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.

Uni at the Top of the World

Kieren Q., Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)
BI Norwegian Business School, Norway (Semester 1, 2017)

My name is Kieren Quach and I spent a semester abroad in Norway. During this time, I studied at BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, the capital city of Norway. I lived at Boligstiftelsen Nydalen (BSN) which was one of the main student accommodation sites available to us exchange students. The photo below is the main office of where I lived, where I signed my contract and received my keys.

Accommodation

I don’t have any good photos of the inside of the dorms, however each room is equipped with a window which is seen above the main office. Each room is also equipped with a bed, table, chair, bedside table, closet, and bookshelf. A good thing to note is that items such as pillows, blankets, sheets, wifi router, and other luxuries must be purchased elsewhere. Another thing to note is that previous tenants may leave some of these stuff behind so be sure to check before you go buying your own stuff and you may be as lucky as I was. For us exchange students we could only pick to live in a two-person apartment so I had a Scottish roommate who was a blast to have. You’d share a bathroom and kitchen with them meaning you had to divide who had to clean and when. Enough about accommodations, I didn’t even spend that much time there.

How was BI different to life at QUT? For starters, BI Oslo is just one big building, almost like a cube. Everything is indoors, probably as shelter to the inconsistent weather there. This made it simple because everything was within walking distance: food, gym, office supplies, etc. In terms of academics, 35% of the total 100% for the unit is enough to pass making things a lot less stressful. Below is an image of me at the main sign outside the university.

I forgot there was a page limit to this so I’ll cut things short. Going on exchange was the best decision of my life. Sure the culture is different BUT THAT’S THE POINT! To be able to experience the other side of the world like that was enlightening and if I had the opportunity to do it again I would take it in a heartbeat. Tip for future students – always take care of your stuff because I had my phone stolen in Stockholm.

Taiwan, A Country of Warmth

Yuheng L., Bachelor of Business (Dean’s Honours)
Fu Jen Catholic University, Taiwan (Semester 2, 2017)

I have always imagined Taiwan to be a warm little country which is often neglected by the international society. Due to political reasons, Taiwan is isolated internationally. It is not part of the UN and has only 20 countries of diplomatic relations (FYI: China has 175). However, Taiwan is not an underdeveloped country of any sort. Taipei has a well-built metro system and there is a High-Speed Rail throughout the west coast of Taiwan. By car, it takes 4 hours to get from Taipei to Kaohsiung but it only takes an hour and a half on the HSR. It is very convenient to travel around Taiwan where many people travel around the island as a challenge (mostly on a bicycle) every year. For me personally, one of the places I loved the most was Tainan (South Taiwan). It is an amazing city with great food and a lot of historical sites, mostly from the era when they were ruled under the Japanese Empire. It has a lot of cultural characteristics unique from other cities.

Taiwan also has a comparatively low cost of living. Dining out can be very cheap (it can be very expensive too, if you choose to do so), where a meal could be around AUD $3-4. Their wages, however, is much lower than Australian standards. Their minimum legal hourly wage is roughly $6, which makes things much cheaper than Australia. I lived in the campus dormitory for the entire semester and it only cost me around AUD $380.

It was not long until I faced difficulties. Immediately on the day after my arrival, a lady shop owner began speaking Taiwanese Hokkien to me. Luckily, I was with my exchange buddy (whom FJU has arranged before my arrival) at that time and he was able to communicate with the owner on my behalf. I am very grateful for my exchange buddies and my dorm roommates who helped me out a lot upon my arrival. I immediately felt the warmth and helpfulness of the Taiwanese people on my first couple of days. Listening to my roommates’ stories was very interesting as they all came from different backgrounds, one being in the army for 5 years after high school, another being a Bruneian of Taiwanese descent. Having chats and laughter, with the occasional disagreement, every night was definitely a memorable experience – something that I won’t experience at home.

One of the things that I really enjoyed is joining the basketball team of my faculty. There are yearly tournaments between faculties and between departments. Our team trained regularly and apart from having fun, I believe it is a great way to develop relationships. It shows that the university culture there is quite different too. Sports and other club activities are a vital part of their university life, where people gather together. I could see evidence of a more collectivistic society based on their university culture. Apart from that, the close relationship between classmates is something special. It feels exactly like high school where classes are held in small classrooms rather than large lecture halls. The teachers know every student, therefore, as soon as she saw my unfamiliar face I was immediately asked to introduce myself. They welcomed me and invited me to have lunch together on the first day of class. I felt like I could blend in to their culture instantly with their friendliness.

