Chris - University of Connecticut

B. Engineering (Civil) / Science (Mathematics)
Semester 2, 2014; Semester 1, 2015

Academic experience

Over the course of the academic year, I undertook compulsory courses relevant to my Civil Engineering degree back at UQ. These included a combination of Design based courses and introductory theory courses into Fluid and Soil Mechanics. The structure and delivery of the classes were significantly different to UQ with each course being held at a specific time, several times a week versus the scattered timetable schedule you often get at UQ. A significant difference was how none of the lecturers used Lectopia to record lectures, ensuring students had to regularly attend or peer to peer interaction with a student to collect notes. Another significant difference was the style of the lectures where commonly lecturers would steer away from the use of PowerPoint and deliver lectures similar back to our high school days; writing on either a blackboard or whiteboard. These differences made the learning experiences more enriching and easier to truly grasp the fundamental principles.

One of the significant challenges that any engineering student (and general exchange student) will face at any USA University is the conversion from Metric to the Imperial System. A great thing about the USA is students are generally taught and shown examples using both systems. In fact, each theory course I took, lecturers spent the first lecture going through the different types of units we’d come across during the course. For Design courses, however, these courses only used the Imperial System which generally took a couple of weeks to start understanding. General advice, if you feel confused by the change in units, ask someone sitting next to you. Turns out from asking someone next to me during a computer laboratory session involved learning that the student was a previous exchange student at UQ and getting invited to the first home football game of the season. Americans are friendly and kind people that are willing to help any Australian!

Personal experience

UCONN Football Home Match
UCONN Football Home Match

Undertaking a whole academic year exchange was the best decision I made during my exchange application which I heavily advise for any student if you can. The year abroad allowed myself to spend the first semester adjusting to the different lifestyle and gaining lifelong friendships that I’ve taken back home with me. These friendships gave me avenues to go home with the Americans’ I met over the winter break and celebrate holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years with their families. 

The year-long exchange also allowed me to divide my travel time easily where I could focus more on travelling around the New England and East Coast area during the first semester and continuing my travels to the South, Midwest and West Coast after my exchange finished. Travelling around these diverse areas allowed me to develop different skills and knowledge of the USA beyond the stereotypical ideas we Australians typically have.

Accommodation

During my academic year abroad, my living situations changed each semester to adjust to the surrounding campus lifestyle and the change in seasons. For the first semester, I lived in an UCONN owned apartment which was about a 20-minute walk from campus. Living in an apartment, you were not restricted to the meal plan requirements that you would be living off campus which is advisable for those who wish to cook and prepare their own food. I personally wanted to live on campus as normally I’d be hanging out with friends until the early hours of the morning so I applied for a mid-year housing swap where I lived right on campus in South. Living on campus provided a traditional American College experience of being surrounded by a floor of college students and different activities run by our RAs including a Cards Against Humanity night. I advise those who go on exchange at UCONN for the Spring semester to live on campus as the snow come January/February is a different story.

Professional development and employability

Participating in the Study Abroad Exchange program has dramatically changed my career aspirations and life goals. Academically, I was pushed to learn a completely different curriculum that we at UQ are not exposed to in terms of the Imperial system while also getting the opportunity to live in an environment of just college students. The college lifestyle helped myself academically to communicate and solve homework problems together with classmates which I feel is an important attribute employers are after; the ability to work coherently with others. In terms of employment, my time abroad has shown me all the opportunities that are available to me once I finish my degree. Life skills and the ability to effectively adjust to a new learning environment are just some of the traits I gained from my exchange that I feel will help within my chosen career.

Highlight

Choosing one single highlight from my whole experience at UCONN is near impossible! From getting to experience my first traditional Tailgating experience to being invited to spend my first Thanksgiving at a friend's in New Hampshire. From the road trip with a friend down to Maryland and DC for New Years to the 3.5hr trip that a friend and I took to Pennsylvania to visit Fallingwater; all these experiences were highlights in my opinion.

Top tips

  • For any student considering whether or not to go on exchange, you should take the opportunity.
  • With the OS Help Loan now available, the cost constraint has eased and allowed me to have the experience of a lifetime.
  • If you are lucky enough to visit the USA as an exchange destination and wish to travel then be sure to visit Peter Pan Buses for weekend trips to places like Boston, Philadelphia, Providence or New York City.
  • If you wish to travel by plane then I recommend Southwest Airlines especially if it's post-exchange as they allow to free checked luggage.
Chris - University of Connecticut