If you’re reading this post, you’re probably interested in going on exchange (and if you aren’t interested, I hope my blog post saves you from missing out on making the best decision of your life..so far). While I’ve never written a blog entry before, if you are interested in what I have been doing during my not-so-studious exchange semester so far, keep reading. (TLDR): You have my word, go on exchange – you wont regret it.
Rewind about 70 days, I would’ve just departed from Sydney on a cold winter’s night, on-board an Etihad flight to London (a journey that would take 24+ hours including lay-overs), ready to chase the European summer. Having flown across the globe, quite literally getting as far away from home as possible, landing in London was rather exciting…until I found myself waiting to be processed through immigration for about 2 hours as three planes had landed at the same time and only half of the booths were in operation – not the best surprise after being on a plane for a day. No big deal. This gave me plenty of time to figure out how I was going to get to my accommodation since I hadn’t gotten a sim card yet (hoo-ray for free airport wifi). Oh, and if you’re looking for a sim card that works well in Europe, I don’t recommend buying one before you leave. When I got out of the airport, I found that on the 3 Network (remember them?) there’s a deal (All-you-can-eat-data) for 20 pounds a month (~40AUD) that gives you unlimited calls, text and data in the UK as well as 25GBs (yes, Gigabytes) of roaming data across most western European countries. Pretty neat right? Also, if you’re thinking about all the different currencies you’ll need on your exchange (for that “eat, sleep, travel, repeat” six-months ahead cooler version of you), I went with the Citibank Debit card which allows me to withdraw money in local currency from ATMs without fees (from Citibank, the actual ATM provider might charge you a fee, but I’ve been okay so far). It then debits the Australian savings that I have linked with that account at pretty good rates, much better than what you’ll get at Travellex stands at the airport (eg. one time the quoted rate on Google was 0.636 EUR to AUD, and Citibank charged 0.63~. Then there’s Travellex asking for 0.54 EUR to AUD…no thanks).
(TLDR): While rainbows, parties and fairies may come to mind when thinking about how good your life is going to be on exchange, future you will definitely appreciate some pre-departure preparation. Read the above above for pre-departure tips.
Now to more of the fun stuff. Name a capital city in Europe and I’ve been there (..most likely). Pick a cathedral in any European country, I’ve seen it (..probably). Like most keen outgoing exchange students, I left as soon as I could to travel for as long as possible before uni officially started (which was around the beginning of September. Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m currently at Kedge Business School).
**Just make sure you’ve got your student visa things sorted. For students going to France, who are notorious for their slow administration, here’s a quick timeline in regards to my visa application (since I could not find anything helpful when I was applying):
May 26 – I received an email from the exchange university notifying that they have accepted me to attend and that an acceptance letter is being sent to UTS.
June 5 – my acceptance letter (needed for a student visa) is sent out
June 17 – the acceptance letter finally arrives
June 19 – I have posted my visa application to the french consulate
July 9 – happy days, I get an email from the french consulate saying my visa is ready for pick-up
July 16 – R.I.P bank account, I’m off to Europe.
ANYWAY, back to the travelling. So after two nights in London, I was off on a 34-day European Adventure tour across Europe with TopDeck (..and I was also going to be CAMPING). For most people, the idea of camping for 34 days doesn’t sound very appealing. Having been there and done it, I would have no hesitation to recommend it to others, let alone to do it again. It really is an experience like no other. Having traveled 34 days (18 countries and 26 cities) straight with the same bunch of people (56 of them) on what we liked to call the “hotbox” or “incubator of the bubonic plague 2.0” (if you do one of these trips, you will get sick…trust me), camping, sweating, eating, selfie-ing, partying, drinking (you get the idea), we developed a bond that truly is like no other. After seeing each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for almost 5 weeks (the longest amount of time – in succession – that you’ll probably ever spend with people), you will undoubtedly forge lifelong friendships (and networks, for those avid business students) among your fellow travelers. As corny as it sounds, they will become your second family. On the other hand, if you don’t plan on doing a month long summer tour like I did, you’ll definitely still meet plenty of people along the way during your travels.
Like most tourists, I was able to see most of Europe’s famous monuments and appreciate its amazing and historic architecture. Some of my personal highlights included:
Eating a fresh baguette in Paris – yes…jokes, my first meal was a panini. It was still delicious though! …and of course there’s la tour Eiffel, etc.
Skydiving in the Swiss Alps – yes! If you have skydived before, do it again! If you’re freaking out trying to convince yourself to do it.. Yes, you will survive. No you won’t have a heart attack. Yes, you’ll want to do it again after you jump!
Sagrada Familia (Barcelona) – words just don’t do this church any justice. You’ll have to see this one for yourself.
Walking through Florence – one of the best looking cities in my opinion.
Sailing in the Greek Isles – 3 days on a yacht island hopping between crystal clear waters! (gyros in Greece is awesome too!)
Entering Kings Landing – the old town of Dubrovnik (Croatia) was very cool.
