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After seven semesters, 90 weeks and 720 (scheduled) classes, I have only ten more hours as a student at the University of Sydney. I am waiting for the usual end of semester relief to kick in. It hasn’t. I am not coming back and nostalgia has taken the reigns.

This week, I will buy a (very fussy) weak, soy chai latte from the kiosk outside manning, meet friends for lunch and be part of the hourly class to class rush for the last time. Come Thursday, I will never again sit in the quad’s sun drenched stone arches between class or walk from Redfern with a bag full of books. Faces who have become comforting furnishings in my everyday life, will sadly fade into the recesses of my memory.

As I round the final bend, the past three and a half years feel as if they have passed at breakneck speed. I remember my first lecture in March 2005 - Anthropology 1001 - in the Carslaw lecture theatre. There I was, loitering around the entrance not quite knowing where to go, clutching my new folders and hoping I had made all the right choices…

Like everyone, I took units I loved and those I couldn’t wait to see the end of. Having exhausted my junior credit point allowance, I dabbled a lot. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Whether it was studying Victorian paintings, creating a documentary piece in a video production class, learning about the Spanish Civil War and the ritual rites of Papua New Guinean highland tribes or spending hours in the Architecture faculty’s photographic dark room… Art History, Media and Communications, History, Anthropology and the odd photography class, have made my time at uni rich and rewarding.

But the best feature of Sydney uni, personally, has been the opportunity to broaden my horizons overseas! My student life in Australia is over for now but a final semester at the Uppsala University in Sweden, awaits. This final hoorah follows a semester at the university of Stirling in Scotland during my second year and an internship on a newspaper in Phnom Penh over the past summer. Having seized the opportunities available to each and every student at Sydney uni, this degree has been everything I imagined and more.

I’ve babbled a lot about exchange in the past but PLEASE, if you’re thinking about it, think about it some more and if you haven’t yet considered it - let your imagination wonder!

To get you started, here are a few of the obvious advantages of packing your bags and heading out into the wide blue yonder…

1. Travel
I can’t deny it… The opportunity to study in a different country is unparalleled but by far the best perk of the whole experience is the ability to tack on a little ‘traversing’ before, during and after exchange. It’s an expensive little project to start with so, like all good things in life - it requires a lot of hard work (a lot of ‘that’ll be $4.50, have a nice day’). BUT, if you’re into saving the pennies (and thanking mum and dad for allowing you to continue to live at home while doing so), you’ll be able to get everything out of it and more! Before settling into life at the University of Stirling in 2006 I spent some time in Eastern Europe (Slovenia, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic), Germany and Holland. During semester I found my way to Ireland and Paris. To top it off, I had no exams so spent those weeks in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia while my friends were hitting the books!!

After my stint in beautiful Phnom Penh I managed a Borneo pit stop… Limestone reef drop offs, turtles, sharks, schooling barracudas, the very high and painful (but spectacular) Mount Kinabalu (no exaggeration when I say it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done), jungles and orangutangs…. Stunning! This time around I’m eyeing off a Balkan shuffle through Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia and Serbia before heading north to Sweden.

2. Learning - yes learning - in a completely new environment
I love the University of Sydney. I love the quad… and most of my classes (especially Anthropology). But I also LOVE sitting on the International Office’s floor, in front of the book cases holding information on every exchange option and reading the course outlines of far flung universities around the world (don’t judge me, it’s addictive, almost as addictive as Thorn tree’s lonely planet forum). I know all classes vary with different teachers but taking a unit overseas guarantees a unique experience. The UK context, for example, had a significant impact of what and how I learnt in Scotland, particularly in terms of media subjects. Firstly, my tutes were tiny and learning was always active. I visited the busy newsroom in downtown Glasgow, attended presentations by media professionals every week and tried my hand at creating my own news website in online media. With focus on the UK’s media landscape, I also developed an increasing appreciation for media in a global context. With an exuberant Venezuelan teacher and a handful of other exchange and international students, our class also had a fascinating mix of people. A Religion unit exploring the ins and outs of Hinduism had to be my favourite though!

3. People
Where do I start - I’ve been here before in previous blogs but the people you meet stay in your heart forever (soppy but true). Again, I love my life, family and friends in Sydney but being out in the world, interacting with new and interesting people, feeds your soul! I would wish the momentary reservations and loneliness that everyone feels, if only for a few minutes, upon anyone, given the fun and adventures that await once you find your feet! I am planning a trip back to Scotland this time to visit my wee lassies! I can’t wait - if only to hear their beautiful thick accent and ‘banter’ or ‘good chat.’

4. Being out in the world!
Exchange doesn’t only feed your soul, it is good for it!! This is YOUR life after all - and it will be what you make of it. It’s about leaving the ‘safe harbour’ (a metaphor my mum uses) and traversing the rough seas (only it’s not too long before you realise you can always use a sail to keep on track). Life is about having roots and wings - roots in the home and people that you love and wings to fly out into the big wide world with. You will not regret this and really, in my opinion, given the opportunity (as every student with a credit average is) - you’re crazy not to jump at it. And it turns out I’m not the only one who’s caught on! This time round, there were three times more applications than normal. Cottoning on, cottoning on…

5. Ridiculous amounts of fun
I have pushed the academic argument but now it is time to indulge in the promotion of what were, some of the best times of my life. The University of Stirling took 'campus life' expectations to the extreme. Life was, in a word, (in between the hard work and study!) a giant party. It might have been something to do with my new found group of Scottish girlfriends who, when given the chance, tore up any dance floor until the very early hours of any morning. And then there was the kilts - yes, the kilts - the best part of any traditional Scottish Ceilidh (occasions involving very jolly linking arm/hand slapping and let’s dance in a circle festivities). As I’m sure you can all imagine, the fun that goes with exchange (if you throw yourself into it whole heartedly) is 100 percent guaranteed.

But don’t let me prattle on anymore - go and see for yourself!

Come late August I’ll be settling down to life in Sweden. In the meantime I have my last exam on Australian soil to sit - a long time coming after nearly 17 years of educational institution! Good luck to everyone and I hope week 13 wraps up a happy semester for all!

Comments

I'm so glad to hear that you got the Sweden exchange gig! That's amazing! I totally think you should try to convince Franca and Katrin to visit you (or you can see then in Germany) while you're back over in Europe.

Ahhh. Now I want to go on Exchange.

Hi Gemma,

You'll have the most awesome time at Uppsala! I was in fact on exchange there the same semester that you were in Scotland (it's been great reading about fellow students' travel adventures!) and I really regret not applying for exchange a second time, seeing as I still have 1.5 years left at uni!

I hope to hear more about your time at Uppsala :)

Margaret

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Everything you ever wanted to know about uni but were too afraid to ask....
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