There is no way I could talk about Taiwan without mentioning food. There is so much food around campus to the point I could even get hot food at midnight. The entire campus is approximately the size of the Kelvin Grove campus, however, there are 5 different blocks of canteens! Plus, with the number of restaurants outside of campus, there is absolutely no need to worry about what you need to bring for lunch.

Taiwan is a country with a lot of warmth. There is a common saying of ‘The Most Beautiful Scenery in Taiwan is its People.”, and I recognized that it is true throughout my journey. I have made great friends during these past few months and I surely miss the moments I had with them. If you are looking at going to the Asia-Pacific region, or if you would love to pick up the Chinese language, I would surely recommend Taiwan as an exchange destination.

Fall in Love with Copenhagen

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

Host University

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

DMJX

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

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

DMJX

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

Accommodation

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

Accommodation

Accommodation

Accommodation

Host Country

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

Denmark

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

Denmark

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

Denmark

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

Highlights of exchange

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

Denmark

Denmark

Things You Didn’t Expect

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

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

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

Danish Food!

Tips & Advice for Future Students

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

Tokyo Game Show

Grace G., Bachelor of Engineering (Honors)
International Christian University, Japan (Semester 2, 2016)

As an engineering student at QUT, my primary motivation for studying overseas was to better understand how computer-human interaction differs between cultures. And now, having spent the Autumn trimester at the International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo I can honestly say this experience has impacted more than just my education, it has provided me with the skills and confidence to improve my own life as well. So I’d like to take this opportunity to share my experience and hopefully encourage you, my fellow students, to pursue an exchange period in Tokyo, Japan.

Firstly, let me start off by saying that ICU is an incredible school. The teachers are very knowledgeable and supportive, engaging with students and encouraging us to develop our own ideas and pursue subjects beyond the classroom. ICU differs from QUT in that it’s classes are much smaller, making it easier for teachers to tailor the learning experience to meet the needs of individual students. As far as the facilities go, the campus has a very convenient post office, gym and my dream library alongside a cafeteria, called ガッキ (‘Gakki’), which is a combination of the Japanese word ‘学生’ (‘Gakusei’ or ‘Student’) and the English word ‘Kitchen’. There is also on-campus housing, however there weren’t many rooms available when I applied, so I ended up living in a share house in beautiful Koganei. I consider myself extremely lucky to have lived in such a wonderful place. Koganei was very homely, which made it easier for me to grow an attachment to my new surroundings. However, there is less support available for exchange students living off-campus, which is only a problem when it comes time for ward office registration. Something I would recommend with hindsight is to look up an English translation of the appropriate forms before you go, as there is unlikely to be any English support available to you in your local ward office.

Now since returning home I’ve been asked a few times to choose my favourite memory from studying in Tokyo, and I continuously struggle to answer. I had so many wonderful experiences in Japan and choosing just one is not easy. However I do consider myself exceptionally lucky, that my exchange period just happened to coincide with the Tokyo Game Show. Whenever I think about the day I spent playing demos, admiring VR headsets and listening to presentations made by some of my personal heroes, I feel a surge of gratitude to both QUT and ICU for giving me this opportunity to experience new things and grow in ways I’d never imagined.

It was studying abroad that helped me to realise giving in to my fear of failure only ever guaranteed it, and success is in my power to define. There was a time when I didn’t think I was capable of studying abroad, but with the support of my family, friends and both QUT and ICU I was able to face my fears and enjoy an incredible semester.

So, I’ll leave you with this final piece of advice, if you’re considering going on exchange remember what it is you want from this experience and strive for it! Don’t let fear hold you back from the adventure that awaits you!

頑張れ

What One Can Do Tomorrow, One Can Do Today

Harry B., Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Laws (Honors)
Berlin School of Economics and Law, Germany (Semester 2, 2016)

The task of conveying my experience on exchange feels somewhat futile, for what made the experience unforgettable – the people met, language learnt, and culture lived – cannot, without losing something of its charm, be neatly distilled into a blog post. Can my friends, my parents, really understand just what it was that I underwent, why it was that I relished my time overseas; the experience and memories being so subjectively and personally my own. Perhaps this scepticism is shared by the exchange faculty, who advised in the writing of this post I focus on the university, facilities, costs, campus life and general tips – in short, just the most useful and easily digestible snippets of information addressed to the palate of the reader who is preparing, or contemplating, their own experience, not so much yours. So it is this I have attempted in the following few paragraphs.

