Arriving Down Under!

By Serena Graham (University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia).

After all the waiting and anticipation I’m finally in Australia! I probably should have written this sooner but I’ve been so busy since I’ve been here, so here’s a recap of everything that’s happened so far.

My journey here consisted of 3 parts: Birmingham to Dubai, Dubai to Singapore, and Singapore to Brisbane. In total it took over 24 hours to get here and I am thankful that I won’t have to do this journey again for a whole year! It was very tiring and since I was travelling alone it seemed to last days. Luckily, the in-flight entertainment was pretty good so I was able to watch a few films to distract myself from the turbulence. For anyone who’s planning to visit Dubai airport: it is massive! I spent about 2 hours circling round the airport trying to find my departure gate, only to find out I actually had to get a train to the other side of the airport! On the last plane of my journey I happened to be sat next to two other exchange students so I made some friends before even arriving.

When I finally got to Brisbane airport, I had to wait another couple of hours because there was not enough room in the transfer bus for everyone to fit in. Luckily my mum had paid for me to stay in a hotel for my first two nights here so I had the chance to catch up on all the sleep I had missed. I then moved into a YHA hostel which was where a few other students from Manchester were staying. As far as hostels go it was pretty good – very clean, safe and the staff were extremely friendly and helpful. They even had a pool, although it was far too cold to use. I was sharing a room with 3 other girls, so it was quite hard to get some sleep (I’m pretty sure one of them was sleepwalking in the middle of the night!).

After meeting up with other UoM students, we went house hunting together. We loved the first house we viewed and moved in a couple days later. Unfortunately we had somehow failed to notice the various holes in the ceilings/walls and didn’t even acknowledge the fact that there was no oven! The house is in an ideal location, it’s a student area just minutes away from Indooroopilly shopping centre (I’m still unsure how to pronounce it- many of the towns in Brisbane originate from Australian Aboriginal language e.g. Toowong, Woolloongabba, Mount Coot-tha).

Once we had settled into our house, we decided to go to the Koala Sanctuary which isn’t far from where we live. I would definitely recommend going there; it had a wide range of animals, from lizards and snakes to wombats and kangaroos. I got to cuddle a koala and managed to get a selfie with a kangaroo!

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We also visited Southbank, which is a beautiful place by the river, within walking distance from the city centre. There are various food and clothes markets there at  weekends and a great little man-made beach.

noodle market in Southbank
Noodle market in Southbank

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Some advice for anyone planning to visit Australia: you will probably be warned about the ‘drop bears’. They look similar to koalas but are extremely dangerous and tend to attack by dropping down onto their victim from trees, targeting foreigners in particular. Don’t be as gullible as I was – they are completely fictitious and this is a common prank Australians play on tourists to scare them!

Studying at UQ

by Karl Vikat (University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia)

You got to know a little bit about my travels and enough time has passed now to cast some light on the academic side of university life.

As in Manchester, I have been able to organise my week in a way so that I got lectures and tutorials Monday to Wednesday, with the rest of the week off for independent study. Therefore, Monday is especially packed, as tutorials here are generally planned to follow the lectures immediately. This makes it more convenient, in the way that you’ll necessarily be doing your readings for the lectures already, come more prepared, and won’t be able to wait for the ‘tuts’ to come around. Yet, this also entails that days with two blocks of lectures can get pretty tiresome towards the end of the 6 hours.

The lectures tend to be more interactive at UQ, as lecturers encourage discussions and allow them to go on for a substantial amount of time, with the lecture essentially turning into a seminar. However, the more ‘classical’ IR, security lectures follow less this discursive approach.

Some lecture recordings are made available only after all lectures have been completed. Since the powerpoint slides are seldom packed with information, the course convenors that apply this tactic obviously encourage more people to come. Although this can be annoying if it clashes with other obligations, I have found it to be a better solution than simply creating an audio/visual companion that incentivises absenteeism and renders a lecture theatre virtually redundant. For that purpose, some courses at UQ have the option of ‘external’ courses, where the lecture material becomes available immediately and tutorials are replaced by short analyses of key texts. A number of my courses have also had guest lecturers come in from either Griffith University (another uni in Brisbane), or have had politically engaged academics present specific issues.

