Experience as much as you can

Picture1I experienced some culture shock, but not as badly as I expected. The first couple of days I kept questioning whether coming on exchange was the right thing to do, was worried that my housemates were too rowdy for me and would spend a lot of time alone. Once I got to know them, though, I got over it and began to enjoy my time a lot more. I didn’t really have any issues with safety, I just used the same amount of caution I use in Brisbane and never ran into any issues. The only other challenge I had to deal with was not being able to do the one subject I really needed to do, but that was more of an annoyance that I sorted out quickly.

My main advice to future exchange students is to be prepared. Be prepared to miss people from back home and make sure you have a skype account. Be prepared to get questioned quite a bit about coming into the UK, it feels scary at the time, but just stay calm and they will let you in. Also, don’t waste any opportunity on exchange. If someone asks if you want to do something or go somewhere, provided it’s not illegal, just say yes. Take the opportunity to experience as much as you can because it will be over before you know it.

Overall, I think exchange has irrevocably changed me as a person. I am much more confident in who I am and the kinds of people I want to have around me. I made lifelong friends I can’t wait to visit. I’m also much more independent than I was which made moving back in with my parents a little bit of a downer because I’m ready to take the next step in my life. Professionally, my exchange solidified my desire to move and work in the UK and a drive to work hard and get there. I would wholeheartedly recommend the Student Exchange Program to every student that asked.

Settling into life in Malaysia

My name is Fiona, a QUT early childhood education student and I am very excited and humbled to be studying at Taylor’s University for one semester as a New Colombo Plan Scholar. Fiona Malaysia3

After living in Malaysia for only 5 weeks, I didn’t expect to have already been provided with such wonderful opportunities to broaden my future prospects or networks. However in just my second week at Taylor’s University, I spoke with Pro Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement who put me in contact with an international school in Kuala Lumpur, as well as organising for me to attend a lunch with High Commissioner to Malaysia.

Fiona Malaysia5Through these connections I have also been in touch with the Head of Junior School and the Australian International School, Malaysia and I am excited to intern at AISM once I have completed my studies at Taylor’s University. Being provided with this opportunity will allow me to broaden my skills as a future educator and equip me with and deeper understanding of knowledge required to accurately educate our younger generations visa vie cultural competency.

One of the largest learning experiences I have had whilst overseas is learning about the importance of patience and open-mindedness. Unsurprisingly, there are many differences in the ways in which a number of procedures (sometimes something as simple as buying groceries) are carried out. Fiona Malaysia4I learnt of the importance of going into a new situation without any prejudice or preconceived ideas of how things ‘should’ be done. I think that too often we see something being done differently from that which we are used to and automatically label it as ‘wrong, rather than just different.  Just because something is unfamiliar doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  There can be more than one way to complete a task, from grocery shopping, to boarding a train, to running a classroom, all of which are different, but equally as correct.

I’ve also been lucky enough to have some time spare to get my PADI open waterFiona Malaysai1 diving certificate while I’ve been here! It was an amazing experience where we got to dive with beautiful fish, sharks and stingrays, as well as spend time with Monkey, a beautiful monkey who was abandoned and has been taken care of by one of the people living at the dive resort.  It was amazing to be able to go swimming with her and see her excitedly jump onto her owner’s kayak and go for a ride.

I look forward to seeing what new adventures and opportunities await over the next few months in Malaysia!


Fiona Malaysia2

Thinking about going to Hong Kong for an exchange?

Just like QUT, Hong Kong Polytechnic is also in the QS Top 50 Under 50 in the year of 2015 and is QUT’s partner university! Take this opportunity to expand your horizon while studying in a different country. Here are three reasons why you should consider Hong Kong Polytechnic University as one of your choice:

  • Amazing facilities in the Students Halls of Residence – meaning accommodation settled! Watch this video by Hong Kong Polytechnic University here.
  • Outstanding sport team ranging from rugby to swimming and also fencing! And perhaps a lot of creativity cycling too!


  • Food catering service – The university has a variety cuisines you can choose from so home wouldn’t feel too far away!

