True American Experience

Marshall, R. Bachelor of Business

University of South Carolina (Semester 2, 2016)

In the beginning, leaving the comforts of home in Brisbane for a new life in America was extremely daunting. When I applied to University of South Carolina, I didn’t know anyone from the school or anyone going on exchange with me. However, that changed very quickly upon arrival. Since the minute I unpacked my belongings, I began to meet lifelong friends.

I lived in Woodrow College with about 40 other international students as well as domestic freshman students. Woodrow had apartment style rooms which includes a kitchen, so I didn’t get a meal plan whilst undertaking my exchange. This turned out to be a very cost effective way to do my semester abroad as many weekends I was away travelling.

The first few days were filled with exploring the campus and all the facilities that it had on offer. This included over 30 restaurants, two gyms with pools, a rock climbing wall and five squash and basketball courts that are all available to students. After getting my bearings on campus, I began to explore the city of Columbia, where USC is located. Although Columbia is the capital city of South Carolina, it is quite a small city by American standards. This made it geographically manageable since it was walking distance to the restaurant district, the Vista.

In the first two weeks, the school organised many social events to get to know both my domestic and international peers. These events really helped make the transition into college life easier. I wanted to get more involved, so I joined an intramural American football team which was made up of other international students. It was quite a steep learning curve to understand the rules, but we made the grand finals of our pool and it was ultimately a great way to meet people.

Classes were substantially different from those at QUT which forced me to immediately adjust my learning style. The classes met twice a week for 75 minutes in classes of about 40 students and unlike QUT, attendance was mandatory for most classes. Final grades were graded on many smaller assignments along with participation and attendance, so it engaged students a lot more and increased participation.

College football is one of the most important past times to many Americans. Luckily for me, football season occurs in the fall semester, so I was able to experience a completely different environment than the sports we have back home in Australia. Tailgates are lined up for miles while everyone eats in and drinks before cheering on the Gamecocks at Williams Brice Stadium.

There were a lot of opportunities for traveling while I was here which allowed me to explore new cultures of a lot of amazing American cities on weekends and holidays. Throughout the semester I was able to visit Chicago, Athens, Charlotte and Charleston. With Thanksgiving break in November I was invited to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in Philadelphia which was on the highlights of my trip.

Overall, exchange was an unforgettable and life changing experience. While it may seem uncomfortable and scary at first, I urge students to challenge themselves and expand their horizons. The memories, friends, and experiences that exchange gave me are way more valuable than any reservation I had before coming to America. I would highly recommend exchange to every student, especially University of South Carolina. Go cocks.

Vienna Exchange

Leah, D. Bachelor of Business & Law

Vienna University of Economics & Business (WU) (Semester 2, 2016)

WU and QUT differ in a number of ways – it’s not a good or bad thing, it’s just different. As WU only recently moved to its current location, every building is modern, inside and out. The highlight is undoubtedly the library: a place where students study in silence – which I will admit, is a little weird after the vibrancy of QUT’s law library. The academics are passionate about what they do, and something that WU does which is really good for class engagement is allocating a lot of marks for active class participation (on average, about 25%) – it creates a much more collaborative learning environment. Something they do which is also quite frustrating is because of this, most classes are quite small: there is only one time for a class, not 4 or 5 as there are at QUT, so if you miss class registration, it can be very difficult to find subjects and create a timetable that doesn’t clash. 

Another thing to be aware of is that the timetables are rarely consistent: whereas you might have Marketing from 10-12 every Wednesday in Z411 at QUT, the classes at WU are at different times every week, in different rooms. A class might go for 2 hours, or it might go for up to 8 if you choose a ‘block course’ – similar to a summer semester here. This inconsistency is both a blessing and a curse as an exchange student – it means you’re not locked into a bad timetable, and are thus able to travel still, but it does mean you never know where or when your class is.

Austria:

The cost of living in Austria is a little less than that of Australia, even with the exchange rate.  You could get lunch from the on-campus grocery store for about €5 or less, ($7AUD); and you could get a decent hot meal for €7 ($10AUD) on-campus, or at local eateries. Although they pride themselves on their coffee, it’s surprisingly expensive compared to other things: a regular melange would cost about €3.50 (~$5). Thankfully, there’s vending machines around campus that have good coffee for 60 cents (80 cents AUD), or €1.20 ($1.7AUD) if you want a larger cup.  Rent through the recommended organisation is quite expensive, but it is the most common option. If you are more adventurous, and are looking to save a couple of hundred Euro a month, looking into alternative accommodation is a good idea.

