Ethan - Purdue University

B. Mechanical Engineering
Semester 2, 2016

Academic experience

At Purdue, there is a minimum full-time load of 15 credits per semester. I decided to split my study plan into 3 engineering subjects and 3 non-engineering electives. The subjects I took which counted towards my degree were ME452 (MECH3100), ME363 (METR3100) and ME563(MECH3200). 
Being an engineering student, studying in the US forces you to adapt to the imperial measurement system whilst still using the metric system at times. Whilst strange at first, you quickly learn that conversions are not too difficult and you will get used to it soon enough. Classes are also generally smaller and "lectures" are located in high school style classrooms. 
Especially with my upperclassmen courses, the sheer volume of assignments and graded homework given was a big shock to me at first. Lectures are not recorded and much of the content is taught from textbooks with an emphasis on depth and detail. You quickly learn to deal with the constant barrage of assessment and manage your time wisely - something that I learnt a great deal about at Purdue. The plus side, however, is knowing that final assessments are generally only worth around 20%! 
To balance out my engineering classes, I also took a number of bludge classes because hey why not! As for my remaining courses, I opted for Intro to Modern Dance (DANC1300), a history course (HIST3100) and the bowling class (PHYS11000). Each of these classes I loved and it was a great way to try out something different that you generally wouldn't back at UQ. 
Purdue is lucky to have it's own bowling lanes on campus and I cannot speak of the Bowling class highly enough. It was practically an excuse to bowl with your mates for 3 hours a week. Doug the teacher is also a great bloke and a fantastic teacher (he's been teaching the course for 13 years!)
I also took Modern Dance as a bit of a laugh but it turned out to be great fun. I met a lot of friends in my class and it was a surprisingly meditative way to spend a few hours and split up my technical classes. If you have space in your study plan, definitely consider taking up a fun elective!

Personal experience

My exchange semester to the USA is definitely one of the most rewarding and unforgettable experiences of my life.Whilst I may have picked Purdue for its engineering pedigree and reputation, I look back now at all the friends I made and places I travelled to be the best memories I had of my trip.

Being in the USA meant that I could travel a lot for quite cheap. Since there was a long break between the end of Sem 1 and start of the semester at Purdue, I did a short trip through Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies prior to the start of class. 
During the semester, I joined a group of other exchange students on a road trip up through Niagara Falls to Toronto over a weekend. Over the fall break long weekend, I flew down with three mates to Phoenix and checked out the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Las Vegas. Over Thanksgiving, I flew up into Canada again to Quebec City and Montreal. 
After exams had finished, I travelled with to Chicago (only a 2-hour bus away!) then flying to Boston and then spending Christmas in New York. 

Other than ticking off a heap of places off my bucket list, I became good friends with many Americans and exchange students from around the world. I came to find that people in the Midwest were some of the kindest and warmhearted people that I would ever meet and got a first-hand glimpse at just how diverse the US is in terms of attitude, geography, food and pretty much everything! 

Accommodation

Campus in Fall
Campus in Fall

Alongside most Australian exchange students, I lived on campus in a dormitory. I lived in Tarkington Hall and was paired with an American roommate. I feel like living on campus was definitely the right choice as most of the friends you will make will probably be freshmen and sophomores. I was close to 3 dining halls and the giant recreation centre. I made friends with a lot of guys from Tarkington and so I always found myself hanging out in another room or in the common areas. 

Tarkington, Wiley and Shreve are all identical in terms of layout except Tark is an all-male dorm. There are 5 dining courts within the accommodation precinct however you'll find you will commonly go to where ever is closest! If I had free reign, I would have chosen to live in Wiley or Shreve as they were more social whilst still being quite cheap. 

I got along well with my roommate, however, I have heard of some nightmare living situations. I would advise coming into it with an open mind and accepting it as part of the experience!

Budget

All in all, I spent approximately $10000 or so during my time at Purdue. The accommodation was around $4k with textbooks and miscellaneous spending around $1-2K. I travelled quite extensively in the US as well which bumped up the spending, especially with spontaneous trips booked quite late.

Professional development and employability

The amount of study required to get even a passing grade (which is 60% for engineering) as well as the lack of longtime friends in my classes forced me to become adaptable. I learnt to manage my time better and recognize when I needed help. I had to change study habits to being more focused on regular study rather than last minute cramming. Attending Purdue's career fairs opened my eyes to the sheer number of opportunities on offer in the US - something which has motivated me to look beyond Australian shores for graduate opportunities. 

This experience has also improved my communication abilities. The soft skill of building a rapport with complete strangers from a totally different background is invaluable and I got plenty of practice in my 4 months at Purdue. I'm sure this will be an asset in my professional career. 

Highlight

Two things come to mind. The first is watching my first live college basketball game. Cheering on the Boilermakers in Mackey Arena as they took on the previous National Champions Villanova was absolutely unforgettable. The noise and passion of 15,000 die-hard fans yelling and cursing is unlike anything you have ever experienced and a must do for every exchange student.

The second was my 4-day road trip up through the states of Arizona, Utah and Nevada. Sharing experiences such as waking up at 3 am to catch the sunrise over the Grand Canyon or driving for 8 straight hours through desert, plains and mountains with music blasting with three people who were complete strangers only a few weeks ago is an incredible feeling. I recommend everyone on exchange in the states do something similar and go explore all the various landscapes of the States.

Top tips

  • Be really, REALLY sure of what courses you are getting matched. Be sure you have the prerequisite knowledge, especially for engineering courses. Also get more courses approved for study abroad than just 4 or 5. More likely than not, there will be an issue with your timetable upon arrival. 
  • Use Google flights to find the cheapest air deals rather than just searching for the budget airlines (obvious advice but hey) 
  • Car rental is quite expensive but can be worth it considering where you want to travel (the grand canyon is only really accessible by car). You also have to be 21 to rent.
  • Go out and meet Americans! It's easy to get too comfortable around other Aussies or exchange students but it's the Americans who will notify you of parties, societies and events
Ethan - Purdue University