Reflections on my time abroad…

By Dinah Whitear (University of Melbourne, Australia).

So I’ve finally come to the end of my semester here at Melbourne University. And it has been quite some experience. If I were to rewind 4 months from now, I would find a very nervous, not-so-well-travelled, girl: me. Everyone has a different reason/motive to go out and do something, and for me, studying abroad was a chance to push myself outside of my comfort zone. And there’s no doubt that I did just that…

Personally, Melbourne University brought many challenges to my plate. The structure of their degrees, for starters, is quite different to how my degree is structured back home. And that’s not too much of a surprise – of course if universities within the same country vary considerably, universities across different countries are, too, going to have very different rules to what you are used to. So this change is something you should expect. Adjusting to the system here for one semester only has been quite testing and I do feel as though I have had to have quite a high turn-around to be able to go from one academic system to the next within one year (it will probably take a little while to get back into Manchester’s way of life when I go back home too). However, this in itself is a very valuable experience to go through and may actually help to show employers that you are adaptable and can take on the challenge of a different culture. So this has been a positive. One thing I would suggest is to make sure you know exactly what you’re going to be doing abroad in terms of course units, and make sure you have discussed this thoroughly with your programme director at Manchester beforehand, so that you are both clear of what you’ve got to do. I think this is probably where I have found things the hardest – matching up course units so that I don’t miss out on anything vital has been tricky, and has actually meant that I have to do a few of Manchester’s modules on top of my full-set of credits here in Melbourne. This will obviously vary for degree programmes but is something to consider. And of course the time difference and not being able to just pop into University back at home makes things harder as you have to rely on the relay of information by email, which can be long. However, experiencing university at a different institution can make you realise what you’re missing out on at your own home university. For example, the on-campus activities at Melbourne university are far from few! There is always something going on, and that is great! There is so much free food on campus, and as a student, or anyone for that matter, this can really make a difference to your day! Of course, in true Aussie style and their love for BBQ’s, sausages and veggie burgers are the cuisine most up for grabs, and I’ve no doubt had my fair share!

I think it’s also important to remember that you do actually have to do some work. I know most people think that just because you’re abroad at another university means you mustn’t have any work to do, but especially for me coming for a semester where my grades count towards my degree, there is a very difficult work-play balance to juggle. Again, this takes some skill to master, but is another one of those things you could say you learnt to develop when talking to future employers! I only say this because you’d probably be quite wrong in thinking that it’s going to be easy studying abroad – all you have to do is get there and you don’t have to worry about anything but going out and having fun, right? Hmmm, studying abroad has definitely put a strain even on my organisational skills as there are a lot of applications/deadlines to do before you even get there! I think this is all part of the process, though, and has helped me to learn a lot about being pro-active and independent and just taking things as they come.

It’s strange because I don’t feel as though it’s just Australia that I’ve travelled to. Meeting so many other international students from all walks of the world has definitely made this experience even more of a cultural one! My roommate was Australian, which I’m so glad for as I feel as though I’ve got to learn about other parts of Australian culture that you can only really get from actually being friends with an Australian! I’ve also met some other great Australians, but aside from that, I have met and made friends with people from all over the world – North Americans, Scandinavians, Asians, other fellow Europeans, to name but a few! This has definitely widened my view point on many aspects of life, and in a weird way makes the world seem a lot smaller and less daunting than I had previously thought. Also, it now gives me the excuse to go and do more travelling and visit all these people!

For me, travelling played a big role in why I wanted to study abroad, but since being here, I’ve realised there’s more to moving away from home than just travelling. Trying to avoid being as cheesy as possible, I will say this: moving away from home for any amount of extended time, whether it’s for a semester or for a year, definitely brings its challenges, but it’s that that gives you the space to grow a bit more than what you may have done at uni back home. Being in Australia is pretty much as far away from home as I could get. I didn’t really have the option to go back home, even if I wanted to. But I’m glad I did it. Now anywhere I go in the world, anything I do, will seem that little bit much easier, as I have now been there and done that.

