Month 1 – Done and Dusted!

Even though I’ve hit my one month mark, I still struggle to believe I’m living in what has got to be one of the world’s most incredible cities. I feel as though my life has been flipped upside down a little, and in the midst of the excitement I’m sadly realizing my time here is going to absolutely fly by. In saying that, my settling-in experience hasn’t been totally flawless, so for those considering jetting-off to Shanghai Jiao Tong, I hope the information contained in this blog update ensures your transition is a little smoother than mine.

 

First point I want to make, all those stories you hear of pollution being terrible here? They’re not exaggerating. Initially, it will almost feel like you’re walking through a physical substance, and participating in any sort of sporting activity will leave you out of breath way faster than normal. The ever-present cigarette smoke doesn’t help much either. Secondly, before arriving I was always told how Shanghai is the Chinese city where East meets West. Traditional Chinese-style houses neighbor with those of a more classical French-style, and it’s just as easy to find a crepe as it is a dumpling. Whilst there is definitely some truth in this, the largest misconception I gained from these tales was that English was pretty commonly spoken across the city. This is definitely NOT the case, so if you’re arriving with little-to-no Mandarin skills, download Duolingo and brush up on those key phrases. You’ll need them. If nothing else, my pro-tip would to be print out your arrival address in Chinese to give to your driver. They will really appreciate it, and it’ll make your life just that bit easier.

 

On the topic of transport, taxi’s here are SUPER cheap, as is the metro. You’ll definitely benefit from a metro card so make that a number one priority when you arrive. The metro system here is also really easy to navigate, so don’t worry about getting lost. However, be warned that trains here, like Brisbane, don’t run all night. So, on those nights when you’re exploring the cities unbelievably amazing nightlife (make Bar Rouge your first stop!), and want to head home before 6am, take a MARKED taxi. Unmarked taxis are a massive scam here so be vigilant. Also, never catch a taxi from directly outside a club or bar. They’re generally about 4 times the price, so it’s worth your while to walk five minutes down the road. Another important note for when you’re out and about, always always always have a copy of your passport/visa on you. Whether it be a photo on your phone, a print out of a scan or the real thing (which I don’t recommend as pickpocketing is an issue here). Police officers here have the right to ask to see a copy at any time and any place. Refusal or inability to give them anything they ask may land you in hot water. To quote our security officer, ‘don’t use things like human rights as an excuse!’. You also need it to do things like travelling domestically, booking a hostel room in addition to orientation or registration at your university.

When you do begin university life, there will be an absolute stack of admin to do. My advice would be to write a list, and get it done as soon as possible. First things first, set up a WeChat account – you honestly can’t live here without it. You use it to pay vendors, shop online, contact tutors, be informed about class info etc. For that last one, WeChat basically takes the place of Blackboard, so it is really important. When you set up your banking, get to the bank early unless you want to spend 3 hours sitting in their lobby (you don’t). Don’t forget your TFN either! When you get a sim card, I recommend China Unicom. You get unlimited data for a very reasonable price, and it’s a reliable network country-wide. If you’re studying/living in the Xuhui campus, there’s a Unicom and BOC branch right outside one the main gates, so it’s pretty convenient. Speaking of, if you’re torn between living on Minhang or Xuhui, I would highly recommend Xuhui. Not only is Minhang really far away from downtown Shanghai, but because it’s so big it has become its own little city. What I’ve heard from people who live there, is that this means you become rather reluctant to leave and explore because everything you want is around you, and you end up missing out on all Shanghai has to offer. There is a shuttle bus that runs between the two, but it’s still a hassle. So, unless the majority of your classes are taught there, I would say book in Xuhui. Side note, if you do book in Xuhui, your options are; Lianxing building and Tao Li Yuan. The former is an older building, and only the rooms on the top level have been renovated. The latter is new, and all the rooms are much more modern. I’m stuck on Lianxing level one which isn’t that nice, but I’m only here for one semester so I’m willing to put up with it. It was also, like everything in this country, so incredibly cheap that it’s not really worth complaining about.

 

Last but not least, if you are here on an X2 visa (one semester), you cannot obtain a Residence Permit visa. This is contrary to what I had been told, so it was a bit of a disappointment. You can add one more entry to your visa if you want, but that’s it. Just a word of warning!

