Rebecca Wood – Events Management – Level 3

La Trobe University, Australia

I have always been interested in traveling and exploring different cultures. I guess I am a truly consumed by wanderlust. I was born in Munich, Germany, raised in a very international environment, and moved to Edinburgh alone when I was only 18 years old.

Once I reached the 3rd year of my undergraduate course at QMU, I knew every corner and every dark alleyway of Scotland’s stunning capital, and was ready for my next adventure. I had been keen on going on an exchange ever since I started studying, and thus I spent a lot of time researching partner universities all around the globe. I had set my mind on going to Spain in order to finally improve my not-so-fluent Spanish, which I have been learning for years. I was so positive about my application, that I had mentally already packed my suitcase and was just one click away from booking my flight to Alicante. So when I handed in my application form and was kindly advised that Spain was no longer an exchange option, I saw my travel dreams, which were so close to becoming reality, shatter right then and there. A few days later I received an email, congratulating me on going to Melbourne, Australia for a semester. I had picked Melbourne as a second choice, just because it sounded exotic. At this point I had never given Australia a second thought, and was not quite certain where and what Melbourne is. It only took a short google search to fully convince me that going to Melbourne is a once in a life-time experience, and it would be foolish not to go. I was absolutely, one hundred percent correct.

I had applied for the Vice Chancellor’s Funding after having been made aware by an academic that this funding also applies to the exchange programme. I am extremely and utterly thankful for having been awarded this sponsorship. Receiving funding from QMU’s Vice Chancellor encouraged me take the leap into the unknown, and absolutely enriched my Australia-bound adventure. QMU’s generosity made my travel dream come true. These types of fundings, grants and scholarships are vital for exchange students, and should definitely be highly advertised as an outstanding support system and an excellent opportunity for students with limited financial resources to experiences the benefits of the exchange programme.

Before arriving in Melbourne, I could not imagine what awaited me Down Under. I had pictured kangaroos hopping past my campsite in the outback, while somewhere  in the distance Crocodile Dundee wrestled a fake crocodile and Nicole and Hugh made love by their campfire. So as I stood at the crossing of Bourke Street and Swanston Street, I could not help but think, “jeez, there’s an actual city down here”.

I immediately felt a kind of excitement I hadn’t known until now. It was like finding life on an alien planet – so unexpected, so different yet so familiar. Melbourne to me seems like the perfect blend of British courtesy and American nonchalance, and its diversity never failed to astonish me. Instantaneously I fell in love with the Australian lilt, secretly listening to snippets of conversation while admiring the ease with which the Aussies create a rather placid lifestyle, and finding myself grinning at every “G’day mate, how ya goin’?”. I recall a conversation I had with an other international student. We were discussing the differences between various cities of the world, and came to the conclusion that Melbourne and its people are extremely relaxed. Before the semester started, I liked taking early morning walks down the main street in a delightful suburb called Northcote. As I walked, I saw groups of women meeting for their morning coffee and happily chatting away. I saw neighbours walking their dogs, stopping occasionally to peek into the tiny individual boutiques, always a smile on their faces. I saw lovers enjoying the morning sun, strolling along hand in hand. What I never saw, was people rushing to work, stressed and worried. So as I was discussing Melbourne’s apparent tranquility and slow-paced lifestyle, I asked myself ‘do people actually go to work down here? And more importantly, do they ever worry about anything?’ I am still not convinced they do.

I remembered being very astonished by the quite frankly dangerous and confusing tram system. During my first days in Melbourne I often found walking to be the faster method of commuting when in the city centre (also known as the central business district or in short CBD). What fascinated me though is the fact that trams run in the middle of the street. This way, passengers are forced to step into the bustling traffic when boarding or alighting a tram. However no one seemed overly troubled by this, in my opinion, unnecessary exposure to risk. So I quickly accepted the Australian way and was grateful for public transport. I got used to hailing the tram, making sure not to get run over by a car before happily continuing my journey. I soon got myself a ‘student Myki card’, the mandatory card for everyone using public transport, which allowed me to travel anywhere my heart desired to go (even if it usually took longer than expected). Tram rides in the CBD are free, which often saved my insolvent student-life. I found that many things, such as the transportation system, firstly seemed strange and confusing to me. I had to learn to accept that, as a lovely Aussie pointed out to me, it is not wrong, it’s just different.

