Thomas - University of Edinburgh

Bachelor of Engineering (Hons)/Science
Semester 1, 2018
Undoubtedly the best 6 months of my life. Never have I made so many close new friends, visited so many places, laughed, loved and grown so much in such a small period of time.

Academic experience

I studied 2 Computer Science courses and 3 Engineering (Electrical and Control) courses, but the weightings balanced out such that half of my credits came from each component. The engineering subjects followed on well from those I’ve completed at UQ, but I am new to the Computer Science component and had to do a fair bit of research to find my feet.

The university has a very similar style to UQ, but I’ve heard some lecturers lack recording and their marking rubric is comparatively much harsher than ours at UQ. Printouts were often handed out in Engineering courses, and Tutorials weren’t really available. Instead, the lecturers would show examples on board for an Examples class. The Informatics faculty (for Computer Science) used a form of Linux for most computer access and assignment submission which was a new concept for me but is taught in CSSE2310 at UQ I believe.

In general, I found I had a lot of free time during the weeks, and I used it effectively to upkeep my study progress while managing to do something fun just about every day and travel on the weekends. Make a study plan and commitment to stop procrastinating and achieving a pass shouldn’t be overly difficult.

Personal experience

I can’t stress enough how much I learnt about myself, about independence and about Europe. I found that I was more myself in the group of close friends I made who I shared dorms with at Pollock Halls, probably because everyone is so like-minded. You’ll find people on exchange are enthusiastic, accepting, energetic and friendly; or at least that’s what I found, possibly because I tried my best to embody these traits also.

It was the first time for me to live away from home for so long, and to leave the country in general, so I found myself becoming more comfortable fending for myself. 

I met so many great people from around the world, but mainly other Aussies, Americans and Canadians which I don’t mind one bit. With them, I travelled parts of France, Italy and England. I got the chance to meet a friend in the French Alps. I stayed at new friends’ houses in the England countryside. And after exchange I saw 14 countries on a Contiki and met even more people over a month’s time, but that was technically after the semester.

I know now that I can travel solo, easily meet new people (even ladies), balance study and fun and dance like a Scotsman. I’ve met wacky people in hostels and have made good stories out of it; seen over 40 new cities throughout Europe; made friends with those from over 12 countries; and laughed and smiled more than I ever have.

Accommodation

I lived on-campus in catered accommodation at Pollock Halls. This made it incredibly easy to meet with friends from the same buildings, and seeing the same group for breakfast and dinner in the dining hall is something I’ll miss so much. Pollock also had pianos, an electric drum kit, a study room and table tennis for everyone. If you don’t want to cook and can handle a bit of noise from time-to-time, I’d recommend Pollock. It was mountains of fun, and literally right next to the mountain of Arthur’s Seat. There are always more independent and quiet options available for those who don’t think that’s their scene.

Costs

My exchange trip, for the first 4.5 months (10th Jan - 27th May), had the following approximate costs (“CCF” is the currency conversion fee and I’m quoting prices in AUD and have converted using the rate at the time: 1 GBP = 1.78 AUD):
•    $6137 (without CCF) for 5 months of accommodation + $180 CCF;
•    $2600 for flights (late acceptance meant higher prices sadly - this was with Emirates);
•    $200 for travel insurance over a few weekend trips throughout the semester, but organise this before leaving;
•    $60 for bike hire through Pollock Halls, which I‘d highly recommend if you need to travel to King’s Buildings (KB) - check your faculty/school and see if classes are likely situated at the main campus - George Square - or KB;
•    $50 on general toiletries – laundry can be expensive though at $6 per wash + dry;
•    $15-20 on a *good* meal of Haggis, Neeps and Tatties;
•    $86 for off-peak gym membership;
•    The cost of living was - in general - about the same, except alcohol was cheaper. To make up for it most clubs charged approx.. $10 entry;
•    Public transport: buses $3 one-way, $7 one-day, and there are options for monthly unlimited passes which are pricey at $75 per month + joining fee. So walk or get a bike!
•    $30 for Edinburgh Castle, $25 Holyrood Palace, $25 for Hop on, Hop off bus tour (would recommend early in the semester!), $26 for Stirling Castle, $60 for most one-day International Student Centre/Tours trips.
•    Overseas flights from Edinburgh can be as low as £30 (roughly $60), so jump on that opportunity!

As above I spent close to $9k on flights, accommodation and insurance. Budget another $3k at the least, but if you want to have more leniency, freedom and travel, try to take $6k for a total budget close to $15k. Remember you can get an OS-Loan and hopefully a scholarship.

I like to think I am the best saver I know (my friends call it “being stingy”) so spending this much money hurt a bit, but I cannot stress enough how much it was worth it.

Professional Development

I have established so many international contacts with similar interests to me, as well as relationships with lecturers from my studies. I have become more confident and well-spoken, and have learnt to adapt to new learning and living environments.

Highlight

I loved to try things I wouldn’t at home: Scottish dancing; a fire festival with painted, naked festival-goers; flying to Paris with people I’ve known for less than a week, to name a few things. I think Edinburgh was perfect thanks to its diversity in culture and closeness to other countries.

But my overall highlight was hands-down the people I met, and the trips or daily things we’d share like meals, pub outings or park BBQs (in the summer). And once it’s warm you’ll want to go to the park every day it’s so nice.

Otherwise, I can prove with a video journal that literally every day (apart from sick days per se) held something fun or interesting, and now that I’m back home I certainly can’t say the same thing. The closeness of everything within Edinburgh too made everything so much more accessible and motivated me to get active, have fun and see friends every day I could.

Top tips

•    Exchange is an effort to organise, but don’t let it stop you.
•    Work hard, play hard. Any time you get to do work, do work. Leave the rest to go out, explore, travel or spend with others.
•    Talk to someone you don’t know each day.
•    Keep a journal, video journal or something along those lines. Consider a 1-second-a-day video compilation (try LeapSecond app).
•    I recommend a bike, the city is very cycle-friendly and you should be able to buy one cheap from Gumtree or hire one (if you’re staying at Pollock Halls you can hire one for £30). With a bike, the city and its surrounds (like Leith and Portobello beach) are yours to explore.
•    By the end of your exchange, consider keeping a list of the people you’ve met and where they’re from so you can coordinate a visit sometime in the future (you’ll want to!)
•    Try things you wouldn’t at home: Edinburgh is incredibly multi-cultural and home to regular dance classes in all styles (try Reeling, a Scottish dance held in Potterow by the University Association), hiking clubs (or “hill climbing”), and much more.