The other side to studying abroad

By Dinah Whitear (University of Melbourne, Australia).

For many of you, studying abroad will not just be about the studying. You will no doubt want to travel and explore the country you will be calling home for a few months. For me personally, living in Melbourne has been quite different to how I had originally expected it to be. For starters, I was warned by family that live in Perth, a city on the Western side of Australia, that if I was going to Melbourne for the weather, I might as well stay in England! I laughed it off, saying it can’t be that bad and although it isn’t strictly true, he hasn’t been too far off! Going to study abroad in Australia, I imagined myself strolling off to the beach after lectures, barefoot, watching the sun set in some beach shorts and a t-shirt. Although this may be the case for some exchange students in other parts of Australia, I have to say this hasn’t quite been the case for me in Melbourne. This is mainly due to the fact that for the majority of my semester it has been either Winter or Spring, but also as a result of Melbourne’s very Southern location in the country. For those of you who feel I have shattered your daydreams of beaches and Sun, fear not, because there are still so many great things about Melbourne as a city that do make it, I have to say, 100 times better than the city of Manchester! (And also, weather is really picking up at the moment –  we’ve had a few 30 degree days recently, and it’s only Spring!) So in search for some true Australian experiences, I began to plan some weekend trips that would get me away from the city for a while (like any big city – and Melbourne is noticeably bigger than Manchester – it’s nice to venture away from the hustle and bustle for a few days),and it would also give me the chance to explore more of the surrounding area.

First up on my checklist was a surf trip. I knew right before I came here that joining the University’s surf club was top of my list. It goes without saying that Australia is pretty well known for the water sport and so was something I couldn’t go home without trying! So when the opportunity came about, I signed up for a surf trip as part of the club that meant going to ‘Apollo Bay’ along the Great Ocean Road for a weekend. The Great Ocean Road is known to be one of the world’s most scenic drives and is an Australian National Heritage, and I fully recommend! We had to take a train to get closer to the coastline but once we were there we caught a coach to the backpackers’ accommodation the surf club had arranged. The drive there was beautiful – we were basically driving on the beach we were that close to the sea! So the next day involved about a 20 minute guide to surfing by the surf club (they were pretty chilled out about the fact there were roughly 30-40 of us going out into the sea to surf for the first time!) and with that, it was our turn to give it a go! I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, but after a while, I came to the conclusion that surfing isn’t as hard as it looks. Well, I couldn’t actually stand up – crouching onto my feet was as far as I got, but this was my first time and we had only been in the water for about two hours, so I felt like I had achieved something. We went back in the next day, but this time to the harder side of the beach, and that’s when I appreciated the fitness required for such a sport – the waves were so much more powerful and more frequent this time, I did kind of feel like I was being beaten up, but nevertheless, it was a very fun experience! So overall I had a really enjoyable time at Apollo Bay – it was a very lovely, peaceful town surrounded by some beautiful countryside. If any of you get the chance to go, I’d definitely recommend it!

ImageApollo Bay 

So after a little taster of the Great Ocean Road, me and some other exchange students decided that this time we wanted to go further along the stretch of coastline to reach the ’12 Apostles’ (a collection of limestone stacks just off the coastline – there are in fact fewer than 12 now, although they do still call it that) and also to discover some more around the area. This time we decided to rent our own campervans through a company called ‘Wicked’ and that was definitely an experience to say the least! So a few days of our spring break was spent driving and sleeping in these vans, camping style. It did definitely involve leaving all those luxuries at home, let alone having to get away from technology as all our phones began dying on us, and with nowhere to really charge them up, we were left facebook-free and un-contactable for a little while, which was nice! So with very few plans in mind, we all set off for an adventure. Unfortunately, a few hours into the drive, the clouds began looming and before we knew it, we were parked up in some car park, rain chucking it down, with a dead battery in one of the vans. How did this happen?! Luckily, we had guys on our trip with us who knew a thing or two about cars and once the rain had cleared up, had to jump start one of the vans. This misfortune was a recurring theme on our road trip it has to be said. With pretty awful weather, rickety vans and nowhere to camp, we were setting ourselves up for a challenge. Looking back, it is a hilarious story to tell and just shows that not all things go to plan (not that we did have much of one to start with!). But these are all good stories and we had an experience nonetheless!

