Spain Student Exchange Summary

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Kirra Sodhi

Universidad Carlos III Madrid, Madrid

Host Country

Deciding on a host country was one of the most difficult parts of my application process. I was comparing countries like Ireland to Norway to Singapore. However, I decided to go to Spain for several different reasons. Firstly, I had always wanted to visit the country, I was so intrigued with there fun and chilled out way of life (which eventually became quite annoying as nothing was ever open). Then there was the weather, now I know that we get a lot of sun, but Madrid is always sunny, in fact I could probably count only 5 days during my semester where there was grey skies. The people of Spain are also so welcoming, even if you know nothing about the language. I originally wanted to study in Barcelona because I though it was an amazing city, which was so multicultural and consisted of many aspects including arts, sports and most importantly beautiful beaches. However, as my business program was only offered in Madrid, I ended up going there instead (which was still a win). As the capital of Spain, Madrid was lively at all hours of the day, filled with amazing food, shops, festivals and lots of street performance. I was really into this traditional Spanish city and all its little quirks.

University and Campus

The university I went to was Universidad Carlos III Madrid, which located outside the city a bit, in a suburb called Getafe and took about 20 – 40min by train from Madrid’s central station (Sol). Compared to QUT’s modern facilities, the school seemed surprisingly quite old with chalk boards in the classrooms. I also found the education system to be dysfunctional and very unorganized, which most exchange students I met there agreed with. All the classes were pretty easy to pass, and the assessment pieces were not too hard. Also, I found that group assignments are very popular. All the classes were done in English which was fortunate since I knew zero Spanish.

Accommodation

This was very different to organize and caused myself I lot of stress when preparing for exchange. On campus accommodation was full and honestly, I would not recommend it as it is located in Getafe which is a very small and basic town. Madrid’s student rental services were various and helpful. For me, I often used be roomers, spotahome and uniplaces to search for apartments. The apartment which I lived in was owned by HELP MADRID they offered good accommodation but definitely ripped you off. I was constantly being charged extra for services like water and gas and each month the charges would increase by sometimes 50 euros which blew my budget out. Apart from this I did enjoy the accommodation, I lived with 11 people all exchange students mostly from the USA. Plus the best thing about the apartment was our location, basically in the middle of Sol, the main plaza was right around the corner.

Conclusion

Spain is an amazing place to go on exchange, especially as it is a large and central European city with something to explore every day. Compared to other European countries, I found it to be relatively cheap, which was definitely a big bonus. Having the ability to travel every weekend was amazing and I was able to see so many countries that I could not imagine.

My advice any future global student is that exchange can challenge you in more ways than you would expect, but the great thing is that you will grow as a person, make amazing friends and have the craziest lifelong memories along the way.

 

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.

Embracing Student Life in Exeter

Matilda P., Bachelor of Mass Communication
University of Exeter, England, (Semester 2, 2016)

I started the process of applying for exchange two years ago. A friend had recently returned from Exeter University and ignited my interest in that particular university. I had previously lived in the UK a few years ago and was thrilled with the opportunity to return. The culture and history of the UK, and my friend’s recommendation of the vibrant student city of Exeter, propelled me into action and solidified my decision.My first impression of Exeter was a lovely city filled with old buildings and lots of green spaces. I arrived at my college in the morning sunshine (unusual for England!) , met my college roommates and settled into my room which featured an en-suite, which I had never had before, so I was thoroughly excited! Our college or “halls” as it is referred to in the UK, was located approximately 20 minutes from the central university campus, along a leafy path dotted with old houses. We ventured into university during ‘freshers” week and I was impressed with the extensive modern facilities the university provided staff and students. As a recognised university within the UK, known for its high academic achievements and sporting honours, the societies, clubs and teams available were extensive compared to that available to QUT. There is a culture within the UK university system, particularly with recognised universities where being a part of a sport, a society and playing an instrument is encouraged, and many students partake in this. Much like Australian high school culture, which I found to be similar in the class rooms as well. Tutors were generally lecturers as well, and had very small class sizes, and independent learning was generally kept to a minimum. This culture was hard to adapt to, as I had always thrived as an independent learner at QUT, and encouraged and provided with the resources to do so. However, I credit this way of learning to Exeter University’s academic success, and along with its extensive sporting culture, were definitely the university’s strengths. University of Exeter is known for a breadth of studies, particularly the arts, law, and business. I took advantage of this, and studied art subjects in art history and visual art as electives.

Accommodation wise, most international students were placed at James Owen Court, a brick college of four stories, with approximately 6 roommates on each floor in separate bedrooms. The college was centrally located on the main street of Exeter, joked about by students for its location near the ‘dodgy’ end of town, where in fact it was just close to the shopping mall, and many bars and restaurants. All bills were included in our accommodation, and our facilities featured ping pong tables, an outside grassy area with picnic tables and a laundry.

Budgeting was one of the hardest parts of exchange, and I budgeted between five and seven thousand dollars, as recommended from another friend. The cost of living was pretty comparable to Brisbane, but having to transfer Australian dollars to the pound (nearly half) made budgeting difficult and I struggled in the first month to stick to my budget. I used both my Australian bank cards and an international money card, and split my finances across both quite evenly.