 

Well that wraps up my post for month one! If you have any specific dorm orientated questions don’t hesitate to ask because I found very little information myself when I was looking. Until next time!

A Cultural Explosion – My first few weeks in Hong Kong

Regina Collins

Bachelor of Law (Honours)/Bachelor of Media and Communication

Hong Kong Baptist University (Semester 2, 2018)

你好 (Nǐ hǎo) or Hello!

My name is Regina Collins and I’m in my third year of studying a Bachelor of Law (Honours)/Bachelor of Media and Communication at QUT. I have just started my Semester Exchange at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) here in Hong Kong and it’s hard to believe it’s already been a month since I began this journey.

Hong Kong as an exchange destination is everything I hoped it would be – a true explosion of culture. No matter where you’re from, I believe that Hong Kong has a place for you and the rich variety of culture is what makes living here such a fascinating and eye-opening experience. I decided when applying for the QUT Study Abroad program that I wanted to live in an entirely new culture unlike anywhere I’ve lived before. And while I will say that Hong Kong has fit that description, there is a certain similarity to Australian culture that make this place instantly feel like a second home.

Adjusting to living in a sleepless city like Hong Kong did take a few days. By the end of week one, I had mastered the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) system and using my Octopus Card (which is, in a lot of ways, similar to that of a Go-Card in Queensland). I can now also navigate around my campus neighbourhood, know where the cheapest place to buy groceries is, and have a basic understanding of Hong Kong Currency in comparison to the Australian Dollar.

Having been here for a month now, I can definitely say I’m making the most of this incredible experience. A few of my favourite journeys so far have been catching the tram up to Victoria Peak, navigating through the Ladies’ Market in Mong Kok, taking the cable car up to the Big Buddha on Lantau Island, and of course, Hong Kong Disneyland.

Through this, I have formed memories with so many incredible people from around the world and began what I hope to be lifelong friendships.

At the end of the day, I still like l have so much to explore on this exchange and I look forward to seeing what else this beautiful, vibrant and cultural city has to offer. I intend to keep learning and thriving in such a unique environment and I’m so grateful to QUT and NCP for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime.

希望再次见到你 (Xīwàng zài jiàn dào nǐ) or Hope to see you again soon!

This student’s exchange is supported by funding from the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan

My Japan Travel Blog – Adjustment and Immersion

Andy Wong

Bachelor of Laws (Honours)

Meiji University, Japan (Semester 2, 2018)

Upon arriving at my dormitory in the Izumi International House, I was most excited to make new friends from all over the world. I’ve been able to meet lovely people from Spain, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Korea, America, Canada and many more. This diversity has allowed myself to further develop my interpersonal skills and overcome language barriers. Being able to connect with others from different cultures is always exciting as I’m able to learn more about their different cultures and make long-lasting relationships.

The first few days of adjusting to living in another country was different but not difficult. Being able to explore and immerse myself in this beautiful city has made even the struggles a wonderful experience. At times I would get lost and accidentally hop on the wrong train, but all of that was part of the cultural experience to live independently. With Tokyo being the capital of Japan, many locals understood English which made it easy to communicate in addition to their polite culture. The wonderful night life makes staying out irresistible as you never know what exciting new stores you may find.

Within our first week of arrival at the dormitory, all residents were invited to participate in the Omikoshi Festival where everyone was encouraged to carry the 400kg portable Shrine for 3km to the primary Kumano Shrine. Upon arrival we were greeted by many stalls which sold street food and was able to experience a variety of delicious street food.

A few days later, orientation at Meiji University had began. Since I am in the School of Global Japanese Studies, my faculty was at the Nakano campus where the structural integrity focuses on vertical architecture which made the buildings very tall. This allowed a large amount of facilities to be accessible without consuming a significant portion of the land. Since everything was stacked into one building, this made it very easy to travel through. If you needed to go from the sports gym to the administrative office, to the doctor’s clinic, all that could be achieved by simply using the elevator! The campus was beautiful and very modern which reminded me of the Garden’s Point campus.

