Ciao Italy!

Andrew P., Master of Business Process Management
Politecnico Di Milano, Italy (Semester 1, 2016,)

Host University

I went on exchange at Politecnico di Milano (Polimi) in Semester 1, 2016 at the Leonardo campus. It is a widely respected university in Europe with a rich history in engineering.

Note in Europe, their semesters are reversed which means our 1st semester is their 2nd. Polimi semesters start around 3 weeks after the QUT equivalent so you might (will) miss the first few weeks of your next semester when you return.

Most units will consist of two 2hr lectures and one final exam during the exam period. You get 2 attempts to pass the exam. This all-or-nothing final examination approach threw me off compared to how it’s done in QUT so you’ll need to self-manage your own studies from day one (my lectures were not recorded). If you are going in your first semester (QUT), try extending your stay to include their September exam session which will allow you to have 2 extra attempts to pass the exam as a precaution.

I found an apartment before arriving using a website called Uniplaces. They provide an intermediary in case you find the apartment not to your liking. I paid for a single room in a 2-bedroom apartment which cost me 500euro per month. This is average price you should expect to pay. Luckily, I’ve had no problems with my accommodation (and I’ve heard stories).

Host Country

I enjoyed my time in Italy and you can survive speaking only English but I would definitely recommend learning Italian before and during exchange. It definitely makes the experience so much more rewarding. I had a lot of fun interacting with my fellow international students via Polimi’s free language classes.

Milan is an expensive city to live in, compared to Brisbane. Try and buy whatever you need at the street markets scattered throughout the city.

Highlights

  • I’m a football fan and it was great to watch (and attend) quality games within normal hours!
  • The sun doesn’t set until 9pm which allows you to make the most of the day. It’s definitely something I immediately miss upon returning.
  • Joining the ERASMUS group and making new friends. They do plenty of trips and social events. Great fun!
  • Italians have a tradition called Aperitivo. By purchasing a beverage, you have full access to the buffet they set out in the afternoon. It’s a social and financial lifeline for students!

Tips

Before Leaving

  • If you’re planning on taking a credit card (recommended) try getting one that gives you complementary travel insurance if you use the card to pay for your flights or accommodation. I knew a few students who went travelling after the study period.
  • Don’t forget your stationary
  • Pack light, you’ll be bringing back more than you can imagine.
  • A laptop is essential.
  • Try to get as many transfer units as possible. There may be circumstances in which you won’t be able to do some of the units that you applied for. Be prepared to have overlapping units.
  • I used a Citibank Plus account for cash withdrawals and a 28 Degrees account for credit card purchases and highly recommend both.

During Exchange

  • Apply for an ATM Transport Card. Renew every month for 22euro at the Metro Stations.
  • I signed on to Vodafone prepaid plan as it also allows cheap data roaming in other countries (5euro per day). The other big telecoms Wind and TIM do not provide this.
  • Applying for a Permesso di Sogiorno (Permit to stay) is a very daunting experience. I actually got my card a couple of weeks before I was set to leave!

Calling Copenhagen Home

Vicky Z., Bachelor of Creative Industries
Danish School of Media & Journalism (Semester 2, 2017)

The Danish School of Media & Journalism (DMJX) is seriously a great school, and SO different from QUT. It’s academically intense and the students are older (23-30, since most have already completed a past degree in design) and are very talented and serious, yet the classroom had a relaxed and family-like vibe. The school is really hard to get into and its students are sought-after in the design industry!

 

I had class Monday to Friday, from 9am to about 1pm, although in busier times we’d all stay until 4pm or even 10pm, working. The class had 23 students, and we were in the same room every day. The best parts were that we each had a desk and Mac (like a studio!), and the canteen was amazing and affordable.

Studio Classroom

We would have the same teacher for 2-6 weeks, and guest lectures/presentations/briefs from small and large companies all the time. We had Volvo, DR (Denmark’s largest TV Radio Media company like the ABC), Bennybox (an animation company in Copenhagen), and many more. A lot of time was self-directed learning and working on assignments, with lectures being casual.

We only worked on one assignment at a time, which I really liked. At the end of each task, there was no criteria sheet or marking. Instead, we’d give a short presentation to the class, and receive feedback from the teacher, guest, and each other. It was inspiring and I learned a lot from seeing other students’ work.

