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Travelling Broke; A Poor Student’s Guide to Exchange

Preamble: I am writing this from my own personal experience as a self supported Low Socioeconomic Status (Low SES) student, this is not to say that every other Low SES student is able to achieve this, but if they are in a similar position/perspective as me, this is a way to get on the ol’ exchange train.

I’ve always wanted to go on exchange. Since the day I was automatically enrolled into Year 8 French, where I discovered the beautiful and magnificent wider world, which extended way beyond my humble hometown of Wyong on the Central Coast. As soon as I got that taste, that exposure to different cultures, languages, views and peoples, I was hooked. I would spend hours searching ways that I could do exchange and where I could go. But my searches would always hit a roadblock when I reached the dreaded price tag. As unfortunately growing up working class, in a low SES area meant neither myself nor my family would be able to cover the fees, school exchange would not be an option, and four years later I would be dealing with the same issue; going overseas for exchange is very, very expensive.

Come ATAR time, I was caught up with two options; go to a local university, live at home and be able to afford to go on exchange. Or go to my dream university (UTS yeah boi), which would require me to move to Sydney and deal with the unforgiving and draining rental prices and all around living costs ($15 for a smashed Avo on toast are you shitting me?!), which meant that I would not be able to afford exchange. As you can guess I chose the latter, but as I found out it would not mean that I would have to give up my chance of going on exchange.

Last year having recently come back from a BUiLD program in Thailand called ATYAP, I set myself up with a goal; to go on exchange. If you’re reading this and like me, you are living essentially week to week in Sydney, you can understand how absurd this idea was; I had no savings, owed 2 months worth of rent and was calculating how I could Top up my Opal Card and still afford a cheeky Pide from the Uni Bros. But I was going to do it, and now sitting here in Bangkok, about to finish my first semester here and absolutely loving it, I can tell you that not only is it possible, you can survive very comfortably.

First things first, you have to be realistic about where you want to go, I’ve had friends that went to the US or Europe and ended up dropping 15k-20k in 4 months, for a self supporting student like myself that is just unrealistic, especially when you compare it to Asia, where you can live comfortably in a major city such as Bangkok for a year on 10k easily. Personally, I was fortunate enough to have a very deep interest and passion in the Thailand region, so that was the main reasoning for my choosing to come to Thailand, as well as to explore here and the surrounding regions. Honestly I cannot recommend studying in South East Asia enough, not only is it an amazing place to study, but you have an incredible amount of opportunities not only in travel but career aspects as well. Bangkok is a hot pot of opportunities, from commercial to humanitarian efforts and everything in between, I’ve had friends that have come here and ended up working at places such as Unilever and even the United Nations!

These opportunities also stem from the fact that the Government is incredibly supportive of those wanting to do exchange in Asia, the Government offers OS-Help Loans of around $7700 per semester (roughly) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade  in combination with UTS have 5 New Colombo Plan Mobility Grants per country per year, these grants are valued at $7000, I’ve been fortunate enough to both receive the OS Help Loans and the Mobility grant, which I honestly absolutely needed to be able to come to Thailand. On top of this if you currently receive Youth Allowance, you will continue to receive it upon exchange, so financially speaking you’ll definitely be okay.

I think one of the biggest issues with the concept of exchange is that it is very Eurocentric, in that a lot of people often forget that places such as Asia, South America and even Africa offer amazing once in a lifetime opportunities, not only that but there is the misconception that you’ll have to learn and study in the local language, which just isn’t the case, the majority if not every country in Asia has universities that are not only state of the art but are taught in English, with Professors and Tutors from all around the world.

I’ve found as a Low SES Student that has had to live out of home since moving to Sydney, the concept of exchange was really just a pipe dream, going on exchange or even just travelling itself is an inherently privileged activity. So I know it will sound cheesy, but with some research, and some proper support by UTS and the Government, I was able to turn this dream of mine into a reality… I personally can think of two decisions in my life that I am eternally grateful for; the first one being the fact I chose to move to Sydney and to study at UTS, and the second being deciding to go on exchange, so if you are in the same boat as me, know you do have the support of both the university, DFAT, and many other governmental bodies that are willing to help, if you are even in the slightest bit interested, I would definitely recommend going down to the International Office and having a chat with the staff there as they are more than willing to help.

I’ll begin to post more of my actual adventures in Thailand (as I’m currently in the middle of my exams now). If you are interested in Thailand or wanting to know more about how you can travel please feel free to shoot me an email (will include below), or talking to the wonderful staff at UTS International. You can also check out my Instagram which is essentially my own blog which you can find here;

David Grover


Bachelor of Science Bachelor of Business

Exchange in Mahidol University, Thailand





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