Settling in to Simon Fraser, Canada

Mikaela H
Bachelor of Business (Marketing) / Bachelor of Creative Industries (Fashion Communication)
Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada

 

For semester one of 2017 I partook in an exchange at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver, Canada. Doing university at SFU was different from the get go with the semester starting on the 4th of January. For Canada, this was the middle of winter and for Vancouver this usually means a fair bit of rain and snow so make sure you pack your thermals because it gets pretty cold!

It’s cold from the beginning – pack your thermals!

In terms of accommodation I applied for on-campus student accommodation at SFU’s Burnaby campus. The building I stayed in for this consisted of dormitory style buildings in which you had your own room in a hallway of rooms beside each other with a shared bathroom, kitchen and lounge room. If given the chance with exchange anywhere I would highly recommend trying to stay on-campus because I found it a lot easier to make friends as a lot of the people there are in the same boat as you.

The friends I met while staying on campus

 

Overall, I had an amazing exchange, did so many things I’ve never done before like snowboarding as well making some long lasting friendships with people from all over the world as well as Canada.

Settling into Thai time

It has almost been two weeks since I first touched down in Thailand. Although I haven’t been here long yet, I have already faced so many challenges and have discovered many fascinating things about life in Thailand.

As this is my first blog post I think I am going to answer one of the most common questions I have been asked “why did you choose to study abroad in Thailand?” as well as how settling in to a new and very different home has been so far.

When I decided I wanted to go on exchange I spent a long time working out where exactly I wanted to go. I knew I wanted to go somewhere very different from Australia. I also knew that I wanted to travel quite a bit while I was away so finding somewhere affordable and close to other countries was also important. The last criteria I had was I wanted to be able to receive credit for core subjects while I was abroad. Out of all the options I was given Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand was able to tick the most boxes. Whilst for me Thailand seemed to be the best option it was quite clear that for most other students at QUT it was not. The lack of previous students having attended Thammasat University made it difficult to talk to someone who knew exactly what life would be like there. Also, due to the language barrier, many aspects of the university website were confusing and unclear. The lack of information about my studies and other things like how easy it would be to make friends and the best places to live was quite frankly a bit terrifying.

Thammasat University uniform

I arrived in Bangkok on the 2nd of January hoping to relieve some of my concerns during orientation week. The first event that I attended was uniform shopping. Yes, that is correct, in Thailand university students generally wear uniforms. I began to get a better picture of how the university and Thai student life worked after speaking to some of the Thai students that helped us buy our uniforms.

  1. The faculty I was in meant that I only had to wear a uniform when I was having mid-semester or final exams.
  2. Out of the 80 odd new exchange students only one other would be up at the Rangsit campus (just north of Bangkok) with me because most of the English programs were at the campus in the city.
  3. Thai people are really friendly and helpful people.

The university also paired me up with a couple of Thai students who studied up on the Rangsit campus. Both girls that I was paired up with were very lovely and helpful. They guided me on everything from how to get around to where to live. Although I was fortunate to have such supportive people helping me out I still struggled with simple things such as reading and signing the lease of the apartment I am living in. It may have been translated into English but the sentences did not make much sense. Since I was no longer in the tourist area asking a taxi or motorbike driver to take me somewhere was very difficult and it helped me realise how important learning some Thai would be for survival while I am studying here.

I have had one week of classes and so far, I have had a mixture of teachers. Some have been extremely charismatic, and good at English. Whereas others have been quite strict or had to ask other students to help translate some sentences into English for me. Either way being in journalism and communication classes have already proved to be a great way to get an inside look at different issues in Thailand and aspects of Thai culture that are not as obvious. I am very interested to see what the rest of the semester holds.

Although I came to Thailand with a bunch of concerns I have been able to work through all of the challenges and so far I am very happy with how everything is going. Being at Rangsit campus has turned out to be a positive. It has helped me to be able to befriend more Thai students than I would have been able to otherwise. I am also really lucky that the other exchange student in my faculty is really awesome and it has been great to have someone to travel to places near our campus and places closer into Bangkok with. I have learnt so much about Thailand and myself already and cannot wait for the next four and a half months here. I am going to try and post as much as I can on Instagram so if you would like to see more of my travels follow gabcarter.

“This exchange to me was a defining moment in my life.”

