A year without rain

img_7948I met some other Internationals on the plane from Brisbane to Townsville so I was not on my own upon arrival. There were about 10 other people with me, more girls than boys, but ALL American. During the conversation I found out that all of them study biology or marine science – which is probably the biggest thing here at James Cook University (JCU). We were picked up by a shuttle service run by JCU which was nice and comfortable and saved us a lot of hassle. Make sure you book it in good time in case you decide to follow me in February!

Whilst everyone was tired and knackered from the journey I was wide awake and full of energy. Clever as I am I worked out beforehand when to go to sleep and when to be wake up again so the jet lag wouldn’t be too bad. I suggest you do the same so you don’t suffer too much like the Americans did. It probably also made a difference because I was travelling “with” time and not against it.

On arriving at the JCU campus we were welcomed by Australian students who even helped us carry our luggage to our accommodation and showed us our rooms, which was very nice and helpful. We were also given a little tour around the halls just a few hours after lunch so we knew where everything was and what we could do around the halls of residence. We have a lot of facilities which we can use; for example the laundry ($2 per wash, 1$ for the dryer), the “gym” ($50 or $80 per study period), the theatre room and so much more.

Directly after dinner everybody headed upstairs and went straight to bed, because they all were so tired, washed out and exhausted from their journeys. I was alright so I stayed up a little longer to be in line with my time calculations, continuing my fight with the jet lag problem everybody warned me about. Also when I went to the (common) bathroom, I realised it was cold and I heard a familiar, typically British noise: RAIN!!! Argh, nooo! I was not really prepared for this. I took no jumper with me because everybody told me how ‘sunny’ it is in Townsville. Yeah, right. We had three days of continuous rain and it was always raining during the night. Wet wet wet, wetlands! Even their number plates say ‘Sunshine State’. At night it was usually around 5°C, sooo.. Not very different from the UK! It turned out though that no born and bred Townsvillian had experienced such a cold and rainy period in July before. We were told that this was their first rain of the year, hence everybody was sooo happy about it. Oh well, Aussies huh? And there I was, with only two thin blankets which I nicked (shhh..!) from the airplane since I thought “supposed-to-be-sunny Australia” would be so hot, I would not need a proper blanket. Haha, I wish! These blankets did not keep any of us warm, not at all! 😦 All of us internationals were freezing so bad, that we decided to go to the shops the next day directly after brekky.

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It’s about time!

Wow! It’s almost the end of the first semester, and boy do they provide you with a lot of work… Not too much though, perhaps I’m just being dramatic, but I am certainly feeling the burn.

Part of the problem is Thanksgiving, I suppose. It was on the 24th November, and as you may know, it is a time to meet with family and eat lots of food. I went round my friend Anna’s, a friend from class, and her family could not be more encouraging or welcoming. I even left with lots of food to take home. The problem lies in the four days off you have for the holiday, because you return to class finding you have 2-3 weeks to finish all your work and hand it in. Tiring is not the word, and it’s nothing new to be scrabbling around at the end of the semester but this mini holiday held just before kind of lulls you into a false sense of security.

I’ll be ok though because I have meetings with my lecturers who are all amazing and incredibly supportive people. They say that they really enjoy my work and genuinely appreciate having me in class. Being English – or British to the Americans – is en vogue and I can really appreciate my culture now that I am not immersed in it. Seriously, being here makes me realise how interesting some of the more mundane aspects of my life can be.

For instance, I complimented someone on their jumper at work the other day and everyone was either confused or began to laugh. I realised my mistake, and said they had a nice sweater. Too late, the damage was done, so to speak. But what happened next is incredible. People just wanted to hear me talk. Anything. One girl asked me if I would read from Harry Potter if she brought the book in. Incredible.

