Sam - University of Connecticut

B. Civil Engineering / Commerce
Semester 2, 2016

Academic experience

During my semester at UConn, I only took courses that contributed to my Engineering degree.

The education system over in the US is certainly different from here at UQ, but it doesn't take long to get used to. One of the biggest worries I had going over, especially being an engineering student, was that I would have to learn how to work in imperial units. It may seem a little daunting at first, but after a few weeks of doing the basic conversions in class, it really starts to become second nature. I found as well that in all of my classes, problems were done in both imperial and metric units, and the lecturers often gave a rundown of what units to expect and the conversions in the first lecture. If anyone else is worried about this like I was, I really wouldn't stress over it too much.

Probably the biggest difference I found in the academic system was the lecture styles. None of the lectures are recorded or posted on Blackboard, which really encourages students to go to class. As well as this, the lecturers generally do all of their work and explaining on the whiteboard, and only use PowerPoint's as a base. This really does mean that it’s important to go to class, otherwise you'll miss half of the coursework! In some cases, I had online lectures that were meant to be watched before going to the class, so that in class we could focus on problems involving this content. I personally found that the teaching style they used really helped me to focus, rather than just listening to a lecturer read off of a PowerPoint.

Another major difference is the way they do assessment. For most of my classes, there were smaller and more regular assessment tasks, like homework and quizzes, due each week. The fact that there were these frequent homework tasks meant it was important to keep on top of the current content, which I think helped in the long run. Another advantage of this is that it means there's less pressure on the mid-semester and final exams as they have less weight and effect on your final grade. Ultimately, I think this works in your favour if you keep up to date.

Personal experience

Going on exchange was without a doubt one of the best decisions I've made, and if anyone is considering studying abroad - do it! I had the experience of a lifetime, and I wouldn't change anything about it.

It may seem scary going to an entirely new place where you don't know a single person (at least I didn't), but you'll quickly find out that you're not alone. At UConn, all of the exchange students arrive a week before anyone else, and it gives you a chance to get to know everyone in the program. I now have friends from all over the world, and ones that I know I'll have for a long time.

Throughout the semester, I got the opportunity to visit so many places I never thought I would. One great thing about making so many friends within the exchange program is that everyone wants to travel! From going to Puerto Rico over Thanksgiving to road-tripping through 20 states from UConn down to New Orleans for New Year’s Eve, I can assure you that there will be no shortage of travel opportunities. There are also trips organised by HuskyQuest and ISSS to places like New York, Cape Cod and Washington DC.

Accommodation

While at UConn, I lived on campus in a standard 2 person dorm. For me personally, I wasn't too fussed on having an apartment or suite, because I knew most of my time would be spent out of my room. I also wanted to experience 'traditional college life', which I can definitely say is what you get living in a dorm - being surrounded by college students, communal bathrooms... the works.

The residence hall I stayed in was McMahon Hall, which is very conveniently located on the west side of campus, near the bookstore and Recreation Centre. My main reason for choosing to live in McMahon was because it is where the Global House learning community is located, which is where a lot of the international and exchange students stay. This ended up being a good choice, as it is where basically all of the exchange students came to hang out, as there was a study room, games room and lounge with a projector to watch movies/TV. Another major upside to McMahon is that it has its own dining hall in the building, which you really will appreciate when winter comes around.

From my experience, the on-campus apartments and suites are generally less centrally located than the dorms (with some exceptions). There are buses that run throughout the week, but on weekends and if you miss the bus it can be a pain living so far away, especially come winter. From my experience, people spend most of their time outside their rooms anyway, so it really comes down to if you want the extra freedom to cook your own meals and have a bit more living room. Personally, I would recommend staying in a dorm, particularly McMahon or Alumni, and I know some of my friends who lived in apartments wished they'd chosen a dorm instead.

Budget

UCONN vs Syracuse at Madison Square Garden
UCONN vs Syracuse at Madison Square Garden

This is probably one of the most stressful things about going on exchange - money. There are a lot of things you need to think about and budget for, like travel, accommodation, food, insurance, spending money, general expenses, etc. One of the most costly things will be accommodation and food, which alone will cost at least $6000 USD, assuming you're living on campus with a meal plan. Then factoring in travel, insurance, spending money and any other expenses, all I can say is... the more the merrier!

One of my biggest considerations, when it came to expenses, was the fact that I was planning to travel for 2 months after my exchange, which meant that my budget was probably a little different to most. If you don't plan on staying for so long afterwards, I would probably aim for at least $15,000 AUD - probably more if you like buying things as much as I do, and want to play it on the safe side. As much as people have the idea that everything is cheaper in America, once you allow for the exchange rate and taxes, that isn't really the case.

My best piece of advice I could give, no matter how much money you go over with, would be to budget wisely. Going on exchange is about grasping new opportunities and experiences, and you'll regret it if you miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime because you don't have enough money. My aim was to go over with enough money so I wasn't forced to say no to any opportunity I was given, because I didn't want to miss out on anything at all, and that worked out for the most part.

Professional development and employability

I believe my time abroad helped with my personal and professional development. I have become more independent and culturally aware and learnt to adjust and adapt to living and working in a completely new environment. I now know that I can effectively adapt to new work situations, and my experience abroad has reassured me that I want to work overseas and be put in new and challenging situations in the future.

Highlight

It's impossible for me to pinpoint a single highlight of my entire exchange. I got to experience so much and I enjoyed every minute of it all. In saying this, some of the big highlights of my experience abroad included visiting Puerto Rico over Thanksgiving break, watching UConn beat Syracuse at Madison Square Garden, road-tripping with a huge group from Connecticut down to New Orleans over Christmas and New Years, seeing New England in the fall, and experiencing Central Park covered in snow. These are really only scratching the surface though, and I had so many more unforgettable experiences.

Top tips

  • First of all, if you're considering exchange... DO IT!
  • Pack as light as possible, because you will inevitably buy things over there, and it sucks carrying 2 suitcases and carry-on by yourself.
  • Save up as much money as you can, budget wisely, and put yourself in the best position to do everything you want to.
  • Make the most of the experience, and say yes to things you wouldn't normally have the opportunity to do.
Sam - University of Connecticut