Becoming a Part of the Gamecock Family!

Marianne J., Master of Business
University of South Carolina, USA (Semester 2, 2017)

Going to Columbia and University of South Carolina (USC) gave me so much: the ultimate American college experience, friends for a lifetime and experiences I will never forget.

On Campus – Horseshoe

Preparation and Arrival

Once I got my official “Letter of Acceptance” from the partner institution I could start the visa application. As compared to applying for an Australian visa this process takes more time and effort. First, you need to apply online, pay fees, get approved, set up an interview date and then go to the actual embassy. Be aware that, upon your interview they will need to keep your passport for a maximum of two weeks in order to insert the visa, so be sure to have enough time before departing.

Darla Moore School of Business (DMSB)

When I arrived in Columbia, South Carolina, a friendly, old couple picked me up as a part of the airport reception provided by the university. I highly recommend everyone to attend orientation week, not only are some events compulsory, but this is where you`ll have the chance to meet with your fellow students and professors and a lot of useful information will be given. This is where I met most of the people that I become close to and hung out with the most the rest of the semester. Including that, there are loads of events that offer free food, and as a poor student you don`t want to miss that! I arrived just in time for the solar eclipse, where Columbia was in the zone of totality. I also arrived in time for hurricane Irma, and quickly got an insight into the natural disasters that can occur on this side of the world.

DMSB

Accommodation

As for housing, postgrads usually cannot live on campus, but there were plenty of other off-campus student communities. Unfortunately, all the short-term leases fill up rather quickly. I went onto the USC website and found students who were subleasing, and ended up staying in a four-people apartment at a place called Riverside – a ten minute drive from campus. Most of the off-campus communities have a shuttle running to and from campus every 30 min on week days, all with a common stop on campus. This made it easy even for international students to get around. Riverside apartments came fully furnished and are very conveniently located next to a Bi-Lo (grocery store), bowling alley, and restaurants. In the USA you pay rent monthly, and living in a student accommodation is usually very cheap. I paid approximately $610 AUD a month, excluding utilities.

Riverside Student Accommodation (Off-Campus)

College Life

Columbia is a major college town and the whole city is proudly supporting and representing USC and the Gamecock (school mascot). I was there in the fall semester and got to experience football season, which entailed a weekly game where 80 000 people came to cheer for the Black & Garnet. The team and school spirit that you will experience here is like nowhere else. USC is also lucky enough to have the biggest college gym in southeast America; Strom Thurmond; a three-level playground for athletics and free of charge for all students. I can honestly say that this is the best and nicest gym I have ever been to.

Football Game at Williams-Brice Stadium

Further, USC offers heaps of clubs to get involved with, no matter what interests you, they have it. I played indoor soccer and used the student gym and its amenities frequently, and personally thought it was fun to see what all the fuss about sororities and fraternities were all about.

Strom Thurmond – Student Gym

Classes

I had to have my study plan ready before going overseas but couldn’t officially enroll until I got to Columbia. To pass the requirements from QUT I had to enroll into four units at USC, where 48 Australian credit points were equivalent to 12 U.S. credit points (3 per unit). You are being told from the beginning to save your electives and I would really recommend doing so. Some of the classes I wanted to enroll in were either full or not available to exchange students, so having mostly electives left when going abroad made the process of choosing new ones, and having them approved, much easier. Bear in mind that attendance is compulsory in the States and can, along with participation, be a part of your end grade. The postgrad classes were relatively small, ranging from 15-30 students. Some classes could be challenging, but they were all achievable.

Columbia and the U.S.

Columbia has a climate that is a little similar to Brisbane. The summers are hot and humid, and long-lasting, while the winters can get chilly and sometimes below 0, but only for a few months. Throughout the semester you had plenty of time to explore. Columbia has a river that runs straight through the city, where tubing is a very common activity, especially on those hot summer days. Five Points and the Vista are the famous areas for restaurants and night life. This is where students usually come together to socialize.

