Inbound students Study Abroad and Exchange at the University of Melbourne
Exchange in Semester 2, 2006 and Semester 1, 2007
Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Commerce
Why did I go?
Ever since I first enrolled at the University of Melbourne I was very interested in going on exchange. After picking up brochures about it at the open day, I became incredibly excited about the fact that the University offered such a wonderful opportunity. I loved the idea of spending time overseas without having to defer, and to me, the chance to study in a different country was something I just didn't want to miss out on! I thought it would be great to experience a totally different university culture and educational system. Plus I thought it would be a great thing to have on a CV as I think going on exchange really shows confidence and adaptability. I was also really excited by the challenge of moving away on my own as I thought it would be a great way for me to become more independent and "grown up" so to speak!
Why the University of Washington?
I chose to go to the University of Washington for a great number of reasons. Firstly I wanted to go to the USA because I was really interested in experiencing their well renowned college lifestyle! Also their educational system is very highly ranked and well regarded, so I thought studying there could help me in my future career aspirations. US universities are incredibly expensive to attend ordinarily so I thought it was such a wonderful opportunity to be able to attend one while paying HECS fees! As I am a Commerce/Arts double degree student and wanted to go for a full year, my options within the US became slightly more limited as I could not go to a Commerce specific agreement, nor could I go anywhere which restricted business, which was quite a few of the US universities. Of all the universities I could go to for both degrees, the University of Washington was one which interested me because the subjects I would be able to take there seemed interesting; it was located in a major city (Seattle), which really appealed to me; the on-campus housing seemed fantastic; and it seemed to have really great facilities and school culture.
After getting my acceptance to go, and after doing the hard yards with all the work and effort involved in organising an exchange, I was finally off to Seattle!! I can truly say that what followed was the best year of my life!! It was an amazing experience and the only downfall was that the year went much too quickly!!
Seattle and the University of Washington
Seattle is a beautiful, trendy, fun and friendly city! My favourite city in the US in fact! You just can't not like it, it's impossible! I absolutely loved being at the University of Washington! It is HUGE, with over 40,000 students, but it really doesn't feel that big as there is such a wonderful community atmosphere. Everyone seems so involved with the University which I loved, and there is a real sense of pride in being a student there. The facilities are amazing, especially the sports facilities. The on-campus football stadium seats over 70,000 students! In fact the whole college sports atmosphere I really enjoyed as it is so different to Australia. The sports games are all televised and the athletes are treated like celebrities even though they are students. When I attended my first football game there it was like I walked onto the set of a Hollywood film - with the cheerleaders, the huge marching band, the very loud crowd all dressed in purple and gold (the university's colours) and the big football players all geared up! It was just extraordinary! In general the American college experience was everything I imagined and much much more, from the frat parties, to the pep rally's to the sun bathing on "the quad"! I absolutely loved it all, plus the campus and its buildings are so old and beautiful that simply walking around every day was something I thoroughly enjoyed doing.
Studying in the USA
I also really enjoyed the academic side of my exchange. I found that all my lecturers were very experienced and friendly, and all the subjects (called 'courses' in the US) I took were really interesting (some more challenging than others). The teaching style is definitely different to Melbourne. I would describe it as being closer to the school system in Australia as the classes are much smaller so everyone gets to know each other really well. The lecturers know the students' names and are very involved with their learning. Also the assessment is a lot more constant, which I liked, as no one thing was ever worth more than say 20%. I found that because of that I was always really on track and never had to cram at the end, something I often have to do at Melbourne. I really responded well to the teaching style and actually made the Quarterly Dean's List every quarter I was there, as well as the Annual Dean's List, so I was very happy with that. A number of wonderful opportunities came up through my studies when I was there, especially through the business school. For example I was able to participate in a mentorship program with a sales class I took where I was paired up with the Regional President of a very successful company, DMX Music. The business school has a fantastic reputation and, therefore, has some great connections, so a number of assignments I did were conducted with outside business firms and professionals which was great!
I was very fortunate to make some great friends in the beginning as the University held an orientation for exchange students, so I strongly recommend going along to all the activities! It was so nice to have a strong group of friends with other exchange students, as they were not only going through the same experience, but they were also always up for travelling and doing touristy things, which local students were not so interested in doing. My exchange friends were so wonderful and really helped make my time away fantastic, plus now I have friends all around the world who I can visit! Having them also made it much easier to get out and socialize with other students early on. I found that there were so many opportunities to make friends with people by getting involved. This was especially the case living on-campus and through making an effort with people I met in classes and out and about. I made some lovely friends who I now miss very much! I socialized a lot while I was away, often going out three or four times a week, whether that be for a late night coffee at an open mike night, which I loved, or to the local bar where good times where always had. There was never a dull moment on my time on exchange!!
