‘Crisps’ or ‘Chips’?

One of the first things I remember being told about exchange is that assimilating into another culture can be hard. “It’s England,” I thought. “It can’t be that hard.” If I was to study in Italy or France, a country whose first language wasn’t English; that would be hard.  Now I’ll just get this out of the road and say it. I was wrong. It wasn’t ‘hard’ per say, but it was a lot different than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, I love England. I love the perpetual cold and rainy days, the history, the Victorian architecture. But there are a few things that confused the hell out of me and here they are.

The people.
I now have many British friends, some of whom are from London. I have no problems getting along with these people – love ‘em to bits. But when I first walked through the streets of London I wasn’t met by friendly smiles, or people willing to help out the lost tourist. Instead they were steely eyed and hell bent on getting from A to B without disruption. At first it made me think ‘Oh god, why did I choose this country’ BUT I got used to it, it’s not bad it’s just different and that’s okay. Besides, now I know my way around I’m just another person on the escalator getting frustrated when some doesn’t stand on the right (this is a must: overtaking on the left, standing on the right).

Food.
You’d think being fairly similar countries the food in England wouldn’t be all too different from the food in Australia. For the most part that’s true but imagine my shock and disgust to open a blue packet of crisps (chips, I mean chips) to find not original, but salt and vinegar and that’s not the half of it. Cinnamon on donuts? Nope, sugar, sugar and more sugar. A bit of chicken salt on my chips? Ha, no. Pasito soft drink? Silly Australian, no again. Okay, I’m probably exaggerating slightly, the food is edible but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t counting down the days until I can buy a pie.

Obvious disapproval of being mislead by the blue packaging.

Language.
Yes we may both speak English but to say I haven’t had a few issues in communicating simply isn’t true. Among the few:
Pants. Get used to asking for ‘trousers’ when shopping or be prepared to have the awkward ‘ah actually I was looking for thermal trousers, not literal heated underwear’ conversation,’ you’ve been warned.
Capsicum.
My first Subway encounter went a little like this: “I’ll have the green capsicum too thanks”

Subway employee,”uh… the what?”

“Capsicum, the green stuff?”

Friend, “Emma. That’s pepper.”

*Sighs internally*

Orange squash.
Sadly I learned the hard way that this is in no way orange juice or at a stretch, soft drink. It’s cordial. It took drinking a full glass of the stuff to realise that. Safe to say the flat mates have no let me live it down.

And of course we have the obvious, thongs.
On multiple occasions I’ve gotten the ‘that’s way too much information Emma’ look when saying, “I’m just going to put my thongs on before we go.”

My point here is that YES England is an English speaking country, YES it’s very similar to home and YES it really doesn’t take that long to settle in. BUT there are some things (plenty more that I haven’t talked about here) that are simply going to confuse the hell out of you or make you feel uncomfortable so don’t be surprised or feel stupid when it happens. It takes a while and debates like ‘crisps’ or ‘chips’ still happen but I’ve finally managed to stop myself before blurting out ‘capsicum’ at Subway. Adapting is key. Enjoy England.

A Polish Experience

Clay A, Master of Business

Warsaw School of Economics (Semester 2, 2016)

I have just completed one semester at Szkoła Główna Handlowa w Warszawie aka the Warsaw School of Economics (SGH) in Warsaw, Poland. It was a truly fantastic experience.

SGH Main Building

SGH is a reputable business university in Warsaw located just south of the city centre. The campus itself is spread out over a couple of blocks in various, interesting looking buildings. The university itself is quite old, as are some of the teaching methods (over-head projectors, no lecture recordings, and best of all black boards with chalk) and I enjoyed every second of it. There are also very modern classrooms as shown below.

The main difference I noticed between SGH and QUT is that SGH is far more formal and the students are treated more like young adults. The students at SGH are required to call the lecturers ‘professor’ as opposed to the more casual approach at QUT. This formality is most likely reflective of Polish language and culture as a whole, which seems generally more formal. One thing I have noticed in my time abroad is that Australia is an extremely casual and laid-back country, and that we never get views like this from our classroom.