Tubing on the River

Christmas

Halloween

Although, Columbia, or ‘Cola’ as the Americans call it, isn’t the biggest and most exciting city there are many places worth seeing only a few hours away. We went to Atlanta and saw the World of Coke, to Savannah – the 7th most haunted city in the U.S., Charleston –home of all Nicholas Sparks movies. Including bigger trips to NYC, DC and I even had time to go see my host family in Utah over Thanksgiving. It is also an experience in itself to celebrate the different public holidays like Labor Day, Halloween, and Christmas.

Atlanta Skyline

Atlanta – CNN Headquarters

New York

Washington DC

I really enjoyed my time at USC and am so grateful for the opportunity that I had to go abroad and become a Gamecock! I can`t say it enough, but if you have the chance – take it. Going abroad and all it implies is so worth it!

– Forever to Thee –

Made Friends for Life!

Heidi F., Bachelor of Education (Secondary)
State University of New York, USA (Semester 2, 2016)

University

I loved studying at SUNY. It was such a different experience to anything that I had been used to previously. It was awesome to be living on a campus where it was snowing almost every day, so much so that we sometimes had snow days where university would be cancelled for the day (where we then went out sledding behind our dorms). Not to mention the time when I ran out into the snow in my bikini! (Just to say I had done it). The university as a whole was all quite expensive but worth it I think. The meal plan was compulsory (and super expensive!!) but I’m glad I had it as it made everything a lot easier. It was a lot of fun having an ice skating rink on campus as we did that quite a bit as well as watched a lot of ice hockey matches which I loved. I joined a lot of sporting groups and I also did a lot of on campus activities which kept me busy. They were a lot of fun! Academics wise- it was quite easy compared to QUT. It surprised me how much easier it was than what I was used to but it was good as I was able to get pretty good marks without placing much stress on myself.

One of the sporting groups I joined

America

It blew me away how bad the currency exchange rate was. I lost a lot of money when I exchanged my AUD dollars to the US currency. It was super sad seeing how many thousands of dollars I was losing but I just kept telling myself that it was all going to be worth it! And it totally was. I traveled quite a bit to New York City as well as around New York State and up to the Thousand Islands. At the end of my uni semester, I also flew across to California and spent quite a lot of time there. It was exciting to get some sunshine and beaches there after such a long time without! One thing about America that was a little tricky was the ability to adjust to the different foods. I often found myself feeling a little sick as I wasn’t used to it. After a while my body adjusted I think, and I was feeling a lot better.

Snow days happened all the time

New York City!

Highlights

There were so many highlights, obviously. I had a great time experiencing new things such as skiing and snowboarding as well as getting into new sports like ice hockey and American football. The ‘touristy’ things were also a blast such as the Statue of Liberty, Hollywood sign, Hollywood boulevard, Santa Monica Pier etc. I did and saw so many things! Looking back on it all though, I definitely think one of the best things about my exchange was just living on campus and meeting so many amazing people. I have now made friends for life and so many of these guys are already heading over this way soon!

Santa Monica Pier

A Life in Chicago

William N., Bachelor of Design (Honors)
Illinois Institute of Technology, USA (Semester 2, 2017)

The university…

Going on exchange to Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago last semester was an amazing experience, which I already miss and wish I could repeat all over. As an architecture student, IIT was an amazing place to both visit and live. The campus was designed by one of my favourite architects – Mies van der Rohe – who also started the architecture school on campus, and taught there for a period of time. Because of this, the school has a wonderful architecture program, and great resources for architecture students.

Despite being in a somewhat dodgy area, the campus is only a few train stops from downtown, making it really easy to explore the city throughout my exchange. On top of this, during the semester the university gives you a free travel card, giving you unlimited access to the buses and trains throughout the city. The campus is also within walking distance of the lake which is a really nice place to go swimming.

The on-campus accommodation that I chose was really nice, however the other dormitories I visited were not as nice, which I think would influence the quality of exchange perhaps. I had two randomly assigned roommates, who I didn’t become friends with, but it gave me the opportunity to experience living with strangers, and make me a more tolerant person. My apartment had a kitchen so I cooked most meals, however the university requires you also purchase a meal plan at the cafeteria. The food was not very nice though.

