Embracing Student Life in Exeter

Matilda P., Bachelor of Mass Communication
University of Exeter, England, (Semester 2, 2016)

I started the process of applying for exchange two years ago. A friend had recently returned from Exeter University and ignited my interest in that particular university. I had previously lived in the UK a few years ago and was thrilled with the opportunity to return. The culture and history of the UK, and my friend’s recommendation of the vibrant student city of Exeter, propelled me into action and solidified my decision.My first impression of Exeter was a lovely city filled with old buildings and lots of green spaces. I arrived at my college in the morning sunshine (unusual for England!) , met my college roommates and settled into my room which featured an en-suite, which I had never had before, so I was thoroughly excited! Our college or “halls” as it is referred to in the UK, was located approximately 20 minutes from the central university campus, along a leafy path dotted with old houses. We ventured into university during ‘freshers” week and I was impressed with the extensive modern facilities the university provided staff and students. As a recognised university within the UK, known for its high academic achievements and sporting honours, the societies, clubs and teams available were extensive compared to that available to QUT. There is a culture within the UK university system, particularly with recognised universities where being a part of a sport, a society and playing an instrument is encouraged, and many students partake in this. Much like Australian high school culture, which I found to be similar in the class rooms as well. Tutors were generally lecturers as well, and had very small class sizes, and independent learning was generally kept to a minimum. This culture was hard to adapt to, as I had always thrived as an independent learner at QUT, and encouraged and provided with the resources to do so. However, I credit this way of learning to Exeter University’s academic success, and along with its extensive sporting culture, were definitely the university’s strengths. University of Exeter is known for a breadth of studies, particularly the arts, law, and business. I took advantage of this, and studied art subjects in art history and visual art as electives.

Accommodation wise, most international students were placed at James Owen Court, a brick college of four stories, with approximately 6 roommates on each floor in separate bedrooms. The college was centrally located on the main street of Exeter, joked about by students for its location near the ‘dodgy’ end of town, where in fact it was just close to the shopping mall, and many bars and restaurants. All bills were included in our accommodation, and our facilities featured ping pong tables, an outside grassy area with picnic tables and a laundry.

Budgeting was one of the hardest parts of exchange, and I budgeted between five and seven thousand dollars, as recommended from another friend. The cost of living was pretty comparable to Brisbane, but having to transfer Australian dollars to the pound (nearly half) made budgeting difficult and I struggled in the first month to stick to my budget. I used both my Australian bank cards and an international money card, and split my finances across both quite evenly.

I was lucky to experience little culture shock, as I had previously lived in the UK, and was well versed in English culture. For future exchange students, I am confident the culture shock will be limited in the UK due to the country being English speaking; however, the weather always takes time to adjust to. To ensure my safety overseas I joined International SOS which sends emails and texts about terrorism, natural disasters, strikes and anything that could disrupt your travel, which occur more in Europe than in Australia, and is something to be aware of. I also made sure to email my parents where I was going and who I was with just in case of emergencies.

My “must have” item on exchange was my international money card which you can upload numerous currency’s on, my laptop, and copies of documents such as my passport, and birth certificate; in case of loss or damage. I would highly recommend the Cash Passport multi-currency card, as a bank card of choice, and EasyJet for flights within the UK and around Europe.

On return to Australia the hardest part for me was trying to capture and describe my journey to friends and family, and adapting to life as it was before, after you have been through all these life changing experiences. Academically, the different styles of learning in the UK really opened my eyes to how other countries learn and what they require academically from their students is very different from that in Australia and at QUT. Professionally, the ability to travel, and to have lived in another country is highly regarded by employees and is only beneficial for future employment opportunities. I would highly recommend university exchange to anyone with the optimism and desire to learn and experience a different culture, I would also recommend them to be diligent and persevere with their exchange application process in order to achieve their goals. University exchange is so valuable for students, you can spend weekends at Stonehenge, study breaks in Paris and meet people from all over the world while gaining real world experience in another country, and I am so thankful to QUT for that opportunity.

