After many months of up and down moments, I’m finally back home in Australia. I figure I should do one last blog post and try and contribute some tips for others who are considering exchange. Again, as anyone is aware if they’ve read this, they’ve probably realised I didn’t really enjoy my time overseas all that much, however, I don’t want that to be a deterrent for not going, as it was still the best education life could offer me. I went to the United Kingdom and I learnt a great number of lessons. As both a student and a young person, these are invaluable lessons. I’m not even referring to the things I learnt at university (which I’ve probably said before, not much. At this juncture, I’d like to say, don’t go overseas to actually learn anything from the university itself, chances are you won’t be satisfied from the education one way or the other). I’m going to make each of these tips as objective as possible, or at the very least, justify my reasoning behind them, so that everyone can understand what I’m getting at. Some of this advice will be UK specific, whilst other tidbits will be for exchange in general.
1) I think the best place to start is the decision to go on exchange, and the location itself. Going on exchange is a big decision, and I think that whether you enjoy the experience or not, you will learn something, and it does make you a more worldly person. However, I would recommend against exchange if:
a) You are someone who doesn’t make friends very easily – This isn’t myself, but whilst over there, one of the things I missed the most were friends. I can just imagine what it would be like if you didn’t make any, This being said, try to participate in all exchange related activities the institution has on offer, as its the best way to make friends. Remember, all these people had to go through a selection process like you, so you’ll probably that they are well-to-do intelligent people like yourselves. I bring this point up, because whilst I made friends over there, none of them really shared any of my interests like the ones I had back home, so it made it difficult a times to do any social activity other than drink, or talk about something other than current events. Or, find someone willing to go to a music festival with you.
You are not using electives as choices for equivalent subjects – It can be done (and it’s the only way I managed to do go on exchange) however, you will be punished for it in some capacity. One of the major issues with this, is that the units, are rarely, truly equivalent. For example, I studied a unit which was meant to be the replacement for The Global Markets back here, a third/second year unit. What I had studied overseas, whilst sounding on paper like I’d be learning from a marketing perspective (like the QUT unit description back home) It ultimately turned out to just be a clone of BSB119 (probably one of the reasons I did so well on it. Hell, even the textbook had the same author as the BSB119 text). What this ultimately means is that I haven’t really learnt what QUT has wanted me to learn, and that I could be placed at a disadvantage later in my degree because I won’t have the knowledge I’m supposed to from that subject (if you place any stock in the validity of academia at least). Another problem with using units that aren’t electives (and are 2nd/3rd year subjects) is that to use them, you may gave to drastically alter your course structure to use them as equivalents. This is because some classes are only offered once a year at QUT, and some are prerequisites for other classes. It is a great CHALLENGE to actually rearrange your course structure to accommodate exchange. What this means for your time at QUT is that you may be studying some final year units whilst your friends are all still doing core units, or you’ll be stuck doing a really intensive workload by doing a whole heap of prerequisites so that you can take classes the following semester after you get back. I’m currently in this boat. I even have to take SUMMER SEMESTER now because of this course rearranging.
You are unable to live with all the change that will occur back home whilst you’re away – Life will move on in your country without you being there. Your friends will have done all this cool stuff whilst you were away, and you weren’t there. You will see friend’s 21’st birthday parties on Facebook and think, damn, I so should have been there. You will probably get a dozen emails a month from QUT with various work placement offers or amazing job opportunities that you can’t apply for because you’re overseas. If you’re apart of Golden Key, you’ll probably miss out on some really great conferences. Point being, the amount of job offers and really cool opportunities for my future career I missed, as well as other stuff, REALLY got to me whilst I was away from home. Some of those jobs looked sooooo good :'(
b) Location – Now this is a big one. I had my own reasons for going to England, but none of them were honestly related to having a personal interest of the place. I paid DEARLY for this. I will say this as simply as possible, unless you are absolutely obsessed with the place you are going to, know what you want to do whilst over there, and know many many things about it, I do not recommend going. Some of you may say “Ooooh but I like to venture into the unknown”. Yeah, well, if you’re going spend 6 months somewhere, it’s probably for the best you have some idea of what to expect. This is for a number of reasons (because I think we in Australia are a little naive when it comes to other places). For one, if you want to do exciting stuff, depending on the country, you’ll probably need to plan in advance. One of my mistakes with England is that most of the activities were seasonal. I also wrongly assumed I’d love tackling the unknown and going in blind to explore England. Wrong. WRONG! I quickly learnt that there so very little I actually liked about the place, and that the only redeeming qualities it could boast over Australia was history and art. I went to one of the nations of the world that absolutely commercialises the hell out of it’s history and culture HARD to the people. I like history, but I don’t need to go to every castle and decrepit building to feel like I appreciate it, when I can just read about it on the internet and revel in factual knowledge. But that’s just me. Because of this, I felt there was very little in England that I couldn’t ALREADY do at home, and really questioned whether it was worth going or not. In fact, most of the things I like doing, I couldn’t do them in England at all. If you like outdoor activities, and its a big part of your lifestyle, don’t go. You’ll just be miserable. In fact, unless you absolutely love HISTORY and ART, don’t go to England, because seriously, those are the only two things they can offer you that we don’t already have over here. If you go over there, some people will be more jealous of you, and the question you’ll get the most often is “Well why the hell did you come here? Are you insane?”. If I chose a place next time, I’d have gone for somewhere in Asia, because I used to be a total Asian-culture geek (still am to some extent). On this note, my final advice on this matter is that I recommend not choosing a place too similar to your own country, because you’ll just make direct comparisons on judge one nation the victor, where as if you choose a country that is completely different than ones own, you can appreciate them both for being unique (I realise this is a long section, so I hope I made myself clear).
