Inbound students Study Abroad and Exchange at the University of Melbourne
Exchange in Semester 1 and Semester 2, 2005
Bachelor of Education (Primary)
There were many times during my exchange when I had to pinch myself to remind myself that this was actually real life, and not some bizarre Nordic dream. Standing on the porch of a wooden cottage in Lapland watching the northern lights (Aurora Borealis) whirling in the -30 degree night air; taking a social sauna with 20 other girls on the student choir rehearsal weekend (the boys were in the sauna next door and we sang Finnish drinking songs in four parts through the wall); gaining study credits for going on a school camp with 30 sixth graders to far northern Norway.
Even before I started my Bachelor of Education/Diploma of Modern Languages (German) I considered the idea of an exchange – I had lived and worked overseas between finishing secondary school and starting uni, and since then the travel bug has had a hold of me. The idea of knocking over a year of my five-year course whilst living in an exotic, far-away (you can't get much further than Finland) land sounded fantastic, and the fact that Finland has a stellar reputation for education was a welcome professional bonus.
Once I had overcome the financial hurdles (plane ticket, cost of living, insurance) and with the help of the promise of Youth Allowance as well as a significant scholarship from the University of Melbourne, it was smooth sailing. Both the University of Melbourne Exchange staff and the staff in the Oulu University International Relations Office were extremely supportive and helpful; it was easy to find courses that interested me and would count towards my degree; accommodation was organised for me, all I had to do was show up during orientation week with a big suitcase full of warm clothes.
In Finland I experienced a very different study climate. Finnish students are fiercely independent, and the university is set up with this as a defining principle. Students can take as many subjects as they like in a semester; they can often decide when they take exams, and can repeat exams until they pass them. In the teacher education department we had a program of lectures, but they were very different to lectures at home. Due dates for assignments are almost unheard of, students who have completed their final thesis often still have an essay from first year music education that they have to write before they can graduate. This system proved a challenge to me, especially since there were so many other things going on to distract me from studies – social life, travel, ice hockey matches, sauna.
The exchange experience has been invaluable in its contribution to my Melbourne degree. Although there is much talk of living in a global community, and we in Australia are heavily influenced by global issues, in a way we are also isolated, particularly in some profession-specific degree courses. My year in Finland, studying in a university which is undergoing many changes as a result of the EU standardisation, gave me a much broader perspective on the field of education than I ever could have had through reading journal articles or textbooks, a perspective that is easily overlooked when studying in a very liveable city in South-East Australia. Aside from that, I had a ball living in an international community of exchange students, studying interesting subjects, travelling in Finland and Europe, and making myself at home in a strange small city just south of the arctic circle, getting to know the locals and their habits. I also developed a taste for reindeer – it's delicious served the traditional way with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam.
Even if you have the slightest thought that there might be the tiniest possibility that you could go on exchange as part of your Melbourne degree, my advice is to run with that thought as far as you can go. Instead of standing in the queue at Deep Dish one lunchtime (is it still there? I've taken a year off after my exchange and am currently living in the Netherlands, so I have no idea), go and explore the boxes in the Exchange resource area, chat with someone who's been on exchange, and hatch a plan. Do as much reading as you can before you go, but go with an open mind, a bit of courage and see what happens.