCC. It is a big building that has cafes, dining area, study/conference rooms, Starbucks, Bookstore and the Students Support office.
  • In MTCC, every fortnight has a music night. Good place to make new friends.
  • Library is 24 hours only on weekdays.
  • Has a late-night car service for dropping students who live nearby campus.
  • Has a 24-hour seven eleven just next to dorms.
  • Post office is located in MTCC whereby it is a very centralised spot.
    • Good for those online-shoppers (e.g. AMAZON)
  • The campus is just next to Chinatown.
  • Red line train operates 24 hours and it is only 10 mins walking from the campus.

 

Accommodation

For exchange students, it is compulsory to live on-campus.

  • All the residence halls are generally shared-rooms basis.
  • Residence Halls: SSV, MSV, Carman and Gunsaulus

 

SSV MSV Carman Gunsaulus
·         The most expensive housing hall.

·         Approx. US$4,590/sem

·         Not eligible for housing scholarship.

·         Next to the bus stop and train station (1-2 mins walk)

·         For undergraduate and graduate students

·         I lived here

·         Eligible for housing scholarship (US$1,500/sem)

·         Housing rate US$3,000/sem

·         Walking distance to:

·         Bus stop 2 mins

·         Train station 6-7 mins

·         For undergraduate and graduate students

·         For undergraduate and graduate students above 23 years old, also for students with children

·         Very quiet dorm

·         Spacious room (incl. bathroom and small kitchen)

·         Located next to MSV

·         Eligible for housing scholarship (US$1,500/sem)

·         Housing rate (US$3,692)

 

Academics

  • IIT is very well known with its Engineer School.
    • FYI: First phone Motorola was created by IIT Alumni.
  • The classes tend to be smaller than QUT.
    • Attendance was compulsory. So it was easy to make friends in the class.
  • They call the lecturer by Professor followed by their name.

Cost of Living

  • The cost of living is similar to Brisbane.
  • The transportation is paid altogether prior to semester begins. So during the semester you can just tap whenever you want.
    • Students: US$175 for the U-PASS (e.g. like GoCard) and valid for 4 months.
    • Non-students: $2.25/travel (bus and train) regardless the distance.
    • A one-off tap (e.g. hop on only) unlike Brisbane.
  • Meal plan is organised by the University.
    • For on-campus students it is compulsory to have (depends on your degree level)
    • Buffet system.

Cultural Aspects

  • People do go for Starbucks. It is everywhere in Chicago.
  • Multicultural
  • Free Wi-Fi is almost in everywhere: Shopping centres, Cafes.
  • Majority of people study in the Cafes.
  • Use “What’s up” for a greeting.

 

Highlight of the Exchange

  • Traveling around United States:
    • West coast road trip
    • Did the Route 66
    • New Year’s eve in New York
    • Spring break in Miami
  • Strong friendships that will last forever with people from:
    • Germany, India, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, France, USA, Africa.

Tips and Advice

  1. Use the Travel Card from Commonwealth Bank (this is would be my first top advice!)
  2. Ensure you get the Health Insurance from your host Institution
    • Beforehand I used to think that it was very unnecessary, however, I went to Hospital, a week after my semester ended. It was very unexpected. I paid the insurance around US$800 and it covered my expenses for about US$3,000.
  3. Ensure you that the unit that you would be taking overseas is not a non-credit in order to prevent any issues when returning home for credit transfers. Be really careful with units that you’ll be undertaking, do regularly check with QUT.
  4. Be mindful of job opportunities around your host campus by talking with one of the staff.
  5. Become the member of Sorority or Fraternity!
    • Great ways to make friends and to experience the American college life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Embracing Student Life in Exeter

Matilda P., Bachelor of Mass Communication
University of Exeter, England, (Semester 2, 2016)

