Settling in to Simon Fraser, Canada

Mikaela H
Bachelor of Business (Marketing) / Bachelor of Creative Industries (Fashion Communication)
Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada

 

For semester one of 2017 I partook in an exchange at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver, Canada. Doing university at SFU was different from the get go with the semester starting on the 4th of January. For Canada, this was the middle of winter and for Vancouver this usually means a fair bit of rain and snow so make sure you pack your thermals because it gets pretty cold!

It’s cold from the beginning – pack your thermals!

In terms of accommodation I applied for on-campus student accommodation at SFU’s Burnaby campus. The building I stayed in for this consisted of dormitory style buildings in which you had your own room in a hallway of rooms beside each other with a shared bathroom, kitchen and lounge room. If given the chance with exchange anywhere I would highly recommend trying to stay on-campus because I found it a lot easier to make friends as a lot of the people there are in the same boat as you.

The friends I met while staying on campus

 

Overall, I had an amazing exchange, did so many things I’ve never done before like snowboarding as well making some long lasting friendships with people from all over the world as well as Canada.

Settling into Thai time

It has almost been two weeks since I first touched down in Thailand. Although I haven’t been here long yet, I have already faced so many challenges and have discovered many fascinating things about life in Thailand.

As this is my first blog post I think I am going to answer one of the most common questions I have been asked “why did you choose to study abroad in Thailand?” as well as how settling in to a new and very different home has been so far.

When I decided I wanted to go on exchange I spent a long time working out where exactly I wanted to go. I knew I wanted to go somewhere very different from Australia. I also knew that I wanted to travel quite a bit while I was away so finding somewhere affordable and close to other countries was also important. The last criteria I had was I wanted to be able to receive credit for core subjects while I was abroad. Out of all the options I was given Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand was able to tick the most boxes. Whilst for me Thailand seemed to be the best option it was quite clear that for most other students at QUT it was not. The lack of previous students having attended Thammasat University made it difficult to talk to someone who knew exactly what life would be like there. Also, due to the language barrier, many aspects of the university website were confusing and unclear. The lack of information about my studies and other things like how easy it would be to make friends and the best places to live was quite frankly a bit terrifying.

Thammasat University uniform

I arrived in Bangkok on the 2nd of January hoping to relieve some of my concerns during orientation week. The first event that I attended was uniform shopping. Yes, that is correct, in Thailand university students generally wear uniforms. I began to get a better picture of how the university and Thai student life worked after speaking to some of the Thai students that helped us buy our uniforms.

  1. The faculty I was in meant that I only had to wear a uniform when I was having mid-semester or final exams.
  2. Out of the 80 odd new exchange students only one other would be up at the Rangsit campus (just north of Bangkok) with me because most of the English programs were at the campus in the city.
  3. Thai people are really friendly and helpful people.

The university also paired me up with a couple of Thai students who studied up on the Rangsit campus. Both girls that I was paired up with were very lovely and helpful. They guided me on everything from how to get around to where to live. Although I was fortunate to have such supportive people helping me out I still struggled with simple things such as reading and signing the lease of the apartment I am living in. It may have been translated into English but the sentences did not make much sense. Since I was no longer in the tourist area asking a taxi or motorbike driver to take me somewhere was very difficult and it helped me realise how important learning some Thai would be for survival while I am studying here.

I have had one week of classes and so far, I have had a mixture of teachers. Some have been extremely charismatic, and good at English. Whereas others have been quite strict or had to ask other students to help translate some sentences into English for me. Either way being in journalism and communication classes have already proved to be a great way to get an inside look at different issues in Thailand and aspects of Thai culture that are not as obvious. I am very interested to see what the rest of the semester holds.

Although I came to Thailand with a bunch of concerns I have been able to work through all of the challenges and so far I am very happy with how everything is going. Being at Rangsit campus has turned out to be a positive. It has helped me to be able to befriend more Thai students than I would have been able to otherwise. I am also really lucky that the other exchange student in my faculty is really awesome and it has been great to have someone to travel to places near our campus and places closer into Bangkok with. I have learnt so much about Thailand and myself already and cannot wait for the next four and a half months here. I am going to try and post as much as I can on Instagram so if you would like to see more of my travels follow gabcarter.