Austria is very centrally located, and this enables you to travel extensively for relatively cheaply, thanks to budget airlines, cheap buses, and the rail network. Whilst I was on exchange, I managed to travel to 13 countries, including Slovakia, Iceland and Portugal, and over 40 cities. It’s important to not discount travelling within Austria too – I would say that one of my favourite trips was to Innsbruck, in Austria’s west. Culturally, I found Austrians can be a bit standoff-ish. It’s something you adjust to, but it was initially quite jarring to go to the grocery store and not have the cashier talk to you at all.  Austrians living in the suburbs tend not to speak much English. My German skills subsequently developed a lot more than I expected.

Highlights

One of my unfounded worries in moving to Vienna for exchange was that I would struggle to make friends. Not true. Within three days I met people who I was friends with for the rest of exchange, and I’m sure I will stay friends with into the future. ‘Exchange time’ is a weird concept: time is compressed, everything is sped up: where becoming close friends may normally much longer in normal circumstances, it only takes a couple of hours or a day to become very good friends with someone.  At the same time, your time away both lasts and eternity, and is over far too soon.

Another highlight of my trip was seeing huge seasonal changes: when I arrived in September it was about 30 degrees, and then the leaves changed to classic Autumn hues, and then they dropped off, and snow came in: in fact, it was Vienna’s coldest winter in about 30 years. Travelling was also a huge part of exchange, and it was incredible to see how different cultures and foods and languages were geographically so close to each other. Being able to explore such amazing places with new friends cemented our friendships further.

Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend Vienna as an exchange destination: there’s so much to explore, and such a rich culture and history in the country, and nearby.

There’s no bad weather, just bad clothes

Thomas, M., Bachelor of Business and Law
University of Glasgow (Semester 1 & 2, 2016)

Study:
The standard and method of study is very similar to QUT. The one big difference however is that most lectures are not recorded. Otherwise the study experience is just like QUT, in that there is a mix of tutorials, seminars, and lectures and there are similar expectations placed on students.

Hillhead campus in November taken from Argyle St

Campus:
The UoG (University of Glasgow) campus at Hillhead is as stunning as the pictures show. Not only is it beautiful but there are plenty of amenities including a gym, two student union complexes, numerous cafes, libraries, and study areas.

Accommodation:
In my first semester I stayed at Firhill student accommodation. Firhill, like Murano, is a long way from campus and is unfortunately not in a vibrant part of the city. It does however offer well-appointed accommodation with (tiny) ensuites however it is quite a distance from West End and campus which becomes annoying especially when the Glasgow weather sets in.

During my second semester I stayed in Kelvinhaugh student accommodation. This is a much better option, although not as modern and without personal bathrooms. Kelvinhaugh is ideally located 10 minutes walk from campus in the suburb of Finneston. Kelvinhaugh Street Student accommodation is surrounded by cafes, bars and Kelvingrove Park, and is a short walk from the city and Byres Road in the West End.

The other accommodation option to consider is Student Apartments. They have the best location as they are located on campus in the heart of West End. However it is highly sought after so you may need get accepted. That being said, everyone I knew that had stayed there loved it.

Costs:
On the whole I found Glasgow to be cheaper than Brisbane, particularly in regards to food (groceries and eating out). I set myself a strict budget of 40 pounds per week (roughly $80 AUD), but this meant that I could travel around Europe on my weekends.

Camping on the Isle of Skye (taken in March): wouldn’t recommend in Winter/Autumn

Travel:
There is plenty to see around Scotland and there are a number of tours set up specifically for exchange students. These are great as an easy way to see the country however it can be better to do some things on your own and at your own pace. If you are old enough renting a car is one of the best ways to see the highlands.

The downside about Glasgow was that its airport is relatively small so there wasn’t a lot of flights going in and out to mainland Europe or the rest of the UK. On the upside there is a bus that travels to the Stansted airport (just outside London) which is super cheap, 5-10 pounds. Added bonus there are heaps of cheap flights to Europe from Stansted airport.
Top Tips:

  • If you can only go for one semester, my recommendation would go in Semester 2 (January – June) more time to travel, plus you get to experience what winter is actually like.
  • Definitely attend all the exchange and introduction events they are a great way to meet people
  • Join clubs and societies, get involved, its a great way to increase your chances of meeting Scottish students
  • See as much of Scotland as possible don’t be put off by the weather (“There is no bad weather, only bad clothes)

I cannot recommend Glasgow enough and if you go you are guaranteed to have a great time!