Benjamin - University of Manchester

B Advanced Science
Semester 2, 2018

Academic experience

I studied the equivalent second year physics courses that I would have at UQ, however the study load at UoM is 6 subjects instead of 4. This left me with 2 electives to choose from across the entire university. I chose a first year genetics course and a completely online taught course about extraterrestrial life. Saving electives for exchange definitely paid off. Although there were 6 subjects, most of them involved only small amounts of coursework throughout the semester- around 20%. With final exams counting for around 80-100% of the grade. However, you only need 40% to pass and 70% to get a 7 and depending on the time in your degree you go on exchange, the exact grades might not contribute to your overall gpa. That meant there was much more time during the semester to enjoy the city and travel to other places as there wasn't much pressure until the last few weeks of semester.

Personal experience

Manchester is a fantastic city and i'm so glad i chose it for my exchange semester. It is a very historic, inclusive city with a fantastic music scene and great museums and art galleries. The northern quarter was a great place to go in the evenings or mornings as it had many live music bars and independent cafes- including an Australian themed cafe (Federal cafe) which did amazingly authentic eggs benedict. The manchester printworks was an interesting place with slightly more expensive restaurants and clubs, and a cinema. There are other cities in the UK worth visiting which are good for weekend trips away from manchester. Liverpool was an amazing dockside city with a (quite expensive but worthwhile) Beatles museum. York was a much smaller and very traditional english town with a very old shopping street called the shambles which claims to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley (hence the five separate independent Harry Potter themed shops just on that one street). And of course London, which would take far more than just one weekend to explore thoroughly. In total i spent about the equivalent of a month in London over the whole semester and still feel like I could go back and do more. All of my flatmates were from different cities, so they had many more recommendations and opinions about where the best places to visit were.

Accommodation

I lived in shared student accommodation Oak House in the Fallowfield area. Oak house is divided into flats of 8 people (4 guys, 4 girls) and is self catered. This was a fantastic place to live as it was the cheapest possible accommodation and was within walking distance of a large sainsburys supermarket. Fallowfield is a massive student suburb with lots of bars, restaurants, and clubs so there was always something to do with my flatmates in the evenings. There's even a bar within the accommodation with pool tables and a big screen sometimes showing sporting events. Applying to accommodation was incredibly easy and international students who stay for a year are guaranteed a spot. While oak house was definitely the most social accommodation option it was unfortunately a 20 minute bus ride from uni- and the buses could become very crowded at certain times of day. This wasn't too much of a problem, as the route along oxford road from fallowfield to campus is the busiest in europe, so there are buses every few minutes. However, each bus trip costs 1.50 pound unless you buy a 6 month bus pass for about 200 pounds. Sometimes i walked to uni as there are lots of parks, cafes, shops, and even museums along oxford road. There are other accommodation options in the fallowfield area that not self catered, and also other options closer to uni. However, i would highly recommend oak house.

Costs

UQ generally recommends around 12000-15000 AUD for all expenses during the exchange semester including flights etc. When i arrived in manchester, I had about 10000AUD in savings and this was just enough to cover all living and travel (including a month in europe). Most basic things from the supermarket tended to be slightly cheaper than in Australia, especially if you go to one of the less major supermarkets such as lidl or tesco. Groceries each week were still generally the largest expense other than travel. Travel around the uk and to western parts of europe is very easy by train. It is possible to take the train to most cities in the UK and tickets range from 5-70 pounds depending on the distance and how far in advance you book. I paid 30 pounds before arriving in the Uk to buy a 16-25 railcard, which gave 33% off all train tickets within the UK. This definitely helped cut down the cost of travelling, as I often took weekend trips to other UK cities. As a guide, a return trip from Manchester to London cost about 24 pounds with a railcard when booked a month in advance. Less touristy and closer cities such as liverpool generally cost less than 10 pounds even when booked less than a week in advance. It is also possible to take the coach between cities which is a much cheaper but much slower option. I did this once from manchester to london and it took 5 hours both ways but only cost 12 pounds when booked a week in advance. I would only recommend this option for spontaneous trips or if you are on a very tight budget, as the london to manchester train is only 2 hours. For destinations further away, it is often possible to book cheap flights in advance on one of the budget airlines such as Ryanair. Although I didn't end up doing this as I preferred to take trains, it is definitely a quick and easy option for short trips to slightly more distance cities. Manchester is fantastically located for cheap trips to other great cities if booked in advance. When travelling i tended to stay in hostels as this was by far the cheapest option ranging from 10-30 pounds per night. In terms of costs around the city; a movie ticket was 5 pounds at the Vue cinema in the printworks (cheapest cinema in town); a small chicken burger meal from the fast food place across the street from oak house was around 6 pounds; a pint at one of the student bars was around 3 pounds. Manchester is certainly a more expensive option than some of the smaller university towns in europe or the Uk, but it is also far cheaper than London.

Challenge

The biggest challenge during exchange was overcoming difficulties associated with travelling alone. I solo travelled a lot. As soon as i left australia i stopped in Seoul for a few days, followed by London for just over a week. During this time, I had no friends or family in any of these places. There was definitely a massive shock once the initial excitement of being in a different city had worn off and i realised i was entirely alone in South Korea- a country i'd never been to before. However, all the places i travelled to were exciting places with lots of things to do so keeping occupied during the days and exploring these new places helped me overcome the difficulties in being alone. Also, when staying in hostels it is surprisingly easy to meet new people as the hostels are always organising group tours and pub crawls for free. Travelling solo became much easier after the first few days and I really began to enjoy the sense of freedom that comes with being completely self reliant in an entirely new and exciting place.

Professional Development

A semester abroad is definitely something that can be put on a CV, however a lot of the experiences gained will be unique to each person. I don't believe there is one specific set of skills to gain from studying abroad, as everyone will be coming from different backgrounds and with different personalities anyway. However, there are definite benefits to be gained from the indepence that exchange allows. Travelling and living alone for the first time as well as organising and budgeting the entire semester was hugely beneficial to my self confidence as coming home from the 6 month experience felt like a huge achievement.

Highlight

The highlight of this experience was definitely the people. I was meeting new people at parties and university events almost every weekend. Staying in student accomodation was a big factor in this as most students in the UK move cities for university, so almost everyone was meeting each other for the first time. Also, hostels were a great way to meet new people from lots of different countries.

Top tips

Planning is definitely an important part of the exchange experience. Booking things in advance and having a set budget certainly gave me a sense of security as I was leaving home, even though this ultimately went completely out the window. That being said, it was good to have a vague idea of plans and expenses as I had no source of income during that time. But inevitably, you will book spontaneous trips to new places and events that you hadn't considered and were impossible to plan for. For me, exchange was nothing like I expected it to be, despite the months of planning. After a while you sort of just learn to go with it and let the experience grow itself.