c) What else should you consider. Oh yes, cost. Not just the cost of having gone over, but I guess also consider the cost of living on a country by county basis. England’s cost of living is BRUTAL. They tax you for having regular TV channel’s for goodness sake… Transport, etc. If you don’t feel like spending a lot of dosh, pick a cheaper country. Our exchange rate is good right now.
In terms of ACCOMMODATION, you really need to pick somewhere close to campus, otherwise you’ll be paying through the nose just to get to Uni. It cost me 30 AUD just to get to Uni and back for a single day of the week.
2) Ok, so if you’ve chosen to go on exchange, this the following is worth considering:
a) When to get there – Probably 2 weeks before the course starts is a good rule of thumb. This allows you to familiarise yourself with the location, currency, any concessions you may be eligible for, initial culture shocks, etc. In short, it allows you to adapt a little before your thrown into the deep end. It also gives you time to open a foreign bank account, if you choose to handle your money that way. Of course, this is all dependent upon your visa status and limitations.
b) Access to Money – It may be best to open a foreign bank account and transfer some money to hedge against exchange rate fluctuations and the like. It also means having a cash card that will work in that country. I opened an account with Natwest in England. I think most banks in England will just give you a debit card with restrictions, meaning you can only use it at their ATM’s. Point being, open an account with someone who won’t charge you fee’s, and don’t bother with the gimmicks, you just want something to hold your money, and that you can access. It isn’t worth paying HSBC 8 pounds a month to hold your cash.
c) Travel insurance – Whilst I didn’t have to call upon it, it truly is better to be safe than sorry. There were a large number of times I almost could have used it, if some of the misfortunes I had over there had been a bit more serious. It’s worth pointing out two other exchange students I know of got mugged and robbed, and I myself was assaulted and almost involved in a traffic accident. Yeah, get insurance in case your destination throws crap at you.
d) Keep connected – Seriously, make sure you have eyes and ears back here. This includes checking your QUT emails, talking to friends to let you know anything of interest or of any opportunities you may have waiting for you when you get back. Be aware of the enrolment dates for the following semester, things like that. Oh, and I had to do a postal vote overseas, so yes, if I hadn’t of known that, I’d have paid a fine.
e) Concessions – Find out if students get a concession for anything. For example, if you’re going to England, get a young persons Oyster Card. That particular card is only available however for those in the London city area. Anywhere else, a National Rail Card is your God. You get 1/3rd off all journeys, it pays for itself (it’s a discount card you have to carry with you when your riding on a discounted ticket). England is quite good in that they even offer student discounts when your buying things like clothes.
f) Shopping – Ok, this one is England specific – Poundland, you can get premium branded products (i.e. Heads and Shoulders Shampoo), basically anything you need for the home there for just a Pound. You can also get quite a variety of food there, like canned goods. If your looking for cheap food to cook at home and don’t mind frozen, Iceland is also good.
g) Knowledge – For one reason or another, it’s good to know about your country. People expect you to know everything. You’re going overseas to represent this country, so make us look amazing. Furthermore, knowing about your countries history is a great way to defend yourself in an argument with a proud British nationalist who see’s us all as a bunch of mangy good-for-nothing convicts. Just a thought. On that note, vocabulary is good too, that really screws with their mind if you are more well-spoken than they are. Before I left, I defended our nation from verbal assault from some tool who claimed we were stupid and sucked at sport. I corrected him and made him an embarrassment in front of his fellow countrymen. For that matter, know a lot about the other country as well, it once again, helps.
h) Have an open mind – You’re there to learn about the world, so don’t let a closed mind stop you.
I think this is all I’ve got. I’m sure I’m missing stuff, but QUT offers amazing preparation before going out on what things to consider. These are just things that I have taken particular note of whilst being over in England, for other countries, you may need to think about many other things. Anyway, it’s fantastic being home. Feel a bit disoriented though, every time I see a shadow outside or hear a noise, I think I’m being robbed. Then I realise its just a cat. In England, double glazed windows prevented a lot of noise coming into most places, and the lack of sunlight meant there were no shadows. Speaking of sunlight, I walked into the bathroom on my first day back thinking I’d left the light on. It was just light shining through the curtain. That’s how little sunlight I’ve seen in the last 6 months, that I can’t even tell the difference between natural light and a light bulb D:
Anyway, I learnt HEAPS during my time in England, but I am loving being home. I did so much in my first 12 hours of being home, and I’ve seen heaps of friends already (and this is my 3rd day back). It was a pleasure to blog for you all (When I did actually blog) and apologise for not being more involved in the blogging process, as I didn’t feel it right to blog if I didn’t have anything all that great to report. I’ll be dwelling around QUT starting from Monday this week, so if you recognise me, and actually bother to read this blog and have questions, just stop me and talk to me.
Australia, you stayed classy,