I started the process of applying for exchange two years ago. A friend had recently returned from Exeter University and ignited my interest in that particular university. I had previously lived in the UK a few years ago and was thrilled with the opportunity to return. The culture and history of the UK, and my friend’s recommendation of the vibrant student city of Exeter, propelled me into action and solidified my decision.My first impression of Exeter was a lovely city filled with old buildings and lots of green spaces. I arrived at my college in the morning sunshine (unusual for England!) , met my college roommates and settled into my room which featured an en-suite, which I had never had before, so I was thoroughly excited! Our college or “halls” as it is referred to in the UK, was located approximately 20 minutes from the central university campus, along a leafy path dotted with old houses. We ventured into university during ‘freshers” week and I was impressed with the extensive modern facilities the university provided staff and students. As a recognised university within the UK, known for its high academic achievements and sporting honours, the societies, clubs and teams available were extensive compared to that available to QUT. There is a culture within the UK university system, particularly with recognised universities where being a part of a sport, a society and playing an instrument is encouraged, and many students partake in this. Much like Australian high school culture, which I found to be similar in the class rooms as well. Tutors were generally lecturers as well, and had very small class sizes, and independent learning was generally kept to a minimum. This culture was hard to adapt to, as I had always thrived as an independent learner at QUT, and encouraged and provided with the resources to do so. However, I credit this way of learning to Exeter University’s academic success, and along with its extensive sporting culture, were definitely the university’s strengths. University of Exeter is known for a breadth of studies, particularly the arts, law, and business. I took advantage of this, and studied art subjects in art history and visual art as electives.

Accommodation wise, most international students were placed at James Owen Court, a brick college of four stories, with approximately 6 roommates on each floor in separate bedrooms. The college was centrally located on the main street of Exeter, joked about by students for its location near the ‘dodgy’ end of town, where in fact it was just close to the shopping mall, and many bars and restaurants. All bills were included in our accommodation, and our facilities featured ping pong tables, an outside grassy area with picnic tables and a laundry.

Budgeting was one of the hardest parts of exchange, and I budgeted between five and seven thousand dollars, as recommended from another friend. The cost of living was pretty comparable to Brisbane, but having to transfer Australian dollars to the pound (nearly half) made budgeting difficult and I struggled in the first month to stick to my budget. I used both my Australian bank cards and an international money card, and split my finances across both quite evenly.

I was lucky to experience little culture shock, as I had previously lived in the UK, and was well versed in English culture. For future exchange students, I am confident the culture shock will be limited in the UK due to the country being English speaking; however, the weather always takes time to adjust to. To ensure my safety overseas I joined International SOS which sends emails and texts about terrorism, natural disasters, strikes and anything that could disrupt your travel, which occur more in Europe than in Australia, and is something to be aware of. I also made sure to email my parents where I was going and who I was with just in case of emergencies.

My “must have” item on exchange was my international money card which you can upload numerous currency’s on, my laptop, and copies of documents such as my passport, and birth certificate; in case of loss or damage. I would highly recommend the Cash Passport multi-currency card, as a bank card of choice, and EasyJet for flights within the UK and around Europe.

On return to Australia the hardest part for me was trying to capture and describe my journey to friends and family, and adapting to life as it was before, after you have been through all these life changing experiences. Academically, the different styles of learning in the UK really opened my eyes to how other countries learn and what they require academically from their students is very different from that in Australia and at QUT. Professionally, the ability to travel, and to have lived in another country is highly regarded by employees and is only beneficial for future employment opportunities. I would highly recommend university exchange to anyone with the optimism and desire to learn and experience a different culture, I would also recommend them to be diligent and persevere with their exchange application process in order to achieve their goals. University exchange is so valuable for students, you can spend weekends at Stonehenge, study breaks in Paris and meet people from all over the world while gaining real world experience in another country, and I am so thankful to QUT for that opportunity.

The Best Student City In The World: Experiencing Montreal

Sneha M, Bachelor of Business and Laws (Honours)
HEC Montreal, Semester 2 2017

When I realised I was going on exchange I was a whole lot of excited and a little bit of nervous!

I had never lived overseas before for starters, and cooking skills were limited to toast. My partner institution was HEC (Hautes Ecoles Commerciales) in Montreal, Canada. While my classes were in English, French is the main language spoken in Montreal. Equipped with about three Duolingo lessons I packed my one suitcase and off I went! Luckily however, nearly everyone in Montreal speaks English. In fact, they want to practice English so much you may not always get to try out your French!

