Erin’s Exchange Survival Guide!

I cannot BELIEVE that this time next week I’ll be back in Australia. I have no idea what it’s going to be like. People that went home before me said it feels like waking up from a dream. I wonder if it’ll be the same for me.

I’ve just finished Summer School in Croatia and I’m now in Greece, my final destination before heading home. So, as a side note, here are some quick final photos from Croatia 🙂

As I (rapidly) near the end of my six months abroad, I’ve learnt a lot and have firsthand experience in what’s important when planning an exchange. Unlike most of my other blogs, this is less of a “where in the world is Erin” and more of a “how to” guide.

A year or more before exchange:
• Start looking at partner universities. Check out countries, cities and even courses that you would be interested in. Deciding where to spend one or two semesters is a big decision so do your research.
• SAVE SAVE SAVE! Before I went away, I saved earned and saved a lot of money. You can also take out an extra loan on your normal HECS debt so that can help to supplement your savings.
• Start looking at flights. A lot of things are much cheaper if you book really far in advance. Obviously a year before might be a bit excessive, but it’s good to keep an eye out. Particularly if you’re going somewhere really far and expensive (eg. Europe, America, Canada…)

Closer to your departure:
• Decide on your accommodation. You will generally have a choice between student dorms or private accommodation. I loved living in student dorms because you get to meet so many other students. It was also really convenient for me (as in right in the centre of campus)
• Finalise your subjects early! Getting into subjects was the most stressful part of my entire lead up. Some of the subjects I needed were full and sometimes you can’t get approval for subject matches. So work it out early, find as many options as you can and submit your application as soon as you can.
• Deal with any visas/power of attorney/banking/travel cards. It’s important, particularly with visas, to sort it out as soon as you receive your confirmation. I also signed a power of attorney form in case I needed my parents to do anything like get a copy of my transcript from QUT. Finally, I got a travel card instead of a credit card and it worked really well so look into your options.

Days before:
• PACK! I know you’ll think that you can sort it out the day before. But you really can’t. My biggest hint with packing is, if in doubt, don’t take it. You’re bound to buy stuff while your overseas so don’t overload yourself if you don’t need to. You can survive without that fourth pair of jeans, trust me.
• Online check-in. Some airlines allow online check-in a few days before, others within 24 hours. Online check-in is a gift from the travel Gods so use it. It will make saying your goodbyes at the airport less stressful.
• Quadriple check that you have all the essentials (passport, travel documents, money, cards…) You would be surprised what people forget in the chaotic hours before they fly out.

• For those who don’t fly very often, there are a lot of restrictions on what you can carry. Both in checked luggage and carry-on. Check the airline and airport security restrictions for details.
• Take books/magazines/iPod/laptop/anything you need to keep you amused. I was in transit for 28 hours… 28 HOURS!!! So take something to pass the time.
• Carry a jumper. Depending on where you’re going, the climate might be very different in your departure and arrival destinations. I went from 30-40 degree weather to frost covered England.

You’re made it! Now what:
• Attend any and all welcome events. They’re designed to help you meet new people and settle in so take the tours, attend the speeches and go to the international parties where they make you wear an Australian flag or dress as a kangaroo.
• Attend classes! Remember, you’re actually here to study. Many people tend to fixate more on the “abroad” part of study abroad. But you’re here to do classes that you want to get credit for in Australia so make an effort to learn.
• Sightsee and travel often. I probably took this piece of advice to the extreme. But if there is something that you know you want to visit, make plans and just do it (thanks Nike). Otherwise your exchange will fly by. You’ll get to the end and wonder where all the time went.

Throughout the semester:
• Skype is your best friend. Family and friends want to know where you are and what you’re up to so try to skype them as often as you can.
• Keep attending classes. No additional comments required.
• Do all your assessment and exams! It’s just like QUT. You had to do work to get the marks that allowed you to go on exchange. You have to do work on exchange to get the subject credit you want back at QUT.

It’s all over:
• PACK! You’ll be astounded at how much… stuff (for want of a better word) you’ll accumulate so pack early. That way you’ll have time to throw out/recycle/send home all your… stuff.
• Give out a few Australian gifts. As a guide, clip on koalas and boomerangs have universal appeal.
• Saying goodbye can be really hard. These people become your family for six months or more so it’s likely to be really difficult to leave them behind.

Post exchange:
• Keep in touch with your exchange friends via skype, facebook and email.
• Catch up with all your friends and family. While you’ve been living the exchange dream, they’ve been at home missing you so make sure you catch up with them asap.
• Think about the good parts of being home. You’re with your family and friends and, if you want to, you will travel again in the future!!

Six months seemed like such a long time before I came here. Yet, these six months have completely flown by and have given me the best experiences of my life. I can say I went to the Dawn Service at Gallipoli and I was in London for Kate and William’s Royal Wedding. I had so many amazing travel experiences and can’t wait to return. But, by far the most important part, the people! I’ve met the most incredible friends. People I will travel across the globe to visit in the coming years.

To go on exchange is to push yourself, to embrace new experiences and to grow as a person.  So the only thing I can say now is, “Don’t be sad it’s over, be glad it happened.”

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  1. avatar

    as someone whos been on exchange as well – couldnt have said it better myself. especially the bit about keeping up with classes 😛 haha

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