I will admit that moving to Italy was not an easy challenge personally as I had not had this type of experience before, in addition to the language barrier that I had to face. It was very intimidating. However, in the moment of being overseas and living there for 6 months I knew that everything there was because of me and thus I was responsible for everything that happened next. As a result I took courage and ventured forth to put myself out there, seeking help, making friends, getting as much experience as I could.

Riva del Garda, the biggest river in Italy on a summers day

To go on exchange is not easy, you expose yourself and let the world absorb you and you experience what the world has to offer. I would definitely recommend anyone to go on exchange, I considered myself to be an introvert before the exchange and during this period I had a change of heart to force myself out there and I can really see the benefits. It’s a risk, but the risk is worth if even if there are times were things are lonesome or grim but the fact of the matter is, you’re on exchange, you’re overseas. Make the most of it, pick yourself up and just get moving.

 

This exchange to me was a defining moment in my life.

 

Despite being 6 months, these six months are what made me choose and reaffirm my position not only in this career pathway but the decision for QUT being a university for the real world. I have changed personally, wiser, smarter and generally more open to anything and anyone as to feed my now fond spontaneous nature. Academically, I have had a revelation as to what it is to study, the importance for self-discipline, routine and the need to ask for help when needed. For my thesis work that I had completed, I worked on it alone and to my luck, had someone that worked on a similar material and was able to collaborate and get enough help to push me over the line.

Trying hot pot with a friend from Hong Kong

Working in a lab every week for a long period of time also enabled me to have a sense to how a professional job would feel like, the experience of having meetings, emailing updates, forms, presentations and events. It felt that in the work environment, a laboratory that is close functions well and brings morale high.

This experience is something unlike anything and definitely is my point of reference in my life as to when I changed for the real world. I would strongly recommend anyone to take the chance, take that leap of faith and venture outside the comfort zone and see how it is outside of your own culture and home. To go on exchange is a must at least once during a degree.

Joshua C
Bachelor of Engineering
University of Trento, Italy

From big city Brisbane to small town Trento

The currency in Italy is the Euro which is generally about one third stronger than the Australian dollar. This was a bit of a blow as the money from the scholarship (9.5k) became lesser than anticipated and in this regards the concern of converting it all in one swoop or continuously was a dangerous risk as in some instances (what happened personally) the Australian dollar consistently dropped in strength meaning that when converting you were losing money comparatively if you had converted it all in the beginning.

Compared to Brisbane there prices are rather, odd. Expensive things in Australia would be really cheap in Italy and vice versa. This made a bit of an issue on then seeing the necessity of certain products.

This made having a budget key,

there were three major bills the pay and consider; accommodation rent, phone bill and public transport bill. These monthly would chew a large chunk of your budgeting expenses and didn’t leave much wiggle room, however, after consideration it is reasonably prices putting considerations into effect and made budgeting an easier very serious thing to do.

Personally I used a travel visa card which helped and lessened the need to withdraw money which would have a standard fee to do so and so the travel card was accepted in essentially all cases (besides a flea market).

Trento being a lovely place was easy to settle in and understand how it functioned, it being a small town made it feel safer comparatively to Brisbane big metropolitan city lifestyle. Although I had taken precautionary methods to ensure my safety I found myself being too critical of the locals and the people who were there and decided to present myself to strangers, saying hello, talking, interacting and to my surprise everyone was willing to stop and have a small dialogue.

Joshua C
Bachelor of Engineering
University of Trento, Italy

What to expect in Trento, small-town Italy

Joshua C
Bachelor of Engineering
University of Trento, Italy

 

My exchange program was placed and set in the northern part of Italy, Trento, a small city town that is located in the gulf between two mountains. Initially I had chosen this partner university by its impressive range of subjects that it offered in the field that interested me, biomedical engineering.

At this point I had no idea how things functioned overseas in a different culture and found myself in a new position of having to adjust myself. First arriving to meet my professors and colleagues I was nervous being relatively young and with the most minimal experience in comparison to those within the laboratory. This led me to the feeling as if I was inadequate to be there among everyone else as, I believed, the skill gap was too big for me.

However the hospitality, warmness and kindness of those within the laboratory aided me into being confident and strengthen myself immensely with how the exchange would progress.