Getting There

My experience did not start off on the best note. My flight from Brisbane was delayed by four hours, which meant I missed both of my connecting flights. When I arrived in LAX for a stopover my phone stopped working and my next flight was delayed. On my final leg from Toronto to Montreal, the passenger behind me was severely sick and had to get medical treatment before we could fly out! I ended up arriving in Montreal with no one to pick me up at 4am, a day later than expected. This also meant I spent the first and only day before orientation week getting my phone fixed, getting some warm clothes (as it was -14 degrees) and grocery shopping. The next day Orientation Week began and it was jam packed full of activities including going to an outdoor spa in the snow, laser tag, snow tubing, pub crawls, hikes, ice skating, parties and much more. Needless to say it was really fun, but so exhausting I caught the flu. I think experiencing challenges so early in my exchange made me take initiative and get organised really quickly which made the rest of the trip so much easier.

My home for the semester!

Accommodation and Travelling 

I was really lucky my roommates were also attending HEC. This made the whole experience better because we had similar schedules and could travel together. I definitely recommend going to Montreal if you want to travel. It’s only a short bus ride to New York and Boston and a few hours further to Washington DC. I also got the chance to visit the Rocky Mountains on the West Coast of Canada which was simply breathtaking and even visited Iceland during spring break!

Blue lagoon in Iceland!

Death Valley, USA

The Student Life

Montreal was voted the number one student city in the world for good reasons! It has plenty to do and a great atmosphere. While on exchange I went to Igloofest, a music festival with intricately carved bonfires and great music. It started snowing halfway through the night, which just meant everyone had to dance harder.

A word of caution though, HEC has a very good reputation, but that also means the courses are quite difficult. Instead of using electives, I was able to complete compulsory finance subjects. The format is quite different with no online lectures and three hour classes that combine work as lectures and tutorials together. Take advantage of the consultations and make sure to study throughout the semester as most exams are worth 60%! One elective class I took however was Social Innovation in the International Area. This subject requires us to work with a Social Innovation group or project in Montreal to meet specific aims. It was amazing to see the social enterprises people from across the globe are involved in.

The Weather

It can sometimes be difficult in winter where some days it was -19. It’s really important to layer, because underground and inside it can get really warm with central heating. Montreal has an extensive underground metro system as well as shopping centers and an underground mini city! Good shoes are also a must as you can be trekking through deep snow just to get to class! Canadians are tough and class is hardly ever cancelled unless there is a major snowstorm.

Snow storm!

Notre Dame de Basilica, Montreal

 

The friends, skills and memories I have gained from Montreal and my time at HEC was invaluable. I am so grateful and humbled by exchange experience. I can’t wait to visit again!

My Exchange Adventure

Mackenzie G, Bachelor of Industrial Design
Aston University, Birmingham, England (Semester 1, 2016)

One of the many trips around the UK. This time a weekend in Scotland with people from all around the world.

My Experience
Do you fancy seeing the world? Feel like shaking things up? Want to make uni a lot more fun? If this sounds like you then go sign up for student exchange!
Student exchange is an opportunity to live and study overseas. You get to meet people from all parts of the globe, see places you never would and have the time of your life all while completing your studies.

Earlier this year I flew over to Birmingham, England to complete my first semester of third year industrial design at Aston University. For four months I lived and studied abroad in a country I’ve never been to. There I learnt about product design, made worldwide friends and had an absolutely great time all the while completing my studies.
Aston University was my uni of choice for its industry backed reputation and central location.

Although the content they taught was more on the engineering side, they provided knowledge that I would likely not learn elsewhere. Submitting assignments, sitting exams and general university life was not so different to how we do it here which made adapting to their system a breeze.

Similarly studying in an English speaking country was not a problem at all. The accents and weather were the biggest difference initially but were soon overcome. So no intense culture shock here compared to the more foreign locations available. That said if you want to take it easy, Canada, USA and the UK are more comfortable options should English be your native language.

