No Stress in New York

Julia M., Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Creative Industries
Fordham University, USA (Semester 2 2017)

The experience of university in America is extremely different to that of QUT. Everything from the method of teaching, grading and assessment to the college spirit and club involvement was entirely different. My favourite aspect of life at Fordham University was the spirit and enthusiasm that students had towards their school. The campus was covered with flags and statues of the school mascot (a ram) with the huge football field covered in maroon and white (the university’s colours) branding. They even had a store with everything you could ever think of (including baby clothes and dog bones) Fordham branded. People were proud to wear these items, in contrast to at home where you rarely see people in QUT outfits. It was awesome to experience this first hand, and you really felt like part of a community where everyone knew each other and people cared.

The biggest and most challenging difference was the way in which assessment was completed and graded. At home, we usually have 2-3 large assessments for each subject, whereas at Fordham we had a very small assessment due almost every week. Although there was more assessment, I found it easier to get good grades, as the teachers were more lenient with their marking. They do not use criteria sheets and just mark off what they think you should get. There is also no moderating, which caused students to prefer certain professors to others as they marked the work easier. I found this very unusual and strange to deal with at first, as it was hard to know what the professors were looking for when marking my work. I quickly got used to it and found that it was easy to get an A with a little effort. Attendance was also very important. In one of my classes, attendance counted towards 25% of my final grade. If you missed more than 2 lessons unexcused then your final grade would drop one full letter. I found this very stressful as if I was sick I still had to go to class or risk losing a grade.

Overall I had an amazing experience going to Fordham university and would definitely do it all over again if I could. I made amazing friends that taught me about American culture and let me into their lives. The experience of living in New York City was amazing, and being able to explore the 5 boroughs at any time was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I would definitely recommend exchange to anyone, as it helps you develop as a person and gain full independence. Being so far away from home makes you appreciate what you have and learn how to truly look after yourself.

Making Friends for Life

Heidi F., Bachelor of Education (Secondary)
State University of New York, USA (Semester 1, 2016)

Studying at State University of New York

University

I loved studying at SUNY. It was such a different experience to anything that I had been used to previously. It was awesome to be living on a campus where it was snowing almost every day, so much so that we sometimes had snow days where university would be cancelled for the day (where we then went out sledding behind our dorms). Not to mention the time when I ran out into the snow in my bikini! (Just to say I had done it). The university as a whole was all quite expensive but worth it I think. The meal plan was compulsory (and super expensive!!) but I’m glad I had it as it made everything a lot easier. It was a lot of fun having an ice skating rink on campus as we did that quite a bit as well as watched a lot of ice hockey matches which I loved. I joined a lot of sporting groups and I also did a lot of on campus activities which kept me busy. They were a lot of fun! Academics wise – it was quite easy compared to QUT. It surprised me how much easier it was than what I was used to but it was good as I was able to get pretty good marks without placing much stress on myself.

 

America

It blew me away how bad the currency exchange rate was. I lost a lot of money when I exchanged my AUD dollars to the US currency. It was super sad seeing how many thousands of dollars I was losing but I just kept telling myself that it was all going to be worth it! And it totally was. One I travelled quite a bit to New York City as well as around New York State and up to the Thousand Islands. At the end of my uni semester, I also flew across to California and spent quite a lot of time there. It was exciting to get some sunshine and beaches there after such a long time without! One thing about America that was a little tricky was the ability to adjust to the different foods. I often found myself feeling a little sick as I wasn’t used to it. After a while my body adjusted I think, and I was feeling a lot better.

 

Highlights

There were so many highlights, obviously. I had a great time experiencing new things such as skiing and snowboarding as well as getting into new sports like ice hockey and American football. The ‘touristy’ things were also a blast such as the Statue of Liberty, Hollywood sign, Hollywood boulevard, Santa Monica Pier etc. I did and saw so many things! Looking back on it all though, I definitely think one of the best things about my exchange was just living on campus and meeting so many amazing people. I have now made friends for life and so many of these guys are already heading over this way soon!

Living Big in Small Town Indiana

Eliza P., Bachelor of Business/Laws
Purdue University, USA (Semester 2, 2018)

If you’re reading this blog post then you have probably already heard it before, but taking a semester abroad is one of the best decisions you will ever make. No matter where you decide to go, you are giving yourself not only an amazing opportunity to learn about another culture, but to learn things about yourself that are sometimes only discoverable away from home.