Accommodation

I applied for housing through DMJX, and they offered me a room at Hjortespringkollegiet in Herlev. It was a 30 minute bike ride from school and about an hour from the city centre, which was a little far, but bearable. My room was huge for a dorm’s standards, I had my own bathroom and balcony, and shared a clean, large kitchen with 10 others. Around 1 in 12 students are exchange students; the rest are Danish. I recommend living here — I really loved it and made many friends. The dorm bar was open once or twice a week; it’s easy to meet people and make friends there.

 

Shared Kitchen

Host Country

Denmark is such a wonderful country. The cost of living is similar or a little higher than Brisbane. Public transport and eating out are expensive, but if you ride your bike and cook more at home, it’s not too bad. Copenhagen is hip and I loved the fashion, jewellery, art, and Scandinavian style.

Danish people are really easy to get along with. They’re really friendly, although some may warm up to you slowly. And there are almost no language barriers as they are all very good at English (even grannies speak fluently).

Getting Along with my Danish Friends

Some differences I noticed were that when people get off the bus, they don’t say ‘thank you’, and paying at supermarkets is a very fast, impersonal, brisk process. No small talk. They scan your items ridiculously fast, you kind of just get out as soon as possible. But in smaller shops and boutiques, they’re super friendly.

On almost every street you will find a plant shop (flowers, succulents and whatnot), a pay-by-weight candy store, a hairdresser, kebab store, and bakery!

Highlights of exchange

Loving Denmark

Meeting so many people was amazing, and seeing so many cities was wonderful. I loved that I could call Copenhagen my home for five months, and become familiar with all the stores, brands, suburbs, streets, and the city as a whole.

Things you didn’t expect

Everyone’s naked in the communal showers and change rooms.

When I went on the school camp, and to a public swimming pool, the girls’ showers had no cubicles! It was just one big room with shower heads in a row. At first I was very reluctant, but then I decided to just suck it up and embrace the Danish way of life. I highly recommend this experience. It’s only awkward if you make it awkward.

Another thing I didn’t expect was how depressing and energy-sucking the cold darkness can be. In January, the sun rose at 8.30 and set at 4pm. The short, cold days and lack of sunshine made me feel tired and a lot drearier than in summer. I wish I could’ve been more positive and taken initiative to do fun things and socialised and continued exploring the city, but honestly I just wanted to crawl into a hole and lie there most days. In Summertime the sun sets at 9pm though, and it’s the bomb dot com.

Tips & Advice for Future Students

  • You must get a bike. It’s the easiest, cheapest, funnest way to get around. Make sure you lock it every time though. Biking around the city and surrounding suburbs is super easy and so beautiful, especially during summer.
  • If you try to learn Danish, make sure you practice speaking early on! Danes love helping and correcting you and teaching you phrases.
  • Get a Citibank no fee debit card. The exchange rate is good and there are no fees. I used this card for all my travels and time in Denmark.
  • Try the ‘ristet pølse med det hele’ from the hotdog stand behind the Vesterbro train station. It’s a hotdog with mustard, ketchup, remoulade, raw onions, fried crispy onions and pickles.
  • Zaggi’s cafe near Nørreport does 15kr (3 aud) coffees and cakes!
  • Many of the museums and galleries are free on certain days of the week, be sure to visit them because they are all very cool! Especially the National Gallery of Denmark.
  • Try to visit Dyrehaven — this park used to be the royal hunting grounds and now it’s where adorable deer roam free!
  • Not to be mixed up with the park, Cafe Dyrehaven does excellent smørrebrød for ~$10 aud each. The chicken one and potato one are nice.
  • If you visit Malmo (the Swedish city across the bridge from Copenhagen), try to take a daytrip to Lund as well. It’s a small, cute town.
  • Shop at Flying Tiger and Søstrene Grene for cute, cheap home wares when you first move in. They’re a bit like kmart.
  • Do lots of outdoor stuff in summer! Fælledparken (park), Superkilen (park), the lakes, Dyrehaven, paddleboating, the beach, botanic gardens, FLEAMARKETS, Kongens Have (the King’s Park)… there is so much to do and it is so so so beautiful.
  • Fall in love with Copenhagen and go back one day :’)

Cheese and Baguettes? Oui Oui!

Relicia G., Bachelor of Fine Arts/ Bachelor of Laws (Honours)
Catholique Universitie de Lille, France (Semester 1, 2017)

Exchange is honestly going to be the best decision you ever
make. If you’re going to the Catholique Universitie de Lille,
then there are a few simple things that can help you adjust
to life in France.