Life abroad at university is fun. Aston accommodates foreign exchange students very well with regular events and trips around the country. The majority of exchange students hung out together and with people from all over Europe, South America and just about everywhere else we felt a great sense of community exploring and learning together as foreigners.

For me I chose not to work and relied upon loans and savings to keep myself financially supported. So not needing a job meant I had more time to study and even more time to explore the UK and just have fun. With my crew of international students we visited most major UK cities, Liverpool, Manchester, London, Edinburgh, Dublin and so on. Unique to the English semester is a three week mid semester holiday. Being so close to France and in the middle of winter that meant skiing was up for grabs. So my mid semester break consisted of a week-long ski trip with the uni and two weeks of hot, beautiful sun in the Canary Islands. Luckily for me it wasn’t all about studying. Maybe your university has something similar. You can make your student exchange custom made for whatever interests you! Something not thought about often when considering student exchange.

The Application Process
Getting sorted for a student exchange is no easy task. Sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back. A lot of research and hard work is required but the effort is worth the reward. A lot of the time my effort was independent simply because there were questions that only I could find the answers to… mostly specific university queries. Although it was difficult my motivation kept the ball rolling, something we tend to forget when going through this process.

The opportunity to work alongside students from different cultures on the other side of the world is worth every ounce of effort.

Finances
A common concern is money and to how fund such an extravagant adventure. Fortunately there are awesome financial assistance options available from QUT. The OS help loan and the mobility grant made my venture possible. Applying for and receiving these are nothing short of easy. With a minimum of $8000 AUD available anything from your own pocket would only be for an extended holiday!
When it comes to budgeting research is key. Finding everyday living costs is essential especially if you’re thinking of living in the UK, Switzerland or any other expensive locations. The small things really add up.

As far as accommodation goes share houses are the best option. Cheap and entertaining they’re nothing short of fun. My house was intensely multicultural which furthered my travel education but also provided another social circle. Comparatively the on campus accommodation at Aston is rather pricey but more student orientated. Again research is key here.

The appropriate visa will make returning to your host country a breeze. This allowed me to skip between the UK and France with ease.

Visas
Before leaving Australia ensure you have the appropriate visa and ensure your passport meets federal requirements. Ensure in advance so you’re not caught rushing around last minute.

The study visa for the UK was a frustratingly slippery slope. Students who have studied there offered mixed advice and the visa website was just as helpful. Trying to save a few hundred dollars by not getting one is risky business but its best to play it safe. Upon entering the country I was told this wasn’t required but soon after relieved by my enrolling member of staff as she reassured me this was a necessary requirement of the university. Nothing too special with passports, just make sure there is plenty of time left on it before it expires.

Customise Your Experience
One aspect not discussed enough is how you can revolve your exchange around what you want to do. My initial idea was basically studying overseas and seeing the sights. However you can leave home well before semester starts and get into some travelling, complete your semester then top it off with a couple more months of travel. Or do like I did and compete in heaps of skateboard races around Europe! It might sound like a holiday but there is a lot to learn when you’re not at uni.

Once the semester concluded I travelled through Europe and attended many skateboard races. A long time dream now accomplished. (I’m in the grey suit).

If I Could Do It Again
I would be extra adventurous. I would try out a non-English speaking country, somewhere that teaches classes in English but with a culture greatly different to Australia. Unknown to me was how much of the European population spoke English. Knowing this I would have jumped in the deep end for a totally foreign experience.

Studying In Colombia

Dick H., Bachelor of Applied Finance
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia (Semester 1, 2018)

Going on exchange to Colombia was a fantastic experience. Most people know only bad things about Colombia from what they can see on the news, Netflix and other media. However, the country has made great progress since the 80’s and it is now one of the most developed nations in the region. It is interesting to see though, the big inequality and differences between social classes. On one hand, it has beautiful and wealthy areas, and on the other poverty and slums.

At the beginning of my exchange process, it took some time to fulfill all requirements and gather paperwork. Research was intense in order to best match subject content from both institutions. But afterwards, the support, guide and help from each member of team was remarkable.

