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.

The Great Land of Ireland

Sophie R., Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Creative Industries
University College Dublin, Ireland (Semester 2, 2017)

The University College Dublin (UCD) in the Republic of Ireland is a great destination for an exchange. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Ireland and would highly recommend it.

Host Country

Irish culture is unique and is largely homogenous and the Irish people are exceedingly friendly, welcoming and resilient. Not many places in the world can one have a lively conversation with a stranger in the supermarket like neighbours or meet people on buses who are happy to chat and interested in a stranger. The rebellious and turbulent history still affects the Irish today, encouraging their resilience, spirit and pride. The landscape has the beauty of quaint rural villages to windswept dramatic coastlines. Dublin is a city with a small-town vibe but the vibrancy of a global hub with headquarters for Google and other multinational corporations being situated there.

Host University

UCD is an organised and modern university with many support-mechanisms for international students. Living on campus provides many opportunities for meeting new people with the Resident Life organisation offering many social events to ensure international students feel included.

Struggles

There was only one major struggle I experienced on my exchange and it was of an administrative nature. I had 18 pre-approved subjects from QUT including subjects that correlated with my QUT business subjects as well as some very interesting electives from other faculties. When I arrived, I discovered I was unable to study outside of the business faculty and I almost did not have enough subjects to complete at UCD. Due to this miscommunication between the universities, my first week in Ireland was stressful. So, for incoming international students, it is best to expect some hiccups with subject enrolments.

Tips

As for my tips for future exchange students going to Ireland, I have five. (1) For on-campus accommodation, be prepared for applications to open late at night. Campus accommodation applications are highly competitive. (2) As for clubs and societies, quality not quantity is the best option. Your time will be divided between travel, university life and study, so sign up for one or two clubs and make a conscious effort to go to their events. One of my favourite experiences at UCD was an entrepreneurship competition at Google as part of the Entrepreneurs and Inventors Society. (3) Make the most of travelling around Ireland. Many students spent all their time travelling elsewhere in Europe and regretted not exploring more local sights. (4) Seek out live music. Venture to Cork and find a small pub to listen to the mischievous Irish music. For a more contemporary repertoire, Dublin is the place to be with the buskers on Grafton Street and the singers in pubs on Temple Bar. (5) There will be highs and there will be lows. That’s just travel, and it is best to be prepared.

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.

 

 

A Life in Chicago

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

The university…

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

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

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

Unexpected…

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

Highlights…

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

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

Tips/ advice…

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

A Semester Abroad in Calgary

Brendan S., Bachelor of Information Technology
University of Calgary, Canada (Semester 2, 2018)

Last semester I got the great opportunity to spend four months studying at the University of Calgary in Canada. It was an incredible experience, and in this blog I’ll try to give you some insight into what life was like studying in Canada.

The Uni: The University of Calgary campus is a huge place, with some incredible facilities. Beyond the classrooms, just some of the things you’d find on campus at UofC include: a concert venue, basketball courts, swimming pools, gyms, hockey rinks, an Olympic skating rink, rock climbing walls, a pub, a theatre, restaurants, the list goes on.

There was rarely a dull moment being a student at UofC. The uni is big on campus culture, so if you didn’t have work to do (rare) there was always something happening. Sports, live music, carnivals, bingo nights, free art lessons, car smashing (yeah, the Engineering faculty put on a university approved event where you could smash an old car with a baseball bat to de-stress…), movie nights, you name it. On top of this there was on abundance of student clubs, so you could always find people with similar interests.

University of Calgary Campus

I chose to live on campus, in student accommodation, or “residence” as they call it. Staying in residence was the best choice I made on exchange, and I’d recommend anyone else thinking of going to do the same. All the friends I made at UofC were people I met in my building (Cascade Hall) – there’s a really good culture there which encourages everyone to get out of their rooms and get to know each other. The university also places all the exchange students in residence together. I was annoyed about this at first (I wanted to meet Canadians!) but this turned out to be the best thing about living there. Everyone I met was in the same boat as me, and we were all equally keen to travel and engage in campus life.

Moraine Lake

I found the academic standards at UofC to be quite similar to QUT, but where I found the biggest difference was the way classes were structured. Instead of the standard weekly two hour lectures and tutorials we’re used to at QUT, all my lectures and tutorials were only an hour long, but held three times a week. This meant that even though I was only taking three units, I was in class for a few hours five days a week. The one other difference was in the amount of online content delivered. My lecturers were all different, but I had one who refused to upload absolutely anything online (no slides, no unit outline, no practice exams), so if you have to miss a lecture, you’d miss out on that content completely.

 

The Country/City: I found Calgary to have a really similar culture to Brisbane in a lot of ways. They’re both smaller cities (although Calgary is about half the size of Brisbane) and they sit very similar culturally within their countries – Alberta is very much the Queensland of Canada. Everyone  I spoke to was friendly enough, and I never experienced any real form culture shock, which made the adjustment really easy.

University Drive

One thing that was a shock however, was the cold. I arrived at the start of Autumn, where temperatures were slightly colder than our winters (averaging about 10-20°). This gave me a chance to ease into the weather, so by the time it started snowing in September I was a bit more resistant to the cold.

