Thinking of spending a year studying abroad? Having doubts? Not sure where to go? HCX Travel is here to help! We’ve spoken to final year students who have spent time studying across the globe. This week we caught up with Imogen, a History student from Cornwall, who spent a year at the University of Western Australia.
What made you decide to spend a year studying abroad?
It was an opportunity to have a structured chance to live in another place. You can experience another culture, but there are support networks in place to fall back on as well as an organised student life. It’s an easier, safer and – to be honest – less daunting way of traveling. The timetable for the year is set out for you, so you’re not just turning up in another country and seeing where it takes you. Although that can be exciting, it was preferable for me to have a structure in place. Also, it was much easier in terms of getting a visa.
Why did you choose Australia?
I considered Australia because I’ve always loved it. My mum lived there and my brother was born there. I’d been there on my gap year and wanted to see more of it. It’s a completely different year abroad to the European experience. It’s all about the outback and the chance to explore a different hemisphere. I knew I would not have this opportunity again, particularly as I had the support of student finance. You don’t pass up a chance like that.
I’ve always had itchy feet. The world is a big place and I wanted to see it. I wanted to test myself. I’ve always tried to have a lot of control over my life, so I wanted to develop and ease up a little bit and this felt like the perfect opportunity. It’s good to put yourself in situations where you can’t plan everything. By not being able to plan, you open yourself up to a range of new experiences and people. By deciding to go I was throwing myself in at the deep end, but in a way that had the safeguards of a support network.
How did the University of Western Australia compare to Exeter?
Both are amazing, but in different ways. I preferred Exeter in terms of academic standard, but I preferred UWA’s more innovative styles of teaching. One of my modules substituted a seminar for an online forum every other week. This was designed to help people who didn’t have confidence to speak in class. Not having the pressure to speak was really great and was more rewarding for class as a whole.
Societies were not as extensive or active as in Exeter, despite what it says in the brochure. Australian students tend to go to university close to home, so most of them live at home. Very few live in student housing, so the student body has a completely different dynamic. Australian students tend to have more of a life outside of the university, and have pre-existing social life. University is just a small part of life for Australians, rather than the bubble it is for us.
What was the social scene like in Perth?
I lived in a residential college so that was very social. I spent a lot of time with other exchange students. In terms of Australian students, everybody has ready made friendship groups so they don’t make that much effort to make friends at University. My friends were mostly international students. I did have some Australian friends who lived in colleges.
There is an organised social calendar and student hall events. Perth International was a society for all international students and they offered lots of activities and trips. I got to experience Sunday sessions, where everybody goes to a pub by the beach at 12pm on a Sunday. We would stay there all afternoon and get smashed. Of course there were lots of BBQs as well!
In terms of nightlife, everything in Perth everything shuts early, so it wasn’t much of a change from Exeter! Although there were certain places UWA students would go, there wasn’t a specific student scene.
What was the most challenging part of the year?
Probably seeing the racism that takes place in Perth against the Indigenous People and learning to deal with that. Cornwall and Exeter are not very diverse places, so while I’d always understood these issues in theory I’d never experienced it first-hand. The hardest part was understanding that by being a white, middle class student living in affluent part of Perth at good university, I was already being complicit in a racist system. That’s the thing that shocked me – I had to choose if I going to try and understand what is going on and how I could change this, or if I was just going filter it out like a lot of Australians do. All of the homeless people you see are Indigenous Australians and you can choose to look at that and not think about the reasons behind it and question it. Why are so many aboriginal people begging and so many white people walking around with money? I took Indigenous modules to try and understand this, and this meant facing unpleasant truths on daily basis. It was the hardest but best aspect of my year abroad. It made my understanding of the world more realistic and it made me develop as a person. I now understand another culture more and my everyday behaviour is better because of having undergone this experience. Now I’ve learnt about this I can do my own bit to end racism.
What’s your favourite memory from your year abroad?
When I went travelling to Central Australia and Northern territory. I went to the Kakado National Park and I stood looking out over the Arnhem Escarpment. It is an iconic landmark and I’d always wanted to go there. It’s properly in the Outback and it’s truly amazing. The experience was a childhood dream realised.
What would you say to other students considering studying abroad in Australia?
Go! 100% go! Don’t worry about the doubts you have – you’ll cope. All the clichés are so true and they’re cliché for a reason. It’s not going to be “the best” experience of your life but its going to be one of the best. It’s a chance for you to go and develop as a person, learn new stuff and to test yourself. You find out, actually, you can do it. I can sum up my whole experience with a quote from one of my favourite childhood books:
‘The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all…’ (The Princess Diaries).