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.

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.

There is Truly Something for Everyone in Berlin

Ben M., Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)/Bachelor of Information Technology
Technische Universität Berlin, Germany (Semester 1, 2017)

Standing in front of Technische Universitat Berlin

Berlin is the most exciting city I have ever been to, it is so culturally and ethnically diverse and for the last 7 months I’ve been lucky enough to call it my home while I completed an exchange program at the Technische Universität Berlin.

Although I told myself I would do lots of research and find out as much as I could about the city before I left, it became quickly apparent that that was not going to happen. So I landed in Berlin speaking no German, had no idea about the culture or the history surrounding the city.

Was I excited? Scared? Missing home? Lost? To be honest, after over 24 hours in flights and two stop overs, I was tired and couldn’t wait to sleep.

One of the most striking things about being there was, surprisingly, the language barrier. Majority of the population speaks very good English, and 99% of people under 30 will speak perfect English, yet despite this it’s a barrier to work out how to ask someone if they can speak English with you; and it feels somewhat weird to be speaking a Language which is not the main language. Even the little things like buying cheese or milk in a supermarket were made a lot harder by having no idea what was what.

After a couple of days my perspective changed though, with the help of google translate, no more jetlag and lots of hand gestures I started feeling much more comfortable and began to make some friends.

The city has a very dark and interesting past; surviving two world wars, the cold war and from even earlier. This, often incredibly varied history, has created a completely unique cultural blend and sense of freedom through the whole city that I’ve never experienced anywhere else in the world. It feels to a large extent that you can do whatever you would like, however you would like, as long as you don’t hurt other people, or the environment. And that’s how the city lives and the rules its inhabitants respect, which also leads to a complete culture of acceptance of individuality and who people are. In one day you will see goths, businessmen, families and a whole multitude of others, who by normal standards are ‘quirky’ or ‘different’, yet in Berlin no one would blink an eye, everyone and everything is treated as normal.

In central Berlin The Fernsehturm is a must see!

More than that there is truly something for everyone in this city. If you want to experience the worlds best techno clubs (Including places to sleep and buy food inside the clubs) you can, if you want to work for a start up, you can, if you’re interested in business methods, you can learn about that, if you want to do something creative you can do that.

The city and its people are supportive of no matter what you are interested in and no matter who you are, where you come from and what you like to do; which made living there one of the nicest experiences of my life.
That said, the city does definitely has its draw backs, it is an incredibly large and diverse city and its constantly changing which is not for the faint of heart. It is a big challenge to keep up with the city and if you’re not careful you can burn out very easily, which I saw many other exchange students do.

Studying in Germany is also completely different, the education system for University is much more free than in Australia, and for the most part students are given a large range of freedom when choosing subjects and the number of electives they have. This is also reflected in the learning style, which features much more self-directed learning than I was used to. Once I became used to this change it was fantastic, there was significantly less assignments, take home quizzes and some of my units had just one exam at the end of the semester. This did however mean a bit more of a crazy rush at the end of the semester, especially given they have no mid semester breaks.

Riding a bike through Berlin

Most of the universities are also state run and students do not pay for the tuition. This means, usually, less fancy, showy and flashy buildings and technology, but do not let that fool you, the standard of the education is incredible and has some of the best research and professors in the world.

My best takeaway from exchange was to learn German as a second language. Not only is it a great skill to have but it makes life a lot easier. Even the basics of the language instantly meant I could order food, drinks, and go shopping with a lot more ease. Once I began to meet people and have conversations in German a completely new world opened up to me.

Learning the language not only gave me the ability to make new friends but gave me a much greater value and understanding of the cultural norms and differences and allowed me to understand a lot more of the quirks and things that I wasn’t used to.

A great spot to see the Teufelsberg towers

Doing exchange was a fantastic opportunity that I was so fortunate to take, I learnt another language, experienced a city unlike any other and now have friends from all around the world. I can definitely recommend going to a city that is not first language English. Even if you don’t speak the language it will expose you to a completely different culture to what we are used to in Australia and give you many opportunities to learn a lot about your self and other people!

The experiences I had on exchange, and the things I learnt, make me feel like a completely different person. In just 7 months I learnt so much about myself and have memories and life lessons to carry with me for the rest of my life.

Spanish studies in the beautiful Medellin

Rhys P, Bachelor of Engineering

Intern Latin America, Colombia

My experience in Medellin was nothing short of incredible. After travelling through South America in 2015/2016 I had a desire to return and improve my Spanish skills. Thankfully with the QUT short term exchange program this was made possible. I studied at EAFIT for two weeks for an intensive Spanish course. In my beginner’s class there were three students and it is amazing how much we were able to cram into only two weeks.

