Ben - Georgia Institute of Technology

B. Engineering (Mechanical)
Semester 2, 2015

Academic experience

I studied ece3710 (Circuits & electronics), me2016 (Computing techniques), me4041 (Intermediate CAD), me4193 (Tribological design), me4790 (Material selection and design). There was a slight issue as ece3710 was only worth 2 credits (due to online lectures instead of contact) which totalled only 14 credits, after a couple of emails to UQ this was deemed acceptable.
In comparison to UQ, there was less content taught per course which allowed lecturers to step through content slower, provide more examples and with smaller class sizes interactive Q+A seemed to be more effective. Typically each class has weekly homework, 2-3 midterm exams, a final exam or a design project, and some have additional assignments. I personally prefer big exams so I found the workload at Georgia Tech annoying while on exchange, even though you have more time and less responsibility on exchange you never want to miss out on a trip, event or night out.

Personal experience

The best way to enjoy your exchange is to immerse yourself in the culture and meet lots of people, both locals and exchange students; locals will show you the culture and local experiences while exchange students are in the same boat as you, they’re there to have fun, make the most of your time and travel. I definitely maximised my time overseas travelling the States and Canada for an extra 2 months after the semester as well as visiting 5 cities other than Atlanta during the semester. If you are going to travel, don’t mind sharing a bed and want to save money, then do it in multiples of 4, most places are a similar price for 2-4 people and more the merrier! If you or your friends are at least 25 then hiring a car for a road trip can be worthwhile, especially if you find a hire car relocation deal, otherwise, I would use Megabus over Greyhound.

Accommodation

Chasing the campus life, I lived on campus at North Avenue Apartments (south building) and it didn’t disappoint. North Ave is a complex of 4 buildings consisting of 4-6 bedroom apartments with kitchen, lounge and bathrooms / 2 rooms. The complex has a central courtyard with grass area, beach volleyball court, seats with benches, coal-fired grills, also boasts an indoor basketball court, gym equipment and dining hall. The best part of the North Ave was making use of the facilities, tailgating in the courtyard before football games with your mates then walking across the street to the stadium. The only downfall being on the edge of campus was the distance to engineering buildings, campus recreation centre (CRC) and the grocery store, the free on-campus bus and trolley system were great to help this but it could be annoying relying on the bus schedule or having to walk, a bike would have made all the difference. If you choose on-campus accommodation it might be a good idea to utilise the roommate selection process and contact people to find likeminded roommates.
My first preference for housing was I-house, which is an on-campus living hall that consists of 50:50 exchange students and domestic students ready for a good time. While I didn’t stay there I made a bunch of friends living there and would definitely recommend it; with about 40 people living there you can easily find likeminded people, travel companions and something to do day to day. 
For some great ‘off’ campus accommodation that’s basically on campus, has campus bus service, bigger rooms with ensuites and were cheaper; look into Square on Fifth or U-house. Square on Fifth is on tech square; where the bookstore, business school and a bunch of restaurants are situated, U-house is just down the road and opposite the closest grocery store. U-house definitely has a pool, gym and games room and I’m fairly sure Square on Fifth has the same.

Budget

Homecoming football game
Homecoming football game

My expenses for the semester were definitely more than I anticipated; the exchange rate only got worse while I was in the States, generally, I added 50% to US price converting back to Australian, definitely something to consider. You may hear America is cheap, a bit of a fallacy, alcohol and fuel definitely are and you can find great food deals; always look out for happy hour deals, I found groceries to be more expensive and less selection of fresh produce. I didn’t get a meal plan as they were too expensive, I like cooking and eating out at different places, however, I did get Dining Dollars, which are tax-free prepaid funds on your Buzz card that can be used for on-campus food vendors as well as the dining halls. I got US$300 + $30 bonus and this was plenty for me eating a few times a week, lunch was around US$8 or if you want all you can eat at the dining halls they were around US$12 depending on the place. A rough estimate for my semester only would be AU$15,000. 
Going through the application process and getting there, be prepared to throw $100 fees at a number of things, which can probably be said for any exchange in the USA. On campus accommodation was quite expensive, US$4532 for the semester, and if you want to move in prior to the weekend before class, even when you’re meant to be there for orientation the week before, it’s US$75 / night, and as soon as exams are done you’ve got to leave.
If you plan on travelling at all I recommend finding a travel insurance cover that can exemplify the compulsory GT student health insurance, which was US$680. A great bonus of the exchange though is that you are exemplified from most other fees that students have to pay; such as athletics and health fees, so you take advantage of the CRC and the on-campus Stamps Health Service, cheap if not free GP and Physio consultations and quite a cheap pharmacy.