The Berlin School of Economics and Law, where I studied, is in German classified a Hochschule – something of a university, but on a smaller scale, with smaller class and campus sizes. My lectures rarely had more than 30 people, my tutorials even less. This is vastly different to QUT and, I discovered, quite to my liking. For it was because of this the students became better friends, and the learning experience more intimate. Downsides do exist, but are not sufficient, surely, to hamper things: the library was to my mind under resourced, having neither enough places to study, nor computers to use. But I am guessing those reading this, if they’re on exchange, will not frequent the library all that often. My chief gripe, which is to the detriment of us internationals, is the absence of a well organised and supported club for exchange students. Although some effort was being made to remedy this towards the end of my stay, this was of no help to me, whose efforts to meet people would have been greatly assisted by an organisation, like QUT Exchange Buddies Club here, which organised bar nights and activities. Again, given the city in which you live, Berlin, is not short of entertainment, you may not find this gripe as deleterious as did I. But certainly one has a far better time gallivanting around with friends, than without, and it is through clubs run for the benefit of exchange students you meet such comrades.

I resided in private accommodation, which was quite expensive. Places in Berlin are becoming dearer and harder to find, so ensure you secure a place to live –using, say, AirBnb or or the fantastic WG-gesucht.com – well, well, in advance. Alternatively, one could through the university apply for a room in a student dorm, run by the organisation Studentenwerk. Though in general further out from the city centre, they are very affordable and populated with students. You will find, I am told, that the commute is not prohibitively long (especially biking to the train station) – at least not so long as to negate the other, sizable benefits of staying there.

Berlin, apart from the sometimes high cost of private accommodation, is affordable. We live in an expensive country, so I suppose wheresoever we go we will be pleasantly surprised, but everything – public transport, food and groceries, alcohol, entertainment, health insurance – is markedly less expensive than Brisbane.

As to the culture of the place, I have been on a previous exchange to Germany, that time to Mannheim, and must say, the feel of Berlin is itself unique; it has no counterpart, I do not think, across country or even Europe. Frankly, I can imagine few places where a student exchange would be more fitting. There is plenty to do and see – which you probably did not require my assurance of. I recommend learning the language: there is an intensive class offered in the month preceding the commencement of classes. It helps to know a few words. Culture shock, to be honest, is not the problem it may have been in other Germany cities and towns. Berlin is extremely cosmopolitan, an unbelievable melting pot, and it is not uncommon to hear many different languages spoken in cafes and trains. To be sure, there are many locals earnestly going about their business, whose sensibilities you ought not to disregard. But on the whole, people tend to coexist in acceptance of and harmony with everyone else.

Tips:

  • Should you have the money, get German health insurance (80 Euro per month) – this will save you some hassle.
  • Ration your money, spent wisely and be resourceful.
  • Without being reckless, take risks: you are, for a short period, incognito.
  • Meet people and make friends as quickly as possible, organise outings.
  • Improve your cooking, stay healthy, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, and take vitamin pills.
  • Above all: do not waste what little time you have. You will be on your long haul hour flight back to banal Brisbane before you know it, so hit the ground running, be prepared and make no excuses for yourself. What one can do tomorrow, one can do today.

Studying In Colombia

Dick H., Bachelor of Applied Finance
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia (Semester 1, 2018)

Going on exchange to Colombia was a fantastic experience. Most people know only bad things about Colombia from what they can see on the news, Netflix and other media. However, the country has made great progress since the 80’s and it is now one of the most developed nations in the region. It is interesting to see though, the big inequality and differences between social classes. On one hand, it has beautiful and wealthy areas, and on the other poverty and slums.

At the beginning of my exchange process, it took some time to fulfill all requirements and gather paperwork. Research was intense in order to best match subject content from both institutions. But afterwards, the support, guide and help from each member of team was remarkable.

QUT bursary was quite generous and allowed me to get return tickets and survive the first weeks in Colombia. I arrived in Bogotá in mid-August. With a population of approximately 10 million Bogotá is the capital city of Colombia and it is a very vibrant metropolis.

I rented an apartment and lived in a beautiful area of the city called Chico-Virrey. It was about 40 min away from university by Bogota’s famous public transport called Transmilenio.

Universidad de los Andes is the best ranked university in Colombia. Being a private university, its fees are quite high and only wealthy families in Colombia can afford it. It is interesting to note that being the most expensive university in Colombia its campus is not located in a wealthy area (north-side of the city) but close to the old city. This area despite being quite touristic is not the safest.

