Learn About the World You Live In

Sophie C., Bachelor of Business
Aston University, England (Semester 2, 2016)

It has almost been exactly three weeks since I arrived back in Australia after 182 days (7 months) abroad in the UK. Today was my first day back at QUT after attending university at Aston Business School for a semester in my 3rd year of a business degree, majoring in Marketing and PR. First tip: if you do marketing or PR major, it’s almost impossible to find these subjects in Europe – so definitely stick to England/USA/Canada for that if you can.

Going on exchange was one of the scariest yet most exciting experiences of my life. Having never properly been overseas (or enduring that massive 26 hour plane journey), it was definitely taking a huge leap. But all the anxiety and stress of the preparation involved in exchange is definitely worth it once you arrive and realise just how big and exciting the world is. I landed at Heathrow totally alone in August of 2016 and spent a few days exploring London before embarking on a 24 day Topdeck tour, in which I have made some of my closest friends who I am still in contact with today. I decided to travel before my semester began, as I didn’t want to be worn out or risk running out of money before my tour. Second tip: save save save, exchange is a very different experience on a budget and it will make life so much easier and more enjoyable if you can get involved wherever possible and go on as many weekend trips as you can! Take advantage of being in another part of the world and take time to explore it and learn to appreciate it.

After this I moved to Birmingham in England with two other QUT students who I met at the exchange pre-departure drinks (third tip – go to that, as without these guys I 100% believe my experience would have been so different, we were each others support system the whole way through). We lived together in a dormitory-style accommodation (see photo top left corner in collage) on a student living campus just outside of the city, about a 15-minute bus ride to Uni. It was here that we lived with heaps of other Aston international students from countries like Portugal, Canada, Spain, Singapore, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and so many more. We all became like a tight knit family and I couldn’t have asked for better people. Fourth tip – try and stay in an international dorm/flat/room/house if possible, as I know people had a very different exchange experience just living with other Australians abroad, its better to get the full exchange experience and make international friends as it will open your eyes to so much, but also make friends with the locals!!

I chose Aston Business School and Birmingham due to their central location within England (1.5-2 hour train from London), without the hefty expenses of living in London. This university also perfectly catered for my marketing subjects. London is one of my favourite cities and I loved being able to just book a train the night before and go for weekend trips whenever I could. England was also an awesome base location for Europe travel as flights and trains are generally so cheap. University in England works mostly the same way, in terms of how lectures are delivered and the content. However they do smaller subjects, I completed 5 subjects during my time at Aston, which is 1 under a full-time load. I found that I wasn’t doing anywhere near as much assessment as I do at QUT. The assessment was mostly a 100% final exam, or one piece of coursework (assignment) worth 100%.  This was a bit of an adjustment at first, but really easy to get used to. You start appreciating the education we receive at QUT, as it prepared us Aussies so well for the England tertiary system.

Homesickness is definitely a thing as well, I struggled with it a few times but you just always need to remember that it’s okay and totally normal to struggle. However, so many people have successfully been able to do it, you only really get out of exchange what you’re willing to put in. Before exchange I had only done small travel within Australia and never lived out of home or fully supported myself. After exchange, I have been to a total of 20 countries and 35 cities, lived out of home and supported myself entirely for a whole 7 months, alongside keeping up with the assessment at Aston. I have already booked my flight back to the UK for June 2017, and cannot wait to do more solo travel with plans to move back to England in 2018. Exchange is an absolutely life-changing opportunity and opens your eyes to so much, it was the most enriching experience, I learnt so much about myself and the world and I would so highly recommend it to anyone considering going on a study exchange trip through QUT 🙂

PS: UK/European winter is COLD….bring lots of warm clothes 🙂

Mountains and the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong

Millie G., Bachelor of Creative Industries
Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong (Semester 1, 2017)

Host University

Situated between the mountains behind it and bustling Mong Kok in front of it, HKBU was a wonderful place to undertake my studies in HK. There was such energy about the campus, with market and uni club stalls almost every day of the week, and countless activities to get involved with. The assessment style was quite different to what I was used to doing Creative Industries at QUT. They preferred smaller, cumulative presentations and tutorial involvement to one or two larger pieces of work, and almost all of the presentations and essays were on topics of our own choosing. I was slightly disappointed to find that the units were pretty different to what was described on the syllabus, but I enjoyed them nonetheless.

