Last September, I left home for the very first time and hopped on a plane to study on the other side of the world. I returned five months later as a changed person.
I too was reading through blog posts about student exchanges with lots of doubts and apprehensions in my mind. Even in the deluge of positive stories about completing such a journey, I would ask myself “am I just too shy/different to be suited for this?”
The answer to that question, for me at least, was ‘no.’ I’m glad that I pushed through with it – I’ve had what will be one of the best experiences of my life, and I’d have regretted not taking the opportunity.
My concerns were eased following my fortunate choice to study in Sheffield. Every experience will be different and I can’t speak for other universities – but Sheffield strikes me as being one of the ideal universities for studying abroad at, for a number of reasons:
A welcoming environment for internationals: Sheffield has around twice as many students as Adelaide – a large proportion of which come from overseas. I met fellow students from Mexico to Finland, Ghana to Japan, as well as lots of fellow Australians and native Britons. The University has some fantastic programs targeted at helping new international arrivals integrate with students from all over the world. It also has the highest-rated Students’ Union in the UK – which put on many good sports & social activities to help students meet new people. With such a large student population – there’s bound to be a club or society that caters to each individual. Anyone who’s prepared to get involved is likely to meet lots of new friends and colleagues.
Housing guarantee: Housing was a concern for me – finding somewhere to live, in a new city, without knowing anyone was not an exciting prospect. Thankfully, the university guarantees accommodation for international students – which not only eliminates a large stress – but also gives you a new support network of flatmates.
Location: For students interested in exploring & touring their new country, Sheffield is a perfect choice. One hour (by train) to Manchester, two hours from London and just a quick, budget-airline flight away from a continent of 700 million people and millennia of culture & history. The Students’ Union again shines here – there would be a new day-trip available each weekend if you’re looking to travel with fellow students. It would be unfair though to choose Sheffield purely to get out and see other places – the city itself is a great place to live in. There’s a good public transportation network, a large student population (and associated institutions,) relatively low crime and gorgeous weather – if you’re sick of Australian summers as I was.
There are still some things that I have learnt about the exchange process that I would encourage prospective applicants to be mindful of:
Exchange rate: I had the good fortune of Brexit collapsing the pound’s value whilst I was away. However, a surge in the other direction though would punch a hole through anybody’s budget.
Engineers’ course selection: For engineers (or anyone with few electives I suspect), it can be extremely difficult to find a recommended semester’s four courses, at a single university, within the same semester, whilst meeting any credit/unit requirements. I would strongly recommend looking at which universities could accommodate and Adelaidean schedule BEFORE choosing your preferences. My initial first choice could never have worked – it would have made the process a lot more rushed & complicated had I listed it.
Plan your first few days in great detail: For anybody somewhat nervous (which is everyone) just before they depart – I recommend planning everything to alleviate stress. How are you getting to the airport? What is the procedure for check-in? When you arrive, how are you getting from the airport to your accommodation?… etc. Have a list of all your key contacts, any important information likely to be required during your travels to your university.
I’ve returned as a much more outgoing and confident person, I’ve seen some amazing places, met some great people and picked up invaluable life experience. I’d certainly recommend studying abroad – even if you’ve share those same niggling doubts in the back of your mind, as I had.