Isaac - University of Edinburgh

B Commerce/ B Economics
Semester 2, 2016

Academic experience

I chose the University of Edinburgh partly because of its high standing, as I wanted a challenging and engaging academic experience. I studied a third year microeconomics course, a fourth year game theory subject, and a first year psychology elective. In Edinburgh you are expected to go outside of the normal work covered in lectures and do your own readings and investigation. In economics exams you are expected to not only fully reference course matter, but also bring in any research you've done outside of class and incorporate that in your answers. The marking scheme is very different to UQ - it's almost impossible to pass but very difficult to achieve top marks, and so grades of 80% or above are very rare.

Overall I would say that the difficulty is on par with courses back home – I did a fair amount of work and was well rewarded. I'm not sure about other disciplines, but if you study Economics, don’t be worried about warnings for exchange students about the difficulty of certain subjects. I had four warnings for my fourth-year game theory subject even though I tried to reassure staff that economics at my home university was 'sufficiently quantitative.' Ultimately that subject ended up being easier than the third year subject that I was wasn't warned about – so just be open and make sure you look into the course material before listening to the opinions of other people as the courses and level of prior knowledge are quite different across universities.

Four subjects would be a very achievable study load, but I was able to receive full study credit with three subjects, and that gave me the perfect balance on exchange. All of the students in Edinburgh are involved with activities and societies (and going out Monday to Thursday every week), so it's best to follow their lead and get involved in as many extra-curricular activities as you can.

Personal experience

One of my main goals of exchange was to make friends from across the globe who I would feel comfortable contacting if I was ever near them. I can confidently say that I well and truly achieved that, and I hope that all of my new friends won't hesitate to contact me if they're ever in Australia in the future.
I read lots of UQ Abroad testimonials before I applied for exchange, and I have to agree that studying abroad was probably the best experience of my life so far. I was fortunate to travel throughout Europe during and after my exchange, and although I learnt to be more confident and independent when travelling, I gained most from living in Edinburgh.

Accommodation

I stayed in catered student accommodation, at 'Pollock Halls'. A first I was a bit worried about the location, as 20 minute walks to the uni campus in the Scottish winter weren't something I was looking forward to, but fortunately the weather while I was there was perfect. I counted five rainy days in the three months up to Christmas, and so I was able to walk everywhere. The atmosphere in my particular hall (Baird House) was fantastic and made it so easy to make friends, but I heard that some of the others houses weren't so friendly. Try to get Baird, Ewing or Turner house, and avoid Chancellor's House unless you really want an ensuite as it's filled with cliquey, posh 'southerners'. I knew people who stayed in self-catered flats which had similar atmospheres to my hall and were much closer to uni. Personally, I don't think I could stay in the catered halls for a whole year, but I'd definitely recommend the dedicated student flats rather than trying to organise one independently.

Budget

Staying in catered accommodation was expensive, but worth it. The buffet breakfasts and dinners were incredible, with plenty of healthy options and lots of classic cuisines too. Lunch wasn't provided, but most places around town are much cheaper at lunchtime (especially around the uni) so I was able to try plenty of fantastic spots (and also work my way through every different combination of the £3 Tesco sandwich meal deal). Overall, the cost of living (buses/movie tickets/rugby tickets etc.) is fairly similar to Australia (especially post Brexit!), but groceries are definitely cheaper in Scotland, so you could save a lot by going self-catered. The amount you budget really depends on your travel plans. Flights around Europe are very cheap compared to travel in Australia, but make sure you organise them early (or last minute) to get the best deals.

Professional development and employability 

I truly appreciated the different university experience in Edinburgh and adapted my study habits to make the most of the knowledge offered by the teaching staff. I learnt to plan, but also be flexible in the face of trouble, and made more 'spur of the moment' decisions than I would back home, most of which led to great experiences. Staying in university halls and hostels throughout Europe opened up a whole new network of fantastic friends and experiences, and I gained a much greater appreciation of different student cultures and lifestyles. I now know that I can comfortably live 24 hours away from 'home', which opens up a realm of future study and employment options.

Highlights 

The university ski trip - a week with 1000 other students in the French Alps - was everything you'd imagine it to be, and was probably my favourite single experience.

However, the highlight of my exchange was simply living in Edinburgh. The Scottish capital is an amazing city with so much history and charm. Being such a beautiful and walkable city, I spent many days exploring Edinburgh's secret laneways, parks and gardens. Make sure you visit Dean Village and the Banshee Labyrinth Bar if you're in town!

Top Tips

Don't hesitate. I was worried about the timing of my exchange getting in the way of internships/job experience, but looking back, I can't believe that those thoughts even crossed my mind. Exchange is unforgettable, and the experiences and lessons learned will be invaluable for any future pursuits.

Make sure you get out to the Isle of Skye for a weekend for some of the most amazing scenery you will ever see. A rugby game at Murrayfield is a must, as is a Saturday afternoon football match in Leith. Edinburgh is a good base to explore Europe from, but there are plenty of places much closer - in Scotland, northern England, and even Edinburgh itself that you should tick off first.

Isaac - University of Edinburgh