Justin - Purdue University

B Information Technology
Semester 2, 2018

Academic experience

I studied five courses at Purdue: CGT353 (Principles of Dynamic and Interactive Media), CGT241 (Intro to 3D Animation) CGT345 (Game Development, which was supposed to be my credit transfer for DECO2300), CLCS181 (Ancient Civilisations) and PSY120 (Intro to Psychology). Because domestic CGT students get priority over classes, I was only allowed to take 3 CGT courses instead of all five. Picking a study plan was probably the most difficult part of the process, as I had to coordinate with both Purdue and UQ about finding credit transfer, especially as many of my CGT courses were not listed in the UQ database. I also had to reorganise my study plan based on not being able to find credit for certain subjects. Additionally, courses at Purdue change much more frequently, and are often inconsistent from year to year, which meant information from the official website often wasn't reliable. Thankfully, the course coordinators for both UQ and Purdue communicated effectively and frequently so that I never ran into any problems, though I have heard horror stories about students arriving at their host university to find out that their study plan is inaccurate or invalid.

I had around 15 contact hours a week, and spent an additional 15+ hours a week working on weekly assignments. Unlike UQ, most American courses have much more frequent assignments and deliverables, which does take getting used to. The grading system is also different - an A+ is usually worth 97% or more of a class, compared to 85%+ for a 7 at UQ. However, in my experience, classes are much easier than Australian classes due to many chances at extra credit, such as turning in homework or attendance, which led to me getting much higher grades while abroad than I would at home. This is also because you have much more time on your hands to focus on work - less time is wasted getting to and from uni, as all classes are within walking distance of campus housing as well as most off-campus housing, and I personally felt that the courses I took were much easier than the ones I would take at home. I was not initially used to the more frequent workload, and had to readjust my schedule to do work across several days instead of cramming it on a weekend.

Another difference that I between Purdue and UQ's courses was that Purdue's were horribly disorganised, and it was notoriously difficult to get information about assignment due dates and schedules. At UQ, most assignments get cover sheets or are otherwise easily visible within Blackboard, often with clear percentage values, but at Purdue, despite also having Blackboard, most of my courses relied on external websites and often lacked a schedule, and some schedules would even be inaccurate. The scale used to separate grades also varied from class to class. This, coupled with the fact that several courses used unorthodox marking schemes, such as arbitrary cumulative point systems, meant that my peers and I often would not be able to predict how well we were doing in the course until grades were released.

Personal experience

I forged a lot of strong relationships with friends both domestic and international at Purdue, and learnt a lot about the intricacies and differences between Australian and American culture. The students I met were all incredibly friendly and accommodating, and definitely helped me get accustomed to the culture shock.

On my exchange I travelled to multiple cities around North America, such as four major cities in Canada and a tour in the Canadian Rockies, a tour of the Sierra Nevada, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, Chicago and multiple cities in Indiana (where Purdue is situated), and multiple cities along both the East and West coast.

I met many of my friends through BGR (Boiler Gold Rush), which is an optional orientation activity that lasts around four days before the start of semester. Many found this incredibly boring, but I thought it was a great way to meet domestic students as well as understand college campus culture, and to get to know the layout and history of the campus. However, this activity is definitely geared towards first-years, and many of the optional activities, such as seminars talking about free speech or sessions on time management, can feel boring and many people skip these.

It sounds sappy, but I felt that I became a much more well-rounded person because of my experiences abroad, and found out more about what kind of person I am and what kinds of things I want to do in the future. I would definitely recommend studying at Purdue or another American university for anyone looking or exploring the idea of working or living in the US.

Accommodation

Roommates and accommodation was chosen by the university, and involved doing a short survey to gauge our preferences and matching us as best we could to these preferences. I believe that domestic students, much like classes, have priority in their choices. I lived at Hawkins Hall, which was considered luxurious and spacious compared to most other dorms (namely Cary, Meredith or Owen), and had a higher concentration of other international students than other dorms. All on-campus accommodation is gender-segregated by floor or wing, like Hawkins, and many are segregated by building, such as Cary, Windsor or Meredith.

Hawkins had many benefits, including its apartment style housing. It is probably one of the best dorms in terms of proximity to classes, and was very close (even having an underground tunnel, which is handy in winter) to the PMU, which has facilities such as restaurants and Amazon. It also 
had facilities such as laundry and a gym in the basement. 

Its downsides come from its distance from the rest of the dorms and dining courts. The closest dining court, Wiley, is around a 20 minute walk, which is also where most of the main dorms are. Luckily, there are many well-lit, main roads that lead to Hawkins, so walking late at night never felt unsafe.

Costs

I probably spent around 20k over 7 months, including pre-travel costs and flights. This was more than most other exchange students I met, though this included two tours and a road trip, and around 10 domestic flights and four international flights. I'd also attribute this to the rapidly dropping exchange rate, which rose around 20c per dollar that year. I also definitely would have been able to save a few thousand dollars if I had booked flights and accommodation a few more months in advance. A good rule of thumb for budgeting is around 1000 dollars a week while travelling, and a little bit less when studying, though I found out that I frequently spent a few hundred dollars less than expected while travelling.

Challenge

I would say that the biggest challenge was planning everything I wanted to do and committing to it - I had to do a lot of research about each place I wanted to go, figure out transport, figure out flights and activities, all while sticking to a rough budget. It became pretty harrowing when getting to a city and trying to figure out local bus and train systems, or finding your way to the airport when leaving a city, especially in more extreme weather. I got used to this pretty quickly, though, and never ran into any issues because I planned well ahead of time.

Professional Development

For me, the main advantage of going to study at an American university is not the pedigree of the university or the difficulty or content of their classes, but the amount of opportunities that it offers you. There are a large amount of opportunities for internships and other jobs, such as at Amazon, Google and UPS, as well as excellent opportunities for networking. It must be noted that, from my knowledge getting a job is not allowed under the exchange visa, but the opportunity for a job on a different visa still exists.

Highlight

The highlight of my experience was a road trip that I took with one of my friends from Purdue, who lived in New Mexico. We took a weeklong road trip of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado, and went to famous national parks such as Monument Valley, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park in Denver and Colorado Springs. This road trip would have saved us a lot of money compared to a tour and I personally found planning and doing it a much more rewarding and fascinating experience, especially as we got to experience the beauty of these stunning national parks as well as small-town America and the atmosphere of driving among stunning rock formations and landscapes.

Top tips

I would say to any student considering going on exchange to plan early. Plan your study plan years in advance, plan your flights and schedules as early as possible, and definitely plan and budget around the mistakes, sickness or waste that will inevitably occur.