International Finance Lecture Room

Don’t let the formality of Polish culture put you off, this formality is mainly limited to the older generation. The younger Polish people I met in Warsaw were always very interested to learn that I was from Australia and were eager to practice their English speaking skills on me especially some Australian slang that they had picked up. The general consensus of people I spoke to referred to Australia as a ‘dream country’. Not many people I met had visited Australia but all of them seemed to have a distant relative or friend living in Australia. The cost of travelling to Australia played a major role in deterring people from visiting.

Always snow out of the window

The currency in Poland is the Polish zloty (pronounced zwotie), which equates to about 1/3 of an AU$ which was ideal for me and the other foreigners as the cost of living in Poland is very cheap, especially compared to its neighbouring countries in the EU zone. A 6 month student public transport card for unlimited travel was the equivalent AUD$100. The cost of food in restaurants, even very fancy places, was significantly cheaper than any major city in Australia.

I really enjoyed the Polish cuisine, especially during the colder months. It consisted of lots of different soups, meat (pork knuckles, beef tartar, ribs, duck legs etc), potatoes and cabbage (boiled, stewed, pickled). But the most notable of the Polish cuisines was the pierogi! Pierogi are Polish dumplings, the encasing of which are not too dissimilar from a Chinese dumpling, however the fillings are mainly cabbage, mushroom, beef, pork and are often covered with a bacon/oil sauce. Delicious!

Various styles of Pierogi

There were many international students at SGH, a large portion was from Germany but I also made friends with many Italians, Spanish, Portuguese, South Americans and even Egyptians. Two notable highlights for me in my time abroad was firstly having a Christmas party in my apartment with all my SGH friends, everyone came wearing their ugliest Christmas jumper and bringing with them a native dish from their country. The night ended with karaoke with everyone singing songs in their mother tongue. There was a total of 6 different languages sung, something which is very rare in Australia, but probably far more common in Europe.

The other highlight for me was travelling all over Europe, visiting a total of 16 countries in 5 months. The most memorable was travelling to Italy over the Christmas break, I was lucky enough to be invited for Christmas lunch to a friend’s family home I met at SGH in Treviso, Italy. I had a memorable and very delicious experience which was possible because of Erasmus experience at SGH.

I would highly recommend taking up the challenge/experience of studying abroad.

International Christmas Party

Highlights and tips for a semester in Madrid

James W, Bachelor of Engineering

Polytechnic University of Madrid (Semester 2, 2016)

Madrid is a large, lively, beautiful and friendly city. There are always events and things to do, incredible public transport, a compact city centre and it is really safe! Even though it is a big metropolitan city it still has an interesting and different culture. It´s very refreshing to learn about Spanish history, customs and traditions that continue to influence the country a lot today in spite of globalisation and tourism.

If you ever get bored of the capital, Spain is an incredible country to explore. Every single town and city has its own festival, most of them being week long parties filled with free live music, fireworks, dancing, shows and events. Most of these are around summer but don´t miss out whilst you´re there! I went to: la Tomatina, a festival where everyone throws tomatoes at each other. Semana Grande, a week long festival of free music, theatre, sporting events, fireworks and performances. Las Fallas, a festival where artists spend the entire year creating incredibly tall statues the size of buildings and large trees before burning them all on one spectacular night. San Fermines, a week long festival where every morning they run bulls and people down the middle of the streets! There are many more someone could go to and they´re all very different depending on the local region and culture!

The universities are totally different to ours in Australia which makes for a really interesting and potentially challenging experience as well. The bureaucracy, facilities and teaching styles are quite different and seem a bit outdated but actually have a lot of advantages too. The classes tend to be smaller with attendance often compulsory, which makes it easier to get to know the professors and become more interested in the subjects. There is often less dependence on technology which can help fight against the distractions of the internet and “computer says no” bureaucracy.

