Tim - University of Michigan

B. Exercise and Sports Science / Business Management
Semester 2, 2014

Academic experience

I studied five subjects during my semester at Michigan, under their Movement Science and Sports Management majors, giving me a challenging but diverse combination of classes. The classes I found most rewarding were Sport and Exercise Psychology, lectured by a dynamic, enthusiastic ex-Minor League Baseball player; and Motor Control, which was very challenging but really sparked my interest in a field I'd never thought much about. I felt as though the work at Michigan was perhaps not as challenging as what I've experienced at UQ, but there was a whole lot MORE of it (for example, 3-4 exams per subject as well as multiple smaller quizzes, lab reports and assignments!!). Although I probably spent more time than I needed to on my work (considering that it is a pass/fail arrangement for UQ exchange students), I did still find enough time to socialize and explore the quirky shops around the Ann Arbor campus.

Personal experience

I would say my biggest recommendation to anyone considering an exchange is to allow yourself a reasonable amount of time before and/or after your exchange semester to either explore the country or spend extra time with the friends you are sure to make. I travelled the west side of the States for 3 weeks before classes began (including San Francisco, Hollywood, Yosemite National Park and the incredible canyons through Utah and Arizona), and then spent another three weeks after classes exploring the east side (Boston, New York and Washington D.C.). I'm so glad I got to spend this time exploring a country and culture which has many similarities to my own, but also significant differences. This travelling also greatly developed my independence and ability to organize and plan ahead, which I'm sure will benefit my future career and life. I also made a bunch of new friends (mostly other internationals from all over the world) who I'm planning to visit in their own countries as soon as I get the chance.

Accommodation 

The beautiful North Campus
The beautiful North Campus

The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has two campuses (north and central). Unfortunately, I ended up living on the north campus in a student apartment, meaning I had to catch a 5-10 minute bus (free) to get to my classes. However, the north campus was so beautiful, with geese, deer, squirrels, racoons and groundhogs frequently visiting the area, so there was definitely an upside. I loved living there, but I would definitely recommend aiming for central campus if you get the chance - this is where most of the shops, frat houses (and therefore college parties) and dining halls are located.

Budget

My accommodation was just about the cheapest available on the U-M campus, it was about US$3000 for the semester (coming to about $150/week). I purchased 125 dining hall meals for about US$1000 (as opposed to unlimited meals for around US$2000), because I wanted to be able to cook my own food and not feel like I was wasting my money. That being said, eating in dining halls was one of my favourite things about college life - not having to bother with shopping and cooking was nice, and the food was generally pretty tasty. You've gotta be careful though, it's very easy to eat way too much!

During my travels that I mentioned earlier, I tried to be as sparing as possible, staying in cheap youth hostels ($20-$40/night) and mostly living off Subway sandwiches. Generally speaking, the hostels were fairly small and a little dirty, but always had a great atmosphere and good value for money. Eating out is a little cheaper than in Australia, but when you add tips (15-20%) and tax (6-10%), an expensive meal can sneak up on you. If you do some research it's probably manageable to budget US$500 per week of travel for food and accommodation, and add a little more for tourist activities such as museums, cruises, observatory towers etc. A lot of cities also sell a thing called a CityPass, which gives around 50% off on a few of the city's most famous attractions.

Professional development and employability

Completing the exchange semester at Michigan was extremely valuable with respect to personal growth and learning. Having to learn how to manage a completely new university system (such as university websites, assignment submission, expectations from lecturers, etc.) enhanced my ability to adapt to new environments. Doing an exchange also forces you to jump into the deep end, with no option other than to seek advice from students or lecturers when in need. The most I had ever said to a lecturer at UQ was 'thank you' after a lecture; at Michigan, I virtually became good friends with all my lecturers, who were more than willing to help when I needed it, and showed great interest in my progression as their student and friend. This showed me the great value of putting in that little bit of extra effort to communicate with leaders. Demonstrating enthusiasm and openness with your lecturers creates a reciprocal appreciation and willingness to help on their side. I am now much more willing to sprout a conversation with strangers, which I think will be valuable in all aspects of my life, including personal, educational and employment.

Highlight

The highlight of my time at Michigan would have to be the football game against Penn State University. It was one of only two home night games of the season, providing a great atmosphere. The half-time show was incredible (almost like an Olympic opening ceremony) with incredible light shows and the several hundred Michigan band members blasting Michigan themes and other well-known songs. We were expected to be slaughtered by Penn State, but ended up just taking the win! It's impossible to describe the feeling you get when you're cheering at the top of your lungs along with 110 thousand other fans. Although it was one of Michigan's worst seasons in history, 100,000+ students and die-hard fans consistently showed up to cheer on their team. This sense of belonging and camaraderie flows throughout all aspects of life at the University of Michigan. 

THE TEAM, THE TEAM, THE TEAM!

Top tips

  • Put in the effort to meet lots of new people, including Americans AND other internationals. It can be hard to get the ball rolling, but I guarantee you will never regret taking that first step to introduce yourself to someone.
  • Like I said before, don't fly in and out just for the semester. You will want to spend time with the people you've met after classes finish - you'd be surprised how often you'll find someone with similar interests to travel with.
  • Go to at least one, but preferably a few, college football games!!! You can generally get cheap (or even free) tickets on Facebook (pages like Maize Market) or StubHub, and it's worth the money. Definitely go for student section tickets, the atmosphere is unreal. Try and make it to a basketball and ice hockey match as well.
  • Pack fewer clothes than you think you'll need, you will undoubtedly buy Michigan apparel. I now have three shirts, two pairs of shorts, track pants, a jumper, a beanie and a scarf, all with the Michigan big M.
  • A lot of the reason that college in America is so expensive is that they include heaps of extra stuff in tuition (which we don't have to pay!). Make the most of free gym membership, swimming pool access, cheap sporting clubs and tournaments, and so on. I joined the water ski team, played a soccer tournament, and played squash once or twice a week ($1 for an hour!).
  • For people who are seriously planning: if you're worried that you'll end up in north campus accommodation, don't be too stressed. The bus is slightly inconvenient but very frequent and manageable (you can even track every bus live on the Michigan app), and stops at 2 or 3 am. It's a much more natural alternative to the bustling central campus. But yes, if you have a choice and want to maximize your socializing, go for central!
  • Try to avoid procrastinating when you're planning any trips, e.g. booking accommodation, flights and so on. I learnt my lesson after missing out on some great cheap accommodation, and getting stuck in a $55/night hostel for 5 days! Just get on with it! Also, there's an awesome bus company called Megabus - if you get in a couple of months early, you can get long distance trips, for example Washington D.C. to New York, for as little as US$1!
  • If you're planning to go to Michigan, I would very strongly recommend the Fall semester (September-December). During the Winter semester (January-April), the temperature drops as low as -30 Celsius! If you go in winter you'll miss out on the beautiful Michigan autumn and the football season! Plus you will forget what your hands feel like. If you're worried that you won't get to see snow, you're very likely to get some snow by December anyway. There was some in October while I was there!


HAIL TO THE VICTORS!

Tim - University of Michigan