Molly - University of Birmingham

B Arts/ B Communication
Semester 2, 2016

Academic experience

I did my exchange in my final semester, which has caused a bit of havoc with my graduation date but nothing that can't be handled. I was able to study just arts subjects meaning that I got to do British English literature course. This was exciting because I was studying some of the most influential British writers while living in the UK. One weekend, we even got to go on a trip to the lake district to William Wordsworth's house and see original writing from him. 

However, there were some challenges along the way; especially at the beginning. When I first arrived I found out all my classes clashed and I all the classes I had preapproved were full. This meant I had to send emails back and forth to UQ to organise new courses. Though this was rather frustrating at the start because I thought I was prepared with enough backups, it was sorted within the first week and I ended up doing quite different subjects, which I really enjoyed. One of these courses was actually a linguistic subject on how grammar and words affect how people think about things. There were weekly debates on how if you asked the question 'If the meeting on Wednesday was moved forward two days would it be on Monday or Friday?' With half the class saying Monday and the rest saying Friday we found out that it was how you think about yourself in time and if the question was asked in different ways we got completely different responses. So, even though it was difficult to sort out my subjects in the first week, in the end, it all worked out for the better! 

Another difficulty was the way the assessments were done. In the UK it is common to have 100% assessment. I was aware of this before coming but not really prepared. Throughout the semester I kept up with the reading and did the questions for class but never really thought about the assignments because they weren't often talked about. Because of this the last month got a bit frantic and I ended up spending a lot of time in the library (which was new and opened the semester I arrived so not such a bad thing). I even spent a whole night there walking back to my dorm at 4 am. Even though I got everything done and my grades were good, I would definitely recommend starting earlier! Even if that means talking to the teachers to find out what needs to be done before they start talking about it. 

Personal experience

Along with the study, I took advantage of the UK's close proximity to their neighbouring countries. Exploring 23 countries in my six months away. I did not do this through the semester because I ended up having a class every day and the weekends weren't long enough. I did, however, explore more of the UK on the weekends with the University of Birmingham international group. And I did manage to go to Russia in my reading/midsemester week with a student group from Finland. By being able to travel to so many places I've meet so many interesting people and made so many friends. I also learn 'hello' in all these languages and really inspired to learn another language (just have to chose which one).

One of the best things about exchange is making new friends. You are kind of forced to because you go to a new country without knowing anyone and you don't want to spend the whole time alone. One of my favourite stories is when I met one of my now close friends. My exchange semester had just finished and it was the week before Christmas and I had booked a student tour to explore the top of Finland. We were all meeting in the city centre of Helsinki ready to take the long bus up to the top of Finland in the Arctic Circle. Everyone there had just done their exchange semester in Finland, besides the girl standing next to me. We started talking to each other and found out we both came from Australia, then found out we both had just studied in the UK, then that we had studied at the University of Birmingham. From that point, we had so much to talk about. After just a week of knowing each other and experiencing so many cool things together, the northern lights, swimming in the Arctic Ocean in winter, Santa's village and more we become very good friends. A friendship that will last forever along with the many other friends I've made along the way.

The biggest personal skill I feel I've developed is 'Hakuna Matata' - it means no worries. I've defiantly learned how to worry less by learning how to deal with things I can't change. From little things like forgetting my favourite lip balm to missing a bus. There is always another bus or lip balm. Though this sounds really cheesy, it is something that causes a lot of people stress. From seeing people break down in the UK Border line because it is taking two hours and they are going to miss their bus to swearing at the staff after arriving at a hostel finding out it's full. At the start of my journey, I would have done the same (minus the swearing) but now I know it's not the end of the world and there is always plan B, or C.

Accommodation 

I lived on campus in Shackleton hall. This was heaps of fun and included the meal plan so, I didn't have to worry about buying food the whole time. It did sometimes get a bit much and I had to invest in some earplugs. I was in a flat with another Aussie on exchange and then six 18-year-olds from all over the UK, who were always ready to party. Through most of the semester, this was great and I got to see heaps of Birmingham nightlife, even ending up at a drag show one night. However, during the end of the semester, it got a bit difficult because the flat was never quite. When I wanted to get an early night to do my assignments all fresh the next day I couldn't unless I wore the earplugs. My advice would be just to invest in earplugs because without staying with those rowdy UK bunch my exchange wouldn't have been as fun. And I definitely saw what it was like to be a student in the UK.

Budget

Traveling costs! But I managed in the budget UQ suggest of $12,000-15,000. During the semester I had no trouble and got to go on every weekend trip and night out I wanted to. However, because I travelled for two and a half months after, things did get a bit tight and the biggest thing it affected was food. I went to Iceland just before I came home, which is one of the most expensive places I visited. I had booked a lot of things in advance so the money I had in my account was for food and souvenirs. Someone also suggested for me to take food over, which I did. It's was not that I didn't eat I just didn't get to try the local delicacies, like dried fish, or fermented shark (not sure I missed much). I recommend just doing a budget! Know how much you taking over and how much you can afford to spend at certain times. And if you spend over, come up with a new budget and make some sacrifice.

Professional development and employability

Being my final semester, I'm now ready to work in the real world. This experience has contributed to my professional development by not only looking good on my CV. But allowing me to learn other cultures and become more culturally aware, which is important in the field of communication. It has also taught me to just have a go and put myself out there. I nervously asked one of my lecturers at the University of Birmingham to be a reference on my CV and she happily agreed and also offered me a three-month position working as an assistant to her research. Which, I, unfortunately, had to turn down because I did not have the right visa and by the time I could get the right one it would have been too late.

Highlights

As soon as I got home I was bombarded with this question. But it is too hard! The whole time was a highlight. I went from a ballet in Russia to the Moulin Rouge in Paris, from sailing in Greece to gondola rides in Venice, from glacier hiking in Iceland to cross-country skiing in Finish Lapland, and so much more. I've explored, learned, and laughed so much in the last six months I couldn't ask for anything better.

Top tips 

My advice would be to just do it! Go! Have the time of your life while getting to study in another country! For me, the application process was a bit harder and I struggled but in the end, it was all worth it.

I remember attending a session before going and a past student saying your exchange will be what you make it. This is so true! So make it the time of your life, like I did! Worry less, make lifelong friends around the world, and say yes to every new experience!

Also, if you are into photography, invest in a good camera! I did but only in the last 15 days of my journey.

Molly - University of Birmingham