True American Experience

Marshall, R. Bachelor of Business

University of South Carolina (Semester 2, 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experiencing Southern charm at USC

Anna H, Bachelor of Journalism/Laws

University of South Carolina, USA (Semester 2, 2016)

Last semester I studied at the University of South Carolina in the United States. I could not recommend studying abroad more highly to students considering an exchange program.

I arrived in the state’s capital, Columbia, where the USC campus is situated. As soon as I stepped off the plane and was greeted with a Southern accent and smile, I knew I was going to fall in love with the city. The USC International Office had arranged for exchange students to be picked up by volunteer drivers who knew the city and campus. This was a great way to be introduced to Columbia, as my volunteer driver gave me a rundown of the city hotspots and was able to point me in the direction of my dorms so I wasn’t completely lost. Without this, move in day could have been a much more daunting experience with thousands of American students also moving into their dorms at the same time.

On campus at USC

The USC Columbia Campus is picturesque. As you walk in you can’t help but notice the huge Oak trees that line the iconic ‘Horseshoe’. I lived in Woodrow College which is a dormitory located just off the ‘Horseshoe’ and dates back to 1914. Woodrow has apartment-style configurations and houses both international and domestic students. I lived with two girls from Switzerland and Germany, who I now call two of my closest friends.

I had the opportunity to study subjects I wouldn’t normally take back home through my electives. These included American History, Feminist Theory, Introduction to Drawing and Criminal Law. Classes were different to QUT as attendance was compulsory and participation was strongly encouraged. The professors gave you a lot more opportunity to increase your final grade through things like ‘extra credit’ assignments.

Life in college was just like in the Hollywood movies. It was a constant stream of football games, bonfires, and sorority and fraternity parties. College football makes up a huge part of American culture. I was lucky enough to experience this because I studied in the Fall semester. The college football stadium holds 80,000 people and the spirit of USC students is second to none – making every home game an unforgettable experience.

One of the highlights of my trip was definitely Thanksgiving. One of my American friends invited me to stay with him and his family at their farmhouse in West Virginia. They showed me true Southern hospitality – hosting a huge Thanksgiving dinner and not letting me lift a finger.

Experiencing an unforgettable American Thanksgiving

The hardest part of my study abroad semester was saying goodbye to all of the friends I made at USC. I have made not only lifelong American friends but also friends from all around the world. I take comfort in knowing they are all just a Facetime away, and that Columbia will still be waiting for me for when I save up enough funds to go back and visit.

Life at University of South Carolina

Aleksa M, Bachelor of Business/Creative Industries

South Carolina, USA (Semester 2, 2016)

An exchange semester in America had been a goal of mine ever since I started university. When I received my confirmation letter from the University of South Carolina I was ecstatic as I knew this would be the trip of a lifetime. And I wasn’t let down. USC’s beautiful campus gave off the perfect first impression, a lush green campus filled with beautiful gardens and all the amenities one could hope for. Included in these is a world class gym, complete with squash courts and a rock climbing wall. My assigned dorm room was small but relatively modern with a nice kitchen, living area and, of course, great room and floor mates. My first and only real shock came during the first week of classes when it was explained that class attendance is mandatory at all classes. Depending on subjects you get 3-5 absences which are marked and further absences may result in a penalty to your final grades. The subjects at USC were similarly taught to those at QUT however the American units appear to be more exam heavy.

The cost of living in America is fairly similar compared to Australia as far as cost of food and entertainment is concerned. The cost of accommodation was really the only downside of this trip, as it is compulsory for exchange students to stay in American dorms there is no option to seek alternatives. However, the upside to staying in the dorms is meeting other local and international students. In any case the money spent on accommodation and food can be easily re-couped through the money saved on alcohol. America (particularly the south) has some of the cheapest alcohol you will ever see and an incredible variety of craft beer. In Columbia, the first place you will learn about is 5-points. 5-points is a small block of multiple bars many of which serve drinks for $1, beers, spirits you name it. Prices vary but the most you will pay for a drink on any given night will be $3. The true college experience.During my time in America I got to experience a beaming new culture. In particular, a major highlight for me was the football season. In the south, football is a religion. For me, the Saturdays and Sundays spent tailgating were the best part of the trip. I am a huge football fan and the culture of American football fans is unlike no other. The stadium atmosphere is intense and definitely something to experience. The USC stadium was sold out almost every game however all students are more or less guaranteed a ticket through the student lottery system. I also enjoyed the ease of travelling through America through cheap flights and rent-a-cars. Spur of the moment decisions like a weekend road trip to New Orleans or booking a last minute budget flight to San-Francisco are always on the cards. Quite possibly the most beautiful part of America is the distinctive culture and experience each city gives off. It’s almost as though you are entering a new country. My exchange semester in America was the experience of a lifetime. However, the best and integral part of the experience was the amazing people I met, many of whom I’m still in close contact with and will remain friends for life.  In short, I couldn’t have wished for a better way to spend my semester abroad. GO COCKS!!

