Charlotte – Aston University – United Kingdom
Semester 1, 2023
Bachelor of Business
Upon embarking on my exchange experience, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel over to the United Kingdom (UK) and reside in London for 6 months before moving up to Birmingham to start my exchange at Aston University. My time in London gave me the opportunity to live with a British family and experience their day-to-day routines. This was an experience that I thoroughly enjoyed and gave me a great first insight into British cultural norms. I was nervous when I left Australia, as I was unsure of when I would next return and what to expect in my years abroad to follow. However, I embraced the experience that was provided to me by QUT to undertake an exchange.
Adapting to new environment
Part of the reason I chose to attend Aston in Birmingham, was due to what I perceived as similar cultural norms, that being sharing historical ties and a common language. As my exchange progressed and I interacted with more people I started to realise there are subtleties between our cultures such as communication styles, social etiquette, humour, and attitudes towards authority. An example of this was my use of light-heated humour which often did not evoke the response I was expecting. I found by the end of the exchange that in certain situations I was modulating some of my behaviours to better assimilate. I now feel both confident and comfortable that I could continue to live and work in the UK, in the future.
My exchange experience had several high and low points. At the commencement of my exchange, I received the subjects I would be studying each semester. I was pleased as they were subjects I was interested in and believed would be valuable for my future career. At the start of the semester, I quickly realised that the curriculum delivery was different to QUT. For example, the pass mark for subjects was 40% (compared to QUTs 50%) and each subject only had 1 form of assessment piece which was an exam. The exams had a 24hr access period and were undertaken online all with a weighting of 100%. I was so used to having extremely busy semesters at QUT with multiple pieces of assessment due at various times and engaging with other students throughout the entire semester.
I initially thought the assessment method was great, however, I soon realised it meant that many students chose to only engage virtually. By living on campus, I had the expectation of meeting and engaging with fellow students. For the first month, the students I lived with socialised, and I was enjoying the experience. As the semester progressed and with most of the delivery being online, I found other students withdrawing and spending significant amounts of time in their rooms. This was a low point and I thought I could be sitting in Brisbane and participating online and having the same experience.
Working in Birmingham
To compensate for the lack of face-to-face people interaction I took on a part time job with Pandora. I enjoyed my time working at Pandora as I could interact with my fellow colleagues and customers. This positive experience gave me a full emersion into what it is like to work in the UK. Overall, my business management knowledge was enhanced through the units I studied and while I felt let down by the level of engagement in the university community, I did compensate for this by taking on a part time job. Birmingham is one of the first super-diverse cities in the UK, with 51.4% of the city’s population representing ethnic minorities. Woking part-time at Pandora in the heart of Birmingham gave me full exposure to the diversity of the community.
Being able to reflect on my exchange experience I believe is important as it allowed me to not focus on the negatives but also remember many of the positive cultural experiences. Being immersed in the British culture, gave me a greater appreciation and awareness of the Australian culture. Overall, people are generally more positive regarding their way of life, I believe mainly due to lifestyle, and yes the weather. However, the key takeaways from my time at Aston University would be my personal growth and independence. After being faced with many challenges thrown at me, being able to step out of my comfort zone and problem solve is a life-long skill I am glad I have been exposed to. Living and working in the UK improved my intercultural communication skills and allowed me to adapt to diverse situations to successfully navigate my time here. Most importantly, the exchange has provided me with a launch pad for my future career. It has cemented my desire to be in the world of International Business Management and I cannot wait to what lies ahead.
Find out how you can apply for exchange via the QUT Student Exchange website.