Blossoming in Sweden

Hayley W., Bachelor of Urban Development
Kungliga Tekniska Hogskolan, Sweden (Semester 1, 2017)

For my semester abroad I attended KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm City, Sweden. It was by far the best six months of my life. I was challenged in many different ways, given the most insane opportunities and experiences, met people from all over the world that I wouldn’t have otherwise met. I was pushed out of my comfort zone in terms of learning. Living in a different city provided me with many differences to Brisbane that I had to deal with, one particular aspect being the cold. I had never seen snow before going to Sweden and had never experienced a proper winter! At first I found it extremely hard to adjust to the short days (5 hours of sunlight) and the freezing temperatures in conjunction with not having any friends or knowing many people. This caused me to become very homesick at the start of my exchange, spending a lot of time in my room alone. However, the staff at my host University were amazing and made me feel very welcome, they hosted numerous events to encourage other international students to meet each other and this is how I made my friends (from Turkey, Brazil, England and Ireland!). In hindsight, the challenges I faced at the beginning of my exchange taught me so many lessons in life – it taught me lessons about being grateful (grateful for where I am lucky enough to live, and how I grew up) and also lessons about myself (such as I now realise how weather can effect my mood, and every day I wake up and it is sunny, I am grateful!). By the end of my 5 months in Sweden it was Spring and I had felt like I had blossomed along with the seasons – going from a shy girl spending most of my time in my room to a fully bloomed flower with heaps of friends out enjoying the sunshine and everything the city had to offer me! By June I did not want to leave Sweden, but I was so thankful for all of the opportunities I had received and the people I had met.

I am so thankful to the QUT mobility team who encouraged me to put in my application and assisted me at all stages of my application to ensure that I had the opportunity to go on exchange.

Going International in Historic Poland

Georgia D., Bachelor of Business
SGH Warsaw School of Economics, Poland (Semester 2, 2018)

 

For a very long time, I was conflicted on where I should travel for my exchange experience. The only thing that I knew for sure was that I wanted to take a hold of this opportunity to make my International Business degree truly “international”. My search led me to look at nearly every university and location on offer, but after attending a presentation from a Polish exchange student at QUT (one of many organised through the Exchange Office), I knew it was the place for me.

Palace of Culture and Science

Arriving in Warsaw, I realised early on just how big of a cultural divide there is between Poland and Australia – and I loved every minute of it. Sure, sorting out some of the initial paperwork with my landlord and government departments was made more difficult due to barriers of language/culture, but once I was settled in the city, I instantly thought of it as a second home.

Łazienki Park

I chose to rent a room on a street between the Ochota and Śródmieście districts – both quite central areas of the city that ended up being a perfect location for me as a student at SGH (Warsaw School of Economics). My experience in renting a room within a private apartment was wonderful, as I shared it with 3 other students, but the university offers dorm accommodation as well (which was also a popular option amongst exchange students). The public transport in Warsaw is great (trams, buses and Metro), and it took me less than 10mins to get to the SGH main building from my apartment using the tram system.

SGH Warsaw School of Economics – Main Building G

SGH provided a very different university experience for me, particularly evident in a reduced use of online systems and technology within lectures. I was enrolled in 7 units (as most units are worth about half the credit points of a QUT unit), and I took the opportunity to study a number of units that related to Poland and Eastern Europe, and its economic/political relations with/within the EU. It was a great opportunity as an Australian student to apply what I’ve learnt within my Business degree to an area of the world that I was quite unfamiliar with.

The campus is split over a couple of buildings, all within walking distance of each other, very close to Central Warsaw and serviced by buses, trams and a Metro line. The main building was quite beautiful, particularly the grand ceiling and university library, and most of my classes took place here. The exchange office ran a buddy program with current Polish students at SGH, which was definitely helpful for me initially, and my “buddy” and I became great friends during my time in Warsaw. She was able to show me a number of great places to eat and hang out close to the university, which was great because whilst living in Poland, that was actually something I could afford as a student.

Cost of living in Warsaw is SUPER affordable, and left room for me to spend more on travel and experiences with friends. A lot of local attractions (particularly museums) are free of charge on certain days of the week too, so I got to see and learn a lot without spending a ton of money. As a student all transport is reduced by 50%, and because this included intercity travel, I took a couple of trips to Krakow during my time here.