ImageRainy start to the Great Ocean Road

Despite the challenge of the previous road trip, me and a few other friends decided to embark on another weekend trip just before the start of exams, this time to Tasmania! Tasmania is a State island just off mainland  Australia. We got a cheap ish flight over there with JetStar (one of the main budget airlines within Australia) and collected our campervans once we got there. We were very nervous of the weather, knowing how much it impacted last time, but we couldn’t have been more lucky! With the Sun shining, we could go out and appreciate the beautiful island of Tasmania, and it really was amazing! I had the best time there! I didn’t quite realise how scenic the country is, but with so many National Parks, we were spoilt for choice! On the first day, we set off to Freycinet National Park, where we did a few walks and visits to various beaches. The next day involved a sea kayak around one of the well-known bays, ‘Cole’s Bay’. We then headed back down in the direction of Hobart, the main city of Tasmania, and stopped by at Mt Field National Park, where we were immersed in a rainforest with amazing waterfalls. We then went down to the city itself and visited a much-talked about museum – the ‘Museum of Old and New Art’, better known as ‘MONA’. Not much of an artist myself, I found this a very interesting experience, in fact quite disturbing as ‘modern art’ was really taken to the next level! As an example, they had an artificial digestive system as one of the pieces, something that they actually fed and left to excrete in much the same way as a human body – I can’t say it smelt very nice in there, that’s for sure! At the end of an amazing weekend jam-packed full of stunning  beaches, bays and mountains galore, it was time to head home for the start of the dreaded exam period. It has to be said, though, that after a few days well-spent amongst all the nature Tasmania had to offer, revision was made that little bit easier.


Postcard-perfect Tasmania 

So I hope this blog has helped you to realise the number of opportunities you get to go travelling even whilst studying abroad. It has to be said that I have had a lot of work to do, but when you’re in such an amazing country as Australia, you’d be crazy not to take time out and go and explore.  The above trips are the three main long trips I’ve had, but there are also so many day trips to get involved in too! We spent a day at an animal park on one weekend, which was so amazing! That was when I got to see my first kangaroo and koala, and I absolutely loved it! They are so much cuter in real life when you get to go up and feed them and get so close! Since then, I have seen a fair number of wild Australian animals and that really is the advantage of going on road trips, where you can stop off anywhere you like if you spot something you want to go and see closer. And I still feel like this is just the beginning. With exams almost coming to an end, it’s fair to say I’ve got my time-off before coming back to Manchester pretty booked up! With an East Coast trip of Australia all finalised and booked, I am hopefully going to be spending the whole of my end of November/December seeing some more exciting parts of Australia, and I can’t wait!

Academic Experiences in Melbourne

By Dinah Whitear (University of Melbourne, Australia).

So I’m about half way through my semester here at Melbourne University and I’d say it’s about time to talk about the academic side to my exchange here…

Tomorrow will mark the start of my 9th week here at Melbourne Uni, and with only about 3-4 weeks of teaching period left, I’d say this semester has flown by! It actually scared me when someone said to me the other day ‘so you’re almost done here then’, when I said I was only here for a semester, and I guess it’s true! Well, almost done my actual study period – I’ve made sure I’ve left myself a good month and a bit of travelling time here in Australia afterwards so I won’t be jetting back home anytime soon that’s for sure! So for those of you looking to study at Melbourne Uni, you may be interested to know what it’s like and how the academic aspect differs with Manchester. Well, obviously I can only speak for my subject – I study neuroscience back home at Manchester but am part of the ‘bachelor of science’ degree here at Melbourne (I will explain why later) – but there may be some general aspects that apply to your degree too.

