Philipp - Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Bachelor of Economics
Semester 1, 2018
Exchange: unpredictable, challenging, amazing and crazy - the time of my life.

Academic experience

I studied a range of courses: macroeconomics I (difficulty was somewhere between ECON2020 and ECON2040), Industrial Organisation, Game Theory, Labour Economics, Information Economics and Development of Economics. Having to deal with a new academic system was not only a challenge but also an eye opening experience. 

Firstly, I enjoyed learning content that isn't available at UQ. This allowed me to expand my economic toolbox and gain an understanding into various previously unknown sections of economics. UPF's economics lecturers are leading authors in their respective fields. This provided a close insight into their respective specialization and allowed a peek into economics academia. The most exciting facet of UPF's academic system is its vast exchange student cohort. This allowed me to form both personal and professional relationships, being exposed to a plethora of experience, skill and knowledge.

Entering a new academic system was challenging, merely through the fact that it was different. Instead of semesters, one has to undertake trimesters which means I completed 6 courses instead of 4 in the span of a semester. Despite this course number asymmetry, course loads are similar. The content itself was also a little more challenging. The trimester system meant I started university on the 08/01/18 and finished (had my last exam) on 28/06/18. Between the two trimesters I got a weekend off - much less than what I am used to at UQ. The study duration was also much longer than that of all of my friends who went on exchange to Europe - for example, a friend of mine, also studying econ, went to Paris for her exchange and had only 2.5 months of university. The above serves to highlight the differences between the two academic systems, but also the more challenging nature of the UPF system. Additionally, the enrollment/registration was much less organised than at UQ. Enrolling followed a roughly similar process (online) but it was much more chaotic and unnecessarily complicated. The stress and competitiveness of enrolling was the same as at UQ, but in case you didn't get a spot (which happened quite often) you needed to fill out a google docs document and wait for what felt like half an eternity for a reply email. Email response times were also in general much longer than back home. 

All in all my academic experience at UPF was an eye opening one. It showed that we are fortunate enough to have a highly organised and transparent academic system at UQ. While the differences and the administrative downfalls of the UPF system were challenging themselves, the content and structure was also more challenging. If you are going on exchange hoping that it will be a breeze, that you can party often and barely have to study and still achieve good grades - UPF shouldn't be your destination of choice.

Personal experience

Honestly the personal gains from exchange are immeasurable. It takes you out of your comfort zone and consequently gain experience, develop and evolve. For me, having lived with my parents back home, just living by myself was a substantial learning curve ultimately making me more independent and self confident. Going on exchange to a country in which English isn't the predominantly spoken language and in which not everyone knows how to speak it, adds another level of difficulty but this ultimately makes the experience so much more interesting, fulfilling and rewarding. I made many friends from all over the world and I miss them already. Of course I won't maintain active contact with all of them but should I be in their home country I'll be sure to contact them. Exploring the city of your exchange (for me Barcelona) is exciting enough and trust me, you'll have plenty to do. Adding travelling to the equation just enriches your exchange experience - especially if you're travelling alone for the first time. I had gone to Barcelona hoping to improve my Spanish but...well, it was wishful thinking. There were Spanish courses offered but I chose not to partake in them as I had enough competing extracurricular activities. Furthermore, as Barcelona is in Catalonia, Catalan is the preferred language of most locals. The chances that you'll spend most of your time with other exchange students is very high so you'll be speaking English most of the time which isn't exactly beneficial if you are coming from an English speaking country. I only had one local friend. But of course, that is up to you as to how you act and who you befriend and spend time with. The personal skills you'll learn are mainly important life and social skills. Cooking, learning to be independent, organising your life, being calm under pressure, learning to handle stress are just some of the skills you'll learn.

Accommodation

I lived in a student accommodation off campus. Because I left booking accommodation to pretty much the last minute I was left with a very expensive option (tip: book early - the earlier the better). Because of the higher price I did enjoy a range of advantages however: distance to uni (1km), all utilities were paid for, 24/7 reception, pool access, quiet study room, high speed wifi. My host university (UPF) provided a web page with links to possible student accommodations including further websites to use to find share houses etc.

Budget

I paid a little under 1000 euro for accommodation a month but that was only because I didn't organise myself early enough. Normally rent ranges from 500-1000 euro in Barcelona depending on what standards and expectations you have. I would budget at least 50 euro for food per week. If you cook yourself a little over 50 euro should suffice. If you want to go out to eat however (as I often did) it will obviously cost more. A meal costs around 10-15 euro and there are meal deals which will give you a 3 course meal for the same price. I bought myself a bike for 200 euro at the start of exchange (it was a folding bike i.e. mistake. I'm 1.9m and did not fit. There were normal bikes sold for new at 100 euro). I would definitely recommend buying a bike, as it saves you a lot in terms of transport. A 10 trip metro ticket cost 10.2 euros. In other european cities it will cost you more. In some cities there is uber (not in BCN). Obviously factor in taxi fares for some good nights out. Otherwise walking is perfect too. Travel costs a fair amount as well - less if you have time and use buses and trains. If you go for 6 months and want the 'full experience' I would budget around 7500-10000 euros altogether.

Professional development and employability

In terms of professional development, exchange has not only moulded me into a more flexible, adaptable and mobile individual, but also a more independent one with improved problem solving skills who is able handle stress and unexpected situations with more ease.

Highlight

Meeting new people both professionally or personally from all over the world with different backgrounds, stories, skills and personalities.

Top tips

1. Book accommodation early
2. Say yes to (almost) everything
3. Do some research on your host university - if you're doing ECON it may be quite challenging
4. Expect things to go wrong because they most likely will 
5. Don't go into the sea with your iphone and wallet in your pocket trying to rescue a stranger's volleyball just because you're in a good mood you idiot. 
6. If you're studying economics choose business courses should they be accepted by your faculty 
7. If you like going out a lot going ESN. If you enjoy culture and the sights join Voluntariat Linguistic. You will be emailed by them early on during your exchange. 
8. Buy a bike
9. Do not choose courses that are mandatory for locals - they're bloody hard
10. Make the most of every moment and enjoy


Should you be required to perform well and also want the 'social exchange experience' I would not recommend UPF. If you only need to pass however, then go for it.