My Exchange Adventure

Mackenzie G, Bachelor of Industrial Design
Aston University, Birmingham, England (Semester 1, 2016)

One of the many trips around the UK. This time a weekend in Scotland with people from all around the world.

My Experience
Do you fancy seeing the world? Feel like shaking things up? Want to make uni a lot more fun? If this sounds like you then go sign up for student exchange!
Student exchange is an opportunity to live and study overseas. You get to meet people from all parts of the globe, see places you never would and have the time of your life all while completing your studies.

Earlier this year I flew over to Birmingham, England to complete my first semester of third year industrial design at Aston University. For four months I lived and studied abroad in a country I’ve never been to. There I learnt about product design, made worldwide friends and had an absolutely great time all the while completing my studies.
Aston University was my uni of choice for its industry backed reputation and central location.

Although the content they taught was more on the engineering side, they provided knowledge that I would likely not learn elsewhere. Submitting assignments, sitting exams and general university life was not so different to how we do it here which made adapting to their system a breeze.

Similarly studying in an English speaking country was not a problem at all. The accents and weather were the biggest difference initially but were soon overcome. So no intense culture shock here compared to the more foreign locations available. That said if you want to take it easy, Canada, USA and the UK are more comfortable options should English be your native language.

Life abroad at university is fun. Aston accommodates foreign exchange students very well with regular events and trips around the country. The majority of exchange students hung out together and with people from all over Europe, South America and just about everywhere else we felt a great sense of community exploring and learning together as foreigners.

For me I chose not to work and relied upon loans and savings to keep myself financially supported. So not needing a job meant I had more time to study and even more time to explore the UK and just have fun. With my crew of international students we visited most major UK cities, Liverpool, Manchester, London, Edinburgh, Dublin and so on. Unique to the English semester is a three week mid semester holiday. Being so close to France and in the middle of winter that meant skiing was up for grabs. So my mid semester break consisted of a week-long ski trip with the uni and two weeks of hot, beautiful sun in the Canary Islands. Luckily for me it wasn’t all about studying. Maybe your university has something similar. You can make your student exchange custom made for whatever interests you! Something not thought about often when considering student exchange.

The Application Process
Getting sorted for a student exchange is no easy task. Sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back. A lot of research and hard work is required but the effort is worth the reward. A lot of the time my effort was independent simply because there were questions that only I could find the answers to… mostly specific university queries. Although it was difficult my motivation kept the ball rolling, something we tend to forget when going through this process.

The opportunity to work alongside students from different cultures on the other side of the world is worth every ounce of effort.

Finances
A common concern is money and to how fund such an extravagant adventure. Fortunately there are awesome financial assistance options available from QUT. The OS help loan and the mobility grant made my venture possible. Applying for and receiving these are nothing short of easy. With a minimum of $8000 AUD available anything from your own pocket would only be for an extended holiday!
When it comes to budgeting research is key. Finding everyday living costs is essential especially if you’re thinking of living in the UK, Switzerland or any other expensive locations. The small things really add up.

As far as accommodation goes share houses are the best option. Cheap and entertaining they’re nothing short of fun. My house was intensely multicultural which furthered my travel education but also provided another social circle. Comparatively the on campus accommodation at Aston is rather pricey but more student orientated. Again research is key here.

The appropriate visa will make returning to your host country a breeze. This allowed me to skip between the UK and France with ease.

Visas
Before leaving Australia ensure you have the appropriate visa and ensure your passport meets federal requirements. Ensure in advance so you’re not caught rushing around last minute.

The study visa for the UK was a frustratingly slippery slope. Students who have studied there offered mixed advice and the visa website was just as helpful. Trying to save a few hundred dollars by not getting one is risky business but its best to play it safe. Upon entering the country I was told this wasn’t required but soon after relieved by my enrolling member of staff as she reassured me this was a necessary requirement of the university. Nothing too special with passports, just make sure there is plenty of time left on it before it expires.

Customise Your Experience
One aspect not discussed enough is how you can revolve your exchange around what you want to do. My initial idea was basically studying overseas and seeing the sights. However you can leave home well before semester starts and get into some travelling, complete your semester then top it off with a couple more months of travel. Or do like I did and compete in heaps of skateboard races around Europe! It might sound like a holiday but there is a lot to learn when you’re not at uni.

Once the semester concluded I travelled through Europe and attended many skateboard races. A long time dream now accomplished. (I’m in the grey suit).

If I Could Do It Again
I would be extra adventurous. I would try out a non-English speaking country, somewhere that teaches classes in English but with a culture greatly different to Australia. Unknown to me was how much of the European population spoke English. Knowing this I would have jumped in the deep end for a totally foreign experience.

Luke’s Lancaster Life

Luke Barnes, Bachelor of Business/Laws                                                                  Lancaster University, England (Semester 1, 2017)

Lancaster University is in a beautiful location in the picturesque north of England. It was just a quick 2-hour train trip up from London Euston, a trip I made many times over the 3 months I stayed in Lancaster. It has great facilities, with over 12 different colleges, all which provide living space on campus and of course their own bar. All are perfect for an afternoon game of pool, darts and any other game of your choice. It is a proud university town, even once you get to the train station it loudly proclaims that it is the home of Lancaster University.

