Chris - University of Arizona

B. Engineering / Science
Semester 2, 2016

Academic experience

During my semester at the University of Arizona, my courseload was mostly science electives with one core engineering subject. Course timetables are posted well in advance on the online course catalogue (and are MOSTLY adhered to) and the exchange student special treatment may get you concessions into full classes so enrolling was reasonably painless. Still, have some flexibility in case you can't get your preferred study plan. 

I really enjoyed the different teaching system and greatly benefited from it. The class is much more engaging and interactive, real-world focused and supportive. Lecturers are super passionate and are stoked that you take their class - they want to get to know you personally and will make sure you're managing ok. Topics were presented in applicable ways without the usual abstract jargon. Each week my engineering class would visit a different construction site, chatting with project managers and engineers while looking around the site - no way that would happen in Australia. 

The workload is quite high from day one and will come as a shock. Assessment seems relentless but honestly isn't too challenging (plus lecturers will do all they can to pass you). I just stayed on top of my work and found I'd passed all my classes well before the semester ended.

Personal experience

Tucson is very much a student town and there's always plenty going on to have a good time. It's small enough to feel homely and avoiding the busyness of a city, yet big enough to have many events, concerts and festivals. It's got such a great vibe and with a fantastic group of friends my semester, there was really a lot of fun. Tucson is also a melting pot of many cultures - the food is GREAT.

Arizona's strong point is its outdoor environments which were the main reason I chose U of A. Locally, Mt Lemmon and the Santa Catalinas or Saguaro NPs offer endless activities, or further across the state there are countless incredible places and landscapes (it's so much more than just the Grand Canyon, believe me!) Sedona, for example, has some of the best hiking, biking etc in the country. Additionally, California, Utah, Nevada, Mexico etc are all within reach so many of my weekends were spent getting out of town.

Accommodation

I lived off campus in a student accommodation spot called The Retreat. There's plenty of similar places (The Hub, The Cadence, The Standard...) all with great facilities and a lot of fun. They give you a room in an existing place so you don't have to try track down housemates, but it's pretty expensive (especially with the short term lease surcharge). Some people had issues with hidden charges too so make sure you know exactly what's in the lease you're signing. I waited until I arrived in Tucson to sort out accommodation and there was plenty still available, many offering sizeable discounts as enticements - I got a better deal than many who had been better organised and signed months in advance. 

Sharehouses are much cheaper and seemingly plentiful, you just gotta do the legwork to find them and potential housemates. The university has some pretty good resources to help. On campus is generally for younger students and didn't seem much fun (alcohol's prohibited).

Budget

UA Wildcats basketball - getting in early before it packs out!
UA Wildcats basketball - getting in early before it packs out!

I probably spent a fair bit more than I'd expected - most expenses are cheaper than in Aus but you'll find yourself pretty spend-happy. (It didn't help that the car I bought broke down in the middle of the desert though). Speak to Centrelink and find out if you become/remain eligible for payments whilst overseas because it goes a long way. With all the financial assistance that's available leaving with ample money is much easier than you think.

Professional development and employability

Setting yourself up from scratch in a foreign environment really builds on your life skills, as does adapting to new learning methods and surrounds. It's sure to impress potential employers (and more importantly yourself).

Highlight

  • Thanksgiving with my roommates' family in Denver
  • Endless camping trips to stunning national parks like Zion, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon (sleeping amongst a buffalo herd in Badlands NP!)
  • Attending as many college football and basketball games as I could
  • Bernie Sanders speaking on our campus

Top tips

Sedona has some of the best hiking and mountain biking in the country
Sedona has some of the best hiking and mountain biking in the country
  • Make friends with Americans. People will be drawn to you from your first word and Americans will be eager to show you a good time.
  • Make friends with international students. Your fellow foreigners are the ones most likely to take trips away (Americans hate going anywhere) so keep close to them and take every opportunity that arises. (U of A has a great group called Outdoor Adventures who put on awesome trips, especially for international students).
  • Get swept up in school pride. It's unbelievable how much pride is shown and you really should embrace it. Football games are nuts even if you dislike the sport. Get involved. 
  • GO FOR IT. Dealing with applications, deadlines, visas etc may have you close to throwing in the towel but push through it because it all becomes worth it. A semester exchange is the most worthwhile thing you can do during your studies. (Get a B1/B2 visa as well and stay flexible!)
Chris - University of Arizona