My experience and the things I learned from a Semester Down Under....

1. A sense of independence.

If you don’t already have this down, don’t worry. When studying abroad in Australia, you have around 32 hours of travel time to acquire it before you even arrive.

As I quickly discovered, YOU are the only one capable of sorting the mess you get into while studying abroad. My suitcase went on quite an adventure while I switched between Edinburgh, Heathrow, Kuala Lumpur and Brisbane. I ultimately arrived in Brisbane with just a change of underwear and a spare t-shirt. Hopefully, you will learn to deal with problems like this quickly and nonchalantly. I found everyone else, including my mother, freaked out much more than myself. Because really, there’s not much you can do about a bag that’s gone walkabouts, other than wait.

2. Contrary to belief, not everything in Australia tries to kill you.

Over the five months of living there I held a koala, swam in the ocean with a whole world of creatures (including sharks!) and explored islands infested with kangaroos, wallabies and large dragons. Not once did I die. So get out there.

If you survive, you come home with cool pictures like this^ Think of the facebook likes!.....

3. Home isn’t that far away.

First, they made planes, trains and automobiles to connect people but then they made instant messaging, tweets and skype sessions. It’s not as catchy as the first mantra but its reality. Australia may be literally about as far away as you can get from Scotland but it certainly doesn’t feel that way! Yes you are going to miss your family and friends, but I can testify that they are still there when you return – and in the mean time they are just a text away!

It may have taken you three planes and almost two days to get there, but it will take your mother two minutes to write a short facebook message novel to find out if you are still alive.

4. There is always time to explore

Confession: Studying abroad may feel like a huge holiday. But obviously, you still have classes and essays and exams. But the pressure of all that is greatly overthrown by the fact you have a limited amount of months to explore your chosen country. You will become a master a planning ahead – because you don’t want to miss out on new experiences. Believe me, essay writing becomes a lot more motivated when you have the prospect of going to sea world, the beach or jetting off to see the opera house later that afternoon.

I spent a hellish week in the library so I could do this at the weekend - 100% worth it.

5. Drink more water

A simple, yet important lesson. Chances are, wherever you chose to study will be warmer than Scotland. I felt fantastic while I was down under, and I truly believe it was brought on by a little sunshine and looking after myself, such as staying hydrated in the heat.

Less of this stuff and more of the ‘good stuff’

6. The people you meet are not friends, but family.

Other students who have studied abroad have expressed the same feelings. You will make friends, most likely other study abroad students and they will have the same aspirations to travel and explore as you. You will spend A LOT of time together. You will be there for each other when you are missing home and you will tear up when you are inevitably torn apart to return to your far away corners of the globe.

Pro Tip: DO take a ‘family photo’ together, a group of around 20 of us who lived in the same accommodation took a series of beach photos and they are the most prized possessions of my study abroad.

7. People love your accent.

If you are blessed with a Scottish accent, the world is your oyster. Quite vainly, one of the things I miss most about living abroad is the almost daily occurrence of somebody complimenting your accent. You become a constant topic of discussion with strangers you meet and people are most always interested in hearing what you are doing so far from home! – Do enjoy the attention while you can!

 8. Your home university is small. This is a good thing.

While applying for Griffith University, I had to consider courses offered from FIVE different campuses. Each of these are bigger than QMU. Griffith is simply a massive school, a lot of classroom space, a lot of students. Although this creates a great atmosphere, you may feel like you get lost in the crowd.

Don’t worry, use this environment to experiment a little – try out new presentation styles in class, don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions – if you ever embarrass yourself you’ll be gone in a few months anyway! Then you’ll be back to that friendly QMU atmosphere where lecturers actually know your name and airing your opinion in a lecture doesn’t mean its drowned out by 200 others.

9. Travel does not have to be expensive

You will want to see as much of your temporary home as possible. This will mean cutting corners and stretching your budget to the absolute maximum. I spent hours each day sometimes stalking flights and hotel deals. The most important thing you do is budget, for everything. You want to know how much you are going to spend on things like food and books and such so that you know how much you have left for weekends in hostels.

Unexpectedly, a friend and I found a really cheap deal to Malaysia! I couldn’t have dreamt or planned this eventuality – but I got to swim with elephants because of my extreme airline stalking skills!

10. Scotland is a destination you haven’t even considered.

When you tell people where you are from, many of them will tell you how lucky you are to live in such a beautiful part of the planet. I was told by others countless times how my own country was on their bucket lists, but I never considered that it should be on my own. I’ve been to the other side of the world but I haven’t even explored my own back yard. I’ve never seen the wonders of Loch Ness, never explored the castle ruins at stonewall, never eaten fresh seafood in the western isles or lay on the beach in Barra. After being bit by the travel bug I can’t wait to explore new places – and now I don’t even have to save up for a plane ticket to do it!

Paul Surgenor

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