Rupert - University of Edinburgh

B Biomedical Science
Semester 2, 2018
It's not necessarily the beauty of Edinburgh Castle, the munroes and lochs, quaint small towns and galleries that will make a city for you - it's the people you meet and bonds you form.

Academic experience

I'm a second year Biomedical Science student at UQ. While on exchange at the University of Edinburgh I took a semester's worth of elective credit. I'd been on the fence about this for a while, initially thinking I'd take second year biomedical courses for the period of my exchange. 

However, after posting on the UQ Abroad facebook group and getting feedback from a number of other people who'd studied there, I decided that an exchange would allow me to explore other interests in the Arts and Social Sciences - an opportunity that other people within similar programs to myself had reported enjoying a great deal. 

To this end, I took courses in art history, anthropology, and film criticism and analysis. 

These were all fantastic, however, art history and film proved to be the most enjoyable. The latter included a three-part weekly program of film viewing, lecture and seminar discussion. The lecturers were all published authors and incredibly erudite in their fields. Auteur theory, genre, narrative and feminism, among others, were discussed in depth and the reading list was entertaining and informative. The film list was unbelievable and further stoked my interest in pursuing this outside of my studies. 

Art History was fantastic as well, with the course covering early Christian, Byzantine, Renaissance, and early British Art. It provided me with a grounding in viewing and understanding art and the social contexts that gave rise to certain movements in the art world. Definitely recommend both these courses!

Personal experience

Living and studying in Edinburgh was both challenging and rewarding. The Scottish climate is severe and staying in the first semester meant braving the winter months - a fact which had concerned me before travelling. The landscape is beautiful, and the university offered many opportunities to explore the highlands and nearby lochs and towns via tour groups and student societies (which cater to a diverse range interests). 

A highlight in this respect was a two-day trip to Glencoe I took as part of the hillwalking group (EUHWC). Braving the Munroes was physically difficult but brought me closer to an understanding of the landscape that informs much of the literary and artistic culture that pervades Scotland. Importantly, it also required a commitment of time and effort and enabled me to make new friends and acquaintances while I was on exchange. 

This point shouldn't be understated, as it's not necessarily the beauty of Edinburgh Castle, the munroes and lochs, quaint small towns and galleries that will make a city for you - it's the people you meet and bonds you form. This requires you to put yourself out there - which I personally struggled with at times. However, perseverance paid off and ultimately my efforts proved rewarding. I met wonderful people in the UK and in Europe that made what would've otherwise been a memorable experience unforgettable.

Accommodation

I stayed in a self-catered student hall of residence at Warrender Park road just south of the meadows. This was a fantastic spot and the apartment I shared with three others included fantastic views of the neighbouring houses, maple trees, and cobbled street outside. The George Square university campus was about fifteen minutes’ walk away and a further five to Grassmarket, the National Museum of Scotland, or Nicholson street. 

All the student halls have their merits – stay near to the campus and be close to the action (and the noise that comes with it) or stay a little further out but be prepared to hike (or bike!) to campus in the winter chill and be a little removed from it all. Personally, I enjoyed the space that came with the latter – but there are a lot of options.

Costs

In total, I spent approximately $15,000 which included accommodation, attending the Edinburgh International Festival, flights to Europe and a month of post-UK travel, food expenses, as well as a number of trips I took on the weekend during semester with the hillwalking club and independently. All in all, the UK was more expensive than I anticipated – that is, compared with Europe and Australia. I’d heard this before from friends who’d travelled, but it made a significant difference experiencing it for myself for a prolonged period of exchange.

With that said, general day-to-day expenses can be reduced if you plan ahead and prepare your meals and flights to Europe from the UK are incredibly cheap if you time them well. Fortunately, under the NHS all medical services are free in Scotland and this makes seeking medical treatment a breeze. However, it’s important to register with a GP at the start of semester to avoid having to go further out of the city! There are heaps of great thrift stores on Nicholson street for affordable winter gear for the colder months and plenty of excellent books for sale here and throughout the city. It’s been mentioned, but the ‘fresher’s free shop’ is a great place to pick up free cooking gear and household items. If you miss it, go to Nicholson street!

Challenge

During the early months of my trip, I ended up developing a persistent respiratory infection that I thought might require hospitalization. I was wheezing and coughing almost constantly for about four or more weeks. I was constantly fatigued during this period and attending classes and tutorials was a struggle. It got to the stage that even walking to university was a challenge. I was concerned I might have acute bronchitis or pneumonia. As I hadn't signed up for a GP during Fresher's Week, I had to call around Edinburgh to find a clinic that was taking new patients. This was quite difficult to find, however, I ended up locating one in nearby Tollcross which was able to take me on as a new patient with no out of pocket expense. Eventually the illness passed, but I was shaken by the experience. I'm glad to know that I was able to persist in attending classes despite how physically challenging this period was. This all would've been much easier if I'd signed up for a GP in the first week as advised. Make sure you do this!

Professional Development

Living abroad for a semester in another country developed my overall sense of adaptability and facility in meeting new challenges. Travel is great; travelling can be tricky – the distinction is important when things don’t go entirely to plan, and you have to make other arrangements on the fly. 

Studying in an area to which I was not recently accustomed and meeting assignment deadlines helped improve my written communication and time management skills. The course content by itself was engaging, but I was equally pleased by my ability to engage with it. I wouldn’t have known this without trying new courses outside of my area of study.

When you’re abroad without your network of friends back home you have to be open with other people and willing to engage, sometimes in situations outside of your immediate comfort zone and with others who may not have English as their native language. 

Communication here is key and I feel that my time abroad, particularly travelling in Europe, developed my capacity to quickly acquire key phrases in other languages and my willingness to engage others.

Highlight

The four weeks I spent traveling around central Europe following the exchange was a definite highlight of the exchange. As someone who'd never been before - Europe gave me a sense of near-vertigo in terms of its diversity, art, history, and culture. Traveling was a fantastic way to round-off the experience of my exchange and I strongly recommend it to anyone thinking about going on exchange.

Top tips

The natural beauty of Scotland's landscape cannot be understated, and recalls aspects of New Zealand's south island in its sheer scope and scale. Please take any opportunity to go and see it! 

The society events, including fresher's week, were incredibly well organised and while catered to a younger crowd provided ample opportunity to meet other exchange students. I ended up making friends a number of postgrads who ended up becoming close friends. 

In terms of city recreation, exploring many of the excellent traditional bars (Dagda Bar, The Royal Oak, Southsider, Kilderkin) was a treat as were the whisky tastings on offer near the Royal Mile. Cabaret Voltaire and Three Sisters are great venues, the former catering to the House/Techno crowd and the other offering a pleasant if somewhat erratic mix of crowd-pleasing staples. 

Edinburgh's not a big place, and being able to hit the ground running and see the city sights brought home to me the fact that living and enjoying what a city has to offer is a project that requires you to put yourself out there and try things