Living in Madrid is also great because it´s very cheap! There is accommodation for all budgets to be able to live centrally, I lived in the city centre for less than 110 dollars a week with only a week’s search (although a reasonable understanding of Spanish may be required for this). Unlimited public transport pass is 30 dollars a month for under 26 year olds with most services run from 6am to 2am. There are also 24/7 bus routes connecting to the city centre. The university offers 3 course buffet style meals for $7.5 which are so big I used to split the meals across lunch and dinner. That´s less than $8 for lunch, dinner and dessert – they even wash the dishes for you! Coffee can be bought in cafe´s for as cheap as a dollar as well. Going out is also great as they have an incredible bar and tapas culture as well as a wide variety of clubs although most the music is reggaeton, which you´ll learn to love as well.

So go there, make some great friends, travel the country, go to some festivals and enjoy the great tapas and cheap cañas!

Making the most of my time in Vienna

Olivia R, Bachelor of Business/Laws

University of Vienna (Semester 2, 2016)

Travelling to Vienna, Austria, I was overwhelmed with the prospect of studying human rights law in the place so deeply rooted in the fundamentals of legal first principles. As my classes were in English, and many exchange students were not from English-speaking countries, the subjects themselves were quite light on. It was fairly disheartening, though allowed me to realign my future goals. The main building of The University of Vienna is incredible, though only history and English subjects are taught in that building.

The main staircase of The University of Vienna & throwing a cheeky snowball in Stadt Park, Vienna on the first snow day.

Prior to departure, I had been told to budget more than other exchange destinations. Vienna, Austria, is renowned for its extravagant coffee houses, long nights at the State Opera House, and elaborate palaces. While its First District, the Inner Stadt, is notoriously expensive, on par with Sydney or Melbourne, not too many students venture out to the restaurants and hotels in this area. As long as you have a budget figured out, and are pretty good at sticking to it, there’s no reason you can’t occasionally treat yourself to one of those famous coffee houses. Part of my budgeting was to live in student accommodation a bit further out of the city, in order to take advantage of the plethora of Eastern European countries at Austria’s doorstep.

An autumn sunset in Vienna & christmas lights in Vienna’s Inner Stadt

Over my five months in Austria I managed to pack in 11 other countries. A quick 50-minute bus ride east will find you in sweet little Bratislava, Slovakia. A small and relatively quiet capital city usually, Bratislava played host to the international White Night Festival the weekend I was there. I feel that I saw Bratislava at its absolute best—a light, culture and food festival lasting from 6pm-6am, and the Slovakians were out in full force for it!

Looking up to Bratislava Castle.

Next was Ljubljana, Slovenia. As a bit of an underdog city, I had no real idea of what to expect from Ljubljana. I went with two other exchange students. Having no preconception whatsoever of Slovenia, we had an absolutely incredible weekend. Slovenia is certainly an up and coming country, with many local designers and concept stores lining its streets. Ljubljana was awarded the greenest city in Europe for 2016, and no wonder! With cool social enterprise restaurants that charge per minute you’re inside and bikes stationed all over the city. We even made it out to Lake Bled for a chilly afternoon.

While I could write at length about each country and culture I visited, I feel these two places were their own kind of highlight. Were it not for the proximity of these places that Austria facilitated, I may not have ever travelled to these trendy places. These were such memorable destinations purely from the pleasant surprise of how much I enjoyed them, and a kind of opening of my world view when it comes to travel.

At the Vienna State Opera & The 180 Degrees Consulting Team.

Vienna itself provides a multitude of cultural experiences, from the State Opera House, to the extraordinary Albertina Museum and the historical significance embedded in its very identity. Vienna is truly a destination for history buffs, with plaques commemorating World War II significances, infamous psychologists and composers on almost every corner of the Inner Stadt.

While in Vienna, I was privileged to be a part of 180 Degrees Consulting Vienna. I was part of a team advising a firm that established an online job platform for Austrian refugees. For me, this was the definite highlight of my whole trip. We were also awarded the best project for Austria that semester. I met some incredible and impassioned people using social enterprise, who I am sure I will keep in contact with. It has encouraged me to join the 180 Degrees Consulting UQ team.

An Engineer Abroad

Jacob W,  Bachelor of Engineering

Exeter University (Semester 2, 2016)

 

A blog for uni, I must write,

as I sit and wait for my flight.