“This exchange to me was a defining moment in my life.”

I will admit that moving to Italy was not an easy challenge personally as I had not had this type of experience before, in addition to the language barrier that I had to face. It was very intimidating. However, in the moment of being overseas and living there for 6 months I knew that everything there was because of me and thus I was responsible for everything that happened next. As a result I took courage and ventured forth to put myself out there, seeking help, making friends, getting as much experience as I could.

Riva del Garda, the biggest river in Italy on a summers day

To go on exchange is not easy, you expose yourself and let the world absorb you and you experience what the world has to offer. I would definitely recommend anyone to go on exchange, I considered myself to be an introvert before the exchange and during this period I had a change of heart to force myself out there and I can really see the benefits. It’s a risk, but the risk is worth if even if there are times were things are lonesome or grim but the fact of the matter is, you’re on exchange, you’re overseas. Make the most of it, pick yourself up and just get moving.

 

This exchange to me was a defining moment in my life.

 

Despite being 6 months, these six months are what made me choose and reaffirm my position not only in this career pathway but the decision for QUT being a university for the real world. I have changed personally, wiser, smarter and generally more open to anything and anyone as to feed my now fond spontaneous nature. Academically, I have had a revelation as to what it is to study, the importance for self-discipline, routine and the need to ask for help when needed. For my thesis work that I had completed, I worked on it alone and to my luck, had someone that worked on a similar material and was able to collaborate and get enough help to push me over the line.

Trying hot pot with a friend from Hong Kong

Working in a lab every week for a long period of time also enabled me to have a sense to how a professional job would feel like, the experience of having meetings, emailing updates, forms, presentations and events. It felt that in the work environment, a laboratory that is close functions well and brings morale high.

This experience is something unlike anything and definitely is my point of reference in my life as to when I changed for the real world. I would strongly recommend anyone to take the chance, take that leap of faith and venture outside the comfort zone and see how it is outside of your own culture and home. To go on exchange is a must at least once during a degree.

Joshua C
Bachelor of Engineering
University of Trento, Italy

From big city Brisbane to small town Trento

The currency in Italy is the Euro which is generally about one third stronger than the Australian dollar. This was a bit of a blow as the money from the scholarship (9.5k) became lesser than anticipated and in this regards the concern of converting it all in one swoop or continuously was a dangerous risk as in some instances (what happened personally) the Australian dollar consistently dropped in strength meaning that when converting you were losing money comparatively if you had converted it all in the beginning.

Compared to Brisbane there prices are rather, odd. Expensive things in Australia would be really cheap in Italy and vice versa. This made a bit of an issue on then seeing the necessity of certain products.

This made having a budget key,

there were three major bills the pay and consider; accommodation rent, phone bill and public transport bill. These monthly would chew a large chunk of your budgeting expenses and didn’t leave much wiggle room, however, after consideration it is reasonably prices putting considerations into effect and made budgeting an easier very serious thing to do.

Personally I used a travel visa card which helped and lessened the need to withdraw money which would have a standard fee to do so and so the travel card was accepted in essentially all cases (besides a flea market).

Trento being a lovely place was easy to settle in and understand how it functioned, it being a small town made it feel safer comparatively to Brisbane big metropolitan city lifestyle. Although I had taken precautionary methods to ensure my safety I found myself being too critical of the locals and the people who were there and decided to present myself to strangers, saying hello, talking, interacting and to my surprise everyone was willing to stop and have a small dialogue.

Joshua C
Bachelor of Engineering
University of Trento, Italy

Leeds Survival Guide, Part 4: Travel

I’m now one week away from travelling back to Australia and I realise that I’ve picked up a lot of great advice in regards to travelling while studying in the UK. Take it from someone who spent her birthday in Paris, Christmas in Amsterdam and New Year’s in Edinburgh, I have done my fair share of travelling, and I have the pen collection to prove it:

From York, Manchester, Lincoln, Wales, Durham, Paris, Lake District, London, Tenerife, Amsterdam, all the way to Scotland

So, here are some of the top travel tips that I have learned so far.