After touring the campus, we greeted the support group which is a group of local Japanese students who are there to help guide us through the exchange experience. If there’s one thing I’ll remember, it’s that the Japanese love to party! There are many events for exchange students to participate in such as sightseeing tours, tea ceremonies, sporting events and many more.  The supporters are incredibly friendly and welcoming, making it easy to transition. I’m excited to attend their parties and to meet new people!

As classes do not commence until September 21st, I will be enjoying my time travelling to each ward and exploring all the artistic works and stores Tokyo has to offer. During my short time here so far, I have learnt that Japanese people are incredibly artistic ranging from their visual art to their music which ultimately influences their culture. Everywhere I look I see artistic opportunity which is an eye-opening experience, especially compared to Australia.

During my time here, I’m hoping to learn new skills which allow myself to become more open-minded and adaptive. Being in another country where I am not familiar or knowledgeable in their healthcare system, culture or mannerisms is a challenging but new experience for me. To be able to overcome these challenges, especially in a country where Japanese is not my native language, I believe will help me succeed not only in my personal life but professional life. I believe this journey will help me learn skills that I am unable to learn if I had not travelled overseas. Furthermore, I want to be able to make new friends from across the globe to share these experiences with. I believe the most important thing in life whether it be personal or professional is making strong and long-lasting relationships. Not only can you learn a lot from living in a different country from rules and culture, but you can learn the most from other people!

This student’s exchange is supported by funding from the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan.

Hangzhou – a city of wonder, natural beauty and the perfect place to study and learn!

Jack Ennis

Bachelor of Business – International

Zhejiang University, China (Semester 2, 2018)

Hi! I’m Jack, a third year BS08 Bachelor of Business – International student currently on exchange in Hangzhou, China! After a semester in Qingdao, China, I came to Zhejiang University in Hangzhou to really fine-tune and hone my Mandarin Chinese language and cultural skills. With China, one of the largest markets in the world, being so close to Australia, being well versed in Chinese language and culture provides a competitive advantage in bilateral relations and trade partnerships. These skills help both securing jobs in the Asia-Pacific region, and helping strengthen Sino-Australian dealings.  Although I major in Finance, business opportunities in the Asia Pacific region and China in particular are increasing exponentially across a broad range of disciplines and industries.   Zhejiang University, one of the best universities in China is in the downtown centre of bustling Hangzhou, a melting point of Chinese language, culture, history and business alike.

Zhejiang University – Zi Jin Gang Campus

With my classes only just beginning, we have had a perfect opportunity to explore this fascinating city, and all it has to offer. On every side, Zhejiang University Yuquan campus is surrounded by fascinating things to see and do. Just south of the university is QingZhiWu road, an area full of great restaurants, peaceful cafes and a myriad of small hotels and hostels. Its clean, modern layout, mixed with a traditional Chinese design make it an interesting place to visit. This area is right next to the Hangzhou Botanical Garden, a great place to exercise, stroll or study alike.

QingZhiWu

Further south of the campus is the beautifully tranquil West Lake. It has been recorded by countless Chinese poets and authors throughout history. With its beautiful scenery, fresh air, and the home of a recent ecommerce festival held by Alibaba, it is the perfect eclectic mix of old and new, the epitome of Chinese culture in the modern world.

West Lake

At first glance, Hangzhou is a city of wonder and natural beauty. When you look closer however, it is the perfect place to study and learn. Whether you’re a student in business, science and engineering, creative industries, law, or anything at all, Hangzhou is the perfect place to immerse yourself in true Chinese culture and equip yourself with the skills necessary to take a proactive stance in Australian-Chinese relations and trade. I look forward to fine-tuning my Chinese from some of the best teachers in the country, while exploring the surroundings, talking to locals and learning more about the history of the city. Zhejiang University, with a history of over 120 years, provides a perfect opportunity to do this on exchange.

Zhejiang University – Yuquan Campus

This student’s exchange is supported by funding from the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan

Hong Kong = Sleepless City!

Kate K.

Bachelor of Business – International

Hong Kong Polytechnic University (Semester 2, 2018)

Hi, my name’s Kate. I’m a third-year marketing student and I’ve just begun my year of exchange. I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks since I hopped on an aeroplane and began my adventure abroad on exchange at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. It’s been a whirlwind of vibrant colours, breathtaking sights, mouth-watering tastes and incredible people and I can’t imagine myself ever wanting to leave this sleepless city!