Immensely more convenient than in Manchester is the submission of assignments, as no hard copy submission is required, and Turnitin alone does the trick already. Also, taking a nap outside on the greenery is a much more realistic option than in Manchester. Whereas late autumn brings cold winds, mud and freezing temperatures in the Northwest, Brisbane’s mild climate allows you to leisurely lay on one of the many green pitches, still now in May.

When it comes to the workload, then Manchester has the advantage over UQ, as every course has an additional assignment, beyond the essay, tutorial and exam mark. This means that, although I did not have mid-terms, I was writing on the extra assignments, instead of preparing for the major essays. Managing that with the extra assignment I still had from Manchester made for quite an intense week and a half. Next up are essays, every week from the end of April to the first week of June.

Worth mentioning is also the weekly movie screenings put on by the POLSIS (Politics&InternationalStudies) department, where a faculty member presents a certain movie, followed by a little discussion/analysis session later on. Compared to Manchester, these events are more regular and enjoy a greater attendance and arguably more enthused viewership. In one case, we even had the opportunity to skype with the director afterwards. On other occasions, researchers have been able to share their expertise on the context of the issues treated in the films.

Getting to class is easy, just a 5 minute bus ride away, and the campus is very well connected with two main bus stops catering to the Western, and Eastern suburbs respectively. The spaciousness of Australia also allows for more breathing room in the city, as houses are larger and less squeezed than in the UK. Well after all, Australia ranks 235th compared to the UK’s 53rd place in population density.

The University campus houses a plethora of coffee shops, a smoothie bar, Pizza café, bar, food court and even a cinema. On another note, what squirrels are to Manchester campus, big yellow lizards, i.e. Eastern Water Dragons are to UQ. Doves are replaced by large ibises and Noisy miners, who sneak up whenever you’re putting on your best cookie monster impersonation, also apparently another campus even hosts a wild koala.

So there’s a little something about the working-part of uni,

You’ll hear from me again soon,

Karl

Surfers’ & Straddie

By Karl Vikat (University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia).

Lightly sparse news on the blog lately, times have been really busy, but I have been able to collect some notes and reminisce about the last month in the process, so that hopefully you’ll get a good feeling of what’s been going on.

The first weeks were loaded with socializing and meeting a great number of fellow exchange students and local Aussies. I spent the Sochi ice-hockey finals surrounded by a sea of red, joyous Canadians, celebrating a double threepeat with their women and men both winning gold to a tune of ‘O Canada’.

On the second weekend I finally got a look outside the city into close by Gold Coast, Surfer’s Paradise; WP_20140223_001Essentially the surfer’s hub, with a sand strip as far as the eye can see, reaching all the way to neighbouring Gold Coast (the city) and beyond. At Surfers’, we spent the day on the beach, rejoicing from the warm ocean waters and the surf breaking along the coastline.

 

In the afternoon, shortly before we were leaving, a triple rainbow over the Pacific Ocean emerged for a minute. WP_20140223_003Although imprinted in our memories, none of us had a lense wide enough to capture the mystical triad. Also, the cloud cover by then couldn’t do much to prevent the foreseeable consequence of not applying my sunscreen generously enough – yes, clearly I do understand now why Australians are so serious about it. In terms of our return; it is a quite convenient feature of trips into the well-connected area around Brisbane, that once you have done your daily bus trips to uni during the week, trips on the weekend are free.

In ‘O-week’ I had to sit through the standard introductory talks, however, since it’s Australia, they we’re spiced up with references to seriously deadly minuscule beings – spiders, jellyfish, frogs, snakes. Good to know that there is a jellyfish, the size of the thumbnail, whose sting will cause you two weeks of intense pain, that all the morphine in the world can’t soothe. Of course, we were also made aware of the red-yellow flag rule. Taking into account the considerable force the pull of the waves exert that I got to experience first-hand in Surfer’s Paradise, one might want to refrain from swimming out into the ocean with no lifeguard in sight. WP_20140228_021After all, these are some of the sweetest spots to work in that profession, so the competition should guarantee that your life is in good hands, as long as you mind the flags.