So firstly, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m part of the ‘bachelor of science’ degree here at Melbourne. This is an important point to consider because Melbourne uni, like most other Australian and American unis I think, structure their degrees rather differently – instead of having to choose such a specialised degree from the start of your course, you usually only have to apply for a broad degree like ‘science’ and then you will only have to specialise at the later stage of your degree. So, if I were you I’d get in touch with Melbourne to find out what area exactly you should be looking to apply for because otherwise it can get rather confusing!

Another thing I’ve had to get my head around is the fact that their degrees are four years here, and that’s not including an honours. That means their first year here is much like our last year at college before we go to university, their second year much like our first year at university, and so on. This may mean you may find some overlap in the subject matter in the courses you study here in comparison to Manchester but, as I said, this may only apply to my course and I’m not sure what it would be like in other ones. For this reason, I chose to mix and match the level of my course – I’m a second year student and decided to do three second-year level courses here and then one third-year level course. I have so far found this quite challenging, but in a good way. I do feel that when I go back to Manchester I will be better prepared for the demand of work since the third-year courses here are assessed in a similar way to the third-year courses back home; as a science student I am not used to doing many essays, but my third-year course is in fact 80% essay-based. I guess I do feel pretty intimidated by this but am hoping it’ll all be okay with some hard work!

I have found the lectures here a little different to those at Manchester – I think the class size is slightly smaller, but the main difference being the intimacy of the lectures. I was used to having lecturers standing further away in our lecture halls at Manchester (in my classes anyway) – here, however, I find that they are practically on the first row! As a consequence of this closeness, I have to admit that I have found napping in lectures a lot harder! I don’t think I’ve seen a single person fall asleep here at Melbourne! I guess it’s a good thing and has taught me to switch on that’s for sure!

I’d say the assessment, and therefore the workload, is quite different here for my course as well- for starters, I’ve had mid-semester tests, and quite a lot of them to say the least! This has meant that I’ve had to work a bit more consistently throughout the semester, something I have to admit I wasn’t at first used to. I think it works out quite well though as it means there is less cramming at the end of the semester and means you’re probably better prepared. I’ve had a lot of weekly online tests too -something I am used to back in Manchester – but the style of some has taken some adapting to! Here they do things called ‘blogs’, where it’s almost an online forum with several other classmates where you are assessed for your discussion over a certain topic.

Something I have found dramatically different here, though, is practicals. In Manchester, the life sciences subjects are very lab-based. Here, I’ve had a total of 6 practicals in the whole semester, and that really is nothing in comparison to back home! They don’t seem to have a compulsory practical element like Manchester do, unless you specifically choose a practical-based module. It depends what you’re looking for, but for me, I’ve quite enjoyed the fact that I don’t have to do labs so frequently and the ones that I do do are pretty cool! I’m doing an anatomy module and so we’ve been designated four time slots throughout the semester where we spend some time in a dissection room – for me this was a real draw to Melbourne as I wouldn’t have had the chance to do this back in Manchester. I have found it really interesting and am so glad I’ve had the opportunity to do something I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

So yeah, overall, I would say there are some differences, but in general I wouldn’t say it’s too much of a shock in comparison to the academic lifestyle we’re used to back in Manchester – apparently it’s a lot harder for the American students to get used to because they’re used to a different way of learning. The campus here is great though, such a nice environment to be in – more of a campus feel than a city, little bit more green and so much going on all the time! Although the libraries don’t have as accessible opening hours as those back in Manchester, you learn to work around it and the facilities really are good – I’ve had to get used to working with macs, as that’s pretty much all they use here!!

As a last tip, I’d say make sure you have a good look into all the different course options on offer to you – it is pretty important to make sure you find something you think you will really enjoy! Good luck!

Settling into a new home…

By Dinah Whitear (University of Melbourne, Australia).

