Amelia - University of Virginia

B Arts/Communication
Semester 2, 2018
You will never regret going on exchange, but you will regret not going. It's the experience of a lifetime.

Academic experience

I studied American Congress; Feminist Political Theory; War and the Media; Genocide; and Religion, Strategy and Violence. It was really interesting to be put in the midst of an entirely different format of learning and be taught content from a uniquely American perspective. I had initial difficulties with the enrollment process which meant many courses were full by the time I got to them, so I had to make do with what was available to me. Some of my courses I found fascinating and really appreciated the expertise of my teachers, and other classes I struggled to fully immerse myself in, as I found many political and war subjects often came heavily biased from an American perspective. The benefit of this was that I was granted with a unique perspective not shared by my classmates and so I was able to really maximise the value of my inputs in class and demonstrate an application of class concepts to my own Australian understandings.

Personal experience

My semester exchange gave me so many new and beautiful friendships that I deeply cherish and already miss very much (both local and other exchange student). I was paired with a "buddy" as an international student and what I gained was a special friendship with an absolutely beautiful person who became like a sister. Every student I came in to contact with was incredibly welcoming and loving, and I could never have anticipated all the different people I would ended up forming meaningful relationships with and being sad to leave. Being in the United States, I also had an abundance of opportunities to travel across the states during the semester and I managed to see a great expanse of the country, from up in Alaska all the way down to Florida and so many iconic places in between. I will never forget my Californian summer and New York New Years. I've also come back a much more confident and outgoing person ready to take on any new people and opportunities I meet.

Accommodation

I lived on campus in a student apartment complex different to typical first-year dorms. It was a nice little apartment close to my classes and the RAs took good care of us. There were also convenient facilities nearby and fun little events held a few times throughout the semester. My best advice to anyone going abroad is to research your options beforehand. My apartment was great and on university campus, but on the other side of campus was some other apartment buildings just as close to campus but not associated with the university, and these were nicer, more comfortable and with more facilities. It's just about looking into your options and deciding what facilities you will need/want during your time abroad (for example I knew I wanted an apartment with a kitchen rather than a shared dorm kitchen, which meant I had to compromise on a shared bedroom rather than a single).

Costs

My rent for the entire semester was approximately $5000. On top of this, I would recommend allowing approximately $200-$300 per week for living expenses (food, supplies, etc.). Aside from this, it depends how much extra travel you would like to do as to how much more you should need. I did a lot of travelling before, during, and after my semester, so I needed a lot more than simple semester living funds. UQ recommendations of approximately $12,000-$15,000 (in your exchange currency) are a good guide, but of course the more you are able to save the more opportunities you will have. My most important piece of advice is REMEMBER THE EXCHANGE RATES. Don't simply budget in Australian dollars, think of how much you will have when you get there, because believe me, this is the real kicker.

Challenge

My biggest challenge was assimilating into the university life there. At times, especially when my classes got quite tough, I would feel quite disenfranchised about the whole experience. I overcame feelings like this by surrounding myself with the beautiful friends I made and seeking out events and opportunities that would remind me of the fun I came for. Fortunately, exchange students have a lot of leeway in regards to assimilating into the environment, as everyone is glad to meet us and hear about us, and are a little more forgiving if we don't completely understand our surroundings. Don't ever feel afraid to admit that things are tough or ask someone for help, and make yourself familiar of your campus resources.

Professional Development

I was always a friendly and outgoing person, but I have seen this increase in spades since returning from my exchange. I am now so confident and eager to meet people and reach for opportunities. This has helped me to secure two new jobs within a week of returning home and be requested for interviews from many more. Meeting new people or being put into new environments now does not bother me because I know I will be able to handle it and make the most of it.

Highlight

It's hard to pick just one, because my university had so many wonderful aspects about it. I would say the sporting events were some of the most fun, especially seeing how wild Americans get over college football and basketball, as well as fun runs thrown by student groups and the like. My summer over on the West Coast was also amazing - travelling and camping through California, Arizona and Nevada.

Top tips

I would say just go for it. Be smart about what resources are going to be available to you while you are over there and plan accordingly. Make sure you save smart and consider the currency exchange rates. Also familiarise yourself with all the people and places while over there that you possibly can. You will make amazing friendships and memories to last a lifetime! And take advantage of where you are and try to do some extra travel while you're there so you can fully take in the abroad experience. I honestly can't recommend it enough, you have nothing to lose!