Josh - University of Wisconsin - Madison

B. Science
Semester 1 and 2, 2016

Academic experience

I studied mostly courses that were fairly directly related to my degree. I took 5 chemistry classes and two materials science/engineering classes, as well as 3 elective classes that simply piqued my interests. I also took four credits of research in the fall semester (my second semester) after volunteering in a lab for most of the summer. I found that the staff in the chemistry department and the international exchange office were really accommodating and willing to help when I approached them.

The thing I enjoyed most was probably the lecturers. I don’t think I got a bad lecturer and I had several who were exceptional, including the professor who I worked with for my research. All the lecturers are really friendly and will happily talk with you about their class and help you out, and will also happily talk to you about their research or work outside of teaching. One of my physical chemistry professors even offered to come to a study/crying session before our final that me and some friends had organised! I also really enjoyed the subject matter of the courses I was taking.

I think one of the biggest challenges was workload, especially in my second semester. My workload at UW was pretty comparable to UQ’s in the first semester, but I took some lab subjects in the second semester which are a bigger time commitment than they let on. I’m really glad I did those subjects because they were super high quality and valuable for anyone interested in research, but they do take a lot of work.

Personal experience

Oh man, I have sooooooo many amazing personal experiences! I made a ton of really close friends in Madison who come from around the country, and in fact around the world! I made a really tight-knit group of friends on my floor in the dorms in the first semester and also committed a lot of time to a Christian student organisation called InterVarsity, where I made loads of friends and went on some really great travels around Wisconsin and the Michigan peninsula (the UP). I was actually able to become part of the student leadership in InterVarsity as well, which was a great personal growth experience for me. I also made a group of friends in my lab and my chemistry classes, as I got to spend several of my classes studying with them, and friends through a local church who I played Ultimate Frisbee with two nights a week during summer break. All of this meant that I had plenty of friends to stay with for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and parts of my travel around the country!

I also got to have some life experiences that will set me up well for the future. I rented an apartment for three months over summer and got to live away from home for the first time (even if it was just at college). I also had the experience of travelling around the US and Canada at the end of my summer break and during the Christmas break as well. I got to travel to 10 US states and 4 Canadian provinces between all of my different travel sessions!

Accommodation

I lived on campus in Adams Hall, the international residence hall. I really enjoyed the communal living feel of living in the dorms and how you could sit out in the hallway and just hang out with your friends (and make new friends as people walk past!). The other huge advantage is that you get cheaper food at the dining halls ($3-4 meals) and you can borrow cooking and sports equipment from the hall desk across the road for free. I had my own room, which meant it was easy to get away to myself every now and again to study or relax, and I found that if you’re willing to take a chance and be “the friendly Australian” on the floor, it’s still pretty easy to make friends in your dorm. I’d definitely recommend Adams (or the Lakeshore dorms in general) if you prefer a quieter atmosphere or want to hang out by the lake, but still, want to get to know new friends!

I also had the experience of living in an off-campus apartment over summer, which I found that I didn’t enjoy as much as the dorms. I found it was less conducive to meeting new people and I had to wake up a few minutes earlier to get to campus compared to the dorms. In saying that, I didn’t know my housemate beforehand and the apartment was of pretty ordinary quality, so don’t rule out off-campus living if you’re confident you can get a decent place. A number of my American friends lived off campus in fall and absolutely loved it.

Budget

I think the biggest cost for me in Madison was housing (dorms are great, but they aren’t cheap!) and food. For a year of housing in a single room, I think I paid around $9000 and I tended to spend $40 a week on groceries and dining hall food. I’d absolutely recommend taking a bus (free for students!) off campus to do your shopping because the grocery store on campus is a bit of a ripoff. I also spent around $6000 on travel (including my flights to and from Australia). I know this sounds like a lot of money, but keep in mind that this is for two semesters. In terms of travel, I’d recommend Hostel World as a great place for accommodation deals, and ask your friends if you can stay with them for a few nights, especially if they live in cool places like New York or LA!

Professional development and employability

InterVarsity's International Crew
InterVarsity's International Crew

I think working in a research lab for 6 months was one of the best decisions of my exchange in terms of professional development. As someone who wants to go into a research career, working in a lab at a top research university was an amazing experience. I got to interact with grad students and professors both in my lab and in neighbouring labs and then presented a poster of my research at a class conference near the end of my exchange.

Highlight

I think the highlight of my experience was the time between January and December… But seriously, there are so many highlights! Whether it was wearing a giant foam slice of cheese on my head at a football game or creating new compounds in a lab, or even driving 8 hours straight to da UP for a summer camp, I absolutely enjoyed basically my entire exchange experience. If I had to pick a single highlight, it would simply be the experience of being an American college student for a year and all the fun and challenges that come with that.

Top tips

  • Make friends from around the world! You can get involved in student orgs or sports teams, meet people in your living communities, study with your classmates- the possibilities are endless!
  • If you’re coming to Madison, go to some Badger football games. The atmosphere is incredible and the Badgers are one of the top teams in the country
  • If there are opportunities to get involved in research or professional development stuff, take those opportunities with both hands
  • Have a ton of fun! Don’t get so hung up on classes that you forget to take in all of the amazing experiences that an exchange can offer!
Josh - University of Wisconsin - Madison