Benjamin - University of Exeter

B Science
Semester 1, 2016

Academic experience

I studied four courses in Exeter, all related to my Geographical Science degree - two science-based geography courses, one human geography course and one practical-based modelling course.

Studying science at Exeter was quite different from studying science at UQ. Contact hours were fewer, with mostly lectures/seminars and less but more-focused practical sessions. However, reading scientific papers was a necessity, to the extent that I was required to reference them in my exams (sounds scary but trust me it's a lot easier than it sounds). Assessment was quite similar, with about 50% assignment-weighted and 50% exam-weighted.

One particular challenge I faced was that while many science courses don't require any formal pre-requisites, many students have completed similar lower-level courses that will give them a heads-up. This isn't normally an issue as you've probably done equivalent courses, however taking a course on glaciers and the cryosphere wasn't something I'd done before, so I had to pay extra attention to make sure I was keeping pace.

One thing you'll either love or hate is the timing of the academic semester, as after the teaching weeks end you'll have a whole month off over Easter (when most international students travel) and then come back and complete your exams.

More generally, studying at Exeter is awesome fun. I really enjoyed the challenge of a different academic system, and I loved how the courses are so focused on cutting-edge research papers, something that UQ can definitely learn from. Another thing you'll love compared to UQ is the size of the campus and the student guild, the community feels so close and the university always has something interesting going on in the main 'Forum' building. Everyone is super approachable and friendly and the level of interaction between the university, student guild and student body is phenomenal.

Personal experience

You've probably heard this so many times you're rolling your eyes by now, but going on exchange was one of the best things I've done in my life.

You'll meet other international students in exactly the same position as you from all over the world, and you'll be endlessly amused by the different perspectives and experiences you'll share and hear. On that topic, don't be surprised if most of your friends aren't actually British - living in international student accommodation means you'll be living with people from all over the world.

You'll learn that you can cope with challenges and adapt to situations better than you know, especially if you're like me and had never lived by yourself nor been overseas before. You'll be confident and comfortable in your own company and will be a problem-solving mastermind.

You'll get to travel the world and go to places you'd never think you would ever go, all under the guise of a study abroad semester which normally won't cost you any extra time or money in your degree - how cool is that!

Exeter is connected by high-speed rail to the UK and even through the channel to Europe if you're feeling extra adventurous, and it's very easy to travel by train. It's a perfect walking sized city, and the main shopping/high street, university and accommodation are all within a 15 to 20-minute radius.

Accommodation

I lived off-campus in James Owen Court which is self-catered but was university run and managed (about a 15 to 20-minute walk, but really close to the city centre where all the shopping and services are). There is also a small grocery store and cinema right next door. When I applied for accommodation through the university I only had one choice of room type (I think you have more choice if you come in their semester one) but it was perfect for me.

I recommend the website Uni Kit Out, which lets you order items online like bedding, kitchenware etc. that will be at your accommodation when you arrive. I recommend at least buying your bedding this way so that your first night will be a comfortable one.

Renting accommodation through the university is expensive, but definitely book it as soon as you can. You'll have all your bills covered and the staff there are amazing, and you'll love how it's perfectly tailored to students.

Most of all though you'll live with other international students where you'll make your closest friends who are coming for the semester just like you are, and you'll be invited to social events run by the university just for international students, neither of which money can buy! It’s important when you arrive by yourself in a foreign country to have a place to stay where you can meet people in the same situation as you are and easily make friends so don't miss out.

Budget

The way I chose to spend my money was to live very cheaply during the semester, and then spend it on travelling around the UK and Europe, which is where I spent the majority of my money. In general, you'll want to book as far in advance as possible (accommodation and transport tickets at a minimum) and you can easily save over half price if you do this.

I spent about 20 pounds a week on food eating vegetarian, however, this will be more if you want to cook meat or splurge on the more expensive products. I shopped at Sainsbury's, who have a supermarket in the main town centre mall. Try and shop at the biggest supermarket you can as you will pay a lot more and have less choice the smaller the store is. One tip is to cook several meals worth of food at once and store in Tupperware containers for easy dinners so you only have to cook a few times each week.

You will save a lot of money by walking around, but when you travel out of Exeter the 16-25 Railcard is a necessity, which costs 30 pounds but will save you one third off all train tickets. The NUS Extra card will give you student discounts at many shops including 10% of everything at Co-Op supermarkets, 5% off Amazon and 25% off already-discounted student cinema tickets. If you do travel outside of Exeter and don't mind using the bus, 'Megabus' is a coach service that runs buses all over the UK. If you book a month in advance, you can get tickets such as Exeter to London for just one pound!

Professional development and employability

Personally, this was my first experience at both living out of home (by myself) and being overseas. I think the experience has certainly made me more confident in myself so that I can tackle and adapt to new and daunting experiences, and most of all I think it has taught me how to get along with a hugely diverse range of people from different backgrounds and how people live differently from place to place.

Professionally, I have learnt things in my courses at Exeter I could never have gotten at UQ, not just in content but particularly approaching an essay or research topic from a different academic perspective. The higher academic standard of Exeter pushed me to develop my essay skills, and the focus on integrating cutting-edge research into the course content shows a commitment to and strong knowledge of your discipline to employers.

Highlights

I’ll be honest, my highlight wasn’t actually in Exeter, it was actually the idyllic time I spent in the Black Forest in Germany, having the time of my life at Ultra Europe or perhaps my days wandering the streets of Venice, all experiences you will have studying abroad.

Your travel outside of Exeter will likely be your highlight too, but I can’t ignore the amazing times I also had in Exeter. It’s so fun living like a local in England, and I loved the hikes I did with the Out of Doors Society (OODS) through the British countryside, an International Food Night that was run by the university and hanging out with my Exeter friends I met at my church.

Top tips

JUST DO IT!

Make it work however you can, it's an unbelievable experience, I didn't plan anything until the second year and had used all my electives up but I moved my courses around to make it happen.

I understand that drinking and partying is part of the experience, but if your money isn't limitless than control yourself and save as much as possible for travel! Planning in advance is key to making your trip as cheap as possible.

Get out of your comfort zone and say YES to everything, join clubs/societies and talk to everyone. You're in a new place and it's a fresh start to be whoever you want and do whatever you've always wanted to do. Try a new sport, new food, and do something you never thought you'd be brave enough to try.

My absolute TOP TIP for your study abroad is this: DON'T GET A TRAVEL CARD! Or anything else for that matter - don't open overseas bank accounts, use travel cheques or anything like that. Instead, go to a Citibank branch in Brisbane before you leave and open a standard basic 'Citibank Plus' account. You'll get a Visa Debit card you can use anywhere in the world, with no international transaction/transfer/commission/currency conversion fees or any other fees I can think of. It sounds too good to be true but it was a true lifesaver. So transfer your money there before you leave and let them know you're travelling overseas, then you can enjoy using the same card all over the world in any currency using Australian Dollars, either at ATMs, online or paying by card, with standard currency conversion rates just like you are back in Australia. Pretty incredible!

Benjamin - University of Exeter