Jarrod - Purdue University

B Engineering/Commerce
Semester 2, 2018
Exchange at Purdue was a great way to experience the joys and journeys of American college life.

Academic experience

Purdue University has established a good mechanical engineering program. As such, I wanted to take primarily mechanical engineering courses and enrolled in: Thermodynamics II – ME300, Heat and Mass Transfer – ME315, Machine Design II – ME452 and Mechanical Vibrations – ME563. At Purdue these ranged from third year to postgraduate courses, but they all counted back to UQ as third year subjects. Their academic structure also requires you take general education courses. I took Golf – PES116 and Physics Fitness – PES111.

The content covered in each of the courses was well taught in lectures and generally stayed interesting – something that helped given the assessment structure. In addition, the general education courses were a surprise favourite of mine. I didn’t anticipate going to Purdue to play a round golf three times a week and learn the best ways to stay fit. Surely enough though their academic system lets you do just that. It also helped balance out the intensity of the engineering subjects’ assessment.

The engineering subjects were more intense because their academic system spreads assessment more evenly through their 16-week semester. Final exams were usually worth ~20%. Being used to a tail-heavy assessment schedule this made final exam week quite relaxed. During semester however, you should expect and prepare for a continuous assessment regime. It was not unusual for one subject to have several pieces of assessment happening at once: weekly homework, lab reports, quizzes, assessed attendance, as well as an overarching semester long assignment.

If you want free time to travel or socialise good time-management is imperative. With some advice from peers and wisdom from Cal Newport’s blog I made the transition well enough. I had free time to get involved and travel in the way I wanted. If you’re slack however, you’ll quickly find yourself behind.

In terms of enrolment and registration, after enrolling at Purdue, they have academic officers to guide exchange students through the course registration process. At no point did I feel especially unsure about whether I was taking the right courses and was overall quite satisfied with what I had learnt over the semester.

Personal experience

Beyond academics, I wanted to study in the US for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to experience American college life and more broadly gain a better understanding of American culture. Secondly, I wanted to take as much time as I could to travel across North America seeing its varied cityscapes and scenery.

On both points I finished satisfied. I made friendships with lots of Americans and exchange students alike while on campus. I really came to appreciate the cultural diversity of Americans generally; whether they be Hoosiers, Californians or Texans everyone brought their own perspective whilst each being open and friendly. I also got to see the sights of American college life, including the huge enthusiasm of students at college football and basketball games out in support of the Purdue Boilermakers.

While there I managed to fit in plenty of travel too. I was able to take July and August off before starting at Purdue to travel across the US. Starting in San Francisco I took busses all the way across the country, visiting national parks such as Yosemite and the Grand Canyon before finishing in New York. I also took long-weekends to travel with friends to cities like Chicago and Boston. For Thanksgiving break travel in the US becomes a hassle so some other exchange students and I took two weeks to travel through Ontario and Quebec. Each city and national park were incredible both in their variety and splendour.

All up I was able to visit nineteen states plus three Canadian provinces and was so glad to be able to explore the diversity of North America and develop the associated personal skills needed to travel independently in such a varied country.

Accommodation

While at Purdue I lived on-campus at Owen Hall. It was a co-ed, double room variation and one of the several residential halls types available to undergraduates on campus. Not having lived in a residence hall before I thought it was a great experience – there was always the opportunity to socialise and study with friends in the hall. Although I didn’t only spend time with people from Owen it was one of the closest halls to campus and so often became a group meeting point.

When enrolling with Purdue you can give preference about the type of residence hall you prefer. This ranges from an individual air-conditioned room all the way to a non-air-conditioned three-person room. Owen was by no means the nicest residence hall amenity wise, but it was close to the dining courts and was more affordable than some other choices. Although you aren’t required to live on campus, doing so was the only way to access dining court meal plans, something that saved a lot of time and I found quite helpful. Overall, I enjoyed living there and thought it contributed to the quintessential American college experience.

Costs

Going on exchange came with costs both from attending Purdue and costs from associated travel. Attending Purdue included: ~$4000 USD in accommodation and associated registration costs, ~$1000 USD for a 13 meal per week dining court plan and associated food costs and another ~$1000 USD for miscellaneous fees and textbooks.

In budgeting for travelling I kept costs to ~$100 AUD per day of travel averaged over the duration of travel. This included the cost of flights, transport, hostels, food and other expenses. Setting this target was a good way to stay thrifty when booking transport/hostels and ensured I stayed within my budget even though I ended up travelling for more than two-months while I was there.

A final tip about costs. Travelling in North America also requires you to consider the hidden costs associated with purchases. Tax is added on after, so is the tip. You can very easily end up paying 30% more than the signed price even before you’ve equated it to AUD.

Challenge

The most challenging aspect of the experience was making the adjustment to the American academic system. The difference is as simple as knowing there is more assessment to complete during the semester. Realising this soon after starting and responding proactively to finish assessment quickly helped immensely. One of the most beneficial changes I made was to complete work during the day (8 – 4 pm) to leave evenings open. Activities and events usually start in the evening and having that time open gives the freedom to enjoy the American college experience.

Professional Development

Attending Purdue was beneficial professionally in several ways. The higher-level courses I took offered much greater interaction with industry than I had expected. In doing them I was able to tour a Caterpillar heavy engine plant and was able to interact frequently with vibration engineers in industry as a part of the postgraduate course undertaken. Their campus career fair was also much more extensive and useful than anything I had participated in before and was an excellent opportunity to network with a huge range of industry representatives. The overall experience, both in the new skills learnt to complete the more strenuous academic courses and the development of new networks – both professional and with other students – was an excellent opportunity and one that has contributed substantially to my professional development.

Highlight

The highlight of the trip came after classes had finished. I was staying with a friend from Purdue at their home in the New York suburbs. Purdue has a pilot training program attached to the university. A mutual friend from Purdue who was a trainee pilot and was from New Jersey contacted us and asked if we wanted to go for a flight. We sure did and he was kind enough to fly out to meet us in his light aircraft, take us out to breakfast in rural New Jersey, then up the Hudson River so we could see the Manhattan skyline from the air. It was an incredible experience and one that only became possible from the time spent at Purdue.

Top tips

1 – Take the time at the start of semester to find a group of study mates in each of your subjects. There will be a lot of work do for each subject and doing it with friends makes it just that bit easier.
2 – Finish work well before its due and do so during the day. This will ensure that you are not using up your evenings working. It is much more interesting to be out socialising than it is to be in your dorm room finishing an assignment the night before.
3 – Take the opportunity to interact with lecturers in your classes. The class sizes are smaller and there is an expectation that you seek their assistance. If you ignore them you are leaving valuable and willing assistance unused.
4 – Try do most of your travelling in the summer. I took more than a month in July and August to do most of my travelling. Doing so meant I wasn’t trying to negotiate travel in the cold and short days of winter.
5 – Have one warm jacket on hand for cold days during semester. I skimped out on one going to Canada over Thanksgiving but learnt my lesson pretty quick when it got down to -20°C in Quebec City.