Oh Candaaaa!

Rosanna, E. Bachelor of Business and Creative Industries

Ryerson University (Semester 1, 2017)

I experienced my exchange in Toronto, Canada and endured the frigid winter that it put on display. This was the first challenge I faced; the lead up to my exchange was so swift and overwhelmingly busy at times, that I had forgotten to prepare myself for -20 degree days, not including wind chill. I quickly discovered that I am a Queenslander at heart, I became a sun-worshiper and tested my room-mate’s patience with me as I constantly pointed out how cold it was and refused to go outside if it wasn’t a necessity.

Me playing in snow for the first time

I resided in a co-op building which was recommended to all the exchange students who were attending Ryerson University. This was great as it meant practically everyone who was involved in the program also lived, ate and drank together daily. My room-mates quickly became my closest friends which I cherished when battling my homesickness. This was another thing that shocked me and something I really didn’t think I would experience! I hopelessly missed the clear blue skies of Brisbane and the constant stream of vitamin D from the sun; it’s safe to say that I truly experienced Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)! EVERYTHING changed for me though on my mid-semester break, where my French room-mate and I took a spontaneous trip to Mexico. The trip healed my longing for sun while simultaneously changing my perspective on my not-yet enjoyed experience. People who go on exchange do-so for a reason; whether that may be to experience new things, for personal growth, to travel while studying or to drink your way through classes and scrape by with a satisfactory grade. For me, acknowledging that I was homesick and deciding to accept that and embrace the opportunity that I had worked so hard to give myself was the best decision I made.

The Toronto sky line from Toronto Island

I began to embrace the snow and the ice glazed streets and the fact that I could never feel my hands or feet. More importantly though, I embraced the people I was meeting and opened to the idea that my friends back home didn’t have to be my only friends. My greatest joy that the exchange program brought me were the friendships I found. People on exchange generally have this mentality and openness to life that I loved. Everyone is there with the assumption socialising is a priority, thus people had a zest for life and new experiences. It was refreshing and an opportunity to break away from the predispositions I felt held me back in Brisbane and an opportunity for me to become more confident in myself. Exchange gave me the time away from home that gave me the opportunity to be truly isolated from the friends and family that have surrounded me my whole life. I could experience who I was and what I wanted without those external influences and it felt quite liberating!

The Washington sister Women’s March in Toronto

I now have a new fondness and appreciation for home and the people there while also having a lust and excitement for travelling to unfamiliar places. The exchange program created a catalyst for me to be confident in myself and my passions and has enabled me to have a zestiness for life to carry out and achieve big blinding goals that I would never have thought I could achieve before leaving home! I’m very grateful that I took advantage of the opportunity and have signed up for a study tour in Peru at the end of this year to further my personal growth!

My Exchange Experience In France

Rosemary, K. Bachelor of Law/Bachelor of Journalism

Catholic University of Lille (Semester 2, 2016)

Enjoying a cheese picnic during Lille’s fleeting summer

Lille is a great exchange city. It is small enough that I could walk everywhere. The university is about a twenty-minute walk to the main train station and beautiful old town or there is a very reasonable and user-friendly bus. The university is close to a string of student bars that are so well attended on Thursday evenings that the police close the surrounding streets down. There are also antique markets, the famous La Braderie, streets of gourmet food shops and wonderful fresh food markets in nearby Wazemme. Lille has its own soccer team in the national league, which is fun to spectate, and there is a beautiful opera building that sells cheap tickets to students. There are shopping malls and networks of beautiful little cobbled streets lined with lovely little stores. Being on the border with Belgium means that Lille can offer the best of both countries. Belgium chocolate mixed with French pastries, Belgium fries and French cheese as well as beautiful French wines and famous Belgium beers meant I never came close to hungry.

I studied in the second semester from late August to mid-December. I was concerned about the cold but soon came to love the winter and the lead up to Christmas. Lille (and all of Europe) comes alive at Christmas with markets in the square, mulled wine and a huge Ferris wheel. I had to buy a new wardrobe and my first winter coat but that was a fun novelty in itself.

Lille is well located for travel with Europe’s excellent bus and train network. Cities such as London, Brussels and Paris are each less than two hours away. Amsterdam and Cologne in Germany are easy day trips as are beautiful Ghent, Brugge and Antwerp. Flying out of the Brussels Charleroi airport is very cheap and easy with a Flixbus connecting the airport to the Lille Flanders train station. There is also the Brussels International Airport an hour and a half away on the train. I had the opportunity to take many trips including Edinburgh, Italy, Norway, Ireland and Germany. People in the north of France have a similar reputation to the Australians living in Tasmania but they are open hearted and friendly people who are always willing to help with whatever English they know. They are proud of their country and happy to share it with foreigners, often going out of their way to find someone to translate my questions. Living in a country where you don’t speak the language well can be difficult and it is important to be easy going because things get lost in translation and getting an extra drink or meal or something slightly different to what you ordered can happen so I learnt not to be fussy.

