Living Big in Small Town Indiana

Eliza P., Bachelor of Business/Laws
Purdue University, USA (Semester 2, 2018)

If you’re reading this blog post then you have probably already heard it before, but taking a semester abroad is one of the best decisions you will ever make. No matter where you decide to go, you are giving yourself not only an amazing opportunity to learn about another culture, but to learn things about yourself that are sometimes only discoverable away from home.

Purdue University was my first choice for my exchange program. It’s a big, small town college with a lot of heart in West Lafayette, Indiana. Going to college in Midwest America is definitely an authentic experience. I lived in a two person shared dormitory room with a German exchange student, which cost me about $4,500 USD (including meals). Living in the dorms was very convenient because they’re on campus where classes, the dining courts and the gym are. Although, most American college students will leave dormitory living in their sophomore (second) year to live in a house with friends or their fraternity or sorority houses. So if you are a bit older, this is something to keep in mind when organising living arrangements.

Boiler up!

Surprisingly, I loved college for how it required frequent attendance. For each subject, I had class three times a week for 1.5 hours and I only had three absences before my grades would be penalised for nonattendance. In the beginning, it was difficult to adapt because this was so different to back home. However, I found that through this I was able to immerse myself in college life, make friends in class and truly invest in the content – so it was really rewarding!

In terms of culture, Americans and Australians are very similar, so myself and my other Australian friends found it really easy to meet people and make friends. The pace of life at Purdue and other big colleges in small towns is completely different to the pace back here at QUT, where the average university student will work part-time while studying. With a lot of free time, college students love to hang out and do nothing (or study) together, so I rarely spent a moment alone.

Making memories with new friends

Purdue will always be a home away from home for me, and while it tended to be quieter than some typical American colleges during the semester, that quieter time meant I had to time to make and spend with friends who will last a lifetime. You will not regret taking a semester abroad, and there’s really never another opportunity than during your university years, so just do it! And BOILER UP!

Southern Hospitality – My Exchange to University of South Carolina

Patrick H., Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Fine Arts (Drama)
University of South Carolina (Columbia campus), USA (Semester 1, 2017)

I completed an exchange semester to The University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus from January to May 2017. USC’s campus certainly dwarfed QUT’s campuses with some majestic classical buildings and hints of the city’s Civil War history literally spelt out on signs around town.  My African American Literature professor could also be counted on to fill in some more, less flattering history of the area, including the fact that the IHOP carpark was previously the largest ‘slave pen’ in the entire South.

One of the South Columbia historic site signs.

The campus itself was very scenic, green and spacious, with the common area of the Horseshoe being a quiet, sylvan spot to relax as the weather turned warmer. “Turned warmer” being the operative phrase as the January start to the semester meant sub-zero temperatures on arrival and even returning from a Spring Break in New Orleans saw my Cliff Apartment’s ‘home’ on campus in the midst of a snap snowstorm. So my first piece of advice would be to pack for both freezing cold and significant heat – clothes that can be layered are an absolute must.

The Horseshoe, USC Columbia campus.

The Observatory and one of the more spectacular residences on USC Columbia campus.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, while the campus is an easy walk into ‘town’ (with such attractions as the Nickelodeon cinema, the Columbia Museum of Art, and bars and restaurants such as Bourbon (upmarket and authentic Southern food) and The Whig (more affordable pub fare)) and Five Points (an equivalent of somewhere like Fortitude Valley/West End), getting to The Vista or to an affordable supermarket like Walmart is impossible without a car (though USC was kind enough to lay on a shuttle bus to Walmart on a weekly basis) so, if you’re relying on your own feet, you may be limited to those areas in walking distance.

Jazz recital under Columbia Museum of Art’s amazing modern chandelier.

 

When attending classes on such a big campus (particularly if you’re taking some of the music or literature classes that are in remote buildings), make sure to allow enough time to get there. There are plenty of venues for music, theatre and even film (free films are screened during semester) on the campus itself and my accommodation at Cliff Apartments included regular free food nights to ensure residents got to meet their fellow students. There are also many food options on campus and Dominos is not far away (Wednesday night pizzas are $5). The organisers of sports on campus also make sure students can get free or discounted tickets to basketball, baseball and other sports events on campus and nearby and outings to (e.g.) Columbia’s zoo, Folly Beach, Charleston and other cities within driving distance are offered to visiting international students at a modest charge.

The view from my Cliff Apartments’ window.

Cliff Apartments certainly wasn’t the most glamorous accommodation on campus but the apartments were the largest in terms of space and included separate kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom in an open plan space. The only necessity to buy yourself were things like pots, pans, crockery and cutlery. The early-mentioned Walmart trips were a good opportunity to get your hands on the things you need for the apartment early on.

Cooper Library, which you’ll get to know very well.

Overall, USC’s Columbia campus was people by friendly fellow students, very knowledgeable and approachable professors and support staff who were always ready with vital advice and a tasty scone (not like ours at all!) and flat white (I taught them, don’t worry) to raise your spirits. My best advice would be just to be open to anything that’s on offer – I did and saw a Gospel Festival, a speech by Francis Ford Coppola (!!) with screening of his work in progress, some fantastic theatre department productions, a baseball game, a night of role-playing boardgames and a really fun Oscars night at Nickelodeon as a result!

The Ghost Light ceremony with USC’s Theatre Department in attendance.

 

American College Life at Fordham

Julia M., Bachelor of Business/Creative Industries
Fordham University, United States (Semester 1, 2018)

The experience of university in America is extremely different to that of QUT. Everything from the method of teaching, grading and assessment to the college spirit and club involvement was entirely different. My favourite aspect of life at Fordham University was the spirit and enthusiasm that students had towards their school. The campus was covered with flags and statues of the school mascot (a ram) with the huge football field covered in maroon and white (the university’s colours) branding. They even had a store with everything you could ever think of (including baby clothes and dog bones) Fordham branded. People were proud to wear these items, in contrast to at home where you rarely see people in QUT outfits. It was awesome to experience this first hand, and you really felt like part of a community where everyone knew each other and people cared.

The biggest and most challenging difference was the way in which assessment was completed and graded. At home, we usually have 2-3 large assessments for each subject, whereas at Fordham we had a very small assessment due almost every week. Although there was more assessment, I found it easier to get good grades, as the teachers were more lenient with their marking. They do not use criteria sheets and just mark off what they think you should get. There is also no moderating, which caused students to prefer certain professors to others as the marked the work easier. I found this very unusual and strange to deal with at first, as it was hard to know what the professors were looking for when marking my work. I quickly got used to it and found that it was easy to get an A with a little effort. Attendance was also very important. In one of my classes, attendance counted towards 25% of my final grade. If you missed more than 2 lessons unexcused then your final grade would drop one full letter. I found this very stressful as if I was sick I still had to go to class or risk losing a grade.

Overall I had an amazing experience going to Fordham university and would definitely do it all over again if I could. I made amazing friends that taught me about American culture and let me into their lives. The experience of living in New York City was amazing, and being able to explore the 5 boroughs at any time was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I would definitely recommend exchange to anyone, as it helps you develop as a person and gain full independence. Being so far away from home makes you appreciate what you have and learn how to truly look after yourself.