QUT bursary was quite generous and allowed me to get return tickets and survive the first weeks in Colombia. I arrived in Bogotá in mid-August. With a population of approximately 10 million Bogotá is the capital city of Colombia and it is a very vibrant metropolis.

I rented an apartment and lived in a beautiful area of the city called Chico-Virrey. It was about 40 min away from university by Bogota’s famous public transport called Transmilenio.

Universidad de los Andes is the best ranked university in Colombia. Being a private university, its fees are quite high and only wealthy families in Colombia can afford it. It is interesting to note that being the most expensive university in Colombia its campus is not located in a wealthy area (north-side of the city) but close to the old city. This area despite being quite touristic is not the safest.

Universidad de Los Andes has a great campus, with modern buildings. In lectures, each student has access to laptops to work through examples and study cases developed during classes. I find very interesting that students have what they called “hablador”, which is a cardboard-made triangle with the student’s name. The lecturer can then call everyone by their name and when questions are answer right he knows who got the “extra points”. Classrooms were quite comfortable, and I was quite impressed by the quality of lecturer and students.

Something I enjoyed so much about Universidad de Los Andes was the use of study cases from Harvard University. They were real issues companies faced and we had to find solutions to those problems. We had to use all our financial knowledge to solve challenging situations and perform deep financial analysis. I would like these types of cases were studied in QUT. A drawback was the lack of feedback throughout the classes, the only way to know we were understanding topics was by checking marks after a test, if results were unsatisfactory (bad scores) there was no way to know what was wrong and how to improve from those mistakes. Another difference I found between both universities’ methodology was an almost compulsory textbook reading. We were tested week by week with quizzes to check whether we prepared topics and did the reading. Lecturers were also asking questions randomly to test us.

In conclusion, going on exchange to Colombia was an unforgettable experience, full of nice people, good memories and so much fun. I made good friends and met many interesting people. It is always vital to understand and adapt to the culture, respect what it is important for locals and explore all the beauty the country has to offer.

 

Aussie among the Brits: My semester abroad

Sarah K. – Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Laws
University of Leeds, England (Semester 2, 2016)

I had the time of my life studying at the University of Leeds during Semester 2, 2016.

Leeds is located at the centre of the UK in the Yorkshire region, about 315km North of London. It is an awesome student city which meant cheaper living costs (especially compared to somewhere like London!) and the opportunity to meet heaps of university students.

The University of Leeds was really great, and incidentally while I was there, it was awarded University of the Year 2017. It was my main choice because it provided a lot of subject options which allowed me to match up all of my law and business units. It was also interesting listening to lecturers with English, Irish and Scottish accents. Different to QUT, lectures are compulsory and your timetables are configured for you, there is no option to design your own schedule. The university also offered hundreds of different clubs! I joined a number of societies, notably the ‘Leeds Snowriders’ skiing and snowboarding society. Being a member allowed me to go on the university ski trip to Andorra, located on the border of France and Spain, which was an absolute blast.

In England, after graduating from High School, most students will move cities and live in on-campus student accommodation Halls for their first year of university. During my semester, I opted for catered living in Devonshire Hall, which was only a 15 minute walk from campus and looked a lot like Hogwarts. I cannot recommend student accommodation enough – you’re living with hundreds of other students just like yourself, which makes it so easy to make friends!

Devonshire Hall consists of several houses with both catered and self-catered students. My house had 10 people in it including myself, one other Australian exchange student, one American exchange student and the rest were all English students. Being catered at Devonshire Hall (or ‘Dev’ as it was quickly termed) meant that breakfast and dinner were always social occasions used to catch up with friends and plan weekend adventures. The food was pretty good but prepare yourself…England LOVE potatoes! Dev was also a really social Hall with frequent social events, quiz nights, movie nights, hall sports teams and drama and music groups. University accommodation allows you to meet so many different kinds of people from your home country as well as international students. Besides connecting with a lot of Aussies, some of my closest friends came from various places around England, New Zealand, Iceland, Netherlands, Japan, Denmark and many more.