Our teacher was called Cielo (Sky in English) and like the majority of people from Medellin she was extremely warm and welcoming. Before this I had never attempted to learn a second language however I have learnt that it can be extremely frustrating at times. The quality of not only my teacher, but all of the teachers at EAFIT made the experience much more enjoyable and they were able to remove this frustration and create a great learning environment.

The campus itself was not what I was expecting at all. Due to the much-discussed past of Colombia I was expecting the campus to be slightly run down. It was a pleasant surprise when I arrived on my first day to see an absolutely beautiful campus. The campus is full of trees, nature, wildlife and is an amazing place to study.

As for Colombia itself, it is my favourite country in the world and after I complete my studies at QUT I want to move there. The people made me feel extremely welcome, the food is amazing, it is such a diverse country. It truly is an amazing country and I highly recommend it as an exchange destination.

The highlights of my trip were definitely the amazing places that I travelled to and the friends that I made along the way. The only advice that I have for other students is to pack your bag and go!

Cultural lessons from the Japanese

Katrine K, Bachelor of Nursing

University Life in Japan: Kimono, Matcha and You at Sonoda Women’s University (December 2016)

Konnichiwa! My name is Katrine, and I’m a third year student studying the Bachelor of Nursing. In the first two weeks of the December holidays, I have been very fortunate to be given the opportunity to participate in a cultural exchange program hosted by the Sonoda Women’s University in Amagasaki, Japan. Not only did this unforgettable experience enrich my awareness of cultural diversity, but the kindness and warmth of the Japanese people made it possible to form friendships with almost anyone I encountered; whether that be at university or on the streets of Osaka! Throughout this program, I have been incredibly lucky to experience many unique and wonderful moments.

One memorable highlight of my trip however, would have to be the week-end I stayed with the Fujii family in Ojiro. Although I could speak or understand little Japanese, my host father, mother, sister and visiting locals were extremely sympathetic and accommodating to my needs and often tried their best to speak in English to ease my anxiety and restlessness. I thought this gesture was very thoughtful and generous of them and once again empathised the kindliness of the Japanese people. From the moment I arrived, my host family offered me food, snow boots, manga, fresh clothes, and my very own tatami room! I was also surprised and deeply touched at the lengths of preparation they put into arranging my bedroom. I never expected to have a mini decorated Christmas tree with flickering lights standing before me when I entered to unpack my bags! These experiences made me reflect on a time when my classmates and I had a cultural lesson with Keiji. He stated that Japanese people generally have a “you”-centred attitude or a “guessing culture”. This meant that they will often try to guess what the other person is feeling in order to accommodate their needs, believing this showed humanity. As a foreigner, I found the Japanese culture in this context quite refreshing and surprisingly relatable. I eagerly wanted to learn more about their culture as I too, coming from a nursing background, believe passionately in upholding similar values.

While living in Ojiro, I went on many insightful and exciting adventures! This included visiting the captivating sand sculptures at the Sand Museum and conquering the Tottori sand dunes through freezing winds. Another memorable highlight of staying in Ojiro was the opportunity to design and sculpt my own jewellery from stone.  The stone used to make our pendants were known as “magatama”, and were traditionally made from jade, glass or rocks. What I enjoyed most about this experience was not only learning of its historical value and appeal since the Jomon period, but the connection magatama had to religious practices including shamanism and Shinto. In addition to its spiritual significance, I found the crafting of magatama a challenging, but truly rewarding experience that I will never forget!

During the time when my classmates and I were not living in Ojiro, we inhabited the cosy grounds of Sonoda Woman’s University to learn Japanese or explored the historic highlights of Amagasaki where we took part in cultural activities. While at Sonoda Woman’s University however, I immediately noticed how small and homely the campus was in comparison to the blocky high rises that occupied the grounds of QUT. Unsurprisingly, nearly all of the students (which were no more than 200!) noticed our presence and gave us their utmost attention. My allocated group were particularly fortunate to receive a dynamic culture class presented by the university’s students themselves which I had the pleasure of attending. One unforgettable moment from our experiences was taking part in the traditional Japanese game, “suikawari”, and then learning about the meticulous process in which “katsuobushi” is made. Katsuobushi, in particular, made the most impression on me as I never expected dried fermented fish to appear as an oddly shaped rock or a chunky piece of wood that would later become an essential ingredient used in traditional Japanese foods, such as dashi. In addition, the kindliness and welcoming mannerisms of the students were, again, infectious and I felt a great sense of belonging and acceptance when I was asked to introduce myself to the class and share with them the cultural practices I engaged in while living in Australia.

