Studienfach: Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Aufenthaltsdauer: 03/2017 - 07/2017
Gastuniversität:University of Technology Sydney
When I enrolled at the University of Potsdam, I already had a wish to go on an exchange to Australia, it had been a dream of mine for a long time. As such, I informed myself both about the universities there as well as the process and documents I needed well in advance. These are all easily accessible on the website of the International Office.
I wanted to do a semester abroad as early into my studies as possible- that way I already had the basics of my subjects that I needed, and could expand on them under a potentially
different paradigm, while still getting them accredited.
I already had friends in Sydney studying at UTS, so I knew a little bit about the university. However, before I picked UTS, I made sure to inform myself about the different courses they offered, to make sure they were at least somewhat compatible with my degree. UTS is special as it did not require me to do a TOEFL test, something that was a huge relief, since those tests are expensive, need to completed well in advance and are only valid for a certain time period. Instead UTS had a note that needed to be signed by the International Office confirming my English abilities. However, a TOEFL test is definitely a bonus, not for the university application, but for the visa application.
I would advise everyone who wants to apply to know what documents they need and try and prepare well ahead of time. This applies especially to the letter of appraisal. I was only at the beginning of my second semester, and therefore did not know many professors who had taught me and would know who I was. I went to one who I had in a seminar at the end of March, but she was not able to write it for me due to personal reasons. Another teacher I had had in a seminar was also not qualified to write it for me, leading me to panic slightly as the application deadline approached. Luckily another professor who I had only had for three weeks was happy to write one for me. I would recommend asking for this appraisal to be written at least two months in advance, as you never know how much time a professor will need.
A further document I needed was an English test, which could be conducted by Zessko. However, as I was already studying English and American studies and am a native speaker myself, I did not actually have to do a test, but simply had the paper signed.
After my application was submitted, I got an email with a date for the interviews. These short interviews are done in front of a panel and in groups of four. Preparation for these interviews is important, and you should be able to articulate your reasons for studying abroad. It also helps to look at specific courses you want to take, see if you can get them accredited, and have a general idea of your stay in Sydney- especially where it concerns issues like finances and housing. I had already lived in Sydney prior to this, so I knew a bit about the environment, and I would recommend having some general knowledge of the city and country.
A few weeks after my interview I received a positive response to my application. However, for quite a long time there was no action anyone could really take – as you still have to apply to UTS itself and their application period didn’t start until October. However, in this time it certainly doesn’t hurt to inform yourself about things such as visa requirements. Once October came, I had to complete an application for UTS, which then had to be printed out and given to the International Office to send to the university. Soon after my application was accepted there I could start the process of applying for insurance and a student visa, as well as enrolling in subjects. UTS will contact you and send you links to all the relevant information you need. However, for me, this period was probably the most stressful and turbulent, thanks to the rigorous visa process that Australia has.
Unbeknownst to us exchange students, a few months before we applied, the Department of Immigration had tightened visa restrictions. One of them was the requirement of a TOEFL (or IELTS etc. – the list of accepted tests is on their website) test- which quite a few of us did not have. Here it is extremely important to note that UTS, while it does not require one, cannot help you if the Department of Immigration does. However, in the end all of us without a TOEFL test ended up clicking the option of not having done an English test in the last two years but simply attached our Certificate of Enrolment, where it states that you satisfy English language requirements. This ended up being enough for our visa to be accepted. Although I received a response to my visa within several days of submitting it, I have come to learn that this is not always the case, and some students wait months for theirs. The visa process needs to be started as early as possible.
Another personal challenge I had had to do with my insurance. I went with the Medibank cover that UTS recommended, but erroneously believed that the start date of the insurance coverage had to be the first day of the semester. This is not the case, and I strongly encourage for everyone to put a start date at least two weeks in advance to allow for more flexibility. The student visa is only valid in conjunction with OSHC. This meant I had to contact Medibank and change the date of my cover, which was a long and nerve wracking process, especially as I did not want to book flights until I had everything sorted out. This led to me booking my flight only two months before the start of the semester.
I really enjoyed my experience at the university, which started long before I set foot into the main building. In all their emails, the staff were extremely friendly and forthcoming, and seemed very eager to assist me in all my problems. I had some issues when it came to enrolling in my subjects while I was still in Europe, since due to a system error I was kicked out one of my allocated tutorials and all the others were full. I wrote a panicked email to my subject coordinator and was extremely surprised when she requested my skype details and immediately personally called me to sort it with me and ensure I had access to my classes.