Unexpected…

For future exchange students visiting IIT, don’t expect the university to make much of an effort introducing you to other international students, so make sure you make an effort yourself at the start to introduce yourself to others.

Highlights…

For me, the highlight of exchange was the opportunities I got to travel both within and outside the states. During the semester I travelled to New Orleans, Toronto, and New York – and spent a week in Copenhagen during my Thanksgiving break in late November.

The campus life at the university was definitely not what I expected. I was expecting a very traditional university with frat parties, etc. but was surprised how different it was. The university has very little social or party life, making it difficult to make friends with other students. However, I found a group of other exchange students who I became good friends with, so it ended up not being an issue.

Tips/ advice…

Definitely pack or buy a lot of warm clothes, as it gets very freezing, very quickly. When looking at the weather, always pay attention to the “feels like” temperature, as the wind chill is almost always ten degrees colder in the winter. Do a lot of research before choosing your housing. The university give most if not all exchange students $1500 a semester towards housing – however not all options have kitchens, meaning you may pay more on the cafeteria meal plans!

Truly Life Changing Texas A&M University

Cameron S., Bachelor of Business/Information Technology
Texas A&M University, USA (Semester 2, 2018)

“Truly life changing” is often the phrase I use to describe my semester exchange at Texas A&M University. I wanted to go on exchange somewhere fun, unique, and full of culture. I certainly received all of that when I arrived at College Station and became an Aggie for the semester. Texas A&M is a large university that boasts nearly 70,000 students, located in the heart of Texas. I remember constantly being in awe of the magnitude of the campus and the grandeur of the buildings. History and traditions are a big part of student life. One of my favourite traditions to experience was the Aggie Bonfire. A large bonfire is built every autumn around Thanksgiving to signify the Aggie’s desire to beat their long-standing rival, the University of Texas.

Bonfire

Experiencing an American college atmosphere was incredible. Football games, passionate people, and Northgate (the nightlife district) are a few of the things I will never forget. I had the joy of getting to witness one of the best college football games of all time. The game was against Louisiana State University and went to 7 overtimes breaking numerous college football records.

Football Game

Although arriving in a foreign country is a little daunting at first, the people of Texas make you feel right at home. Texans amaze me with their incredibly welcoming manner and friendliness. I decided to live on campus where I met a bunch of other international students that quickly became my friends. I made most of my friends by joining ISMA, an organisation that pairs internationals with local students. ISMA organised road trips around Texas as well as different social events. I would definitely recommend getting involved in organisations while on exchange. The close friends I made through ISMA would often meet up to hang out or go to Northgate. At the end of the semester we took a long road trip through West Texas and New Mexico to go skiing in Colorado.  The enjoyment of the trip was occasionally dampened by thoughts of how my exchange is coming to an end.

Colorado

I had so many unique and incredible experiences during my stay in Texas and traveling to places like Los Angeles and New Orleans. The people that I met and the close friends that I made are what made this trip so special. My only regret is not going for a year. Gig ‘em!

New Orleans

 

 

 

Time on Exchange in South Carolina

James H., Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Laws
University of South Carolina, USA (Semester 2, 2018)

I picked the University of South Carolina as my exchange destination, mostly based on reports from previous exchange students and because it was a place I had never dreamed of going to in America. It ended up being a life changing experience that I will never forget.

When I first got to USC next to none of the domestic students had arrived on campus, so we took a few days to explore and get to know where we would be living for the next semester. The campus itself is incredibly picturesque, especially the ‘Horseshoe’ with its huge oak trees, lush green grass and all the classic American college buildings surrounding it. The facilities on campus were incredible with two huge fitness centres (pools, gyms, basketball and squash courts, a sauna, a rock climbing wall all inside) that are accessible for all students. Notably, the football stadium (Williams-Brice Stadium) can fit over 80,000 attendees and every game that I went to attempted to fill all of the seats with an atmosphere that was next to none – especially with the school song ‘Darude – Sandstorm’ playing at every point scored accompanied by fireworks.