I lived in an on-campus house or dormitory, with about 30 people, called the "2104 House", which was a great experience as it was so nice living with other students and being so close to university facilities. I loved my house in particular, as apposed to the other dorms, as we had a full kitchen and lots of communal areas. I had a really great room mate, who was from Washington State, and many other wonderful housemates, so I was very fortunate with the living arrangements! I really recommend living on-campus if you have the option, and if you are going to the University of Washington, definitely look into the 2104 house! Room 9 if you can, it's the best one.
I was managed to do lots of travel while I was away. I decided not to travel before or after my exchange for the simple reason of having too much luggage and valuable possessions, such as my laptop, to carry around. I did all my travel on long weekends and on the Christmas and Spring breaks. I ended up getting around to 12 other major cities: Las Vegas, Miami, Boston, New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Vancouver in Canada, Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Santa Barbara. All were fantastic and very memorable. I spent Christmas day ice skating in Central Park in NYC with friends from Seattle, it was magical! I travelled with people I met in Seattle, and also did some travel on my own staying in hostels, which was equally as exciting and enjoyable. I found that domestic air travel was very cheap, which is why I travelled so much, but I also saved money by travelling on Amtrak trains and Greyhound busses. I highly recommend travel that way as I got to see some gorgeous scenery and some small towns on the way!
Being "an exchange student"
I found that actually being an "exchange student" was wonderful as people ALWAYS noticed my accent and were therefore very friendly towards me and curious about where I was from and why I was there! In my classes I found that professors and students alike were often very interested in my opinions and perspectives as a person from another country. I really enjoyed that as I guess you can't help but feel a little special! I also found people were always willing to help me, especially at the University when it came to any problems with getting into subjects, and that sort of thing.
Overall my experience with exchange was absolutely extraordinary and I cannot recommend doing it more highly! I was obviously nervous when I was leaving that I would get really home sick and that I wouldn't make any friends etc etc! But coming home turned out to be the hardest part about it! I had such an enjoyable year filled with good times and memorable experiences. I now have over 7,000 photos and four filled journals to help me remember fondly my time as an exchange student! As stereotypical as it may sound, I really felt that I became more independent, confident and mature by the end. I also really got to know myself better, as the experience took me so far out of my comfort zone, and away from my family and friends that I found I really had to make my own life for myself away, which was then very hard to leave. To those people thinking about applying, please do, you wont regret it! You have great times ahead of you, just get involved, make the most of it, and take lots of photos.
Some General Tips
- Start planning early and give yourself time to get your application together.
- Get at least twice as many subjects approved than you have to take, as you may find that many of them are not offered when you get there, or that they are already full.
- Save as much money as you can and budget realistically. I spent US$22,000 when I was away (including exchange related expenses before I left such as visas and airfares). This is not to say that all exchanges will cost this much as I did travel a lot, and go out a lot, but just be realistic with how much you may spend. I kept a financial diary while I was away and recorded all my expenses so that I could keep track of what I was spending. I highly recommend doing this! It only took me a couple of minutes every night!
- Apply for a year not a semester! You can always come home after a semester if you choose, but trust me you won't want to.
- Take copies of all important documents with you such as visas, medical records, subject approvals, birth certificate etc.
- Go along to all the orientation activities, they are a great way to meet people and get settled in!
- Book your visa appointment as soon as you get your visa form. Allow plenty of time for your actual visa appointment as I waited close to 4 hours! Make sure you take ALL required documents with you so that you won't have to go back again.
- Don't book a flight to leave LA too close to your arrival time as immigration at LAX takes forever!
- Get a pre-paid phone not a plan, as they will charge you a huge deposit for not having a social security number which you won't get back, and also you will have to most likely pay a termination fee when you leave as most contracts are two years. If you are going to the University of Washington go to Radio Shack, they are great there.
- Set up a local bank account!! I know many exchange students who never did this and it often made it very hard to book anything, or purchase stuff online or on the phone, such as concert tickets and airfares, because they simply could not enter a US address for the billing address.
- Try and stay in on-campus housing if you have a choice, as the atmosphere on campus is great, and it makes it really easy to meet people.
- Buy your text books online as they are really expensive to buy through the university bookstores. I found that Amazon.com had most of mine.
- If you have to take out the school's insurance policy,you probably will, make sure you are covered with travel insurance for the time you are there before its start date, which is often the same as the first day of classes. I know an exchange student who needed an ambulance for being really intoxicated the day before the policy kicked in, so she was out of pocket close to US$1,000.
- Travel as much as you can!! I found Expedia.com always seemed to have the best flight deals. Also Hostelworld.com is great for cheap accommodation.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
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