I was lucky to experience little culture shock, as I had previously lived in the UK, and was well versed in English culture. For future exchange students, I am confident the culture shock will be limited in the UK due to the country being English speaking; however, the weather always takes time to adjust to. To ensure my safety overseas I joined International SOS which sends emails and texts about terrorism, natural disasters, strikes and anything that could disrupt your travel, which occur more in Europe than in Australia, and is something to be aware of. I also made sure to email my parents where I was going and who I was with just in case of emergencies.

My “must have” item on exchange was my international money card which you can upload numerous currency’s on, my laptop, and copies of documents such as my passport, and birth certificate; in case of loss or damage. I would highly recommend the Cash Passport multi-currency card, as a bank card of choice, and EasyJet for flights within the UK and around Europe.

On return to Australia the hardest part for me was trying to capture and describe my journey to friends and family, and adapting to life as it was before, after you have been through all these life changing experiences. Academically, the different styles of learning in the UK really opened my eyes to how other countries learn and what they require academically from their students is very different from that in Australia and at QUT. Professionally, the ability to travel, and to have lived in another country is highly regarded by employees and is only beneficial for future employment opportunities. I would highly recommend university exchange to anyone with the optimism and desire to learn and experience a different culture, I would also recommend them to be diligent and persevere with their exchange application process in order to achieve their goals. University exchange is so valuable for students, you can spend weekends at Stonehenge, study breaks in Paris and meet people from all over the world while gaining real world experience in another country, and I am so thankful to QUT for that opportunity.

A Life in Chicago

William N., Bachelor of Design (Honors)
Illinois Institute of Technology, USA (Semester 2, 2017)

The university…

Going on exchange to Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago last semester was an amazing experience, which I already miss and wish I could repeat all over. As an architecture student, IIT was an amazing place to both visit and live. The campus was designed by one of my favourite architects – Mies van der Rohe – who also started the architecture school on campus, and taught there for a period of time. Because of this, the school has a wonderful architecture program, and great resources for architecture students.

Despite being in a somewhat dodgy area, the campus is only a few train stops from downtown, making it really easy to explore the city throughout my exchange. On top of this, during the semester the university gives you a free travel card, giving you unlimited access to the buses and trains throughout the city. The campus is also within walking distance of the lake which is a really nice place to go swimming.

The on-campus accommodation that I chose was really nice, however the other dormitories I visited were not as nice, which I think would influence the quality of exchange perhaps. I had two randomly assigned roommates, who I didn’t become friends with, but it gave me the opportunity to experience living with strangers, and make me a more tolerant person. My apartment had a kitchen so I cooked most meals, however the university requires you also purchase a meal plan at the cafeteria. The food was not very nice though.

Unexpected…

For future exchange students visiting IIT, don’t expect the university to make much of an effort introducing you to other international students, so make sure you make an effort yourself at the start to introduce yourself to others.

Highlights…

For me, the highlight of exchange was the opportunities I got to travel both within and outside the states. During the semester I travelled to New Orleans, Toronto, and New York – and spent a week in Copenhagen during my Thanksgiving break in late November.

The campus life at the university was definitely not what I expected. I was expecting a very traditional university with frat parties, etc. but was surprised how different it was. The university has very little social or party life, making it difficult to make friends with other students. However, I found a group of other exchange students who I became good friends with, so it ended up not being an issue.

Tips/ advice…

Definitely pack or buy a lot of warm clothes, as it gets very freezing, very quickly. When looking at the weather, always pay attention to the “feels like” temperature, as the wind chill is almost always ten degrees colder in the winter. Do a lot of research before choosing your housing. The university give most if not all exchange students $1500 a semester towards housing – however not all options have kitchens, meaning you may pay more on the cafeteria meal plans!

A Semester Abroad in Calgary

Brendan S., Bachelor of Information Technology
University of Calgary, Canada (Semester 2, 2018)

Last semester I got the great opportunity to spend four months studying at the University of Calgary in Canada. It was an incredible experience, and in this blog I’ll try to give you some insight into what life was like studying in Canada.

The Uni: The University of Calgary campus is a huge place, with some incredible facilities. Beyond the classrooms, just some of the things you’d find on campus at UofC include: a concert venue, basketball courts, swimming pools, gyms, hockey rinks, an Olympic skating rink, rock climbing walls, a pub, a theatre, restaurants, the list goes on.

There was rarely a dull moment being a student at UofC. The uni is big on campus culture, so if you didn’t have work to do (rare) there was always something happening. Sports, live music, carnivals, bingo nights, free art lessons, car smashing (yeah, the Engineering faculty put on a university approved event where you could smash an old car with a baseball bat to de-stress…), movie nights, you name it. On top of this there was on abundance of student clubs, so you could always find people with similar interests.

