||Bachelor of Business Marketing
Why did you choose your host university?
Given I had travelled to Europe 2 years earlier and visited 16 cities in 8 countries, I felt a need to select a country I hadn’t been to. My brother was also living in London at the time of my exchange, so the combination of geographic location, new country and a highly recommended business school at KU Leuven was the catalyst for selecting Belgium at my host country and KU as my university.
What was the university like?
Personally, I found the structure of KU Leuven difficult to adjust to. The university is essentially the city of Leuven, meaning there are lecture halls, classrooms and faculties scattered everywhere. It was very different to what Australian students are used to, attending one campus where everything is situated in close confines. KU is a highly prestigious university, ranked inside the top 20 of Europe. Assessment was strict, with a heavy focus on examinations (some courses solely assessed with an exam). Classes for me were mostly only lectures, with no tutorial type sessions for any of my courses. I found this to negatively influence my results, as it limits the access student have to lectures and professors. I have to say this was probably the most challenging aspect of my exchange, however from other international students it was also unusual for them.
What did you gain from your exchange experience and has it changed the way you think or altered your approach to life?
In a sentence, going on exchange was the best experience of my life, and I highly doubt I will ever top it. I have always lived at home, so I was forced to develop some independence to support myself and managed daily affairs that I wasn’t required to beforehand.
I feel it certainly has changed how I think about life. I have a deeper desire for adventure, for culture and for diversity that can only be experienced by living amongst a different nationality of people with different languages, lifestyles and traditions. I have found since I have returned I am more grateful for the luxuries of home, and also how good we have life here in Australia. I was often asked if I could live in Europe permanently, and each time my response was no, simply due to the fact of how spoilt we are in Australia. Prior to this I suppose I hadn’t been in a situation that made me consider the difference between home and abroad. I am a traveller, with great desire to see each corner of the globe, but there is really no place like home.
What accommodation options were available to you? How affordable was accommodation and would you recommend the same option to others?
As Leuven is a university city there are numerous accommodation options for international student. My accommodation was on the cheaper side, without my own bathroom or toilet. This residence was offered to my by the housing unit of KU Leuven. I was personally happy to have a lower quality accommodation and spend my money on travel etc, however for still quite a reasonable price there is some great new residences for students. Compared to some other European countries, and especially to Scandinavian countries, accommodation is very affordable in Belgium. I would recommend this to other students.
Describe your travel experiences; did you travel locally or to neighbouring countries?
The experience I had, in my opinion, stands alone compared to the average exchange students’ level of travel. Over 6.5 months I found my way to 70 cities and towns in 24 different countries. I would be lying if I said that the study was a priority over travelling for me. I saw exchange as a once in a lifetime opportunity to see as much of the world as I could, made possible by the access to funds available to exchange students. As Belgium is a small country, I travelled regularly on day trips, visiting most cities at least twice. This is the beauty of European countries; travel is so fast and easy (especially coming from a country the size of Australia!). My timetable while on exchanged was conveniently such that I had 4-day weekends, of which I made the most. I travelled solo, on Contiki and Top Deck tours, with my family, with fellow Unisa students and best of all (on two occasions) with a wonderful group of international friends I made in Leuven. These two trips, to Dublin and Hamburg, are standouts of my exchange and memories I’ll never forget.
Describe how you adjusted to life in a different country and how you met new people.
Personally I am very comfortable on my own, happy to travel solo and make my own way. However, when you are living in a new foreign city for almost 5 months, you feel a desire to make friends and be included. When I arrived in Leuven it certainly was daunting. I was fortunate to have two Adelaide girls on exchange at the same university, so through them I met other international students who became my ‘group’ as it were. At my residence I didn’t connect with the local Belgians so well; most seemed content to stick to their own friends, and especially to their own language. Over time I came to accept that Belgians, while friendly and polite, aren’t the most outgoing nationality to a point where they’d include you in their circle of friends. As a result, I was increasingly grateful for other international students who were of a similar mindset to me (looking to make new friends and socialise). I had hoped to be exposed to Belgian life by spending time with Belgian students, to see how they lived etc. Apart from a few individuals who had a particular ‘personal interest’ in Australians, I unfortunately didn’t get to experience Belgium as the locals know it.
English is very good in the majority of Europe and Belgium is no exception. Communication was rarely an issue thankfully! Also, Tinder works as well as anything when it comes to meeting people!
Can you see any benefits from this exchange to your future career?
From a professional standpoint I would like to think that 6 months living abroad would be a positive quality to a potential employer. Regardless, I feel that within myself I am a more mature person, with a greater acceptance for diversity, and appreciation for the European lifestyle, and even more so the comforts of life as we know it in Australia. I simply now know more about the world, about its lifestyles and cultures; if this isn’t a benefit to an individual’s abilities in the business world, I would be surprised. However, it remains to be seen if my experience will indeed benefit me in my career pursuits.
What advice would you give to a student who was hesitant or considering joining the exchange program?
Do it! Take the plunge, have a crack, give it a whirl… all of those clichés are exactly the attitude that is needed to commit to an exchange, and more importantly get the absolute most out of it. There were two key things I thought of while away that scared me; that I would return home feeling like I never left, and that I would have missed an opportunity and have regrets. I can honestly say that in some ways it does feel like I never left, but I also do not have a single regret from almost 7 months away. I spent the money I needed to, without hesitation, in order to see every place on my list and live out my dreams. Through the generosity of UniSA and the government, uni students have an opportunity to see a part of the world with financial assistance you wont ever get again (outside of winning the lottery). So just make the decision to go, plan it, do research, put yourself out there and recognise the opportunity for what it is: the chance of a lifetime.
ALWAYS SAY YES AND HAVE MORE MONEY THAN YOU NEED!
Get the grants, the loans and the scholarships. This was the difference between me setting foot in 24 countries as opposed to 6 or 8. I had friends who were on exchange at the same time and their trip was far shorter than mine, and far less adventurous. Regardless of your desire to travel like I did or not, it is better to have too much money than not enough.
Secondly, even if you are unsure or hesitant, just say yes. Yes, to spontaneous activities, trips, meals, experiences, nights out, dates…everything. One semester goes so quickly, and before you know it you’ll be home again. I had times that I perhaps didn’t want to spend the money on something, or do something that everyone else was but just always said yes and never once regretted it. Things will inevitably clash from time to time, but as long as you’re making the most of every opportunity to make friends and memories, you will return home with very few regrets. It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity.