Bullet Trains, Godzilla and Temples – The Real Japanese Experience

Elise L, Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Fine Arts

Ritsumeikan University (Semester 2, 2016)

In the Fall Semester of 2016 I studied at Ritsumeikan University in Osaka, Japan. I was part of the short term ‘Study In Kyoto’ program (SKP), but because I study in the Business Track my home campus and life was actually in Osaka.

Ritsumeikan University, Osaka Ibaraki Campus, from the ninth floor

I lived in a studio apartment (in the same building as many other SKPers) about forty minutes by train from uni. OIC campus was only completed in 2015, so dormitories are still under construction. Our apartments were small (22m2) but had everything we needed and I really came to love that little space. Being based in Osaka, we also had places like Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara only an hour away by train! Cost of living in Osaka seems moderate – rent is quite high and travel can be expensive (a ride on the bullet train can cost hundreds of dollars…), but food is very cheap and it is easy to walk to many places.

Home base – Aya Mikuni apartments

SKP students were assigned a Japanese student buddy, and they helped us with the little complexities of day-to-day life – how do you pay your bills when you can’t read them? How do you call the maintenance guy when you don’t speak Japanese and he doesn’t speak English? Our buddies helped us to function as residents rather than tourists, as well as taking us sightseeing and making us feel very welcome.

Shinjuku, Tokyo, feat. Godzilla

I spent more time on campus at Ritsumeikan than I ever have at QUT, and the timetable was more intensive than I’m used to – going from part-time study to 10 x 90 minute classes a week was a bit of a shock to the system! I studied Japanese too, and I’d highly recommend it – the things we learned were very practical for everyday life. There are also many university events to attend – we volunteered in a Haunted House at the Halloween festival, and we supported the university team at their American football games (go Panthers!). I attended the first World Community Power Conference in Fukushima, which was fascinating, and also visited the Toyota factory in Aichi.

My top 3 tips for studying in Japan:
1. Say yes (hai/はい)!
A piece of advice that my Dad gave me when I moved from our small country town to the big city of Brisbane. Whether it’s a student excursion on offer, or grabbing dinner with new people, say yes. If you don’t enjoy it you don’t have to do it again, but at least you tried!

2. Learn the language!
Downloading an app, buying a phrasebook or enrolling in classes like I did – language was the biggest barrier I encountered in Japan. By the time I left, I was able to have very simple conversations, and that felt like a huge achievement when I couldn’t even read my own mail.

3. Get an ICOCA card
A bit like a gocard in Brisbane, except you can’t get a discount as an international student (boo). It streamlines your travel process (no queueing for tickets), works across the whole country, and you can pay for a travel pass –  I had unlimited travel between my university station and the central Osaka station (with my home station being in between) which was worthwhile. Just don’t lose your card!

Japan is an amazing country and I feel like I barely scratched the surface, despite travelling as much as my budget allowed. My exchange actually postponed my graduation by a year, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat – in fact, I’ve already booked my flights to go back!

The famous red tori gates of Fushimi Inari shrine, Kyoto

Thinking About Going on Exchange? Do it.

My final exams are over, Bishop’s is closing for the holidays and by now the majority of my wardrobe is purple, so I guess that means my time here as a student is up!

Applying to go on exchange and choosing Bishop’s has been the best decision I’ve ever made. So I want to take a moment to say to anyone who might be considering going on an exchange (or even if you’re not), do it! There are so many amazing places out there, choose somewhere you’ve always wanted to go or somewhere that looks cool to you and just go for it. Get that second job and start saving, work hard for a scholarship that can get you there, plan a budget that works for you, boost your grades and take the time to put together a great application – whatever it is you can do to make it happen, if you can do it, I guarantee it’ll be worth it.

My advice once you get there? Immerse yourself in the university life, embrace the foreign culture, stay in contact with family and friends back home, study (not too much! but enough to pass), make new friends, party, travel and just have fun with it – it really is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

What I love about the student exchange program is that it’s more than just travelling and more than just studying. I got the chance to live in another country for the first time, have the ‘college experience’, be the ‘foreign exchange student’, and meet people and learn things I wouldn’t have had the chance to otherwise. If you’re experience is anything like mine, you’ll have the time your life.

I also just want to take a second to mention, it’s ‘pass or fail’. Okay, I’ll leave it at that.

So after all this, if you’re wondering why I’m not an absolute mess right now about having to leave, because I’m so in love with this place and the people in it, I’ll be returning for a visit to Bishop’s in January to say my goodbyes before I fly back home to Australia. Until then – I might not be an exchange student anymore but that doesn’t mean the adventure is over yet! I came all this way, so now it’s time to travel!

My Time in Mannheim

Caitlin: University of Mannheim, Germany – Semester 2, 2015 & Semester 1, 2016

My name is Caitlin and I set out on my year abroad to Europe in July, 2015. At that time, I had no idea that the next year of my life would be the best year yet!! For the next year, I was undertaking my study year abroad at the University of Mannheim, which is located in the South/West part of Germany. This was a city of approximately 360,000 inhabitants and it was here that I made friends from around the world.

Galata Tower, Turkey

Galata Tower, Turkey

Prior to moving into my apartment in Mannheim, I did a contiki tour solo in Turkey and Greece. It was the summertime and I saw the perfect opportunity to embrace the beautiful weather. I highly recommend doing some travel before you start your exchange semester or year, so that you feel a bit more confident towards travelling solo for when you do arrive in your exchange destination.

Highlights

During my year abroad, I had some amazing experiences and was able to share these experiences with the awesome people I met along the way. My favourite parts of the year abroad were the wine festivals in Germany, of course the beer festivals too: P below is a photo of my friends and I at the Stuttgart Volksfest Beer Festival!

My Brother and I in front of Mannheim

My Brother and I in front of Mannheim

Travelling to Amsterdam was amazing, I loved the city’s atmosphere and would go back again in a heartbeat. I was lucky enough to travel to Norway to spend Christmas with one of my closest friends from exchange and experience a proper Norwegian Christmas. I will never forget it!!! There I am below enjoying the Norwegian snow! I would do this year all over again; it will change your life!

To find out more about QUT Student Exchange, visit our website!

Friends for Life at San Jose State University

Charlie: San Jose State University, California, USA – Semester 1, 2016

Hi! I’m Charlie Shaw-Feather and I am studying a Bachelor of Engineering, majoring in Computer and Software Systems. I studied at San Jose State University (SJSU) for the spring semester, 2016.

As I am writing this I am on my way back to San Jose for a holiday to catch up with the friends that I made and the relationships I hope to last a lifetime.

Whilst on exchange I stayed at SJSU’s International house. This was a college owned house situated just off campus for international students, welcoming students from all countries. This formed an integral foundation for the time that I spent in San Jose. They hosted a plethora of different activities and events to engage students allowing them to get out of their comfort zone. When I stayed there was a little over 60 residents, about 12 of which were from the US.

I set out on exchange to experience as much of American college culture as I could and what better way than to join a fraternity. The colleges orientation week coincides with ‘rush week’ which is the time that fraternities and sororities seek new members. ‘Friends for life’; is one of the mottos that is prevalent throughout the Greek (fraternity/sorority) community and it is most certainly true.

The left picture is Tower Hall, an event building on SJSU’s campus. On the right, is Stanley Park in Vancouver, Canada.

The left picture is Tower Hall, an event building on SJSU’s campus. On the right, is Stanley Park in Vancouver, Canada.

 

The whole community is very accepting and it is an extremely rewarding experience. One of the great parts about being in a fraternity is the philanthropic events. For example, Kappa Sigma, the fraternity that I am a member of hosts a series of events each semester to support military veterans.

When planning my finances for my travels I had to not only account for my student exchange but I also had to plan for my short term program before hand as well; I was overseas for 8 months in total. QUT has plenty of different support systems for students including OS-HELP loans and bursaries. Without QUT’s support I would not have been able to experience as much of American culture as I did.

When paying for living expenses one of the reasons that I chose to stay at I-House was that they offered a meal plan. This meal plan was for 7 days a week with extra dining credits to spend on campus restaurants outside of the dining hall. It should be noted that the food was nothing to call home about, other than to complain…

To find out more about QUT Student Exchange Programs, click here!

Life in Sweden & at KTH

Peter: Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Sweden, Semester 1, 2016

Through the QUT Exchange program I had the opportunity to spend not one, but two full semesters abroad in Stockholm, Sweden. I had done some backpacking through South East Asia in the past, but I had never left Australia for more than two months and I had never called another country home. Looking back on it now, I didn’t exactly realise the size of the challenge at hand – moving across the planet to a place where I don’t know anyone or understand the language – but that challenge along with every amazing experience has made it the best year of my life. Aside from learning the ins and outs of Stockholm, by the end of my exchange I had the opportunity to visit 17 countries and meet some incredible people.peter_davis1

My host university in Stockholm was Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan. Sound like a mouthful? Thankfully it’s also called the Royal Institute of Technology in English, but let’s just call it KTH. KTH was founded in 1827 and today is one of the largest and most prestigious technical institutions in Scandinavia. Universities work a little differently in Sweden and don’t tend to offer the same courses in competition with each. In Stockholm, Karolinska acts as the main medical school, Stockholm University specialises in subjects like Law and Business, and KTH is full of the country’s brightest engineers, programmers and scientists (among other things).

Europe has a bachelor-master system in which most people complete five years of study. In Sweden, all students are required to study their bachelor’s degree in Swedish, and their two year masters degree in English. Because of this, I was able to study equivalent units for my four year degree in Australia from fourth and fifth year units in Sweden. The KTH Main Campus was built over 100 years ago and is filled with beautiful red brick buildings, with the main courtyard being something akin to Hogwarts.

peter_davis2Our accommodation was organised through KTH and provided by the state-run SSSB (Stockholm student accommodation). Lappkärsberget or ‘Lappis’ as it is so affectionately known isn’t located on the KTH campus, but is a short walk away from the campus of Stockholm University, which is only one subway stop away. The area houses several thousand people, mostly in corridor rooms. My room was spacious and had its own bathroom and a lot of storage, and each corridor has a kitchen and common area shared between 13 people. In true Swedish style, my neighbourhood was not only near a subway stop, but also surrounded by forest and a short walk from the lake.

Discover more about QUT’s Student Exchange Programs here!

Highlights of my Time in Japan

Jackie: Kansai Gaidai University, Osaka, Japan – Semester 1, 2016

At KGU you have three accommodation options; you can apply for a homestay, apply to live in a dorm or you can find your own options. I chose to live in a dorm because I had never lived independently before. I had always wondered what on campus living was like and it was well worth it. I made close friends with the other girls I lived with and it was a nice area to be in. It wasn’t too far from school or a grocery store or the bus.jackie_4

The highlight of exchange in Japan was the amazingly rich and diverse culture. One day I would be in Osaka (which is known in Japan for being the life of the party) exploring all the weird and quirky things. The next day I would be in Kyoto exploring the incredibly significant and important government building, learning about all of Japans history from my friends who are smarter than me and staring in awe at the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) wondering how a flower could be so beautiful. (Side note: also the food was amazing. My friends and I still message each other about how much we miss Udon and Sashimi).jackie_3

My exchange was amazing and if I could do it again or go back and extend my trip I would. I learnt so much about myself and other cultures, which I would never have known otherwise. I can’t recommend Japan enough as a host country. I feel like I have seen so much of Japan because of my exchange and for that I will be forever grateful.

Interested in going on a QUT Student Exchange? Learn more here. Or drop in and see our exchange ambassadors at Gardens Point in A Block.

Out & About in Leeds

Elouise: University of Leeds, Semester 1, 2016

From the moment I submitted my exchange application, right up until I hopped off the train at Leeds station I was unsure if I had made the correct decision and picked the right university/ destination. But boy am I glad that I picked Leeds, what a city!!! Although not a top tourist destination for many (even for the British), Leeds is such a liveable city especially for students. Almost everything is catered to students. There are student prices and discounts, student nights, student real estate agents, student everything!