On Campus Gardens

I lived in Cliff Apartments which was apartment style living shared between 4 students. We were all exchange students and I shared a room with a student from the Netherlands with whom I quickly became lifelong friends. Although we had a kitchen with a stove, oven and fridge I utilised the college meal plan, mostly because of the ease of just heading to the diner for any meal of the day, although you do end up missing a home cooked meal! The campus does have countless restaurants to eat at, although we were regulars at ‘Bates Diner’ as it was a 5-minute walk from our accommodation.

I think one of the biggest highlights from my college experience was definitely the football games. The atmosphere at the games has no rival and I particularly loved the passion that all the Americans have for the game and their team. It was always amazing to see the lengths that the school goes to show their support including the mascot (Cocky), the band and cheer-squad. It was particularly beneficial for students as we got free tickets based on a points system – the more school support you showed the better seats you got – that meant attending all the other sporting events like soccer and volleyball and really getting into the school spirit. The tailgating of the games was another highlight as it was such a great opportunity to explore the social side of campus and meet lots of students outside of college life.

Unreal Atmosphere at Williams-Brice Stadium

America was great to travel to as there are so many further travel opportunities to explore while you are there. I highly recommend budgeting some extra money to explore some places nearby, for example I traveled to Connecticut, Colorado, New York, Texas and did a bus tour through all of the Southwest States at the end of my trip. There are so many opportunities you wouldn’t want to miss while you are over there, and I definitely recommend saying yes to them all!

Overall, exchange was undoubtedly an unforgettable experience and I could not recommend it enough. I met so many lifelong friends and really got out of my comfort zone which seems daunting at first but ends up being incredibly rewarding. I can’t wait to go back and visit the friends I made. Go Cocks!!!

True American Experience

Dylan, S. Bachelor of Science
University of Wyoming, USA, (Semester 2 2017)

Going on exchange at the University of Wyoming in the USA was far and away the best thing I have ever done in my life. The people I met on exchange will be friends for life and the experience and sights I saw and shared with them I will never forget!

From the minute I jumped off the plane over I was a mix of nerves, fear, excitement and Taco Bell and I can honestly say that If you’re not scared it’s not something worth doing.

Walking the Streets of Wyoming

Wyoming is the state in the US with the smallest population and it is smack bang in the middle of nowhere but it honestly has so much to offer. The national parks are beautiful & there is world class skiing so close as well. If you love hiking and anything outdoors UW has the most insane outdoor program with trips every few weeks and it is so easy to make friends with people who are constantly getting out and doing exciting things.

UW itself is a pretty small school with the best sense of community. It’s in a town called Laramie which has some really cool little food spots and a lot of places that sell camo. I would recommend being over 21 or be turning 21 if you are heading to UW. Another recommendation I would have is to listen to a little country music before you leave Aus, because you will listen to it a lot and eventually begin to love songs about your tractor.

At the Beach

Some of the people in Wyoming can have pretty different values and political beliefs from home and at first that could be hard to swallow for a lot of people but if you have an open mind you will grow to love them.

Travelling around USA

The best advice I can give you is to get out of your comfort zone and try as many new experiences and meet as many new people as possible. Some of the other highlights of my trip apart from at UW included traveling to New York, New Orleans, road-tripping the west coast and going to Mexico for spring break.

 

I tried to have a ‘true’ American college experience and lived off campus in a house with people I had never met. This lead to the majority of my friends being Americans and not being other international students. While this may be scary, I went over there wanting an authentic experience and I truly am thankful for getting that. Everyone I met was so open and fun that I wouldn’t change it for the world. If you wanted the more standard exchange experience though UW still has a great international program and they will look after you so well!

Snowmobiling

I would 100% recommend going to the university of Wyoming and to America on exchange. It is such a great country and you will have memories you will never forget, it was by far the best thing I have done in my life and I want to go back every day!

Going global with QUT was amazing and even though it’s a long application process it is so worth it and the study abroad team is so helpful 🙂

Living Big in Small Town Indiana

Eliza P., Bachelor of Business/Laws
Purdue University, USA (Semester 2, 2018)

If you’re reading this blog post then you have probably already heard it before, but taking a semester abroad is one of the best decisions you will ever make. No matter where you decide to go, you are giving yourself not only an amazing opportunity to learn about another culture, but to learn things about yourself that are sometimes only discoverable away from home.

