Learn About the World You Live In

Sophie C., Bachelor of Business
Aston University, England (Semester 2, 2016)

It has almost been exactly three weeks since I arrived back in Australia after 182 days (7 months) abroad in the UK. Today was my first day back at QUT after attending university at Aston Business School for a semester in my 3rd year of a business degree, majoring in Marketing and PR. First tip: if you do marketing or PR major, it’s almost impossible to find these subjects in Europe – so definitely stick to England/USA/Canada for that if you can.

Going on exchange was one of the scariest yet most exciting experiences of my life. Having never properly been overseas (or enduring that massive 26 hour plane journey), it was definitely taking a huge leap. But all the anxiety and stress of the preparation involved in exchange is definitely worth it once you arrive and realise just how big and exciting the world is. I landed at Heathrow totally alone in August of 2016 and spent a few days exploring London before embarking on a 24 day Topdeck tour, in which I have made some of my closest friends who I am still in contact with today. I decided to travel before my semester began, as I didn’t want to be worn out or risk running out of money before my tour. Second tip: save save save, exchange is a very different experience on a budget and it will make life so much easier and more enjoyable if you can get involved wherever possible and go on as many weekend trips as you can! Take advantage of being in another part of the world and take time to explore it and learn to appreciate it.

After this I moved to Birmingham in England with two other QUT students who I met at the exchange pre-departure drinks (third tip – go to that, as without these guys I 100% believe my experience would have been so different, we were each others support system the whole way through). We lived together in a dormitory-style accommodation (see photo top left corner in collage) on a student living campus just outside of the city, about a 15-minute bus ride to Uni. It was here that we lived with heaps of other Aston international students from countries like Portugal, Canada, Spain, Singapore, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and so many more. We all became like a tight knit family and I couldn’t have asked for better people. Fourth tip – try and stay in an international dorm/flat/room/house if possible, as I know people had a very different exchange experience just living with other Australians abroad, its better to get the full exchange experience and make international friends as it will open your eyes to so much, but also make friends with the locals!!

I chose Aston Business School and Birmingham due to their central location within England (1.5-2 hour train from London), without the hefty expenses of living in London. This university also perfectly catered for my marketing subjects. London is one of my favourite cities and I loved being able to just book a train the night before and go for weekend trips whenever I could. England was also an awesome base location for Europe travel as flights and trains are generally so cheap. University in England works mostly the same way, in terms of how lectures are delivered and the content. However they do smaller subjects, I completed 5 subjects during my time at Aston, which is 1 under a full-time load. I found that I wasn’t doing anywhere near as much assessment as I do at QUT. The assessment was mostly a 100% final exam, or one piece of coursework (assignment) worth 100%.  This was a bit of an adjustment at first, but really easy to get used to. You start appreciating the education we receive at QUT, as it prepared us Aussies so well for the England tertiary system.

Homesickness is definitely a thing as well, I struggled with it a few times but you just always need to remember that it’s okay and totally normal to struggle. However, so many people have successfully been able to do it, you only really get out of exchange what you’re willing to put in. Before exchange I had only done small travel within Australia and never lived out of home or fully supported myself. After exchange, I have been to a total of 20 countries and 35 cities, lived out of home and supported myself entirely for a whole 7 months, alongside keeping up with the assessment at Aston. I have already booked my flight back to the UK for June 2017, and cannot wait to do more solo travel with plans to move back to England in 2018. Exchange is an absolutely life-changing opportunity and opens your eyes to so much, it was the most enriching experience, I learnt so much about myself and the world and I would so highly recommend it to anyone considering going on a study exchange trip through QUT 🙂

PS: UK/European winter is COLD….bring lots of warm clothes 🙂

My Exchange Adventure

Mackenzie G, Bachelor of Industrial Design
Aston University, Birmingham, England (Semester 1, 2016)

One of the many trips around the UK. This time a weekend in Scotland with people from all around the world.

My Experience
Do you fancy seeing the world? Feel like shaking things up? Want to make uni a lot more fun? If this sounds like you then go sign up for student exchange!
Student exchange is an opportunity to live and study overseas. You get to meet people from all parts of the globe, see places you never would and have the time of your life all while completing your studies.