The week after, I headed out to North Stradbrooke Island, the second largest sand island in the world, located in Moreton Bay. Just a couple hours from Brisbane, we took the ferry over the bay to ‘Straddie’ and found ourselves a misty and humid sight, with the intense green of the rainforest shining over the island in a light drizzle. Its location off the coast and open to the winds of the ocean gives it a distinct climate, its refreshing morning coolness being particularly appreciated coming from still scorching Brisbane.

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Whereas on arrival, Friday, we had to recharge our batteries by spending some time strolling and relaxing on the beach, recovering from the week behind us, the weekend was filled with veritable marches across the island.

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Still, on Friday evening we headed out to Point Lookout, the northern tip of the island, where water has been lashing against rocks for millennia, carving out gorges and a coastline of smooth rocks.

 

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In the surrounding forest, I first got to see kangaroos – we had previously mocked the seemingly misleading brochures at the hostel, picturing kangaroos and koalas, doubting we would see any on the island.  WP_20140228_050

Considering that if they have not been brought over here by humans, these families must have had innumerable ancestors living off the same land here for eons. It was great seeing them grazing, hopping and even boxing (!) in the wild, before encountering their lazy counterparts in the zoo.

On Saturday, we made our way up sandy hills and parts of forest that were draped in the black of charcoal due to bushfires that had ravaged the island in January, to a rather peculiar lake. Bummeira, or Brown Lake, is a freshwater lake whose water sports a particularly smooth quality and brown colour. Surrounded by tea trees, their leaves sicker through on to the ground, and paint the water a distinct bronze.

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After a swim and an invigorating meal of our weekend staple, roasted bread, and luxurious barbeque chicken we decided to call it a day and make our way back to finish the day off at the beach. We saved about 2h30 of what would have been a strenuous return journey, had it not been for a helpful local, himself still jetlagged from a recent journey to the Czech Republic, giving us a lift to the city alongside his crossbreed whelp. The following morning, when hiking to Amity Point, the first (and originally failed) European settlement on the island on Sunday, we had less luck than previously with fauna sighting and came across a dead koala on our path, who, it seemed, had just recently held on to the wrong branch and suffered a fatal fall. His relative, well and alive, dubbed Stevie by a fellow hiker-group who had also set out from our hostel and spotted him, unfortunately remained out of our sight in the treetops.

Back on the mainland, the usual weekend breakdown of train services struck us, yet, for those of you who might plan to head to Brissy yourself, you should know that this isn’t a problem. The price is the highest per-capita carbon footprint in the world, but you get an express service taking about one third of the time you would spend in the train, by a good-spirited bus driver and in good company.

So, that’s the travel so far, in the next post you’re going to get the full academic update.

 

QLD – Endless Summer

by Karl Vikat (University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia).

Now that the first few weeks have past, it is time for a little update from the place of ‘endless summer’.

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It started off in the last remaining weeks of the South Queensland Summer in a scorching heat paired with 80% humidity. Coming from a cool Swiss winter with snowy mountains all around, it definitely took some time to get adjusted.

The jetlag did its part to add to the drowsiness of the first days. The heat was bearable until the air-con in the hostel gave up on the third night (fortunately to be fixed within a few nights). The prevailing holiday feel and backpackers in transit made for a relaxing entry into the new environment.

The first impressions, of large roads, a feeling of spaciousness, a very approachable friendly Australian character, and warmth as well as lush vegetation all around created a positive atmosphere for the stressful sorting out of basics. I gave myself time to get acclimatized and to get to know Brisbane and its beautiful parks, cityscape and beach.