I think Hong Kong is the kind of place that has something for everyone. It’s a buzzing metropolis where the buildings touch the sky, and the lights and people dance all through the night. It’s a culturally rich and diverse city with thousands of different cuisines at your door waiting for you to try them; and it’s an amazing country for anyone who wants to stretch themselves and open their eyes to a completely different way of life to what they already know.

Strangely enough I don’t think Hong Kong is a difficult environment to adjust to living in and I think this is because it’s so extensively diverse that finding a place to fit in with the way of life is pretty simple. I think the only thing I’ve found difficult to wrap my head around is using my transport card or “Octopus Card” to pay for services other than public transport. Here in Hong Kong your Octopus card can be used to pay for meals at both food courts and the university cafeteria, as well for any items at convenience stores like 7 Eleven (which is on every corner) and supermarkets. On the other hand, I think I may have adjusted my mindset almost too quickly, to how insanely cheap food is here, to the point where my initial reaction to a dinner costing over $100HKD (just under $20AUD) is that it’s really overpriced.

Every spare moment I have here I try to fill with all of the incredible things to see and do. I took the above picture at Victoria Peak, one of the best-known tourist hot spots in Hong Kong. I believe there are three parts to complete the entire Peak experience. The first is to ride the tram up to the top. It travels up hill at a very steep incline which causes all the surrounding buildings to look like they’re at a severe angle; and makes you very grateful that they’re no longer using the wooden one from 1888. The second part is of course to take in the amazing views offered from both the restaurants and Lion’s Pavilion (where the picture was taken). The third is to hike the trails down to either Pok Fu Lam, Central or Aberdeen and take in the luscious scenery.

Another experience which I can’t recommend enough is taking the cable car to Ngong Ping and climbing up to see the Big Buddha. The views from the cable car are absolutely spectacular… there really is no other way to describe it. The day we went was very overcast, so the cable car actually took us through some low clouds. The Big Buddha itself is simultaneously imposing and ethereal as he sits up with the clouds. I definitely recommend trying to go on a day that is a bit overcast or rainy because not only do you avoid the crowds, but also because the low hanging clouds give the experience an almost mystical vibe; as you can see in the photo below.

The things I’m looking forward to most on this exchange are the amazing sights I’ll see, food and activities I’ll try, but most importantly, I’m keen to immerse myself in Hong Kong’s global atmosphere and gain a greater understanding of cross-cultural communication. I’m also excited to embark on a well-rounded experience working with people from a plethora of cultural backgrounds on projects like university assignments; and expanding on that I would like to create friendships and connect with people who I would otherwise have never had the pleasure of getting to know without this exchange opportunity.

These first two weeks have been spectacular, and I’m eager to see what unforgettable experiences the next four months will bring.

This student’s exchange is supported by funding from the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan.

5 Reasons Why Shanghai is a Decision You Won’t Regret!

Natalie Malins, Bachelor of Business – International

Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Semester 1 2018

My BS08 degree entails a compulsory year abroad for which I chose to go to Shanghai and Paris. For my first semester abroad, I was lucky enough to receive the New Colombo Plan (NCP) mobility grant from the Australian government. I had many reasons as to why I chose to study in Shanghai, however, it mainly came down to the fact that I wanted to improve my Mandarin while learning more about the exponential growth of the Chinese economy.

The first few weeks were admittedly a bit of a rollercoaster (as they usually are with every exchange I suppose). Settling in and getting accustomed to the Chinese way of life proved to be a bit challenging at times, especially with the admin and visa side of things. Nonetheless, after getting myself sorted, I was able to relax and take in all that Shanghai had to offer. Four months later, I can happily say that I fell in love with the city. I could ramble on about it for ages if you let me, so here are the five main reasons why:

  1. University life

Shanghai Jiao Tong University is a very reputable and prestigious university in China. There are two campuses, one in Xuhui (the city), and one in Minhang (about an hour drive out of Shanghai). I attended orientation day at Minhang and was surprised at the large amount of exchange students. People always asked me, “aren’t you scared to go over there by yourself?”. The answer was of course! But I soon realised that everyone was in the same boat as me and there was nothing to be worried about.