Work, you say? Why, yes, work. It’s incredible. I work at the Columbia Chronicle, an eminent college newspaper in America, as a Copy Editor. This is beyond brilliant, speaking as a writer. Back in London, at UEL, I study Creative Writing. Here in Chicago I do much the same only I also work in a decent position within my field, effectively gaining hands-on experience whilst I study. I’ve been saving every newspaper that’s printed and I intend to bring them back to the UK to add to my portfolio when I apply for jobs. What could be more enticing to an employer, than a student who travelled to another country and actively gained hands-on experience doing the relevant job? It definitely sounds more relevant on my CV than the rubbish retail job I had at Stratford…

It’s easy enough to get a job, either on- or off-campus (provided the job is relevant to your degree). There’s an online portal called Handshake where you can upload your CV with examples of your work and list extra-curricular activities which may help your applications. I received a job offer from the Chronicle. After a few necessary administrative steps I was awarded a Social Security number – just like a National Insurance number – and to top it off, the office even back paid me for my time there. Brilliant!

So just to clarify, students have the opportunity to study abroad, learn a whole new culture, gain paid employment in a relevant field and essentially make their CV irresistible to prospective employers. Did I mention that students who study abroad are also statistically more likely to achieve a 1st class degree, and become employed in their chosen field? Think about it for a while.

It’s not all sunshine and lollipops however. I only show the best bits on my Facebook or Instagram, it’s the done thing after all. There have been some incredibly low moments. At first I was quite homesick, missing my family and my friends, and just going down to the pub for a beer and a chat. I miss things like Ribena, silly as it sounds, and ‘proper tasting chocolate’. Every time you purchase something here, they add the tax on at the till, so it can sometimes be difficult to figure out exactly how much it’s going to be when you get there. Even then the amount of tax is different in the city and the suburbs.

Sometimes it’s as silly as simply communicating. Like I said my accent here is en vogue and with some people I find it hard to show that I have content to my words, as well as having an accent. My sense of humour is confusing to a lot of Americans, too. Sarcasm and irony are lost on many, but there is hope. Some people get it and slowly but surely, I have been finding myself making friends!

The trick is to talk to everyone and be yourself. The right people will gravitate towards you and you’ll find yourself relaxing more and more. Invite people out, join a society. Ask people what they’re doing at the weekend and see if they want to make plans. It’s really just like your first year at UEL, you talk to a few people and for some reason a few of them become your best friends. By the end of the semester you don’t want to leave. Also don’t be afraid to talk to other international students. One of my greatest friends here in Chicago is Norwegian because it turns out that Norwegians have a similar sense of humour to the Brits.

Lastly, I want to point out that the team at UEL will not have forgotten about you. I have had some issues here which I might detail in another post just so you know how to overcome them. The team at UEL has been an immeasurable help in sorting them out. I can’t imagine where I would be without them. Unfortunately I had a brief accident which involved a trip to A&E (called ER here) and no time was wasted. With Carly and Felicia working hard to ensure that I had the best protection and support in dealing with medical insurance. If I had a problem I simply contacted them and I knew they would work hard to make sure I was safe. That alone made me feel comfortable I was in good hands. It’s difficult leaving to another country, I won’t pretend it isn’t, but it’s always comforting to know that you have a great team on your side.

Two weeks and I get to relax for the holidays. I met a lad at UEL called Andrew, who is from New York and we became such good friends in London that I have been invited to have Christmas with his family in New York! We’re going to go to Salem, Boston, all over New York and Long Island, where he’s from. We’re also going to drive north to see Olivia and Heather, two more friends from London. I’m so excited to see them again, and I count my lucky stars that I have met such amazing people at UEL and Columbia College Chicago. Seriously, whatever you’ve read in the news, Americans can be the most welcoming people. I’m already having enquiries about New Year celebrations.

A Chicago Thanksgiving, a New York Christmas, and the possibility of a New Orleans Spring Break. I have to say even though at times it can be difficult, studying abroad is offering me some of the best memories of my life.

I Really Couldn’t Say…

I set off for America at 5am on Tuesday August 30th, and I was largely terrified. I had never flown by myself before, and my mum’s insistence that she see me off, coupled with her nervous attitude towards flying, didn’t exactly fill me with the blind confidence needed for such things. But it was actually really simple. I waved goodbye to Mum and Diane, checked my bags in at the relevant desk, walked through security confident that I wasn’t who they were looking for, and found my gates easily enough through a combination of the bold announcements and the large screens littered everywhere. Simple. In fact, the first whiff of trouble came during my layover…

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I was to fly from Birmingham International, across to Dublin – where I would check in through American customs – and then onward to Chicago, O’Hare; and you’ve guessed it, it was in Ireland that I found my first sizeable hurdle. In Dublin you pass through the American Consulate, which checks your passport and decides whether you ‘get in’. Imagine a bouncer outside your favourite club checking your provisional driver’s licence, but they’re doing it on your doorstep to save you a long journey home, should you not get on the VIP list.