Read more

Thesis work in Italy’s Trento

Academically speaking for me I was granted permission to start and finish my final thesis for my Medical Engineering degree, in addition to this I had to take on two course work units. This meant that this semester would not be a leisurely one.

For my course units I would travel to the engineering faculty and take my classes, as for my thesis work it was to be completed in a laboratory south of the town in the BioTech facility.

The BioTech lab where I undertook thesis work

On the days that I had no class (also after or before I had class one the same day) I found myself there early as 8:30am and late as 5pm Monday through to Friday, with the occasional weekend visit to check up on my work. My thesis work, as expected, was something not to take lightly and so I was determined to work hard and placed a lot of my free time in research and conducting experiments as much as I was permitted.

Thankfully the course works I undertook were in English (normally in Italy, Bachelor classes are taken in Italian) however the classes I took were in English and this was due to these course works being Master level units. I wasn’t previously aware of this however I felt dedicated in spending my time working. Comparatively to QUT, in the academic intensity, I have never had a full schedule as this nor one that required an immense amount personal study.

In our accommodation there was a study common room in which I would spend my nights after dinner with floor mates studying till our heads ached from reading. This was a motivational way of studying as a group we each had our own work but pushed ourselves to study by jokingly scolding each other if we were on the phone too long or were zoning out.

A challenge I faced was the work load. Despite having no commitment besides studying, the call to adventure was very strong however in most cases I could not take the chance as I would need to decided weekends and nights to ensuring my work was consistent and satisfactory. Even so, the friends I made in the studying were worth the trip.

Joshua C
Bachelor of Engineering
University of Trento, Italy

The time of your life in Trento

Joshua C
Bachelor of Engineering
University of Trento, Italy

The major strengths of the university is its exchange student associations that really do go out of their way to include new comers and let them see the fascinating places within and outside of Trento and better yet hold weekly events to ensure that everyone throughout the exchange form a group in a sense and make new connections globally. The university also offers student accommodation which is another huge way for students to connect foreign and domestic. In this regards I was able to meet wonderful people all around the world and from Italy and found new friends that throughout the exchanged helped me and made things bright and very fun for me.

The wonderful people living in student accommodation with me

The floor had a tradition of having a ‘Big Party’ at the beginning of the semester to welcome the new floor mates giving a great opportunity to formally introduce yourself and sensing the atmosphere that will be ever present in the floor. The photo above is everyone on the floor .The students each studied something different which I felt was a strong point as it would intrigue my curiosity in not only what they personally studied but how it worked in their own country and here in Trento.

The accommodation in depth functioned as a floor being a single unit. Each person had their own separate room with bathroom, bed, wardrobe, balcony, study desk and bedside lamp. The floor had a single kitchen and bathroom and balcony in which the cooking area was shared having lockers for each individuals cooking equipment and food and sharing fridges with a certain amount of people.

The view of the mountains from my accommodation

 

Continuing on for what the accommodation had to offer is that there were gyms, sports ground, music area and even a Unibar that was open breakfast to dinner all days. There was even a rock climbing centre around the corner which I personally enjoyed whenever I could go. The student accommodations are located 25minute walk from the city centre however was backed up right next to a train station which was super convenient.

A Life of Leisure in Vienna

Naomi M, Bachelor of Nutrition Science
Vienna, Semester 1 (2017)

Sleeping in late, lazy weekends, enjoying a melange (Viennese coffee) and apple strudel in Freud’s favourite coffee house, picnics in the park, sunset drinks by the Donaukanal, summer walks through the vineyards, schnitzel, potato salad and a midnight käsekrainer (Viennese sausage with melted cheese in the middle).

These are all what it means to live in Vienna (Wien). No one else lives leisure like the Viennese. Every step outside surrounds you with century old architecture that makes you feel like the royal family will appear at any moment. The city is obsessed with green too. Every corner has a park and there’s no greater place to sit down and read your favourite book or people watch. No one is afraid to express themselves in public. From fashion to loud conversations; There is never a dull moment.