I had classes from Tuesday to Friday, each class being around 2-3 hours. Classes were usually in a small classroom consisting of 15-25 students. Both campuses were nothing short of extraordinary and I was surprised at how well-kept everything was. I was at the Xuhui campus most of the time which had a canteen, restaurants, tennis courts, athletic track and not to mention, beautiful tree-lined streets.

  1. Culture

China’s culture is one of the world’s oldest cultures and if you ask me, one of the most intriguing. Shanghai is a bustling city with plenty of things to do from The Bund, to the French Concession, to the Umbrella Markets. What I found to be interesting was the mix of the ‘new’ and the ‘old’ Shanghai. I lived in Xintiandi, which is a tourist attraction covered with fancy restaurants and expensive boutiques. However, walk 5 minutes away from it and you find yourself in what I would’ve imagined Shanghai to look like a century ago; butcher stalls with meat hanging from the ceilings, old men playing chess on the streets in their pyjamas, street sweepers weaving their own brooms, old couples dancing in the park. With Shanghai growing into a modern city at such a rapid rate, I love that it still maintains its own unique character and charm.

As for the food…I think you can guess how amazing (and cheap) it is.

  1. People

I discovered the locals to be extremely friendly and helpful. The locals who lived in my residence were very chatty and pleasant, even when they couldn’t speak English. Additionally, the expat community is massive in Shanghai. I met people from all over the world and have stayed in close contact with many. You’ll find an international city like Shanghai to be quite transient, which is why people are more open to the idea of meeting new people.

  1. Nightlife

If you’re looking for a place with a CRAZY nightlife scene, Shanghai is your place. Many nightclubs have promoters, who give you free entry and free drinks all night. This is literally a city that never sleeps, and you can find something fun to do even on a Monday night.

  1. Travel

One of the definite bonuses of studying in China is its accessibility to the rest of Asia. I managed to travel to Thailand, Hong Kong, Beijing, Suzhou, Nanjing, Hangzhou and Zhangjiajie (aka the Avatar Mountains). There are so many interesting and beautiful places in China alone that you don’t even need to leave the country. There are multiple airports and train stations in Shanghai which make it very easy to get around. Trains are reliable, affordable and super efficient. My highlights were definitely the Great Wall Festival (yes, a techno music festival on the Great Wall), and also Zhangjiajie National Park, where the movie Avatar was inspired.

These are the reasons why I believe that choosing Shanghai is a decision you definitely will not regret. I had many moments of doubt at the start, but at the end of it all I can happily say that it was one of the best decisions of my life. However, none of it would be possible without the support of the Australian Government and the QUT Study Abroad team.

If any of you have any questions about exchange or studying in China, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

This student’s exchange is supported by funding from the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan

Off to Shanghai!

Hi everyone!

My name is Jemma, and I’m a travel-bug-bitten 2ndyear business (and mandarin language) student. After many months in the making, tomorrow morning is the morning when my alarm will sound at the lovely time of 3:30am, and I will board a flight bound for one of China’s most exciting cities, Shanghai! Armed only with my limited mandarin and one incredibly heavy suitcase, the excitement and nerves have definitely started to kick in.

Before I even started university, I always knew I wanted to do a semester overseas. I’m a person who loves change, finding nothing more exhilarating than touching down in a foreign city. Honestly, the bigger the culture shock, the better! This is all much to my parents dismay of course, who would love nothing more than if I were to move out one street over and live in Bris-Vegas for the rest of my days. However much I love this river city though, that simply won’t be happening (sorry dad!).

This will be the first time I’ve ever set foot in the city of Shanghai, or even mainland China. Aside from the fact that the local street vendors serve up the tastiest xiaolongbao known to man, there’s really not a lot I know about this ever-changing place. They celebrate holidays I’ve never heard of, eat foods I’ve never tried and speak a language I’m still struggling to grasp. I really wouldn’t want it any other way, however I can admit I’m a little sad about having to celebrate my first Christmas away from home. Oh well, small sacrifice.