Calgary is an expensive place to live! Although things like fast food were cheap (I miss Tim Hortons so much), I found myself being shocked weekly at how much groceries and fresh food cost over there – especially chicken! It wasn’t all bad though, being a student you pay $150 and they give you a UPass, which gives you unlimited free public transport for the entire semester.

 

Highlights: We had the chance to see a lot of different sports over there, and though basketball and Canadian football (slightly different to American!) were a lot of fun, the obvious highlight was the hockey. Our residence arranged for us to see our first NHL game our the first week there, and after that we were hooked and went to see the Calgary Flames win five more games throughout the semester. Even if you’re not a sports fan I’d recommend going once just to experience the atmosphere!

Go Flames Go!

Calgary is located close to so many incredible natural wonders, and the trips I was able to go on were definitely the highlight of the semester for me. We did many trips to the Rockies – we had the chance to see Lake Moraine, the mountain town of Banff, Peyto Lake, the Icefields Parkway (the most incredible drive you’ll ever go on!) and Jasper National Park. We also decided to hire cars and do a big road trip into the US to see Yellowstone National Park, which was such an incredible experience.

Jasper

Exchange at University of Calgary gave me some of the best experiences of my life. If you’re thinking about choosing Calgary as your location for exchange, I say go for it. It’s a great city to live in, and there’s nothing quite like the culture of North American universities. You’ll have the chance to see some incredible sights, go on some big adventures, and make some great memories with people from around the globe.

The Realities of Studying in Gothenburg

Lydia W., Bachelor of Business / Bachelor of Laws (Honours)
University of Gothenburg, Sweden (Semester 2, 2017)

My time in Gothenburg can be summed up in one word: memorable. The city of Gothenburg is an incredible city, and my little dorm room will always be considered my second home. For any of you who are considering journeying to the wonderful land of Sweden, or the city of Gothenburg, here are some of the things you may wish to know.

Gothenburg’s famous Hagabullen (cinnamon bun)

Studying at the University of Gothenburg

The University of Gothenburg allowed me to experience a completely different style and atmosphere towards learning. The different faculties of the university are spread out around the city of Gothenburg and I was lucky enough to study in several of them, including Handelshögskolan, the School of Business, Economics and Law. All of the buildings are easily accessible by bus, tram or by bike. In regard to learning, Gothenburg was very different to QUT. My subjects included 3 hours lectures and lecture information is not as easily accessible. More emphasis is placed on group work and discussion in lectures. Also, Gothenburg students are lucky enough to have 5 hour exams where food and drink is allowed.

University of Gothenburg buildings

University of Gothenburg buildings

Student Living in Gothenburg

During my time at Gothenburg, I lived in student housing at Helmutsrogatan which provided me with my own dorm room that included both a kitchen and bathroom that were furnished with basic essentials. Also, right next to my housing was a 7-Eleven which was my saviour every day and night. I was a 5 minute tram ride from the centre but could also walk if I felt like it. I was also a 5 minute walk from the main student shared housing area of Olofshöjd which is convenient as most of your friends will probably be living there. For those of you who are sporting fans, my housing was also a 5 minute tram ride from the Ice Hockey stadium, Liseberg Amusement Park and the football stadium.

My student housing

My student housing

The City of Gothenburg

I loved living in Gothenburg and it will always hold a special place in my heart. The city itself is quite small and you can easily walk to most places. Also, Gothenburg has an advanced and easy tram and bus system which makes it so easy to travel around the city. The reason I mention transport is that Gothenburg has so much to offer. You can catch the tram to archipelagos; you can visit the Liseberg Amusement Park; you can discover the many museums and galleries all over the city; you can go to the opera, concerts and trivia nights; you can go hiking up a mountain; or you can even do my personal favourite and go see the Frölunda Indians play ice hockey! There is always something going on in Gothenburg so there are plenty of chances to get out and enjoy yourself!

Highlights

Obviously, living in a different country was a highlight in itself for me. Not only did I develop more confidence in myself and my abilities, but I had the opportunity to discover a completely new culture. I spent most of my time on exchange travelling all over Europe to countries I did not ever think I would explore. My absolute favourite thing about exchange was meeting people from all over the world; I met people from America, Canada, Sudan, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Portugal, Spain, Greece, China, Japan, India, Russia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Slovakia… and this isn’t even every country! Also, I was very excited to have my photo taken for the University of Gothenburg magazine; I have no idea what the blurb meant in Swedish, but it definitely was a highlight knowing random Swedish students would see a little Aussie!

Things I Didn’t Expect

As with any experience in life, there are things that you entirely do not expect to happen to you. I did not expect how difficult it would be to be to motivate myself to study whilst exploring another country. I did not expect how much time I would actually spend alone. I did not expect how little interaction I would have with Swedish people, nor did I expect how much interaction I would have with other exchange students.

My Tips and Advice

  • Have an idea of your priorities for exchange and tailor the subjects you choose to that. If your priority is to travel and explore as much as you can (as I did), I recommend doing 2-3 subjects maximum!!
  • Just because you’re on exchange does not mean less is expected of you in regard to assessment – find a balance early on where you can have fun but still pass your subjects!
  • If you have the chance to go to Munich for Oktoberfest, do it!!

Just remember, there will be aspects of your exchange that you hate or that you become really stressed about; get over them! Don’t let them ruin your time on exchange because it will be over too soon!