Home, I am bound,

Now I am out of euro & pound.

An adventure I have had,

soon to see friends and family though, I am glad.

It was July I left, travel and study abroad lay ahead,

though now in hindsight I feel I may have been misled.

A semester abroad can be really great,

unfortunately for me it was not to be my fate,

often you will read and hear,

“Embarking on exchange was the best decision I made this year”

“Don’t think, just do it” was something I read,

take heed! think! before dreams fill your head.

Life in Exeter, day to day

very similar to home though in winter, dreary and grey.

I lived with a lovely brother & sister, just out of town,

my expectations for foreign dorm life meant this was a slight let down.

Weekend trips to the English countryside, I thought there would be many,

lots of assignments ensured there were hardly any.

All-nighters in week two, something must be wrong,

Suddenly my time abroad was seeming very long.

Weeks turned to months and I eventually settled in,

I made a lifelong friend, thank god as things were looking a bit grim.

I did have a lot fun, travelling and meeting people along the way,

     seeing the sights and trying new foods, almost every day.

     Beer bike tours and river boat cruises in Budapest,

     these experiences might have been the best.

Though the delicious Polish sausage in Krakow,

    Chargrilled from a food truck, I wish I had one now.

    However, I can’t forget snowboarding in Norway,

      Amazing Berlin Christmas markets and all the Paris Clichés.

    There are many more highlights and stories to tell,

    Though I’ll wrap up this poem before you’re bored as hell.

So my semester abroad is done,

looking back, mostly I remember the fun.

Contemplating exchange? Here’s my final advice,

Dream big, get inspired but also think twice!

If you decide to go, pack light,

double check your passport before every flight.

Try to see everything but also study hard,

Call your parents and send them a post card.

 

Life in Exeter

To most people, the prospect of living and studying in England isn’t really a challenge and in many ways it’s not. The culture is similar, the language is the same and university assessment is fairly alike. Until you get to a new country however, you have no idea what you’re in for. So… what’s it really like to live in Exeter, England?

Exeter? It’s a uni town. No hour long journeys to get to an 8.30am lecture or city protests blocking your way into campus. It has everything you need to get through uni; shops, clubs, scenery by the Quay and even Deliveroo. It’s a 3hour train from London making it the perfect place to study on the cheap but also close enough to the the big city to make weekend trips away achievable.

Day trip to London, Camden Town

The uni? From the outside it’s like being back at QUT. There’s never enough seats in the library, the food court is a nightmare and getting to the other end of campus is too far for a couch potato like me. What’s different though is the culture. QUT has societies and clubs but they aren’t a big part of student life. At the University of Exeter however, almost every student is a member of at least two societies. There’s a new social on every week and the students thrive on this sense of community. This is definitely something I’d love to bring back home to QUT.

Teaching? Assessment? Less contact hours is something I was pleasantly surprised by. Alongside a completely different teaching timetable. Weeks 1 to 11 are spent teaching, we then have a month break (which has just finished), followed by a month of exams. Assessment is fairly standard but only needing a passing mark of 40% is quite deceiving. Students rarely receive anything over a 65% and getting a 1st (equivalent to a QUT 7) is almost unheard of. So to say it was a shock when I got my first piece of assessment back is an understatement.

My flat? Thank God for uni accommodation; gone are the days when I have to get up early to make it to class on time. My flat overlooks the campus and all classes are a 5-minute walk away. The communal areas are cleaned 3 times a week and I have a bigger room than I did back home (winning).

View of Streatham Campus from my flat window

My flat mates? We have 4 English students, 1 Welsh, 1 Spanish, 1 French and 1 Australian. Living with so many people might seem like a struggle to some, but the only space we share is the kitchen/dining area. It has been the best opportunity I’ve had to meet people and make friends; living on campus is by far the best option when studying abroad.

Choosing Exeter for my study abroad experience is by far one of the best choices I’ve made. With only a month and a half left here I’m devastated at how fast the time is going. It’s made my time in England a home away from home PLUS J.K. Rowling studied here so would I come back? Definitely.

