Isanya Köhne

This week we’re travelling outside of Europe again, and close to a country we previously discovered. We’re headed all the way down to Melbourne, Australia! Fleur, 23 years old and currently doing a full time board year at I*ESN Tilburg, did her exchange there during her bachelors. “Last summer I graduated from my bachelor in Online Culture at Tilburg University, my exchange was for a bachelor’s in arts where I did a song writing course and followed gender studies as well”. She picked Australia because she wanted to go to a country that had English as its main language but was also far away. She had also made friends from Down Under prior to her exchange that motivated her to go that direction. “Monash University was my pick due to its high standing reputation and its wide range of subjects to study”.

Freaking epic

I knew quite early on, I’d say for more than a year prior, that I would go on exchange. This made room for quite the anticipation, and even some doubts a few days before heading out. I kept thinking ‘What am I doing?’, ‘Going to the other side of the world all alone is crazy’, but all of those thoughts subsided as soon as I landed in Sydney and stepped off the plane. During my exchange everything went smooth in terms of practicalities, such as getting a bank account, public transport card, and finding the nearest grocery stores and pharmacies. I made friends fairly quickly and that helped tremendously in getting organised. I ended up living on campus in what they call ‘residential halls’. Each hall had its own name and mine was called Deakin Hall. We had our own mascot, a lion, and the hall’s colours were red and blue. It had four floors in total, each floor having two wings and about 20 people living there. Each wing would have a communal bathroom and kitchen. I stayed on the third floor in a fairly big room with it’s own built-in closet, a bed, desk, and shelves. Moving in was quite easy. The moment I got admitted into Monash University I got the option to stay at these halls. I doubted between living there or in Melbourne city for a long time, as the campus is quite far from the centre. I went with the halls in the end because of the security it gave me; I wouldn’t be forced to find accommodation on the private market and risk not finding a place in time. The process of claiming a room was quite stressful due to many required documents and the massive time difference, but luckily, in the end I got a room appointed to me!

I went on exchange in the Spring semester, so I left the Netherlands when it was freezing outside. I arrived in Sydney before heading down to Melbourne, and the moment I got out of the plane, the heat slapped me in the face. Going from cold temperatures to over 30 degrees was interesting to say the least. Deakin Hall organised its own introduction week besides the official one hosted by the University. I quickly got to make new friends because of that. I was ‘adopted’ into an already existing friend group and would end up hanging out and studying with them frequently my entire exchange. Deakin Hall also had a big common room, so it was easy to meet up with others. I think going on exchange is very valuable because you’ll learn so much about yourself. I went on my own, with no friends from my home university, and I learned plenty about having to fend for yourself and being independent. You’ll learn all of that the moment you arrive in your home away from home.

The Aussies

Oh, the Australians are incredibly kind and welcoming people. I didn’t really experience a culture shock as Australians speak a language I’m near fluent in, and in all senses it’s considered a ‘Western country’. They do seem to be way more laidback and relaxed, as the stereotypes say, than the Dutch. That’s for sure. Communicating with them was very easy, as they speak English. I do have to say that the accent was sometimes a bit hard to decipher, as the Australians use a lot of abbreviations. Breakfast for instance becomes brekky. But in no time I got the hang of it. It turns out that the more Northern you go, the accents become more Australian. One of my friends from there would sometimes talk so fast I wouldn’t be able to keep up.

My fondest memory was the time I got the chance to travel around Tasmania with my best friend from my exchange. He was originally from Tasmania and showed me all around his home, which was truly a great time. We went to his family’s ‘shack’, as he’d call it, which was on a lake, and we’d spent two days there. I remember the sunset shining onto that lake and watching Stranger Things 3 with internet that barely worked. The best thing that happened during that trip was when we were standing on a parking lot in a nature reserve in Tasmania. We had just parked our car and stepped out when a wild wallaby popped up. It was extremely tame, even came up to us for scraps of food. I was able to pet it even, and that was amazing. It was incredibly soft and had chubby cheeks. It was a moment I will never forget. I was fortunate to travel the country. I started the journey off with a trip, as I flew into Sydney first. Pretty soon after I flew to Melbourne, explored there, and did a day tour of the Great Ocean Road. Once I was settled into Deakin, I travelled most of the east coast, the Whitsundays, the Great Barrier Reef, Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, and even went to New Zealand on my own for three weeks. And of course, like I mentioned before, I spent a week in Tasmania as well. I had the pleasure of seeing all these iconic sites of Australia.

No regrets

I mostly hung out with nationals, but there was a mix of international and national students at Deakin Hall, where I stayed. The classes were like that too, so it was very easy to connect with Australian students as well as with other internationals. You realise that you’re in the same boat so it’s easy to talk and connect on the struggles you face being away from home. A normal week on my exchange would look a little like the following. I’d have classes and tutorials almost every day, go out on Wednesdays sometimes, and every Thursday I’d go to The Nott. This was a regular spot for people that lived on campus. There’d be a live band and jugs of beer, which ultimately made for a good night every time. When it comes down to the finances, I’d say Australia is definitely more expensive than the Netherlands. One Australian dollar is equivalent to 0,66 euros. Groceries would be about 50 AUD each week, and rent was definitely not cheap either. Additionally, you can expect to pay between 7 and 12 AUD for beers, which isn’t too bad compared to the Dutch prices. Most expenses were reasonable when compared to euros.

I think the biggest obstacle I faced during my exchange was dealing with being far away from friends and family for so long. I also missed helping out at I*ESN Tilburg that semester. I’m very close with my parents and grandparents, so it was difficult not to be a train’s distance away from them. I had an amazing time in Australia, and my parents even came to visit me while I was there. I went on exchange with a very open and clear mind, which I think made my time there more enjoyable, instead of maybe with set expectations. I’m a firm believer of not regretting things you have done. However, there is one thing I regret not doing, which was taking the chance to skydive over the Franz Joseph Glacier in New Zealand. I didn’t do it because it was incredibly expensive and was a little afraid, but I should’ve just gone for it. Something the Aussies have left me guessing about are some of the food choices, they can be odd at best, haha. The Snag, which is a staple in Australia, is literally just a sausage wrapped in a piece of bread. And let’s not talk about vegemite…

If you’re thinking about going on exchange, I can only tell you to do it! No matter what your destination is, you’ll learn so much about yourself and have the best time ever. I promise. If you’re thinking about doing it in Melbourne, you have to go and wander the cities on your own. You can’t pass on seeing the Great Ocean Road either. It’s a drive down some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and easy to be done. I fell in love with Australia very quickly. The freedom and calmness that Australians seem to have is something to strive for. They seem to have a lot figured out and definitely have some of the most beautiful nature parks in the world. It’s a very pleasant lifestyle. When I had to go back, I didn’t want to leave. All I could think was ‘I want to stay here, just one more week please’. I still talk to my friends from exchange. I facetime them regularly and we send each other birthday presents. We’ll talk about everything but also nothing. I miss them a lot. I haven’t been back since my exchange, but when I’m in the right financial situation and COVID-19 has passed, I hope to go back. In the meantime I’ll continue speaking in abbreviations, calling McDonald’s ‘Maccas’ and use the accent and their phrases.

Thank you, Fleur, for sharing your stories of the beautiful Down Under with us. We can only dream of the experiences you have gone through in that enchanting country. For those who have any questions about going on exchange in the direction of Australia, or Melbourne, or about the Aussies, anything Australia at all, feel free to contact Fleur about them!