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
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.
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.
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!
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.).
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.
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.