American University (Washington, D.C)

Tom Luu is a fourth-year student completing the Bachelor of Commerce (International). He is majoring in Finance and International Relations. Tom went on exchange during August 2018 – May 2019 to the American University as part of his one-year exchange degree requirement.

Interviewed and Edited by Megan Chen

Many people choose to go to the United States for exchange. What was your motivation to choose this destination?

I have always wanted to go the U.S. and study there since I was little. I chose the U.S. and D.C. in particular because I wanted to learn about foreign affairs from its heart and global epicentre.

How did you balance working part-time/casual jobs to raise money for your trip alongside the university workload?

To be perfectly honest, I did not have a great work-life balance. I sacrificed a lot in my first year at university, and made compromises socially to work and study 7 days a week. My grade was not the best and I knew if had I focused on studying, it would have been better. Moreover, there was a lot of added pressure without a great return; even though I attained enough funds for my exchange, I traded away my first year university experience for it.

Winter is always mesmerising in photos.

What is one thing that a future exchange student should participate in at your university?

I would highly recommend exchange students to get involved with clubs and fraternities. The American college experience revolves around student life and these social circles will help you grow and enjoy your stay. I met all of my close friends through clubs, and chances are you will too.

Society outing among the Cherry Blossoms in Spring.

How was the teaching style different compared to UNSW?

The U.S. style of teaching is much more interactive than UNSW. All classes are taught by your professor and you attend class twice a week. This style of teaching allows you to be more exposed to the subject matter and to your professors. I personally knew all of my professors and this aided my learning tremendously.

Comfort is the pillowy texture of a proper New York Cheesecake.

What accommodation would you recommend?

American dormitories are not cheap, largely because they attach mandatory meal plans to your accommodation. However, if possible, I would recommend you stay on campus at dorms or live as close to campus as possible. When you stay in a dorm, you will always have a roommate, allowing you to acclimatise with the locals much faster.

D.C. is one of the only places outside of Japan with the best blossoms.

What were some of your favourite places to visit in the area?

D.C. is best known for its striking Roman architecture, museums, and urban parks. The National Mall is always a great place if you want to relax among greeneries and read a book. And best of all, 9 out of 10 museums are free to enter. However, I will always love Georgetown (especially in winter) for its picturesque streets and great eateries.

Snowfall often reminds me of scenes in a fairytale.

Were there any cultural differences that you experienced?

The biggest, best, and what I was surprised about most, was American door etiquette. Everyone holds the door opens for the person behind them, inviting the opposite side to leave first, and always doing so with a smile. Back here in Sydney, it is not as common and I think it is a very subtle aspect of American culture that is not well known.

Often, the most delicious food isn’t the best looking. Never judge Peruvian food by its appearance.

What are three final tips you would give to someone embarking on their exchange journey?

  • Take risks and explore- You are only there for a year, try to live like a local and do things you wouldn’t be able to back home.
  • Always start a conversation with your Uber/Lyft/Taxi drivers. These are locals who have seen a lot and have the most stories to tell. I learned a lot about their daily lives, American culture and social fabric just by talking to these men and women. Plus, it makes the ride less awkward!
  • Try all the ethnic cuisines that you can find. America is a melting pot of cultures, stories, and foods. What they have and what we lack is a robust South American population, who bring with them a lot of delicious cuisines. I personally love Peruvian food when I tried it for the first time, and I’ve been missing it ever since I returned to Sydney.

Falling in love with Washington D.C. and can’t get enough? Read our previous American university about The George Washington University.

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