Japan > Australia*

*in these particular areas.
There is no denying that Japanese culture and Australian culture are poles apart. Where Australia is laid-back and simple, Japan is wonderfully weird and over-the-top. Where Australia is endearingly rough-around-the-edges, Japan is pristine and polished. And while I love Straya, I’m taking the opportunity to outline some key areas where we can probably (definitely) learn (read: copy) a thing or two from our Japanese friends.
Vending machines
They are literally everywhere, and they sell everything, from soft drinks, to both hot and iced coffee, to instant noodles, cigarettes, alcohol, icecream, umbrellas and neckties. It’s revolutionary. There is literally one vending machine per 23 people in Japan! In my 1.1km walk to uni alone, I pass more than 16 vending machines; approximately one every 70 metres.
Convenience stores
7-11 here is like that tent from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; it’s tiny, but it can, and does, hold literally everything you could ever need. Freshly baked breads and home-style meals are delivered each morning, they’re practically a fully-fledged liquor store, and the cheap machine coffee doesn’t even taste like death. You can even pay your bills in store! Plus, again, they’re everywhere.
Transport
It’s totally normal to bike or walk everywhere, and when you do need to use public transport, it’s quick, clean and punctual, the exact anti-thesis of Translink.
Sorting rubbish
Sure, sorting your rubbish into burnables, plastics, PET bottles, cans and glass can be pretty bloody annoying, but it’s fairly easy to do and environmentally friendly so I can get behind that.
Hi-tech toilets
I’ve literally forgotten what a cold toilet seat feels like. Look, are all those extras necessary? Of course not. But they’re convenient.
Harmony between history, nature, and urbanity
I literally walk past a temple everyday on the way to uni. It’s not uncommon to see a small Shinto Shrine on the roof of multi-storey offices, nor is it unusual to see a Buddhist temple’s towering pagoda peeking out from behind tall buildings. Kyoto is home to over 2,000 temples and shrines, as well as 17 UNESCO World Heritage Listed sites, all of which are within about an hour of where I live. I’ve been here 3 months and am still continually astounded by this city’s ability to have its history and culture coexisting so seamlessly and beautifully with its urbanity.
Cool side note story: I had the unreal privilege of dragging myself out of bed at the ungodly hour of 4am to signal the start of morning prayers by ringing the bell at Nishihonganji Temple, one of the 17 World Heritage sites, a ritual usually only performed by the head monk. A small group of my friends and I were only permitted to do so as a part of celebrations around the passing down of the temple’s custodianship from father to son, an event that only occurs maybe once every 50 years. It was such a serene and awe-inspiring experience, and the most quintessentially Japanese thing I’ve ever done.
It’s so clean*
I never see litter (although I have no idea how, considering it’s near impossible to find a bloody rubbish bin), I’ve forgotten what mud looks like, and I have my suspicions that leaves here spontaneously combust if they’re not swept up within 5 minutes of hitting the ground (though I’m yet to prove this theory, because the leaf sweepers here do a fantastic job).
*This does not apply to my dorm kitchen. A chicken coup is more hygienic.
Amusement parks
Dreamworld is the biggest theme park in Australia, and doesn’t even hold a candle to the kinds of amusement parks they have here. I recently went to Universal Studios Japan, in Osaka, and the attractions there are fully immersive (Harry Potter World and the Hogwarts Castle were UNREAL), and expertly marry production with adrenaline-inducing rides, unlike anything we have in Australia. It was legitimately one of the best days of my life, in no small part because I touched a minion’s butt (it was an accident, but I’m not apologising really).
Mayonnaise
It’s the best. Don’t start me.
Eating out is cheap
I can get an epic bowl of ramen for 800¥, or plethora of ridiculously sized meal sets for under 1000¥, where the same could easily cost me double at home. Ingredients, on the other hand, will cost you an arm and a leg, and quite possibly your soul.
Free WIFI
Again, everywhere. I live for it.
While I do love all of these wacky Japanese things, I am keen to return home to the good-ole Australian sense of humour, Western confectionery (they are OBSESSED with red bean paste here, and anko is one of my least favourite things ever, right up there with manspreading and the shrinking size of Pringles chips), PayPass, non-compulsory class attendance, and of course…
 …sensible smoking legislation.

