Will Halliday is a 3rd year Commerce (International) Student who studied abroad in the USA at Virginia Tech for one year (S2 2017, S1 2018).
Interviewed and edited by Victoria Leung, Sharon Li and Calista Kusuma
What made you choose your university?
I was the first UNSW student to go to Virginia Tech. My criteria for exchange universities was it had to be in the USA and it had to be good at football and basketball. My main goals were to have fun and experience the sport culture in the states. Virginia Tech seemed perfect for this- it plays in the NCAA Division 1 for Football and Basketball!
Was it hard to make local friends/ experience local culture? Did you mainly have local/exchange students as friends?
I’m pretty friendly and so it was easy for me to pick up friends. Virginia Tech organized a “buddy” for exchange students to show you around and mentor you while you’re there. It’s almost like they’re forced to be your friend, and from them you can also to get to know their friends, and their friends’ friends. The Exchange Office also runs themed events for Football, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
It was easy to make friends with the locals and I had quite an extensive mix of friends in the USA – from all over Europe and other Australians as well. I think I got along better with locals as a lot of exchange friends leave after 6 months (1 semester). I also made a friend who was active in a frat and took me to different events, where I continued to meet more people.
Any cultural musts?
The football games are a massive must, they’re almost ‘too American’. Virginia Tech is a university that is really heavy on sports, which is partly why I chose it. If you go to one, get fully into it- buy the jerseys and go to the tailgates! Football is so engrained into the US psyche, where Friday and Saturday nights are designated for watching College Football, and Sunday is for AFL.
Virginia Tech has a 70 000 person stadium where the whole town inflates on game day- Centre Street becomes a festival before the game starts, with roughly 40 000 students in a car park style area, tailgaiting and listening to music- which is insanely fun! The games themselves are very iconic- everyone floods into the stadium at once, and I remember the stadium itself literally moving up and down as the crowd cheered and thinking, “This thing is gonna break”. It’s honestly a one of a kind experience, and something that I will never forget.
How did you keep in touch with family and friends at home? How did you overcome difficulties like time differences etc?
The time difference was a bit of a pain but social media is great for keeping in touch – especially on Messenger. I called my family every now and then. However, you’re doing so many things and trying to be involved that sometimes you don’t have time to think about and miss people at home. However, you start to miss people around Christmas, but as long as you’re doing activities, its fine.
You travel more than you expect during exchange, and can wind up in places you never expected to go!Their ‘winter’ break is the shorter break but I went to New York, Boston and London! While I did a lot of travel in and around America (particularly on weekends), I also ended up doing volunteer work in Guatemala.
What cities did you visit outside Virginia?
Virginia is in between a lot of places and Virginia Tech has a lot of subsidized transport services (public transport isn’t that good) to help you get around. You can take a $4 bus to the train station and catch a train into DC. Virginia Tech also prioritises students in terms of timetabling so I managed to get Monday and Fridays off (long weekends= lots of time to travel!). For example, it was easy to get to Roanoke Airport- I would usually get a flight out on Thursday nights to places like Canada, Quebec and New York. I also had a lot of mates who drove- so that was handy!
What are three things you wished you knew before going on exchange?
- Be patient! Exchange students arrive early for orientation, and when you get there it might seem like an almost empty college town. You think to yourself “FML, there’s no one else here, and 10 minutes in any direction is just cows- what have I gotten myself into.” In that respect, the two week interim period for orientation can be stressful, especially if you know no one else there, but it will get better once the other students come and the town comes alive!
- Save a lot more money than you think you’d need- budgeting is really important on exchange. With Virginia Tech in particular, you will need to get Virginia Tech insurance since they don’t let you use UNSW Travel insurance, but get the cheaper alternative since the university will recommend you get the more expensive one. Their insurance saw me pay an extra $700 for random extra coverages such as pregnancy, with men being mandated to have pregnancy coverage!
- Try not to use Australian sayings as much! Things go over people’s heads a lot, and some of our slang means other things (e.g. ‘Thongs’ are underwear in America, not ‘Flip Flops’ as they call our type of thongs), which would have stopped a lot of embarrassing situations.
Considering the USA for exchange? Read more of our university profiles- where we have written on universities such as the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign which you can read here!