The food in Poland is also very good, and especially because I was there over the winter, I took advantage of some of the more ‘hearty’ dishes. In Warsaw, there has been a revival of “bary mlecnze” (milk bars) – cafeteria style eateries that were quite prominent in Poland’s communist era – that serve cheap traditional Polish dishes, and I could always get a full meal for under $5. The nightlife is obviously a little busier during the summer months, but there were still some great areas to explore with friends close to campus and city centre, where prices were also super reasonable.

I also found it very interesting to spend my exchange in a city with such an incredible history, as they really make an effort to preserve the memory of events that shaped the area, particularly within the WW2 era. Whilst I was there the country was celebrating 100 years of independence, and it was awesome to see how much pride the Polish people had for their country and its difficult past. I was constantly discovering new things about the city of Warsaw over the entire time I lived there, and I probably only scraped the surface.

I could talk about the positives of an exchange to Warsaw forever, and that’s something that really surprised me: just how much I loved my time there. Before going along to that presentation, I had not seriously considered Poland because I had never really heard much about it as a travel/study destination, and now I can’t understand why, because it’s brilliant. As a student, Warsaw is: cheap, packed with history, well connected by public transport, culturally rich and located very conveniently for travels within Europe during holidays or weekends. To anyone thinking of an exchange in Poland, I would definitely recommend giving it some serious thought. Whilst it might not be the most popular or conventionally easy, in my opinion it is definitely worth it!! I cannot wait to return to Warsaw again, and explore even more of Poland in the future.

 

 

An Amazing Life in Denmark

Dermott P., Bachelor of Behavioural Science
University of Southern Denmark, Denmark (Semester 2, 2018)

My exchange took place in the small rainy town of Odense on the middle isle of Fyn in Denmark. Odense is the third largest city in Denmark but is still quite small, especially compared to Brisbane, but never the less, it was amazing. Sydansk Universitet or SDU is similar to QUT in the sense that it is a technical university with more modern buildings and a focus on practical areas of study and the applications of these, so I found it rather easy to slip into Uni life there.

Copenhagen

What was a massive shock to me however, was living in a college. Although I grew up with four siblings and I have been living in share houses since I was 19, this experience was one of the most reassured and foreign of my exchange. I shared a kitchen with 14 other people, 11 of whom were Danes which I believe gave me a really authentic experience of their culture.

Reichstag Building

The closest thing I received to culture shock would be the language and being constantly addressed in it rather than in English however this soon dissipated when I practiced my Danish vocabulary. I would say their culture in many ways is similar to ours, but due to living in the country side this may well be different in Copenhagen or Århus. Danes like to have a beer, make an inappropriate joke, play sports and games, and debate social matters, much like what I have experienced in Australia, so this was very comforting to me.

            Denmark is renowned for being an expensive place to live, but due to Australia also being an expensive place to live, I didn’t find this as much. Although yet again being in the country would have affected this rather than being in a major city such as Copenhagen where things do tend to be costlier. Throughout my time overseas, I find it hard to pick out any specific highlights due to everything amazing me.

If I had to pick out a few though, going to sauna and swim in a frozen lake on boxing day with my brothers would rate very highly, as would sleeping in the Sahara desert in Morocco. Less spectacular, but one memory I would hold exceptionally close was spending three days in Copenhagen with an old friend and seeing my favourite band who don’t often tour, let alone Australia. But in reality, there were too many experiences I had which I wish I could accurately describe how amazing they were. For future students considering exchange I would recommend being open with your mind and your heart, and never let something get you down for too long. Be friendly, be happy and you will make friends no matter where you go.

 

 

 

Settling into Maastricht

Rachel W., Bachelor of Business – International
Maastricht University, Netherlands (Semester 1, 2017)

As part of the Bachelor of International Business, I chose to attend Maastricht University. It had a different learning approach to my usual university learning. Instead of lectures, we had two tutorials for each subject. During these tutorials we were required to discuss, present or answer questions about the weekly readings. It really forced me to participate more (participation was 30% of my grade!), and stay on top of my readings which really did help my retention of knowledge.