Host Country

I am so incredibly happy with my choice of HK as my exchange destination!!! For such a small place, it’s incredible the variety of things there are to do – from beaches to museums to night clubs to mountain hiking to temples to shopping to amusement parks, there’s something for everyone. Even just walking around and soaking up the atmosphere of the vastly different districts was something I never got tired of. The city never sleeps with malls staying open till 11 and supermarkets and restaurants till the early hours of the morning. I think this is a big reason why I’ve never felt safer out at night before. I could walk back to my apartment at 2am from another district and there’d still be people minding their own business out at bars and restaurants – there were never any strange people wandering the street. Certainly made a change from Brisbane haha.

Being there in the first half of the year was great as I got to experience the more traditional side of HK culture, being right at the front for the Chinese New Year celebrations and Buddha’s Birthday. While people didn’t speak as much English as I expected (particularly in the more traditional Mong Kok district that I stayed in), the locals are incredibly helpful despite the cultural divide. While supermarket and restaurant/bar prices were comparable to Australia, the cost of things like public transport and market stall goods was significantly cheaper – it was less than one Australian dollar to get the subway to university each day! That was another thing that made HK so enjoyable – their public transport system was so amazing. You could get to literally anywhere using the trains and buses, with services coming every couple of minutes. Living off campus, this made exploring and getting around so easy.

Highlights

Man, literally the whole trip was one big high for me. The city, particularly at night, is so aesthetically beautiful. I honestly had the best time just calling the place my home. But if I had to name a few I’d have to say:

  • My exchange group: The guys and girls I met from all around the world who’d come to HKBU were so incredible. We had so many absolutely wild times together – boat parties, hikes, horse races – you name it, we probably did it
  • Disneyland: It’s true what they say – it’s the most magical place on Earth. While there aren’t a lot of thrill rides there, it has such a beautifully nostalgic atmosphere and we easily filled the entire day

The Unexpected

How clean the city was! You’d always see workers sweeping the street and eating on the trains was strictly forbidden. I can’t recall a time I really saw trash in the street. I was also totally surprised at how there wasn’t much of an adjustment period in terms of when I first got there. I began enjoying myself pretty much as soon as I was left to my own devices haha. Similarly, I was surprised that I didn’t find myself counting down the days till I went home the longer I was there. Everyone I talked to on exchange with me felt the same.

Tips & Advice

  1. As soon as you’re accepted by your host university, start doing the housekeeping stuff involved with that university – I missed out on staying on campus as I waited till I’d finished my semester at QUT to start applying
  2. If you’re giving the opportunity/have the funds, I’d actually totally recommend staying off campus. You feel so much more immersed in your country’s lifestyle/culture, there aren’t any restrictions placed upon your stay, and if you’re like me and relish you’re alone time, this will make your time abroad a lot more comfortable. However you have to be a lot more proactive with meeting people and joining in activities
  3. Always keep the QUT exchange office in the loop with what stage you’re at before, during, and after your exchange
  4. Always check your QUT emails while overseas
  5. Keep a record of how much you’re spending on what in the first few weeks and then base your budget on this moving forward
  6. Befriend local students – they know all the places that aren’t in your travel guide
  7. Take any opportunity presented to you!

My Glasgow Highlights and Advice

Ashleigh: University of Glasgow, Semester 1, 2016

There are so many things I should put in this section, but my top five highlights (in no particular order) would be going to a beach and hot spa in Reykjavik, Iceland in the middle of Winter, the torchlight procession at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, New Year’s Eve from Westminster Bridge, spending my birthday looking over Barcelona and taking a sunset cruise in Santorini!

Looking over Barcelona on my Birthday

Looking over Barcelona on my Birthday

Sunset Cruise in Santorini

Sunset Cruise in Santorini

Tips and Advice

Firstly, budget more than you estimate you’ll need as a contingency and have some Australian currency spare in case your wallet goes missing or you need more changed over quickly. Then, be flexible when you travel so you can spend as little as possible while still getting the most out of it. Most importantly, no matter where you go or how much travel you do, don’t get stuck with people you find from back home. Go out, get involved in the culture and meet people from everywhere! This is a piece of advice I was given on my flight over and something which I will always take with me because if you stick with the same people, you’ll probably keep doing the same thing and won’t really experience the culture as much as you could.

New Years Eve in London

New Years Eve in London