Purdue University was my first choice for my exchange program. It’s a big, small town college with a lot of heart in West Lafayette, Indiana. Going to college in Midwest America is definitely an authentic experience. I lived in a two person shared dormitory room with a German exchange student, which cost me about $4,500 USD (including meals). Living in the dorms was very convenient because they’re on campus where classes, the dining courts and the gym are. Although, most American college students will leave dormitory living in their sophomore (second) year to live in a house with friends or their fraternity or sorority houses. So if you are a bit older, this is something to keep in mind when organising living arrangements.

Boiler up!

Surprisingly, I loved college for how it required frequent attendance. For each subject, I had class three times a week for 1.5 hours and I only had three absences before my grades would be penalised for nonattendance. In the beginning, it was difficult to adapt because this was so different to back home. However, I found that through this I was able to immerse myself in college life, make friends in class and truly invest in the content – so it was really rewarding!

In terms of culture, Americans and Australians are very similar, so myself and my other Australian friends found it really easy to meet people and make friends. The pace of life at Purdue and other big colleges in small towns is completely different to the pace back here at QUT, where the average university student will work part-time while studying. With a lot of free time, college students love to hang out and do nothing (or study) together, so I rarely spent a moment alone.

Making memories with new friends

Purdue will always be a home away from home for me, and while it tended to be quieter than some typical American colleges during the semester, that quieter time meant I had to time to make and spend with friends who will last a lifetime. You will not regret taking a semester abroad, and there’s really never another opportunity than during your university years, so just do it! And BOILER UP!

Live an all American life in Alabama

Sam C. Bachelor of Business/ Bachelor of Law (Honours)
University of Alabama (Semester 2, 2018)

Going to the University of Alabama on exchange was one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Stepping into a completely different culture and having the opportunity to be there for a prolonged period of time and truly immerse yourself is something that I had always aspired to do since I graduated high school. Being given that chance on exchange I was determined to take full advantage of everything that was offered to me and do my absolute best to get everything out of the experience. Right from the beginning of my exchange I adopted an open mindset in terms of participating in activities that were out of my comfort zones. I feel that this accompanied by an outgoing personality allowed me to quickly find my feet relatively and begin to develop friendships.

UoA!

On one of my first nights in Alabama myself and the other Australian I was with met a group of people who, unbeknownst to us at the time, would ultimately become our best friends on the exchange. With true Southern hospitality, these people ended up inviting us to their respective houses in Baton Rouge, Chicago, South Carolina and Tennessee at different times throughout the semester. Befriending local students also allowed me to truly experience the culture of the host university and have an authentic exchange experience.

Game days are a highlight

As our exchange unfolded I ended up meeting people from all different facets of the University and it truly felt that I had created a whole new friendship group, one removed from the one that I previously had back in Australia. For me this was probably the best thing about exchange and the thing that I miss the most being back in Brisbane. Overall, I would highly recommend exchange to everyone who is considering because there is no other experience like it!

Some of my favourite activities from

exchange:

  • Tailgating Aland football games;
  • Exploring local nature spots;
  • Greek life events; and
  • Trying (even if only once) some of the typical dining options that you see on tv e.g. Wendys, Chic-fil-a, waffle house etc.
  • We managed to fit in a lot of travelling, Chicago!

Southern Hospitality – My Exchange to University of South Carolina

Patrick H., Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Fine Arts (Drama)
University of South Carolina (Columbia campus), USA (Semester 1, 2017)

I completed an exchange semester to The University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus from January to May 2017. USC’s campus certainly dwarfed QUT’s campuses with some majestic classical buildings and hints of the city’s Civil War history literally spelt out on signs around town.  My African American Literature professor could also be counted on to fill in some more, less flattering history of the area, including the fact that the IHOP carpark was previously the largest ‘slave pen’ in the entire South.

One of the South Columbia historic site signs.