 

The main square ‘duomo’ in which the statue of Poseidon with the trident stands on top of a well

Trento in itself, is a very small town located 100km above Verona (between Venice and Milan) and still holds dear the architecture, customs and style of a town well aged. The noticeable different between QUT and the University of Trento was the campus, unlike QUT where faculties have their respective buildings (P Block – Engineers, D Block – Design, etc) Trento had the faculties located around the town, with the major campus being in the city centre and the others in the surrounding suburbs. The University of Trento is a very beautiful and well-functioning university. The facilities that are offered are extremely well thought out and also aesthetically pleasing bringing a lighter to mood to things.

 

In addition to this, there were cafeterias. This was something totally foreign to me but as I visited it daily, I found myself enjoying it and soon enough become accustomed to it.

A Semester in the True North

Kathryn Frost – Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Laws (Honours)
University of Ottawa (Semester 1, 2017 Exchange)

I was fortunate enough to spend Semester 1, 2017 completing an exchange at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. Applying for an exchange at the University of Ottawa was definitely the best decision I’ve ever made and my exchange takes the cake as the best six months of my life!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Studying at Ottawa

I was enrolled in the Faculty of Common Law, but in addition to studying two law subjects, I was also able to study two history subjects within the Faculty of Arts. Whilst the academic system at uOttawa was similar to QUT, I noticed some differences:

  • Class sizes for my law subjects were a lot smaller than at QUT – there were only 20 students in each of my subjects!
  • I had a lot more contact hours at uOttawa than I have had at QUT. As I had to attend two classes per week for each subject, I had classes 5 days per week.
  • Classes aren’t recorded and most professors take attendance, so you really do have to attend classes.

Accommodation

The majority of exchange students that I knew lived in Brooks Residence, which made for a fun living arrangement. I lived in a four-bedroom apartment in Brooks Residence, with an English and Belgian housemate. Some of the highlights of living in residence included many communal dinners, sleepovers and 2am fire evacuations! Living on campus has many benefits, including proximity to university facilities and classes (which is very convenient during winter when you have to trek through very cold and snowy weather on icy footpaths to get to class!) but also the atmosphere and experience of on-campus life is unbeatable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Student Life & Activities

I attended numerous university events including the annual Capital Hoops basketball game where the uOttawa Gee-Gees face off against the Carleton University Ravens at the Canadian Tire Centre, ice hockey games, as well as the campus Poutine and Snow Festivals and weekly pet therapy sessions! The International Office ran an exchange buddy program, and also organized events for exchange students, including a day trip to Parc Oméga in Quebec, a Canadian-style safari park, and tickets to a NHL game at the Canadian Tire Centre. I attended a weekend trip to Quebec City including a day of dog sledding, snowmobiling and ice fishing, and a 3-day trip to the North of Canada to stay with Indigenous people and learn about their way of life, both of which were organized by the university’s outdoor activities coordinator.

The Weather

One important thing to note about living on the east coast of Canada is the weather! It can get extremely cold in winter. The coldest weather I experienced was -32, with the wind chill factor making it ‘feel like’ -35. Most of the buildings at uOttawa are connected so that students can avoid walking outside on very cold days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips for Future Students

  • In the semester that I was studying at uOttawa, Law students didn’t have a ‘reading week’ (i.e. mid-semester break), whereas every other faculty did, so keep that in mind when you are making travel plans.
  • I would definitely encourage future students to study a French language subject while at uOttawa. This is something I wish I had done!

 

 

 

 

It is nearly impossible to pick the highlight of my exchange, having experienced so many new and incredible things during my time in Ottawa and throughout my travels. However, the clear winner would have to be the friends I made during my time in Ottawa. I am so lucky to have met so many incredible people from all over the world (including Canada!) who I know will be friends for life. These friends definitely made my exchange experience all that it was and I look forward to meeting up with them again in the future.

 

Ei-ffel in love with Paris

Marcella Denaro – Bachelor of Business
Universite Paris Dauphine (Semester 1, 2017 Exchange)

My exchange experience is one I will definitely treasure forever. What an amazing opportunity to be able to immerse yourself in a foreign country while partaking in a completely different study regime and culture. Paris’ Universite Dauphine was extremely welcoming to the large amount of foreign students arriving from all over the globe and made the transition almost seamless, particularly as the vast majority spoke minimal French. As an ex-United Nations building, the campus was vast and housed many conference rooms that no-doubt used to host many dignitaries and discussions.

Paris as a city takes your breath away every day. It is a city with no shortage of good food and beautiful architecture that can be found nowhere else. I would often spend my afternoons reading in Jardin du Luxembourg, just a ten minute walk from where I lived where you can spot the top of the Eiffel Tower. It is those moments that I have really missed since returning home. I’d recommend learning some basic French before embarking on a trip to Paris as the locals really appreciate it.