Enrolling for classes was possible online several months before my arrival in Sydney, and my subject coordinators were extremely flexible when it came to opening up more tutorial options to accommodate the vast number of students in the course. In general, we were encouraged to enrol in our classes extremely early, since it works on a first come- first served basis. However, I was assured that there was no risk of not getting a spot if you are an exchange student, in order to satisfy visa requirements. Overall, the university staff were extremely helpful and friendly in this area.
From my observation, UTS is extremely diligent when it comes to international and exchange students, even offering a free shuttle bus pick up at the airport for students staying in UTS housing. Furthermore, UTS has a fantastic orientation week prepared for all students, which was a great introduction to Australian university life. There was one mandatory activity (an information session for exchange students) and a lot of optional activities, ranging from a university welcome to tips on getting a job in Sydney to campus tours and speed friending.
The information session for exchange students was three hours long and especially geared at addressing all our needs- we got an introduction into Australian culture, had a life guard come and talk about beach safety and were given lots of tips and helpful links (about where to get discounts and free food from to how to deal with culture shock). We were also given several booklets (or, judging by their width and number of pages, books) on how to find housing to setting up a bank account to workplace safety regulations. All in all, it seemed that every detail we had to know was covered, and everyone seemed to genuinely strive to make the transition as fun and easy for us as possible, and to make us feel welcome. It was made clear that there were people we could talk to if we felt lonely and unhappy, as well as services such as free counselling. Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised about how much of an effort UTS seems to go to, to make sure its students feel happy at university.
UTS offers a wide range of activities to keep you occupied, and there are an immeasurable number of clubs and societies at the university, seemingly dedicated to anything and everything. There is always a meet up or party of barbeque happening somewhere, and it’s a great way to meet new people and really immerse yourself in Australian student life.
I really enjoyed my university experience overall, especially since it was something that seemed so incredibly different from the much calmer yet businesslike atmosphere I have encountered in Germany.
UTS has a wide range of subjects available in all of its degrees, but this does not mean that they are all possible for exchange students. I was lucky to find a degree (communication) that bore a fair number of interdisciplinary similarities to my major in Germany and got accepted into almost all of the subjects I had listed in my application (UTS has very detailed subject outlines that it realises for the subjects before the start of the semester so you can inform yourself about the exact content and assessments beforehand). While I was free to choose a fair number of subjects, it’s very important to note that UTS encourages you to do first semester subjects, since they often have no prerequisites and are easier for exchange students. I did two first year core subjects in communication and second/third year elective. I ended up being quite bored in the first-year subjects, as they had covered things that I had (to a degree) already done at school in Europe and didn’t seem to very demanding. However, I immensely enjoyed my elective subject and really looked forward to it every week.
Subjects are divided into hour long lectures and two-hour long tutorials. Unlike in Germany, attendance in the tutorials is mandatory and you run the risk of extra work or not being able to have your work assessed if you miss more than two tutorials.
To prepare for the tutorials I had to do weekly readings in my subjects, which ended up accumulating into a fair amount of work, since I had two to three considerably long essays and works to read for each subject. Additional material was covered in the lectures and the tutorials were often used to discuss and understand the content. Often emphasis was put on the students, while the tutor was there to help or encourage, but not so much to present.
There were many assignments that had to be completed during the course of the semester itself, instead of at the end. This meant that I was required to submit a piece of work every two or so weeks for a subject, although there were also periods (notably in the middle and end of the semester) where the workload piled up and really snuck up on you. What I found helpful was that the exact things you would be assessed on were clearly pointed out in the subject outline, so you always knew what you had to pay attention to. If there was doubt, the tutors were extremely helpful (although I suppose this depends on the individual tutor as well). I had one tutor for two of my subjects who was incredibly helpful and ready to answer any questions I had about assignments. Overall, the student-teacher relationships that exist at UTS are incredibly friendly, as well as laid back and casual. You refer to your tutors and lecturers by their first names, and there seems to be little sense of hierarchy in the student teacher relationships.
The emphasis at UTS seems to be to try and help the student in whatever area as much as possible, which surprised me, as I was used to a more self-driven approach.
UTS also has a different approach to the type of assignments it sets than Germany – the tasks I was required to complete were a lot more diverse and creative than what I was used to. In Germany, I usually have to take an exam or write an essay- not so at UTS. While essays and exams did account for a part of my final grades, assessments such as writing reflective blog entries, undertaking an interview and coding it to look for social themes, or designing a board game to reflect how politics work in society was also a big part of it. UTS also places a big emphasis on group work as opposed to individual work, and very few degrees have subjects that do not require it.