Catholique Universitie de Lille

My suggestion, if you want to be close to campus, is to
definitely stay in the AEU student housing. We don’t really
have the opportunity to be completely immersed in student
life this way in Brisbane, so it’s a very unique experience.
More importantly, it’s also where you’ll make most of
your friends, go to fun events sponsored by the AEU
and be involved in a lot of school activities. Plus you
get free breakfast!

Free breaky!

The way the schooling system works is a lot like the
Australian high school, you’ll be at class 5 days a
week and you’ll have a lot of subjects to do. But
luckily, these subjects will not be as difficult as the four units we do at QUT.
So never fear, you’ll have plenty of time to have fun!
There are a lot of multicultural projects that you can be involved in such as
sport, dancing and photography. My favorite was the gastronomy project, where
you can get together with a group of French and
other exchange students, and essentially just eat!
You get to enjoy allot of foreign cuisines, and
learn about culture and traditions from other
nationalities.


There are also a lot of sport teams you can join,
such as basketball, handball and badminton. I
strongly suggest that you get involved in as many of
these projects and teams as possible because that’s
where you’ll get your best experiences!
It’s also a smart idea to familiarize yourself with the
public transport systems, as that is what you will be
primarily using to get around. The metro and bus
systems are pretty cheap, but the train gets very
expensive if you have to use it last minute.

Some funky facts about France:
– There are entire isles dedicated to cheese and wines
– You have to eat the baguettes in one day or else they’ll go off
– Classes usually start at 8am
– It rains constantly (and for some reason only tourists use umbrellas)
– If you’re there during the winter, bring a coat because it’s going to get
REALLY cold
– Everything is closed on Sundays. EVERYTHING.
– You won’t need to buy books, everything is either
emailed to you or given in class (like
highschool)
– Familiarized yourself with bisous, I guarantee
your going to have strangers come up to you
expecting it
– If someone invites you over for lunch or dinner, expect it to take at
least 3 hours minimum
– If you need something done, by any French association, double the
time you’d expect it to take, then add an extra 2 weeks
– Be wary of the smelly cheese

But the most important thing to remember is:
HAVE FUN!

Hej from Sweden!

Jordan S., Bachelor of Engineering
Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden (Semester 2, 2016)

Hej jag heter Jordan Simpson! I undertook an exchange semester at Chalmers University of Technology in Göteborg (Gothenburg) Sweden during the second semester of 2016!

Host University

Chalmers University of Technology in Göteborg

I found that life on campus at Chalmers is quite different to QUT. A few of the main differences I found was the block scheduling of courses, the really cheap lunches they provide, and the amount of leisure activity rooms. I found the block scheduling of classes to be quite good; it meant not having to deal with class registration and ending up with a shocking timetable.  It even usually allowed for one or two free days a week! Chalmers also offered really cheap and decent quality/sized meals each day for 40kr (which is approx. $6.50). Chalmers also had heaps of buildings that could be used for all sorts of leisure activities (indoor soccer/basketball, rock climbing, even a billiard area!).

Accommodation can be quite hard to come by for the local university students of Gothenburg wishing to move out of their parent’s place. These students have to start queuing to find a place when they are in grade 9 or 10 in high school! However, being an international student, Chalmers and SGS Studentböstader (a student housing company) offers priority 1 when looking for accommodation during your stay in Gothenburg.

From an academics standpoint, Chalmers is very different to QUT. The main difference being that instead of taking 4 courses over a semester, the semester is broken up into two study periods. Each study period lasts 8 weeks, and during this time you take 2 courses. This means that the courses are a lot heavier, but leads to a much easier time during exam block period.

Host Country

City of Gothenburg

The cost of living is almost identical to Australia, only major difference being the alcohol prices in their bottle shops. Getting around in Gothenburg is very easy! The public transport system is phenomenal (well almost anything is compared to my hometown, Mackay).  There are many trams and busses running all the time to get you to where you need to go. If you want to see a bit more of Sweden there are also plenty of top quality trains to take!

I found the culture of Sweden to be quite similar to our own. With one notable difference being people keep to themselves at first so you have to really initiate conversation. But once you start to get them talking they are just as friendly and inviting as we are! If you are also wondering how the language barrier is, I can assure you that it is almost non-existent. Almost every Swedish person I met was able to speak English perfectly and switched to it as soon as they knew you only spoke English!