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ImageI was lucky enough to spend my first few weeks in hip West End, a former industrial docks area, where people from across the world have settled down, bringing with them a variety of cuisines and merchandise, making for a Global Village in the heart of Brisbane, Australia. The coffee shops, veggie stores and ‘Happy Herb Shop’ invigorated the area with a fresh, alternative vibe – not to mention the world’s best Falafel.

Finding a home that could provide a more settled environment than a backpackers’ was my main worry, once I started feeling that I had ‘arrived’, so I started looking around the middle of the week before Orientation, hoping to find a shared house with a couple of other exchange students. ImageHowever, the situation played out as such, that it became a question of securing any accommodation at all, since places filled up very quickly as new students were flooding the city in thousands.

I finally found a place and moved in a house with other international students – from Nepal, Russia, Malaysia, South Africa – right at the beginning of O-week. The proprietor was managing about 100 places and all were rented out by the end of the day. With a fairly cheap, yet spacious room, 10 minutes from university, by bike or bus, I was able to save money desperately needed for travelling.

Considering the weather, and the Australians’ great hunger for meat, it is no wonder that parks are equipped with public barbeques, and I got to get a look at Uni on the day that we exchange students came together for a barbeque in a park close by.

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The ferry ride to campus, across the Brisbane river offers fantastic vistas, of a riverside lined with rainforest tress, with the occasional Jet-ski speeding by.

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As I came to find out later, these waters house the particularly aggressive bull sharks, who tend to jump out of water for a reason yet to be determined during the warmer summer months. A dive into its warm waters is therefore not recommended and the Brisbane beach is thus also clearly separated by the river. The University itself fills out an entire bend on the Brisbane river, has its own gardens, beach-volley courts, tracking and football field and a swimming pool surrounded by palm trees. A welcome change to the loud and busy Oxford street canal, noise here is largely limited to the horrendous screeching of cockatoos or the singing of tropical birds.

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The sandstone-coloured Great Court with a large green courtyard is at the heart of the university, and come Market Day, where all societies put up stalls to advertise their activities it was bursting full with students. I joined QUEST, an organization particularly catering to the curiosity and travelling desires of international students and the Unidive society, so that I could start earning my diving license to have a look at the whole world hidden under the coastal waters of Queensland. To round off O-week, QUEST called in wildlife-workers who brought their frogs, snakes and baby crocodiles for a petting zoo the Australian way.

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So stay tuned, as in the upcoming week I’ll tell you about my first weekend trips, to Surfers’ and Stradbrooke Island and the first weeks at uni!

Oz Diaries 8: The Cold Return

By Olivia Dove (University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia).

And so, as was inevitable, I find myself back in good ol’ Manchester.

Sadly, this will be the last blog I write here and I would like to spend it giving you all a brief summary of certain aspects that I’ve had to cope with post-Australia.

The weather

This is a big issue for me. Whilst Manchester looks beautiful when sunny, it is fair to say that England on the whole is generally colder than Australia. I’m naturally a warm-climate kind of person (proved by the fact that my asthma and dermatitis cleared up completely in Oz…) so coming back to the land of coats and scarves wasn’t an exciting prospect.

The biggest shock was leaving the plane when I landed in London. I hurried to the car with my parents and huddled in the backseat, hiding from the chilly air. One of the first questions that friends ask upon my return: ‘Missing Australian weather?’ And the answer is yes, always yes. So much yes.

But it’s not all gloomy; I really do love wearing trackie bottoms and large jumpers, so there is a positive in this colder climate!

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My accent

An Australian barman mistook me for an Australian student. My academic tutor said I had a ‘twang’ in my voice. More than one rugby fresher were confused when I said I was from England. It’s dimmed now, but for the first month of being back in England, everyone commented on my accent to the point where I had to put on an English accent at times. It provided entertainment to some, and confusion to the rest.

Curiously, when I skyped my Australian friends, they said I sounded ‘As beautifully English as ever’.