At first, I was really shocked; I was surrounded by students from all around Europe who were really motivated and knowledgeable about the subjects. Luckily the tutors were very understanding of how this was such a shock for me and gave me time to adjust without it affecting my grade.

As the oldest city in the Netherlands, Maastricht is a small university city; it is usually pretty quiet and peaceful except during carnival! Everyone was really friendly and nearly everyone spoke English which helped a lot when shopping! Buying a secondhand bike is essential because nearly everyone bikes everywhere. It is a great way to keep you healthy especially with the delicious Dutch food like kroketten, frites and bitterballen which are all deep fried or their obsession with sweets (even for breakfast) such as stroopwafel and hagelslag. It rains a lot in the Netherlands and is often quite overcast but never fear, it is really light rain, more of a drizzle, just flock to your local bar or enjoy a hot coffee at one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world (it is in an old cathedral). But once the sun does decide to come out, everyone, and I mean everyone, flocks outside to soak in those precious rays. Maastricht is also very famous for its boutique shopping so if you’re into fashion you will feel right at home.

Maastricht University is spread out throughout the city, similarly to Kelvin Grove so some exploring may be necessary to find a different faculty building.

I attempted learning Dutch on my exchange, and while I was pretty good at it, it was hard to balance with all the travel and study I did.

It was definitely a challenge being so far from home but I have some tips on how to make the most of your exchange!

  1. Bring waterproof shoes! (It rains a lot in Europe and you don’t want to be the foreigner with wet feet, especially in winter)
  2. Attend as many events in your universities o-week, you may never see most people again but you might find some great friends to travel with!
  3. Youtube is your best friend. (When you are homesick and dying for some Australian culture, watching old episodes of Australian shows is the best! My favorites were Blue Water High and Thank God, You’re Here)
  4. Most of all have fun, even if you miss home you will still make some great memories

Before my exchange I had only left the country once, now I have travelled to 17! I had a great exchange experience and now I am more confident, extroverted and prepared for whatever life has to throw at me.

Oh Canada! University of Guelph (UoG)

Denise N., Bachelor of Biomedical Science
University of Guelph, Canada (Semester 2, 2017)

In Semester 2 of 2017, I had the privilege of going on a study exchange to UoG, Canada. This experience involved school, travel, friends and fun. Upon arrival at the campus, one of the things that stood out was how enormous the campus was compared to QUT’s Gardens point. The campus spread out across a large part of the city. Guelph itself was not as developed as Brisbane, it is a small city outside Toronto. Part of what contributed to the size of the campus was the student residencies in all four corners of the university. I resided in the East houses and shared a suite with 11 other students. We had three toilets, two showers and one kitchen.

Academically, there were more differences than similarities between UoG and QUT. Firstly, at UoG, there was very little flexibility for students to organise their timetables due to pre-set class hours. Some classes were as early as 7am. Lecture recording was not common, only one fourth of my classes had recordings. Lecturers were addressed formally as Professors and the longest lecture I had was an hour and thirty minutes. The class periods were shorter but more frequent throughout the week, about 3 times.Living in south-east Ontario made it easier for me to travel to numerous places including Niagara Falls, Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City and Montreal as well as crossing over to the USA via bus. The cost of living in Canada was higher than that in Brisbane. This was mainly because of the tax and tips to be added to the advertised prices for goods and services. It took me a while to assimilate to this.

In terms of cultural shock, I didn’t experience it until I travelled to the Province of Quebec where majority of people speak French. Visiting Quebec was one of my highlights because it was very different; being surrounded by people speaking in a different language, viewing public signs mostly in French. I remember when I first arrived in Quebec City and was trying to get a bus ticket, the first 3 strangers I spoke to did not understand English. Some other highlights from my trip include experiencing the beautiful Fall colours at Montmorency Falls, experiencing snow for the very first time and making a snow angel. I was also able to visit NYC, one of my favourite places in the world. Time Square was literally the centre of the universe.