Professional development and employability

Going on exchange challenges you to adapt and your experience can definitely be what you make of it. Being proactive is key, the same can be said for life and a career. I was always looking for events on and off campus, planning trips, engaging with the college life, making great new friends, I feel like I made the very most out of my exchange and only in retrospect could it have been better.

Highlight

Campus life and all that comes along with it! Living on campus, always something to do, immersing yourself in the culture, meeting loads of new people and making lifetime friends around the world. If you like sports definitely join or start an intramural sports team; there were 2 phases of different sports each semester with different leagues including housing, independent, corec. I played ultimate frisbee, soccer, dodgeball and volleyball.

Top tips

  • Pick subjects that interest you but avoid a heavy workload; have fun, enjoy what you are doing and give yourself as much time as possible for your OS experience. 
  • Be flexible with subject options and have at least 10 subjects pre-approved for credit. As an exchange student at GT, you can’t enrol for subjects until your ‘time ticket’ is open on orientation day (FASET), which is in the final phase of subject enrolment so a number of classes are full. Also, there’s no real working around timetable clashes as lectures are not recorded and there are a number of in-class assessment pieces. GT also requires prerequisite and subject holds to be removed by academic advisors prior to enrolling in a course, so having a handful of preapproved courses really helps when choosing your final subjects.
  • FASET (orientation) I found was useless and expensive, for exchange students it piggybacked FASET for transfer students which for the most part wasn’t applicable to exchange students. The 2 useful things were the compulsory J-1 student information session, which they had alternate sessions and the subject selection session. The subject selection session had academic advisors available to talk to if you want to match subjects up, but you can also book meeting times with academic advisors. 
  • TREASURES:
    • Mary Mac’s Tea Room: Southern comfort food Restaurant
    • Rocky Mountain Pizza: Just off west campus, pretty good food and Wednesday night cheap drinks
    • Vortex Bar & Grill: American Bar with the BEST burgers of my trip
    • Antico Pizza: Apparently amazing pizza, when I went it was too busy and unfortunately never made it back. It is walk-in only and popular so avoid Friday and Saturday night rushes
    • Tech Rec: On-campus games room, the bottom level of the student centre; pool tables, bowling alleys, table tennis tables, foosball, air hockey, video games. Look out for the specials times https://studentcenter.gatech.edu/seedo/techrec/pricing/Pages/default.aspx
    • Student centre food court: 2nd level. Look out for daily afternoon specials. I especially liked Twisted Taco, $2 delicious tacos Mon – Thurs afternoons
    • Wet Friday: The Friday after Fraternity Rush, when frats can first drink alcohol. Live bands, blow up water slides, party central.
    • Rush week: When fraternities open up and recruit new members. I wasn’t interested in joining a frat but it’s a good opportunity to get an introduction to the frat culture and look inside the houses. It’s also a good opportunity to meet some people and make connections; as a guy, for most frat parties you need to know a ‘brother’ to get in.
    • CRC: On-campus gym and recreation centre. Gym floor, racquetball and squash courts, Olympic swimming pool. Upstairs there is a number of indoor basketball courts, volleyball courts, table tennis tables, and a counter where you can rent all balls, Frisbees, paddles etc. All for free essentially, included in the athletics fee paid by your American counterpart.
    • ORGT: Outdoor recreation group associated with CRC. Provide cheap outdoor activities and trips. WELL worthwhile if you like the outdoors. Be sure to look at the calendar of events ASAP, sign up for events opens a month in advance; some fill up quickly and also you can’t take some intermediate trips later in the semester without doing the beginner trips. Eg mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, caving.
    • ORGT also has gear rental for your own weekend trips like hiking, camping and kayaking. http://www.crc.gatech.edu/orgt/ 
    • OIE special events: A few events OIE put on were heavily discounted and lots of fun; white water rafting trip in Tennessee, NBA hawks game, welcome party (food and drinks paid at a tavern)
    • Takorea: Mexican style food with a Korean influence
    • Bar taco: Cool Mexican restaurant with some great tacos
    • Papa John's: Not the best pizza but if you find out the discount codes, 50% off food price, it certainly does the job
    • Stamps Health Services: On-campus health services; GP, physio, lab, pharmacy and more. 
    • Netherworld: If you’re in Atlanta during Halloween season, and you want that experience, then this haunted house is a must, highly rated in the USA, probably my biggest regret was missing this, oh well next time.
  • USEFUL LINKS:
  • USEFUL APPS:
    • Courseoff – timetabling
    • GT buses – bus app for GPS location and times
    • GT portal – bus times, stingerette ordering (free night time shuttle service on campus)
Ben - Georgia Institute of Technology