Where in the world? Student exchange experiences 3

In the last post of this week’s study abroad theme, five RUG students describe their experiences of spending one semester far away from home. Read about laid-back Australians and learn how studying abroad can change one’s views on society.

Do you have exchange experiences you want to share with us? Write a comment or email us at mindwise@rug.nl. We want to hear where you’ve been and about your experiences there!


Students From Groningen Going Abroad

 Leona was at Victoria University, New Zealand

I spent my semester abroad in New Zealand’s capitol city Wellington, which is also called Windy Welly. The name actually describes the city quite well because the wind is nearly always blowing. It can be a little breeze or a heavy storm, chilly in winter or a nice refreshment on hot summer days. Wellington is a rather small city, where most things are in walking distance, but still has a lot to offer! You can enjoy nice food in plenty of restaurants, party with lots of other students, relax at the harbour or beach, do walks across the hills to some small bays, climb up Mount Victoria to see the sunset and much more.

Studying at Victoria University was a great experience. The lecturers, staff and fellow students were always very supportive and helped to get most out of the courses. The Victoria International Students-team made sure that you definitely had a fun time by organising many activities where you got to know many other students. You could also join different sport, cultural or language clubs. I enjoyed living on campus with other international students, who were always up for activities or trips to discover the whole country.

I really had a great time in Wellington and can highly recommend doing a semester abroad if you are interested in getting to know another culture and country, people from all around the world, another university system, another city, …


Jonas was at Concordia University, Canada

My semester abroad at Concordia University in Montréal was an experience, which challenged myself as well as my ideas about our society more than any other semester before. The creativity, critical thoughts, open-mindedness, and social as well as environmental activism prevalent amongst young Montréalians inspired me unforgettably. Studying at Concordia meant to study in the heart of Montréal and sometimes even in the beautiful greenhouse (13th floor) of the main building (free fresh herbal tea included). It meant free vegan lunch (cooked by students) every day, markets from local farmers every week, and extracurricular talks by incredible personalities (e.g. the transsexual activist Janet Mock from New York City), political cinema, and art events on mass.

Life in Montréal is like a daily mind-opener: Constant triggers enabled me even more to appreciate that everyone is different no matter how extreme or nonstandard. I fell in love with Montréal because of the people and what they constantly ‘build-up’ for the community. Amongst other things, I enjoyed small-scale movie nights (powered by cyclists), open pianos on every second corner, the Sunday afternoon TamTams (hundreds of people gather in park Mont-Royal for an improvised jam and chill session), and the electronic picnic (a weekly one-day electronic music festival with a ‘sun downer’ behind the skyline). Besides the hours I spent in mind-blowing cafés, I travelled to natural as well as urban spots in East Canada and the US. For those who wonder what city would be optimal for a semester abroad, I can truly recommend Montréal, which is tropical in summer and slightly cooler in winter.


Julia was at the City University London, England

City University London – the name speaks for itself: A university in the centre of the pulsating, wonderful and diverse city of London. Being located in one of the finest areas of London, the university offered numerous interesting classes I could attend from end of September until end of December 2014. This rather short stay enabled me to experience the perfect mixture of a new academic challenge but also enough leisure time to explore my new ‘home’. Home is often associated with a cozy and quiet place – let me tell you, London is neither at first sight. Surrounded by constant traffic, sounds and people, you realize quickly that you are clearly not alone (in fact, you have 8.4 million fellow human beings around you!). However, once you have found your ridiculously overpriced 5 m2 room somewhere, you can make this overwhelming city your home. The variety of cultures, districts, languages, architecture and people made me feel as if I was in a new city almost everyday, which was super exciting. London has a lot to offer; strolling along the street food markets or discovering the very diverse boroughs were my favourite activities. Watch out: Mobile contracts and museums (free!) are the cheapest things you can afford. Everything else costs you a fortune – fortunately I was prepared and supported by Erasmus.


Nike was at the University of Sydney, Australia

I had always wanted to go to Australia and became very excited when I learned about the possibility of doing a semester abroad in Sydney. Although I was delighted to have been given a place, a few doubts arose a couple of days before I was going to take off to the other side of the world. However, these qualms turned out to be unnecessary, as I was greeted warmly by the friendliest and most laid-back people I’ve ever met. Immersing myself in Australian culture, I soon experienced why everyone was crazy about surfing and got to do very enriching bushwalking trips with my Outdoor Education class. Further, being on campus at the University of Sydney makes you feel as if you’ve just arrived in Hogwarts with its two grand halls and the gothic style quadrangle. Hence, it isn’t surprising people play Quidditch here…

Of course there was time to enjoy and explore Sydney outside the university, as the city is packed with beautiful coastal spots on the one hand and at the same time can be considered a shopping and nightlife metropolis. Looking back, my semester abroad was a very rich experience; both in terms of learning a great deal about myself and with regard to the wonderful people I met.


Janika was at the Universidad Complutense Madrid, Spain

Before I came to Madrid for the first time, I was just not sure what to expect; there is not one famous monument or building as in most other capitals in Europe. Thinking about Madrid now is thinking about a beautiful and diverse city full of life, art and culture. Walking through the streets, you can find cafés, bars and restaurants at almost every corner. La vida española is happening outside! At four o’clock in the morning, the main squares can be just as busy as during noon.

It is very easy to get in contact with the “Madrileños”, who I experienced as extremely open and warm people. Madrileños are not only the people from Madrid, but also many people from all over the world who adopted Madrid as their new hometown.

I have been a student at the Universidad Complutense Madrid for one semester. It is the biggest of the several universities in Madrid. Although my Spanish was quite basic when I arrived, I had to take all the courses in Spanish. This was quite challenging in the beginning, but I received good support by other students and professors. Lectures are held in classes from 20-40 people, which allows for a very personal contact between students and professors. Although the university aims to use a practical approach to teaching, I was in some cases a little disappointed with the quality of the courses.


—>Note: Images by Leona, Jonas, Julia, Nike, and Janika.

It took Pia some time to figure out what she wanted to do in life, but after one year of travelling through New Zealand and a second gap year supporting plant reproduction in Germany, she fortunately decided to study psychology in beautiful Groningen. Pia is now a third-year Bachelor student in the English psychology program as well as in the University Honours program, through which she discovered her enthusiasm for research. She is spending the Fall of her third year as an exchange student in Montreal, Canada, taking courses at McGill University and completing a research internship at the CHU Ste-Justine Hospital. Pia’s main interests lie in developmental neuropsychology and educational psychology. In particular, she is interested in the influences of early childhood experiences on brain development and children’s motivation to learn and succeed in school. Besides her studies, she enjoys working as a student editor for Mindwise and a reviewer for the Groningen student journal Honours Review.

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