Paris was the perfect city for me and I would not change anything about my experience. I traveled to amazing places and met people I still keep in touch with. I could not recommend exchange more!

Norwegian Adventure

Kathleen, O. Bachelor of Business

Norwegian Business School (Semester 2, 2017)

Norway? Why did you pick Norway? – Most common question I received after getting my acceptance letter. Next in line was Australia *shocked face* gosh that must have been a long flight, how long did it take? Really long mostly, but it was definitely worth it.

Snow = Building a Snowman

So why did I pick Norway? Well it was as far away from Australia I could think of, I was getting the opportunity of immersing myself into a different culture (but where they still speak English) and I was guaranteed to see snow. I have seen snow before just FYI but come on its snow, who doesn’t like snow?!Well I got to see snow, sadly only for a couple of weeks but I can now say that I lived somewhere it snowed, so I’m happy.

Host Country:

Norway is a beautiful country with its extremely picturesque mountains and fjords. For my exchange in Norway, I was based in the capital city, Oslo. It was a bit of an adjustment for me because while it’s the capital city, Norway does only have a population of 5.3 million so Oslo wasn’t really a big city.

Christmas markets

It may be a small city but its big at heart, there is always something going on in the city.

 

Like most European countries, transportation in Oslo was great and easy to use, I love ferries and one of my highlights during my stay in Oslo was catching a ferry to the Islands on the fjord, have a picnic, watch the sunset and see some natural wildlife – I was followed around the island by a couple of foxes, so cute. The downside to Oslo and Norway is that the cost of living is high, so be prepared to come home broke like I did. The transportation card for 30 days costs about 70 AUD, rent (I was staying at the student dorms run by the university) including electricity will set you back somewhere around the 600-700AUD a month. I would recommend the student dorms though, because they mostly come fully furnished so you don’t have to buy much.

Host University:

Studying at BI is a bit different to QUT there is a lot more emphasis on independent study. You still have the standard 3-hour contact hours, but instead of a lecture and tutorial, it’s just a 3-hour lecture. Also at least for me my final grade was 100% made of by my final exam or term paper. Which was a bit daunting and I found that it made studying at BI a lot harder than at QUT, as there was no way to assess how I was

Bergen

actually doing with the course content and if I needed to put more study time in. Thankfully, to pass you only require 30%, which was lucky for me as I spend more time travelling then studying.

 

One of the things I really liked abut studying at BI was the events they run throughout the semester focused but not exclusively towards international and exchange students. So there was free weekly coffee days, hiking and activity trips, and free food. Once a month (ish) BI runs a free food night, usually themed, called BI-nner. You have to get in fast though because everyone likes a free feed and tickets sell out in minutes. The University of Oslo also holds free movie nights once a fortnight, in their lecture halls. Its just a 10min train ride to the University from BI, so as ways to save money but hang out with your new found friends, this is a must.

Travel:

While I was living in Norway, I spend some time travelling Norway. I went to Bergen via the train – the worlds best scenic train ride apparently – and they are not wrong.

Northern Lights

Plus side too is that train is a lot cheaper than flying in Norway, downside it takes nearly 3 times as long to get where you are going. I also went to Tromso, saw the northern lights and went dog sledding. As recommendations go, Tromso or the Loften Islands is a must do if you are ever in Norway. I also got to travel around Europe. I went to Amsterdam with the International Student Society at BI. One of my friends and I also spent the weekend in Budapest – such a beautiful city and really cheap. We also spend a week in London after our exams had finished.

View from Buda Castle

We saw the Lion King and Aladdin, saw the sunset over London from the eye and shopped, shopped until our hearts were content.

I could go on about all the amazing things I did and saw while on my exchange but I would be here for ages. So my parting gift – seriously go on an exchange, I can’t recommend it enough! It is worth every dollar of my spend pennies.

Oh Candaaaa!

Rosanna, E. Bachelor of Business and Creative Industries

Ryerson University (Semester 1, 2017)

I experienced my exchange in Toronto, Canada and endured the frigid winter that it put on display. This was the first challenge I faced; the lead up to my exchange was so swift and overwhelmingly busy at times, that I had forgotten to prepare myself for -20 degree days, not including wind chill. I quickly discovered that I am a Queenslander at heart, I became a sun-worshiper and tested my room-mate’s patience with me as I constantly pointed out how cold it was and refused to go outside if it wasn’t a necessity.

