Embracing Chilly Birmingham

Laura H., Bachelor of Business
University of Birmingham, England (Semester 2, 2017)

I completed my QUT Study Abroad exchange semester in the chilly city of Birmingham in the UK! My host institution was the University of Birmingham (UoB), and I could not recommend the university more highly. The staff provided exceptional amounts of support for exchange students like me, and we were made to feel incredibly welcome.

View of “Old Joe” Clock Tower from the University Library

Life on campus was so different to being at QUT- in a great way. The on-campus accommodation was more of a “college” style living situation and I shared a flat with six first year students. I made such awesome friends with everyone I was living with and could not stress the importance of making sure any future students make the most of their shared living situation!The learning and teaching style adopted by UOB was quite similar to that of QUT, which I found to be comforting. It allowed me to feel confident in my academic performance as the expectations were not dissimilar to those laid out by QUT. One difference, however, was that all my classes were compulsory to attend. This may sound daunting, but it was totally manageable due to the fact that I wasn’t balancing study with work as my Visa did not allow me to find employment in the UK.

During my time in England I always felt at home, as the cultural norms were not overly different when compared to those of Australia. Everyone I met also spoke English and because of this I was able to make great friends easily without language barriers. The only element to be aware of is the difference in weather! It’s safe to say that I wore my fair share of woollen sweaters to keep out the cold during Birmingham’s wintery months.

The Vale – my accommodation!

If I were to draw out some highlights from my experience, one would definitely be the friendships I have made throughout my exchange semester – I really have made friends that I will keep in contact with for life. Another highlight would have to be my travel experiences around the UK and Europe. Being based in Birmingham, it was incredibly easy to access other parts of the UK and Europe as the city has its own airport and great train system. Finally, the college living experience and campus-focused lifestyle was also something I will appreciate forever.The only tip I have for students considering an exchange is to jump in and go for it. I had such a fantastic time on my exchange and would gladly go back!

Learn About the World You Live In

Sophie C., Bachelor of Business
Aston University, England (Semester 2, 2016)

It has almost been exactly three weeks since I arrived back in Australia after 182 days (7 months) abroad in the UK. Today was my first day back at QUT after attending university at Aston Business School for a semester in my 3rd year of a business degree, majoring in Marketing and PR. First tip: if you do marketing or PR major, it’s almost impossible to find these subjects in Europe – so definitely stick to England/USA/Canada for that if you can.

Going on exchange was one of the scariest yet most exciting experiences of my life. Having never properly been overseas (or enduring that massive 26 hour plane journey), it was definitely taking a huge leap. But all the anxiety and stress of the preparation involved in exchange is definitely worth it once you arrive and realise just how big and exciting the world is. I landed at Heathrow totally alone in August of 2016 and spent a few days exploring London before embarking on a 24 day Topdeck tour, in which I have made some of my closest friends who I am still in contact with today. I decided to travel before my semester began, as I didn’t want to be worn out or risk running out of money before my tour. Second tip: save save save, exchange is a very different experience on a budget and it will make life so much easier and more enjoyable if you can get involved wherever possible and go on as many weekend trips as you can! Take advantage of being in another part of the world and take time to explore it and learn to appreciate it.

After this I moved to Birmingham in England with two other QUT students who I met at the exchange pre-departure drinks (third tip – go to that, as without these guys I 100% believe my experience would have been so different, we were each others support system the whole way through). We lived together in a dormitory-style accommodation (see photo top left corner in collage) on a student living campus just outside of the city, about a 15-minute bus ride to Uni. It was here that we lived with heaps of other Aston international students from countries like Portugal, Canada, Spain, Singapore, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and so many more. We all became like a tight knit family and I couldn’t have asked for better people. Fourth tip – try and stay in an international dorm/flat/room/house if possible, as I know people had a very different exchange experience just living with other Australians abroad, its better to get the full exchange experience and make international friends as it will open your eyes to so much, but also make friends with the locals!!

I chose Aston Business School and Birmingham due to their central location within England (1.5-2 hour train from London), without the hefty expenses of living in London. This university also perfectly catered for my marketing subjects. London is one of my favourite cities and I loved being able to just book a train the night before and go for weekend trips whenever I could. England was also an awesome base location for Europe travel as flights and trains are generally so cheap. University in England works mostly the same way, in terms of how lectures are delivered and the content. However they do smaller subjects, I completed 5 subjects during my time at Aston, which is 1 under a full-time load. I found that I wasn’t doing anywhere near as much assessment as I do at QUT. The assessment was mostly a 100% final exam, or one piece of coursework (assignment) worth 100%.  This was a bit of an adjustment at first, but really easy to get used to. You start appreciating the education we receive at QUT, as it prepared us Aussies so well for the England tertiary system.

