GO Student Ambassadors, International Exchange

Leah Sier

“The most memorable and life-changing year of my life”

School of Earth and Ocean Sciences

International Exchange placement

Where did you go?

I studied in Wollongong, Australia for a year.

What motivated you to take up a Global Opportunity?

I had wanted to complete a study abroad placement before coming to university and is one of the reasons I chose Cardiff. I wanted the opportunity to travel as part of my studies, to see and spend time in another country to see how it varied. The chance to study at another university, with different students and academics and get greater connections in my field. I really wanted to travel in a safe and supported environment while getting the chance to learn things I couldn’t in Cardiff, such as different modules and ways of living.

What were your top three highlights from your year abroad?

  1. The people, by far. Everyone was incredible, from my roommates (who were all Australian), other exchange students, who were in the same position as I was (studying abroad and being in an unfamiliar environment) and my classmates, who helped me understand the university system there and helped me settle in so quickly.
  2. The weather! Australia has far better weather than the UK, which was a bonus, and partly the reason I choose to go there. It was often beach weather and we had so many more opportunities to study and do things outside. It was usually always blue skies unless it was a thunderstorm.
  3. Diving – I completed a three-day liveaboard trip on the Great Barrier Reef, after getting certified. I spent three days exploring the reef, seeing all sorts of creatures such as turtles, sting rays, clownfish, and during night dives we even saw sharks. Food was included and we spent the days alternating between diving, eating, and sleeping. It was an experience I will never forget.

What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

Homesickness. I wasn’t originally planning to return to the UK over the Christmas holidays, so the first semester was a bit more to get my head around. I did go home and see my family in the end which helped a lot. I spoke to someone from home most days, whether on video call or just messaging – it’s amazing how useful social media and the internet can be to keep in touch and allow you to focus on the country you’re in. It was hard to overcome, but with the support of my friends in Australia I was soon okay.

Returning home was a similar challenge, it was hard to leave my friends and life in Australia; a year is often enough time to build a whole life somewhere and get settled. It’s a weird feeling, returning to the UK and re-joining your old life as if nothing has changed, when so much has for you. However, I still speak to my Oz friends all the time, with frequent video calling and I know that I’ll see some of them again in the future.

How has your placement benefitted your studies or future career?

I now have more connections in my field across the world and understand how other academic institutions work. I have experience being in another unfamiliar environment and have become more adaptable in the process. My time management and organisational skills have improved – you must be on top of work while abroad if you want to go to all the cool places and try all the new and exciting things.

What is the one thing you wish you’d known before you left?

I wish I had known that I wouldn’t need so much stuff. Charity/thrift shops are a great place to get second-hand stuff including kitchen ware if you’re in a self-catered place, bed sets, pillows, and even stationery. And you’ll always collect so much more throughout the year, meaning you may be tight on space on the return journey. You also don’t need half the clothes you’re taking, as you’ll end up wearing the same four outfits on repeat and inevitably buy more.

What are the top 3 things to do in Wollongong?

  1. The Blue mountains National Park – only a few hours away by train, or two if you rent a car (very cheap and there’s a student car rental service with the halls of residences at the University of Wollongong). The mountains have incredible views, short and slightly longer walks, cute cafes and even koalas.
  2. Surfing – a big one in Australia. No risk of deadly jellyfish in Wollongong in the south. There are exchange student specific surf camps where you get several surfing sessions over a weekend and discounts to buy surfing gear yourself afterwards. Ensure you book on quick though as places go quickly. It’s a great place to meet fellow exchange students from the university.
  3. Wollongong beach – accessible by the free city shuttle bus from all university halls of residences, and a walking distance from some. It’s a great place to take a study break, surf, swim or just chill on the beach.

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