How confusing…

Rugby and playing sports in general

I missed rugby a lot during my semester abroad. I had hoped to play rugby or Aussie Rules out there, but I wasn’t in the country during the season, much to my disappointment. Returning to the sport and, more importantly, my team was absolutely wonderful. They’re a crazy bunch of girls and I would’ve felt homesick for them had I not known I was coming back.

Relating to the weather, playing sports in Australia is much nicer (more people go jogging there for a reason!), especially when you can get a nice tan during a match. Wind, rain and mud isn’t always glorious to play in, but I have to admit that the cold is refreshing at times.

All in all, I’d be much sadder about returning to Manchester if it wasn’t for my rugby girls!

Staying still

After leaving the University of Queensland, I spent two months living out of a suitcase. I travelled to the North and South islands of New Zealand and visited the following Australian cities: Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne, Cairns and Townsville. And I had time to visit my friends along the way. Safe to say, I have found it strange being in the same accommodation for more than a month. I went to Durham last weekend and have already started playing my summer holiday – I’m addicted to travelling! But it’s something that I am willingly addicted to as there’s no other pastime I would rather spend spare money or time on.

Feeling homesick

Now, this will sound crazy. But I feel homesick for Brisbane. Pretty badly, really. Which is strange considering it’s not my original home.

I miss my friends, the lifestyle, the buildings, the river, the university, the animals (especially the animals!) and the sun. I felt more at home living in Brisbane for only four months than I have anywhere else in my life.

I’ve never felt homesick before (as much as I love my parents, skype is always there) and so this new feeling has left me feeling quite glum. The high workload this semester has been warmly welcomed as a distraction.

But it’s not all sadness, as I have a volunteer placement secured in Brisbane post-graduation next year!

Studying abroad has made me realise what I want from life. And what I want is to live somewhere with crazy animals, plenty of sun, and the ability to walk around barefoot.

Brisbane, I’ll be back. See you soon.

On my way to Brisbane

by Karl Vikat (University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia).

Take-off – in about one and a half days Australia should be in my sight. Starting in Geneva, the Austrians will fly me from Vienna to Bangkok to Brisbane. I expect to be quite in a chronological mess with a 10 hour long pit-stop in the Thai capital, getting a slight taste from the day of Tom Hanks’ character in ‘Terminal’. Two weeks have gone by now since exams, giving me plenty of time for good-byes and to replenish energy-wise. I also found time to work on a rather big assignment that I have due in the end of April, considering that the deadline will come around sooner than later, since time in Australia will probably pass quickly. Knowing I would go abroad beforehand, I had rented uni-accommodation for one semester, avoiding the stress that goes with finding somebody to take over my accommodation. Finding accommodation in Brisbane will be enough of a hassle already. Similarly, although I had to go through medical examinations for my visa, the application process went over smoothly and it’s a good thing the Australians prefer to keep it easy, managing the process entirely electronically, via internet.

The excitement has had time to build up, the template appearance of airports will probably only be able to add so much, however, the knowledge of firstly setting one’s feet outside European grounds might just be the right counterbalance. I guess the last stage, when I arrive at the hostel and a few days after that will feel like quite a rush. In general, I expect the first weeks to be pretty intense, setting the time right, getting the administrative stuff done, fighting the fatigue, meeting new people, mapping the area in my head, trying to find a part-time job as well as trying to set up a new place to call home for half a year, yet this is precisely part of why I signed up for this. Although the circumstances are different, moving to Manchester to study abroad has previously already given me at least some idea of what to expect. I have given myself about two weeks before the semester starts to get most things sorted out, yet I doubt that things will fall in place that soon, rather in a month maybe. I worry that my schedule might get pretty packed quicker than expected and I also know that there are going to be a few if any constants before things get a bit more settled, yet I cannot wait to get started. The courses sound great and ultimately, excitement trumps anything right now, changing rainy cold European winter for sunny Brisbane and 5 months in Australia takes care of that.

Oz Diaries 7: The End

By Olivia Dove (University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia).

The final video blog is here! My next (and last) entry is likely to be written from Manchester, in the height of winter.