The atmosphere is welcoming and exciting for students in Vienna. There are always events designed to bring everyone together, so making friends was never hard. Although the class structure was different, it was easy enough to find your way through the many campuses spread across the city, thanks to the great public transport. The main campus felt like an Austrian medieval Hogwarts, which is not surprising as it is the oldest German speaking university in the world. Most students lived in private dorms but I shared a room. My roommate could not speak English, so we communicated mostly with embarrassed laughs, hand gestures and Google Translate.

Everywhere you go in Vienna is beautiful. I had the most fun exploring the city with my friends, always an ice cream in hand. One of my favourite past times was catching the tram out of the city to the vineyards and exploring the lusciously green forests that overlooked the city. Other days we would all venture to Prater, a theme park right next to the city, where we would ride old rollercoasters and eat fairy floss on the stick until the sun went down and the park lights lit up and welcomed the night to come. Vienna is located centrally in Europe, so weekend trips to Budapest, Prague, Germany, Poland, Slovenia and Serbia were common for my friends and I. Vienna felt so safe and welcoming; it was always so comforting to arrive back from travel to the beautiful city I had made my home.

 

 

What to expect in Trento, small-town Italy

Joshua C
Bachelor of Engineering
University of Trento, Italy

 

My exchange program was placed and set in the northern part of Italy, Trento, a small city town that is located in the gulf between two mountains. Initially I had chosen this partner university by its impressive range of subjects that it offered in the field that interested me, biomedical engineering.

At this point I had no idea how things functioned overseas in a different culture and found myself in a new position of having to adjust myself. First arriving to meet my professors and colleagues I was nervous being relatively young and with the most minimal experience in comparison to those within the laboratory. This led me to the feeling as if I was inadequate to be there among everyone else as, I believed, the skill gap was too big for me.

However the hospitality, warmness and kindness of those within the laboratory aided me into being confident and strengthen myself immensely with how the exchange would progress.

 

The main square ‘duomo’ in which the statue of Poseidon with the trident stands on top of a well

Trento in itself, is a very small town located 100km above Verona (between Venice and Milan) and still holds dear the architecture, customs and style of a town well aged. The noticeable different between QUT and the University of Trento was the campus, unlike QUT where faculties have their respective buildings (P Block – Engineers, D Block – Design, etc) Trento had the faculties located around the town, with the major campus being in the city centre and the others in the surrounding suburbs. The University of Trento is a very beautiful and well-functioning university. The facilities that are offered are extremely well thought out and also aesthetically pleasing bringing a lighter to mood to things.

 

In addition to this, there were cafeterias. This was something totally foreign to me but as I visited it daily, I found myself enjoying it and soon enough become accustomed to it.

Discover the UK’s picturesque countryside

Jordan W
(BCI student Majoring in Drama, Minors in Scenography and Literature)
Leeds University, UK

 

The landscape is stunning in England, if you’re a painter or creative type it will make your mind wonder. I was fortunate enough in my weekend explorations of the England countryside to come across an exhibition holding some of Francis Bacon’s most famous work on tour.

You’ll meet so many friends while on exchange. I will give some advice, you will notice on your return home that you will have more international student friends than English students, as they tend to stick to their own crowd (usually). This is not necessarily bad, it was my own personal experience and made friends with plenty of non-student English friends.

So, you’re probably wondering about Europe. Do it. It’s one of the best things. In the middle of Semester 2 (which is our Semester 1 at QUT), there is a month break in the middle to study, I suggest do some study then take some time off to travel to Europe, it is at a very good time in March / April where the tourists have not yet arrived, but it is not blisteringly cold like Winter – it is just right.

Nothing is more rewarding than travelling

A highlight I would suggest is to do Italy – it is magnificent, you will not regret – climbing Mount Vesuvius was indeed my favourite as it snowed while I was at the top.

However, transport and travelling to other places is quite expensive due to the class system on trains which interlink England. I suggest using the National Express bus service that allows extremely cheap tickets around the U.K. – it takes longer to your destination point but it saves you money.

By the end, you will wish you could never leave – but that’s okay because at the end you would have made connections and can meet up with those friends again, traveling and searching the world together.