Purdue University was my first choice for my exchange program. It’s a big, small town college with a lot of heart in West Lafayette, Indiana. Going to college in Midwest America is definitely an authentic experience. I lived in a two person shared dormitory room with a German exchange student, which cost me about $4,500 USD (including meals). Living in the dorms was very convenient because they’re on campus where classes, the dining courts and the gym are. Although, most American college students will leave dormitory living in their sophomore (second) year to live in a house with friends or their fraternity or sorority houses. So if you are a bit older, this is something to keep in mind when organising living arrangements.

Boiler up!

Surprisingly, I loved college for how it required frequent attendance. For each subject, I had class three times a week for 1.5 hours and I only had three absences before my grades would be penalised for nonattendance. In the beginning, it was difficult to adapt because this was so different to back home. However, I found that through this I was able to immerse myself in college life, make friends in class and truly invest in the content – so it was really rewarding!

In terms of culture, Americans and Australians are very similar, so myself and my other Australian friends found it really easy to meet people and make friends. The pace of life at Purdue and other big colleges in small towns is completely different to the pace back here at QUT, where the average university student will work part-time while studying. With a lot of free time, college students love to hang out and do nothing (or study) together, so I rarely spent a moment alone.

Making memories with new friends

Purdue will always be a home away from home for me, and while it tended to be quieter than some typical American colleges during the semester, that quieter time meant I had to time to make and spend with friends who will last a lifetime. You will not regret taking a semester abroad, and there’s really never another opportunity than during your university years, so just do it! And BOILER UP!

Southern Hospitality – My Exchange to University of South Carolina

Patrick H., Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Fine Arts (Drama)
University of South Carolina (Columbia campus), USA (Semester 1, 2017)

I completed an exchange semester to The University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus from January to May 2017. USC’s campus certainly dwarfed QUT’s campuses with some majestic classical buildings and hints of the city’s Civil War history literally spelt out on signs around town.  My African American Literature professor could also be counted on to fill in some more, less flattering history of the area, including the fact that the IHOP carpark was previously the largest ‘slave pen’ in the entire South.

One of the South Columbia historic site signs.

The campus itself was very scenic, green and spacious, with the common area of the Horseshoe being a quiet, sylvan spot to relax as the weather turned warmer. “Turned warmer” being the operative phrase as the January start to the semester meant sub-zero temperatures on arrival and even returning from a Spring Break in New Orleans saw my Cliff Apartment’s ‘home’ on campus in the midst of a snap snowstorm. So my first piece of advice would be to pack for both freezing cold and significant heat – clothes that can be layered are an absolute must.

The Horseshoe, USC Columbia campus.

The Observatory and one of the more spectacular residences on USC Columbia campus.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, while the campus is an easy walk into ‘town’ (with such attractions as the Nickelodeon cinema, the Columbia Museum of Art, and bars and restaurants such as Bourbon (upmarket and authentic Southern food) and The Whig (more affordable pub fare)) and Five Points (an equivalent of somewhere like Fortitude Valley/West End), getting to The Vista or to an affordable supermarket like Walmart is impossible without a car (though USC was kind enough to lay on a shuttle bus to Walmart on a weekly basis) so, if you’re relying on your own feet, you may be limited to those areas in walking distance.

Jazz recital under Columbia Museum of Art’s amazing modern chandelier.

 

When attending classes on such a big campus (particularly if you’re taking some of the music or literature classes that are in remote buildings), make sure to allow enough time to get there. There are plenty of venues for music, theatre and even film (free films are screened during semester) on the campus itself and my accommodation at Cliff Apartments included regular free food nights to ensure residents got to meet their fellow students. There are also many food options on campus and Dominos is not far away (Wednesday night pizzas are $5). The organisers of sports on campus also make sure students can get free or discounted tickets to basketball, baseball and other sports events on campus and nearby and outings to (e.g.) Columbia’s zoo, Folly Beach, Charleston and other cities within driving distance are offered to visiting international students at a modest charge.

The view from my Cliff Apartments’ window.

Cliff Apartments certainly wasn’t the most glamorous accommodation on campus but the apartments were the largest in terms of space and included separate kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom in an open plan space. The only necessity to buy yourself were things like pots, pans, crockery and cutlery. The early-mentioned Walmart trips were a good opportunity to get your hands on the things you need for the apartment early on.

Cooper Library, which you’ll get to know very well.