“Address of where you’re staying, sir?”

I gave the address.

“Once more, sir?”

I complied.

“Follow me, sir, you have been selected for extra screening.”

My heart sank as the lady led me to a room containing several other people, whilst she marched off with my passport to some unknown beyond. I sat calmly for around 15 minutes – something that can’t be said for a redheaded Irish woman, who took it upon herself to holler like she was a particularly bad audition for the X-Factor. I could almost see the American clerks behind their desks edging their hands towards the button that controlled the garish red ‘X’. Eventually it was my turn to be called forth, and I was nervous, I’ll admit. The lady simply said there was a discrepancy with the address I had provided. That I had said ‘South State’, when I should have said ‘State St’. I was fine. Get out of her sight. So I did, and I’m not ashamed to say I went straight towards a pint of Guinness. After all, I was in Ireland, and my nerves were shaking.

So that was that! I spoke with a lovely American couple at the bar for an hour, and proceeded to catch my flight. The journey was forgivingly dull, and the most eventful thing that happened during my eight hours in the air was when I dropped some rice and I thought I might enter the US with stains on my crotch. Thankfully, this wasn’t to be.

(I might add at this point that, during my leaving party on the weekend before, I had sung so loudly that I had lost my voice! I was devastated that I would be entering the great unknown without the ability to ask for help. This was where my great deciphering skills had to come into play. I was reading everything, and paying close attention to all announcements – which meant no headphones! If I could give you a top tip, it would be to ask. You may seem embarrassed, but people are there to help you, and some may even be in the same position as you! If, for some reason, you cannot ask, then hitch onto the airport Wi-Fi asap. You normally get the first 30minutes free, which is what you’ll need to search for directions – or possibly translating!)

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I was lucky to have been assigned a buddy who could drive, and who drove me from the airport to my apartment. He even gave me a miniature tour of the campus, a quick trip for groceries, and then helped me move in. I cannot thank Mati enough for his continued help, even to this day. If I have a question or problem, he is the guy that offers a solution. I urge you to check if your new university offers a buddy scheme, and sign up well in advance.

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So there you have it. The hard part is over. The only thing left to do is contact my family and friends to let them know I’ve arrived safe (although my constant Instagram updates would have been enough to vindicate me in any court); head to the International Meet and Greet; make friends; figure out the currency; become comfortable with my surroundings; get used to the time difference; understand the local customs; feed myself; and become ready for classes. Yeah, it seems like a lot, now I think about it, but it’s not. You just tackle each day as it comes, and solve every problem that arises, when it arises. The hard part is over, you’ve taken that first step (or 3’860 miles in my case, whatever), and the start of your once-in-a-lifetime experience begins here. Just try not to lose your luggage, your nerve, or more importantly, your voice.

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I’m back!

Carly rounds off her memorable year in Australia with her final blog post.

 

Dear readers,

I hereby write my final post as I have already returned to cold, grey England. I just thought I would give you an insight as to what my last few weeks were like, and try to conclude this blog in some way.

Graduation ceremony

JCU organises a graduation ceremony for international students each semester. Speeches, certificates, cake and champagne are all on the menu. You get given a cute gift bag with a cap and other typical Aussie goodies. Please note: this is not necessarily a formal dress event! My friends and I got very dressed up, only to find people wearing t-shirts and shorts. Oh well. Nothing wrong with being fabulous!

Exams

Four weeks of intense nightmare, you know the drill! In all seriousness it wasn’t that bad. I received extensive support from lecturers, probably even more than I needed. Isn’t it great to be able to be able to say that?

Celebrity

I was nominated by one of my teachers to meet with one of the university’s magazine columnists and chat about the experience of studying abroad. I was interviewed, recorded, and we even had an actual photography session a few days later on the esplanade, at Muddy’s playground (more authentic, early childhood education student oblige).

