Eloise - University of Graz

B Social Science
Semester 2, 2019
I think I’ll always consider Graz as a home away from home and I’m just so grateful for my exchange experience.

Academic experience

One of the biggest adjustments I had to make during my exchange was adjusting to the different academic system at the University of Graz.

In order to reach the sufficient number of units for a full-time study load, I had to complete six subjects while on exchange, all of which were electives and three of which being Master’s  subjects in the field of South-Eastern European Studies (there were limited subjects taught in English available to study). This in itself was challenging as my fellow students had prior knowledge in this field whereas I knew literally nothing before the semester began. The course registration process at the University of Graz was relatively straightforward but last-minute, and was explained at the introductory session for the international students. In fact, the course registration only took place a week before the semester was to begin, so my subjects weren’t confirmed until the very last minute. 

All classes at the university had mandatory attendance and were structured in 90 minute contact sessions with no recordings or lecture slides available, so it was quite a full-on experience. However, this did make it easier to make friends with classmates, particularly with small class sizes. 

Managing six subjects with little/no previous study in the field the same amount of assessment as UQ, plus a pass grade of 60% instead of 50% while also fitting in as much socialising and travelling as I could was undeniably difficult, though I do believe it has made me a better student in terms of time management and prioritising skills.

Personal experience

Although it’s almost impossible to decide, probably the aspect of my exchange that I am most grateful for is the fact that I was able to do so much travelling throughout Europe whilst on exchange. As I was studying in a land-locked central European country, it only took just over an hour to cross the border into another country. I was able to do solo trips and trips with my exchange friends to a total of eleven different countries: Austria, England, Romania, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czechia and Norway.

I also made so many friends during this exchange with people who I am excited to visit in their home countries! It was amazing to be surrounded by such a diverse crowd of people during my exchange and to be able to learn about their lives and cultures. I also used this exchange as an excuse to practice my German skills, which improved tremendously over the course of the trip.

Accommodation

While in Graz, I lived in a small apartment with a Spanish exchange student and a Swiss engineer. I was truly lucky - my university did not offer on-campus accomodation and the student dorms throughout the city were out of my budget, so I took a gamble and searched through regular rentals in the city and was lucky enough to find my apartment with my two lovely housemates (I was extremely nervous to see who I was living with as I didn’t get to meet them until I arrived). I loved the relaxed atmosphere in our apartment and the three of us got along so well we ended up taking a goodbye-housemate trip to Italy together! 

For people planning their accomodation for exchange, I would designate a lot of time into searching for accomodation and remember to consider your budget, the location of the accomodation in relation to the university and the town, and what kind of accomodation you would like to live in i.e. would you be comfortable sharing a room in a dorm, or do you need your own space? Also, try to get in touch with people who have been/will be going to your host university through the ‘UQ Abroad - student exchange’ facebook group for advice, and also through asking relevant staff at your host university. While my host university didn’t provide any assistance in finding/choosing accomodation, they did offer housing scholarships which I received and it really helped, so it’s definitely worth looking into to see if your host university has similar scholarships/grants on offer.

Costs

I was on quite a strict budget and aimed to save as much money as I could while living in Graz so that I’d be able to spend more on my weekend travels. My greatest expense by far was rent, which was $800AUD (450euros) per month. I almost never ate out and spent about 50 euros per week on groceries, and did not buy things unless I needed them. I am used to living on a strict budget so it wasn’t too difficult for me, and it meant that I had enough savings that during my trip I was able to go to two camping music festivals and travel to ten countries (not including travelling through Austria).

Challenge

The biggest challenge for me during my experience was homesickness. It really caught me off-guard because I took a gap year of travelling before university and I didn’t experience much homesickness then at all, but during my time on exchange there were many family issues that occurred back home and the separation from everyone was a lot to deal with. I overcame my homesickness by keeping in touch with my family and friends through social media and prioritising self-care and my health. I was also lucky enough to have my housemates and new friends to talk too, who were very lovely and supportive.

Professional Development

During my exchange I gained so much confidence in myself and my abilities that I can already see has really contributed to my personal and professional development. I was also able to really hone in my time management skills during the exchange as well as my interpersonal communication skills and independence.

Highlight

It is so incredibly difficult to choose a single highlight from the experience - in fact I don’t think I can choose one moment, but possibly walking through the Christmas Markets drinking mulled wine with my friends on a Thursday night after uni - it felt like I had made a new home and was so lovely.

Top tips

My biggest piece of advice for anyone considering going on exchange is to look into your options early on so a) you know if/when you can it an exchange into your degree and b) so you don’t miss any of the application deadlines, especially for financial help grants/scholarships.

If you’re unsure as to whether exchange is right for you, I’d have a look at the extensive list of host universities all around the world that are available through UQ for inspiration. I literally could not recommend exchange enough so my main piece of advice is just go for it!