To anyone thinking of going on exchange, I strongly encourage you to go for it. Through experiencing the new school environment, traveling and new friendships, I have learnt more about myself, my values and my goals. Exchange taught me that I know very little and I have a lot to learn. It was without a doubt a learning experience. Advice I would give to future students would be to live off campus, as much as living on campus is an experience in itself, there’s more independence living off campus. Keep in touch with family and avoid making friends from the same country as even though it would be easier, you won’t really benefit out of it in the long run. People from other places have unique experiences that you can learn from and international connections are valuable, especially today.

Make the Leap and Go On Exchange!

Alexandra K., Dual Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering and Business
Berlin School of Economics and Law, Germany (Semester 1, 2018)

Imagine thousands of people sitting by a river, beer in hand, basking in the sunlight or throwing a Frisbee while techno music plays in the background. This is the definition of a Berlin summer. Sadly, my exchange was for the fall semester, where snow and a Glühwein by a fire was more favourable. However, being kept indoors also meant more time to bond with the students who I shared my dormitory with. Students from all backgrounds and languages mingled daily, and there was certainly no shortage of partying. The little things are what makes an exchange so memorable, such as ice skating at the Christmas markets together or using the car seats from an abandoned van in our living room. Some of the people I lived with have made their way into my heart as life-long friends, who I have already visited in their home countries.I attended HWR for one semester with the goal of deepening my knowledge of international management in an international setting. The experiences and lessons I gained from the teachers who are sourced from all round the world were invaluable, and helped to set me apart from the curve. HWR, like most of Germany, is very old-fashioned and traditional in their approach to learning and bureaucracy. No lectures are recorded and you are expected to build a relationship with your teacher. This approach at first seems a bit intrusive or unnecessary, but my teachers were able to connect with me on a personal and professional level. This approach encourages students to develop their own opinion and solutions to issues presented, as opposed to simply memorising content.

Culture shock in Germany was inevitable, but learning the language is the best step towards fitting in and finding your place. Before my exchange, I studied German in Brisbane at the “DerDieDas” school, which was excellent to ensure I was not wasting time on the basics when in Berlin. After my 6 months of exchange, I am currently at a B2 level, and am undertaking an internship in Berlin now. Advice for your exchange I can offer is be prepared to feel lonely, homesick or just displaced. Take the time out of your week to call home, be ready for the shopkeepers to be rude to you, and don’t be afraid to go out alone. One of the highlights of my experience was simply going to a local German-owned café and spending hours preparing for my German exam the next day. This small decision lead to me meeting my now-boyfriend, a Kiwi who lives in Berlin! Just make the leap and go on exchange, but don’t stop there, make the leap and squeeze every last drop out of the experience.

Living in France

Sophia A., Bachelor of Law/ Behavioural Science
Catholic University of Lille, France (Semester 1, 2017)

My name is Sophia Armitage and I am a 20 year old QUT student who just finished her semester abroad! At QUT, I study a Bachelor of Law and a Bachelor of Behavioural Science; however, I used my free electives to do my exchange as it made it easier to pick classes. I went to the Catholic University of Lille (France) and I cannot recommend it enough!

Accommodation

The university was always happy to help me with any questions I had; there were even students who showed me around and to my residence (which was right across the street). The campus at the university was a bit Harry Potter like as it is an old set of buildings (mainly). The first thing I had to get used to was the million stairs around the building and the hectic security, but after I got the hang of that it wasn’t too dissimilar to QUT. My residence was very close which made my midday naps easy! But it was also right where all the student eating areas were (there are specific places where a whole meal is only 3.25 euros). I stayed at the Teilhard de Chardin and it was clean, quiet, but still lively. There are allocated study rooms in the building too, which were useful throughout the semester. The style of the classes was more similar to high school as it’s about 15 different subjects and one class each week of each. There was a lot less direction from the teachers and sometimes it was really hard to understand what I needed to do (even though all my classes were in English) but I soon realised that it was pretty simple if I just treated it like high school.