The amount of facetime with my teachers was relatively low (9 hours maximum), but there was a fair amount of work I had to do at home, especially since I was studying to get results I could accredited at Potsdam. However, I also had plenty of free time and didn’t find the workload too demanding. Nor did I find any of the subjects extremely difficult, although that is not to say that certain assignments (especially in my elective) weren’t challenging.
What I really loved about UTS was its campus and facilities. The campus is right in the city, spread across several streets in tall, modern buildings. I loved that the campus was surrounded by bustling Sydney, with the Harbour Bridge or Hyde Park only a short train ride or walk away. The buildings are all modern and very comfortable, with lots of rooms and spaces made for studying and relaxation, making the campus a genuinely nice place to spend time. There are couches, tables, group work “pods”, reclining chairs, microwaves and beanbags everywhere. Since I lived a good 40 minutes away from university by train, and often had several hours between tutorials, I really enjoyed the comfortable environment the university had and all the spaces it offered. I also really liked the library, which has great work spaces and gives you the option of booking private group rooms to study and work in. The opening times of university were also fantastic- some buildings and computer pools were open for 24 hours, other buildings and the library were open until 11 pm, even on weekends.
In general, UTS offers some amazing facilities and services that all its students, including exchange students, can take advantage of. UTS careers can go over your resume with you, to make it appeal to potential employers as much as possible, while UTS HELPS has appointments you can book where people can read over your essays and work with you on your English. It seems that whatever you require, UTS has a service set up somewhere to assist you with it.
Another facility I was extremely grateful for was the medical centre in the main UTS building. If you decide to use the Medibank OSHC and go to the medical centre in UTS, you do not have to make a separate insurance claim, but only have to sign a paper, which saves you a lot of work and stress. I was injured by an animal early into my stay and required medical attention and injections. The medical centre made me an emergency appointment and was very helpful and friendly, and I thoroughly recommend it to future exchange students. Something that impressed me a lot and that should definitely also be mentioned is that the UTS medical service offers free counselling to all its students.
Overall the subject selection at UTS is very large, (although I thoroughly advise future students to not underestimate themselves and opt for more challenging elective subjects if possible), the services are great and the campus is a beautiful and fantastic place to spend time.
I was lucky in the fact that I had family friends in Sydney who very generously offered that I could stay with them for the duration of my studies. This had both advantages and disadvantages.
On the bright side, it meant that I did not have to spend a long time worrying about accommodation and weighing the pros and cons of student housing vs. attempting to find my own accommodation. I also got to live in a spacious house and have my own room. And, while I did have to pay rent, it was less than half of what would usually be paid in Sydney, meaning that ultimately, my accommodation in Sydney ended up being no more expensive than the amount I used to pay in Berlin. I was also with people who I was already very close to, and who could help me settle in and provide me with any help I needed.
I lived in the north west, in the suburbs, which were very calm and beautiful and well connected to the centre of Sydney train, but it did mean that I was pretty far away from the city.
The drawbacks of my housing, besides the distance to university, were of course that I probably missed out on a portion of student life. All the parties and events were in the centre and many gatherings occurred fairly spontaneously, meaning that I could not always take part. However, all in all, due to the affordability as well as due to the fact that I was living with old friends, I was very grateful for and happy with my housing situation.
Overall it needs to be emphasised that the housing situation in Sydney is quite difficult, both in terms of finding adequate housing and rental affordability. Sydney is simply mind-blowingly expensive, especially when it comes to rent, with student housing charging you between 200-300 dollars a week, and apartments in the city charging anywhere up to 600. It’s also important to note that many international and exchange students are taken advantage of in the regular housing market. Many housing offers (especially the ones that were advertised on the UTS international students Facebook page) had extremely high rent prices but offered very subpar conditions- often you had to share a bedroom with several others. Some people I knew did opt for finding housing themselves, and recommended living in suburbs closer to the city (Newtown seems to be extremely popular when it comes to housing and student life). From experiences my peers had, I also had a good impression of student housing services. They are located close to university and the city centre, meaning that you at least save some money on travel. You also get the chance to meet many other students, both international and domestic, and are really immersed in student life. Student housing does, however, have some drawbacks (besides the rent) that made me opt not to choose it while I was considering my stay, notably the extremely strict rules they have, especially regarding aspects like visitors, etc.