Tax, superannuation and TRS

Be aware that when you leave Australia, you can claim back ALL the taxes you paid, plus the superannuation that your employer contributed on your behalf, as well as the VAT (Aussies refer to that as GST) and WET (Wine Equalisation Tax) on goods worth over $300 purchased less than 60 days before departure from Australia – as long as you wear or carry the goods on board as hand luggage. This is called the Tourist Refund Scheme.
Super is basically your retirement fund. Your employer is required to contribute 9.5% of your salary to a fund of his/her choice on your behalf, when your accumulated earnings at that place of employment have reached or surpassed a certain amount. I don’t recall how much, exactly, but it’s not a lot. It’s worth noting that not only are there many superannuation funds for your employer to choose from, the amount doesn’t just sit there untouched – there are monthly fees. For this reason, if you are going to work for more than one employer, it’s worth choosing your own super fund and asking all your employers to pay into that fund. This will avoid confusion and lots of running around when it comes to claiming it back, and will also avoid any empty super accounts that have been drained by fees. Know that you cannot apply for a super refund until your visa has expired (regardless of whether or not you leave the country before it does). You can apply for your taxes back after the 30th of June or make an early tax return application. Overall I would not expect to get much super back, but when I am hoping to get around $1000 AUD in tax back.

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Facts to be aware of if you are considering Australia for your Study Abroad experience

  • It isn’t hot everywhere, all the time. In fact, you can ski in Australia. Winter months run from June to August. In Queensland the temperature would remain fairly high and the sun would keep on shining. In New South Wales you’re looking at (possible) snow and a thick scarf. Don’t make the same mistake that I did: fly from Cairns to Sydney in October and get off the plane to find it’s freezing and you haven’t packed any long-sleeved clothes! Yes, I made undue assumptions that in Australia, it’s just hot everywhere. Never assume.

 

  • Each Australian state has its different laws, policies and even time zones. Some have daylight savings and others don’t. It’s a very large country – you can pretty much fit Europe into it. To drive from the East Coast to the West coast takes about 50 hours.
    I did not see any crocodiles, cassowaries, or killer snakes and spiders. I did see snakes and spiders, but they did not want anything to do with me. Sadly, I did not see any koalas, either! I saw plenty of kangaroos though. Lots of them. And wallabies. And whales, dolphins, seals, rays, turtles and sharks (harmless ones, on the reef). The list of animals you can see in the wild in Australia is endless. For this reason I encourage you to opt for exploring in the wild over going to the zoo or on crocodile safaris on such. If you really must pay to see animals because you are dying to see a koala or other rare animal, opt for a rescue centre or somewhere that puts the money back into wildlife protection, such as the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre on Fitzroy Island.

 

  • No one really knows what ‘arvo’ means. Some’ll tell you it means afternoon, some’ll tell you it means evening. So the best answer when someone asks you if you want to go catch a movie this arvo, ask ‘em what time.

Back to the roots

I am back in homeland Brighton now, and it’s great to see friends and family. I’ve been away from home before. I’ve been a ‘traveller’ for as long as I can remember, so I can’t go into detail about how you will feel changed, specifically. The process has been ongoing for me. But what I can say is that each journey I take enables me to discover a new part of myself, something I enjoy or a potential direction to take my life in. I can tell you that there are no negatives to traveling. Nothing bad is going to happen to you. Any possible outcome is going to be positive. At the very least you will have met awesome people, come to understand the different ways that different cultures do things, and you will have become stronger and more independent. Please feel free to ask any questions or share any doubts with us, so that we may help put your mind at ease, and help you embark on the journey of a lifetime!

‘Til then, cheerio, enjoy your arvo mate.

Need to be convinced to study abroad? You won’t when you see what Carly’s been up to…

Catch up with Carly, a second-year Early Childhood and Special Education student, as she makes the most of her year abroad in Australia.

 

Hello dear readers!