Sincerely,

Tiffanie.

Spanish studies in the beautiful Medellin

Rhys P, Bachelor of Engineering

Intern Latin America, Colombia

My experience in Medellin was nothing short of incredible. After travelling through South America in 2015/2016 I had a desire to return and improve my Spanish skills. Thankfully with the QUT short term exchange program this was made possible. I studied at EAFIT for two weeks for an intensive Spanish course. In my beginner’s class there were three students and it is amazing how much we were able to cram into only two weeks.

Our teacher was called Cielo (Sky in English) and like the majority of people from Medellin she was extremely warm and welcoming. Before this I had never attempted to learn a second language however I have learnt that it can be extremely frustrating at times. The quality of not only my teacher, but all of the teachers at EAFIT made the experience much more enjoyable and they were able to remove this frustration and create a great learning environment.

The campus itself was not what I was expecting at all. Due to the much-discussed past of Colombia I was expecting the campus to be slightly run down. It was a pleasant surprise when I arrived on my first day to see an absolutely beautiful campus. The campus is full of trees, nature, wildlife and is an amazing place to study.

As for Colombia itself, it is my favourite country in the world and after I complete my studies at QUT I want to move there. The people made me feel extremely welcome, the food is amazing, it is such a diverse country. It truly is an amazing country and I highly recommend it as an exchange destination.

The highlights of my trip were definitely the amazing places that I travelled to and the friends that I made along the way. The only advice that I have for other students is to pack your bag and go!

Cultural lessons from the Japanese

Katrine K, Bachelor of Nursing

University Life in Japan: Kimono, Matcha and You at Sonoda Women’s University (December 2016)

Konnichiwa! My name is Katrine, and I’m a third year student studying the Bachelor of Nursing. In the first two weeks of the December holidays, I have been very fortunate to be given the opportunity to participate in a cultural exchange program hosted by the Sonoda Women’s University in Amagasaki, Japan. Not only did this unforgettable experience enrich my awareness of cultural diversity, but the kindness and warmth of the Japanese people made it possible to form friendships with almost anyone I encountered; whether that be at university or on the streets of Osaka! Throughout this program, I have been incredibly lucky to experience many unique and wonderful moments.

One memorable highlight of my trip however, would have to be the week-end I stayed with the Fujii family in Ojiro. Although I could speak or understand little Japanese, my host father, mother, sister and visiting locals were extremely sympathetic and accommodating to my needs and often tried their best to speak in English to ease my anxiety and restlessness. I thought this gesture was very thoughtful and generous of them and once again empathised the kindliness of the Japanese people. From the moment I arrived, my host family offered me food, snow boots, manga, fresh clothes, and my very own tatami room! I was also surprised and deeply touched at the lengths of preparation they put into arranging my bedroom. I never expected to have a mini decorated Christmas tree with flickering lights standing before me when I entered to unpack my bags! These experiences made me reflect on a time when my classmates and I had a cultural lesson with Keiji. He stated that Japanese people generally have a “you”-centred attitude or a “guessing culture”. This meant that they will often try to guess what the other person is feeling in order to accommodate their needs, believing this showed humanity. As a foreigner, I found the Japanese culture in this context quite refreshing and surprisingly relatable. I eagerly wanted to learn more about their culture as I too, coming from a nursing background, believe passionately in upholding similar values.

While living in Ojiro, I went on many insightful and exciting adventures! This included visiting the captivating sand sculptures at the Sand Museum and conquering the Tottori sand dunes through freezing winds. Another memorable highlight of staying in Ojiro was the opportunity to design and sculpt my own jewellery from stone.  The stone used to make our pendants were known as “magatama”, and were traditionally made from jade, glass or rocks. What I enjoyed most about this experience was not only learning of its historical value and appeal since the Jomon period, but the connection magatama had to religious practices including shamanism and Shinto. In addition to its spiritual significance, I found the crafting of magatama a challenging, but truly rewarding experience that I will never forget!