The campus itself was very scenic, green and spacious, with the common area of the Horseshoe being a quiet, sylvan spot to relax as the weather turned warmer. “Turned warmer” being the operative phrase as the January start to the semester meant sub-zero temperatures on arrival and even returning from a Spring Break in New Orleans saw my Cliff Apartment’s ‘home’ on campus in the midst of a snap snowstorm. So my first piece of advice would be to pack for both freezing cold and significant heat – clothes that can be layered are an absolute must.

The Horseshoe, USC Columbia campus.

The Observatory and one of the more spectacular residences on USC Columbia campus.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, while the campus is an easy walk into ‘town’ (with such attractions as the Nickelodeon cinema, the Columbia Museum of Art, and bars and restaurants such as Bourbon (upmarket and authentic Southern food) and The Whig (more affordable pub fare)) and Five Points (an equivalent of somewhere like Fortitude Valley/West End), getting to The Vista or to an affordable supermarket like Walmart is impossible without a car (though USC was kind enough to lay on a shuttle bus to Walmart on a weekly basis) so, if you’re relying on your own feet, you may be limited to those areas in walking distance.

Jazz recital under Columbia Museum of Art’s amazing modern chandelier.

 

When attending classes on such a big campus (particularly if you’re taking some of the music or literature classes that are in remote buildings), make sure to allow enough time to get there. There are plenty of venues for music, theatre and even film (free films are screened during semester) on the campus itself and my accommodation at Cliff Apartments included regular free food nights to ensure residents got to meet their fellow students. There are also many food options on campus and Dominos is not far away (Wednesday night pizzas are $5). The organisers of sports on campus also make sure students can get free or discounted tickets to basketball, baseball and other sports events on campus and nearby and outings to (e.g.) Columbia’s zoo, Folly Beach, Charleston and other cities within driving distance are offered to visiting international students at a modest charge.

The view from my Cliff Apartments’ window.

Cliff Apartments certainly wasn’t the most glamorous accommodation on campus but the apartments were the largest in terms of space and included separate kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom in an open plan space. The only necessity to buy yourself were things like pots, pans, crockery and cutlery. The early-mentioned Walmart trips were a good opportunity to get your hands on the things you need for the apartment early on.

Cooper Library, which you’ll get to know very well.

Overall, USC’s Columbia campus was people by friendly fellow students, very knowledgeable and approachable professors and support staff who were always ready with vital advice and a tasty scone (not like ours at all!) and flat white (I taught them, don’t worry) to raise your spirits. My best advice would be just to be open to anything that’s on offer – I did and saw a Gospel Festival, a speech by Francis Ford Coppola (!!) with screening of his work in progress, some fantastic theatre department productions, a baseball game, a night of role-playing boardgames and a really fun Oscars night at Nickelodeon as a result!

The Ghost Light ceremony with USC’s Theatre Department in attendance.

 

Exchange at the University of Minnesota

Meng Lee, Bachelor of Business
University of Minnesota, USA (Semester 2, 2017)

Overall, I would recommend the University of Minnesota (U of M) for all students that are interested in going on a long term exchange. The organizer for this program was really helpful and friendly for students to ask questions. I took many opportunities to travel around the different states but I would say the transportation from state to state is really expensive as compared to Australia. For example, if you are planning to go New York during your break, it would probably cost you around 250 USD. I would recommend that you to book the ticket early as to avoid this issue.

I found that Minnesota is a really quiet and peaceful place. There is not a lot of night life or shopping…so please don’t expect it will be the same life as New York, Chicago or other big cities (hahahah). However, there is the biggest shopping center in US which is the Mall of America. You probably could find all your stuff there.

If you are planning to go U of M during the winter time, I will suggest you to bring more thick clothes! The weather is crazy there! I AM SERIOUS. I remember when I arrived, it was -30 Celsius. You probably need an extremely thick jacket and at least 2 layers inside your body. Boots are a must. No sport shoes, as it would kill you (hahaha).

During my time in University of Minnesota, I met many new friends from around the world. This definitely helped me to strengthen my social network with meeting new friends from different nations; vibe with them and learn more about their culture. Since coming back from U of M, I have been Europe to meet my best friends that I met on exchange.

Studying abroad is not only about acquiring knowledge, but also discovering a new culture. I have to say that I really recommend students to take this opportunity to engage in this program!