Earlier this year I flew over to Birmingham, England to complete my first semester of third year industrial design at Aston University. For four months I lived and studied abroad in a country I’ve never been to. There I learnt about product design, made worldwide friends and had an absolutely great time all the while completing my studies.
Aston University was my uni of choice for its industry backed reputation and central location.

Although the content they taught was more on the engineering side, they provided knowledge that I would likely not learn elsewhere. Submitting assignments, sitting exams and general university life was not so different to how we do it here which made adapting to their system a breeze.

Similarly studying in an English speaking country was not a problem at all. The accents and weather were the biggest difference initially but were soon overcome. So no intense culture shock here compared to the more foreign locations available. That said if you want to take it easy, Canada, USA and the UK are more comfortable options should English be your native language.

Life abroad at university is fun. Aston accommodates foreign exchange students very well with regular events and trips around the country. The majority of exchange students hung out together and with people from all over Europe, South America and just about everywhere else we felt a great sense of community exploring and learning together as foreigners.

For me I chose not to work and relied upon loans and savings to keep myself financially supported. So not needing a job meant I had more time to study and even more time to explore the UK and just have fun. With my crew of international students we visited most major UK cities, Liverpool, Manchester, London, Edinburgh, Dublin and so on. Unique to the English semester is a three week mid semester holiday. Being so close to France and in the middle of winter that meant skiing was up for grabs. So my mid semester break consisted of a week-long ski trip with the uni and two weeks of hot, beautiful sun in the Canary Islands. Luckily for me it wasn’t all about studying. Maybe your university has something similar. You can make your student exchange custom made for whatever interests you! Something not thought about often when considering student exchange.

The Application Process
Getting sorted for a student exchange is no easy task. Sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back. A lot of research and hard work is required but the effort is worth the reward. A lot of the time my effort was independent simply because there were questions that only I could find the answers to… mostly specific university queries. Although it was difficult my motivation kept the ball rolling, something we tend to forget when going through this process.

The opportunity to work alongside students from different cultures on the other side of the world is worth every ounce of effort.

Finances
A common concern is money and to how fund such an extravagant adventure. Fortunately there are awesome financial assistance options available from QUT. The OS help loan and the mobility grant made my venture possible. Applying for and receiving these are nothing short of easy. With a minimum of $8000 AUD available anything from your own pocket would only be for an extended holiday!
When it comes to budgeting research is key. Finding everyday living costs is essential especially if you’re thinking of living in the UK, Switzerland or any other expensive locations. The small things really add up.

As far as accommodation goes share houses are the best option. Cheap and entertaining they’re nothing short of fun. My house was intensely multicultural which furthered my travel education but also provided another social circle. Comparatively the on campus accommodation at Aston is rather pricey but more student orientated. Again research is key here.

The appropriate visa will make returning to your host country a breeze. This allowed me to skip between the UK and France with ease.

Visas
Before leaving Australia ensure you have the appropriate visa and ensure your passport meets federal requirements. Ensure in advance so you’re not caught rushing around last minute.

The study visa for the UK was a frustratingly slippery slope. Students who have studied there offered mixed advice and the visa website was just as helpful. Trying to save a few hundred dollars by not getting one is risky business but its best to play it safe. Upon entering the country I was told this wasn’t required but soon after relieved by my enrolling member of staff as she reassured me this was a necessary requirement of the university. Nothing too special with passports, just make sure there is plenty of time left on it before it expires.

Customise Your Experience
One aspect not discussed enough is how you can revolve your exchange around what you want to do. My initial idea was basically studying overseas and seeing the sights. However you can leave home well before semester starts and get into some travelling, complete your semester then top it off with a couple more months of travel. Or do like I did and compete in heaps of skateboard races around Europe! It might sound like a holiday but there is a lot to learn when you’re not at uni.

Once the semester concluded I travelled through Europe and attended many skateboard races. A long time dream now accomplished. (I’m in the grey suit).

If I Could Do It Again
I would be extra adventurous. I would try out a non-English speaking country, somewhere that teaches classes in English but with a culture greatly different to Australia. Unknown to me was how much of the European population spoke English. Knowing this I would have jumped in the deep end for a totally foreign experience.

Adventure of a Lifetime in Birmingham

Cassandra, T., Bachelor of Public Health
University of Birmingham, England (Semester 1, 2017)

Going on exchange was easily the best decision of my life. Not only did I make incredible life long friends but I also experienced life as a local in a country so far away from home. It is difficult to summarise such an amazing experience that was both as amazing as I expected and even more.