During the time when my classmates and I were not living in Ojiro, we inhabited the cosy grounds of Sonoda Woman’s University to learn Japanese or explored the historic highlights of Amagasaki where we took part in cultural activities. While at Sonoda Woman’s University however, I immediately noticed how small and homely the campus was in comparison to the blocky high rises that occupied the grounds of QUT. Unsurprisingly, nearly all of the students (which were no more than 200!) noticed our presence and gave us their utmost attention. My allocated group were particularly fortunate to receive a dynamic culture class presented by the university’s students themselves which I had the pleasure of attending. One unforgettable moment from our experiences was taking part in the traditional Japanese game, “suikawari”, and then learning about the meticulous process in which “katsuobushi” is made. Katsuobushi, in particular, made the most impression on me as I never expected dried fermented fish to appear as an oddly shaped rock or a chunky piece of wood that would later become an essential ingredient used in traditional Japanese foods, such as dashi. In addition, the kindliness and welcoming mannerisms of the students were, again, infectious and I felt a great sense of belonging and acceptance when I was asked to introduce myself to the class and share with them the cultural practices I engaged in while living in Australia.

My cultural experiences in Japan have been endless, and I felt so grateful for the time the Sonoda University staff gave us to make it such a pleasant experience! I would also like to say how very thankful I am to the teachers who managed, without fail, to remain optimistic and deeply passionate about teaching Japanese. I’m very proud to say that I’m now quite confident in ordering food in restaurants, thanks to a large appetite for Curry House CoCo and the multiple visits I’ve had to the “taiyaki” (fish-shaped pastries filled with custard or red bean paste) stand near Amagasaki station. I would highly recommend this exchange program for anyone, both young and old!

Spend your summer exploring Seoul

Jiwon L, Bachelor of Design (Honours)

Korea University – International Winter Campus (Dec 2016– Jan 2017)

Korea University is one of the highest ranked universities in the world in a variety study areas. The campus is filled with historical and incredible gothic-style architecture. As an architecture student, looking around the campus was a great opportunity to experience the sights and also outside of campus there were so many great high-rise buildings I wouldn’t be able to find back in Brisbane, Australia.

Staying at Korea University’s dormitory was very enjoyable, meeting new friends from other cultures. I have built such a strong relationship with my roommates, so we went out to travel Seoul together outside the campus.  We went to Dongdaemoon to see one of my favourite architect’s work, Zaha Hadid, during the weekends and other cities and enjoyed the culture of Seoul. As Seoul is one of the top cities that has highly developed transport, it was very easy to travel inner cities without spending a lot of money.

I have met very warm and welcoming friends from different places and cultures and sharing this experience with them was such a wonderful experience that I am not likely to have in life again. If you are a student who loves travel and exploring busy cities, Korea University in Seoul is the perfect place to be.

Reimagining India, the experience of a lifetime

Samuel G, Bachelor of Engineering / Bachelor of Business

IndoGenius: Reimagining India Experiential Learning Program (February 2017)

New Colombo Plan mobility grant recipient

The ‘Reimaging India Experiential Learning Program’, conducted by IndoGenius, expertly introduced me to Indian culture, politics, entrepreneurship, innovation, history, economics and a variety of other business aspects. The program immersed me in experiences that broadened my perception of what it means to be alive, reprogramming many of the Western ideologies I have grown accustomed to. Some personal and professional benefits I have taken from this program include: a deepened understanding of myself, the development of various cultural competencies, the growth of my emotional intelligence and finally the improvement of my ability to communicate across cultures. I am certain that my experiences in India will influence my future decision making after university. I now have ideas of moving to India to work and travel, creating a social enterprise that increases quality of life in developing countries and even smaller things like taking up yoga and meditating regularly. Some highlights of my experience in India are shown below. 

Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh

This man noticed my fascination towards his pet monkey that was sitting so politely on his shoulder. I asked if I could take a picture of him and his monkey, but he insisted that I take the monkey and get a picture with him myself. The monkey was awesome. He enjoyed eating a few flowers from my necklace also!

Agra, Uttar Pradesh

This was one very enjoyable afternoon by the pool at the Trident Agra Resort. Team Indogenius knew how to travel with style. I relaxed in the pool, watching the sun set with a few of the other students. 