Culture Shock

As I’ve never really travelled before, this was a fairly big culture shock. Six months in a different country is pretty insane, let alone somewhere that is all terrace buildings and cute cobble stone roads. The cost of living was very low; food and drink was inexpensive as was clothing and bedding. Lille is in a perfect spot because it’s cheaper to live than Paris but it is still very easy to travel from. There are buses and trains that go to major airports and that even go to the UK. The only thing that was very strange to me was that on Sunday everything is closed. Also, that after around 2:30pm all the cafes close their kitchens. Other than that, and other than the language barrier, the culture shock wasn’t too extreme.

Some of the best parts of my exchange were just the regular parts of the day. The only other QUT student and I made a friendship group very early on and we had regular catch-ups at a local pub (La Faluche) and went to restaurants regularly. I also had a group of French friends who showed me the local hang out spots. I also really enjoyed my subjects that I was studying in the FLCH faculty (mainly humanities and literature).

Adjusting, Homesickness and Budgets

I really didn’t expect to be so homesick at the start of the exchange, even though many people told me it would happen. Luckily, I made a friend who had been through a similar thing when she did her exchange and she helped me through it. I also didn’t expect to make such fantastic lifelong friends. We made a Facebook group chat that we all still use; I now have a place to stay in all of their home countries. My main tips for doing the semester abroad is to pack lightly clothes wise because there are loads of things you’ll want to buy. Pack a towel, pillow, and a blanket of some sort for when you first get there because you’ll be tired and just want to rest. Definitely make a budget for your expenses so that when the holidays come you have enough to travel around. Another thing that I wish I had done was to set up some realistic goals for how often I would communicate with people in Australia so that I wasn’t pushing them too much and they had a realistic idea of how often I would be able to contact them. The mentality the international students have is different to how we all are usually; this impacted the relationships I had in Australia and I wish I had had the foresight to plan around that.

I would 100% recommend a semester abroad to anyone, the experience was once in a lifetime and the things I learnt are invaluable. Where there is a will there is a way; there are so many things that QUT, the government, or your host university can help you with. I only wish I had more electives so I could go again!

Rotterdam: The best city you’ve never heard of

Chris, M., Bachelor of Business
Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands  (Semester 1, 2018)

In the last few days of 2017 I embarked on what would be the experience of a lifetime. After saying goodbye with mixed emotions and spending over 24 hours travelling, I finally arrived in the city that would become my home for the next 6 months – Rotterdam. The first thing you notice when you step off a plane on the other side of the world is that the weather is the complete opposite. No matter how prepared I thought I was, coming from 35C summer days in Brisbane to a Dutch winter which hovers just above the 0C mark was a shock. Fortunately, this weather did not last the entire 6 months, and seeing the temperature gradually warm into a Dutch summer was something special.

After settling into my accommodation and making my first few friends there, I already had a foot in the door. Many amazing experiences followed over the next 6 months, but I’ll save you the trouble and just tell you about the things you need to know if you’re thinking that Rotterdam might be the exchange destination for you.

The Netherlands

There’s not many things that the Dutch don’t do better than Australia and the rest of the world. Between public transport that has made me fear my return to Queensland Rail, and a 95% English literacy rate (which is even higher than Canada) that meant most Dutch natives spoke better English than I did, they’re definitely doing something right.

I chose Rotterdam in the first place because I was looking for somewhere that had a culture different from Australia but also spoke English to the degree that I wouldn’t be forced to buy a premium Duolingo subscription. The Netherlands fit this criteria perfectly, and after assessing the possible universities available, I decided that Rotterdam would be the ideal host city. Although it is a modern city with everything you could ask for (being rebuilt after World War 2 makes it quite different to other traditional Dutch cities), it is still small enough that you could travel from one side to the other via bike in half an hour. The city has an arty hipster scene reminiscent of Berlin, but also a thriving business district and extensive shopping areas. It’s a bustling city and there is always something to do.

Even though Dutch culture has many similarities to that of Australia, Dutch people can be quite dry and serious on the surface. However, once you get to know them they’re very friendly. When around other Dutch people they will often speak Dutch, but don’t be alarmed as they quickly switch back to English to speak to those who don’t.

