I ended up at Aarhus University in Aarhus, Denmark for my outbound exchange program in semester 2, 2015. I say ‘ended up’ here because when I first applied to take part in the outbound student exchange program in late 2014, Denmark hadn’t yet crossed my mind as a destination among my choices but I am so glad that’s where I ended up. After being unsuccessful for my top 3 host university choices in the US, Canada and the UK, my partner (who went with me to Aarhus University) and I informed the International Student Mobility Team of our intention to travel together to the same host university, the team was able to round up and offer us choices of host universities that would be able to accommodate both of us. We started the process of choosing our destination at this point by comparing the expected living expenses of each host nation and after some thorough searching, contemplations and discussions; we decided our first option would be a University in Prague. After deciding on Prague however, we were then told that it too was no longer available to us but that our second option in Aarhus, Denmark was.
Although I had been around to different parts of Australia, prior to my exchange semester, I had never actually been outside of the country. With a 34 hour transfer from Brisbane to Aarhus ahead and never yet going overseas, I had no idea what to expect and was a little nervous to say the least. After arriving in Denmark I was pleasantly surprised to find that every person I met was able to speak English very fluently. During Introduction Week we learnt that English was taught as a language from grade 3 in Denmark and although their preferred speaking language is their native Danish tongue, when prompted to, they are all very good English speakers.
While on exchange, students are generally required to choose courses that must be accepted by course coordinators to replace courses that are part of the planned study within their degrees. With most degrees having elective study included as part of the planned study, as was the case with my degree, I used 4 of my elective spaces to allow myself the opportunity to choose first year subjects at my host institution. The subjects I chose were Financial Accounting, Organisational Behaviour, English Language Business Communication and Aspects of Denmark. By using my electives and choosing first year subjects at my host university, I was able minimise my study load and allow myself the best opportunity to explore and travel throughout the rest of Europe during my time there.
As I previously mentioned; English is as well-spoken in Denmark as Danish is. This was a major contributor to my positive learning experience at Aarhus University. As a Justice student at QUT, I have the option of studying from home by enrolling into external classes. This type of study is not available to students at Aarhus University. The reason for this is that education, including tertiary education, is free in Denmark. Coupled with the fact that Danish students receive a very healthy student allowance from social welfare, it makes sense that students are expected to attend all their classes. This wasn’t a problem for me because I didn’t have any other commitments as a student overseas but it is interesting to see how a ‘social welfare state’ such as Denmark treats their students.
Safety was always one of my top priorities but this was even more the case while I was overseas. To help maintain my safety I made sure I never did anything without doing thorough prior research. I also made use of resources such as International SOS and SmartTraveller to check on the safety warnings they broadcast. No matter what resources I used to plan and prepare myself on trips overseas, the most important thing for my safety was to always be alert and aware of my surroundings. Being in the wrong place will sometimes happen but by being vigilant in these situations, you can avoid getting yourself into any trouble.
Being overseas for nearly 6 months and travelling most of Europe gave me a very good understanding of travel preparation and what must-have items to carry with me at different times. A universal power plug was a very handy item to have while overseas and travelling. An item that I highly recommend having for your temporary ‘home away from home’ is a power board with at least 3 or 4 ports for all your electric devices. This will allow more than 1 power source while eliminating the need to bring spare plug converters. We all rely on our phones very heavily nowadays and this can mean extra strain on phone batteries, especially while travelling. The number 1 item to bring while travelling is a portable battery pack! They can be kept very easily in a backpack and could be your lifesaver when your phone starts running low on battery and you are not anywhere near your accommodation. The last piece of advice I would give regarding travel is to be prepared. When it comes to travelling, there is no such thing as being over prepared. This means triple checking you have all the items you intend to bring, all of the documents you need, checking the times of your transport and being early to catch your transport. There is nothing worse than being stranded and then having to work out alternatives. This will cost you time as well as more money.
Exchange for me was a very eye opening rite of passage. Aside from never having gone overseas, I had also never lived outside of home. My accommodation was organised through the housing department of Aarhus University and I was living in a share-house with other exchange students. This experience was new to me because living with ‘strangers’ was something I had never experienced either until going on exchange. The early stages of my time overseas were filled with learning and realising my day to day responsibilities. After a short time however, it started to become second nature. The experiences I gained in this short period of time was so invaluable to me for a range of different reasons, but the biggest of these reasons would have to be the amount of personal growth and discovery I had by the end of exchange. These are experiences that I will remember and cherish long after I graduate university and if not for any other reason, this one alone is why I recommend going on exchange to any student!