I chose England for the location of my exchange because of its location within Europe. Other than the friendships I formed, travelling was what I loved most about exchange. I managed to fit in travel before, during and after my semester. I loved the ability to meet people from different countries and experience a variety of cultures. Exchange allowed me to be independent and self-sufficient whilst also completing my studies and it’s something that I think everyone should experience – you won’t regret it.

Live an all American life in Alabama

Sam C. Bachelor of Business/ Bachelor of Law (Honours)
University of Alabama (Semester 2, 2018)

Going to the University of Alabama on exchange was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Stepping into a completely different culture and having the opportunity to be there for a prolonged period of time and truly immerse yourself is something that I had always aspired to do since I graduated high school. Being given that chance on exchange I was determined to take full advantage of everything that was offered to me and do my absolute best to get everything out of the experience. Right from the beginning of my exchange I adopted an open mindset in terms of participating in activities that were out of my comfort zones. I feel that this accompanied by an outgoing personality allowed me to quickly find my feet relatively and begin to develop friendships.

UoA!

On one of my first nights in Alabama myself and the other Australian I was with met a group of people who, unbeknownst to us at the time, would ultimately become our best friends on the exchange. With true Southern hospitality, these people ended up inviting us to their respective houses in Baton Rouge, Chicago, South Carolina and Tennessee at different times throughout the semester. Befriending local students also allowed me to truly experience the culture of the host university and have an authentic exchange experience.

Game days are a highlight

As our exchange unfolded I ended up meeting people from all different facets of the University and it truly felt that I had created a whole new friendship group, one removed from the one that I previously had back in Australia. For me this was probably the best thing about exchange and the thing that I miss the most being back in Brisbane. Overall, I would highly recommend exchange to everyone who is considering because there is no other experience like it!

Some of my favourite activities from

exchange:

  • Tailgating Aland football games;
  • Exploring local nature spots;
  • Greek life events; and
  • Trying (even if only once) some of the typical dining options that you see on tv e.g. Wendys, Chic-fil-a, waffle house etc.
  • We managed to fit in a lot of travelling, Chicago!

Rotterdam: The best city you’ve never heard of

Chris, M., Bachelor of Business
Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands  (Semester 1, 2018)

In the last few days of 2017 I embarked on what would be the experience of a lifetime. After saying goodbye with mixed emotions and spending over 24 hours travelling, I finally arrived in the city that would become my home for the next 6 months – Rotterdam. The first thing you notice when you step off a plane on the other side of the world is that the weather is the complete opposite. No matter how prepared I thought I was, coming from 35C summer days in Brisbane to a Dutch winter which hovers just above the 0C mark was a shock. Fortunately, this weather did not last the entire 6 months, and seeing the temperature gradually warm into a Dutch summer was something special.

After settling into my accommodation and making my first few friends there, I already had a foot in the door. Many amazing experiences followed over the next 6 months, but I’ll save you the trouble and just tell you about the things you need to know if you’re thinking that Rotterdam might be the exchange destination for you.

The Netherlands

There’s not many things that the Dutch don’t do better than Australia and the rest of the world. Between public transport that has made me fear my return to Queensland Rail, and a 95% English literacy rate (which is even higher than Canada) that meant most Dutch natives spoke better English than I did, they’re definitely doing something right.

I chose Rotterdam in the first place because I was looking for somewhere that had a culture different from Australia but also spoke English to the degree that I wouldn’t be forced to buy a premium Duolingo subscription. The Netherlands fit this criteria perfectly, and after assessing the possible universities available, I decided that Rotterdam would be the ideal host city. Although it is a modern city with everything you could ask for (being rebuilt after World War 2 makes it quite different to other traditional Dutch cities), it is still small enough that you could travel from one side to the other via bike in half an hour. The city has an arty hipster scene reminiscent of Berlin, but also a thriving business district and extensive shopping areas. It’s a bustling city and there is always something to do.

Even though Dutch culture has many similarities to that of Australia, Dutch people can be quite dry and serious on the surface. However, once you get to know them they’re very friendly. When around other Dutch people they will often speak Dutch, but don’t be alarmed as they quickly switch back to English to speak to those who don’t.