Leeds Corn Exchange - Call Lane

Leeds Corn Exchange – Call Lane

There are so many great little bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants all through Leeds. For

Leeds City Markets - Best for cheap groceries!

Leeds City Markets – Best for cheap groceries!

quirky pubs and bars there is Call Lane which is lined with anything and everything you could want. There are also a lot of places that do live music gigs, one of my personal favourites is Belgrave Beer Hall. They also have some of the best pizza in Leeds!

And of course your time in Leeds would not be complete without experiencing the infamous Otley Run, at least once. This is a pub crawl that runs from Headingly down Otley Road toward the Uni and the city. If you join any clubs, teams or societies you will definitely be dragged along to an Otley run. The university halls also do their own Otley’s throughout the year. But they are a great way to meet people, get to know new friends and also discover the best pubs Leeds has to offer.

 

Australia Day Otley Run

Australia Day Otley Run

I won’t tell you everything, and there is plenty left to discover, but I will say this, Leeds will definitely provide you with the best night out. Leeds also has some fantastic shopping, the city is filled with large shopping centres – the most impressive is Trinity Leeds, which also has a great food hall in it full of street food and food stalls.

 

Learn more about QUT Student Exchange Options.

Reasons to study in Copenhagen

Why Copenhagen? Many have asked me this question, both before I left and whilst in Denmark. Initially it was due to my fascination of all things Scandinavian and the fact I could study my law subjects in English, whilst being immersed in a totally different cultural experience. But as my time in Copenhagen went on, my answer changed dramatically and warped into so much more. Copenhagen is one of the most beautiful, most lively and easiest cities to live in. The lifestyle is great, with working hours less and more of a focus on family, socialising and generally enjoying life. The city is rich in history, with every street, park or lake being unbelievably picturesque. But most importantly, Danes are awesome. They are so warm, fun, easy-going and not to mention, incredibly good-looking.  You will walk down the street and be dumbfounded by the beauty of the Danes. But they aren’t just pretty faces – they are all so switched on, have a great sense of humour, love to have a good time and from my experience, Danes and Australians get on so well.  Not only did I want to get to know Danish culture, but they were just as intrigued with Australia. I made so many lifelong friends from all over the globe, who truly made my experience memorable.

pic 1I went on exchange (Semester 1 & 2 of 2015) for my full 5th year studying dual bachelor of business and law. Whilst in Copenhagen I studied mostly law subjects: Media Law, Health and Human Rights, Refugee law, Psychology for lawyers,  Gender & Legal Culture and one non-law subject of Danish culture. I found the workload a lot easier than QUT, with only one piece of assessment per subject. This is usually either in the form of a take home exam or a 20-minute oral exam with your tutor based on an essay you have written on a chosen topic. Although it initially sounds daunting, it is a lot easier than I expected and the tutors are all so kind and encouraging. It also helped that you only have to pass and the standard is not high at all (when compared to QUT).  Lectures are only a maximum of around 30 students so the learning environment is more intimate and interactive. The lecturers are from all over Europe and highly accredited and qualified and I always found them engaging, interesting and professional. I even had a lecturer who flew in from Belgium every week for our Media Law lecture. One thing about KU though, they are sticklers for rules – so make sure you are 100% on the subjects you have chosen as you are unable to change once semester starts. Also, steer clear of striclty EU law subjects (like European Environmental Law) as it can be a struggle without any background in the EU legal systems. Without the knowledge of the fundamentals of how EU law works, it can leave you at a disadvantage right from the get-go.

Danes speak perfect English (probably better than mine) so you don’t have to worry about whether you can speak the language. You will rarely find a Dane in Copenhagen that can’t speak English, and they will always try and accommodate. However, I found that they do appreciate when you give it a try and know some basics (they love laughing at your expense also). I did the pre-semester Danish course, which I really recommend doing. I met some of my closest friends during those 3 weeks and ended up experiencing the full year with 2 of the girls I met.