But, for now, here is a video to sum up the great opportunities that studying abroad has given me, excluding the academic (not many photos, if any, are taken of studying…).

I mention two videos in the blog. Below are the links.

Soiree 2013 time lapse: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lh_KlVj6PGw

(The view in the video is from the balcony of the room next to mine. Only one of the lawns is visible, there were events on other lawns as well!)

International House Dancefest 2013: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=curePD3d5Dk

Enjoy and farewell for quite a while!

Olly Dove

 

Oz Diaries 4: Let’s Study

By Olivia Dove (University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia).

There once was a woman named Sophie, 

What a wonderful woman she was! 

The size of a trophy,

 As lively as a rogue bee,

 And she lived in the land called Oz.

– dave bev

(an Undiscovered Poet)

There are two myths that need to be dispelled about university students. The first one is that ‘students don’t do any work, university is just one big party’. Sure enough, this is true for a minority, but even they have experienced long shifts in the library with a much-appreciated coffee. Lecture halls are usually filled, even for the morning sessions. And some students even participate in extra-curricular studies such as the poetry above (specially written for you all by an International House ‘housie’).

When abroad, the second myth that you will find working against you, as an international student, is that ‘exchange kids don’t need to work hard – they only have to pass’. This is only sometimes true. When studying abroad, your grades could count as part of your final degree mark or you may just need to pass, and this depends on: your university, your faculty and your degree programme. For me, as a one-semester abroad Zoologist, my grades in Australia will be the first grades that go towards my degree. Scary stuff.

Therefore, to secure a future looking at cuddly (and not-so-cuddly) animals, I must work hard whilst enjoying my time here in Australia. So, what is studying here like? What are the differences between England and Australia?

The following are differences:

  • UoM (University of Manchester) starts at 9am: a sensible, well-thought out time. UQ (University of Queensland) begins at 8am.
  • Labcoats are not compulsory in every lab practical at UQ.
  • Multi-coloured, funky labcoats are allowed at UQ.
  • Laboratories here have a Mac computer at every single desk (It feels like you’re working at the Genius Bar at Apple).
  • Students wear flip-flops around campus at UQ (or ‘thongs’ as they call them, which leads to many confusing and awkward moments).
  • There are more places to buy coffee at UQ.
  • There are lots and lots and lots more areas to work outside at UQ, as well as nicer weather for it, too.
  • Essays and assignments seem to be shorter and less frequent at UQ.
  • UQ has mid-semester exams. My final exams at UoM in my 1st Year were worth 85-95% of my course grades; here they are worth a maximum 50%. Which, believe me, makes a welcome change.
  • Exams can be scheduled for Saturdays at UQ.
  • Exams, at least mid-semesters, can take place at UQ in lecture halls with one lecturer watching 300+ students.
  • Handing in an assignment includes a bar code and deposit slot.
  • Each course had 3 lectures a week at UQ, as opposed to 2 a week at UoM (though this is different for every course).

The following are similarities:

  • Attendance at lectures is laid-back, but tutorials are a must.
  • Lab practicals are mostly 3 hours long.
  • The library is nearly always full, except between 10pm-9am and weekends.
  • Lecturers allow you to address them by their first name.
  • Students take a lot of naps.
  • Students sometimes even take a nap during lectures.
  • Lecture slides and recordings are posted on an online Blackboard site.
  • Questions throughout lectures are encouraged.
  • Both universities use Turn-it-in software to assess plagiarism.
  • Students prefer to study in packs.

If planning a semester abroad, the main thing for you to remember to do is thoroughly research your courses. If you don’t want a lot of lab hours, or you want courses with essay assignments instead of exams, these can both be avoided by making sure you read the course descriptions. Also, I would highly recommend studying courses that you can only study when abroad, but this goes without saying.

To conclude this semi-intellectual post, I enjoy studying abroad.

And, trust me, you will, too.

ImageMy desk covered in mid-sem revision. Oh, the joys (worth it though).