When Your Exchange Destination Becomes Your Home – Molly’s Study Abroad Experience

My time in student accommodation was my first go at living out of home. I surprisingly settled in very quickly, found nearby places to call my local, and got lucky with some lovely European flatmates. Living as a student in one of the most expensive cities in the world was new, tricky at first and very valuable as a learning experience. Although it wasn’t the comfort of home, for a while it was perfect.

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I rarely felt unsafe in London, but I suppose that depends on the area. It was a rattling shock hearing about the Paris attacks in November, especially because I had seen the band whose show was targeted, only a week before. That period was very grounding for us, because it was physically so close and we realised those threats were very real where we now called home. If I did have any trouble, I had a few Australian friends living in London and a close family friend an hour away if I truly got stuck, which I never did.

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Exchange really allowed me to explore my other interests because I had so much free time. I enjoyed a lot of performing arts, galleries and live music. London is bursting at the seams with these sorts of events, as well as hidden coffee gems, street art and pop up shops. I loved that culture.

Someone said to me that Australians are either drawn to the UK or visit once and happily return home for good. After my exchange, I see myself moving back as soon as time and money allows. London very quickly felt like home to me and I really struggled to leave.

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I spent roughly a month on either side of my 3 month semester taking advantage of England’s proximity to mainland Europe. Although I didn’t see a huge number of places, sacrificing a longer list for more time in each really paid off for me. I visited Australian friends on exchange in different cities, learnt about the joys of budget airlines, went on an international student weekend trip, and caught trains and buses over borders. My favourite city in Europe is Amsterdam because of the relaxed vibes and arts scene. I also really loved Switzerland! The day we had on the “Top of Europe” was absolutely beautiful, despite the shockingly cool temps and mild altitude sickness we all faced – lightheaded and giggly for the entire time!

The best of South Carolina

Strengths

I truly believe USC was the best school I could have chosen in the States. Yes, its campus is beautiful, its academics are excellent and the exchange staff are super helpful… but I think what really makes it the best, is its student culture. As with many of the southern schools, the Greek life (fraternities and sororities) is huge (about 30% of girls at USC are members). Unfortunately exchange students only staying a semester can’t join, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still attend their events and get to feel a part of it too. I specifically chose to go on exchange in the fall semester as I wanted to experience Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas in America and because I knew how crazy Americans are about their football.  Even though I never cared a bit about sports, I wanted to witness their football season. I really could not prepare for how much I would love that aspect of the school. Even though the team did badly, USC’s strong school pride never wavered. Rain or shine, the atmosphere on campus and even throughout the city would change leading up to a game day. Everyone got very dressed up, wore the colours and no matter what time the game started everyone would be up early (often 8am or earlier) celebrating and tailgating; which would then often continue right through midnight. Halloween, as I think can be expected across America, was also insane, at USC it lasts a week. Students went out almost every night in a different costume. Again, just the student’s energy, spirit and comradery was so contagious and uplifting. For students who are going in the spring semester don’t worry about missing out on all the above though. USC students have this enthusiasm for all events, and there are plenty in spring (which I wish I could have experienced) like the Carolina Cup, river tubing, and Baseball.pic 1

 

Challenges

I was very fortunate to find great groups of friends early on (although I don’t think this is too hard at USC, given all the societies you can join and the exchange student events the school organises in your first weeks). This meant the hardest thing I had to adjust to was having so much free time (not having a job, a commute to uni, or family to spend time with). However, I never struggled to find things to do in this free time. Before I left, and throughout my trip, I was asked a lot if I would get very homesick being alone. Honestly though, I didn’t really. With technology, it was easy to keep up emotional contact with my family and friends and yes, you may miss out on events, but for me anyway, everything stayed much the same at home. When I came home, it was like I had never left. However, what I did not expect or prepare for at all was the anxiety I would feel about the experience ending. What I found really helped with this was making plans with friends to travel around the country after semester ended. It worked as a great distracter and transition back into home life.

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Finances

Finances were one thing I did struggle with however. I budgeted the recommended $10, 000, and I would have been able to survive on this simply staying the semester. However, I went to Florida, Atlanta, Charleston and Myrtle Beach during semester and then travelled for 2 months afterwards. This meant I went well over my original plan.  Travelling around the country did however really show me how lucky I was living in the South. The cost of living is much cheaper than here with meals under $10 and drinks at a bar often being as low as a dollar. I found being at school was the easiest part of my trip to budget for, as I went on a USC meal plan, and you have to pay for accommodation upfront. For my whole trip I just used my Commonwealth travel money card and never had a problem with it. That being said, I used cash a large amount of the time, as places often require it.

Tips

-Bring a sheet & towel. It takes the pressure of needing to go shopping straight away, it will give you a little more space in your suitcase at the end of your trip, and makes you feel at home straight away.

-Also bring something to decorate your room e.g. photos,

-Do as much as possible in the first weeks. The stalls, sign up events and even students exuberance of wanting to meet people and make friends dies off as classes get settled in.

-Go to class. It’s actually fun and social if you put yourself out there.

-The majority of US students who live in dorms are freshman and sophomore (17-19). Older students live off campus.

