Bullet Trains, Godzilla and Temples – The Real Japanese Experience

Elise L, Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Fine Arts

Ritsumeikan University (Semester 2, 2016)

In the Fall Semester of 2016 I studied at Ritsumeikan University in Osaka, Japan. I was part of the short term ‘Study In Kyoto’ program (SKP), but because I study in the Business Track my home campus and life was actually in Osaka.

Ritsumeikan University, Osaka Ibaraki Campus, from the ninth floor

I lived in a studio apartment (in the same building as many other SKPers) about forty minutes by train from uni. OIC campus was only completed in 2015, so dormitories are still under construction. Our apartments were small (22m2) but had everything we needed and I really came to love that little space. Being based in Osaka, we also had places like Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara only an hour away by train! Cost of living in Osaka seems moderate – rent is quite high and travel can be expensive (a ride on the bullet train can cost hundreds of dollars…), but food is very cheap and it is easy to walk to many places.

Home base – Aya Mikuni apartments

SKP students were assigned a Japanese student buddy, and they helped us with the little complexities of day-to-day life – how do you pay your bills when you can’t read them? How do you call the maintenance guy when you don’t speak Japanese and he doesn’t speak English? Our buddies helped us to function as residents rather than tourists, as well as taking us sightseeing and making us feel very welcome.

Shinjuku, Tokyo, feat. Godzilla

I spent more time on campus at Ritsumeikan than I ever have at QUT, and the timetable was more intensive than I’m used to – going from part-time study to 10 x 90 minute classes a week was a bit of a shock to the system! I studied Japanese too, and I’d highly recommend it – the things we learned were very practical for everyday life. There are also many university events to attend – we volunteered in a Haunted House at the Halloween festival, and we supported the university team at their American football games (go Panthers!). I attended the first World Community Power Conference in Fukushima, which was fascinating, and also visited the Toyota factory in Aichi.

My top 3 tips for studying in Japan:
1. Say yes (hai/はい)!
A piece of advice that my Dad gave me when I moved from our small country town to the big city of Brisbane. Whether it’s a student excursion on offer, or grabbing dinner with new people, say yes. If you don’t enjoy it you don’t have to do it again, but at least you tried!

2. Learn the language!
Downloading an app, buying a phrasebook or enrolling in classes like I did – language was the biggest barrier I encountered in Japan. By the time I left, I was able to have very simple conversations, and that felt like a huge achievement when I couldn’t even read my own mail.

3. Get an ICOCA card
A bit like a gocard in Brisbane, except you can’t get a discount as an international student (boo). It streamlines your travel process (no queueing for tickets), works across the whole country, and you can pay for a travel pass –  I had unlimited travel between my university station and the central Osaka station (with my home station being in between) which was worthwhile. Just don’t lose your card!

Japan is an amazing country and I feel like I barely scratched the surface, despite travelling as much as my budget allowed. My exchange actually postponed my graduation by a year, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat – in fact, I’ve already booked my flights to go back!

The famous red tori gates of Fushimi Inari shrine, Kyoto

Welsh Semester Abroad

Morton, G. Bachelor of Business

Cardiff University (Semester 2, 2016)

Student exchange was an eye opening experience for me. I attended Cardiff University in Wales, which encouraged me to travel around Europe 3 months prior to arriving in Cardiff and continue to visit surrounding domestic and international cities during my study. The academic opportunity granted me access to different resources and professors which enhanced my learning skills and made me adapt to new teaching techniques and software programs. I enjoyed experiencing the ways of teaching from another country and seeing what new habits I could use back in Brisbane to help me develop further at QUT. Wales was a brilliant location that allowed me to travel to 40 different cities in close proximity to where I was prepared to live for 4 months. I definitely did not want to take this for granted and so I recommend to save a lot of money and make the most of your time abroad in terms of using it as an opportunity to see the greater world as well. Not only living on the other side of the world, but living out of home as well forced me to manage my money and budget ahead which is a skill that I will constantly work on.I am sure I will return one day to revisit the town I called home and see the friends I made. I found meeting other Australian’s overseas to be such an asset to my travels and there are people that I know I will forever be in contact with. You and likeminded travelers are all there for the same reason and you find that to be such a strong foundation to a guaranteed blossoming friendship. But do not underestimate the great opportunity it is to also meet people who grew up in a different country and culture to you! Now that I have returned home I realise all the small things I took for granted before I travelled. The white sand beaches we have such easy access to, the vibrant sun that we can eat our breakfast underneath every day and the internationally attractive city. The UK has a lot to offer, but darker, colder and shorter days do make you appreciate the pristine summer of Australia.I have no regrets from my exchange and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I am not the same person as I was before I left and I feel as though I have matured and grown completely from the experience. It will be something I never forget and I can’t wait to return one day soon.