Enjoying a day of playing inflatable games organised by the AEU

Lille is a very affordable city when you are living on an Australian wage. Groceries, rent, meals, movies and clothes were all cheaper than Australia. In fact the only expensive service was trains. I had many concerns about budgeting during my time overseas but the cost of living was so cheap and I kept an eye on my finances so I had no issues. My only qualm with Lille was the lack of decent coffee but my Melbourne friends and I discovered Coffee Makers on Paris Street early in the semester. They have the best beans in Lille and often sell delicious winter salads, curries and homemade tarts alongside their decadent Malteaser coffees.

University in France is a very different experience to university in Australia. Firstly, everybody lives on campus or near campus and nobody lives at home with their parents. I prearranged my accommodation with an organisation run by the university called the AEU. I was placed in a tiny little residence called La Maison de l’étudiant that only had seven rooms and was across the road from the university. The residence was a large apartment on the third floor of a converted French chalet complete with stained glass windows, marble floors and ornate plaster ceilings. All bills, Internet, cleaning and breakfast was included in my very reasonable rent. We also got fresh croissants delivered every week. All my housemates were French and Mauritian students studying their whole degrees in France. They were extremely friendly and welcoming, excited to practice their (very good) English and well and truly made me feel at home, caring for me when I was sick, taking me to the doctors and translating anything I needed. Living in an AEU residence also meant I could participate in their organised sports, attend French zumba, join their gym for 10 euro a month, eat at the outrageously cheap cafeteria (three euro for three courses!) and attend their welcome and Christmas parties. I also had the very unfortunate experience of being robbed and the AEU were able to help me call the police, translate a statement and find a new place to live, all of which would have been extremely difficult on my own.

University is very different to university in Australia but if you embrace change and respect the differences you will learn a lot. For starters, twelve subjects is a normal load. There are subjects offered in many different languages and structures: some are taught in blocks, some are taught weekly and some are taught every couple of weeks. Nothing is recorded and it is necessary to attend all classes, it would be naïve to think you could pass without doing so. Getting together a timetable can be a bit hectic, especially if you study across two faculties but that may be necessary in order to cobble together enough English subjects to satisfy the 30 ECTS requirement. The faculties within the university may as well be totally different: they are manned by different staff, have different rules and sometimes slightly different grading systems. I studied within the ESPOL and FLSH faculties, favouring the latter as ESPOL only started in 2012. I studied a broad range of subjects from sociology in the media to medieval history, European politics, French language and literature and thoroughly enjoyed them all. I think there is a tendency for people to not worry about their subjects and focus on their ‘exchange experience’ but I would advise choosing subjects you like because you will spend a lot of time studying. The university is well respected and France and the curriculum is heavy on rote learning and memorisation (hence why you need to attend class and take good notes) and involves less analytical processes than at QUT. It is a different type of learning, but it is still learning and I felt like I got a lot out of my time in Lille.

Exchange students at a Lille soccer game

The university has a well-established program for international students. They have dedicated staff members and orientation events, buddy programs and parties designed solely for international students. This enabled me to meet so many people from around the world. I made friends with people from Germany, Lithuania, Afghanistan, America, Ireland, Japan, France, Mauritius and even Australia to count a few. Lille is a beautiful little city but it is truly the people I met that made my experience. Sometimes living in a foreign country can be exasperating but having people to share in that exasperation makes it feel a whole lot less stressful.

Overall I had an amazing time on Exchange. I met lifelong friends from all around the world and I am very lucky to have had such an experience. Exchange is the easiest way to live in another country, as there are so many people and services set up to help you. If you are considering taking the leap I cannot encourage you more, it is an amazing opportunity.

Life of a Travel Blogger

Joel, T. Bachelor of Design (Industrial Design)

Oslo and Akershus University College, Norway (Semester 2, 2016)

Before commencing my venture to Oslo (Norway) I knew a few things, it was expensive, cold and Scandinavian design is what I wanted add to my repertoire. Arriving at Lillestrøm station (10 min train from Oslo central) we were greeted by a young female student how helped us navigate to our Sio accommodation, where we would call home for the next 6 months. The accommodation was basic but what student housing isn’t. I had my own bedroom but shared a kitchen and bathroom with roommate, which just so happened to by my friend and travel partner on this journey.