-Say yes to every opportunity but also go out of your way to make the most of it –approach people, don’t wait for them to invite you out etc.

-Budget more than you think you need… and then a little more than that again. So you can make the most of being there and say yes to any opportunity that comes up – like flying to Vegas with friends for their graduation celebration.

-Remember that even though Americans are very similar to Australians it’s still a different culture and you need to be sensitive to that and appreciate it for what it is.pic 2

 

Benefits

For me, being on exchange, particularly in America, made me much more outgoing and so confident. Not only with meeting and socialising with new people, but with all kinds of things, being on my own, adjusting to new situations, thinking on my feet and being confident in who I am as a person, my abilities and my independence. My favourite take away however, would have to be the life long bonds I made and that fact that I now feel like I will always have a home away from home in the US.

I would recommend the Student Exchange Program for these exact reasons. It really is a once in a lifetime experience, where you grow and learn so much so fast. It is perhaps the one time in your life where you are completely independent and free to be who you want to be and do what you want to do (within a protected and fun environment). And, there is definitely no other time in your life where you can get the true American college experience.

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Ever wondered how it’s like going to university in New York?

Consider going for an exchange to Fordham University as one of your choice. Going for an exchange isn’t about a semester in your degree but an entire semester of adventure in your life. Here are the top 3 reasons why we love Fordham University:

  • Student life – Fordham University have more than 160 clubs on top of intramurals
  • Multicultural affairs – Fordham University upholds the mission to honor and revere the dignity and uniqueness of each person through the fundamentals of faith, hope, and love
  • American Football Team

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Find out more about studying abroad at Fordham University here.

Andrew at Hong Kong PolyU

At Hong Kong PolyU I studied four subjects; corporate finance, international finance, marketing decision analysis and marketing research. All the courses were taught in English, and the lecturers were able to communicate their content relatively well, as did the students participating in the class. The Accounting and Finance faculty at PolyU opts for a lectorial style format, with small classes of approximately 30-40 students and a single lecturer who simultaneously presents new content and interacts with the class. These classes ran for about three hours, with one class per subject per week. The lectorials all had participation grades and were not recorded. Fortunately, most of the lecturers were willing to accommodate exchange students who wanted to travel or explore Hong Kong, and would make exceptions to support us. The difficulty of the content was fairly comparable to that of QUT and required about an equal amount of work. The content itself was quite interesting and I found myself enjoying the two finance subjects in particular.

As mentioned earlier, I decided to live at the Hung Hom Student Halls while studying in Hong Kong. They are in close proximity to everything, with a 10 minute walk to the MTR subway system which goes to anywhere in Hong Kong, and 5 minutes further to the University itself. The student halls are also exceptionally affordable, costing about $50 AUD a week. Apic5ll rooms in the halls are shared, and I chose to room with a student from a foreign country, though I was given the option to share with another Australian student or local student. I would definitely recommend this choice; you become close friends with your roommate and they can introduce you to other people from their home country. If you do decide to study at PolyU, I highly recommend taking a sleeping bag for bedding; it is comfortable, reduces washing and is incredibly useful for any travel that you may do.

The Halls are divided by every two levels. Each set of two levels was classed as its own ‘Hall’ with a committee that runs events for students living there. Each ‘Hall’ so has their own common areas and cooking equipment, which was a great space to relax and share meals together with friends. The student accommodation also has some exceptional facilities such as a swimming pool, table-tennis tables, pool tables and a gym. All these facilities are either free or very cheap to use. It also provides useful services such as counselling and tutoring support, though I never used them personally.

The cost of living in Hong Kong is relatively low, so I didn’t struggle too much with budgeting. Full-sized meals at restaurants cost anywhere from $5-10 AUD and going out isn’t too pricey either. pic6There are plenty of free cultural events that you can attend, such as the Chinese National Day fireworks or the Mid-Autumn Festival. I was able to stay on a budget of $400HKD ($80 AUD) a week quite easily. I mostly used an international travel money card, which was useful for managing expenses in that you can load budgeted amounts.

My exchange to Hong Kong will always be one of the most memorable experiences of both my studies and my lifetime. There’s a reason why every student returns from exchange missing the country in which the studied, and the people that they met. It’s because only on exchange are you able to grow and learn more about yourself as a human being, while making friendships that you will cherish forever. I’ve come into my own as an adult in the later stages of my degree, become more independent and have an international network of people who I am sure I will visit at a later stage of my life. For that I am so very grateful to have been able to go on exchange and explore the world. I highly recommend that you do too.

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Discovering University of South Carolina

Anna – University of South Carolina, USA: Semester 2, 2015

I chose to study abroad at the University of South Carolina (USC) in the United States. I did this for three reasons mainly. Firstly, I’ve always wanted to travel America, and study abroad and I figured this was a small window where I could experience the “college experience” and really immerse myself in US culture. Secondly, I’ll admit I was slightly worried about being accepted, finding friends and finding somewhere to spend the holidays, so I was banking on the southern hospitality stereotype being true. Lastly, I study Fashion and Advertising, both of which industries are booming in the US, so I thought studying there would provide invaluable, cutting edge knowledge and perspective (and look great on my resume).pic 3

I am so happy to say, for me, all of these hopes were realised, as well as so much more I had not anticipated. Of course there were down times, and I have to attribute many of my positive experiences to me saying yes to every opportunity, and going out of my way make the most of it. But, looking over my time, my exchange was just like something out of an American movie.