Ready, Set, Go

Anna B, Bachelor of Creative Industries

Aalto University, Finland (Semester 2, 2016)

Ten tips for anyone ready to go on the ride.

  1. Consider your options. I wanted to go to Leads England and ended up at Aalto University Finland. A huge blessing
  2. Take risks
  3. The people you meet on exchange will change your life. Make the most of every moment last
  4. Be who you want to be on exchange. You are in a new place you can test a new version of you.
  5. Get dirty. Travel to the small places they are always the best. Be a traveler not tourist. Experience a place don’t just visit it.
  6. Find snow it is great
  7. Take advantage of the experiences this new university offers you. You never know the impact it has on you till when you get back.
  8. Embrace change it’s all part of the ride.
  9. Student discounts are life use it.
  10. The ride will be over before you know it. Enjoy it

Singapore Sojourn

Alina K, Bachelor of Business/Creative Industries

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (Semester 2, 2016)

I chose to spend two semesters in Singapore because I have always felt attracted to this country. While I visited Singapore multiple times throughout my childhood, I made a decision to see this country under a different light. My host university was Nanyang University of Technology, or NTU – also a technological university like QUT.

I thought the campus was quite spacious and beautiful, though it blew my mind how such small country like Singapore has space for such grand campuses. Unlike the majority of exchange students, I chose to stay off campus. My reasoning behind it was that I wanted to live closer to the centre area because NTU is too far away from everything else in Singapore – well except Malaysia; locals even call the university ‘Pulau’ NTU, meaning it’s really far away. So I stayed at Nanyang Girls Boarding High School, which is about over an hour away by public transport from NTU. Since public transport in Singapore is super convenient, I didn’t have a problem getting around anywhere. The hostel at boarding school was very convenient for me for its price and location – it’s near newly opened blue line that can get you to all the best places around CBD.

When my first (and second) semester began I had the worst headache trying to match the units to suit my study plan. This happened because some units weren’t taught anymore or didn’t exist at all. I found that Wee Kim Wee School of Communications at NTU has a different direction in studies. It’s more concentrated on media communications, hence I struggled finding appropriate classes to suit my major. I did somehow manage to match some classes but still you should remember that in the end of the day exchange students get what was left after the registration of the main student body.

Now let’s get to the classes. Students in Singapore are quite ‘hard-core’; they study everyday, everywhere. Like seriously you won’t be able to find a free spot in McDonalds or Starbucks or pretty much anywhere around the city to sit down and do your work. It’s a very fast-paced environment being it studying at university or just taking a train. Be ready for that. It was cool for me, because I only needed to pass, same it will be for you too.I can write a lot of things about my experience in Singapore; I spent the whole year meeting people who influenced my personal and professional growth, learning new things about adulthood, travelling and seeing this beautiful country in a different way, maybe getting angry couple times for not finding a peaceful place to study, and getting caught up in the shopping-land. I am not the same person I was before this exchange experience. In the end, your experience will turn out the way you want it to be, just stay open-minded and set goals to fulfil.