As for expenses, you’ve probably heard that it is expensive in Denmark (which it comparatively is to other exchange locations) but so is Australia. The cost of living in Copenhagen is extremely similar to Brisbane (if not less for alcohol and food at supermarkets). Eating out and coffee is pretty expensive but when you do go to restaurants – it’s always a true experience and worth the little splurge. To compensate, Danes usually host dinner parties and get-togethers where you would all cook together, drink together, and spend a ‘hygellig’ night in. There are also great food markets, where you can choose from a huge array of cuisines and enjoy with a beer in the sun or cosy together in the winter. Go to Paperion Island and the Kodbyen food markets in summer.pic 2 I do recommend budgeting and saving as much as possible before you go so you have room to spend. You also don’t have to worry about paying for public transport or taxis as you will ride a bike everywhere. As soon as you get to Copenhagen, get a bike! It is your ticket to getting around Copenhagen and will basically become another appendage of your body. It is so easy to get around the city by bike and some of my fondest memories are of riding around Copenhagen and taking in all its beauty. Once you get a bike, you feel like a true local but always make sure you lock it. Bike theft is a thing!

As for accommodation, I spent my first semester at Tietgenkollegiet which is a dormitory known for its famous architecture and amazing facilities. I lived with predominately Danish people and was the only international student in my shared kitchen of 12. The rooms, common areas and facilities were all perfection and the people I lived with quickly became my family in Copenhagen. There is a real sense of community and always someone there to chat with, cook with or party with. Although, I loved my time in Tietgen, I craved living more centrally (out of Amager) and a true ‘Copenhagen experience’ rather than college dorm life. So for semester 2, I decided to move to shared living in central Copenhagen but this proved to be much more difficult to find than expected. The KU housing foundation is not very helpful and extremely expensive – I would try to find something without them. But if not, they are a good option to rent through. I ended up living in a huge flat with 5 other young roommates from all over Europe in Norrebro and absolutely loved it. Norrebro is a great trendy neighbourhood with lots of cute little cafes, shops, great bars and clubs. If you can, try find a place in Norrebro, Vesterbro, Kobenhavn K or inner Frederiksberg – that’s where most of the life is. But there aren’t many colleges there. Osterbro is beautiful but a bit more for families and professionals. Don’t be disappointed if you aren’t able to get in these locations though – Copenhagen is so compact that you can get everywhere in 15 minutes by bike. When you get to Copenhagen, definitely get your residence permit and CPR number – it means you can get a Danish bank account, gym membership and even free healthcare if anything happens.

pic 3The best decision I made was going on exchange for the full year – I not only got to travel all over Europe but I was able to truly make Copenhagen my home and set down solid roots. I was able to form strong friendships and not miss out on or have to rush through any Danish experiences. I got to travel for 2 months during the summer break where I saw a lot of Southern Europe and even Morocco. During semesters, it is so easy to pop over to another country for an extended weekend, without missing anything at uni. I was lucky enough to visit Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary, Sweden, England, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and even New York. However, if you can only do one semester on exchange, do it during QUT’s semester 1. It was the longest semester and also the best time to be in Copenhagen for the lead up to summer. It went from the colder months of winter, to the longer sunnier days of summer. The change is utterly beautiful and you have a greater appreciation for it. The whole city comes alive and Danes get so excited about the approaching summer – hosting many free events and festivals. You definitely need to go to the free Distortion festival and Roskilde music festival in June – both were absolute highlights.

I cannot recommend Copenhagen enough – the way of life is better, the people are better and it will give you a truly memorable and rewarding experience. I’m already planning my return to the ‘happiest nation on earth!’

A Week in Vienna

swimming-in-the-danube-elsie-leah-tiffany-cynthia-rachel-liam

Swimming in the Alte Donaukanal (Old Danube Canal) with new friends

It’s been a week since I arrived in Vienna for a semester to study at the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU). Before I arrived in Vienna though, I was most worried about making friends with an entirely new group of people. I had back-up plans for other things: cooking failed? Go out and buy something. Got home sick? FaceTime. Got lost on the streets? Ask someone. There didn’t seem a viable alternative to not making friends, other than “independence” (not to be confused with “loneliness”).