Me playing in snow for the first time

I resided in a co-op building which was recommended to all the exchange students who were attending Ryerson University. This was great as it meant practically everyone who was involved in the program also lived, ate and drank together daily. My room-mates quickly became my closest friends which I cherished when battling my homesickness. This was another thing that shocked me and something I really didn’t think I would experience! I hopelessly missed the clear blue skies of Brisbane and the constant stream of vitamin D from the sun; it’s safe to say that I truly experienced Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)! EVERYTHING changed for me though on my mid-semester break, where my French room-mate and I took a spontaneous trip to Mexico. The trip healed my longing for sun while simultaneously changing my perspective on my not-yet enjoyed experience. People who go on exchange do-so for a reason; whether that may be to experience new things, for personal growth, to travel while studying or to drink your way through classes and scrape by with a satisfactory grade. For me, acknowledging that I was homesick and deciding to accept that and embrace the opportunity that I had worked so hard to give myself was the best decision I made.

The Toronto sky line from Toronto Island

I began to embrace the snow and the ice glazed streets and the fact that I could never feel my hands or feet. More importantly though, I embraced the people I was meeting and opened to the idea that my friends back home didn’t have to be my only friends. My greatest joy that the exchange program brought me were the friendships I found. People on exchange generally have this mentality and openness to life that I loved. Everyone is there with the assumption socialising is a priority, thus people had a zest for life and new experiences. It was refreshing and an opportunity to break away from the predispositions I felt held me back in Brisbane and an opportunity for me to become more confident in myself. Exchange gave me the time away from home that gave me the opportunity to be truly isolated from the friends and family that have surrounded me my whole life. I could experience who I was and what I wanted without those external influences and it felt quite liberating!

The Washington sister Women’s March in Toronto

I now have a new fondness and appreciation for home and the people there while also having a lust and excitement for travelling to unfamiliar places. The exchange program created a catalyst for me to be confident in myself and my passions and has enabled me to have a zestiness for life to carry out and achieve big blinding goals that I would never have thought I could achieve before leaving home! I’m very grateful that I took advantage of the opportunity and have signed up for a study tour in Peru at the end of this year to further my personal growth!

Taco Bell, Country Music and Southern Accents

Dylan, S. Bachelor of Science

University of Wyoming (Semester 1, 2017)

Going on exchange at the University of Wyoming in the USA was far and away the best thing I have ever done in my life. The people I met on exchange will be friends for life and the experience and sights I saw and shared with them I will never forget! From the minute I jumped off the plane over I was a mix of nerves, fear, excitement and Taco Bell and I can honestly say that If you’re not scared it’s not something worth doing.

Wyoming is the state in the US with the smallest population and it is smack bang in the middle of nowhere but it honestly has so much to offer. The national parks are beautiful & there is world class skiing so close as well. If you love hiking and anything outdoors UW has the most insane outdoor program with trips every few weeks and it is so easy to make friends with people who are constantly getting out and doing exciting things.

UW itself is a pretty small school with the best sense of community. It’s in a town called Laramie which has some really cool little food spots and a lot of places that sell camo. Recommendation, I would have try and listen to a little country music before you leave Australia, because you will listen to it a lot and eventually begin to love songs about your tractor and southern girls.

Some of the people in Wyoming can have pretty different values and political beliefs from home and at first that could be hard to swallow for a lot of people but if you have an open mind you will grow to love them.

The best advice I can give you is to get out of your comfort zone and try as many new experiences and meet as many new people as possible. Some of the other highlights of my trip apart from at UW included traveling to New York, New Orleans, road-tripping the west coast and going to Mexico for spring break.

I tried to have a ‘true’ American college experience and lived off campus in a house with people I had never met. This lead to the majority of my friends being Americans and not being other international students. While this may be scary, I went over there wanting an authentic experience and I truly am thankful for getting that. Everyone I met was so open and fun that I wouldn’t change it for the world. If you wanted the more standard exchange experience though UW still has a great international program and they will look after you so well!

I would 100% recommend going to the university of Wyoming and to America on exchange. It is such a great country and you will have memories you will never forget, it was by far the best thing I have done in my life and I want to go back every day!

Going global with QUT was amazing and even though it’s a long application process it is so worth it and the study abroad team is so helpful.