Life at University of South Carolina

Aleksa M, Bachelor of Business/Creative Industries

South Carolina, USA (Semester 2, 2016)

An exchange semester in America had been a goal of mine ever since I started university. When I received my confirmation letter from the University of South Carolina I was ecstatic as I knew this would be the trip of a lifetime. And I wasn’t let down. USC’s beautiful campus gave off the perfect first impression, a lush green campus filled with beautiful gardens and all the amenities one could hope for. Included in these is a world class gym, complete with squash courts and a rock climbing wall. My assigned dorm room was small but relatively modern with a nice kitchen, living area and, of course, great room and floor mates. My first and only real shock came during the first week of classes when it was explained that class attendance is mandatory at all classes. Depending on subjects you get 3-5 absences which are marked and further absences may result in a penalty to your final grades. The subjects at USC were similarly taught to those at QUT however the American units appear to be more exam heavy.

The cost of living in America is fairly similar compared to Australia as far as cost of food and entertainment is concerned. The cost of accommodation was really the only downside of this trip, as it is compulsory for exchange students to stay in American dorms there is no option to seek alternatives. However, the upside to staying in the dorms is meeting other local and international students. In any case the money spent on accommodation and food can be easily re-couped through the money saved on alcohol. America (particularly the south) has some of the cheapest alcohol you will ever see and an incredible variety of craft beer. In Columbia, the first place you will learn about is 5-points. 5-points is a small block of multiple bars many of which serve drinks for $1, beers, spirits you name it. Prices vary but the most you will pay for a drink on any given night will be $3. The true college experience.During my time in America I got to experience a beaming new culture. In particular, a major highlight for me was the football season. In the south, football is a religion. For me, the Saturdays and Sundays spent tailgating were the best part of the trip. I am a huge football fan and the culture of American football fans is unlike no other. The stadium atmosphere is intense and definitely something to experience. The USC stadium was sold out almost every game however all students are more or less guaranteed a ticket through the student lottery system. I also enjoyed the ease of travelling through America through cheap flights and rent-a-cars. Spur of the moment decisions like a weekend road trip to New Orleans or booking a last minute budget flight to San-Francisco are always on the cards. Quite possibly the most beautiful part of America is the distinctive culture and experience each city gives off. It’s almost as though you are entering a new country. My exchange semester in America was the experience of a lifetime. However, the best and integral part of the experience was the amazing people I met, many of whom I’m still in close contact with and will remain friends for life.  In short, I couldn’t have wished for a better way to spend my semester abroad. GO COCKS!!

Canada Eh!

Jessica R, Bachelor of Business/Creative Industries

Queens University (Semester 2, 2016)

My semester on exchange in Kingston, Canada has finished and what an experience it has been!

While my time at Queen’s was nothing short of amazing, it’s also important to remember that there are a lot of differences to QUT. Aside from the obvious difference in the accent (as to be expected, eh), the classroom sizes, teaching methods and workload are quite different to what we’ve experienced at QUT. With smaller classrooms and lessons reflecting what we call tutorials, participation is expected and more often than not your contribution in class is graded. I also found there was more work to complete on a weekly basis, with small assessments due regularly or a weekly quiz. Another major difference is the amount of group work – expect to be working in 4 or 5 groups at a time!

Aside from the differences academically, university life is similar to that in Australia. Small differences such as more of a community feel and the opportunity to live in residence make your exchange experience just that little bit more exciting and different.

While Canada is similar to Australia in a lot of ways, driving on the opposite side of the road was probably the biggest adjustment I had to make – even just crossing the road! The cost of living is similar to that of Australia, just remember taxes are added and tipping is expected in restaurants and for any services. While it’s not overly difficult to travel within Canada, it is expensive. For example, the 2 ½ hour train trip from Kingston to Toronto cost me around $50 each way, although there are options for buses as well. My tip here is to try and book transport in advance if you can, and keep an eye out for specials!