The bustling life of a study abroad student means unfortunately it has been a while since I last posted. However, I’m back in action and ready to continue from where I left off…

So, after spending a few days in the comfort of a familiar friend’s home, it was now time to break away from the known and take my first steps into what I would be calling home for the next few months – student halls. These halls were something that I had pre-organised before coming to Australia. I had pondered over the subject of accommodation for quite some time and eventually came to the decision that ‘RMIT village’ – the said ‘halls’ – would be the best option for me. As I am only here for a semester, I wanted to make the most of every second and so I decided against finding a house share upon arrival as not only is the thought very daunting, I also wanted to be a part of a social atmosphere where I could meet lots of students, and I have definitely found that here! Of course there are other options regarding accommodation and it’s worth having a good look into – I would recommend going onto your chosen university’s website where I’m sure they’ll have a lengthy list of different options for you to consider. My place here is pretty cool – not only do we have an outdoor heated pool, a fully inclusive gym and a lounge, but the committee here organise a fair amount of events throughout the semester too. Something that is quite different to the student accommodation in England is that pretty much all of the rooms are room-shares, in that you have a roommate! I was quite apprehensive about this at first, but come to think of it I really wouldn’t like it any other way! I was fortunate enough to get an Australian roommate – something I really wanted because I think it’s important to remember where you are in the world and actually get immersed in the culture etc.! One thing that did take me by surprise is that the rooms here don’t have an oven (my roommate and I share a small kitchen and bathroom). I literally did a double-take when I first realised – it basically means no easy meals.

The view from my balcony (yes I have a balcony, and yes this is Australia’s winter!)

Accommodation aside, I spent the first week getting to know the people in the village – there was something called ‘o-week’, basically the equivalent of England’s fresher’s, and that was a great chance to meet the people I would be living with. The people I met in this week are still pretty much the friends I hang out with now. What was great is that they organised a few trips to orientate ourselves around the city – I got my first glimpse of the whole city and I was gradually learning to love it! The skyscrapers at night never fail to amaze me – they look so stunning! As the first couple of weeks went on I was beginning to learn the ins and outs of the city – don’t get me wrong, it took a bit of time and I’m still learning the names of the streets even now, but eventually you get there and that’s when you feel so chuffed that you’ve moved away to become a part of such a cool city! I swear it still hasn’t hit me! I think I’m gradually working out what Melbourne as a city is famous for; firstly, the amazing food and drink outlets (for anyone that knows me, it wouldn’t surprise them that this is my first thing on the list!) – but seriously, it takes so much willpower to resist the amazing smells you get as you walk down pretty much any street! For any coffee-lovers, Melbourne is the place to be! I’ve spoken to a few people who work in the cafes here, and to emphasise the lengths Melbourne goes to to produce top-quality coffee, they actually hire people just to pour milk! Only the very senior members of staff are actually allowed to make the coffee, because the standard here is just that high! Unfortunately though, coffee really is not my cup of tea so I don’t think I can appreciate it to the extent that some people do. I don’t mind though, because the food certainly makes up for it! Name any type of cuisine and they’ll have it here – known to be a very multicultural city, they even have designated precincts for particular cuisine. Lygon street, for example, is known as the Italian precinct and has an amazing variety of restaurants and ice-cream parlours! There’s even a China town here! And those are just a few of the many examples! Melbourne is also known to be pretty quirky, with many downtown alleys with impressive graffiti art, lots of very cool street artists offering an array of talent, and just generally it has a very lively and fun atmosphere, with so much going on all the time – it’s pretty hard to keep up with it all!

Melbourne in all it’s glory
Impressive street art

The second week in then involved taking my first look at the University I’d be studying at for a semester. I went along with a few people from my halls, but you gradually get broken off as you sit in on welcome talks for your particular subject area. I was pretty impressed with the campus at Melbourne I have to say! Usually with a city you expect everything to be so far apart, but unlike Manchester, the main Parkville campus means the majority of the university buildings are found within 10 minutes of each other, but most importantly, there are actually places to hang out on campus. The student union completely blew my mind! Again, not only was the food there amazing, but they have so many quirky places to just relax, with bean bags in the ‘library’ and a bar upstairs, bands playing outside in the sun, and so many free bbqs!! It really is a great place to be! I’d say what I found hardest about enrolement here was the fact you had to sort out your whole timetable practically by yourself! I was quite used to just having one pre-made for me but this time I actually had to register for particular classes, as well as sort out clashes and things that I had never really thought about before! It’s okay though because as an exchange student, you can easily pull out the ‘I have no idea what’s happening’ card and of course the staff are so willing to help!