My cultural experiences in Japan have been endless, and I felt so grateful for the time the Sonoda University staff gave us to make it such a pleasant experience! I would also like to say how very thankful I am to the teachers who managed, without fail, to remain optimistic and deeply passionate about teaching Japanese. I’m very proud to say that I’m now quite confident in ordering food in restaurants, thanks to a large appetite for Curry House CoCo and the multiple visits I’ve had to the “taiyaki” (fish-shaped pastries filled with custard or red bean paste) stand near Amagasaki station. I would highly recommend this exchange program for anyone, both young and old!

My Internship Experience

Hi, my name is Tiffanie and I’m scared of sharks, women who wear white pants, snakes, tall people, running out of hand sanitiser, sea cucumbers, crying children, weak handshakes, cane toads, 4s, accidentally swallowing gum, the Caboolture line and my own shadow (no, I’m not scared of spiders – don’t be ridiculous).

So you’d be correct in assuming that, upon hearing I’d managed to organise an internship, I was mildly terrified. What if I hated the work? What if I hated the people? What if I broke something important? What if I offended all their clients? What if I was wasting my time and money?

You see, realistically, the internship had very little to do with what I’m studying. I’m a second year journalism student, and I undertook my internship with a Queensland based trade organisation, who have offices worldwide (including in Tokyo, where I worked). These two fields have about as much in common as a hedgehog and a spoon. And yet, during my albeit short stint in the office, I was able to acquire and/or practice skills that are universally desired in the job market.

            The view from the office that I worked in

I primarily performed administration and research tasks applicable to the Queensland education, resources and agriculture sectors while in the office. I did everything from filing and making cups of tea, to attending an event at the Australian embassy, and researching opportunities for the practical application of drones in Queensland. However, through it all, I was able to develop and practice skills and qualities that are essential in any workplace, such as; teamwork, communication, attention to detail, organisation and time management.

Within 48 hours of starting my internship, all my fears were calmed. The work I was tasked with, although not something I’d usually do, was interesting; the people I worked with were welcoming and willing to work with me, even though I had no previous experience and my Japanese skills were severely lacking; and, above all else, this experience was not even close to a waste of my time and money.

For anyone considering undertaking an internship, whether domestically or abroad, I could not recommend it more. If you throw yourself into it and make the most of every opportunity to learn, you’ll come out the side with learning outcomes that are applicable to literally any field. Honestly, if I enjoyed it, you’re bound to also. At the very least, you come out of it with an experience to add to your CV and impress future employers with.

Sincerely,
Tiffanie.

Clarice’s South Korean Short Term Exchange – Summer ’16

Clarice: Seoul, South Korea – Short Term Summer Program 2016 

Originally, it never crossed my mind to apply for the summer program in EWHA Woman’s University when my friend from Singapore told me she had applied for it in January; but then I received the email about opportunities in the short-term mobility program from QUT and I thought, “Why not?”

EWHA Woman’s University is located in Seoul, South Korea around Seodaemun and is a very large and beautiful campus. The campus has a convenience stores, different places to eat depending on your mood, a gym, library and my personal favourite: the sleeping area, where the students go to rest and sleep during particularly stressful semesters.

This is the main feature of EWHA University: the “walls” that actually houses all the tutorial rooms, classrooms, lecture halls, a very big auditorium, convenience stores, a few cafes, a gym, library, computer room, optometrists and many other things.

EWHA University - "The Walls"

EWHA University – “The Walls”

This is also actually a major tourist landmark and you would often see tourists just come and take photos of themselves standing on this very spot (which can be rather obstructive for those of us running late to class).

 

For the summer program, I took up Korean traditional history and Korean Language classes (which were very tough but at least I can read Korean now). The one thing that stuck out most to me during my time in EWHA was the fact that they put a lot of emphasis and encouragement into empowering women to be excellent in their respective fields, and be dignified feminists.

The view of EWHA University’s entrance from the coffee shop opposite.

The view of EWHA University’s entrance from the coffee shop opposite.

Even in such a short time in EHWA, I have realized my identity as a female who would go out into the world to make a difference, no matter how small, without losing myself. It is a wonderful realisation to know that you are not alone in trying to figure yourself out amongst so many supportive females in one place and to have a sense of belonging even in a university which I was in for only a month.

Find out more information on QUT’s Short Term Study Options.