In this post I am going to compare my expectations with the reality of studying abroad and how it is going even better that I had hoped.
After putting so much preparation into planning my study abroad trip (from applying for the programme to buying flight tickets and packing) I had built up an image of what life as an exchange student in Australia might be like. I had created expectations based on how the exchange students in Leeds interacted with the people on the course, my normal student life at Beckett, combined with past experiences of travelling.
1) Always Travelling
Firstly, except for my compulsory studies of course, I expected to not have too much involvement with Western Sydney University itself, and in fact to spend most of my time exploring Australia. I thought I'd be going on trips every other weekend and taking flights all over the country whenever I could.
And of course we are going on expeditions. Next weekend a group of us are taking a road trip to Jervis Bay, a beach and campsite three hours south of Sydney. In April, I have a plane ticket to Melbourne. These trips are going to be great, but now I am here I don’t feel the need to take the number of journeys I first imagined. Instead I'm finding so much enjoyment in getting to know the area I am living in. Forming a home in a foreign country and adapting to the culture is an experience in itself - it's built resilience, independence, openness and broadened my understanding. I don’t mean staying in your room but rather becoming familiar with the beautiful places that are local to you.
As a result when you look back on these memories, rather than just an appreciative longing for a place you visited once, you can think back with fondness on somewhere that over time marked itself on your heart. For example, there are so many beaches around Sydney, we’ve spent different weekends exploring those around where we live, and have come to the conclusion that Manly Beach is our favourite. Because we’ve been able to repeatedly enjoy that beach, we know the quickest and cheapest way to get there and can do it regularly and with ease. As Michael Carroll said: ‘Being somewhere is more important that getting somewhere.’
2) Small workload, minimal study
Secondly, I expected to not have very much university work to do. My year studying abroad doesn't actually contribute towards my overall degree grade.
However, I was able to have a large amount of control over the modules I am studying, giving me the freedom to choose the topics that I am interested in. This has meant that I am really enjoying the modules and am engaged in the subjects. 3 out of my 4 units were flexible and I could also choose which tutorial group I signed up to, according to when I preferred to study, within a given time frame. My inclination to be more engaged has exceeded my expectations because it has meant that I am meeting more like-minded people, and, given the topics, am gaining lots of practical experience and knowledge to take back for my final year.
The method of assessments is far more broken up here in Australia with more written assignments and presentations worth a smaller percentage of my overall module grade, so I have had to focus all the way through the units.
3) Extra-curricular involvement
I expected not to have much involvement in the activities outside my class because I thought that one semester would not be long enough to get involved in many societies and sport clubs. In reality things are very different. It’s so easy to become part of lots of things that are going on. For example, Christian (a fellow European exchange student) and I signed up to Sunday evening salsa classes as a five week discount deal, and in two weeks we’re already well on our way to becoming Strictly Come Dancing professionals. On Mondays there is fitness classes and on Tuesdays skateboarding lessons. There are weekly discussions and political activism events around Parramatta and in Sydney city centre, which university societies are involved in. Maybe its the chilled Australian vibe but all these clubs are very laid back so when I do go travelling and am not around for a few weeks its not a big deal. They are easy to dip into now and then, and have allowed me to meet more people who have made my study abroad experience even better.
Most universities also run travel events for international students: trips and guided tours that give them the opportunity to see more of the country they are visiting. The Western Sydney student engagement team run ‘out and about’ events like a coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee beach or a tour of Cockatoo Island. These are worth going on because the organisers know the cheapest and quickest way to visit these places and going as a group eases much of the stress.
4) A repeat of first year
I half expected studying abroad to be a little like first year in that I would have to start at a new university all over again: making friends, orientating myself, getting to know a new area, getting the hang of the assignments and tutorials, and signing up to clubs. I have had to do all that but its not as intimidating or difficult as first year and there is the excitement of doing it all on the other side of the world. As an international student I am surrounded my many other international students who are very outgoing and relaxed.
We are only here for a few months, there is a sense of needing to make the most of everyday, not settling too much or getting hung up on the little things: there are so many places to go before the end of the term and I can't wait to explore them all.