The Lotus Temple, New Delhi

The sun was setting here over the Lotus Temple in New Delhi – a place where people of all beliefs can come to worship, meditate and reconnect with themselves. It was an honour to partake in a guided meditation here.

Dharavi Slum, Mumbai

The feeling of community and connectedness was incredibly strong in Dharavi. The people did not have much, but they at least had each other. The resilience, determination and willpower of the people living in this community was truly inspiring and motivating. Further, some 10,000 companies are operating in this space generating a yearly revenue of approximately US$1 billion.

Bicycle tour before sunrise, Mumbai

This was a great opportunity to experience India by bike, which is fitting considering it is the country with the most bikes in the world. We rode to some notable sights – the most incredible of them all was a small Islamic shrine where there were dozens of people lined up (before 6am) to worship and give offerings to their respective gods. These are places of incredible spirituality and openness, places that allow for one to strengthen the mind.

Havan Fire Ceremony, New Delhi

Experiencing the Havan was truly a spiritual journey for my mind. I was able to shut off the outside world, the material world, going deeper into myself. This allowed for a deeper reflective and meditative state, where I was able to let be what has been, and start to live my life more in the present.

New Delhi

We blocked the street as we danced alongside our marching band to the temple (featured previously) where we experienced the Havan ceremony. Koustav, who is wearing the dark green Kurta and blue scarf, guided our dance and direction, navigating the traffic like a pro.

Old Delhi, Delhi

Meet Ben, Casey and half of Alex. These are three of the many incredible people I met on this journey. The relationships I formed throughout the program have been forged for life. Especially considering I am likely to move to India and work for this program. Like I said, a life-changing journey.

The time I spent on the Reimagining India program was some of the most conscious and aware moments of my life. I was truly present in all situations, brought upon this newfound concept of focus. The personal benefits of such experiences are endless, examples include a deepened ability: to think critically, to think abstractly, to listen actively, speak consciously, to live in the present and to overall just embrace life, living it to the absolute fullest.

I would like to thank the Indogenius team, New Colombo Plan, QUT Business School and QUT International Short-Term Mobility for making these two life changing weeks possible.

Applications for the 2017 Indogenius program are now open! Apply here.

Business negotiations in North Carolina

Bryson C, Bachelor of Business

AIM Overseas: Business Negotiations and Communications (Jan-Feb 2017)

During January and February 2017, myself and 23 other Australians set out on a new journey not knowing what to expect. Our destination? Charlotte, North Carolina. A buzzing city full of life and American culture. My journey began from Brisbane, which at the time was about 40 degrees Celsius. When I arrived in Charlotte it was a quarter of that, 10 degrees Celsius. That was my first big shock. After a big day of travels, I settled down at what would be my home for the next 3 weeks, the Drury Inn. When I woke, I found myself surrounded by friendly faces at the breakfast buffet and already I had made my first friends.

   Later that day, we found ourselves in the actual university getting to know what our new campus looked like. We were stunned, it was so large and so amazing. The entire university was full of life and culture with several hardcore college basketball supporters telling us to come and support the team, and several sorority and fraternities trying to get us to sign up (unfortunately we could not do this). Life on campus itself was extremely different to that back home. If I had to sum it up in one word it would be BIG. There was so much to do and so much to explore and all in all, our host university kept us all very safe.

The United States of America is a very interesting place to travel. It is somewhat similar to Australia but there are several key differences I think. To begin with, tipping is the most annoying thing in the world. I accidentally under-tipped my hairdresser and she then proceeded to be very upset with me like I had done something wrong (sorry). The weather unlike Australia’s is very plain. If the forecast says cloudy and cold then it is cloudy and cold, no massive thunderstorms that pop up out of no-where. Traveling in the US was also very easy – with the use of Uber, my friends and I were able get around and see many places in our spare time such as the gyms, gun ranges, restaurants, race tracks and various other cultural places.

The highlight of my trip would have to be the day that we went and sat in on a very important speech given by world renowned economist Jay Bryson. I could network with American professionals and hear their take on the future of the American economy and listen to their opinions on what the world might look like in 5 years. Overall, I enjoyed my time in Charlotte and I would definitely recommend the AIM program to everyone seeking a short-term exchange to the United States.