Browse through the university profile for Hong Kong Polytechnic University provided by us here.

A tiny little house…

In Swansea, I studied ‘Youth Justice’, ‘Criminalisation of Sex’ and ‘Crime, Drugs and Alcohol’. I was amazed by the fact, especially in the youth justice module, that the lecturer was actually involved in developing a new youth justice system and most of the articles we read for the subject were written by him. Comparing Swansea to QUT, however, QUT comes out on top.

I enjoy having lecture slides available for download before a lecture so I can print them out and this does not happen at Swansea. It took about a week for slides to go up on blackboard on average. Also, I do not believe blackboard is used to its full potential like it is used at QUT. The level of work, however, was similar to my experience at QUT. The exception to this is that two of my modules only had one piece of assessment for each, which I thought was quite odd.

With regards to accommodation, my perception changed quite a lot. I stayed at Hendrefoelan Student Village and at first I was horrified that this tiny little house, with my tiny little room and a tiny little kitchen was to be my home with another 9 people for the next 5 months. However, after meeting my new house mates and getting comfortable, I came to love my little slice of heaven.

Power, water and internet were all included in the rent so we never had to worry about that. We shared two bathrooms and all had sinks in our rooms; though the water looked a little funky every now and again. Every second day someone would come and take out the garbage and every second week cleaners would clean the bathrooms and kitchens, provided there were no dirty dishes in the sink. While the accommodation took some getting used to and could have been better for the price I paid, I would never change it because that house gave me some of the best memories of my life.

I budgeted $15000 for this trip, including for holidays, and came back with just $60, which I think was completely worth it. Accommodation is a lot more expensive, so too is certain foods. However, prepaid phone plans are much cheaper and a lot better value than in Australia. I mainly used a Travelforex travel card which I found to be really good as it doesn’t charge you for converting money and only charges you $2 to withdraw money. The only drawback with this is that you have to Bpay money onto the account and if you’re like me and forget to check the card regularly, you might be low on money until the Bpay goes through.

New Colombo Plan in the Pacific

If there was one sentence that could capture the first half of my time in Fiji under the New Colombo Plan, it would go something along the lines of: diving deep to a reggae beat, safe in the eye of the storm.

My first two and a half months studying at the University of the South Pacific have been nothing short of a rollercoaster: an unpredictable and exhilarating ride. There have been fiery sunsets over the Pacific Ocean, snorkelling with reef sharks on the outer islands, watching mist dance among the mountains that rim Suva Harbour, a killer hike in 100 per cent humidity with 360 degree views of those very same forested peaks, pot luck meals with international students from around the world, singing with the USP Graduation Choir, and a blissful kind of serenity that bubbles up on early morning bus rides into town. There are days where life here feels like its falling into a beautiful rhythm.

Kate Fiji1And then there are other days, usually filled with the kind of oppressive heat that makes it hard to move and think or periods of waiting that drives anyone unaccustomed to island time (read: me) up the wall. They are the days that I’m crabby because I’m missing home or just feeling overwhelmed; it didn’t take long to realise that everything from interning to grocery shopping feels harder when you’ve got to learn your way through an unfamiliar environment before you can even start the task at hand.

Kate Fiji6Add to that mix cyclone season, which has been ruthless this year. Fiji has had several tropical depressions and minor cyclones since Cyclone Winston hit in February. Many of the country’s poorest households lost family members, homes, schools, subsistence crops, power… for many people, there’s a very long road ahead before life can return to normal.


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A view of the devastation from Cyclone Winston

Working with the High Commission in the wake of Cyclone Winston

Working with the High Commission in the wake of Cyclone Winston

I realised in the weeks after Winston that I’d been relying on the familiarity of certain routines— going to work in the commercial bustle of downtown Suva or to class amidst the eddies of students on campus— to ground myself while I settled in. While I noticed and adored little differences like the rowdy reggae remixes blasted on all the city buses and the abundance of hibiscus flowers on every street, it took the fervour of the nationwide recovery efforts to remind me that there are big differences between Fiji and Australia, and that I had a lot to learn by immersing myself in that gap.

