Five things no­body told me be­fore my se­mes­ter abroad

I thought I knew what to expect from my semester abroad. But there were a few things I really wasn’t prepared for. In this blog entry, I’ll share five oft hem with you.

Lisa in front of buildings covered with grafittis.
Exploring Melbourne. (Photo: private)

In my first blog post, I told you about the preparation for my semester abroad. Today, I'm writing about what surprised me during my time in Melbourne. For this post, I talked to other exchange students in Australia and we all came up with the same things (more or less). Honestly, some aspects are hard to prepare for because they are not really organisational in nature. But to smooth the way for you, here are my top five unexpected things. Would you have anticipated any of these?

The timing

Down Under, a lot of things go 'backwards': summer is in winter, door locks turn the other way, even the toilet water swirls the opposite direction! What gave me the most vertigo were the semester dates: While at HU exams start in mid-July, I had to be on my way to Australia by then. The second semester here starts at the end of July, but the compulsory introductory week kicks off before that. Of course, I knew that the semester dates are different, but I had thought (and hoped) that it would be more easily compatible with the German summer semester. In the end, I was only able to take two HU courses in the summer. Many of my fellow exchange students even had to finish stuff for their German university while the semester in Australia had already started.

The bubble

Before the exchange, I was particularly looking forward to learning more about Australian history and culture; I wanted to see how Australians live with "no worries". But during my time in Melbourne, I also learned a lot about other cultures. This is because of the 'bubble' of exchange students. Within the first few weeks in Melbourne, I made friends from all over the world who, like me, had to find their way around things in Australia. It tuns out that fighting your way across what feels like mountains of organisational tasks together is a bonding experience. I also happened to live in a shared flat with people from Switzerland and Italy (I now know how to cook the perfect pasta). I met Australians in my classes and developed good friendships there, but overall had more contact with exchange students.

The study-life balance

During my semester abroad, a lot (of course) revolved around university. I had a to submit loads of coursework and give many presentations during the semester – followed by exams at the end. During those months, I always had this voice in my head, reminding me that my plan had been to get to know the country and the people. I often found it difficult to motivate myself to do my coursework. Many of my fellow students felt the same way, so some study breaks were filled making travel plans. I am lucky enough to be able to stay in Australia longer and travel now the term is over. Some of my friends, however, cannot. For them, the balancing act of studying and travelling during the semester was even more difficult.

The first steps

As I've described before, a semester abroad should be well-prepared. But if you think everything will go like clockwork afterwards – well, you're mistaken. Yes, by the time you've arrived in your chosen city and university, you've achieved a great deal. But can you remember all the things that had to be organised when you started your studies at HU? That's exactly the kind of thing you have to do at the partner university: apply for your student ID, get to know the university systems, find or build your timetable, register for exams, explore the campus, get to know the societies and clubs, and so on. I found the whole thing quite exciting and was looking forward to tackling these tasks. Nevertheless, I didn't necessarily have this on my radar beforehand.

The good-byes

Before you leave for a semester abroad, you have to say good-bye to your loved ones back home for a while. Although time passes quickly during a semester abroad, this foreseeable farewell was difficult for me. What I wasn't prepared for, however, was the farewell at the end of the semester in Melbourne. During the exchange, I made many friends from all over the world who travelled back home at different times. I had (and have) to say good-bye to these people, and for me personally, this is even more difficult because I don't know when I will be able to see them again. In addition, the different departure dates mean that the farewell is drawn out. In my last blog entry, I would like to report more on the topic of completing the semester abroad. So: Stay tuned!

(Published 19 December 2022)