Some 4 months ago I set on an adventure half way across the world to experience many new and exciting things. As great as this time has been, there are a number of things I would love to tell “past Nathan” in order to better prepare myself for the time ahead. In this blog I will talk about some very important things I somewhat overlooked in regards to my accommodation (got very lucky it all worked out for me as compared to some stories I have heard) and also talk about how important it is to be organized and know your timetable/schedule. Yes, I know the last part sounds boring, but knowing your schedule is the difference between visiting 1 new place or several new places!
One thing I want to make clear before writing this is that (in my opinion) there is no right or wrong way to go about your exchange experience. You will hear so many people telling you about what you “have” to do and so on, but at the end of the day, it’s your experience, and you should be worrying about what you want from it and not what others have in their mind as to what you should be doing.
Regardless of how long your exchange is for, there will be one place you will be spending a large amount of your time, and that is your new home. There are many factors to consider when selecting your accommodation, and whilst every host university/city will have a different process in regards to finding accommodation, there are some common things you should consider.
- Location – Where is your new home located in regards to your university. If you have access to your timetable this will come in handy as you will be able to see the building(s) that you will frequent most often at uni, and be able to plan your accommodation accordingly. Other things to consider are the location in regards to things such as public transport, shopping (in particular supermarkets) and any other facilities you feel you will need to frequent. Keep in mind your transportation options whilst away, if you plan on walking everywhere (like I did) you don’t want your nearest supermarket being too far away (you have to walk back with your purchases remember!)
- Room type – Sharing a room with someone might seem like a good idea to save some money or to meet new people or a variety of other reasons. Remember though, this place you are staying, you could be there for the next 5+ months! Do you really like the idea of living with someone for that long? Conversely, do you really like the idea of living alone, cleaning and cooking for yourself? There are both pros and cons to every sort of accommodation you will have available to you, so weigh them up before submitting any applications, and think carefully about what sort of living arrangement you truly want as many accommodation services won’t let you change unless there is a very valid reason.
- Lifestyle – I’ll tell you my experience here in Lund before asking the relevant questions. Here in Lund, applying for accommodation through the University (LU Accommodation) gives students 18 different areas they can apply for accommodation. Some of these areas are for Swedes only, Internationals only and some for a combination. From memory, I narrowed things down to 10 possible locations based on being an international student who wanted his own room with his own toilet. My main concerns after that were cost and location and I didn’t put any thoughts into the lifestyle of the area. Since getting here it has been apparent that areas such as Sparta have a very party centric lifestyle, whilst my neighbourhood of Östra Torn has been extremely laid back, and easy to escape the world.
The question that needs to be asked is, what do you want from your surrounds? Some people love the idea of having the party come to them, whilst others like to be able to escape. This comes down to personal choice, but you do have to remember if you live in an area which likes to party, you might be faced with the situation of trying to seep/study whilst there is a heap of noise in the area. Conversely, living in a quieter area might require you to travel long distances to parties, and that could also require getting home late at night through some dark and not so desirable areas of the world.
- Furniture – Try to find out what furniture and appliances you are given. Some places will have ovens and stoves, others won’t. These sorts of things make a huge difference over an extended stay, and in the event you are given accommodation without an appliance you use regularly, knowing this gives you time to prepare for this (i.e. learning how to cook without an appliance). There is a high likelihood that you will not have a TV. This is something very important to find out as you will need to figure out how to entertain yourself, and venturing outside of your place will not always be an option (weather, illness, money etc.)
- Visitors – Find out the rules regarding visitors, and find out how practical that is. Here in my accommodation in Lund for example, whilst I am not allowed to have visitors in relation to my contract, there isn’t much that could stop me. One thing that is stopping me however, is the single bed I have been given, and that the rest of my furniture is chairs as opposed to a couch someone could crash on. Of course there are ways around this, but there are other things that you may need to consider. What I said earlier about the area, could be something to think about if you plan on having your boy/girlfriend or parents/siblings come and visit.
Your host university will run very different to how we do things in Australia. What can make things much more different is that some universities will run courses specifically for international students, and these subjects often take different time frames to the regular subjects. My advice, try to find out your schedule for everything as soon as you can! I didn’t get my schedule until I arrived in Lund, but if I knew my schedule beforehand I could have travelled beforehand, or arrived in Lund a couple of weeks later as my lessons didn’t start until 3 weeks after my arrival day. My schedule allowed me to plan a trip to Iceland (see picture) during a break between lessons which many other people did not have (I had a 3 week break over Easter, many only had the Easter weekend).
In a week’s time I am travelling to Dublin and London to catch up with some friends. I am able to do this because my courses finish some 3 weeks earlier than the finish date of the semester! Getting your schedule early allows you to plan out your time better, plan potential trips and look out for great deals on transport during the times you wish to travel. The before mentioned trip I am taking in a week, I am flying Copenhagen to Dublin, Dublin to London, London to Copenhagen and it all cost me about AU$60. If I was to buy tickets for the same trips on the same days now, I would be paying $100 for the Copenhagen-Dublin trip alone!
Write a list of what you want from your accommodation, and work towards it. I have loved my time in Östra Torn, which is a quiet area on the outskirts of Lund here in Sweden. You might prefer something where you are near the action constantly so to speak, and if that’s what you want then go for it, just do some research into what areas of your host city will offer you what you are looking for!
Organization can be boring at times, but the difference between knowing when you are required in town and not can be the difference between travelling to 1 new place or 10 new places! Since arriving in Europe I have visited a number of different cities and countries, with many more to come before I leave, limited only by the amount of money I have. My mate who lives in the same building as me, he looks at the start of each week when he needs to head to uni, and he has only visited 2 different cities since arriving here in January.
Overall though, the biggest bit of advice I can give anyone about to go on exchange: The person who will always remember this experience is yourself, do what you want to do, when you want to do it, and do it with who you want to do it with. Don’t be afraid to do things by yourself (I went to a Malmö FF Football game by myself when none of my friends could, I could have missed out if I didn’t take that risk), don’t be afraid to say no to plans (money spent on something you weren’t that interested in could have been money spent on something you wanted to do), and don’t be afraid to try new things!