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Returning Home

My last four weeks in Melbourne have been completely consumed by Working, Studying, and Planning Travel. I have so much to do before I leave, yet it seems like there is no time left. In seven days I will no longer be living in Melbourne. I wish I had planned more time between the end of finals and starting travel/leaving Melbourne. Of course there were factors that went into making a quick turn around, but given the choice, I would of spent at least an extra seven days in Melbourne after my last exam to just catch up with everyone before leaving. It would also be much less stressful with packing and travel planning.

As small and awkward as my room is, I have come to love it. Even though I had house mates, it was the first room (not in my house) that I lived in alone. I keep trying to look around and soak in as much of what I can in the time I have left. I ask myself, “when this is all over and I look back is there anything I will wish I’d done different?”. Right now, this is a hard question to answer; hindsight is 20/20.

One thing is for sure, I am very happy that I kept a journal. I wish I’d kept it more up to date in the later months. As time went, I put less time into writing, but when I thought of it, even if I was dead tired and about to fall asleep I would get up and write. Even if it is just a few sentences you’ll be much happier than if you hadn’t written at all. I wish I had thought to write more often; even for little things like good days at pole vault practice or fun times with friends.

Lessons Learned:

Give yourself time between exams and returning home/traveling

Keep a journal and write in it as often as possible (daily or at least weekly)

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Never Think You Know

Never think you know where you are going on the public transport. I started working as a casual employee for Siemens Australia and had traveled out to the branch location in Bayswater many times. I figured I knew my way, but this time I was traveling on a later train. I arrived at the Baywater station as usual, and took the normal bus number 664. Apparently, bus 664 has multiple routes depending on the time of day, so I ended up taking an hour detour and having to walk half a mile in dress heals just to get to work.

Lesson Learned:

Always double check your public transport route (www.metlinkmelbourne.com.au)

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Storage in Luggage

It took me awhile to come to this realization, but all the things I had stuffed in my closet that I rarely need, I can store them in my luggage under my bed. I feel like this realization has saved my life. I was tired of all the crap on my floor up next to the walls that I never needed but couldn’t find a place for. My room is much happier now.

When I came home from my 2 weeks in New Zealand I found a big scary spider. Really a medium sized spider by Australia’s standards, but scary enough to make me sleep on the couch for 2 nights. I went and bought intense poison to use. It may not help, but it makes me feel better. I think the lack of things scattered all around the edges of my room should help too.

Lessons Learned:

Store none essential items in luggage under the bed to save floor space

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Laundry & Weather

I’m not sure what it’s like in other countries, but in Australia most people do not own laundry dryers. Instead, they dry their cloths on lines outside. This brings up two issues. One, I had to get comfortable seeing other people’s underwear and having them see mine. Two, I had to start watching the weather forecast.

It’s one thing for me to pack an umbrella when I walk to school because it looks cloudy. It’s another thing when it starts raining and I realize I’ve left my laundry on the lines. Now it is a regular practice to watch the weather and always ask, is it supposed to rain in the next 24 hours, before starting laundry.

One other issue is the use of water for laundry. Top loading washers use a lot more water than front loaded ones. This can cause difficulty with staying under the 155L max water allowance per person. I feel like sometimes I’m trying to decide if I should shower or do laundry. Good thing we don’t have a dish washer or else my house would never meet the 155L target.

I wonder how I will cope with coming back to the states and having so many luxuries. My friend Jessica who lived and studied in Japan for a year said “a study abroad will teach you what it means to live on the basics”. I think she hit the nail on the head. I’ll come back to the US and have a dish washer, clothing dryer, my own bathroom, a car, no water limitation, what the heck will I do with myself.

Lessons Learned:

Check the weather before starting laundry

Study abroad will teach me to live on the basics

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Choosing Classes

I was lucky enough to be done with all of my required classes before deciding to study abroad. Most students will need to do a little more planning. I might suggest going on study abroad toward the beginning of your degree program, so the required classes while abroad will be easier (see Lesson’s Learned below). The reason for this is the fact that you will be doing school work in a completely foreign country, even if your classes are in English.