Kiwi adventures

Holly, G. Bachelor of Music

CIS Australia: January in Dunedin (Jan – Feb 2017)

My name is Holly Geddes and I’ve just completed a summer semester at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand through QUT’s short-term exchange program. The seven-week program was completed with the help of international exchange centre CISaustralia who organized my enrolment and accommodation, and were basically a helping hand throughout the entire process and trip duration. The element that initially reeled me into applying was the fact that there was a set fee that would be paid at the beginning of the enrolment process, and that after the initial payment I would be in the safe hands of CISaustralia. The entire trip would be covered and planned by an external company, meaning less stress for me! The process was just as easy as CISaustralia and QUT had advertised, and I’m still impressed by how efficiently I was guided by my QUT and CIS respective representatives throughout the process that would have otherwise been very confusing.

The University of Otago Campus & the view of the campus from my classroom!

My host university, the University of Otago, was New Zealand’s first university, founded in the 1860’s so as you can imagine, the architecture was very different to anywhere I’d studied before! As it gets dark at 10pm in Dunedin in Summer, it allowed me to go for evening walks in daylight where I explored different corners of the university each day. On every walk I’d discover a different part of history within the campus – I don’t think I ever quite covered the whole thing! It was hard to get used to the beautiful buildings and on-campus accommodation that had been restored from the 1980’s as well. My accommodation was a share house amongst 4 other students that was in a gated, quiet area, which was much to my relief! Dunedin is actually well-known for its student culture and is particularly renowned for its ‘flat parties’ and street parties. I discovered as new students began to move in after their summer breaks that it was tradition for thousands of students to flood the streets every single night, rain or shine. They gave my perception of street parties an entirely new meaning! It was extremely different to anything I’d experienced in Brisbane, and (despite the noise while trying to study) it was great to be a part of such a tight-knit student culture where everybody was welcoming and open to becoming friends with whoever was willing. Despite these slight cultural differences that I’ve mentioned, however, I didn’t ever experienced culture shock or homesickness simply because I was always surrounded by helpful students and staff members who were very generous in making sure I was comfortable and settled.

A trip we did to Alexandra which is only about 2 hours’ drive from Dunedin.

 

I also made sure I made the most of being in such a great location. As I was only in class twice a week, my days off involved going to museums, taking advantage of the free student gym at the stadium, and going on scenic hikes to lookouts around Dunedin. It is true that Dunedin is a relatively small, quiet town in relation to Brisbane, but I made sure I never got bored and always had something interesting planned to make the most of my time. Another great thing about New Zealand is that wherever you drive, it’s going to be beautiful! Once my studies were over, myself and another QUT student hired a car and took the extremely scenic route to Queenstown. I had done a few road trips before but this was definitely the most breathtaking driving experience I’ve ever had.

Some sights in Dunedin including the Cadbury Factory.

For future students undertaking this course, my advice would be to look forward to a quiet, smaller way of living than what you’re used to in Brisbane. This means that it’s great to explore Dunedin and find your own hidden treasures within the city, because with a curious, open mindset there’s no way you can get bored! Also, if you’re doing an elective, don’t stress about what subject you’re going to choose – I met lots of students who were doing a range of different elective subjects and they all sounded incredibly interesting and specialised – it made me want to go back and learn more. In terms of living expenses, I must warn that New Zealand’s grocery stores do charge a little bit more than Australia’s, so my first big shopping trip was a bit of a shock! Definitely try to save more money than you think you’ll need just in case you decide to go on a spontaneous road trip like I did, or if you’re like me you’ll need to allow some extra cash for those household items you don’t normally think about like paper towels.Overall, I had an awesome, life-changing experience and I wish I had the chance to do it again! QUT’s international short-course opportunities are endless, extremely cost-effective and worth the money, and I’d encourage every student to consider one.

If you are interested in undertaking a short-term program during the QUT semester breaks, check out the QUT Global Portal.

The Beginning of an Adventure

Destination: PHILIPPINES!

Two weeks ago now, I left Australia to officially begin the next chapter, the adventure of a lifetime.