Tip for future students, be prepared to make a trip to Ikea which is a bit of a trek to get everything. Room has furniture and bed but kitchen literally has nothing except for an oven and cook top. Best preparation would be to try contact residents living there the semester before you go and try and acquire some of their items. This will save a lot of money and time.

Two weeks before classes commenced we explored the city while the summer sun and “warmth” (it was still only 18°C) still filled the air. It was a beautiful day and dockside was a buzz of excitement with cafes and street performers. From here you can also spend the beautiful day, island hopping the little islands situated on the Oslo Fjord – as this is where the ferry leaves. 

Tip for places to visit: North of the Oslo is Holmenkollen, boosting a 60m high ski jump that has hosted ski festivals since 1892.

Norwegians are serious about getting out and enjoying nature, they love nature and hiking mountains. They also love to tell you all about it every minute of every day – just in case you forget *wink wink*. As such the Norwegians love their recently build Opera House where you can actually walk on the roof, via a small hike up the side of the building. I would highly recommend doing so as it has one of the most stunning views of the city and harbour, especially at sunset. 

Uni life….

I studied Product Design during my time at HiOA Kjeller campus. I found it interesting that they only do one subject at a time, it seems a lot less strenuous than QUT. One of the bonuses though was studying at HiOA was the amount of new educational opportunities I received. I learnt how to weld, and also gained numerous skills with ceramics and concrete moulding. Their workshops are first class and even better once you have done a week of inductions, as you are deemed competent to use all the facilities without supervision.

My first group assignment consisted of three girls and one guy. We decided to look into tiny living and the outdoor and active Norwegian culture. We hired a cabin in the middle of the woods with no electricity or running water. It was an hour bus ride and a 6km hike to loose ourselves, but we were alone for miles. We all huddled in a cabin made for two. It was a cosy night, but the experience was a one in a lifetime and a real good look into Norwegian culture.

Highlights …

Travel highlight – Trolltunga, it takes this prestigious role because of how hard I had to work to get there. Five gruelling hours hiking up and five back. Trolltunga aka Trolls Tongue chewed me up and spit me out, but the view from the top was worth it.

HiOA university had many highlights, great people, lifelong friends, workshops. But the ones that stands out is when our concept became a prototype. A finished product made by myself and group, with a lot of the new workshop skills to thank for its polished finish.

This has been a wonderful opportunity for me, I got to travel abroad and this experience has really open mind and broadened my horizons.

Fashion in Hong Kong

Nhu, C. Bachelor of Design (Fashion)

Hong Kong Polythechnic University (Semester 2, 2016)

I studied fashion design at The Hong Kong Polythechnic University in second semester of my second year. The Institute of Textiles and Clothing in PolyU is significantly different to QUT fashion studios as they have a larger number in students, more facilities however the teaching was not as intimate. The institute offered eye-opening subjects such as knitting, colouration, intimate apparel, shoe design, denim design and so on. The teaching staff were also very experienced and supportive especially the pattern maker, knitting technician, colouration and finishing professor that taught me.

During my semester abroad, I made myself at home at the PolyU student accommodation. I paid approximately $1 600 for the whole semester which was significantly cheaper than living outside of the student dorms. It was one of the best decisions I made over in HK as I built strong friendships with my roommate, other exchange students and the workers within the building. It was also near the university, only taking 10 minutes by foot.  Within the student accommodation it provided functional, studying and leisure facilities including a communal gym, swimming pool, snooker pool room, game room, table tennis, dance room, kitchen, laundry room, study rooms and printers.

The cost of living was not as bad as I was expecting. I roughly spent $8000-9000 during the whole 4months (including flights, flights booked in HK, accommodation). Hong Kong is full of culture, mixing both Western and Eastern qualities. I didn’t experience much of a culture shock as my ethnical background is Chinese and Vietnamese.  Hong Kong was my home, the hustle and bustle of the night life and the sensational scenery as you escape the city will forever keep me wanting more. I met and became close friends with many of the locals and exchange students who’ve broadened my perspective on life and design.

My advice for students who are still undecided whether to go or not, I say go!! It’s true when past exchange students say it’s one of the most memorable and best experience. For the future exchange students, my advice is to learn as much as you can and take advantage of your host university’s curriculum but also don’t forget to make time for exploring your host country, be part of their culture, make both local and exchange friends, visit nearby countries and take up every opportunity!