The on-campus accommodation was everything you could have asked, however the bathroom was slightly cramped. Despite this, the on-campus facilities were amazing. The University had everything you needed, with two small general stores, and plenty of takeout options. There were also numerous cafes for the coffee starved brain of any student; although just don’t expect it to be quite up to the Australian standard!

The cultural shock of going to England was pretty much non-existent, I think some of the Southern English found it more shocking to be up North than I found it halfway across the world. With the amazing transportation system a train ride could take you  almost anywhere in a short amount of time. Once in London, the tube also takes you wherever you need to be, in a matter of minutes.

Living in England made living away from home very easy. Although there are times you can still become a little home sick, when you think about how far away you are from your family. It also took me a while to adjust to the amount of daylight in the UK. In Summer it is still light until 10pm, and in Winter the sun sets by 4pm, which can be difficult.

Overall, the trip was unforgettable and there were many highlights throughout. On one occasion, my flat mates and I decided to hold a ‘good old Aussie BBQ’. I thought it would be a great idea to show my fellow international residents what it was like. We had one Cypriot, a Bulgarian and two English men along with myself, an Australian. The only thing that we did not consider was the fact that the temperature was only a little over freezing. In the blistering cold conditions, I like to think at least the food was good enough to get across what the essence of an Aussie BBQ is like…

As everyone says, exchange is an incredible experience. If you have the opportunity, grasp it with both hands – you will not regret it.

Exchange at Cardiff University

Jasmin C., Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Creative Industries
Cardiff University, United Kingdom (Semester 2, 2017)

Cardiff, the capital of Wales, is a beautiful, old, tiny city with the friendliest people. In the middle of the city centre sits the medieval Cardiff Castle, one of the first things I saw upon arriving. I was so amazed by this castle, sitting right in the town centre amongst the modern shops. Little did I know it would be the first of MANY castles I would see during my time in the UK. Just across from the castle, my favourite store in the entire city; the Welsh cake shop. Absolutely scrumptious. As well as this, the shops in the city are great, lots of art, vintage and old record stores.

Just a few minutes walk from the city centre is Cardiff University. Unlike QUT, Cardiff University does not really have a campus. The buildings are spread out around the city, which wasn’t really a problem because the city is so small anyway. The tutorial and lecture situation was pretty similar to QUT, however most of my lectures were not recorded (yikes) and powerpoint slides were not always uploaded onto blackboard, which meant attendance was pretty crucial. As well as this, unlike QUT where most of my subjects required multiple assessments, all of my Cardiff University subjects had huge (5000 words) 100% assignments due at the end of the semester.

There are many student accommodations around the city. The one I stayed in was called Talybont South, located 20 mins away from the city centre and within proximity to the university buildings. Luckily for me most of my classes were held in the building that was only a 5 minute walk away, however the furtherest buildings were a 20-30 minute walk away. Talybont South was known for being the nosiest of all the student accommodations, it didn’t bother me much but if you’re a light sleeper I would suggest trying for one of the other student accommodations.

I stayed in an ensuite dorm with a kitchen I shared with 7 other people. My roommates were made up of 6 UK locals (4 Welsh, 2 English) and one other exchange student from the USA. Within 24 hours of living together we all became the best of friends. It was great being able to live with locals as I definitely would not have been able to learn and do as much as I did without them. One highlight was being able to spend New Years Eve with one of my roommates and her family in her home in Swansea. In fact, the highlight of my entire exchange was just being able to get to know and hang out with incredible people I never would have been able to meet if it was not for this experience.

There are lots of things to in Cardiff. As I mentioned before, the castle and the shops are great. As well as this there is Cardiff Bay, National Museum Cardiff, and lots of parks and gorgeous greenery, just to name a few. However if you’re wanting to leave the city there are so many places you can go. In Wales you have Swansea, which is only a 40 minute train ride away and lots of tiny, adorable Welsh towns to explore, my favourite being Laugharne (pronounced Larn). Bristol and Bath are only 1 hour away and if you want to go to bigger cities London and Birmingham are only 2 hours away on the train.

Tips and advice! Tip number 1: $$$!! You’ll have to buy a lot of things upon arrival, pillows, sheets, duvet, cutlery, plates etc. Definitely budget each week, you don’t want to have to miss out on doing anything or travelling somewhere due to lack of funds. Cost of living in Cardiff was pretty similar to Brisbane. Other advice would just be to try and stay as calm and positive as possible. You will definitely have a few struggles. Fortunately for me, my only struggles were that the classes I had planned on taking were unavailable which led me having to find other classes to take and the process took a while so I ended up being a few weeks behind in my classes. However, the tutors were very helpful in helping me catch up and it all turned out fine. As well as this, I was lucky that I got along with my roommates and they really made me feel at home, and so I didn’t get homesick at all. Finally, make the most of your time!!! I couldn’t believe how fast the time went. My only regret was that I only stayed a semester and not a whole year!