Study Abroad and Exchange Travel

Seeking worlds within Worlds: My study abroad experience

Economics. It wasn’t my best subject but considering that I hadn’t touched mathematics in a while, I was pretty happy with my results. At the time it was my second year at Griffith University, Gold Coast campus. I had moved down from Cairns and became familiar with juggling full-time study and working five days a week. I could finally understand what they meant about late night cramming and group assignments. Oh the joy! That aside, I found a routine. I didn’t have too much of a social life; for the most part I kept to myself in lectures and tutorials. It was about halfway through trimester one when my economics teacher started talking about how his son was heading on exchange. He said, “I don’t understand why people don’t take up this opportunity”. To this day I can’t remember what relevance that had on supply and demand, but he was the reason why I looked into studying abroad. His statement took me all the way to the bustling streets of Hong Kong and to the crystal-clear fjords in Norway.

Sometimes it pays off to listen in class now and then.

In 2018 I spent five months in Hong Kong. I became one of the fish in the sea of people and fell in love with constant movement in the air. The people of Hong Kong had places to go and people to meet. They flowed seamlessly between tall concrete buildings and were always in groups. When I first arrived in Hong Kong, I can only describe my first week as ‘stimulation overload’. All the sights, tastes, feelings, and smells were new and exciting, but it wasn’t until I made new connections that I truly explored the depths of Hong Kong and saw a completely different side of the region.

As a lot of exchange students do, I became mates with people from all around the world. I had a diverse social group with various cultural outlooks from Finland, Canada, New Zealand, America, and France. Although I learnt a lot about the Hong Kong culture, I also learnt a lot from my friends who lived on the other side of the globe. Being in the same boat, we bonded over the experience of experiencing Hong Kong. And that in itself is one of the most unforgettable memories from studying abroad. This overwhelming sense of curiosity took us to the beautiful mountains of Sai Kung, and opened us up to tasting delicious local cuisine. Although the country is quite small, there was always somewhere to go. Whether that be in the central city or the outer coasts, there was a piece of Hong Kong for everyone.

In the second half of the year I packed my bags to head to Norway. Could I have chosen a more polarising experience? I’m not too sure. But I knew that I wanted to see two completely different worlds. And with that in mind, I decided to keep my research of the countries at a minimum. I wanted to submerse myself in it all and experience the countries for what they truly were. Filled with thermals, gloves, scarves, and woolly coats, my luggage came to 20kg and I was now ready to endure the winter wonderland of Norway.

Having already conquered Hong Kong, I felt more courageous and adventurous for my next destination. Located two hours away from Ålesund, Volda University is a medium sized college with a lot to offer to exchange students. I ended up joining the radio show, student magazine, hiking group, and volunteered my time at the student bar. I found myself being surrounded by not only exchange students but also became mates with a lot of Norwegians. In doing so, I learnt to live the local lifestyle and found myself outdoors under the snowy mountain watching the northern lights. And yes, it did rain a lot in Norway but as the Norwegians say, “Ut på tur, aldri sur” which means “Out on a trip, never sour”.

There are truly no words that can describe how incredible it was to hike Lion Rock in Hong Kong and how breathtaking it was to ski down the white mountains of Stranda. I think we forget how big the world is and how opportunities present themselves every day, and it’s our choice whether we take them or not. I am so incredibly grateful that I had this opportunity through Griffith Global Mobility to travel abroad. I’m writing this now because I wish to pay it forward and encourage other students to do the same. Maybe you were like me and juggling full-time work and studies. Maybe you were like me and thought it wasn’t possible due to finances or work commitments. Rest assured, the Griffith Global Mobility team is there to help you and make it possible.

It all starts by making the first move. Get in contact with other outbound students, get excited about the programs offered, expand your resume, dare to take the plunge and be ready for your transformation.

– Janine McQueen

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