Let me tell you a bit about myself. I’m Lauren, 19 years old, travel lover, tea enthusiast and extremely passionate about human rights and international affairs. I’m currently in my third year studying a Bachelor of Justice and I’ve just moved to MANILA in the Philippines!

The view from my apartment

I am incredibly lucky to have been awarded a 2017 New Colombo Plan Scholarship to undertake study and internships across the Indo-Pacific Region for up to 18 months!!

At the moment, my Scholarship starts out in Manila, with a two month internship at The Asia Foundation in their Law and Human Rights team, before I head to Indonesia to begin studying International Relations at Parahyangan Catholic University. I’ll tell you more about that in a later blog.

New Colombo Plan Scholarship Awards Presentation

It’s not all smooth sailing…

Leaving Australia, and in particular, leaving my family was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The reality that I will be away from home for such an extended period of time really hit me hard.

After saying goodbye

As I collected my boarding pass and started walking to the departure gate, I started to realise that leaving on this journey wasn’t just any adventure. This time, I was not going to be coming home in a matter of weeks or months and seeing my family again. Here I was thinking I could be cool, calm and collected, instead in a bawling mess.  All I could think was how lucky I am to have people in my life that make saying goodbye so difficult.

The first few days were a rollercoaster of emotions, an anarchic mix of doubt, angst and euphoria, but mostly, fear of the unknown. At times, I’ve felt alone and so far out of my depth, just wishing I was back at home in my own bed. However, as I’ve started to become acquainted with Manila and explore this unique, beautifully chaotic city I am beginning to feel more and more at home.

So far, my first two weeks have consisted of, settling into my internship at The Asia Foundation, organising my accommodation and urging myself to wander the city.

I’ve found it a little strange adapting to the work environment here in the Philippines. The work is challenging with tough deadlines, and high expectations. Basically, I was thrown in the deep end, right from the day one.

Dinner with the LAHR Team

There’s no denying that taking that first step can be hard, but that first grim instance is so worth every single phenomenal experience you will have.

If I could give you any advice, it would be to just take a risk, and dive right in! Never pass up an opportunity because it’s a little daunting or because you’re scared of the unknown – the challenge part of the adventure!

Until next time, paalam!

Please feel free to connect with me if you have any questions regarding exchange, the Philippines, Indonesia, internships, the New Colombo Plan – anything, I would love to hear from you!

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Tradition and Technology in Japan

Diana O, Bachelor of Creative Industries

Ritsumeikan University Japanese Winter Program (Jan – Feb 2017)

It was at the beginning of summer when I decided I needed a change, so QUT’s short-term mobility program in Japan was the perfect opportunity to do something productive in holidays while continuing my Japanese studies. Ritsumeikan University is located on the north side of Kyoto, close to Kinkakuji Temple; the campus offers a brand new library, computer labs, convenient stores, numerous vending machines, and several co-op restaurants that are cheap and offer delicious food. Generally a lunch at the co-op restaurant is between 5 to 8 AUD.

Ritsumeikan University

As part of the Ritsumeikan Winter Japanese Program, I stayed at Taishogun International Dorm, which belongs to the university. The accommodation is only a 15 minutes walk to Ritsumeikan. The dorm is a modern, close to affordable restaurants, supermarkets, Emmachi Train station and buses. Living in a dorm is an essential part of the experience as you live and share most of your time with the other students. This was a wonderful opportunity to make new friends and meet people from other cultures.

Taishogun International Dorm

When you do an intensive language program there is a lot of content covered in a small period of time. This short-term program runs for 5 weeks, so you need to continuously study throughout the program in order to keep up with the content. Additionally we had Japanese cultural studies, 3 times a week, which were my favorite as we had the opportunity to meet Geiko-san and Maiko-san (Geishas), do pottery, cook Japanese food, play traditional Wadaiko drums and so much more.

Cultural Class: Japanese Cuisine, Geiko san and Maiko San

Living in Kyoto was fantastic. Kyoto is considered Japan’s cultural capital; it has over 2000 shrines and temples plus 17 Unesco world heritage sites. In a magical way the city is able to blend tradition and technology seamlessly, thus making Kyoto one of the most exciting places to visit in Japan. Thanks to the excellent transport system, I was able to take day trips to Osaka, Nara, Kobe, etc. My time in Kyoto gave me the opportunity to take risks, experience another culture, explore new things and make new friends. If given the chance I will do the short-term program again.

