Nicholas - City University London

Bachelor of Journalism/Laws
Semester 1, 2018
Exchange is the best thing I’ve ever done and it’s changed me in ways I never expected. So will it be for you.

Academic experience

I studied law courses on exchange and saved up my electives to study abroad, as it was much easier to be approved to study courses on exchange in substitution of law electives than core law courses. The academic experience of going to classes was very familiar to me, and followed the same pattern of weekly lectures and tutorials I was used to at UQ (except that tutorials were every second week, and the semester was only 10 weeks long).

The courses I studied were Islamic Law, Intellectual Property Law and Media Law. I was particularly impressed by the quality of the teaching. Without meaning to be uncharitable to the venerable staff of TC Beirne, I found that each of my lecturers were more engaging, conscientious and in general better skilled in the art of teaching law to university students than my experience of the same at TCB. I enjoyed attending my classes and have nothing but good things to say about each of my lecturers: Sarah Gale (Media Law), Nabil Rafiq (Islamic Law) and Dr Enrico Bonadio (IP Law).

Something UQ students might find unfamiliar is the way assessment and exams are done at City (or at least at City Law School): typically there is one assessment item accounting for 100% of the grade at the end of the semester, with an optional formative paper partway through the semester. In my case, I had three 100% final exams, while some friends had a mix of 100% exams and 100% final papers. In addition, City has a one-month SWOTVAC and a one-month exam period (which appears to run into the following semester) – a two-month final exam/assessment period in total – something which future exchange students considering City might want to take into account if they want to take some time to travel after the end of the semester.

Personal experience

My favourite thing about my exchange was, I think, the experience of living in London. All the travel and sightseeing I did was amazing, but what I’ll remember most fondly was the experience of being a Londoner for six months, living a different lifestyle and having a brief taste of what it’s like to live in a place very different from my home. Having never lived anywhere other than quiet old Brisbane, I was a bit culture-shocked at first by the faster-paced lifestyle, the diversity of life and culture, the hustle-and-bustle and the sheer scale of London, but by the end of my time there I had fallen in love with the place and absolutely want to return if I can.

I also made many valuable personal connections while I was there. I got to know a side of my family in London I rarely saw living on the other side of the world and became very close with them over the six months I spent with them. I also made some great new friends, including a person I met through an online game when I was 11 and with whom I have effectively had a social media pen-pal type friendship for 12 years, but whom I finally met in person for the first time in my life (it was incredibly surreal).

I travelled as much as I could, and saw some places I’ve always wanted to see – the Scottish Highlands, Oxford, Rome and Italy, Scandinavia, Hogwarts!

My exchange also gave me a taste of life abroad, and made me realise something that I hadn’t really before – that I needn’t confine my horizons to Brisbane, or even to Australia. I’d love to work and live abroad – London, if possible!

I even dropped in on a royal wedding, which was pretty awesome.

Accommodation

I was fortunate enough to have family in London who very generously let me stay for the duration of my exchange, so I was mercifully spared the headache of finding accommodation in London and paying obscene rents. So I can’t really offer much advice on this front except perhaps to say that I lived in Walthamstow, which is some way outside central London and the university’s campus in Clerkenwell, and I never felt that I was too far away campus or the things I wanted to see and do in London. The public transport system in London, especially the Underground, but the buses as well, is extremely efficient and can without much fuss take you anywhere in London from anywhere else in the city. That is to say, based on my experience, I don’t think it’s necessary to endure the eye-watering rents and sometimes less-than-ideal rooming arrangements of Zones 1 and 2 for the marginal convenience of being closer to the university and central London.

There is the option of City’s own student accommodation close to the campus, and other students who lived in the student accommodation told me they enjoyed living there. It seems like it’s easy enough for exchange students to make friends in the student accommodation, given the university’s large international student population.

In addition, while not all exchange students would have the option of staying with family like I did, I would sincerely urge those that do have that option not to discount it too readily. Apart from the significant savings you make, staying with and spending time with locals can afford you an invaluable authentic cultural experience you might not get if staying in student accommodation or rented accommodation. In addition, you might find, as I did, that connecting with and becoming close to a far-flung side of your family you rarely see turns out to be one of the most memorable and valuable aspects of your exchange.

Costs

As I stayed with family, I can’t really speak to things like rent and groceries, as I was fortunate enough to have all that generously provided for me.

Eating out is perhaps slightly more expensive than in Brisbane. A “reasonably-priced” meal at a nice local restaurant would be around £11-15 (AUD $20-28). Alcohol, perhaps surprisingly, is significantly cheaper than we’re used to in Brisbane. A pint of the locals’ favourite brew in a typical London pub will usually set you back just shy of £5, around $8.50, whereas here you’d have to fork over $11-12 for a pint.