One of the cool things I really enjoyed about my time in Sweden was actually being able to experience the four seasons of the year! My favourite time of the year was Autumn as I found it cool to see everything go orange, and actually see the physical change from Summer.

Highlights/Tips

It’s hard to choose highlights from my exchange as the whole experience has been absolutely fantastic.  One of the many highlights was being able to meet so many people from different countries.  I got to experience bits and pieces of their cultures and share some from mine, while also learning about the Swedish culture with them.  However, one of my favourite times during this exchange was when my mates and I went for a weekend in Stockholm before going on a 3-day cruise to Talin, Estonia.

Northern lights in Lapland

The best tip I can give is get involved with CIRC (Chalmers’ International Student Society), and make sure to go to all of their events during the first few weeks so you can meet heaps of people that eventually make a good group of friends! Also, the one event I highly recommend (which I personally didn’t get to go to but all of my friends did) is the Lapland trip! During this you travel to the far north of Sweden and get to experience ridiculously cold temperatures, go dog sledging, and see the Northern Lights!

 

Two Semesters in Nice, France

Tom M., Master of Business (Applied Finance)
EDHEC Business School, France (Semester 1, 2017)

EDHEC Business School campus in Nice

I spent two semesters over nine months in France at the EDHEC Business School campus in Nice from September 2016 to May 2017, completing the dual master programme in applied finance/corporate finance and banking. During this time, I lived in central Nice and studied at the EDHEC campus about 5km out of the city centre. The classes, assessment, academic organisation, cohort and campus at EDHEC were all quite different to my studies in Brisbane at QUT.

The campus itself is quite nice and modern and is much smaller than that of QUT in Gardens Point or Kelvin Grove. The library is also quite small, so students tend to study inside vacant classrooms or at home. The content and assessment of classes was overall more challenging than that at QUT and very case study-based, which was useful in gaining more knowledge in applicability of theoretical concepts to actual business cases. The school has quite a strong focus on case studies and recruits many lecturers from corporate positions for short stints of teaching, including from accounting and law firms, investment and corporate banks and consultancies. I found this a great way of teaching because it helped me to gain insight into the work-life practices of people within these careers and see what their roles really entailed, and it offered good opportunities for networking.

Living in Nice was obviously quite a large change from Brisbane in several ways. Firstly, it is much smaller in size and population than Brisbane making it quite easy to get around town without a car. While the general culture is also different, I found it generally pleasant and a fun place to live and didn’t experience much of a “culture shock”. The cohort of international students often has similar backgrounds and interests and there are often student-led functions and events, so socialising with other exchange students is easy and fun. While I tried to improve my French, nearly everyone understands English so getting around and meeting people is often easy. The city of Nice itself is also a great holiday destination and really fun to live in as there are numerous restaurants, bars and public gardens to explore, and the French Riviera has some great beaches and views of the Mediterranean.

Moving to France was daunting at first but overall, a great experience that helped me to meet people, make lots of new friends and learn finance from a European perspective. Finding a job in Europe is also far easier with a European qualification and while living in the region, which is something that wouldn’t have been as easily available from Australia.

An Adventure in England

Jack T., Bachelor of Business and Engineering
Oxford Brookes University, England (Semester 1, 2017)

My time abroad as part of QUT’s semester exchange program was one of the best experiences of my life. Studying at Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, United Kingdom, I spent my time between making friends, studying hard and travelling around Europe. Leaving in early September, I arrived in England during a heatwave which was in stark contrast to the expected chilly temperatures the country is renowned for.

After staying first in London I made my way to Oxford to settle in, attend O-week and explore the world famous city. As the semester kicked off, I began travelling through both the United Kingdom and Western Europe. In total, I visited over 10 countries, ranging from the rural coastal towns of Portugal and the snow capped mountains of Switzerland to alpha cities such as Paris, Berlin, Madrid, and Rome. When in Oxford, I spent my time between exploring the city with my roommates, dining in at local iconic British pubs and taking day tours to nearby sites such as Stonehenge and Oxford University.

The main reason to be in Oxford was to study. Oxford Brookes University was a fantastic, modern university with a huge variety of international students. The university was very helpful in setting myself up and made all the exchange students feel at home. The subjects were both interesting and challenging, however I still made sure I had plenty of time to explore and travel as well. By the end of the teaching period, I was able to pass all my subjects with high distinctions and leave on a positive note.