I’ve since thrown myself in to every opportunity that’s come my way, no matter how uncertain I feel about my capabilities. I’ve been keeping up with classes, interning with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development, attending public forums that explore the nuances of climate change and development in the Pacific, and squeezing in as much local travel as possible. After my semester in Fiji, I have a six week internship with the Office of Attorney General in Bhutan and a three month internship in Tuvalu to look forward to before graduation this December.

It’s safe to say that the New Colombo Plan has given me access to some unreal opportunities and insights. When I arrived in Suva, I knew that I wanted to spend my life working for human rights and climate justice, but didn’t know what kind of work I might want to experience, let alone what I wanted to do with my graduate years. In the few short months that I’ve since been an NCP Scholar in Fiji, with the support of the Australian High Commission, I’ve been able to reach out to and gain invaluable experience interning with two very different regional organisations that are both working to protect and promote human rights in the Pacific.

Attending a New Colombo Plan event with a fellow scholar

Attending a New Colombo Plan event with a fellow scholar

I’m learning a lot through this work, including technical skills and a more nuanced understanding of regional politics, trends, strengths and challenges. Perhaps most importantly however, I’ve discovered an amazing sense of best fit. Oceania feels like the best place I can be to learn from an incredibly diverse, resilient and connected peoples, to try and test my professional capacity as a human rights defender, and most excitingly of all, to wait and see what other twists and turns this rollercoaster has in store.

Kate Fiji5Kate Fiji3Kate Fiji7

Business study in Beijing

My plane lines up for it’s approach into Peking Airport and as I peer through the window, I get my first impression of this historic and traditional city. I’m confronted with clear blue skies and the temperature is registering in the negatives. It’s far from the smog covering and pollution that I have been promised by the media. The day is beautiful. Not many bottles of fresh air will be sold here today I suspect.

I’m told that a few enterprising entrepreneurs have made their millions by bottling and selling cans of fresh air to citizens of this city. I’m in Beijing, the capital of China. China is the most populated country in the world and has the fastest growing economy. Could there be a more challenging or interesting place than this to spend a semester abroad?

A brilliant lookout of Beijing's Forbidden City

Beijing’s Forbidden City

Over the next six months I will be attending Renmin University, which ranks as one of the best in the capital. During my time in the orient, I hope to learn some of the language, history and culture of this vast country.

Australia has a strong economic reliance on Chinese growth and demand for natural resources. As a result of our strong economic ties, the Australian Federal Government offers a significant amount of funding for Australian undergraduates to study in China under the New Colombo Plan. As part of this program, I strongly encourage anyone interested in undertaking a semester abroad in China to look into the grants available under this program.

If you are interested in following my experiences in the Far East, I will be making further posts over the next six months.

Until next time,




Best university in UK – voted by students!

My reason for choosing Swansea University is twofold; the fact it is in the UK and that the modules paired well with my QUT subjects. Upon arrival, I was warmly greeted by Study Abroad staff at Heathrow Airport which I was very grateful for as I was quite nervous. They also helped me carry my bags to my new home. Swansea University, in general, looked quite Celtic with lush green grounds and vines growing on the building walls, which I loved.

Swansea itself is both beautiful and slightly ugly at the same time. It has an amazing beach running alongside the main road which you can see from lecture room windows (I found myself gazing out the window a lot) and cute little towns like Mumbles. On the other hand, the industrial nature of Swansea can make the town look a little scary in places, but they are easily avoided. Wales, as a whole, is a spectacular place to live with small towns where everyone knows each other and green landscapes galore.

Swansea University’s facilities are quite good, but I must admit QUT are a lot more technologically savvy than my exchange counterpart. I found enrolling quite challenging and annoying at Swansea University, an issue I have never had at QUT. That being said, overall the facilities at Swansea University are more than adequate, they just need a little more modernising.

The key strengths of Swansea University are how welcoming the first two weeks are as well as its research and real world applications of lectures. It is well known for being the best university in the UK voted for by students. However, it is also well known for being a good university for engineering, especially with the new engineering campus opening in September.

