Hi, I’m Rosie. I study a Bachelor of Education in Australia, and I have been studying at the University of Chester for four months. My Chester story truly began in October 2014 when I first applied for the CSU Global exchange program. You might think that was a long time ago, but honestly, the application process takes a while. If you are contemplating an exchange be prepared for some waiting. The reasons for this wait are 1) application processes always take time 2) the differences between the academic years of Australia and England. I was accepted into the University of Chester in June 2015.
Tip: The academic year in the UK starts in September/ October and ends in May/ June. The University of Chester doesn’t have mid-term breaks but Student Development Weeks. There are two Student Development Weeks per year, one in November and one in February. The university suggests this week is for catching up on work and readings, but after talking to Student advisers and fellow classmates, most people go on a short break, home or holidays. I went to Poland in November and am off to Austria, Switzerland and Denmark in February.
Pre- University Traveling
Before settling in England I managed to squeeze in a substantial amount of traveling around Europe and the United Kingdom. Because I chose to begin my exchange in semester two (Australian standard), I started classes at the University of Chester in early October, which gave me a little over two months of free time in Europe.
I left Australia in August and landed in Barcelona, Spain. The next two months hold some of the best memories of my life. Spain, France, England, the Netherlands and Poland are some of the countries I have navigated alone. I also had time to join a tour which included many popular western European countries as well as, some in eastern Europe. Bosnia and Herzegovina is still one of my favorite places in the world. Traveling internationally seems daunting at the beginning but truly enriches your life and perspectives, both personal and academic. I highly recommend traveling and exploring before, during and after your exchange.
In England ‘O-Week’ is called ‘Freshers week’ and is a week of introduction lectures, markets, festivals, games, society sign-ups, activities and parties. During this week the main campus Parkgate is full of stalls, signs and herds of people (campus tours). Being an international student is a fun experience during freshers week, you will meet hundreds of new faces, learn that the Australian accent is a novelty, and discover that there is a realm of new English words to learn.
Tip: English-isms 101
– A bread roll is called a bap, butty or batch.
– Pouring vinegar over hot potato chips is normal.
– Londoners walk at triple the pace of other humans.
– “Are you okay?” means “Hi, how are you?” (this one took me a few months to grasp)
– In university a lecture is an Australian tutorial.
– In university a tutorial is a private meeting with a teacher.
– The sidewalk belongs to everyone but you, prepare to dodge.
In Australia I left as a ‘3 and a 1/2 year’ and started classes in level four and level six. In England, university years are called levels. For example, first year= level four; second year= level five; third year= level six. The UK education system differs to Australia, in that students complete the 6th form or college (or years 11 and 12 in Australia) studying subjects which are directly related to the tertiary course they wish to pursue. For this reason undergraduate degrees are three years. This level system continues to masters (level seven) and PhD (level eight). When selecting subjects to study on your exchange it is important to keep in mind their difficulty level, in relation to your ability. On my exchange I am studying 5 subjects over the academic year, one of them being a double credit subject.
Tip: If you’re motivated, while on exchange you can also study CSU subjects by distance. CSU Global recommends only one distance subject per exchange; I imagine this is to lessen the study burden and make sure there is time to socialize and explore! I am studying a CSU distance subject beginning in March (302016), because I have a lighter study load at Chester.
University itself is similar to that in Australia; as a guest of the university, normal courtesies apply: attend classes, hand in work, participate and engage in activities. The pass mark for assessments is 40%, and semester long subjects require a 2000 word essay or equivalent (year long subject require 2 x 2000 word essays or equivalent; double credit subjects are dissertations which require an 8000 word thesis).
Societies and sports
Sports groups and societies are a big part of the University of Chester, during freshers week I was asked to sign up to at least 67, 890, 247 groups. The groups are hugely diverse and can vary between the rowing club, the yoga club (of which I am a member), the ski club (also a member), and the Disney movie appreciation society (why am I not a member?!), as well as loads of other sports and charity and humanitarian focused groups (also a member!). Each group has a ball at the beginning of the year, and parties and get-together’s throughout the semester. It’s a really great way to meet new people and make friends with the same interests.
Living in Chester
Being an Australian, you probably know by now that we are not the most valuable nationality in regards to the exchange rate. Sadly, against our British fore-fathers we fall short; 51 pence short to be exact (as of 13:46 30/01/2016). The exchange rate against the British pound (GBP) will make you feel as though you have been robbed of the happiness brought to you by your glorious savings figure, when it is halved, or reduced to a third in my case #feels. The cost of living in Chester is completely do-able and you will survive- stylishly too! Sure, you won’t be eating caviar on crackers while watching Strictly Come Dancing or Great Canal Journey, but I would compare the price of groceries, clothing, meals and activities to a little less than average Australian prices. If you’re happy to live on the budget side there are six competitive grocery stores in Chester (Aldi, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, the Coop, Mark and Spencer and Waitrose) as well as independent grocers, a market, and student heaven Pound World, where, you guessed it, everything is one pound. Chester itself has a tight city centre, lots of shops, cafes, and restaurants, and has a solid night-life atmosphere. There are buses which service all major areas of Chester (most of Chester) as well as between university campuses. Chester also has a central train station in town, with connections to most of England and Wales, including Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Wales and London.
Tip: London is a two hour train ride from Chester, or a four hour drive. The cost of train tickets depends on the season and how far in advance tickets are bought , but range between £15 – £40 return. I would recommend looking into rail-passes such as student passes and the ‘two together card’ if you have a travel buddy for 30% savings. Try to buy train tickets at least a month in advance.
Like my fellow bloggers I can not recommend exchange enough. Although it may seem crazy daunting now (as a prospective exchange student) those feelings will melt away once you cross the departure gates. It is the best experience.