My favorite moments of the trip were the opportunity to travel so quickly to so many countries, all with different cultures, geography, and landmarks. One day you could be at the top of the Eiffel Tower or riding down the canals of Amsterdam. The next day you could be back in Oxford, studying in library’s which were used in Harry Potter films. It was such an unreal experience which I never believed I could achieve until I arrived at QUT. The biggest challenge of the trip would’ve been the regular planning of travelling essentially nonstop for five months which eventually can have a mental and physical toll. At one point, I arrived back home from Portugal at 4am when I had an exam at 9am. Fortunately I survived and passed the subject. Another challenge would be living completely independently. For a person who still lives at home, the responsibility of having to wash clothes, cook dinner, and maintain a clean house was a difficult, eye opening, but rewarding experience. I certainly have a lot more respect for the parents now!

Overall the experience was a once in a life time opportunity which I will never forget. It allowed myself to develop personally, professionally, and academically. I have made lifelong friends who I’m still in contact with and memories which would seem like fantasy to myself only a few years ago. I would highly recommend a semester exchange for anyone considering applying. Trust me you won’t regret it!

Making the most out of my Mannheim Exchange

Emma K., Bachelor of Law
University of Mannheim, Germany (Semester 1, 2017)

I completed my year abroad at the University of Mannheim, Germany. The campus is the 2nd largest Baroque Palace in Europe and is an absolutely beautiful university to attend. The university itself had two cafeterias on campus with cheap meals for students, but was also ideally located in the city so it was easy to find a café elsewhere.

University Life

Every Thursday the university would host an event called ‘Schneckenhof’ which is an open air party with a DJ, stage, bars, photo booth and usually a theme. It was one of my favourite events to go to and always had hundreds of students there. You’re guaranteed to bump into a lot of the international students.

Education

Academics wise, I found the subjects I undertook (Public International Law, Introduction to German Private Law, Commercial Space Law, Intellectual Property Law, International Labour Law and International Criminal Law) to be challenging throughout the semester, but I was still able to travel nearly every weekend without worrying about failing. Overall, I achieved great grades at the end considering how much traveling and partying I did in between.

Accommodation

I stayed at a student residence known as Ulmenweg. If you are attending Mannheim, I highly recommend Ulmenweg if you are a sociable person as many international students live here and it’s fantastic for meeting people and always having someone to hang out with.

My room had everything I needed, plus a sink and then a shared shower, toilet and kitchen area. The only downside with Ulmenweg is that it is considered to be in the “countryside” as it is a 15-minute tram ride from the city. The tram stop is right out the front of the residence and if you have a bike it’s also a mere 15-minute bike ride. So, really not an issue at all.

BBQ at Ulmenweg

Ulmenweg also has outdoor bbq’s which are great in warm weather, a music room and a party room which has party’s every Wednesday and Sunday night. For groceries, there are 3 nearby supermarkets within a 10-minute walk of the residence and also very very cheap.

Cost of Living

Mannheim is INCREDIBLY cheap. Travel wise, Mannheim has a major bus and train station so it is unbelievably easy to travel from here and being centrally located in Europe it’s easy to get to anywhere from here.

The highlights of my exchange were all the friendships I made, how much I got to travel because it was SO easy and how cheap it was to live in Mannheim. I felt like I got to experience so much more because of how cheap it was and how easily I could catch a bus to the next country and spend the weekend in Paris.

Tips and Advice

A struggle I had to overcome was having an extremely messy and inconsiderate housemate. Unfortunately, you cannot choose who you live with if it’s a student residence so hopefully the odds are in your favour.

If you’re deciding on whether or not to apply for exchange, just do it. After spending a week in Mannheim I had made the decision to extend my exchange from one semester to two. It was the best decision of my life, the experiences I’ve had will have an impression on me forever and I’m so grateful for all the amazing friends made.

Overall, without a doubt the best year of my life so far. I have so much love for Mannheim and I could not recommend it more highly. The people, the crazy events and parties hosted by the university are what made it such a fun and unforgettable experience. I made so many friends, traveled 18 countries and passed all my subjects with only a little concern.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Different Style of Education: Sheffield Halllam University

Chloe R., Bachelor of Journalism
Sheffield Hallam University, England (Semester 2, 2016)

SHU’s City Campus is like that of QUT’s Kelvin Grove Campus. There are multiple university buildings, some close together and others a small walk away. Sprinkled among them are cafes, pubs and cute boutique shops.

