Cassidy Spencer, Keele University, UK

Who: Cassidy Spencer

What: Bachelor of Media

Where: Keele University

When: S1 2012

Please describe the orientation provided by your host university.
Keele had a whole weekend for orientation. The evening I arrived, there was a small presentation to give us a rundown of what to expect. The next morning there was a shuttle bus that took us to the supermarket to get groceries, followed with a day filled of different activities. The biggest focus of course being getting our classes in order for Monday. It was a little hectic as I was still feeling the jetlag but it was also good to get straight into things and meet people who were in the same boat.

Please comment on the academic workload and requirements (e.g. readings, reports/projects, papers, exams) in comparison with Flinders.
Readings are expected to be done before tutorials and lectures, just like at Flinders. However, when it comes to handing in assignments they were far more strict. There’s no such thing as -5% per working day. If it’s an hour late, you’ve lost 50% of your grade. So getting things in on time was a priority, which just meant you had to plan well if you wanted to travel and have fun still as well. In regards to the exams, there wasn’t much difference at all.

Please comment on the resources/facilities provided to exchange students.
The library is open 24/7 during exam/study break which was incredibly helpful, although it was quite a smaller library with a pretty confusing layout. There are a lot of shops and restaurants on campus though, which is always convenient. The student union is amazing, and has just been done up since I’ve left so is probably even better now.

My accommodation was: On-campus

Would you recommend this kind of housing to other exchange students?   
Yes. It’s easy. You don’t have to stress about trying to get to classes. Plus it’s the best way to meet people. I was in a block of 28 students and I had the best times with them. However, if you’re a light sleeper, I’d recommend trying to get a smaller apartment because it was difficult some nights. Plus the kitchen is ill-equipped to deal with that many people cooking, so I found myself eating a lot of microwaveable meals or ordering takeaway.

How expensive were the accommodation options?  Please provide a guide on how much you paid per month.                                              

Did you have self-catering facilities or were meals provided with your accommodation?  
Self-catering facilities.

How much money did you need for living expenses (entertainment, room and board, travel, books etc.)?           
I think all up I spent about AU$8000, but I wasn’t frugal by any means. I spent a lot on travelling to England and Europe during the break, and I was always going out with other students. Food was the most expensive thing because I was always eating out. If I did it again, I’d definitely cook a lot more and save myself some money.

Did you receive financial assistance through a scholarship and/or OS-help loan?  
I received a scholarship as I wasn’t eligible to receive a HELP loan due to it being my final semester.

What were the major differences between the culture in your host country and Australia?
Different slang. Plus drinking and smoking were far more prominent activities in younger people. Living on campus was also a strange but rewarding experience.

Did you have any fears before going on exchange? Were you able to overcome these?
Sometimes when I thought about everything I had to do, I got a little overwhelmed, but if you took everything one step at a time it was easy and exciting, rather than scary. My biggest worry was not having enough money, but that didn’t turn out to be an issue.

Was it easy to make friends among the local population? What were the best ways of integrating yourself with the host society?        
It was really easy to make friends with other exchange students because they were all in the same boat. With locals, I think I was lucky because the block of students I was living with were very friendly and we grew close pretty quickly. The best way to make friends is either go out drinking with them, or if that’s not your thing, go have dinner with them.

What difficulties did you encounter (e.g. homesickness, finances, communication)?
Occasionally got a little homesick, mostly when assignments were due. Also when the heating in my block went down so I was freezing, completely unused to those kind of temperatures. That made me miss home quite a bit. Money was always a worry, but I managed so it was an unfounded worry in the end. Communication was easy. I got a prepaid mobile, and I bought credit on Skype so even if my family weren’t by their computer I could still contact them whenever I needed to.

Describe a typical day at your host institution.
Get up, walk to class, after class have lunch with some friends in one of the campus restaurants, go back to the block, hang out in the kitchen, go to my room and do some study if necessary, otherwise go out to the student union for the night with everyone

What aspect of the exchange experience did you feel was most rewarding, either personally or academically?         
Travelling. Seeing everything I’ve always wanted to see. Meeting new and interesting people. Just having all these experiences under my belt. In regards to academically, I was pleased I managed to get ‘first-class’ results in a couple of my subjects, which are the equivalents of HDs at Flinders, which proves that you can still have a ton of fun while on exchange and also get good grades!

What was the highlight of your program?          
The lifelong friends I’ve made, and the nights we shared together at the SU. Be willing to try new things, and taste all the ‘weird’ foods.

What tips and advice would you give to someone who’s going on a student exchange?    
Keele was the greatest experience of my life thus far. I loved every minute and I know whoever is thinking about going there, you won’t regret it!

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