When reflecting back over my time on exchange I had so many good experiences that it’s hard to choose highlights! Perhaps my biggest take away from my time on exchange is the people I’ve met. Queen’s has a great orientation program and a few associations tailored to exchange students, which makes meeting people from all over the world so easy! I also found that because exchange at Queen’s is such a popular thing to do – 80% of third year commerce students go on exchange – the majority of students in my classes were also exchange students. This was comforting in the fact that we were all in the same boat in regards to being new to the system and how things work in Canada. It also meant I got to work in groups with students from all over the world. Perhaps the biggest highlight from my exchange experience was my accommodation. While trying to organise somewhere to live through the internet from the other side of the world was stressful, it couldn’t have worked out any better. I subletted a room in a house with 5 other girls, of which 4 were Canadian students and the other a fellow exchange student from England. I would highly recommend to anyone going on exchange to try and live with some local students if you can! Not only did these 5 girls become my best friends, they also made me feel incredibly welcome into their home and friendship groups – putting right amongst the local student culture!

All in all, my exchange experience in Canada was one of the best things I’ve done in my life so far and I wouldn’t change anything about it. The whole experience, including all the ups and downs, has made me a better person and has contributed to my education more than anything ever could!

 

A Danish Delight

Isabella K, Bachelor of Business

Copenhagen Business School (Semester 2, 2016)

Copenhagen – the home of hygge, indescribable pastries, and Danish design. My four months at Copenhagen Business School (affectionately known as CBS) were filled with cosy nights with friends, a crazy amount of cinnamon buns, and an incredible university campus. The cliché really is true – it was the experience of a lifetime.

Hanging out with my roommate at some Christmas Markets – she fits in with the Danes pretty well!

Denmark is an inimitable part of Scandinavia. The city is warm, with its inhabitants seeming endlessly cool; I’m talking guys wearing Nike sneakers, Adidas trackpants, and a leather jacket cool. Not only that, but almost every Dane is tall, with blue eyes, and bright blonde hair. As someone with brown eyes and brown hair, it’s safe to say I felt a little out of place. But once you get to know the Danes, you start to fall in love with their Northern charm and positive attitude to life. They can be difficult to crack at first – in Denmark, it’s uncommon to ask someone ‘how are you?’ But if you buy them a Carlsberg, they’ll be more than happy to let you in.

The cost of living in Denmark is similar to that in Brisbane – although, don’t expect there to be an equivalent of $16 burgers at Grill’d. Eating out can be pricey, but it’s easy enough to head down to the local Netto or Meny and pull together some ingredients for group dinner parties. In fact, this is a very ‘hygge’ thing to do – hygge meaning the cosy feeling you get when you’re indoors, with great friends, having some awesome food and drink.

Classes at CBS were very similar to back home; however, they don’t record the majority of lectures. Additionally, they won’t have tutorials for all subjects – most of mine consisted of a three-hour lecture that included time for practical activities. Personally, I only took elective subjects, so I can’t say too much about any course work for majors. However, I really enjoyed some of the classes and would recommend Visual Communication (an inimitable class on film studies and visual cognition) and Big Data and AI: Who Owns the Future?

Due to a small mishap with time zones, I ended up missing out on campus dorm accommodation. Instead, a friend and I buddied up and managed to find an Airbnb that would take us for four months. We were in an excellent location (upper Frederiksberg) that was about 20 minutes from the CBS campuses, which suited us very well. If you bought a bike, it was about a seven-minute trip – and almost all of the Danes ride everywhere! My roommate and I loved having the flexibility of having our own apartment and inviting people over for drinks, along with visiting the dorms for different parties and events.

I met this gorgeous creature, Suklaa, in Finland on a Husky Safari!

One of the highlights of the trip was definitely the amount of travel I got to do – Copenhagen is in a great location geographically to zip around from country to country. If you get the chance, I’d definitely recommend booking any of the Erasmus trips. A group of friends and I went to Finland with Erasmus, which was incredible – we stayed in the artic circle! Moreover, London is also only an hour’s plane ride away, and Germany is relatively easy to get to as well.

It’s not an exchange trip without an awesome tourist snap!