Immersed in Parisian life

Holly T, Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Creative Industries

IESEG School of Management (Semester 2, 2016) 

Returning from exchange, I still have to pinch myself that I spent a semester abroad in Paris (!!!!). It honestly still feels like a dream and was by far the best experience of my life.

Visiting the Eiffel Tower

I attended IESEG School of Management, at their Paris campus. I was the only QUT student to attend this campus (their other being in the north of France in Lille), and when I arrived found out I was also the only Australian at the whole university. Talk about culture shock! There is no sugar-coated way to put it, but at the start of this experience I was extremely overwhelmed. Not only did I underestimate the limited number of people who speak English in France, but also underestimated the cultural difference between my peers and I. I travelled around Europe for a month before arriving in Paris, and thought I had this European thing worked out… however Aussies will always be that little bit different. Fortunately, this grey period only lasted about 2 weeks and after this I felt more at home than ever. Meeting people from all over the world, and having a great group of friends all from the Nordic countries, exchange was nothing like I had ever expected… but even better.

IESEG has a completely different way of functioning to QUT, and I completed 14 subjects over the semester, both masters and bachelor courses, all ranging from 13 weeks to just one week long. It was a SUPER intensive study load, with non-attendance to classes meaning you fail, so the time spent at the campus was quite a lot. That being said, I learnt so much about so many different topics. Doing my QUT electives while I was there meant I had the freedom to pick almost anything from their wide range of courses. My favourites included Parisian contemporary society, retail marketing strategy, online global retail, trends in digital innovation, and market of art. For each class the mark would be based on attendance, an oral presentation and an exam or assignment.

The view from my bedroom window!

IESEG is located at La Defense, in the central business district of Paris, just outside the actual borders. However as the campus accommodation provided was a lot more expensive I sourced my own accommodation through Air BnB. I stayed in an apartment in the 6th arrondissement in Saint Germain that was absolutely incredible and only a 20 minute metro ride to uni. It allowed me to experience a lot more of the culture and environment of Paris, with bakeries on every corner and within walking distance of the Seine river and the Jardin De Luxembourg.  I would highly recommend this option if studying in Paris, as most other students did the same. It was easy to go to each other’s places and also meet up throughout the city. The cost of living in Paris is quite high. Transport with the metro is expensive compared to Australia. There are options for both low and high-priced food… but French food is delicious, and the city is flooding with restaurants and bars, you will eat out a lot more than you think.

La Defense Christmas Markets on Campus – the second-biggest in Paris

 

During my exchange I travelled to many other countries, and having the ability to do so was definitely a highlight of my experience. Meeting with friends on exchange elsewhere in Europe to see their host-cities, and then exploring even more cities together has been the best way to travel for an extended period but also continue my studies. Another highlight of the experience would be exploring France, and seeing the diverse areas of this amazing country. It is by far my favourite place in the world. The people are not what every one says they are – they were friendly and always willing to have a laugh at my poor French or their poor English. The amount of ‘lost in translation’ moments I had were too funny to recount. The cheese and bread is better than what people say, and honestly you will be a foie gras connoisseur in no time at all.

I recommend to everyone to go on exchange. It is quite honestly the best thing I have ever done. Paris is an amazing city, and I felt so at home there.

Merci beaucoup

Study, snow and sauna in beautiful Sweden

Daniel D, Bachelor of Urban Development

Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan (Semester 2, 2016)

My name’s Daniel and right now, I am writing this blog looking out at the snow-covered streets and trees below and it’s a bit surreal compared to Brisbane. But I have to say that my semester here at Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan (or Royal Institute of Technology) here in Stockholm, Sweden has been amazing.

There are some interesting differences between KTH and QUT though. For a start, the university just north of the heart of the city has some stunning old Harry Potter-like buildings and a beautiful nature reserve right behind it. The semester here is divided into two parts and you finish two subjects completely in part one and the other two in the second part. This means that lectures and tutorials are a bit more intense (halfway through one lot of classes in three weeks!). But there are also similarities, coffee everywhere and at least for my subjects a lot of work on some big but interesting projects.

