Written by Victoria Leung
Hi everyone! My name is Victoria and I’m in my third year at university. I recently returned from a year abroad at the University of Maryland in the USA!
(Disclaimer: People have different opinions/ perspectives. These answers are shaped by my own experiences and understanding!)
How did you choose where to go?
It’s a good idea to figure out what you want to get out of exchange.
- I want a good college experience!
I would look to choose a college located in a college town! UMD is located in a college town (College Park haha) about 20-30 min away from Washington DC. Most of the student population lives on/near campus and pretty much everything around the campus is for students (e.g. PIZZA, other fast food, coffee) and revolves around the college (e.g. college apparel). You’ll also find that the student population is the dominant demographic.
- I just want to go to the USA!
Have a read of the returned student questionnaires to get an idea of what the costs of living are like in a particular city. Usually, the big cities are relatively more expensive but you’ll also find that some college towns can be similar in price. In general, colleges along the coasts (West and East) will be more expensive than colleges in regions such as the Midwest.
- I want to travel as much as I can!
Perhaps look for a college located in a city near a big airport – a lot of major cities also have several airports! You can also check out the Amtrak network and long distance bus routes (e.g. Megabus and Greyhound) to see if a town is well-connected.
Maryland was a convenient base for travel as there are lot of cities/ states on the east coast. Furthermore, given the proximity to the nation’s capital, there are 3 major airports in the Baltimore-Washington Area and lots of long distance buses/ trains running out of DC’s Union Station.
- Other factors
You might be interested in attending a specific school for its reputation or specialisation, for its well-known sports team or because you’re really interested in a particular city/ state!
What is the difference between a year exchange and half a year exchange?
One benefit of going on exchange for a whole year is that you can get a wholesome experience. Not only do you get to experience life in all four seasons, but you get to celebrate the different holidays and witness both football and basketball season! No other country does Halloween or college football like the US!
Furthermore, depending on you, it can take a while to settle down and get used to your new college environment due to things like weather, workload, homesickness and other factors. By the end of the first semester, you will hopefully have embraced those changes and for your second semester, you get a chance to do things you wish you did in your first semester/ opportunities you didn’t know about until it was too late!
How was the US different to Australian university?
Most people live on/ near campus so you often spend a lot more time on campus. It can be easier to establish friendships and connections with people because you can end up spending a lot of time together.
In terms of academic life, these were some of the main differences I found.
- Classes can be a lot smaller! My class sizes ranged from 8-45 people, which was different from sitting in a lecture with a couple hundred of people.
- Classes are usually not separated into lectures and tutorials.
How much did it cost? How did you budget for it?
UNSW suggests that you have at least $3000 AUD per month that you are on exchange. It also depends on where you will be based, what accommodation you will be staying in, what kind of experience you want and how much you want to travel.
When and how did you enrol in the subjects?
As course sizes can be smaller and priority is often given to degree-seeking students, it is best to have more than enough course choices on your list! I was on the waiting list for several subjects for both semesters!
- First semester
- Given a list of faculty advisors to contact about clearing pre-requisites
- Given a date and time for enrolment to open
- Second semester
- Exchange advisor enrolled me
- Put on many waiting lists for Business courses
What was your campus college like?
According to Google, UMD is 1335 acres while UNSW is only 38! My campus had a football stadium, dining halls, gyms, a few libraries and a lot of residential buildings. For me to walk from where I lived, on the South side of campus, to the football stadium/ gym in the North was almost 30-40 minutes. There are free buses to get you around campus as well.
How did you make friends?
If you live on campus, you are also able to meet a lot of friends through student societies and class!
A really great opportunity is the compulsory orientation before the semester starts. Here, you have the opportunity to meet local students, some who may have gone on exchange previously, and also exchange/ international students. These friends are really great because you will be going through the same phases of life. I know at the end of my exchange, a popular topic among exchange students was what was the best and cheapest way to ship belongings home!
Did you experience cultural shock? Did you experience reverse cultural shocks?
It took a while to adjust to local norms like staying on the right, tipping and gratuities, and having prices that don’t include taxes. It was also strange to constantly hear the American accent and words being pronounced different. When I arrived back in Sydney, I was shocked to hear the Aussie accent!