Homesickness is definitely a thing as well, I struggled with it a few times but you just always need to remember that it’s okay and totally normal to struggle. However, so many people have successfully been able to do it, you only really get out of exchange what you’re willing to put in. Before exchange I had only done small travel within Australia and never lived out of home or fully supported myself. After exchange, I have been to a total of 20 countries and 35 cities, lived out of home and supported myself entirely for a whole 7 months, alongside keeping up with the assessment at Aston. I have already booked my flight back to the UK for June 2017, and cannot wait to do more solo travel with plans to move back to England in 2018. Exchange is an absolutely life-changing opportunity and opens your eyes to so much, it was the most enriching experience, I learnt so much about myself and the world and I would so highly recommend it to anyone considering going on a study exchange trip through QUT 🙂

PS: UK/European winter is COLD….bring lots of warm clothes 🙂

Adventure of a Lifetime in Birmingham

Cassandra, T., Bachelor of Public Health
University of Birmingham, England (Semester 1, 2017)

Going on exchange was easily the best decision of my life. Not only did I make incredible life long friends but I also experienced life as a local in a country so far away from home. It is difficult to summarise such an amazing experience that was both as amazing as I expected and even more.

I spent semester 1, 2017 at the University of Birmingham in England. I had visited the country a couple of times before with my family and had fallen in love with the rich history, traditions and culture. After receiving an email from the QUT study abroad and exchange office advertising the exchange program I thought why not give it a shot.

University Life

I was really nervous before arriving at my uni hall as I had never lived anywhere but Brisbane or with anyone but my family. At UoB most of the first years and exchange students live in the Vale. It is a group of residence halls run by the university and has a small community feel. I lived in Mason with 5 other girls all sharing a kitchen and common area. I opted to cook myself instead of having the meal plan. I also had my own private room and bathroom, providing a place to study and call everyone back home.

All my flat mates were very welcoming and we all instantly clicked.  The people I lived with became my closest friends and we did everything together, becoming the envy of other flats that didn’t get along so well with their flat mates. I never once felt alone or isolated as my support network of both international and British friends were always there. During the Easter break I was fortunate enough to stay with some of my friends at their homes in Rochester and Scunthorpe, where I was treated to traditional English pub meals and a classic Sunday dinner, which is actually a roast lunch. We still speak just about every day, the time zones may be difficult but with so many forms of social media it makes staying in contact really easy.

Campus

Getting to and from uni was a lot easier than my one-hour bus ride to QUT, it was only a leisurely 15min walk to the main campus from my uni hall. The main campus was particularly beautiful with many old historic buildings mixed with new state of the art buildings like the new fancy library. In the centre of the campus is Old Joe, the largest free standing clock tower in Europe. Legend has it that if you walk underneath while it chimes you will fail your degree. The Great Hall where I completed one exam looked like it was straight out of Harry Potter. During the spring the campus and the Vale, where I lived, had daffodils and other pretty flowers blooming everywhere.

Study Load

The curriculum set up is slightly different to QUT with most students taking 6 units per semester, the option to take 4 or 5 units per semester is available however this means some units are weighted more heavily meaning more work. Although, the workload was still manageable and I still found time to hang out with friends. I was there for 2 semesters, the spring/summer semesters, as they have 3 semesters per year. The first semester is only 11 weeks long and is the main teaching period. Following that, there is a month long break over Easter, the perfect time to travel and see the rest of the UK and Europe.  The contact hours are slightly more than what I’m accustomed to at QUT with around 2 or 3 lectures a week and a tutorial, seminar or practical. However, they were usually only 1 hour long.

Travel

With the U.K. being a lot smaller in geographical size than Australia it was easy to go on day trips or overnight trips on the weekends to different cities. As Birmingham is only a 2-hour train ride to London, I had many day trips there exploring the city. I also saw many lovely quaint old towns and historical castles such as, Warwick Castle, Nottingham and Nottingham castle, the Cadbury factory, Edinburgh, Oxford, and Blenheim Palace. Train tickets are also super cheap if you buy a 16-25 year old rail pass. I can’t recommend it enough, if you plan on taking trains it is definitely worth the money. Because of this we were able to buy 7 pound return trips to London, bargain! Plane tickets were also cheap if you buy them well in advance and only take carry on luggage. Because of this I was able to travel through Europe during the month break between the semesters. I was lucky enough to visit, Malaga in Spain, Dublin for St Patrick’s Day, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm, Berlin, Paris, Iceland, Venice and Rome. It is really difficult to pick my favourite place but Iceland was definitely amazing. The landscapes and natural beauty are unlike anything I had ever seen before.

Why you should go on exchange

I couldn’t recommend going on an exchange enough. This experience QUT has provided me with has made me come out of my shell and realise my aspirations for life. I have learnt life lessons that wouldn’t be taught in a classroom. It may sound cheesy but Birmingham will always be my second home.

The QUT exchange program has really opened my eyes to a world of possibilities and adventures right outside my doorstep. It truly was an experience of a lifetime.