Being a small country, it is quite easy to hop on a train and travel to the next city over (or even next country) for a day trip. You’ll find yourself going to Amsterdam every few weeks, but although it is a nice tourist city, it can’t compare to the livability of Rotterdam. The infrastructure in Rotterdam is amazing, with buses, trams, trains, and a subway (the Metro) to help you get across the city with ease. On top of this, there are dedicated bike lanes all over the city which mean most people opt to ride instead of drive. Unlike Brisbane, there’s no need to fear for your life when riding a bike in the Netherlands! You still need to be careful as a pedestrian to look twice when crossing the street.

University

Sometimes you forget that this is the reason you’re here. Fortunately for me, the quality of Erasmus University Rotterdam matches the quality of the city. The Rotterdam School of Management (the faculty where I completed my studies) is one of the top 10 business schools in Europe.

The structure here is somewhat different to QUT. Each faculty has a different number of blocks (i.e. semesters), lasting different durations. At RSM, we had three 10-week blocks over the year. For me, that meant that my semester 1 was composed of two trimesters over here (January to March and April to June). Due to the academic year starting at a different time, these were their trimesters 2 and 3. The difference in timelines for each faculty can complicate doing units from outside of RSM, but it is still definitely possible if you research the duration and start dates of the units you’re interested in.

Each of the two trimesters I was here, I was enrolled in 3 or 4 RSM units. Each unit had only had one class a week; normally a lecture but sometimes a tutorial instead. This meant I was normally only in for two half days a week, allowing for a lot of free time. Since lectures are usually not recorded like they are at QUT, it was a good idea to go to most of my classes since I had so little contact time (provided I was in the city).

The assessment was comparable to QUT in relevance and difficulty. The exams were often MCQ, and the assignments were heavily team based with almost every unit having a team assignment involved. A grading scale from 1 to 10 is used here, with a 5.5 being a passing grade. The way it was marked meant getting a passing grade was comparable to QUT but achieving a top grade (10) was much harder.

The campus is a relatively large and even has space for on-campus accommodation. It’s 10-15 minutes outside of the city centre by either bike or public transport, meaning it is very accessible. Although there is little activity outside in the cold winter weather, everyone comes outside from the indoor study spaces and university bar to soak up the sun when summer arrives. During summer the campus comes alive, as does the rest of the city. Fun Fact: It took me 3 months before I saw a single pair of shorts being worn in the Netherlands.

An organisation called the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) organises many amazing trips and activities throughout the year. It is mainly focused towards exchange students and is a great way to meet new people and enjoy new experiences. Twice a year they host an ‘Intro Days’ program which I highly recommend. It’s three days full of fun activities and is one of the main ways you’ll meet many of your friends for the 6 months. Some of the highlights from ESN throughout the year include boat rides through the canals of Amsterdam on King’s Day (Dutch national holiday), a week-long trip to Berlin, Day trips to Belgium, and an outdoor cinema by the university lake.

Living

Unfortunately for me I missed out on a spot in the university accommodation on-campus. Although I recommend that everyone should try to get in as early as possible to get a spot on-campus, missing out is not the end of the world. The room I eventually found was on the other side of the city in an area called Schiedam. Fortunately, due to the amazing public transport and the relatively small size of the city, I was able to go door to door from accommodation to class room in 35 minutes despite the distance. When the weather was good I even found myself riding my bike to university, which also took 35-40 minutes. It may sound like the Tour de France, but the ride is relatively easy due to how flat the ground is. The public transport runs until 12:30AM on weekdays and until 1:30AM on Friday and Saturday, which means there’s never any problem getting to and from home if I’m hanging out at campus until late.

The on-campus accommodation is three individual rooms with a shared kitchen and bathroom. The average cost of rent is about 500 Euro ($850 AUD) per month, and ranges from 450-600 Euro depending on size and location. It is important to budget while on exchange. The cost of living is quite similar to Australia, but maybe a little more expensive. Some things are cheaper like alcohol (much cheaper), while others such as public transport can be quite expensive. If you eat in and cook for yourself, you can live off 150 Euro per month for food. However, eating out and enjoying yourself (as you should) quickly changes this.