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Location

USC is based in Columbia, the capitol city of South Carolina. Before I left, I was slightly put off reading about how big the campus was, with students saying that it’s so big and the public transport is so bad that you would have to buy a bike or maybe even pitch in for a car. But, rest assured, I walked everywhere. Columbia itself has very quaint and picturesque parts in it. Although it’s the capital city, it is fairly small and has a very ‘college town’ feel to it. The campus itself is vast, but quite contained, and as exchange students are required to live in dorms on campus, you can definitely walk to and from all your classes. Outside of the campus there is Five Points and the Vista (which is in what you would call the CBD) they both have a great variety of bars, restaurants and a small number of clothes shops (I did most of my shopping online). They are in opposite directions to each other but again, both are very walkable from campus (approx 15 mins). If you walk to them at night, make sure you go with friends. Although the city is somewhat isolated, there are plenty of great places you can travel to nearby throughout semester if you make friends with an American student with a car, or take public transport like Greyhound buses (again, it’s not advisable to go alone at night). Charleston is an absolute must for me. It’s an amazingly beautiful, historic small city by the ocean with a plethora of great shops, restaurants, bars and clubs and it’s only about 90mins away.

Accommodation

Built in 1801 USC’s campus is beautiful. I was placed in my first housing preference, Woodrow, which I absolutely loved (it is directly opposite the main dining hall). However, the majority of the dorms they place exchange students in are also lovely and historic, particularly the ones on the Horseshoe. USC has a lot of different housing options e.g. single sex to co-ed buildings, sharing a room with one other student, to sharing an apartment with one other student, to sharing an apartment with three other students. If I had to make recommendations based solely on my observations, I would say try to aim for housing in the centre of campus (around the Horseshoe) as it is the most central, so easier to walk around, very safe and scenicpic 4 If you want to make friends with other exchange students and people from all over the world, the international house Maxy is a great option, but you do have to share a bedroom. Otherwise, if you want the best chances of being placed with American students, something like South Quad is great and very social.

Academics

Over all, I absolutely loved the teaching structure at USC. The courses are very hands on, with a lot of student teacher interactions, the same way our high schools are. What’s more, assessment is due much more frequently than ours (weekly), but at a less intense level, much like school homework. I found this method really beneficial for me as it was easier to stay on top of the work, adjust your grades and retain information learnt. I had no electives left when I went on exchange, so this made the subject matching process more difficult. However, I was very happy with the subjects I did choose: Fashion Forecasting, Fashion Product Analysis, Principles of Retailing and Consumer Behaviour. However, had I not have been, just as at home, I could have changed my subjects when I was there before a census date. I particularly enjoyed studying Fashion there as their courses are retail based (students major in either retail management or fashion merchandising), with very practical curriculum that you would need when stepping into a real job.

Andrew explores Hong Kong

My exchange to the Hong Kong Polytechnic University was one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences of my time at QUT. I was exposed to new cultures, new ideas and new ways of thinking, and met an array of interesting people from countries all around the world.pic1

I chose to study at Hong Kong for several reasons. Firstly, Hong Kong is an international hub with a diverse population, food and culture. In a similar fashion, Hong Kong stands as a centre for the business world which aligned well with my passion for finance. Finally, I wanted to explore Asia and see what countries like China had on offer.

Arriving in Hong Kong was initially a very challenge experience. From my very first taxi ride into the city, I noticed that there were language barriers, though many people had a working understanding of English. I also shared a room at the campus halls, which was an entirely new experience altogether. Since my roommate was Chinese, it took some adjusting to accommodate for our different habits and sharing what was a particularly small living space. Ultimately, we became good friends and often assisted each other in day-to-day Hong Kong life.pic2

Hong Kong itself is a busy city. Everything is expected to move quickly, so service is fast, and the people move faster. There are plenty of attractions in Hong Kong; the shopping, great nightlife, unique restaurants and also tranquil natural areas. I found myself enjoying time spent at Hong Kong’s various beaches and hikes. Taking a break from the city life in the more peaceful areas of Hong Kong is quite special. The pictures below are of Hong Kong’s natural infinity pool and the view from Lion’s Rock.

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Experience the best of both worlds; go for an exchange at Norway!

Go global with QUT! We are constantly encouraging students to spend a semester or two studying abroad at one of QUT’s partner university. An exchange experience can develop personal growth and enhance interpersonal skills. If you are thinking about going to Norway, you can study at University of Stavanger and here’s why:

  • Weather – It’s definitely colder here in Norway compared to Brissy and if you are looking to avoid the summer heat next year, it won’t be too late to apply for exchange to Norway
  • Being able to express art the way you like it!

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  • Projects and research – University of Stavanger is home to world class projects and research towards resolving issues of today.

Learn more about University of Stavanger from the university profile we developed here.