The facilities at SHU are identical to those at QUT, although there are several differences between the two university’s educational systems.

For starters, students don’t get to choose their own timetable. Classes are assigned to students at the beginning of the semester and there’s a general expectation that students should mould their life outside of university (such as work, family and extracurricular activities) around those times. Because of this, classes are often spread apart. For example, you might have a tutorial from 9am to 11am and then another tutorial from 5pm to 7pm.

Lectures are one-hour long and tutorials are two-hours long.Lectures are a lot more intimate at SHU than they are at QUT. There are about 40 students per lecture, and the lectures are often held in a small classroom. During most lectures, the lecturer will take attendance. Attendance doesn’t have any influence over your grade, but if the lecturer notices you’re not attending for an extended period (around three weeks, I’ve been told), then they’ll contact you to see if you’re alright.

 

Tutorials at SHU are around the same size as those at QUT (around 15 people). However, unlike QUT, tutorials at SHU are a lot more practise-based. For example, in one of my units, we often spent half the tutorial (one hour) learning from our tutor and the other half (one hour) writing content based on that week’s prompts. Likewise, in another unit, we spent half the tutorial (one hour) learning about new photographic techniques, and the other half (one hour) in the streets of Sheffield, aspiring to replicate those given techniques.

I found the tutors at SHU to be a lot more compassionate than those at QUT. Each of my SHU tutors: made a conscious effort to learn everyone’s name; often made rounds during classes to chat one-on-one with students and see how they were faring with both the coursework and life; stressed the fact that they were there to help and that no question was too idiotic; and posted times that they were free during the week so that students could pop in for a chat.

In addition, tutors at SHU are able (and often more than happy) to accept student drafts. Drafting is not compulsory at SHU, nor is it expected, but the option is available to all students (one which I took advantage of on multiple occasions).

SHU units had a lot fewer assignments due per semester than that of QUT units. For each SHU class, I had just two assignments due (a total of six for the semester). This was both good and bad. Good, in that I had fewer assignments to do, and could therefore spend more time perfecting the given assignments or traveling abroad. Bad, because it meant that each assignment was worth a lot of my overall grade and that I was often tempted to procrastinate.

The grading structure at SHU (as with all English universities) is a lot less harsh than those of Australian universities (such as QUT). To get a First (the English equivalent of a High Distinction), you must score a mark of 70%+. At QUT, a 65% to 74% mark gets you a Credit; a 75% to 84% mark gets you a Distinction; and you must score a mark of 85%+ to get a High Distinction.

Overall, I found that the less harsh grading structure, coupled with fewer assignments and the option for assignments to be drafted, made for a much more stress-free and rewarding educational environment than that of QUT.

 

 

 

Everything you need to know about studying in Maastricht!

Kellie Amos
Maastricht University, Netherlands (Semester 1, 2017)

Applying to Maastricht University (UM)

Getting accepted into an exchange program is, naturally, quite a process. There’s a lot of different applications that need to be completed, and you spend equal amounts of time waiting for the approval of these as you do submitting them. Although, for the most part, both QUT and UM were quite prompt in getting back to me, I did have some issues with receiving official acceptance from UM.

Initially, I received confirmation of my registration not long after submitting my application, but this didn’t count as official acceptance. QUT requires a letter from the overseas university stating your acceptance before they can confirm your enrolment and start organising other elements of your exchange. Consequently, a few weeks went by and I started to receive information about visas and classes from UM, but still no official letter of acceptance. It was only after I asked for it directly that I was sent an appropriate form of acceptance to forward to QUT.

So if, like me, a few weeks go by and you’re getting emails about visas and enrolment – but still no acceptance – it’s worth contacting the uni’s International Relations Office (or likewise relative department) for official confirmation. Of course, I don’t know if this is a usual problem with UM, but you’ll want to receive your official acceptance as soon as possible so you can get your visa sorted.

Maastricht Housing & Guesthouse UM

All student housing for UM is organised by a third-party organisation called Maastricht Housing. As the official agency, it’s recommended you find accommodation through them, and after reading some horror stories online, I decided it was worth the €35 registration fee.

Under Maastricht Housing, the UM Guesthouse is the main provider of housing for UM students and has a lot of different buildings/properties to choose from. The main building where you pick up your keys, sign your contract, etc. is actually a hospital where the majority of the complex has been converted to dorms. A lot of the friends I ended up making stayed here, as it’s one of the cheapest options the Guesthouse offers. I decided on pricier accommodation at one of the Guesthouse’s buildings in the centre called Heilige Geest 7B instead.