University of Calgary Campus

I chose to live on campus, in student accommodation, or “residence” as they call it. Staying in residence was the best choice I made on exchange, and I’d recommend anyone else thinking of going to do the same. All the friends I made at UofC were people I met in my building (Cascade Hall) – there’s a really good culture there which encourages everyone to get out of their rooms and get to know each other. The university also places all the exchange students in residence together. I was annoyed about this at first (I wanted to meet Canadians!) but this turned out to be the best thing about living there. Everyone I met was in the same boat as me, and we were all equally keen to travel and engage in campus life.

Moraine Lake

I found the academic standards at UofC to be quite similar to QUT, but where I found the biggest difference was the way classes were structured. Instead of the standard weekly two hour lectures and tutorials we’re used to at QUT, all my lectures and tutorials were only an hour long, but held three times a week. This meant that even though I was only taking three units, I was in class for a few hours five days a week. The one other difference was in the amount of online content delivered. My lecturers were all different, but I had one who refused to upload absolutely anything online (no slides, no unit outline, no practice exams), so if you have to miss a lecture, you’d miss out on that content completely.

 

The Country/City: I found Calgary to have a really similar culture to Brisbane in a lot of ways. They’re both smaller cities (although Calgary is about half the size of Brisbane) and they sit very similar culturally within their countries – Alberta is very much the Queensland of Canada. Everyone  I spoke to was friendly enough, and I never experienced any real form culture shock, which made the adjustment really easy.

University Drive

One thing that was a shock however, was the cold. I arrived at the start of Autumn, where temperatures were slightly colder than our winters (averaging about 10-20°). This gave me a chance to ease into the weather, so by the time it started snowing in September I was a bit more resistant to the cold.

Calgary is an expensive place to live! Although things like fast food were cheap (I miss Tim Hortons so much), I found myself being shocked weekly at how much groceries and fresh food cost over there – especially chicken! It wasn’t all bad though, being a student you pay $150 and they give you a UPass, which gives you unlimited free public transport for the entire semester.

 

Highlights: We had the chance to see a lot of different sports over there, and though basketball and Canadian football (slightly different to American!) were a lot of fun, the obvious highlight was the hockey. Our residence arranged for us to see our first NHL game our the first week there, and after that we were hooked and went to see the Calgary Flames win five more games throughout the semester. Even if you’re not a sports fan I’d recommend going once just to experience the atmosphere!

Go Flames Go!

Calgary is located close to so many incredible natural wonders, and the trips I was able to go on were definitely the highlight of the semester for me. We did many trips to the Rockies – we had the chance to see Lake Moraine, the mountain town of Banff, Peyto Lake, the Icefields Parkway (the most incredible drive you’ll ever go on!) and Jasper National Park. We also decided to hire cars and do a big road trip into the US to see Yellowstone National Park, which was such an incredible experience.

Jasper

Exchange at University of Calgary gave me some of the best experiences of my life. If you’re thinking about choosing Calgary as your location for exchange, I say go for it. It’s a great city to live in, and there’s nothing quite like the culture of North American universities. You’ll have the chance to see some incredible sights, go on some big adventures, and make some great memories with people from around the globe.

No Worries In Washington!

Julia S, Bachelor of Creative Industries/ Business
University of Central Washington, USA (Semester 2 2017)

It all started on the 31st of July. I left for Italy to meet my friend Clare who was also studying abroad. We planned to travel Europe together for a month before attending our respective Universities. After 31 days of travelling around Italy, Slovenia, Hungary and Germany to name a few, I boarded a plane once again; but this time to the United States. My semester of exchange was to take place at Central Washington University. A small University with a student population of almost 11,000, CWU is in a small town named Ellensburg, just two hours from Seattle.

A few facts about Central Washington:

  • Founded in 1891
  • School Mascot: The Wildcat
  • School Colours: Red and Black
  • Average Class size: 25
  • Homecoming speaker: Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson from Parks and Rec)

After a two-hour bus ride from Seattle, I arrived at what would be my home for the next 12 weeks, Wendall Hall. I had purposely chosen to live in a suite during my stay. By living in a suite, I was guaranteed three American roommates while also having my own mini room.

What started as a scary, whirlwind three days during commencement and meeting my roommates quickly turned into one of the best times of my life.  My roommates and I were all extremely different – but in the best way possible. Often, we would liken ourselves to the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants; all having our own personalities and interests but able to come together to create amazing memories.

Studying Public Relations overseas allowed for incredible opportunities. One of my teachers (who forced us to create a LinkedIn profile) was former Senior Vice President of A & R Edelman. Edelman is known for handling the communications of top organizations within the U.S, such as Dove. In addition to this, I attended a meeting at WE Communications with CWU’s Public Relations society. WE Communications represents Microsoft.

Leaving exchange was extremely hard. There are many nights where I think back to driving with friends to Seattle just to have a day in the city. I often remember driving through the notorious “pass.” The pass is a long stretch of road through the mountains of Washington. In winter, it is covered with snow and ice and makes for a perfectly nostalgic backdrop for my exchange memories.

Although difficult, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I am confident that the friends and connections I have made overseas will last a life time. This experience has allowed me to see that meeting people from all over the world and learning others’ cultures cannot be undervalued. I now see myself as capable and ready to enter my final year of University; paired with a gained knowledge and a new outlook on my studies.