Alexander Kindlen

Date: SP5, 2013
Degree Program: Masters of Architecture 
Host University: Universität Liechtenstein
Host Country: Liechtenstein

Kindlen 1Why did you choose your host university?

I was really interested in studying architecture in Europe: where I could travel easily and be exposed to a variety of different cultures, meet different people, and experience different architecture. I jumped at the opportunity when I found out that Universität Liechtenstein had only just made an exchange agreement with UniSA. It's in the perfect location at the heart of Europe, and amazing Swiss architecture was right next door. It just so happened that it was the only exchange partner in Europe that was offering architecture too.

What was the university like?

The university was the perfect mix between the small, homely inclusiveness of a small country like Liechtenstein, with the professional and design-conscious attitude of Switzerland and other German countries. The university only offered four schools - architecture being one of the largest. It meant that architecture clearly had a priority within the university, and the resources reflected that. The studios, workshops, lecture spaces; and the wealth of knowledge from professors and local architects was outstanding.

We had a choice between four masters studios - the selection process involved a small interview with the studio professors in which we discussed ourselves and our portfolio of work. It meant that both students and the professors could form the studios that would work best for everyone, and it created a far more personalised, atelier type of environment. The class sizes were definitely a large factor - there were around 60 masters students across the two year levels, with around 15 students to each studio professor (+ one assistant professor).

In addition to the studio that ran over the entire semester, we also took 6 elective subjects that ran for half a semester each - in two groups of three. The workload and the expectations of the entire exchange semester were certainly more intense than UniSA, but the steep learning curve exposed me to a hugely diverse range of subjects and ways of thinking.

Kindlen 2What did you gain from your exchange experience and has it changed the way you think or altered your approach to life?

Of course. I'd been lucky enough to travel a lot before the exchange, so I think what I've gained from the whole experience has been centred on my career in architecture, and the path I want to take in the future - rather than a simple overwhelming amazement that can come with travelling for the first time. Most importantly, I think this exchange has really shown just how many different options exist before me, and that I can take my future any direction I want to, as long as I'm willing to chase after it.

What accommodation options were available to you?  How affordable was accommodation and would you recommend the same option to others?

I was lucky to find a place in the student dormitory, which fills up very quickly once the applications are open. It was perfect really, just a two-minute walk from the university, and living together was a great way to make new friends and have fun outside of uni. It was expensive by European standards (as was everything in Liechtenstein/Switzerland), but nothing compared to Australia. It's also more affordable if you share a room - my roommate was an Austrian regular student, we got along perfectly and became good friends.

Kindlen 2Describe your travel experiences; did you travel locally or to neighbouring countries? 

I did, Liechtenstein is that small that going across to Austria or Switzerland for food shopping or clubs is a regular thing. But besides the mundane, it's in the perfect location to catch the train to anywhere else in Europe, and we'd often go exploring nearby countries if we had a weekend free or semester break. 

I also travelled solo for a month after the semester had finished, before I had to return to Australia for the start of the next semester. That was an incredible journey, and whilst I'd travelled before with friends, family or school, travelling alone was something I hadn't done, but was excited to try. I experienced so much in the different places I travelled through (Switzerland, Austria, Czech Rep., Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Italy), and I learnt a lot about myself as a person.

Describe how you adjusted to life in a different country and how you met new people.

The university is made up of mostly international students, largely from Europe, but also from overseas. Having such a diverse, large group of us all going through the same experience for the first time was exciting and helped ease some of the settling in, and some of my strongest friendships have come from it. The masters courses were all taught in English, and everyone's English was good enough anyway that there was never any real issues with language.

Meeting new people was easy, just involve yourself in as many things as possible and be open and friendly. Whether it was from university, living in the dorms, playing sports, travelling together, or just the different events that were run by the university - there was always opportunities to meet new people and forge new friendships.

I'm quite an independent person, and had travelled a lot previously, so adjusting or dealing with culture shock was never really an issue for me. There were definitely times when I missed friends and family, but I always felt it's a shame to let it negatively affect your time away. I've never been one to get homesick I guess.

Kindlen 3Can you see any benefits from this exchange to your future career?

Absolutely. Architecture is such a personal and complex pursuit - the experiences I've had on exchange, and different ways of thinking about design that I've explored, I'm sure will continue to influence my work for the rest of my life. You can only read and see images of architecture so much - but you really have to inhabit spaces in person before you can fully understand them. If nothing else, this exchange has allowed me to experience some amazing buildings for myself, and helped me grow as an architect.

Of course, there's also the connections and friendships I've made with people from all over the world, and I'm more convinced that Europe is where I'd like to eventually live and practice.

What advice would you give to a student who was hesitant or considering joining the exchange program?

If you keep waiting for the 'perfect time' to do something, it'll never happen. Just get out there and do it.

Also, don't worry about the financial side so much - there's plenty of support out there if you're willing to look, and it'll work itself out eventually. 

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