I’d most definitely recommend Copenhagen as one of your exchange options. My stay there was definitely a great blend of ‘work hard, play hard’ – with lots of travel thrown into the mix. If you’re going, make sure you hit up my favourite street called Jægersborggade in Nørrebro. If you’re into oatmeal, there’s a place called Grød that does it fantastically, and Meyers Bageri (AKA pastry heaven) is down the other end of the street. There’s an awesome, quirky bookstore called PALERMO Hollywood that has English titles, along with Tricotage, which has some cool Danish fashion pieces. Hit up KAKTUS on your way out to grab some greenery for your dorm room, and then finish up with the Mikkeller and Friends microbrewery around the corner.  Copenhagen is ripe with tourist haunts, but there are some truly Danish gems hidden in every suburb! If you’re going to Copenhagen, or if you’ve been, feel free to let me know where your favourite spots are. And bon voyage!

Three months in Tuvalu

Kate Donnelly: New Colombo Plan Scholar interning in Tuvalu

We took our descent into the tiny capital of Tuvalu twice. The flight from Suva passed quickly enough, until the seat belt sign flicked on. The plane began to sink closer and closer to the gun-metal grey surface of the Pacific Ocean, dsc_0001at a rate exactly converse to my panic as I searched below for any sign of land. Seemingly out of nowhere, I caught the first sight of waves breaking. The tip of the islet widened just enough to support a handful of coconut trees, and then some shanty houses, and eventually the central district of a town with barely 200 meters between the lagoon shore and its ocean side.        

Locking eyes with locals who’d come out of their houses to watch the arrival, and bracing myself for our landing (5 seconds, 4, 3, 2…) the plane suddenly veered upwards and away from the runway we’d been so close to hitting. Five confused minutes passed before the pilot’s voice nonchalantly crackled over the speakers: we’d be descending again soon, not to worry, just as soon as air control confirmed that the authorities had successfully run down a pack of dogs that had strayed onto the tarmac. Until then, enjoy the view. With plenty of swearing and full-bellied chuckles from the Tuvaluans on board, we circled back and touched down in the world’s fourth smallest nation.dsc_0003

At this point, you’re probably wondering where on earth this country is. Hop on Google Earth satellite view, and search for Funafuti. I got goosebumps the first time I saw the capital like that – it seemed so vulnerable, a tiny crescent of land built up over millions of years from the broken down coral reefs that rimmed ancient ocean volcanoes – but the birds-eye perspective has nothing on the feeling you get when you first stand at the tip of the islet. On your right, there’s the crystal-blue water of the salt-water lagoon. On your left, the heaving inky waves of the Pacific. It’s unlike anything else. dsc_0015

I spent three months interning with the Tuvalu Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (TANGO), supported by the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan. In the tiny box of TANGO’s office, I wrote Cabinet Papers and delivered training workshops, developed project management tools, and memorised the words to Tuvalu’s favourite reggae remixes. Timelines were short, plans inevitably fell through or changed at the very last minute, higher decisions didn’t make sense, our internet never worked and my laptop died in the humidity of my second week. Improvisation became my most valuable tool, and relationships my greatest asset. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this country rewrote me.

It might have been the ocean breeze, the mandatory midday siestas to escape thedsc_0023 sluggish heat, or the easy-goes approach of every person I worked with, but somewhere along the way I changed my tune. From the busyness and competition of making every minute a productive one, I slipped into days that moved slowly with the sun. Life became just that again – not endless work, not long commutes nor unshakeable exhaustion. Just life. I swam and listened and made friends and stumbled upon a secret.

Tuvalu is a country whose future is a woven basket of unknowns, made and remade around the changing advice of scientists and foreign diplomats but held together by the stories and pride of generations of island people. When today is what you’ve got, you savour it unapologetically and fight hard so that your kids might do the same.

dsc_0016And that’s just it. From Tuvalu, to me, to you: slow down enough to enjoy what’s precious, then give your best to preserve it. From Australian or atoll shores, I can’t imagine doing life any other way.dsc_0028dsc_0013

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