Being a small country, it is quite easy to hop on a train and travel to the next city over (or even next country) for a day trip. You’ll find yourself going to Amsterdam every few weeks, but although it is a nice tourist city, it can’t compare to the livability of Rotterdam. The infrastructure in Rotterdam is amazing, with buses, trams, trains, and a subway (the Metro) to help you get across the city with ease. On top of this, there are dedicated bike lanes all over the city which mean most people opt to ride instead of drive. Unlike Brisbane, there’s no need to fear for your life when riding a bike in the Netherlands! You still need to be careful as a pedestrian to look twice when crossing the street.

University

Sometimes you forget that this is the reason you’re here. Fortunately for me, the quality of Erasmus University Rotterdam matches the quality of the city. The Rotterdam School of Management (the faculty where I completed my studies) is one of the top 10 business schools in Europe.

The structure here is somewhat different to QUT. Each faculty has a different number of blocks (i.e. semesters), lasting different durations. At RSM, we had three 10-week blocks over the year. For me, that meant that my semester 1 was composed of two trimesters over here (January to March and April to June). Due to the academic year starting at a different time, these were their trimesters 2 and 3. The difference in timelines for each faculty can complicate doing units from outside of RSM, but it is still definitely possible if you research the duration and start dates of the units you’re interested in.

Each of the two trimesters I was here, I was enrolled in 3 or 4 RSM units. Each unit had only had one class a week; normally a lecture but sometimes a tutorial instead. This meant I was normally only in for two half days a week, allowing for a lot of free time. Since lectures are usually not recorded like they are at QUT, it was a good idea to go to most of my classes since I had so little contact time (provided I was in the city).

The assessment was comparable to QUT in relevance and difficulty. The exams were often MCQ, and the assignments were heavily team based with almost every unit having a team assignment involved. A grading scale from 1 to 10 is used here, with a 5.5 being a passing grade. The way it was marked meant getting a passing grade was comparable to QUT but achieving a top grade (10) was much harder.

The campus is a relatively large and even has space for on-campus accommodation. It’s 10-15 minutes outside of the city centre by either bike or public transport, meaning it is very accessible. Although there is little activity outside in the cold winter weather, everyone comes outside from the indoor study spaces and university bar to soak up the sun when summer arrives. During summer the campus comes alive, as does the rest of the city. Fun Fact: It took me 3 months before I saw a single pair of shorts being worn in the Netherlands.

An organisation called the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) organises many amazing trips and activities throughout the year. It is mainly focused towards exchange students and is a great way to meet new people and enjoy new experiences. Twice a year they host an ‘Intro Days’ program which I highly recommend. It’s three days full of fun activities and is one of the main ways you’ll meet many of your friends for the 6 months. Some of the highlights from ESN throughout the year include boat rides through the canals of Amsterdam on King’s Day (Dutch national holiday), a week-long trip to Berlin, Day trips to Belgium, and an outdoor cinema by the university lake.

Living

Unfortunately for me I missed out on a spot in the university accommodation on-campus. Although I recommend that everyone should try to get in as early as possible to get a spot on-campus, missing out is not the end of the world. The room I eventually found was on the other side of the city in an area called Schiedam. Fortunately, due to the amazing public transport and the relatively small size of the city, I was able to go door to door from accommodation to class room in 35 minutes despite the distance. When the weather was good I even found myself riding my bike to university, which also took 35-40 minutes. It may sound like the Tour de France, but the ride is relatively easy due to how flat the ground is. The public transport runs until 12:30AM on weekdays and until 1:30AM on Friday and Saturday, which means there’s never any problem getting to and from home if I’m hanging out at campus until late.

The on-campus accommodation is three individual rooms with a shared kitchen and bathroom. The average cost of rent is about 500 Euro ($850 AUD) per month, and ranges from 450-600 Euro depending on size and location. It is important to budget while on exchange. The cost of living is quite similar to Australia, but maybe a little more expensive. Some things are cheaper like alcohol (much cheaper), while others such as public transport can be quite expensive. If you eat in and cook for yourself, you can live off 150 Euro per month for food. However, eating out and enjoying yourself (as you should) quickly changes this.

