Hi, my name is Lillian DeMarco and I’ve been studying at the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) in Semester 2, 2019 from Rider University in New Jersey, USA
There’s so many reasons why someone would choose to study abroad in Australia – the beaches, mountains, environment, diverse wildlife, laid back lifestyle, high standard of living, and great breadth of international food. But, no matter how great a place is, sometimes you need some guidance to be able to get the BEST experience, especially during your stay in Australia. Here is some advice I would give to anyone studying at the University of the Sunshine Coast for the first time:
How to make your Australian experience 100%:
*(This blog article is based on one students experience and every student has to consider their own circumstances)
1. The sooner into your degree you can study abroad, the better.
- If you’re coming to USC as a study abroad students through a University like Rider, this is a beneficial tip because you will be able to find transferable classes more easily early on, than if you have to take upper level courses. If you can, try taking introductory level or elective courses (100 coded courses) when you’re studying abroad so you can dedicate more time to exploring and having fun!
2. Arrive earlier than necessary.
- USC recommend all international students to arrive 3-4 days before Orientation week, which leaves you with a couple of days to acclimatize yourself. However, I suggest arriving earlier (as long as the housing accommodation allows you to), which will give you more time to move in, meet a few people, and get accustomed to the environment before you make your way to the university.
3. Exchange currency at the proper place.
- DO NOT exchange your currency/cash at the airport, as they are the most expensive place to do that. For example, at the time I came, the market rate was 1.38 AUD for every 1.00 USD that I exchanged, but the rate I ended up receiving from the airport’s kiosk was only 1.17 AUD for every 1.00 USD (a total ripoff, in my opinion). I suggest going to the Sunshine Plaza or Kawana Shopping World, the closest shopping centres, and exchanging your currency at a place there. They offer rates that are more comparable to the market rate, which will likely be better.
4. Things to do/buy right away.
- When you’re at the Sunshine Plaza or Kawana Shopping World, you need to open up a bank account, activate a cell phone service, and buy sunscreen. I suggest opening up a zero fee Suncorp bank account because they cater to students, and you are able to close it online relatively easily after you leave Australia.
- For the phone service, Telstra is your best bet when it comes to coverage quality and overall value. Depending on the amount of money you want to spend, you can either buy a cheap prepaid phone and SIM card, or if your device is already unlocked, feel free to just buy the prepaid SIM card and top up monthly when you need more data.
- And as for sunscreen, depending on when you arrive, it will be either be summer (Semester 1) or winter (Semester 2). Plan accordingly. If it’s summer, buy Cancer Council 50+ Ultra SPF sunscreen RIGHT away, as you can get blisters within minutes in the Australian sun. If it’s winter, definitely buy some face lotion with sunscreen in it and get 30+ SPF for the rest of your body, but there’s not as much pressure to put it on all the time.
- You’re going to need to provide your own bed, bath, cleaning, and housing necessities (depending on where you decide to stay e.g. Varsity or UniCentral). Buy based on budget and what you need, but your best stores to go to for housing items are Big W, Kmart, and Target.
5. Plan out your time.
- For the best use of your time, especially if you’re only staying a semester, do lots of weekend trips (Adelaide, Sydney, Fraser Island, Tangalooma, Brisbane, Gold Coast, and Byron Bay, to name a few). You’re going to want to explore more of the country, so leave some time after the semester to go to Uluru (Ayers Rock), spend more time in the cities, take a bus up the East Coast, and travel to the West Coast, Bali, Fiji, and New Zealand.
6. Get a travel agent.
- If you plan on going to a lot of places during and after the semester, GET YOURSELF A TRAVEL AGENT! They will save you SO much time and even some money when you book through them as opposed to you booking everything as a sole customer.
- For example, I rented a car for the mid-semester break. By booking through a travel agent, I ended up getting a free upgrade, being able to put a deposit down instead of paying all at once, and saving money on unnecessary charges by buying the correct insurance for my needs based on their advice.
- Planning takes forever to do on your own, which is why I recommend Peter Pans Adventure Travel. They’re based in Noosa, which is 40 minutes away from the University, but a representative will come to you if you do not have a car. It’s super convenient and saved me a LOT of stress throughout the semester.