Sorry it’s been a while. I did actually mean to write a post during the holidays for those of you preparing for your new Study Abroad experience starting this term, but I have been so busy … living life! Sound cheesy? But it’s true! Here’s how I spent my two months of summer holidays (Australian summer occurs during the British winter):

  • Learned to surf
  • Travelled around Bali
  • Learned to waterski, wakeboard and kneeboard (look that last one up, it’s so much fun!)
  • Tried stand-up-paddle-boarding
  • Saw whales, dolphins, snakes, spiders, kangaroos, emus and wallabies – all in the wild!
  • Camped open-air under the stars
  • Went white water rafting
  • Hiked a volcano at sunrise
  • Tried clay shooting
  • Visited countless waterfalls and swam in numerous natural water holes

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How did I manage to fit all of this in, and how did I afford it on my slim student budget? Let me explain. First of all, Australia is a prime location for flying to exotic destinations for next to nothing. Jetstar’s daily promotions and their “Happy Hour Fridays” offer flights that are a steal.

Even better, you can fly to countries that are extremely cheap, such as Bali, where a week’s worth of surfing lessons starts as low as £50. Second of all, Australia itself is home to spots of absolute unspoilt beauty at the very low cost of… free! All you need is to find a friend, rent a car and share petrol costs. There are free camping spots all over if you don’t mind spending a few days using natural springs as a substitute for a shower (I’m sure you don’t). Networking is also key. I was generously invited to stay at a friend’s place, on a farm – hence all the wild animal sightings. She and her boyfriend also own a speedboat along with all kinds of fun watersport equipment. A weekend at the lake it was!

But of course I am not just here to talk to you about Australia – you might be contemplating a different country – I am here to talk to you about studying abroad. Should you do it? Absolutely. Why? Quite simply because your everyday life will shift from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Things you never thought you would be able to do suddenly become accessible.  You will meet people who live a life or who have done things that are different to anything you’ve experienced, and have incredible stories to tell. You will grow, and you will make friends for life.

“Should you do it? Absolutely.”

Let me in the following section try to address a few concerns that have been raised by my fellow students who have emailed me asking for advice, answers and my opinion on the Study Abroad experience:

You’re worried you won’t make any friends.
Yes, traveling alone can be daunting. Perhaps you’re a little shy, reserved or simply not used to having to “put yourself out there”. Well fear not, I can guarantee you that you will make friends. Too much care has been put into place by your host university for it not to happen. Welcome events, orientation week (o-week), international o-week, barbecues, games, sports. You can even stay in the student lodge where you would share a room with others.  I’ve now attended two o-weeks for international students who are studying abroad, and not once have I seen anyone left out. By the end of the very first day, everybody is in groups. And don’t forget those people for whom it is easy to approach anyone and introduce themselves. They will be there, and they will approach you and introduce themselves. Then, if a few dozen new friends is not enough for you, you can always tune into the usual social networks such as Couchsurfing.org or Meetup.com – they tend to have regular meetups for people looking to hang out and meet new people.

You’re afraid you will feel homesick.
Hey, I won’t lie to you, that probably will happen. I get homesick, you just can’t avoid it. On the plus side, you’ll have a network of support around you; not only from both your home and host university but also from your friends (you know the new ones we just talked about), because they will be going through the same thing. So when you’re all feeling blue, you can just get together and head to a waterfall or two. That should do it. Plus, you can Skype your family and friends back home everyday if you really want to – no one’s stopping you.

You’re concerned the education system will be too different in another country.
You certainly need to be quite adaptable if you’re going to do this. A lot of things will be different: the online learning platform, acronyms and terminologies, the assessment submission procedures, administration. But again, you will receive an incredible amount of support. In 0-week we received a guided tour of the campus where we were shown the location of all the buildings and people that we might need. We also received visits from the various members of the university staff we might need at some point. We are sent regular emails keeping us upto date on what’s happening. You will also have support from your home university. Tom (UEL Study Abroad Coordinator) has been of invaluable help – I’m pretty sure he has a magician’s hat and wand that he just whips out every time I email him massively worried about one issue or another that I thought was the end of the world, because he usually just sorts it out in a tick. It’s worth noting that the credit system is quite different. In Australia you would do 8 subjects per year, as opposed to 4; that’s 4 per semester (so you have two sets of exams per year!).

I hope this clears up a few of your concerns, but if you have any particular questions that you would like to ask, please feel free to contact me via the Study Abroad office, and I will be happy to reply to any queries and add them to my next post.