The public transport system in London is one of the best in the world, but very expensive. Using a pre-paid Oyster card or contactless credit or debit card is cheaper and more convenient than buying paper tickets. If you buy a 16-25 Railcard for £30 you get a 30% discount on off-peak tube fares (as well as Overground and National Rail fares). With the discount, it will be around £1.80 per tube journey. At on-peak times the fare jumps back up to £3.30 ($6). Bus fares are £1.50 per journey, and all subsequent bus journeys made within an hour of tapping on are free. 

Travelling by train on the National Rail to other parts of the country can be outrageously expensive – think £11/$20, including Railcard discount, for a short one-way trip to Stansted Airport; upwards of £20/$35 return to Cambridge; £75/$130 return to Edinburgh. The app Trainline is helpful for finding rail tickets that are cheaper if you travel at off-peak times or from certain stations or if you purchase far enough in advance.

Entrance fees at tourist attractions can be anywhere between £5 and £30, with more famous and popular attractions tending towards the upper end of that spectrum. For example, a student ticket into the Tower of London was £22. However, entry into many of the famous museums and art galleries in London is free, including the British Museum, the Tate galleries, the National Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Air travel can be relatively inexpensive if you travel on budget airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet, especially if you travel in the off season or buy a ticket on sale (like the £10 ticket to Oslo I snapped up on a one-day-only Ryanair sale). A bed in good, well-reviewed hostels in Europe will cost around $45-60 per night, but significantly less in the off-season. Use Google Flights to find cheap flights, Hostelworld for hostels, and GoEuro for train tickets in Europe.

Professional Development

For me, I would venture to guess like most UQ students who take up the opportunity to do an international exchange during their degree, going on exchange was primarily about having an enriching cultural experience and the opportunity to travel, more so than for academic or professional experience. Nevertheless, in having an experience like exchange you’re inevitably bound to develop skills, attributes, perspectives and attitudes that will put you in better stead in your professional life, and in life in general. 

For one thing, I’d like to think that through my experiences on exchange I’ve become someone who’s less of a dreamer and more of a doer. The idea of going on exchange itself was something I was thinking about and talking about and planning in my head for years before I actually took action to make things move, and the fond idea of going on exchange to England finally became a reality instead of just a nice idea in my head. The same goes with the extensive solo travel I did in Europe once I was in England. There was once a version of me that would have liked the idea of studying in London and travelling by myself around Europe, but would have been intimidated by the effort and commitment involved in making it happen, and, when the time to take action came, would have ultimately decided that it would be nice, but it’s all too much trouble, too hard, too potentially uncomfortable to get out of my chair for; I think I’ll just stay put, thanks. The same goes with other great opportunities and aspirations I entertained, whether professional, academic or personal. I’d like to think that version of me has now been put to rest – or, to use a less morbid analogy, has grown into someone with much healthier and positive attitudes about making his dreams and aspirations a reality.

Highlight

For me, the highlight of my time abroad was spending time with and getting to know my family in London, whom I only otherwise get to see for a short time once every few years. I got to know my uncle and aunt and three younger cousins very well over my six-month stay in their home in London, and I feel like I’ve come back with a very close and affectionate relationship with members of my extended family I would rarely have spared a thought about beforehand. I think my fondest memories are from the time I spent with my family, among many fond memories I have taken home from my stay in London and my travels in Europe.

Top tips

London is an expensive city, so keep an eye on your finances, but, at the same time, don’t come back regretting you didn’t make the most of your time abroad.

Don’t overpack – you don’t need to bring your entire wardrobe. There were lots of clothes I brought with me that I never wore, and I actually ended up having to leave quite a few clothes and things in London because I’d accumulated more clothes and souvenirs over there and couldn’t fit it all into my suitcase. A week or two’s worth should be fine if you do a weekly wash.

One of the first things you should do when you arrive in London (or elsewhere in the UK for that matter) is buy a 16-25 Railcard to get a 30% discount on tube and rail fares. When it arrives in the post you can take it to a ticket office at any rail station to have the discount applied to your Oyster card.

If you’re an Australian or New Zealand citizen and you’re going on exchange to the United Kingdom for one semester, you don’t need to apply for a student visa. If you have a place at a university in the UK, you only need to show your offer letter at the border and they will stamp you in as a “short-term student” for a maximum of six months. You don’t need to pay anything or apply for anything beforehand. The border guard might also ask to see proof of your finances and details of your accommodation. You just need to keep all these documents with you every time you leave the country because you will need to show your offer letter and be stamped in again every time you re-enter the country during the duration of your allowed stay.

Be social and make friends! Your experience will be ten times better if you have people to share it with.