For me, this was a perfect place to be as I came to know the city extremely well, and my studio apartment felt more like a home, as opposed to a temporary stay. I was also lucky enough to become close friends with the Finnish girl who lived above me and the other people on my floor. In general though, Heilige Geest has no shared or communal areas, so in the early weeks I felt like I’d made the wrong choice given everyone was making friends and hanging out at the Guesthouse. After a while, that all changed as I grew closer to the people in my building and heard about all the issues my other friends were having at the Guesthouse (mostly gross communal areas and unpleasant staff). I paid more for my apartment, but for me and the experience I wanted, I felt it was worth every extra penny!

Maastricht birthplace of the European Union

A beautiful medieval city, Maastricht is home to a large international student population – particularly from the neighbouring countries Belgium and Germany. People from all over the world come to study at the university and improve their English. Given the large student population there’s rarely a time where something isn’t going on in one of the city squares, the Vrijthof and the Markt, especially in the summer. The student organisation ISN regularly puts on events and trips for exchange students, and you can’t miss their infamous CANTUS nights (think karaoke meets Oktoberfest) or their ‘Discover’ weekend trips.

Aside from being full of places to eat, drink, and dance, Maastricht is popular among locals within the region for its shopping. You could easily spend hours checking out all the cute boutiques tucked away in all the winding streets of Dutch houses. There’s also a lot of beautiful parks, and my friends and I would often sit on part of the old city walls overlooking them as we ate our lunch.

In addition to being such a beautiful place to live, Maastricht is also extremely close to other European countries. I walked and biked to Belgium with my friends on many occasions, and catching trains across the border was just as easy. You can catch trains and buses to Germany, France, and Luxembourg with just as much ease but if you’re travelling via the NS (Netherlands railway company) use Facebook groups to find others so you can buy cheaper tickets for €7 (see links at the end of this blog). The closest airport is Eindhoven, which offers really cheap flights, and you can also get some incredibly good value flights from Brussels’ airports.

  Dutch Culture and Carnaval!

In terms of culture, you get a very authentic taste of Dutch life living in Maastricht. The locals in this region love to drink, sing, and dance – as evidenced by the incredible festival Carnaval (not to be confused with the South American Carnival). Although I could never get any one person to tell me exactly what the festival was for, it essentially started as a tradition in the southern parts of Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany where people would fill the streets in elaborate costumes (often gender bended) and drink and eat for 3 days. If you’re planning on going to Maastricht for exchange, you have to go during first semester. Carnaval takes place in March and is truly a sight to behold!

This is the event where I really bonded with my friends and came to know the city, in all its colour. It also introduced me to a fundamental characteristic of the Dutch culture – you can be and do whatever you want, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. The neutrality of this mindset is something I truly came to admire about the Netherlands.

O-Week & Making Friends

As part of your exchange, UM requires you to participate in a compulsory 3-day introduction to the campus and system of teaching called Problem-based Learning (PBL). In addition to that, ISN runs a series of events throughout the week for you to meet people and introduce yourself to the Dutch culture, including city tours, bike classes, food tastings, and pub crawls. I attended a few of these events, and at the pub crawl met some people who eventually formed my group of closest friends on exchange. It was awkward putting myself out there but all the other students are in the same boat and everyone is extremely friendly. After the first week, most people had found a solid collection of friends and groups began to form. This is why it’s so important to be there for first week and go to as many of the ISN events as you can. By the end of exchange, my friends were like my family, as we had made so many wonderful memories together. Exchange would mean half of what it does if I hadn’t of met them, so take the time to talk to people and I guarantee you’ll form friendships unlike any other.

Cost of Living

For my exchange, I used a Velocity Global Wallet Card, which allows you to load AUD on to it and exchange it into several other currencies, including the Euro and Pound. It works like a normal visa debit card and has no fees for electronic transactions, just a small dollar fee for cash withdrawals. Being a small city, many of the establishments in Maastricht don’t accept traditional credit card providers like visa, so I did have to use cash quite often.

Overall, Maastricht isn’t an overly expensive city if you know where to go! With such a large student population, there are a number of cheap places to eat and groceries were largely cheaper than what you pay in Australia. I went overseas with around $12,000AUD spending money, which was more than enough for 6 months of living and travelling in Europe, leaving me with over a grand leftover. With rent for accommodation, I needed an extra $5,000AUD, so depending on how much travel you do and where you choose to stay in Maastricht, I’d say you should budget between $15,000-20,000AUD for 6 months.