Universidad de Los Andes has a great campus, with modern buildings. In lectures, each student has access to laptops to work through examples and study cases developed during classes. I find very interesting that students have what they called “hablador”, which is a cardboard-made triangle with the student’s name. The lecturer can then call everyone by their name and when questions are answer right he knows who got the “extra points”. Classrooms were quite comfortable, and I was quite impressed by the quality of lecturer and students.

Something I enjoyed so much about Universidad de Los Andes was the use of study cases from Harvard University. They were real issues companies faced and we had to find solutions to those problems. We had to use all our financial knowledge to solve challenging situations and perform deep financial analysis. I would like these types of cases were studied in QUT. A drawback was the lack of feedback throughout the classes, the only way to know we were understanding topics was by checking marks after a test, if results were unsatisfactory (bad scores) there was no way to know what was wrong and how to improve from those mistakes. Another difference I found between both universities’ methodology was an almost compulsory textbook reading. We were tested week by week with quizzes to check whether we prepared topics and did the reading. Lecturers were also asking questions randomly to test us.

In conclusion, going on exchange to Colombia was an unforgettable experience, full of nice people, good memories and so much fun. I made good friends and met many interesting people. It is always vital to understand and adapt to the culture, respect what it is important for locals and explore all the beauty the country has to offer.

 

Time Of My Life In Nagoya

Christina Z., Bachelor of Creative Industries / Bachelor of Law (Honours)
Meijo University, Japan (Semester 2, 2018)

I never thought in my entire life that I would ever do karaoke. Before my exchange I was quite shy; a little quiet around people I didn’t know. Don’t get me wrong, I love singing, just not in front of other people. I was afraid that people might judge me and that I wasn’t good at it. However in Japan I found my voice, literally and figuratively. If it is one thing that Japanese people do well it is karaoke. It doesn’t matter if you are bad, average, or sound like Whitney Houston. It just matters that you put yourself out there and that you enjoyed the experience.

Meeting new friends!

Life on campus was fairly good for the most part, however being one of three Caucasian students in the whole school definitely made you stand out. It was a bit strange at first but you get used to the staring and such. Meijo University also set me up with a job in an area of the university that they call Global Plaza. This area was where students could come to study English and practice conversation. Through being a conversation partner I was able to make a lot of friends and get more involved with university life. The facilities were quite well kept, there were even tennis courts, a gymnasium and computer labs. Accommodation wise the room I stayed in comes with everything you will need – bathroom, kitchen, mini fridge, desk, and bed and storage space. It was small but honestly you don’t need that much space, and an added benefit was that you got to live alone too. It was great being so close to the university (a three minute walk), the train station, bank, restaurants and convenience stores. The study aspect of my exchange was surprisingly quite simple and definitely not as busy as QUT. I only had to go in once a week for one class and the assessments were generally not stressful.

Nagoya and surrounds

Placing myself in a completely new environment with different customs and a completely different culture was very eye-opening. People would always tell me that going on exchange changed their lives, and I would always nod along even if I didn’t quite believe them. Well, I should have. Now I can truly say that going to Japan and studying abroad has definitely changed me forever. I have met so many different people while I was over there. They came from places such as France, Austria, Turkey, America and even Korea. I have a lot of friends in different places now, and being away from them has taught me about how important making connections is. With them I got to experience the wonders of Japan; from New Year’s shrine visits, autumn leaves and hot springs, all the way to snowboarding, all you can drink izakaya’s, and the infamous 24 hour convenience stores. Japan is very big on their nightlife. Even in Nagoya people stay out quite late to socialise and drink. There is a reason why those convenience stores are open at all hours.

Friends at a local Pub

Another fantastic thing that happened was that I got to see snow for the very first time. I felt like a child when I woke up that morning and looked out my window. I didn’t even take time out to have a shower before I dressed and left my room. I spent two hours outside that day playing in the snow with my friend Stone. We made snowwomen, threw snow balls off the rooftop of our apartment building and overall just had a great time being 5 years old again.

First time seeing snow

Despite the big cultural differences I didn’t have the huge culture shock that everyone was expecting me to when I first arrived. However as I spent more time integrating into the culture there were a few things that surprised me. In my case, Japan had such a lack of cultural diversity that I found it hard to blend in. I would stand out wherever I went and people did treat you differently because they knew you weren’t from there. However that is not always a bad thing. Another thing I did not expect was the separation of sexes at a university level. Usually, that happens in primary school and sometimes high school but it dissipates as you get into university. In Japan, however, there are no co-ed sports teams, friends sit apart in class (boys with boys and girls with girls) and no one really hugs over here. Finally, Christmas is another occasion that has a completely different meaning in Japan than it does in Australia. Everyone still goes to work and school on Christmas Day, in fact, it is seen as a day for couples. However New Years is when everyone has time off and goes to be with their family.