7. If you can, buy a car or share one with a fellow student!
- If you can afford it, get a cheap car (less than $2,000), or split a better one with some other international students, if possible! Either way, you won’t regret it. I really wish I got a car the first week I was here, because a car makes seeing everything you want to see a lot easier to achieve. When I rented a car for the mid-semester break, it showed me how beneficial having a car in Australia really is.
8. If you can’t get a car, get student rates on public transportation.
- No one told me about this until it was too late, but if you are eligible, you can change your “program” to a “Diploma of General Studies” within the first four weeks of classes before the census date (20 March 2020), which makes you eligible for concession (student) rates on public transportation. Don’t worry, this won’t change the courses you’re already taking. Student rates will save you a lot of money, over 50%! For example, to get to the Sunshine Plaza, it usually costs about $3.31, but with your student card, it’ll only be about $1.66. Over time, especially if you don’t end up buying a car, the student rates are worth it!
9. Attend Orientation Week 17-21 Feb (International Orientation Day – 16 Feb 2020)
- Orientation week is the week before classes commence. Depending on your program, there will be activities and seminars for you to attend several days between Monday – Friday. This week is especially helpful if you’re a first year university student. After the sessions, there are ample opportunities to meet new people, as many people tend to socialize at the student housing that whole week! It’s a week I highly suggest being present for.
10. Get involved at USC.
- Join clubs and organizations as if this were your home university. It’s a great way to meet new people and enhance your skills. And you never know what kind of professional connections you can make!
- I joined Toastmasters International and took the 5 week intensive Speechcrafters course, became a USC International Brand Ambassador (you get to go on cool trips with other international students while having an enhanced presence on social media), and was a photographer for the Sexual Violence Awareness Month throughout October. Get out there!
11. Explore the nearby towns.
- Whether you have a car or public transportation, I recommend exploring the Sunshine Coast. A simple Google search will show you all the many places you could go. There are plenty of places conducive to all day trips or just for a few hours, with something for everyone.
12. Get a job.
- I’d definitely get a job if you’re here for longer than a semester, or at least apply for a few. The daily living and travel expenses in Australia can get to be pretty expensive, especially if you don’t have any money flowing in. Part time jobs usually require less than 20 hours of your time per week, which is manageable as a student AND they pay well (some between $20-30 an hour!).
- Honestly, if you’re only here a semester, don’t worry about getting a job. You’ll find that it’s just too much to manage, and when several years go by after you return home, you’ll wish you spent the maximum time exploring and adventuring instead of worrying about working. If you’re really short on money, try to limit the amount of times you go out to eat at restaurants, and focus on spending your time doing free or low-cost activities like hiking or going to the beach.
13. Go out of your comfort zone.
- There will DEFINITELY be things in Australia that you will want to do, but your feeling of fear might hold you back. DON’T let it hold you back! Some scary things yet life changing things that you might want to do are skydiving, ziplining, surfing, touching a cheetah, parasailing, cliff jumping, scuba diving, snorkeling, and mountain climbing. You WON’T regret putting in the effort to live your best life, trust me!
14. Try a social media detox.
- While I wasn’t able to do this during the semester because of my responsibilities at my home university and connections with my boyfriend and best friends at home, I definitely recommend taking a break from or limiting social media and screen time at least for a few days during your time in Australia. It can be very mentally beneficial to relax and not worry about what other people are doing, because it’s so hard NOT to compare yourself when you browse social media! Take the time and live in the moment to best enjoy YOUR experiences. Own your time!
15. End your lease on time.
- Students that live in the accommodations near campus usually end their leases a few weeks after the semester ends. If you know you’re traveling, (which you will be) end the lease as SOON as possible! Don’t make the mistake of extending it, thinking you’ll be around to hang out and have somewhere to put your stuff that you won’t take with you on your post-semester adventures! (Hint: you will be traveling, and you won’t need your room.) Do this in an effort to avoid paying for weeks you might not even be around to enjoy having your own room, anyways.
Thanks for reading, and I hope these tips help make your stay in Australia as an international student that much more exciting!
– Lillian DeMarco @lil_dem & @Ildphotos