If you are interested in undertaking a short-term program during the QUT semester breaks, check out the QUT Global Portal for more information.

Fashion-forward in Florence

Aimee R, Bachelor of Creative Industries

AIM Overseas: Media & Communication for the Fashion Industry (January 2017)

If you’re going to study Fashion somewhere, you might as well do it right – in one of the biggest fashion capitals in the world, Florence. AIM Overseas provided me (and around 20 other girls from around Australia), the opportunity to study Media and Communication for the Fashion Industry at the European Institute of Design (IED), in January 2017. The three week long program start in early January, meaning us Aussies had to rug up well for our first day.

I wouldn’t describe IED as a campus as much as just a building, camouflaged in the narrow cobble stone streets of Florence. In fact, a few girls walked right past it on their way there the first day. The first thing I noticed was that it was considerably smaller than QUT. A tour of the whole place took less than five minutes, and there definitely wasn’t hundreds of youths running around like you would find back home, in fact there wasn’t even a cafeteria or food court. Luckily enough, the university was situated right in the heart of Florence, about a 20 second walk from the famous Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, or as we will come to know it as “The Duomo”.  There’s pizza and pasta and panini’s on every corner and soon enough our diet consisted of 98% carbohydrates, but when in Florence, right? Because our program was only short, our uni schedules were a little full on, we were there basically all-day every day, cramming in as much information as we possibly could.

The highlight of the experience was definitely in the first week, where we were able to not only attend Pitti Uomo (Florence Men’s Fashion Week), but also work backstage at one of the fashion shows. For many of us, this was the first real hands on experience we had in the fashion industry. We worked for the show Concept Korea and spent the day dressing models, getting them ready for their catwalk. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and it was made possible by our course coordinator at IED. The rest of our days were spent learning about fashion blogging, styling, writing and the history of Italian fashion. The one thing that was a little bit hard to get used to were the fact that our classes were three hours long each! Most tutes at QUT for fashion are only one hour. Lucky for us, the content was interesting enough to help us through those long classes.

Another one of the great opportunities we had whilst at IED was styling and creating a concept for a fashion editorial. We worked in groups to work on a fashion photo shoot and were given models, a makeup artist and one of our teachers, a photographer, helped us photograph the shoot. It was super stressful to get everything to come together in such a short period of time, but it was one of the most rewarding experience and ultimately mirrored a real life situation we might find ourselves in working in the fashion industry in the future.

Florence is 100% one of the most beautiful and picturesque cities in all of Italy and our experience would not have been nearly as enjoyable without this amazing place serving as our backdrop. We spent our afternoons and weekends seeking out the best pizzerias and gelateria’s, hiking up to Piazzale di Michaelangelo for one of the best views of Florence and climbing up the Duomo and bell tower. There aren’t really any trains of easy uses of public transport in Florence but that didn’t matter since basically everywhere is in walking distance. When we weren’t admiring the Ponte Vecchio or walking along the river at sunset or shopping, we were eating. In a little restaurant over the bridge we found the most amazing baked gnocchi with four cheese and truffle oil! We must have gone there about four times in three weeks!

The cost of living on Florence isn’t exactly cheap. The hotel we stayed in didn’t have any kitchen facilities which meant we had to eat out every night and it would always cost us between 12 and 18 euros. Lucky for us, since most of our days were spent at uni, we didn’t really spend much money on anything besides eating. For anyone traveling to Italy or spending some time there studying, my best advice is don’t be afraid to eat pasta for every meal and gelato for dessert everyday. When you have a spare weekend, hop on a train to Milan or Rome or Verona and see the other amazing cities. A plane to Barcelona is only an hour and a half, so take advantage of your central location. And most importantly, learn to just go with the flow. Your lecturer might be 15 minutes late or they might change the class at a moments notice, they might go off topic for half an hour, instead of stressing, appreciate the relax-ness of your class, it’s not going to be the same when you return!

If you are interested in undertaking a short-term program during the QUT semester breaks, check out the QUT Global Portal.