Some Final Advice…

In the span of your lifetime, 6 months might not equate to much, but an exchange feels like you’ve just lived an entire years worth of experiences in half the amount of time. It’s pretty amazing how quickly you can put down roots in another part of the world. I don’t have any regrets about my exchange and I could spend hours telling you more about the things I was able to see, do, and live thanks to this opportunity. Instead, the last piece of advice I give you is to find some way to remember it – whether that’s photos, a journal, a blog, collecting souvenirs, or a combination of all those – I can guarantee you’ll want some kind of physical evidence it wasn’t just a dream.

Exchange isn’t easy, you will have lows along with the highs, but it is so worth your time and effort! Here are some extra links to help—

Facebook group for NS Group Tickets: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1472379199695327/

Facebook group for Second-hand Bikes: https://www.facebook.com/groups/216524551852144/

Facebook group for Bikes and Furniture: https://www.facebook.com/groups/zarurahusam/

 

Quintessentially British

Katherine Thelander
Bath Spa University, England (Semester 1, 2016)

Going on exchange is a chance to see the world and at first I found that England, apart from the weather, was no different to Australia. It took a mere twelve months for the United Kingdom to change my mind, to convince me that there was more to it beyond cloudy skies and posh accents. I now present to you my findings, my discoveries of the most quintessential ingredients that make up Britain. 

  1. Double deckers are ridiculous forms of transport.

There is nothing sillier than two double-decker buses facing off on the narrow road leading to Bath Spa University. Nothing more tense than them sliding past with inches between them, two tiers of students anxiously watching the debacle. Staying in a residence hall meant that my only connection to town was via this long and winding road, and this was altogether far too much effort. Why leave campus when all I needed – friends, food, and (ugh) class – was within walking distance. In Australia we’re used to commuting into uni but in Bath I could leave for class minutes before it started. The university is much smaller than QUT but that was a good thing for me – it meant my classes were small and focused groups, and it meant that you formed close connections with people who had the same interests. Living on campus and having my friends within easy reach is one of the things I’ll miss the most from my exchange experience (and I admit, the double deckers were pretty adorable too).

  1. Europe is a stone’s throw (almost literally).

We’ve learned to balk at the idea of booking flights, knowing that a vacation’s feasibility hangs on the whimsy of Jetstar and Virgin. Well worry no more – once you get over the initial flights to England you’re treated to flights cheaper than Australian intercontinental travel. Travelling Europe is appealing because vastly different cultures are close together in a small space, so you get a high concentration of ‘culture’ for a relatively small amount of money. More bang for your buck. It’s common for Australian travellers to string these countries together, embarking on months-long journeys so they’re not wasting the flight over, but living in Europe removes that worry. Exchange gives you the chance to take your time with travel, to not worry so much about increasing your ‘countries visited’ tally. Europe is also the perfect playground for beginner solo travellers (which I was and still am), so go get lost.

  1. Quaint rhymes with England (figuratively speaking).

Ah, England. Not an unfamiliar country. We’ve seen ‘Love Actually’, we’ve seen ‘Harry Potter’, we’re pretty sure we know exactly what England’s about. You know, it’s not that far off. London’s cool and all, but in my year in the UK I grew to adore the tiny towns that dot the countryside. Bath is the culmination of the English dream to me, the dream of retiring to a town with easy access to scones and spas. The buildings are stone, the roofs are thatch, and there are sheep on my campus. I never would have thought of Brisbane as a big city until coming to England, but now ensconced in town-living I realised what I’ve been missing. A friend in Oxford showed me one of the colleges of Oxford University, with two distinct stone walls. The first one, the inner one, was built in the 1200s, and the outer one was built in the 1600s. We stood between the two and were struck by the fact that our country was younger than the difference between them. I ruined this moment somewhat by smacking the 1200s wall, but it was a reminder that England is old, almost unfathomably old, and that there’s so much history to discover for yourself.

I can talk about my experience on exchange and everything I learned, but that doesn’t cover what’s possible. Every exchange is different because everybody is trying to answer a question they’re asking themselves. I don’t know if I found that answer while I was abroad, but I’ve gotten a whole lot closer. If you have a question, if there’s something you need to find out about yourself, then exchange is the time to ask it.