One of the best parts about the Netherlands being so central in Europe is that you’re able to easily travel to different countries. Budget airlines and an amazing system of trains and busses makes it both cheap and easy to travel to any country across the continent. Booking in advanced (2 months) makes it even more affordable, but even last-minute flights aren’t too bad if they aren’t booked in peak tourist season (May-August).

Challenges

While exchange truly lives up to the high expectations of the amazing stories you hear, it does come with hardship. Although people don’t talk about it very often, going to a completely different country without knowing anyone can be daunting, and when the initial excitement wears off it can be scary. Whether it comes in the form of culture shock or homesickness, everyone experiences it to an extent. Being away from my family and girlfriend for the first time for such a long period was quite difficult, but there were many ways to help me overcome it. Keeping in contact with friends and family back home as well as having a support network in your new home country is key when integrating into a new lifestyle. You’ll find that a lot of other exchange students will be going through the same thing, so don’t be afraid to talk to them about it too. Especially if you’re experiencing culture shock, walking around your local area and seeing something new every day will help you adjust. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling at home!

Having a different time zone to back home can be quite tough but finding regular times to Skype or FaceTime friends and family can make it a little easier. Especially if you have a partner back home, sharing what you’re up to on exchange to make them feel involved and informed is important. But don’t forget that hearing about their day is equally important. If you’re lucky like I was, they might even get a chance to come over and visit you!

Don’t let any of this scare you off though; it’s a completely normal phase of the adjustment process and in the end, it’ll only make your experiences richer!

Overall

Going on exchange is a life-changing opportunity. Although I highly recommend Rotterdam as your university of choice, wherever you end up you shouldn’t be disappointed – it’s the people you meet and the friendships you make as much as the destination. On top of the incredible memories you’ll make, going on exchange also pushes you to grow as a person. Studying in an international environment and creating a global network dramatically increases your employability – it gives you far more experience than a line on your CV can justify. For those of you who are currently working through all the paper work in hopes of making it on exchange, let me tell you that its all worth it. For those who are still considering it, all I can say is to take the leap – you won’t regret it.

Terrifying, amazing. Difficult, worth-while.

Jordy K., Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)/Bachelor of IT
Politencnico di Milano, Italy (Semester 1 2018)

Europe in general is so different to Australia, and then Milan in Italy is so different to the rest of Europe.

When I arrived I was shocked by the landscape, architecture, people, and weather. Milan is a flat city and, I know it sounds like a small detail, but it’s odd to see straight streets go on forever. The people feel less caring, and more cool. Things are open at seemingly odd hours and that’s just how it is. It’s weird but nonetheless, Milan is probably the best student city in Italy. It’s overall just a cool place once you get to know it, and I recommend it for an Italian exchange. Rent is expensive but living costs are cheap. Roughly 600 euros a month for rent and 60 euros a week for living quite comfortably.

Host University

The uni I studied at was Politecnico di Milano (PoliMi), because it’s largely a non-English speaking institution make sure you do the easiest subjects you can and prepare for the teaching style to essentially be lectures only with a big exam or project at the end. The campus itself is cool because it’s old. Overall I’d say PoliMi is ok, decent it if you want to study in Italy, which is more the worthwhile experience.

Things I Didn’t Expect

One thing I didn’t expect was that, 90% of the time you have no idea what people are saying or what the writing around you means! The first month living in a foreign language country (especially if you’re there by yourself) feels like living on an alien planet. It’s so weird. Eventually though you get used to it and I ended up enjoying it as like a simple ambient noise. You become entirely comfortable being clueless.

What’s more in Italy, expect things to happen slowwwwly. Especially with big institutions or government. This can be annoying and sometimes feels like everything is of lesser quality because of it. You eventually get used to these slightly chaotic long waits when dealing with these things though.

Highlights

I still highly recommend exchange for everyone! Why? Travelling to new countries and gaining new perspectives simply outweighs all the downsides. Experiencing the highs and lows that this world has to offer is a phenomenal personal growth experience for anyone. Studying in Europe is awesome too because it’s so cheap and easy to fly to so many different countries and cultures. It’s this sort of stuff that really changes your perspective on everything forever, I know it has for me, and that’s why I highly recommend doing it!