The main building at KTH after an Autumn snow fall.

Sweden is an interesting country, the stereotype is that they are very introverted but each study area has a social chapter and I got the chance to meet a lot of Swedes who were outgoing and very friendly and so many had been to Australia on a gap year and one of my class teachers actually went on exchange to QUT before they graduated. This chapter also put on some great events like a traditional Swedish Gasque (dinner, drinking and traditional drinking songs) and a sauna and dip in the freezing river as well as sports like Innebandy (floorball).

Most Swedes seemed surprised that an Australian wanted to come over in winter, sub-zero temperatures and 6-hour days but it is these differences that makes Sweden such an interesting place. Christmas was so ‘chrismassy’, for want of a better word, and snow makes it magical.

Christmas Market at Gamla Stan (the old town).

Tips:

Have a backup plan. I went travelling and was unfortunately pickpocketed in Poland but luckily I had all my documents and everything backed up so I got back to Sweden okay and everything was sorted. Also, make sure you have Google Translate; it’s great for finding out what the food is in the supermarket, like sour cream is gräddfil, and filmjölk is not milk and if you don’t know that then your breakfast is going to taste very weird. Which leads to the next thing, stuff is a bit expensive in Sweden and Scandinavia in general, even compared to Australia so be prepared for that. With this in mind, the most important tip is take things as they come and appreciate the whole experience as it will be amazing. 

During a wander through a local national park. That white space is a lake I went to on an excursion in summer.

Welsh Semester Abroad

Morton, G. Bachelor of Business

Cardiff University (Semester 2, 2016)

Student exchange was an eye opening experience for me. I attended Cardiff University in Wales, which encouraged me to travel around Europe 3 months prior to arriving in Cardiff and continue to visit surrounding domestic and international cities during my study. The academic opportunity granted me access to different resources and professors which enhanced my learning skills and made me adapt to new teaching techniques and software programs. I enjoyed experiencing the ways of teaching from another country and seeing what new habits I could use back in Brisbane to help me develop further at QUT. Wales was a brilliant location that allowed me to travel to 40 different cities in close proximity to where I was prepared to live for 4 months. I definitely did not want to take this for granted and so I recommend to save a lot of money and make the most of your time abroad in terms of using it as an opportunity to see the greater world as well. Not only living on the other side of the world, but living out of home as well forced me to manage my money and budget ahead which is a skill that I will constantly work on.I am sure I will return one day to revisit the town I called home and see the friends I made. I found meeting other Australian’s overseas to be such an asset to my travels and there are people that I know I will forever be in contact with. You and likeminded travelers are all there for the same reason and you find that to be such a strong foundation to a guaranteed blossoming friendship. But do not underestimate the great opportunity it is to also meet people who grew up in a different country and culture to you! Now that I have returned home I realise all the small things I took for granted before I travelled. The white sand beaches we have such easy access to, the vibrant sun that we can eat our breakfast underneath every day and the internationally attractive city. The UK has a lot to offer, but darker, colder and shorter days do make you appreciate the pristine summer of Australia.I have no regrets from my exchange and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I am not the same person as I was before I left and I feel as though I have matured and grown completely from the experience. It will be something I never forget and I can’t wait to return one day soon.

Ready, Set, Go

Anna B, Bachelor of Creative Industries

Aalto University, Finland (Semester 2, 2016)

Ten tips for anyone ready to go on the ride.

  1. Consider your options. I wanted to go to Leads England and ended up at Aalto University Finland. A huge blessing
  2. Take risks
  3. The people you meet on exchange will change your life. Make the most of every moment last
  4. Be who you want to be on exchange. You are in a new place you can test a new version of you.
  5. Get dirty. Travel to the small places they are always the best. Be a traveler not tourist. Experience a place don’t just visit it.
  6. Find snow it is great
  7. Take advantage of the experiences this new university offers you. You never know the impact it has on you till when you get back.
  8. Embrace change it’s all part of the ride.
  9. Student discounts are life use it.
  10. The ride will be over before you know it. Enjoy it