Sadly, rent is not the only expensive thing. Besides rent, public transport was easily my biggest expense. You require an OPAL card which you top up with a certain amount of money, and you pay for each individual trip (no day or week passes). International students are not entitled to concession prices, and as I was travelling approximately 40 minutes one way to get into university, I paid somewhere between 25 and 40 dollars per week to get to UTS. If you do not live within walking distance, this is unavoidable. The only strategy I found for lowering the cost of transport was to travel during off-peak hours, where the prices are slightly cheaper, which saved me about 4 dollars a week. Sydney’s transport system is not excellent, especially when it comes to efficiency. However, its one redeeming feature is that on Sundays travel prices are capped at 2.60 dollars, meaning that trips as far away as Newcastle or the Blue Mountains are practically free.
One mistake I made was not informing myself about banks and accounts before I came to Sydney. I had a travel cash card and a German debit card. I only ever used cash, withdrawing a larger sum about once every few weeks to lower the ATM costs. However, certain banks have partnerships with Australian banks, leading to a lack of withdrawal fees and I wish I would have informed myself about this in more detail.
Because I lived with family friends I didn’t struggle as much when it came to money and things like food and other expenses. Food in Sydney, is, as with everything else, extremely expensive. ALDI is probably the cheapest supermarket option. Eating out is very expensive, but there are certain places (like sushi hub) close to the university that are fairly affordable. Sydney is an extremely multicultural place, and the food reflects this, so I would definitely recommend setting a part of your budget aside for the delicious amounts of varying food. During my stay, UTS also had some free food offers that I eagerly took advantage of. They offered a free breakfast every Tuesday and Wednesday, with toast, spreads, tea, coffee and juice (getting free coffee in Sydney is nothing short of a miracle). On Thursday evenings, from 5:30-7:00 PM they also offered a free Pho buffet, where you could get a noodle soup of your choice and add vegetables, tofu and sauce to it as you wished. This ended up being a lifesaver, since lots of classes at UTS go well into the evening.
There are plenty of activities to do in and around Sydney, but it really needs to be said that you should expect to pay a considerable amount of money for a lot of them. Things like bushwalking or going to the beach are a great way to spend free time, and the city has some very relaxing places with amazing views, such as the Botanic Gardens near the Opera House. Certain places can be reached by public transport, but for others (like visiting beaches or anything outside of the centre) a car is necessary. Lots of places do offer student discounts, but whether you can actually get one is a hit and miss, since they require either a public transport concession sticker on your student card (available only for domestic students) or the current date on your student cards. UTS student cards for exchange students have neither, and while student services are aware of this problem, they seem to be unable to fix it. Most of the times I could get a student discounts, but at places like the zoo I was required to pay the full entry fee (42 Dollars).
I did not put a lot of pressure on myself of finding employment in Sydney, mainly as I wished to have sufficient time to concentrate on my studies. However, from what I observed and experienced it is very difficult to find a job in Sydney as an exchange student. You are required to state your visa status in your resume, and most employers prefer someone who is in the country for more than a few months in the employment process. As such, it is extremely important to make sure you have sufficient funds to cover your stay in Australia before you go, instead of assuming you can easily find a job there to cover to cover your living expenses.
I absolutely loved my time in Sydney and at UTS. While UTS had not originally been my first choice, I was really excited about being able to study concepts I already dealt with in my subjects in Germany under a new paradigm. I’m really happy that I decided to embark on a semester abroad only 3 semesters into my study as well, because I feel like I got a lot more out of the classes the university offered. For future students I have the tip to not be scared off by UTS’ warning of enrolling in first year subjects, as I didn’t find them overly challenging and could tell that I was in a room full of first semester students. Considering that you have to have completed almost a year of university before you can apply to go for an exchange to Sydney and three semesters by the time the exchange actually takes place, selecting second year subjects or at least including them in your studies can only benefit you. I would probably have left more time to deal with my insurance and visa, even though I suspect the challenges I and my peers went through regarding our visa were probably unique as we were the first group these additional restrictions had been imposed on. However, it never hurts to make sure you know all the documents you may eventually require beforehand to avoid any surprises.
It is also really important to be able to have a good idea of the costs of this exchange before applying for it, and not rely on possible jobs or financial aid to get you through after you have arrived. Instead, view jobs (in Sydney) and other financial aid as a bonus, but not as a prerequisite. Sydney is an absolutely fantastic choice for an exchange- it’s a beautiful place, the people are all so welcoming and friendly, the city is fantastic and the scenery breathtaking. And studying there with Potsdam’s exchange programme means that you can enjoy an amazing university without having to pay a cent in tuition fees, which would not be possible otherwise (I cannot emphasise how amazing this is enough).Overall, I wouldn’t really change anything about my stay, I enjoyed every second of it and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.