Plitvice Lakes – amazing national park, clearest waters you’ll ever see and some absolute class waterfalls.
Budapest – wandering around the amazing city, and hearing a busker singing George Ezra’s “Budapest” (IN BUDAPEST!)
Prague and its Gothic architecture – as well the amazing Czech cuisine.
Berlin, Germany – while you’ll find lots of history in regards to the world wars and post-war periods when travelling through Europe, walking through Berlin is like taking a walk through history.
While you’re there, don’t miss the opportunity to check out Burgermeister if you get the chance – seriously good burgers. The Germans are also famous for their schnitzel and sausages so don’t give them a miss! (note: if you have peanut allergies, be cautious that some hot-dog stands use peanut oil to cook so definitely check!).
Amsterdam – riding bikes and doing other fun things… lol.
So after spending 34 days in Europe, I had a week to kick back and relax in London. Probably not the best place to spend a week given the continuous decline in value of the AUD. But like most Sydney-siders, I’d always wanted to go to London and explore its famous city, watch a theatre production and do touristy things (real life monopoly?). I’d say 3-5 days would have been plenty.
After London, I was off to Ireland (the Emerald Isle, land of the green, leprechauns, rainbows, pots of gold, etc) for a little under a week. Ireland is up there in my top…say 5, of countries I would recommend people to visit. While it was neutral to much of the world wars, there a lot of political history exists and it is all extremely interesting. Unlike many other European countries, where I felt tourists were viewed by locals as pests and a nuisance, Ireland seemed to thrive in making people feel welcome. My first purchase there was an “Irish Drinking Team” cap with a bottle opener – so cool, even the locals loved it! (yes, I perpetuated the stereotype)
I traveled with friends from UTS, along with a small tour (with Shamrocker) starting in Dublin, going up and around Belfast and Ballintoy (where they film the Iron Islands in Game of Thrones!! They were apparently filming there on Monday, but we left on Sunday! So close!) in Northern Ireland, before going across to Derry, down to Galway and the Aran Islands before heading back to Dublin. The scenery you see going around Ireland is amazing – massive lakes, towering mountains, lots of sheep and green fields).
The pubs are old-school and cosy, and all the staff/patrons were extremely welcoming and friendly. Don’t get me started on the food!
So after Ireland, it was time to head to Bordeaux, France for my orientation week. We were picked up by the University, by a society called Melting Potes who helped us settle in.
They made everything smooth and straight forward from opening a bank account (to pay for phone bills, electricity and rent) to getting a sim card. During orientation week, which was solely for international students, we were introduced to many of the administrative staff at Kedge and we were finally able to put faces to people we had been emailing for months prior. We also went on a little afternoon tour of the city, where we were led by a local tour guide around the UNESCO World Heritage City that is Bordeaux.
On the first weekend of the Orientation week, I had Friday-Monday off on my calendar, so I booked a spontaneous trip to Lisbon, Portugal (one of the perks of going on exchange in Europe is that you can get around to most European countries very easily and with quite a low budget). Like most European countries, Portugal has a ton of history to offer. Apart from history, I also indulged in large portions of codfish, Portuguese tarts and chicken. I also went to Belem to try the infamous Pastéis de Belém, which claims to have the original recipe for Portuguese tarts. Having had three there in one sitting, I don’t doubt it the slightest. Best. Tarts. Ever.
Come Tuesday morning, I was back in Bordeaux and headed to my team-building workshop organised by the university. Here I met many more international students and we participated in ice-breaker activities and team-based tasks.
Having finished all my orientation activities, and with a little bit of planning, I was off to Spain for the rest of the week.
So you’re probably wondering, when does uni actually start? Am I even studying? Yeah, I thought that too for a while.
Well I’m back at my place in Bordeaux (which I’ve rented on Airbnb, right in the city centre – this is recommended) typing up this blog post. I have been at uni for a week now, taking French classes every morning and a class on managing supply chain operations (which is surprisingly interesting) every second afternoon (minus weekends of course). So far, my learning environment at Kedge has been quite engaging and rather practical. The professors here encourage more interaction during lecture between students and academics than what I am used to at UTS. The number of students in each lecture is also smaller which helps. All the international students I have met have been extremely friendly and welcoming. I’ve even found out that there’s a rugby team and have been training with them for a week now. Although I am going to uni, it doesn’t quite feel the same (in a positive way), and I guess that’s the purpose of exchange. You’re now in a foreign country, mixed with other international students, and your professor has worked and studied in numerous countries during his life so far. Meeting new people every day, learning to speak the language, and settling down to living like how the locals do it in Bordeaux has been an amazing experience so far. If you go on exchange, I guarantee that you’ll have an opportunity like this. While my story is still going, like anything you do in life, you only get out what you put in.
Make the most out of your time at university, and there’s no better way to do that than to go on exchange!
p.s. in case you were wondering, in the last two months, I’ve been to 20 countries and 38 cities. What have you done during the last two months?
11656194 Christopher Chhoeu