South Lawn, on Melbourne uni campus

It may take a little while to get used to things but as you realise just how much there really is on offer, it’s so exciting! I’ve so far joined the surfing club, as well as the wakeboarding/waterskiing club, and I’m even considering volleyball! I’d say the best thing to do is get involved in as much as you can, especially in things that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do back home, because let’s face it, when would you ever want to join a surfing club back in Manchester??!

The time has finally come!

By Dinah Whitear (University of Melbourne, Australia).

A few days to go…

So, with a few days to go, it’s no surprise that I’m feeling pretty anxious about my upcoming trip to Australia. I have left packing VERY last minute. It’s strange because when I first went to uni, I was packing weeks before I actually had to go, with list upon list of things to remember. Now I’m leaving not just my home town to travel a few hours up North, but in fact the whole of the Northern hemisphere will be behind me as I set off to travel the furthest I’ve ever been without the chance to pop back home if I forget something…and I haven’t even packed a thing! My main issue has been deciding whether to take a big rucksack, like a proper backpacker, or just a big suitcase – I have now decided to combine the two so that I have the rucksack for when I want to travel, but then I also have the extra space of a suitcase to keep me happy. I think in general I am quite in denial about the whole thing – it all seems very surreal and I’m just too scared to say all the horrible goodbyes because then it starts getting real. I’m just relying on the blessing of modern technology to get by – at least I know I’m just a skype call away from friends and family when I get out there! It’s also quite depressing because the weather has been so nice here recently – around 30°C most days and I’ve been monitoring the weather over in Melbourne and it’s really not looking that great – pretty overcast and very chilly at nights, of course it is winter though! I haven’t bought many new things for going away, I don’t really have the space in my luggage to be able to do so! I’ve been advised not to take things like toiletries and towels as, not only do they take up valuable space, but they are easily bought abroad as well. One investment I have made, however, is in a nice new bridge camera. I have never really had a good camera before and so I’m definitely looking forward to learning how to use it!

 Few days in…

All I can say is: I really am happy to be off that plane – I’ve never really been too keen on flying, and I thought that, being a long haul flight, the conditions on board would be slightly improved, even for economy…boy was I wrong!! I flew with Etihad airways and was told by a friend that this was one of the best airways she had flown with, so I was relatively excited to just sit down and let the movies roll on. As soon as I got on the plane, I saw these plush, roomy seats, almost like little cubicles –  I was so relieved – maybe this flight wasn’t going to be so bad after all!! But, as I excitedly looked for my seat, I found that I was gradually moving quite far down the aisle –  I then looked up and realised –  I was of course admiring the first class seats, and my not so nice seat was located a bit further down, cramped together with many other not so nice seats. Gutted. All in all, the journey was a pretty confusing one – not helped with the fact that the blinds were pulled down most of the time so I felt like I was in a time travelling machine or something. The strangest part was when I had dinner, decided to get some sleep, woke up to air hostesses coming round with food, expecting breakfast, but was so confused when a tray of dinner was placed in front of me again – I was craving cereal! I have been fortunate enough to have been put in touch with my friend’s Auntie and Uncle who live in Melbourne – they have been very kind and welcoming and offered to put me up for a few nights in their house in the suburbs of Melbourne. It has been so nice as I would say the first few days are the toughest – it doesn’t really hit you straight away, but gradually you realise just how far away from the comfort of home you really are. I think this is pretty usual though, and I’m looking forward to getting in the swing of things at university, and life in Australia in general.

I will keep you posted about the settling in in Australia as soon as I can 🙂