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A night at the Prater, Vienna’s largest park

My fears were short-lived, and of course, totally unwarranted. I won’t lie – I had some help. My buddy picked me up from the airport, and after a few days of settling in, I contacted a friend who is also studying in Vienna. And although I only knew two people in Vienna, it doesn’t matter. Because those people know people who know people.

The fantastic thing about exchange is that everybody is in the same boat as you. Everybody is flustered at the thought of buying things in German (a language most exchange students can barely speak), everybody is running around sorting out paperwork (conveniently all in German) and struggling through getting groceries (you don’t realise how much you value pictures until it’s not English). You are not alone. It’s actually super easy to make friends – and often, the best friendships come from the most serendipitous circumstances.

leah-rachel-cynthia-schonbrunn

Admiring the sights at Schloss Schönbrunn

Within my first week I’ve swum in the Danube, gone on a rollercoaster, explored a palace and cathedrals, met people from Bulgaria to Brisbane to North America, been to the closing night of the Vienna Film Festival, explored Rathaus (the town hall), and the list continues.

I’ve only just scratched the surface and I can’t wait to see what the next 23 weeks hold in store!

The Long Awaited Return To Vancouver for Studies

I had previously visited Vancouver a couple years ago on holidays and fell in love with its atmosphere and ice hockey culture, not to mention it’s not far from many local ski mountains and whistler is only 2hours away. I promised myself that one-day I would eventually come back to Vancouver, and a year on exchange was the perfect opportunity to do so.

There wasn’t any pre approved Unit credit transfers for Simon Fraser University (SFU), so getting enough courses approved by both universities was a constant battle. A full year’s minimum full time course load (3 units a semester) was difficult with constant bouncing back and forward with meetings and emails between university advisors. However, looking back on it, it was all worth it. So just stick in there and leave yourself with enough time to plan.

pic 9SFU is placed on the top of Burnaby Mountain overlooking the surrounding city skylines, ocean, and looking up to the breath taking mountains. Its old unique stone buildings give it a lot of character and style that slowly changes through the seasons. The Library is a massive six-story football field. If your unlucky you might have to do some classes out in the city of Surrey or travel downtown to the city center with isn’t so bad. The city is a beautiful and filled with very nice people. However try to stay away from east Hastings Street that is over run by homeless people. This is hard as the main route from on campus to downtown Vancouver is along Hastings Street.

pic 2I had and assumption that the Canadian university experience would be a lot like the American culture with lots of fraternity parties and support in the sports teams. However, this was not the case. With more parties organised at bars and dorms on campuses. More support was also aimed towards the Professional teams. This was eventually no issue as the whole city was crazy passionate about their only professional ice hockey team in the NHL.

There are many Activities to do in Vancouver that will keep you busy. So try to organise trips and activities early in the semester. Ranging from hiking the local mountains in the summer, skiing them in the winter, catching a ferry over to Tofino on Vancouver Island to go surfing if you miss the beach, or making quick trips across the close border down to America. Many popular north American destinations are much cheaper and quick to travel to and were popular with many exchange students to travel to on mid semester breaks e.g. Cancun for spring break.pic 7 The city is very multicultural and many different sections of the city show this, however the national languages are English and French, with English the most predominant language. Sushi is a definite must and is one of the more popular places to eat as the quality is outstanding where ever you go and the cost is very cheap, where most sushi restaurants out number cafes.

SFU has great facilities. With most of the facilities are free and included with your student fees. This including the gym, pool and bus passes. A student dinning hall is also available on campus, and offers a range of cheap meal plans for the semester or cheap single all you can eat meals. This is a good place to hang out and study with food close by. The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) were always planning events and outgoing for exchange student to be apart of. Ranging from on campus music concerts, hockey games, or ski trips. There was always something to keep you busy and sometimes distract you from your studies.