Overall, USC’s Columbia campus was people by friendly fellow students, very knowledgeable and approachable professors and support staff who were always ready with vital advice and a tasty scone (not like ours at all!) and flat white (I taught them, don’t worry) to raise your spirits. My best advice would be just to be open to anything that’s on offer – I did and saw a Gospel Festival, a speech by Francis Ford Coppola (!!) with screening of his work in progress, some fantastic theatre department productions, a baseball game, a night of role-playing boardgames and a really fun Oscars night at Nickelodeon as a result!

The Ghost Light ceremony with USC’s Theatre Department in attendance.

 

Exchange at the University of Minnesota

Meng Lee, Bachelor of Business
University of Minnesota, USA (Semester 2, 2017)

Overall, I would recommend the University of Minnesota (U of M) for all students that are interested in going on a long term exchange. The organizer for this program was really helpful and friendly for students to ask questions. I took many opportunities to travel around the different states but I would say the transportation from state to state is really expensive as compared to Australia. For example, if you are planning to go New York during your break, it would probably cost you around 250 USD. I would recommend that you to book the ticket early as to avoid this issue.

I found that Minnesota is a really quiet and peaceful place. There is not a lot of night life or shopping…so please don’t expect it will be the same life as New York, Chicago or other big cities (hahahah). However, there is the biggest shopping center in US which is the Mall of America. You probably could find all your stuff there.

If you are planning to go U of M during the winter time, I will suggest you to bring more thick clothes! The weather is crazy there! I AM SERIOUS. I remember when I arrived, it was -30 Celsius. You probably need an extremely thick jacket and at least 2 layers inside your body. Boots are a must. No sport shoes, as it would kill you (hahaha).

During my time in University of Minnesota, I met many new friends from around the world. This definitely helped me to strengthen my social network with meeting new friends from different nations; vibe with them and learn more about their culture. Since coming back from U of M, I have been Europe to meet my best friends that I met on exchange.

Studying abroad is not only about acquiring knowledge, but also discovering a new culture. I have to say that I really recommend students to take this opportunity to engage in this program!

The American College Experience

Bridgette V., Bachelor of Journalism / Law (Honours)
San Jose State University, United States (Semester 2, 2017)

Host University

Life on campus at San Jose State University (SJSU) was a fantastic experience. While the on-campus accommodation was very expensive, like anything in Silicon Valley, the student apartments were very well arranged and provided a great atmosphere to meet fellow exchange and domestic students. The resident facilities gave us lots of opportunities to meet new people and attend events, especially at the start of semester.

SJSU provided a great American college experience. During my time on exchange, I got to attend many sporting events, pep-rallies and tailgates and other school based events which allowed me to get involved in the SJSU spirit. As I don’t live on campus at home, it was great to see how many opportunities there were to become involved.

Academics at San Jose were very different to that back at home. We had at least one piece of assessment every week throughout my exchange. However, each piece of assessment was not weighed as heavily as they are at QUT. For instance, for one subject, we had five quizzes throughout the course of the semester, each worth 10-15%. While it was frustrating at times having constant assessment, it helped me to stay on top of the content and reduced the stress at the end of semester. The mid-terms and finals at SJSU also only assessed parts of the course we had learnt since the last piece of assessment. This lack of cumulative assessment made it easier to revise and prepare.

Host Country

The lifestyle in America was very similar to that in Australia. While the stereotype typically depicts Americans as less friendly than their Canadian neighbours, I didn’t find this to be true. They were always willing to go out of their way to help you and to show you around. Everyone was very hospitable and welcoming. The only main difference was tipping and the exclusion of tax in the advertised prices.

Highlights of exchange

I thoroughly enjoyed my time on exchange and would recommend study abroad as something everyone should undertake during their degree. It is a fantastic way to meet new people and explore new places while also gaining credit towards your degree. My main highlight was meeting and spending time with all the new people I met. While San Jose was a great place to explore, it was the people that I met along the way that definitely made my trip. The things we did, places we saw and things we experienced will be memories I cherish forever.

Things I didn’t expect

I was surprised by the number of international students I became friends with. Initially, I assumed I would become friends with mainly American students. However, understandably, they spend a lot of time studying and working, as I would do back at home. The international students on the other hand were all there with similar goals and attitudes. As such, we were all keen to explore and try new things and so we often grouped together to adventure around the place.

Tips and advice

My main tip would be to enter exchange with an open mind. Being open to new experiences allows you to do things and meet people you would never have expected to. Don’t be afraid to try new things and be ready to go with the flow. Often exchange is a waiting game, so be patient and be assured that it will all work out in the end.