I spent semester 1, 2017 at the University of Birmingham in England. I had visited the country a couple of times before with my family and had fallen in love with the rich history, traditions and culture. After receiving an email from the QUT study abroad and exchange office advertising the exchange program I thought why not give it a shot.

University Life

I was really nervous before arriving at my uni hall as I had never lived anywhere but Brisbane or with anyone but my family. At UoB most of the first years and exchange students live in the Vale. It is a group of residence halls run by the university and has a small community feel. I lived in Mason with 5 other girls all sharing a kitchen and common area. I opted to cook myself instead of having the meal plan. I also had my own private room and bathroom, providing a place to study and call everyone back home.

All my flat mates were very welcoming and we all instantly clicked.  The people I lived with became my closest friends and we did everything together, becoming the envy of other flats that didn’t get along so well with their flat mates. I never once felt alone or isolated as my support network of both international and British friends were always there. During the Easter break I was fortunate enough to stay with some of my friends at their homes in Rochester and Scunthorpe, where I was treated to traditional English pub meals and a classic Sunday dinner, which is actually a roast lunch. We still speak just about every day, the time zones may be difficult but with so many forms of social media it makes staying in contact really easy.

Campus

Getting to and from uni was a lot easier than my one-hour bus ride to QUT, it was only a leisurely 15min walk to the main campus from my uni hall. The main campus was particularly beautiful with many old historic buildings mixed with new state of the art buildings like the new fancy library. In the centre of the campus is Old Joe, the largest free standing clock tower in Europe. Legend has it that if you walk underneath while it chimes you will fail your degree. The Great Hall where I completed one exam looked like it was straight out of Harry Potter. During the spring the campus and the Vale, where I lived, had daffodils and other pretty flowers blooming everywhere.

Study Load

The curriculum set up is slightly different to QUT with most students taking 6 units per semester, the option to take 4 or 5 units per semester is available however this means some units are weighted more heavily meaning more work. Although, the workload was still manageable and I still found time to hang out with friends. I was there for 2 semesters, the spring/summer semesters, as they have 3 semesters per year. The first semester is only 11 weeks long and is the main teaching period. Following that, there is a month long break over Easter, the perfect time to travel and see the rest of the UK and Europe.  The contact hours are slightly more than what I’m accustomed to at QUT with around 2 or 3 lectures a week and a tutorial, seminar or practical. However, they were usually only 1 hour long.

Travel

With the U.K. being a lot smaller in geographical size than Australia it was easy to go on day trips or overnight trips on the weekends to different cities. As Birmingham is only a 2-hour train ride to London, I had many day trips there exploring the city. I also saw many lovely quaint old towns and historical castles such as, Warwick Castle, Nottingham and Nottingham castle, the Cadbury factory, Edinburgh, Oxford, and Blenheim Palace. Train tickets are also super cheap if you buy a 16-25 year old rail pass. I can’t recommend it enough, if you plan on taking trains it is definitely worth the money. Because of this we were able to buy 7 pound return trips to London, bargain! Plane tickets were also cheap if you buy them well in advance and only take carry on luggage. Because of this I was able to travel through Europe during the month break between the semesters. I was lucky enough to visit, Malaga in Spain, Dublin for St Patrick’s Day, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm, Berlin, Paris, Iceland, Venice and Rome. It is really difficult to pick my favourite place but Iceland was definitely amazing. The landscapes and natural beauty are unlike anything I had ever seen before.

Why you should go on exchange

I couldn’t recommend going on an exchange enough. This experience QUT has provided me with has made me come out of my shell and realise my aspirations for life. I have learnt life lessons that wouldn’t be taught in a classroom. It may sound cheesy but Birmingham will always be my second home.

The QUT exchange program has really opened my eyes to a world of possibilities and adventures right outside my doorstep. It truly was an experience of a lifetime.

 

Aston-ishing England

Annabel Boersen, Bachelor of Business – International
Aston University, England (Semester 2, 2017 through Semester 1, 2018)

I absolutely loved my time on exchange at Aston University in Birmingham, UK. There were so many highlights of my trip both academic and cultural: including meeting Orlando Bloom!