In the meantime, I may be living in paradise, but the new semester is in full swing here, week 3 is coming up, and as you know, those assignments tend to creep up on you out of nowhere! Sending you hugs and sun-rays from Australia.

Kangaroos, Cairns and Quidditch

Catch up with Carly Forsaith, as she finishes her exams and gets used to life in sunny Cairns.

Hello readers! As the first term draws to a close, I finally have a little time to give you some love and attention. Although it was still a fairly close one – I’m actually on the plane back from my holidays as I write this, and school starts again tomorrow! But I’m sure you understand; I had to make sure I got as much exploring as possible crammed into my week and a half off.

I just flew to Sydney and back for less than £150. It’s a beautiful city where I got to catch up with some old friends who showed me around the famous landmarks and the less well-known spots too.  I also got to spend a few days in one of the most charming little towns I have ever been to: Berrara, a few hours South of Sydney. And for whoever thinks that traveling in Australia is expensive, my train ticket there was £4 after my student discount. My friend and his lovely little family hosted me in their house overlooking the beach on one side and a national park on the other. I hand-fed wild kangaroos that were hanging out on the front lawn (apparently they are tame from being around humans so much), saw a Python (non-venomous) and a Red-Bellied (venomous) snake. I took a morning cruise on the Tasman Sea and saw Humpback whales happily just cruising along. But the highlight has to be when my friend spontaneously offered to teach me to surf and as we swam towards the big waves on our boards, dolphins generously put on a show for us, leaping through the water and diving in and out of the waves before our very eyes. There were several pods spread across the horizon; it was truly magical.

Now how about a little update about my experience studying abroad? It is in many ways similar to studying at UEL: lectures and tutorials, independent workload of approximately 12 hours per week per subject, and a mixture of in-class and hand-in assignments and presentations, independently and in groups. However at JCU students are still required to purchase text books and physically hand in paper assignments. I do prefer reading a book over a digital file, but this can rapidly become quite expensive. My ideas for cheap alternatives are: acquiring second-hand books on campus or online (there is even a Facebook page), and photocopying/scanning required pages as the weeks go by, using the library copies (this requires organization!).

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I have taken part in a mentoring program through one of the social clubs. It involves going to a school weekly or fortnightly and helping school-aged children with sustainability projects. It is very educational and coincidentally very relevant to my degree course. The kids are super smart and have ongoing projects such as promoting the recycling of cigarette butts and boycotting over-packaged products.
JCU provides a lot of support to students in general, and even more so to international students as we benefit from access to both the regular university staff and the international team. Not that I can say I have needed the latter much. Life in Cairns is great! I have met plenty of new people, visited many new places and taken part in countless fun activities. The highlights are:

– Zoo to You, a mobile zoo that came to the university, giving us the opportunity to see and touch various wild animals.

– Skydiving over a breathtaking landscape

– Quidditch. That’s right, JCU offers many sports including the Wizarding World’s national sport.

– Countless hikes and visits to national parks/natural waterfalls. The landscape in Cairns and its surroundings has much to offer.

– Even more BBQs. Along the beaches there are barbecues available for anyone to use, and it’s free! JCU is always looking for an excuse to sizzle up some sausages (the day that exam dates were released they even made a cake and brought in an ice cream van!).

– My first live AFL match. That’s Australian Football League. It’s actually nothing like football, so don’t be fooled by the name – in fact it has more in common with rugby. And our team won (Go Cairns Saints!)

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I have now moved into a lovely flat that I share with three Aussies – they are awesome and there’s a pool! Guess what? My rent is half what it was in London. And that’s not unusual! It’s located very close to the city centre which means I get to ride my new red bike to the shops and bring fresh fruit and veggies from Rusty’s market back in my basket. Living in a place where it’s always warm is easy.

Dear readers, if you are yourself a student in the UK, I’d like to wish you good luck with your own first term that I believe has just kicked off. Until next time, g’day!

How to make it to Australia

Carly Forsaith, a Level 5 student from the Cass School of Education & Communities, explains the process of making it to Australia

This is the ‘boring’ part, so if you’re just reading this to find out what I’m up to (assuming I’ve already racked-up a fan-base) or what life in Cairns is like, you can jump to my earlier blogs here. But if you are thinking of studying abroad or living in Australia, this part will be helpful.