For those of you also contemplating spending a semester in this exciting country, allow me to give you a quick run-down of some key pre-departure info. Firstly, my advice would be to make a list of what you need to do, and DON’T leave it to the last minute. There will be mountains of forms you will need to fill out, and all will have a deadline. Trust me when I say the last thing you want to do is wake up and realise you’ve missed something important, like the date to book your dorm room. Not speaking from personal experience, but I do know someone who had to endure the last-minute struggle finding off-campus accommodation, and it isn’t fun. Secondly, when you apply for your visa, you will have to leave your passport with the consulate for a couple of days. This in itself was a little nerve-wracking, heightened by the fact the man next to me was being informed by frantic staff his passport may or may not have been misplaced. Luck was on my side however, and I received mine without drama. Just a heads up. Lastly, check out youtube to find some videos that cover student life in the city you want to travel too. They’re full of handy hints, from budgeting to local transport.

That’s all I have for you so far. So, until I hit the dorms of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 再见!

This student’s exchange is supported by funding from the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan.

Excited would be an Understatement (Preparing for Exchange)

Hello everyone,

My name is Fraser and I am currently a third year Law/Justice student who is a little bit too excited (and undoubtedly very nervous) about his upcoming exchange to Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan. During my semester abroad I will be studying Japanese full-time – which is just as well, since I only have a very preliminary knowledge of the Japanese language (In fact, this knowledge is close to non-existent).

When I told my friends and family that I had decided to live in Japan for the next six months the common response could be summed up in one sarcastically spoken statement, “Good luck with that.” To be fair, this reaction is rather warranted – it is foolhardy for someone who can barely speak Japanese to live in Japan, let alone study there! So, why would I make such an impulsive choice?

Put simply, it is because Japan is a mystery to me. I have never been there before and know little of their history or culture; and the unknown is rather exciting to me. Stepping off of a plane, in a place that you have never experienced the likes of before fills me with adrenaline. I know that this reasoning may not appeal to everyone (and undoubtedly some of you will see me as naive); but this is first and foremost an experience for me to broaden my mind in ways that I cannot do in the comfortable familiarity of Australia. And what better way to do that then to experience a lifestyle, culture and place that I have never known before?

So, as I wait for tomorrow’s nerve wracking flight to Japan, I should divulge how the pre-departure experience has been for me and some tips and tricks for anyone considering an exchange to the, ‘Land of the Rising Sun’.

Preparing for the exchange initially was a daunting task. It seemed that there was an insurmountable amount of work to be done ahead of me. Fortunately, the pre-departure checklist provided by QUT is a fantastic organisational tool and promotes a sequenced approach to exchange preparation. As a result, preparing for the exchange – on the formal paperwork side of things – presented little difficulties. One recommendation I can make is to constantly ask both the QUT faculty and your host university questions about any aspects of the process you are unsure of. They are there to help and seemed more than happy to answer the multitude of inane questions I posed to them.

Also, if you have never been to Japan before, like me, the most difficult aspect of the pre-departure process may be preparing for the inevitable ‘culture shock’. QUT also provides a lot of information on how to deal with culture shock; but for those considering an exchange to Japan, I must recommend that you watch the YouTube channel: Abroad in Japan. This site covers everything from must have experiences to Japanese language tips to the do’s and don’ts of Japanese culture. I found that this site has really helped with my anxiety and made me feel more prepared for a life in Japan.

If there is one thing I could recommend to those who are considering an exchange is to throw yourself out of your comfort zone. Don’t go for a safe or easy option, really try to push yourselves into the unknown and experience what you may never get the chance to experience again.

As for me, the next blog will either demonstrate that the decision to throw myself into the unknown was a good one or one that was mislead by bravado and excitement. But, whatever the outcome, I will learn something.

Sayonara everyone, till next time.

A snapshot of my Singapore experience (so far)

Rusil W, Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) / Bachelor of Science

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (Semester 1 & 2, 2018)

In a bit under a week I’ll be flying back to Singapore for my second semester at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). To be honest, I don’t think I’ve really finished processing my first semester. But I’ll do my best to summarise it here.

To start, the first few weeks felt almost surreal. Coming from the very compact Gardens Point Campus, NTU – with ~20 student residential halls, ~15 canteens and 2 supermarkets (just to name a few things) – feels like its own self-contained town. These facilities exist because the majority of NTU students live on campus during the week,which results in a significantly different student life. Dinner at the canteens would be shared with (for less than $5 might I add). The student club culture also seems far more invested because everyone is on campus. In Mid-February, lion dance performances for Chinese New Year could be heard from my room, and in mid-April, cheerleading practice could be heard into the late hours of the night.

