Kassel – a European Experience

Wenona C, Bachelor of Information Technology / Bachelor of Laws (Honours)
Short-term program: Hessen International Summer University – Kassel
Germany (June/July 2019)

My highly anticipated four-week exchange to Kassel, Germany has greatly impacted my life. I loved my time inside the classroom as I socialised with students from the U.S.A, Russia, China, Italy and Taiwan. I capitalised on the opportunity to mix with students who had different perspectives. This experience has significantly altered my views about different cultures and current world politics.

The International Summer University program at the University of Kassel was taught by leading professionals. I took three classes: German language, Intercultural Communication, and German History and Politics. Outside of the classroom, the program leaders took us on excursions to Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, Berlin and Marburg. The scenery was stunning, particularly in Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe. This World Heritage site consists of a palace (which doubles as a museum) that displays artworks by Anthony van Dyck and Rubens. The palace is surrounded by acres of gardens and the Hercules monument.

Hercules monument, Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe

History came alive through the scenery, palaces and museums. I walked the same steps of previous Kings and Queens, stood on the ground where WWII was fought, and visited a working camp where people were imprisoned. The visual impact and sensory overload of European and German history needs to be experienced in person, and not just by studying the pages of a history book.

The culture and education in Germany were not what I expected. The professors and educational facilities were world class. However, technology wise, I felt like I had taken a step back into the 1990’s. Public transport relies on a cash and paper ticket system. There is limited electronic integration in shopping centres. Germany is in many ways, a contradiction. Germany has the largest economy in Europe and is an international leader in medicine, health, education and car manufacturing. On the other hand, our lecturer’s used butchers paper to write learning materials.

It was daylight in Germany from 5:00am to 9:30pm. This enabled people to partake in activities after work. As well as this, many of the historic sites are close to the city centre. People spent more time outdoors than using technological devices. I could identify how these factors contributed to a healthy lifestyle. Whilst overseas I certainly encountered difficulties. I found it difficult to communicate with my host family who did not speak English. I also struggled with the food provided and the limited portion sizes.

This program has contributed to my understanding of German culture and the importance of Kassel in Germany’s history. I have learnt about racism, discrimination, the European Union and the global impact of refugees on the European economy. I have also been educated about the history surrounding WWII from a German perspective. I have developed strategies to overcome culture shock and have improved my intercultural communication skills. I will undoubtedly use these skills in my future career in a diversified environment.

Going on an exchange was completely outside of my comfort zone. I did not speak German and had never travelled to Europe. I had no family in Europe to rely on for assistance or help me along the way. I have been challenged and at the same time, have discovered a sense of self-reliance and confidence in myself that I did not possess before I embarked on this journey.

I am grateful and appreciative for the opportunity to go on an exchange and improve my university experience. Participating in an exchange has altered my world views and broadened my career possibilities. I will take from this experience wonderful memories and friendships that will impact my academic future, choices and goals. Thank you QUT.

Learn About Other Cultures

Samantha D., Bachelor of Creative Industries
Bath Spa University, England (Semester 2, 2017)

I attended Bath Spa University as an exchange student in September 2017. This experience opened me up to the world and I believe I have grown as a person due to it and my travels before and after.

I lived with other exchange students from around the world in an eight-person female dorm on campus. Living on campus alone was very different from my experiences at QUT as I have lived in private house-shares the whole time I have been at university. Between the eight of us we shared the kitchen and one bathroom, we were unlucky and had just one bathroom rather than the two the other dorms had. The girls I lived with were from Germany, Finland, Spain, China and America, I was the only Australian doing exchange at Bath Spa at the time. It was an amazing way to learn about other cultures.

I was only in Bath for approximately three months rather than the five I had expected when I first applied for exchange. I would recommend to anyone looking at studying in England to go in the Australian Semester One as if you go in the second your exchange will end half way through the semester, right before the Christmas break. I had a difficult time when I arrived as there was an ongoing misunderstanding between institutions and professors about how many units I was meant to do, due to only being there for a half semester. I was also in my final year and ended up doing some very high contact hour final year units which took most of my time, so I couldn’t do as many outside activities as I would have liked.

The grading system in England is vastly different to Australia and took a lot of getting used to. For example adjusting to knowing that a sixty-five is a great result when at home it would be disappointing is an odd feeling and I had to keep that in mind.

A highlight of my exchange was a lifelong friend I made, whilst everyone in our dorm got along I became especially close to one of the girls I lived with. We really clicked, and I ended up going to Finland with her over Christmas to spend Christmas with her family. Meeting her and having such a good friend throughout the exchange experience was absolutely amazing and I’m so privileged to have had that.

Another highlight for me personally was the quality and variety of classes I took. I was able to take classes in subjects which are not taught anywhere I know of in Australia which really enhanced my learning and I feel will benefit me greatly in my future career.

Bath is quite an expensive town in England, so our cost of living was a little higher than expected. We split some grocery costs and bought individual crockery (spoons, plates and cutlery) but split the cost of cookware between everyone in the dorm. The campus was on a farm, so it was really nice to be able to walk over and buy fresh local produce.

As a dorm we wrote down every birthday and important holiday at the beginning of term and celebrated each of them as a group. We also tried to attend things that our roommates were in such as drama or dance performances. Over the course of the 3 months we celebrated multiple birthdays, Thanksgiving, Finnish Independence Day and Chinese National day. On each occasion we tried to eat relevant cultural food. It was amazing to experience how other cultures eat and celebrate and appreciate new things.

Some tips and advice for future exchange students:

I will reiterate, if going to England on your exchange go during Australia’s first semester to get a full experience.

Don’t let your schoolwork build up, whilst it may feel like a holiday it is still university and if you stay on top of your work you will enjoy it more. Try forming study groups to get to know other students in your class and combine study and socialising.

Be a tourist! Some of the most fun I had was exploring my host town. It is a new place and it’s great to get to know it.

It is living in another country and you may be homesick or not 100% all the time, that is okay. It’s all a part of the experience and you can grow from it. Also, your idea of fun doesn’t have to be the same as everyone else’s, just find people you have similar interests to. Some of my best nights were at home lounging around with my friends or eating together rather than out partying.

The most important thing is to be open to new experiences. An exchange will be great for your confidence and life skills.