Last academic year, Nicole Sjouwerman, treasurer of the 94th Sefa Board, went on a Global Exchange for a semester. I spoke with her about all her challenging but mostly amazing experiences. As the application deadline for a Global Exchange is already the 15th of January, this interview will be for sure your last push to apply!

Selection Process

Why did you choose to apply for a Global Exchange?

Why should I limit myself to Sweden, when there is the possibility of going to the other side of the world?

Initially, I really wanted to go to Lund in Sweden. I already went a couple of times to Stockholm, and in general Scandinavia fascinates me for a reason. Also, my mother liked the idea of me studying in a country not too far away from home, so she could visit me a couple of times. But when I started reading about studying abroad, I found out I could go wherever I wanted to. Why should I limit myself to Sweden, when there is the possibility of going to the other side of the world? On the whole exchange list only two universities required an average grade of a 7, New York and Melbourne. Being in possession of that average grade, I felt I had to apply for the ultimate top. I decided to put Melbourne on the first place, and Sydney on the second place of the application form.

Why didn’t you choose New York?
First of all, my sister already studied in New York, and I just didn’t want to do the same thing as her. Besides, New York is freezing cold at that time of the year, whereas Australia is way more tropical.

Did you know a lot of people who already went to Australia?
I knew a girl who went to study in Melbourne exactly one year before me. She found it amazing and because of her pictures and stories I knew for sure I wanted to go to Melbourne too.

How was your accommodation organized?
I had to arrange the housing in Melbourne myself. So before I went to Melbourne, I only booked a hostel for a week and I hadn’t a permanent place to stay. I found it very scary to manage it this way, but the girl who already went to Melbourne said it was quite common to search for a house not until you are there. Partly because a lot of houses are really crappy, so it is important to first check the house before you make an agreement.
In the lobby of my hostel I immediately went searching for houses on a housing website, where I met a Dutch girl who was busy with the same thing. She found a nice old town house nearby the university where we could share a room. Apparently it is very normal to share a room in Melbourne, especially because of the terribly high rent prices. Luckily I really liked the girl, so we decided to accept the room.

Apparently it is very normal to share a room in Melbourne

Educational Level

What kind of courses did you follow? Were they in line with your studies in Amsterdam?
Because I study fiscal economics – it is really focused on Dutch law – learning Australian law is not very efficient. But I followed some courses that were in line with Economics and Business. In total, I did three courses; a course about fraud, a course about business ethics and also a totally random course, namely German.

How were those courses arranged?
Just like in Amsterdam, the courses were divided into lectures and tutorials. The big differences were the way higher interactivity in classes, smaller groups, and students who were asking relevant questions as well as answering the questions of the teachers. The last point sounds ridiculous, but here in Amsterdam most of the time a question of a teacher is followed by an awkward silence. Another difference was the amount of homework. Each class you are obliged to finish and hand in something. As an exchange student, in general you don’t have a job and your social life is way smaller, so you have way enough time to fix those assignments.

How large were the lecture- and tutorial-groups?
The lectures were with around 40 students and the tutorials with only 15! 

The lectures were with around 40 students and the tutorials with only 15

What was the level of education compared with the UvA?
I find it difficult to say because the courses in Melbourne were totally different than the courses I follow at the UvA. But I would say the level of education is either the same or lower than at the UvA.

Were the lecturers inspiring?
Yes, they were all extremely passionate and enthusiastic! They even knew their students by name. Because the teachers used a lot of actual examples, the courses were very lively. For example, during the business ethics course, the lecturer told enthusiastically about his ‘fairphone’, a phone whereby each part – except for one – was fairly produced..
And with the fraud course, a lecturer told proudly that he was the inventor of kind of a sheer round for ID’s and driver’s licenses, whereby it is very difficult to copy them.

How was the exam period and how were the exams themselves?

My three exams were spread over a whole month!

The big difference was the huge amount of time to learn for each exam. My three exams were spread over a whole month! In my opinion, that was way too long, especially when the weather is nice and you just want to enjoy the summer.
The exams took place at the Royal Exhibition Building, normally used for exhibitions and conferences. Very beautiful and special! Another difference was that everyone had his or her exams at the same moment, so the building was massively crowded.

Social Life

What kind of people have you met in Melbourne? Mostly internationals or also locals?
Initially, I met merely international students. From day one on, I met people in the hostel, who were going to live either in the same house or in the house across the street. They became my best friends a semester long. They were from Germany, Chile, Brazil and Holland, very nice mixture.
After a while I started to play a very Australian sport; touch rugby. It is a faster, and less aggressive style of rugby. Subsequent to some miscommunications I joined the try-outs of the competition team and surprisingly they selected me! Probably because of my typical Dutch height. The team was completely Australian so I finally had the chance to meet some locals. We trained two times a week and sometimes we played in a competition. At the end of September we went to the University Games in Sidney, where all universities of Australia were competing against each other in each imaginable sport. Really cool!

