Five things I wish I'd known be­fore go­ing on ex­change

Last semester I learnt a few things I wish I had known before about ANU and life as an exchange student in Australia. So here's a quick overview on workload, free time, job hunting and more.

Welcome to ANU! All streets leading onto campus are marked with signs like this one. Photo: private

Trying to find the right exchange university, it's difficult to know exactly what to expect. Naturally, I also learnt a couple of things I wish I had known about the Australian National University (ANU) beforehand. Here are my top five!

The earlier, the better

The application process for the exchange is quite long, so you have to start well in advance. I got ready to apply in May 2022, following an info event about studying abroad1. It then took me several months to research universities, collect a TOEFL certificate as well as motivation and recommendation letters. In January 2023, ANU accepted my nomination by HU. However, in March I had to apply once more – this time directly to my host university.

Starting early also makes a lot of sense when choosing classes. The semester here starts at the end of July and you can register for courses from the beginning of July. But: For exchange students, ANU Global Programs must approve all courses in advance. To register, you also need a 'unique student identifier' number, which you can only apply for once you're in Australia. I received mine within a few hours, but many tutorials fill up very quickly, so it's important to be prepared.

Workload for the courses

The course selection also impacts on the workload. In some courses you'll have to take short weekly tests on the readings, for others there are midterms, still others require long essays and for some you will be expected to collect data. Overall, the workload is higher compared to HU and you really have to keep at it because the assignments all count towards the overall grade for the course. On the other hand, I found that I can choose the topics of my assignments more freely and that they are more practical in nature: Instead of just producing 'traditional' essays, I also write graphic novels, develop app prototypes and shoot documentary videos.

Za Kabuki Japanese theatre - can you recognise me? (Hint: I'm holding something in my arms. Photo: private

Free time at ANU

Nevertheless, there is still enough time to do other things. For example, ANU has a large number of clubs and societies: from solar racing to various theatre groups and the Taylor Swift Society. As our HU exchange semester usually falls into the second half of the academic year in Australia, there are fewer orientation events. There still is a smaller ‘o-week’ where many clubs present themselves. To really get a good overview, I would say it is advisable to inform yourself in advance: the clubs are mainly organised via Facebook; the ANU Student Association's (ANUSA) website also provides a good overview, but is not regularly updated. Many of the clubs have links to the embassies in Canberra and are therefore great networking opportunities. For example, the Za Kabuki Club for Japanese theatre, which I signed up for, is hosted in cooperation with the Japanese embassy.

Part-time internship programme

The Australian National Internship Programme (ANIP) is perfect for anyone with a compulsory internship. ANIP organises part-time internships for ANU students in various organisations, companies and embassies. Those can then replace and count as one of the regular four courses (comparable to HU modules) per semester. Unfortunately, I didn't do an internship with ANIP myself because I simply didn't know enough about it at the time - which I now regret a lot. However, the ANIP staff are super helpful and did their best. So, once more: it pays off to do your research and apply early!

There are many restaurants and cafés on campus – mostly staffed with ANU students. Photo: private

Student jobs in Canberra

Unfortunately, there are not many scholarships for studying in Australia, especially when it comes to the humanities. That's why part-time jobs are very popular and if you want to find one for yourself, you really need to stay on the ball and check back about the status of your applications – because chances are they will forget about you if you don't!

If you would like to work in a bar, in Australia you need a so-called Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) certificate. This involves completing up to ten hours of online training and paying a one-off fee of up to 100 dollars. I got my RSA and then couldn't start work straight away due to illness. When I was fit to work again, they were overstaffed in the bar. Now, although I had already completed a training programme at that bar, I work in another restaurant and don't even need my RSA at all.

In conclusion: Hindsight is 20/20 and it's impossible to know about all the possibilities and advantages of an exchange placement beforehand. However, I will try to give you as many tips and tricks as possible for the ANU in my blogs and on Instagram. Stay tuned!

(Published 6 May 2024)