The best of South Carolina

Strengths

I truly believe USC was the best school I could have chosen in the States. Yes, its campus is beautiful, its academics are excellent and the exchange staff are super helpful… but I think what really makes it the best, is its student culture. As with many of the southern schools, the Greek life (fraternities and sororities) is huge (about 30% of girls at USC are members). Unfortunately exchange students only staying a semester can’t join, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still attend their events and get to feel a part of it too. I specifically chose to go on exchange in the fall semester as I wanted to experience Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas in America and because I knew how crazy Americans are about their football.  Even though I never cared a bit about sports, I wanted to witness their football season. I really could not prepare for how much I would love that aspect of the school. Even though the team did badly, USC’s strong school pride never wavered. Rain or shine, the atmosphere on campus and even throughout the city would change leading up to a game day. Everyone got very dressed up, wore the colours and no matter what time the game started everyone would be up early (often 8am or earlier) celebrating and tailgating; which would then often continue right through midnight. Halloween, as I think can be expected across America, was also insane, at USC it lasts a week. Students went out almost every night in a different costume. Again, just the student’s energy, spirit and comradery was so contagious and uplifting. For students who are going in the spring semester don’t worry about missing out on all the above though. USC students have this enthusiasm for all events, and there are plenty in spring (which I wish I could have experienced) like the Carolina Cup, river tubing, and Baseball.pic 1

 

Challenges

I was very fortunate to find great groups of friends early on (although I don’t think this is too hard at USC, given all the societies you can join and the exchange student events the school organises in your first weeks). This meant the hardest thing I had to adjust to was having so much free time (not having a job, a commute to uni, or family to spend time with). However, I never struggled to find things to do in this free time. Before I left, and throughout my trip, I was asked a lot if I would get very homesick being alone. Honestly though, I didn’t really. With technology, it was easy to keep up emotional contact with my family and friends and yes, you may miss out on events, but for me anyway, everything stayed much the same at home. When I came home, it was like I had never left. However, what I did not expect or prepare for at all was the anxiety I would feel about the experience ending. What I found really helped with this was making plans with friends to travel around the country after semester ended. It worked as a great distracter and transition back into home life.

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Finances

Finances were one thing I did struggle with however. I budgeted the recommended $10, 000, and I would have been able to survive on this simply staying the semester. However, I went to Florida, Atlanta, Charleston and Myrtle Beach during semester and then travelled for 2 months afterwards. This meant I went well over my original plan.  Travelling around the country did however really show me how lucky I was living in the South. The cost of living is much cheaper than here with meals under $10 and drinks at a bar often being as low as a dollar. I found being at school was the easiest part of my trip to budget for, as I went on a USC meal plan, and you have to pay for accommodation upfront. For my whole trip I just used my Commonwealth travel money card and never had a problem with it. That being said, I used cash a large amount of the time, as places often require it.

Tips

-Bring a sheet & towel. It takes the pressure of needing to go shopping straight away, it will give you a little more space in your suitcase at the end of your trip, and makes you feel at home straight away.

-Also bring something to decorate your room e.g. photos,

-Do as much as possible in the first weeks. The stalls, sign up events and even students exuberance of wanting to meet people and make friends dies off as classes get settled in.

-Go to class. It’s actually fun and social if you put yourself out there.

-The majority of US students who live in dorms are freshman and sophomore (17-19). Older students live off campus.

-Say yes to every opportunity but also go out of your way to make the most of it –approach people, don’t wait for them to invite you out etc.

-Budget more than you think you need… and then a little more than that again. So you can make the most of being there and say yes to any opportunity that comes up – like flying to Vegas with friends for their graduation celebration.