Was there enough time for travelling?
Yes, more than enough time. I think I maybe stayed in Melbourne for only two weekends during the whole semester I studied there. Sometimes we rent a car, other times we went by bus, for example when I went to surf camps, and when the distance was too long we even went by plane, namely to Sydney and Tasmania. The nature in Australia is so incredibly beautiful!

Who initiated those trips?
There was one German girl who was very well read, and she knew exactly what she wanted to see in Australia. So the whole group followed her, and because of her I have seen a lot of places I initially never heard of.

How did you experience the nightlife in Australia?

The only affordable drink in Australia was ‘Goon’

The alcohol is very expensive in Australia, so for that reason a lot of parties are at home. And if you go to a club or bar, you first have a lot of drinks at home so you don’t have to spend any money at that club or bar. Even the relatively cheap student places were still expensive compared to here.
The only affordable drink in Australia was ‘Goon’, large carton boxes with wine in it, only drunk by really shabby local students, internationals and backpackers.
But in general, also under the locals, the nightlife was not that huge. Because university is really expensive in Australia, the students take their studies very seriously, so everybody finishes their bachelor degree in the given time of three years.

Because university is really expensive in Australia, the students take their studies very seriously

Did you have a job in Melbourne?
Unfortunately not. I have tried to find a job as a barista, as I worked for CoffeeCompany for a couple of years, and Melbourne has a broad coffee culture. Fantastic! I immediately brought a long my resume at several places, but for some reason I never heard anything back.

How much money did you spent approximately?
Honestly, I don’t know, and I think it is for the better. But I think around 6000 euros – exclusively the ticket (1500 euros), visa (500 euros) and travelling after my semester in Melbourne. Those amounts are huge, but I can tell you: Every cent was worth it!

How did you finance it?
Before I went to Melbourne, I worked a lot at CoffeeCompany. Besides, the six months before I went, and during the time I was in Melbourne, I used the full student loan. Furthermore, I also got some money from the Amsterdam University Fund and from a certain private fund.

 Did you experience some huge cultural differences?

Sometimes I missed the Dutch directness

Australians, and typically the ones who are studying at universities, the more ‘wealthy’ ones, are extremely polite and interested. Being a sober Dutchy, I doubted their sincerity. Sometimes I missed the Dutch directness, when you asked for example if they wanted to hang out this evening, they would answer with ‘hmm maybe’ although they already knew they don’t want to hang out. That was really annoying sometimes.

Were those Australians shocked by your directness?
Yes, absolutely. Sometimes, if I was hanging out with my Dutch roommate and a couple of Australian boys, our statements about boys and sex shocked them. They found it hillarious but also quite heavy.

our statements about boys and sex shocked them

Did you experience homesickness?
Not much. Sometimes I missed Amsterdam, because I love the city. And of course, it is weird to not spend the Christmas days with your family.
And oh! I really missed Albert Heijn. All the supermarkets are so expensive in Australia and at one point I desired to eat some normal bread with some normal Dutch cheese.

Do you still have contact with the people you met in Australia?
Yes, for sure. One girl from Chile, and three Australian friends visited me last summer. I also went with two German girls to Munich, Germany, during Oktoberfest! I still have a lot of contact with them. And for sure my Dutch roommate, who lives since this week in Amsterdam, is still a very close friend of mine.

According to you, what is the added value of studying abroad?
First of all, I would recommend it to literally everybody! If you have any doubts, please just do it!
I think leaving your comfort zone for a while will enhance your worldview. Suddenly you are the outsider, and therefore you will adopt a much more open attitude, so you can meet a lot of people. Besides, it is very educational to learn about different cultures.

Have you brought your open-minded attitude to Amsterdam?
I’m not sure if I’m more open to Dutch people after my study abroad experience, but for sure I’m way more interested in the international students now. I’m more likely to chat with them, and ask them where they come from, what and why they are studying here, and for how long. At the UvA, there is a great division between the Dutch students and the international ones, so I think it would be great if more UvA students went on an exchange. Returning back after studying abroad, will for sure result in a much more open attitude towards international students.

Returning back after studying abroad, will for sure result in a much more open attitude towards international students

What was your absolute downfall in Melbourne?
Unfortunately in one and a half month time, my grandmother as well as my grandfather died. My grandmother warned me in advance that if something would happen to her while I was gone, she obliged me to stay in Melbourne. Despite this reassuring statement, I felt terrible not being with my family at that moment.

And, to conclude, what was your absolute highlight in Australia?
During Spring Carnival I went to horse races with some roommates and some Australian guys. Dolled up in a dress and an obliged hat, we drank champagne and bet on horses. And amazingly the horse we bet on won! It was crazy and awesome to see all those stylized girls totally drunk. Those races were shown on TV through whole Australia, so for me this was the ultimate Melbourne experience.

Thanks a lot for your enthusiastic answers!
You’re very welcome. I’m always happy when someone is interested in my exchange experiences. My friends and family are gradually a little bit tired of hearing those stories, but it feels really good to bring up those beautiful memories again!

 

For more information, please visit the study abroad site. If you still have any questions, you could make an appointment with the Exchange Office via the consultation hours, or via email: studyabroad-feb@uva.nl.