One tough part of studying in Australia was before choosing classes I had to decide on which college to chose. When doing exchange through Buffalo State there were four Australian Universities: Central Queensland University, RMIT University, University of Newcastle, & University of South Australia.

I chose The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University).

For RMIT you actually “pre-enroll” and then after you do a time table and decide on final classes, you drop the ones that don’t work for your schedule. You have at least a month after school starts to drop classes and it doesn’t cost any extra money to enroll in more classes, so sign up for any class you think you might be interested in. It is a time consuming and frustrating process for international students to add a class once you are in Australia because it all has to be done on paper.

I would suggest enrolling in at least 10 classes. Just go crazy and have fun with school.

Lessons Learned:

Take easy classes while abroad or at least a lighter load than usual.

Enroll in as many classes as possible because it’s easier to drop a class than add a class later.

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Tourist Travel Tips

If you are interested in traveling, consider doing it before or after your studies! I have talked to several people who spent 1 month or more traveling with their mom or friend in Australia before the semester started.

If I could go back again I would have come to Australia and seen from the Great Barrier Reef down the coast to Sydney with my mom and sister.

School is harder in another country because you have to adjust to the new teaching style of that country. You will not have the same study groups or friends you are used to seeing. A lot of your work will be independent. It is very difficult, especially in Australia, to travel during school.

I would have even considered traveling for several weeks after school, especially because I have multiple new friends who are doing that exact thing. But I committed to start work on July 19th which only gives me 2 weeks to fly home, pack up my life, and move to Austin, TX. The timing is not conducive to traveling in Australia after the school semester.

A second important lesson was to buy my ticket for the school break early. I went to New Zealand over the Easter Break (like Spring Break). Even 3 weeks prior to departure it cost double what is usually did. So know the dates you want to travel over break. Find out where you want to go, and buy your ticket. You can always book a tour later or find friends to go with you.

If I had to do it again, I would of bought a “return” aka round trip ticket to Christchurch from March 31 to April 11 within the first 2 weeks of arriving. If you decide to go to New Zealand, the South Island is probably the best and most all tours and flights start and end in Christchurch; makes it a bit easier to plan ahead.

Lessons Learned:

Plan ahead for traveling either before or after school

Buy plane tickets early for traveling

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Money in a Foreign Country

Australian Notes are Pretty

So before I came to Australia, I always used traveler’s checks when I traveled. Made sense, travel was right in the name! That’s not the best way any more…

Best way to get cash:

Find a debit card that can be linked to your account in the USA and has minimal or no fees for withdrawing money abroad.

For instance, I have a checking account at Bank of America. BAC has a relationship with Wespac Bank in Australia and New Zealand. I can take money out of my Bank of America checking/debit account from any Wespac ATM in Australia or New Zealand and I have absolutely NO fees for the withdraw.

The best part is, when I look at my account, it shows how much money I have in Australian Dollars (AUD) and I can take money out in the foreign currency of wherever I am located. In New Zealand I withdrew New Zealand Dollars. This will save you a lot of time, effort, and money on trying to deal with exchanging money as you travel.

Another option is to bring cash with you and open a bank account when you arrive. Usually you an use that bank’s ATMs to get cash out of your account for a small fee.

Best way to use credit:

Get a Capital One credit card! To my knowledge, Capital One is the only credit card that does not charge a foreign transaction fee (2-3%) or currency exchange fee (2-3%).

Keep in mind a lot of foreign places have minimum purchase amount ($), so you may need more cash on you than usual for the US.

In the US I rarely carry cash on me, maybe $10 USD or some change for vending machines. I went to a restaurant and bought a special priced pizza for $4, too bad the minimum amount that could be charged on a credit card was $15. I was embarrassed to not have enough money and had to borrow from my friends.

The only places I know of that tend not to have minimum credit charge amounts are grocery stores, but it really varies.

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