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Exchange Fever – ANU exchange student tips and experiences

By Lara McKirdy

Setting the scene

As I pull up to a humble home in O’Connor, I’m greeted by Ruby Saulwick, a third year IR/Economics student who recently returned to bitter cold Canberra after a warmer exchange in Dublin. As a Senior Reporter at Woroni, she was ready to tackle my lengthy (and somewhat tedious) questions.

As I head up the old, stone steps and flowery bushes to the entrance of the house, I’m greeted by Adam Champion, another BNOC, and I’m handed a coffee as I walk through the door.

“We have to start with a tour.”

Their lovely home had flowers (and some Lego) in every room, complemented by a wonky yet charming ceiling.

“And this is where we think we have squatters,” Adam said as he pointed towards a suspicious, boarded-up basement before leading me to some unaesthetic backyard sheds.

So now that I was adequately frightened and intrigued, it was time to commence the interview.

Why go on exchange?

Ruby ultimately chose to go on exchange to the University College, Dublin. After initially applying for Sciences Po in Paris, the lack of Parisians wanting to come to Canberra (understandably) set her back. After doing French in her IR degree, as well as in school, she was ready to put her skills to good use. Ruby reports that ANU was very helpful in providing alternatives for her exchange, notably, exchange partners that had applicants wanting to come to ANU, but didn’t have an ANU student to exchange for.

Considering she was not a polyglot (yet), Ruby looked at English-speaking universities, and got her first preference at University College, Dublin.

Ruby had several strategies in choosing Dublin. First and foremost, the university had great courses to supplement her degree. One of the main airlines was RyanAir which provides cheap flights to all other locations in Europe. University College, reportedly like ANU’s other exchange partners, was very easy to transfer course credits earned on exchange. In fact, ANU confirms all your course credit transfers long before you arrive in your exchange country. The process is very easy.

Adam chose Sciences Po in Paris, because, well it’s Paris! He spent a semester learning French for the first time but did not end up using it particularly often while in France. Like Ruby, Adam easily got all courses accredited. Unfortunately, he reported that a friend who had undertaken an exchange process through the University of Melbourne to Amsterdam had struggled to get course credit. They went back and forth with Melbourne University, which eventually budged. I think this anecdote is proof that we have a strong and well-organised exchange program here at ANU, so no need to worry about losing any course credit and not finishing your degree on time.

Applying for exchange

The application process is to provide your top five preferences for exchange from a list of ANU’s exchange partners (only). Consider your preferences based on where they have your degree and courses you want to take, but it’s reciprocal. This can be a very timely process because different exchange universities have different GPA thresholds to be eligible, only offer specific courses for specific degrees, or have a range of other considerations, such as no guaranteed accommodation. The most nail-biting part of the process is there must be at least one exchange student coming to ANU from your preferred exchange university in order for you to attend that exchange university. This is the issue that Ruby ran into. Thankfully, ANU has a plethora of exchange partners in many countries across the world, so you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Culture shocks

Ruby thankfully didn’t experience any culture shocks. The Irish (unsurprisingly) also have a heavy drinking culture, pub culture and bar culture. Ruby was fortunate enough to have experience travelling internationally, and so was quite used to adjusting to different cultures in different countries. Not knowing many students in your exchange country may make you nervous to go on exchange, but Ruby advised that keeping an open mind, trying everything that comes your way, and not being afraid to ask questions were key things to remember in tackling exchange jitters.

When asked whether students just go on exchange to party, Ruby reported that she only knew of one friend, who had been to Dublin previously, who was relatively intoxicated throughout the semester.

Adam, also fortunate enough to have been able to travel internationally before, knew many of France’s idiosyncrasies before touching down in Paris. A self-described “Man of the World”, he already knew that France smells. And does not smell good.

France aside, Sciences Po had a highly present and large international student and exchange student cohort, where everyone wanted to meet new people. Knowing that exchange can be daunting, he suggested that having a quiet confidence in adapting to new places and taking things as they come is the best approach to getting used to a new place, new culture and new people.

Trials and tribulations

For context, I’d previously heard that it can be really difficult to get accommodation at European universities. For example, France has a lot of scam advertisements permitted on official university websites.

Ruby, a ridiculously organised and put-together 21-year-old, booked accommodation way in advance. She had heard early on that on-campus accommodation was incredibly hard to get. She quickly decided that she didn’t want to live on campus, and recommended searching online for private apartments run for students. While a little more expensive than perhaps your regular apartment, the Dublin student apartments were incredibly comfortable. Each room had its own bathroom and the shared kitchen and living spaces were only shared with three others. This is certainly fantastic in comparison to the infamous 10-bedroom shared apartments I’ve heard about in Amsterdam.

Most exchange universities have their own exchange networking programs in which exchange students go through orientation, meet new people and build a community. Ruby highly recommended the University College exchange student program, as she met numerous other like-minded exchange students and forged really strong friendships.

The visa debacle

Reportedly one of the most challenging and stressful aspects of the exchange process is acquiring the correct visa/permit.

Heading to Dublin, Ruby didn’t have to get a visa - only an Irish resident permit. ANU provided information on this process, but unfortunately cannot provide any personal assistance or answer any personal questions due to the sensitivity of the subject-matter. ANU also cannot assist with foreign accommodation applications.

With apartments in Paris being quite pricey, Adam opted for a long-term Airbnb with Stefan, an eccentric 50-year-old Frenchmen and guide to Paris. A contributing factor in his decision was due to Sciences Po’s decision to inform students of acceptance in October-November. This was reportedly highly stressful because it left a few months to find decent accommodation and book flights. It was also difficult because a verified foreign address had to be provided on the visa application. Adam ended up having to attend a Melbourne Customs Office personally in late December to ask them to finalise his visa application. His passport was subsequently sent to Sydney to be stamped with the visa information and was returned to him barely one day before he was to fly out of Melbourne.

The highs and the lows

When asked about horror stories, the two kept things short and sweet. Adam unfortunately experienced ‘stomach issues’ while on a short intercontinental flight, and Ruby encountered some small challenges during solo travelling. While Ruby secretly preferred the university portion of exchange, she was proud to have pushed herself out of her comfort zone while solo travelling and travelling with friends - she loved her time overseas. She really loved being immersed in a new place and learning new things in a different country.

When Adam arrived at his Airbnb, Stefan made him feel very welcome. Stefan gifted him French cookbooks and introduced him to all of the local markets and bars. By the end of his exchange, he felt like a native Parisian.


At the end of it, Adam received a lovely message from his roommate on Airbnb thanking him for his generosity, kindness and company. While this read like something of a love letter, it was an honest and touching end to a fantastic time on exchange in a foreign country. A big part of it is the people you meet and connect with, who you make an impact on and who makes an impact on you.

Ruby felt relieved to come home after being away for a lengthy seven months. With a return journey of 52 hours, the Sydney-Canberra Murrays bus was the final leg of the journey. Ruby felt that she was home when she watched the clouds part along the Hume. Arriving in Canberra and looking down Northbourne Avenue towards the Telstra Tower, she was overcome by a feeling - ‘it’s good to be home.’

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