Exploring Nagoya with friends

For anyone looking to go overseas and study, I would say to go without expectations and keep an open mind. That way you can really be involved in things you might not have thought you would be. I loved my life there and I was very sad to leave it behind, but I am so grateful I got to experience Japan.

 

 

 

 

 

Learning Japanese language and culture in Tokyo

Joshua C., ​Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Games and Interactive Environments
Meiji University Winter Japanese Language Program (February 2019)

Hi there! My name is Joshua Crowley and I am in my 4th year at QUT Studying a Bachelor of Games and Interactive Environments (Design) / Bachelor of Business (Marketing). I decided to undertake a short-term program to make my summer break a little more exciting than usual, and boy was it an adventure!

I decided to have my short-term program in Japan and to participate in the Meiji University Japanese Winter Language Program. I have always been an avid consumer of Japanese media, culture, and the language especially. I had basic knowledge of phrases and can read Hiragana and Katakana, but unfortunately my Kanji is not up to scratch. This program was a great way to get a foothold of how to tackle aspects of learning the language, and to make many friends from all around the world.

Where did I stay?

For this program, I decided to stay with a homestay family to get the full experience of Japanese hospitality, and to see the day to day commute when living outside of central Tokyo. I stayed with two homestay families, as I left Australia a little earlier before the program to visit my previous homestay again in Hiroshima. Hiroshima is a beautiful city, a must see!

My homestay family

My homestay in Tokyo was far from central Tokyo in the Chiba prefecture, which is roughly a 1-hour train ride to Meiji University. Public transport in Japan is very easy, but quite expensive. On average, I spent JP¥2000 per day (around $25) riding various trains, to get to and from my homestay as well as visiting various cities across Tokyo. It is important to budget well prior to departing Australia, and to investigate cheaper options such as the Japan Rail Pass or even regional passes for short term trips. Unfortunately, due to my travel itinerary it was not worth purchasing the pass. On the plus side, I had delicious dinners after a long day at uni, such as hotpot!

I miss hotpot for dinner

 

How was the language program?

On the first day of the program we all had to sit a Japanese language test, which tested our reading, writing and speaking ability. Depending on your performance during the test, you were placed in one of four classes, from introductory up to advanced. The classes themselves were very informative with enthusiastic teachers and student volunteers, eager to help in any way possible. However, the lessons were conducted at a fast pace and fully in Japanese with limited English and it was easy to get confused, so it is highly recommended to brush up on your Japanese before joining the program! These classes took place over a 2 ½ week period, with classes taking place mostly on weekday mornings, leaving the afternoons free for students to explore Tokyo and its surroundings.

My university for the program

We also participated in various cultural activities such as calligraphy classes, tea ceremonies, and dressing ourselves in Kimonos!

The cultural part of the program

Kimonos time!

Learning Japanese is a long process but is highly rewarding once you start to understand the grammatical and character-based systems. At the end of the program, I currently still am not able to hold a full conversation in Japanese but am able to now convey my message across through basic sentences.

Special memories?

Many lifelong friends were made throughout my month across Japan. In my spare time between classes, I took the opportunity to visit Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Yokohama, Sapporo, and various places around Tokyo. One highlight of my trip was experiencing -15°c temperatures whilst taking in the sights and sounds of the Sapporo Snow Festival held in the Hokkaido region. Amazing snow sculptures carved with insane amounts of detail scattered the streets of Sapporo, bringing in tourists from all over the world.

Sapporo Snow Festival

Sapporo Snow Festival

From humidity to snow and back again

Final Thoughts

Upon returning to Australia after only just a month, it took some time to readjust back to a humid climate, as well as settling back into a more relaxed Australian lifestyle. For those who have not been to Japan, I cannot recommend it highly enough as an exchange destination due to the amount of amazing people, food, and cultural norms that embodies Japanese society. I hope to undertake a full semester exchange in 2020, as I cannot wait to see what else Japan has in store.

See you soon, Japan!

Pokemon mania

Everything you need to know about studying in Maastricht!

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

Applying to Maastricht University (UM)

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

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

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

Maastricht Housing & Guesthouse UM

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

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

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

Maastricht birthplace of the European Union

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

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

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

  Dutch Culture and Carnaval!

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

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

O-Week & Making Friends

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

Cost of Living

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

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

Some Final Advice…

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

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

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

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

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