Time to head abroad! Stellenbosch Uni, here we come!

Here at QUT, we like to help out. While scouring the WWW, we came across one of our university partners for exchange, Stellenbosch University. Here are three things we LOVE about Stellenbosch Uni:

  • Great student societies – we love that they have a student organisation that serves the needs of International students and organise social event for you to learn more about South Africa!
  • All about community engagement – you get to learn outside the classroom, applying everything you learn theoretically into practical work volunteering for the greater good in the society.
  • They have a botanical garden just like us!


Find out more on what you can study and the exchange program information here.

Trapped in an ice storm – a true Canadian experience

The benefit of living on campus was that most of my expenses were paid before I left Australia. My residence fees, meal plan fees, and flights made up the bulk of my expenses and cost me around $7000, paid for with my QUT Bursary and OS-HELP loan money. Consequently, I only needed to budget for spending money, souvenirs, and emergencies, which ended up costing me about $3000. While I was in Canada, the Canadian Dollar was only sightly stronger than the Australian Dollar which meant that I didn’t lose out on currency exchange too badly. I was also surprised by how cheap everything was. As a person who is addicted to Coca-Cola, this is the best comparison I can make: I might pay $3.50 for a 600mL of Coke at home, but in Canada I was buying the comparable size for $2!

Culture shock and missing home can make life on Exchange difficult, but being open to opportunities definitely made my Exchange more enjoyable. I spent my Easter break in a Quebecois household where we ate traditional Quebecois food, and I spent a week trekking around (beautiful!) Montreal and watching the hockey playoffs with dedicated fans.

The biggest challenge I faced was one that I couldn’t have predicted. I was involved in a single vehicle car accident in icy/snowy conditions while on the way to Montreal for the mid-semester break. Everyone involved was fine, but having never been in a car accident before it was unquestionably terrifying. It meant that my plans to go to Montreal were scrapped and instead I spent four days in Brockville, Ontario with my friend and her family while she recuperated from her concussion. As they said to me afterwards, “a car crash in bad weather? Now you can say you’ve had the true Canadian experience!” Her parents ended up taking us to a traditional “Sugar Shack” to make up for us missing our mid-semester break, which ended up being one of the highlights of my trip.

I suggest to anyone travelling abroad to be patient and be open to possibilities. There were several times where I felt like turning around and coming home, but by persevering and keeping an open mind, I ended up better for it. From being stranded three times on my way to Montreal due to a freak ice storm, or going on a trip to Ottawa without any of my new friends, to being involved in a scary car crash, most of the things that I either did or had happen to me provided me with a cool experience and a cool story to tell. Participating in the Student Exchange Program immerses students in a different culture and allows them to learn something about the world and themselves in the process.

Sea of purple

McKayla - Bishop's University, Canada (5)

I soon learned that Bishop’s was well-known for being a party school, a reputation probably harboured by its remote location partnered with a friendly and energetic atmosphere and a feeling of closeness amongst the student body. It is also known for having a particularly raucous crowd with a penchant for “chirping” the opposition at sporting events, a fact that I got to know intimately from watching hockey and basketball games with a sea of purple at my back.

I was lucky enough to have four electives available to me for my exchange, and I used them to take classes in literature and sociology. The academic intensity was similar to that at QUT, but the marking system was slightly different. All of the classes I took were taught in a combined lecture-tutorial format with an emphasis on student input and interaction, a configuration I’m very familiar with as a student from the School of Justice.

While at Bishop’s I stayed on-campus in a single room in Mackinnon Hall, a traditional dormitory-style residence hall. Mack was close to both the dining hall and the student recreation building and contained two recreation rooms with TVs; this made it super easy to watch the Ottawa vs Montreal hockey games that were customary hall-wide viewing. As a dormitory-style residence hall, Mack provided a really great social atmosphere to what would normally be an isolating experience for me. The students were always ready to dress up for nights at the Gait (the student bar), or for simply hanging out before bed. It also meant giant “family” dinners where everyone in my section would eat dinner together, taking up one giant table because there were so many of us!