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.