PART 1: BEFORE YOU LEAVE

Application Process

JCU and the Study Abroad team there were great at getting back to me and explaining things. They kept in touch with both myself and the Study Abroad team at UEL in London. Certain universities can prove difficult to contact. The deadline can creep up on you so I’d advise starting the process as early as possible. There’s a lot to do. The credit system may be different in your host country. Here in Australia, although I am in my second year my grades will not count but my credits will be transferred so I can complete my third year back in London. This means obtaining my degree depends on the grades I acquire in my third year. In Australia I will study four subjects in the first semester and four different ones in the second semester, in order to accumulate 24 credit points (8 subjects x 3 credit points), which equal to 120 UK credits. It took me a long time to get to the bottom of this as practically nowhere is it clearly explained.

There are different types of systems for studying abroad. I am taking part in an exchange program, so this applies specifically to exchange students; the process may be slightly different for other programs: selecting the subjects you will study in your host university can be a challenge. In my case, JCU did not have all the same modules that I would have been studying had I remained at UEL for my second year, so I had to select the ones that were the closest with regards to learning outcomes. This may mean I’ll have some catching up to do when I return, in which case I will have also learned things I may not have otherwise. Or it may not -depending on how independent the third year syllabus is of the second year syllabus. I suppose I will be able to give more insight into this when I’m further into my studies.

As part of your application you may need to purchase health cover for the period that you spend abroad. In my case it was compulsory and payable up front. It was quite affordable and I have already been reimbursed for that by Student Finance England (more on that later).

Once all of the above is ready, you send off your application to the university, who approve your subject choices (or, in my case, suggest certain modifications), validate your offer and send you a letter confirming your acceptance into the university, which you need in order to apply for your visa. The hardest part is over.

Visa

Applying for the visa is straight forward if you have everything ready. You may be required to undertake a medical exam if you have lived abroad within the last five years. Although I had to do this, my visa was still approved within a few days, so it is not a long process.

Flights

When to book your flight can be a difficult decision. The earlier you book, the cheaper it is, but of course if you book your flight before the various applications have been approved, you risk losing your money if it is refused. I booked mine after the university application was approved, but before the visa was granted, because I believe in positive thinking!

Money

Now here’s the interesting part. Everyone likes to be given money, right? And it’s a well-known fact that students are always broke, right? Fun fact: if you want to be better-off financially, study abroad! First of all, not only are tuition fees greatly cheaper practically everywhere in the world than in London, I’m also under the impression that it’s even further reduced for exchange students, since I am paying less than everyone that I have met so far. The cost of my tuition fee for this year is one ninth of what I would be paying in London. ONE NINTH, that’s 1/9th! Since I receive Student Finance, that’s a whole lot less I will have to pay back. What’s more, you can apply for a Student Finance Travel Grant. It’s dependent on your household income, but I was lucky enough to be approved (Ah! The benefits of not being made of money are finally showing their face!) which means that I can apply to be reimbursed for all the costs of studying abroad, after the first 300GBP, which I have had to pay out of my pocket: visa, medical exam, flight, health insurance, etc. So if you thought that you might not be able to afford studying abroad, think again: you could actually save money! They say if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Well so far, quite the opposite. My first application for reimbursement has already been approved, and the cost of my flight and my health insurance has been credited directly into my bank account.

Before you leave

JCU organized a webinar a week before my departure, which is an online, live video where someone from JCU explains all you need to do and know about to prepare for your arrival in Australia and at the university. They give you advice on what to bring and what to be wary of.

For packing, I’d say try to minimize the amount of stuff you bring over. You’re only here for a set amount of time, and I know you can’t imagine living without a single one of your ten pairs of shoes or your 6 bikini sets, your photo frames of friends and family and your ornaments to make your room feel like home, but 30kg (or 20kg, if you’re unlucky like me) adds up quickly, and they’ll all be waiting for you when you get back. My rule that I usually try to stick by is bring 2 of each item of clothing and accessories and after that only bring what you can’t buy or would be too expensive to buy where you’re going (I’m thinking my GHDs, my Clinique foundation, etc.).