-Remember that even though Americans are very similar to Australians it’s still a different culture and you need to be sensitive to that and appreciate it for what it is.pic 2

 

Benefits

For me, being on exchange, particularly in America, made me much more outgoing and so confident. Not only with meeting and socialising with new people, but with all kinds of things, being on my own, adjusting to new situations, thinking on my feet and being confident in who I am as a person, my abilities and my independence. My favourite take away however, would have to be the life long bonds I made and that fact that I now feel like I will always have a home away from home in the US.

I would recommend the Student Exchange Program for these exact reasons. It really is a once in a lifetime experience, where you grow and learn so much so fast. It is perhaps the one time in your life where you are completely independent and free to be who you want to be and do what you want to do (within a protected and fun environment). And, there is definitely no other time in your life where you can get the true American college experience.

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Discovering University of South Carolina

Anna – University of South Carolina, USA: Semester 2, 2015

I chose to study abroad at the University of South Carolina (USC) in the United States. I did this for three reasons mainly. Firstly, I’ve always wanted to travel America, and study abroad and I figured this was a small window where I could experience the “college experience” and really immerse myself in US culture. Secondly, I’ll admit I was slightly worried about being accepted, finding friends and finding somewhere to spend the holidays, so I was banking on the southern hospitality stereotype being true. Lastly, I study Fashion and Advertising, both of which industries are booming in the US, so I thought studying there would provide invaluable, cutting edge knowledge and perspective (and look great on my resume).pic 3

I am so happy to say, for me, all of these hopes were realised, as well as so much more I had not anticipated. Of course there were down times, and I have to attribute many of my positive experiences to me saying yes to every opportunity, and going out of my way make the most of it. But, looking over my time, my exchange was just like something out of an American movie.

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Location

USC is based in Columbia, the capitol city of South Carolina. Before I left, I was slightly put off reading about how big the campus was, with students saying that it’s so big and the public transport is so bad that you would have to buy a bike or maybe even pitch in for a car. But, rest assured, I walked everywhere. Columbia itself has very quaint and picturesque parts in it. Although it’s the capital city, it is fairly small and has a very ‘college town’ feel to it. The campus itself is vast, but quite contained, and as exchange students are required to live in dorms on campus, you can definitely walk to and from all your classes. Outside of the campus there is Five Points and the Vista (which is in what you would call the CBD) they both have a great variety of bars, restaurants and a small number of clothes shops (I did most of my shopping online). They are in opposite directions to each other but again, both are very walkable from campus (approx 15 mins). If you walk to them at night, make sure you go with friends. Although the city is somewhat isolated, there are plenty of great places you can travel to nearby throughout semester if you make friends with an American student with a car, or take public transport like Greyhound buses (again, it’s not advisable to go alone at night). Charleston is an absolute must for me. It’s an amazingly beautiful, historic small city by the ocean with a plethora of great shops, restaurants, bars and clubs and it’s only about 90mins away.

Accommodation

Built in 1801 USC’s campus is beautiful. I was placed in my first housing preference, Woodrow, which I absolutely loved (it is directly opposite the main dining hall). However, the majority of the dorms they place exchange students in are also lovely and historic, particularly the ones on the Horseshoe. USC has a lot of different housing options e.g. single sex to co-ed buildings, sharing a room with one other student, to sharing an apartment with one other student, to sharing an apartment with three other students. If I had to make recommendations based solely on my observations, I would say try to aim for housing in the centre of campus (around the Horseshoe) as it is the most central, so easier to walk around, very safe and scenicpic 4 If you want to make friends with other exchange students and people from all over the world, the international house Maxy is a great option, but you do have to share a bedroom. Otherwise, if you want the best chances of being placed with American students, something like South Quad is great and very social.

Academics

Over all, I absolutely loved the teaching structure at USC. The courses are very hands on, with a lot of student teacher interactions, the same way our high schools are. What’s more, assessment is due much more frequently than ours (weekly), but at a less intense level, much like school homework. I found this method really beneficial for me as it was easier to stay on top of the work, adjust your grades and retain information learnt. I had no electives left when I went on exchange, so this made the subject matching process more difficult. However, I was very happy with the subjects I did choose: Fashion Forecasting, Fashion Product Analysis, Principles of Retailing and Consumer Behaviour. However, had I not have been, just as at home, I could have changed my subjects when I was there before a census date. I particularly enjoyed studying Fashion there as their courses are retail based (students major in either retail management or fashion merchandising), with very practical curriculum that you would need when stepping into a real job.