I chose to go to Aston University as part of my BS08 Second Degree program, and to be honest, I hadn’t really researched too much on the location of the University before I arrived. I was surprised to find that it was right on the edge of Birmingham city centre (it took 20 mins to walk to the other side of the city). This meant that everything you needed was within walking distance! The city of Birmingham also has fantastic transport options to travel around the UK and Europe (multiple train and coach stations, and an international airport as well!). I went to Bratislava, Frankfurt, Dublin, and more with cheap flights from Birmingham. I also made an effort to see as much of the UK as possible. I went north to Edinburgh, did a narrow boat adventure into Wales, and even did a 7-day walking holiday along the Cornish Coastal Path (in Cornwall), just to name a few things. I definitely recommend that you take advantage of the central location of Birmingham to get around the UK in your time there.

Since I was at Aston for a full year exchange, I was able to secure accommodation on campus. This was awesome because it was only a 5-minute walk to any class. There was also a supermarket and gym on campus which meant that in winter if it was raining or snowing, you could still get to everything very easily. I lived in a female only 7 bedroom flat. I shared a kitchen with 6 other girls, and we each had our own room and bathroom. I

One of the highlights of my entire exchange was celebrating Christmas at Disneyland Paris with my sister, who had come out to visit over the Christmas break. It was so magical especially when it snowed, and is something that I won’t ever forget. Another highlight was the people that I met while I was there. Because my exchange went for a whole year, I took part in many activities, joined the university dance society and even found a casual job at a 5* hotel in the city centre. I met people not only from all around the UK, but from all around the world. I also connected with eight other Australians who were doing the same program as me and we went to all the classes together, which was great because it meant that I knew people who were going through the same experience and if we had any questions or issues, we could figure them out together. Another highlight was looking out my window and seeing it snow on campus (it snowed multiple times on my exchange, even through April)!

In terms of units, lectures and tutorials, the UK system, although similar, is quite different in some aspects. For example; attendance at all lectures and tutorials was recorded, timetables were assigned and not chosen, and some of our units that went for the entire year only had one piece of assessment (a 100% exam). In the first semester I studied five units and in the second I studied seven. This resulted in me having four 100% exams, two 80% exams, and one assignment all in the final examination period. But as hard as it sounds, I found it realistic and was not overwhelmed at all. It was also very interesting as all my lecturers came from different cultural backgrounds. I loved how cultural the whole experience turned out to be, despite me still being in an English speaking country!

I loved the whole experience and would totally recommend others to take part in an exchange to Aston University. If I could do it again, I would!

‘The Best of Birmingham’

The QUT exchange program provided me with a range of opportunities and experiences. I spent the last semester studying abroad in England at the University of Birmingham through the QUT exchange program. Beginning classes in late September, I was not only studying on the other side of the world, but I had elected to be living in university accommodation. In doing this I found a tremendous school spirit amongst all university members who all had great pride in attending UoB. It was here that I was able to make life long friends who were studying a range of degrees from business to medicine to geology. Living so far away from everyone and everything I knew also forced me to grow greatly as not only a student but as an individual. I have come to realise that so much of life is connected through the people we meet and the actions we take. The acceptance of others and myself has also been a great lesson I’ve gained from this experience. In addition to this, I believe that my academic knowledge has grown exponentially, which I attribute to the different teaching techniques I was exposed to while on the exchange.

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The university life at UoB was greatly different to that at QUT. Although each student took six units per semester instead of the usual four taken at QUT, the workload still seemed manageable. Each day would begin with 9am lectures and seminars that continued until 6pm when all classes concluded for the day. Although many students were given fuller timetables than those found at QUT, the extra time allowed for private study helped to decrease stress given the workload. The facilities provided to Birmingham students were outstanding. These included the incredibly resourceful library, which was home to many students for most of the day and often night during exam block, and the personal tutor program provided. This entailed each student being assigned to a member of the UoB staff, who was able to guide students through university life, providing any assistance, whether that were directing a student to the correct member of faculty or providing an ear when exams were looming. Many of the students agreed that this was a great benefit to adjusting at university. I believe that the QUT exchange program was able to provide me with a truly life changing experience and would greatly recommend it and University of Birmingham to anyone considering partaking in the exchange program.

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One of the university buildings

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The clock tower named “Old Joe” on the center of campus