The semester started off with a trip with some other exchange students to Pulau Ubin – a small island off Singapore which hasn’t been encroached by the concrete jungle. It acts as a kind of heritage area for the what the main island was like before major urbanization. This provided a great first opportunity to meet other exchange students from across the world – Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, Taiwan, China … too many for me to remember.

 

Most of the other exchange students I met primarily used Singapore as a gateway for travel throughout South-East Asia – using mid-sem break, public holidays, and even time between finals to visit countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. Now, while I can’t begin to express my envy as I heard one friend’s plans to visit Vietnam between open book exams, Singapore isn’t just a travel hub. It’s also a cultural one.

People always think of Australia as a cultural mixing pot because of its very immigrant-based history, and Singapore is like that too, in a way. The island has three main ethnic groups: Chinese, Malay and Indian. While the Chinese population is clearly dominant, it’s fairly easy to experience all three cultures in various ways. This includes physical places like Chinatown and Little India, celebrations like Chinese New Year, and the food (most importantly).

In fact, Singapore is probably the best place I can think of for an east meets west experience (besides maybe Hong Kong). This lets you sate virtually any cultural desire – which in my case was music. In just one semester, I managed to see two on campus concerts, a Singapore Symphony Orchestra concert (for only $10!!!!) and Fallout Boy – while eyeing performances by MIYAVI (a Japanese rockstar), the St Petersburg Ballet, and a showcase of works by Monet and Renoir.

Before starting exchange, a semester abroad sounds like a lot, but while there the time just flashes past. I’m glad to have another semester to do some things I missed, catch up with some friends, and make even more new ones.

 

Starting my New Colombo Plan Program in Seoul!

I am currently in my fifth year of a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and Business  (Accounting) degree and one of 120 university students to receive the 2018 New Colombo Plan Scholarship. The New Colombo Plan scholarship has allowed me to undertake a Korean language intensive program for three weeks at Yonsei University, followed by a semester exchange at Korea University and then two internships.

Yonsei University Intensive Language Program:
I completed my Korean language intensive program at Yonsei University in February 2018. The New Colombo Plan scholarship encourages and funds scholars to complete full-time language programs in order to not only connect with the local culture, but also to assist scholars on a practical level by giving them the skills needed to undertake basic tasks such as navigating the city.  This is especially important when there is not a lot of English available and it helps scholars settle into their new environment.

I arrived at my new home in Seoul on 1 February 2018 on a crisp winter night. During my program at Yonsei University I stayed with several other students at off campus accommodation arranged by the university. Whilst the accommodation was great, after all we were living in a serviced apartment, this did make it difficult to get to know the other students in the program. Lucky, as soon as classes begun, some four days after my arrival, I was able to get to know a range of amazing people from all across the world. Fortuitously, I also met a student from El Salvador that would be going to Korea University with me.

(Outside the front of Yonsei University during my last week of the intensive language program)

The Yonsei University program is certainly intense, but very rewarding. Already, I can see the benefits of this language training coming to fruition through the little things, like reading bus timetables and menus that are written only in Korean. Unlike some international summer or winter schools, the focus of Yonsei’s program was to learn Korean rather than foster relationships between students. Although this means that your language skills progress rapidly, it also reiterated a notion I found to often be true, you have to be the driver of your own participation. As there are little to no social activities set up for students, you have to be responsible for how involved you will be in the culture and how much you want to get out of the experience.

With the support of the NCP scholarship, I was able to make the most of my winter in Seoul by undertaking activities that I would otherwise be unable to participate in. Particularly, this applied to learning how to ski – a goal I have had for a while. I found my Korean ski instructor to be so helpful that I became somewhat overconfident and ended up on a slightly too advanced run for my skills set. Fortunately, I walked away only damaging my pride. Overall, I had a wonderful experience at the Yonsei University language program.

(Learning to ski at Jisan Resort)

You can follow my experience as a New Colombo Plan scholar on Instagram at travel_life_sarah.