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PART 2: ARRIVAL

 

Starting off in a new country and a new university can seem daunting – with a huge to-do list and knowing so few (if any) people, it’s hard to know how you’re ever going to make it to the bottom. But for me it’s not so bad – it helps to be surrounded by helpful people.

Arriving & organising your new life

Stuff you might need to do shortly after arriving, depending where you’re living, include: getting your student ID, organizing your lecture and workshop timetable, getting your health insurance card, opening a bank account, getting a SIM card, finding out about public transport.

JCU offered several time-slots for collecting your student ID, that treasured possession that officialises your presence in this new place, and gets you invaluable discounts everywhere. I went to the first slot, assuming it would be packed because everyone else would have decided to do the same thing. There was a small queue when I arrived, but I was seen within five minutes. I had a friendly chat with the guy who took my photo, and a few minutes later: my card was ready. Sweet!

Timetable! This matter was slightly more complicated. In London, your modules and class times are pre-assigned as part of the course you choose. Here, each lecture is repeated once and each tutorial (or workshop) is repeated up to 4 times. So you can choose the days and times that best suit you – but it can be hard to get your head around. I went to the student office to ask for help, hoping they could give me a few pointers. I left half an hour later with my entire timetable for the next semester completely planned out, all set up so my classes are grouped together, and with a step-by-step to-do-list of the few remaining things I needed to do over the coming days. It was wonderful! Everyone knows that admin is the most painful thing in life. The simplest thing can take hours of headaches and spilt blood.

Remember the days when your mum would just cook your dinner, make your bed, take you to school, you never had to think about anything? That’s what my first week has felt like. Like you’re at the bottom of a huge mountain, preparing yourself for how much hard work it’s going to take to reach the summit – and then someone flies over in a helicopter and grabs you with a giant one of those grab stick things and just drops you off at the top.

Getting a SIM card is pretty easy. You don’t even need any ID if you’re getting pay-as-you-go.

Opening a bank account is also fairly straight forward. You need your ID and an address. Then you get to choose between three colours for your debit card. I’m getting a PINK debit card y’all!! Apparently you need a different account if you’re planning to work but I haven’t decided yet whether I will. Let’s see how the finances go. Which brings me to my next point.

Cost of living

So far, having come from London, everything is cheaper. The rents of places I have checked out so far average around 100-130 AUD, but bear in mind I am looking at ‘nice’ places. One of them had a pool and another a volleyball net in the backyard. I believe you can get a room in a shared house for as cheap as 70AUD. Alcoholic drinks in bars seem to be around the same prices as London, except during happy hour and at the uni bar, which is 2AUD for a half pint! Also, a bottled beer on the boat to Green Island was 5AUD. The bus costs 3.80AUD for a day pass if you present your student ID. I spent 80AUD at the supermarket the other day, and for that I got some shampoo and conditioner and other cosmetics, fresh food to make meals and the good fruit juices (90% or more of actual fruit – can’t put up with that sugary stuff you can get for cheap). On that subject, they’ve got some really fun juices. The two I picked up were apple and strawberry, and mango and passion fruit.

Signing off

Well I think that’s it for now. I hope that this has cast any doubt you might have had about studying abroad. If it hasn’t, I challenge you to think about what you have done this week. I’m sure you’ve had a great week; you probably spent time with family or friends, you might have gone shopping and bought yourself something nice. Maybe you stayed home and watched TV with a cup of tea because that’s what you like to do. Hey, that’s great, I love to do that stuff too. But how would you feel about spending a week in the tropics, meeting a bunch of open-minded people, going on a day-cruise with new friends, snorkelling and sighting fish more colourful than the rainbow, trying new food and discovering a new city where it’s always warm, everyone smiles and says hello?

If there’s anything I haven’t covered and that you would like to know about, feel free to contact me via the Study Abroad office at UEL. I would love to help anyone have the opportunity to experience living abroad, and to study abroad. So far it has been an incredible experience: I have met more people in this first week than I’ve ever met before in a single week, and the people who are a part of your time away from home are extremely important – they become your family away from home and go through all the same highs and lows as you, so you can be there for each other and live the experience together.