As I had decided to live off campus, I saw La Trobe University’s extremely large campus for the first time during the registration and orientation week. Registration was a long and odious process, which required a lot of waiting. Luckily, true to the Australian spirit, La Trobe never fails to provide a free BBQ. Just to emphasise how big La Trobe’s campus is, the university owns a wildlife sanctuary and a golf course. On campus are various coffee shops, restaurants, convenient stores and shops to choose from. There is even a hairdresser, who will also do body piercings for the more venturesome students. During the end of my exam period, after being a La Trobe student for 12 weeks, I found an entire lounge and cafeteria area I had never seen before. I therefore highly recommend future exchange students at La Trobe University to take part in the campus and library tour during orientation, (which I clearly did not).

Lectures and tutorial run differently than at QMU. While my QMU lectures are one hour, and the two hour tutorials at QMU allow more student input, La Trobe chose to give two hour lectures with only one hour seminars. I had missed the intensive group discussions and one-on-one time throughout the semester. Because of the vast student body at La Trobe University, I had the feeling that I did not get to know my course coordinators as well as I would have liked to. I enjoy the intimate atmosphere at QMU, but am happy I got to experience the contrary.

I thought it was extremely interesting to learn about my course from an Australasian point of view. I recall a class discussion on industrialisation. As one of my modules at QMU touched on Glasgow’s industrialisation, I proudly joined in with precise facts and educated hypotheses about the developing industries in Scotland, trying to sustain the compelling conversation. When in response I got blank student faces, the lecturer wondered whether I could give an example closer to ‘home’. I realised how Europe-focused, and even myopic my academic mindset has been in past years. The plunge into a different culture definitely opened my eyes to a variety of approaches and opportunities, and thus had a tremendous academic value for me.

The student-run exchange club at La Trobe offered support and activities, giving me the chance to make friends from all around the world; friends for a lifetime. It was definitely exciting to see so many international students come together in such a fantastically cosmopolitan city. Before I arrived in Melbourne, I was contacted by the exchange club president. His welcome email introduced a group of domestic students, who would be our ‘buddies’ for the semester. My buddies helped me in every life situation, from bank accounts to accommodations to academics, before I had even arrived Down Under. I am
thrilled to use the La Trobe Exchange Club as a template for the new Exchange Club society at QMU.

The exchange programme not only quenched my thirst for travel, but has been an eyeopener in so many different ways. I know I returned as a strong, mature and enlightened individual. Throughout my exchange I have gone through the most challenging and most rewarding times. With my gained sophistication, I can now say with confidence, that whatever life chooses to throw at me, I am ready for it.

Semester Abroad Experiences

Related Blog Posts

Transport themed pattern
QMU Annual Travel Survey

Every year the university conducts a travel survey, collecting commuting habits of staff and stud... read more

A group of young people engaged in dialogue in a classroom setting.
Critical dialogue - developing confidence in young people

Critical dialogue is helping young Scots and Malawians develop confidence and gain empowerment.... read more

A small group of people talking, facing away from the camera, on a sunny day outside
Making for good

Making for good We are Amy Millar and Amy McCue - more commonly known on our course as “The Amy’s... read more

A small group of people talking, facing away from the camera, on a sunny day outside
A dyslexic student's advice for making a successful time of studies at QMU

“How to make the most of your studies?” is a question that is often asked. What are the best tech... read more

3 girls in winter jackets outside the Queen Margaret University Campus, Edinburgh
Top tips for open day

Prepare before you get to the University. Consider attending an open day event to find out what i... read more

A group of students playing jenga.
Top tips for halls

Moving away from home can be daunting whether you are undergraduate or a postgraduate. At Queen M... read more

Students queuing up to order at Maggie's Bar, the QMU student union bar and cafe
Freshers blog

My first day at QMU was a scary one, as I’m sure it was for everyone. Having only just moved from... read more

A busy street
Life as a mature student: why go to university?

For me higher education is about working towards achieving your potential to catapult you into th... read more

Students talking on the benches outside Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
Queen Margaret university fresher’s week: 10 tips for student life

Top 10 Tips for student life read more

A small group of people talking, facing away from the camera, on a sunny day outside
University as a mature student

From where I started my academic journey, like many things in life, I have arrived at a very diff... read more