One of the best parts about the Netherlands being so central in Europe is that you’re able to easily travel to different countries. Budget airlines and an amazing system of trains and busses makes it both cheap and easy to travel to any country across the continent. Booking in advanced (2 months) makes it even more affordable, but even last-minute flights aren’t too bad if they aren’t booked in peak tourist season (May-August).

Challenges

While exchange truly lives up to the high expectations of the amazing stories you hear, it does come with hardship. Although people don’t talk about it very often, going to a completely different country without knowing anyone can be daunting, and when the initial excitement wears off it can be scary. Whether it comes in the form of culture shock or homesickness, everyone experiences it to an extent. Being away from my family and girlfriend for the first time for such a long period was quite difficult, but there were many ways to help me overcome it. Keeping in contact with friends and family back home as well as having a support network in your new home country is key when integrating into a new lifestyle. You’ll find that a lot of other exchange students will be going through the same thing, so don’t be afraid to talk to them about it too. Especially if you’re experiencing culture shock, walking around your local area and seeing something new every day will help you adjust. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling at home!

Having a different time zone to back home can be quite tough but finding regular times to Skype or FaceTime friends and family can make it a little easier. Especially if you have a partner back home, sharing what you’re up to on exchange to make them feel involved and informed is important. But don’t forget that hearing about their day is equally important. If you’re lucky like I was, they might even get a chance to come over and visit you!

Don’t let any of this scare you off though; it’s a completely normal phase of the adjustment process and in the end, it’ll only make your experiences richer!

Overall

Going on exchange is a life-changing opportunity. Although I highly recommend Rotterdam as your university of choice, wherever you end up you shouldn’t be disappointed – it’s the people you meet and the friendships you make as much as the destination. On top of the incredible memories you’ll make, going on exchange also pushes you to grow as a person. Studying in an international environment and creating a global network dramatically increases your employability – it gives you far more experience than a line on your CV can justify. For those of you who are currently working through all the paper work in hopes of making it on exchange, let me tell you that its all worth it. For those who are still considering it, all I can say is to take the leap – you won’t regret it.

Exchange at Leeds

Emma Lewis, Bachelor of Business/Laws
University of Leeds, United Kingdom (Semester 2, 2017)

Living overseas was something that I always wanted to do but I just was not sure when I wanted to do it. The student exchange program through QUT gave me the opportunity to take this step whilst also being supported by the QUT Global team with specialist knowledge of overseas university courses and accommodation. I chose the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom as my host university based on the glowing recommendations of my friends who had attended this university in the past. My cousin, who has not lived in Australia for over 10 years, also lived nearby in Harrogate and I wanted to be able to spend time with her and her young family.

I chose to use my four general electives within my law degree in order to study overseas. This meant that I was able to undertake any subject (within certain parameters) so long as I have not and will not complete equivalent subjects in my degree at QUT. As I wanted to expand my academic horizons, I sought to do subjects that I would not normally be exposed to at home. I did three subjects at Leeds (a full course load) including Medieval Literature, Britain and the EU and 20th Century British History. These may be perceived as left-field choices but they greatly benefited my understanding of British political culture and hot topic issues in international affairs.

In Leeds, I lived in an apartment with four other international students who were studying at the same university. We were from all different corners of the globe – Australia, Denmark, Norway, United States and Chile. We shared our favourite meals, music and TV shows with each other and became such close friends. It was only a five minute walk to class from my apartment and that was a blessing, especially when the days got even more cold and dark. There is a vibrant student culture on campus with events, markets and sports games on every week. The student union also organised regular trips around the country which I would encourage anyone to take advantage of!

During this experience, I traveled Europe and saw places that once only existed in pictures. It expanded my world view and exposed me to the most interesting people who have continued to shape the way I perceive different cultures. From my little bubble in Brisbane, I opened myself up to all the beauty and history of the UK and beyond. Exchange provided me with a rich education which extended further than academics alone. I believe I returned as a more well-rounded, resilient and passionate individual ready to take on the next stage of my professional career.