Brendan Ratter – Exchange in USA

Brendan Ratter – Exchange in USA

Why Exchange?
I had never been overseas before and was really keen to see what it was like. I needed to go to an English speaking country, but also wanted something new! Although the preconception of the US, and California in particular, is that it is very similar to Australia and to TV, I found that the University system over there is actually quite different in a refreshing way.
Highlights
The whole thing was a highlight! Three of my favourites are: the holiday, U.S. student life and last but not least, the people I met. My combined six weeks of holiday let me see a huge range of places from New York to L.A., Niagara Falls to the Grand Canyon, Washington D.C. to Las Vegas – not to mention my first time in real snow. Student life is much more intense in the States. With most students living on or near campus (and almost all of them away from home), sometimes in small college towns, life is much more focused around campus. There are heaps of extra-curricular activities and great on campus facilities. I spent pretty much every weeknight with clubs, societies and on-campus groups. Meeting people in the uniquely uninhibited environment of exchange was a fantastic way to make a whole bunch of new friends, both fellow exchange students and local American students. Being on the other side of the world and knowing nobody around you is the perfect way to meet new people and make new friends… especially if you have an Australian accent! Hopefully I will keep in touch with many of the people I met for a long time to come.
Challenges
Visa! The University of California was very, slow getting the required forms to me so I could go and get my student visa from the US Consulate. I also had difficulty getting information on how the processing was going when I was trying to chase it up. The lessons: a) don’t try to leave just after APEC and b) don’t plan too long a holiday beforehand. Course transfer was also a problem for me and is a very common problem for exchange goers. Make sure that there are more than enough subjects to do at your host University, to avoid having to overload in the final semester of your degree at UNSW… Leaving after only such a short time was sad. If possible, going for a whole year is better than only one semester – just as you are starting to get to know people and systems, it is time to go back home again.