My name is Ida Bæk and I have been on exchange from Aarhus University in Denmark. I study a bachelor of science in Molecular Biology and I have been documenting my experiences at and around ANU this past semester. I’ve written the following blog post recounting my exchange experience including mates, vegemite, banter, and backpacking.
When I first landed in Australia, I had no idea what to expect. My knowledge of Australia was limited to whatever my backpacking friends had told me of white-sand beaches, deadly spiders, and “g’day mate”s. The nation’s capital was somehow never mentioned in their stories and even when I asked whatever Australian I could find around my hometown in Denmark, nothing much was ever said about Canberra. It really is a shame because after spending only 5 months here, I feel like I could talk about this place for hours and hours.
Finding a place to live in a new country can be a daunting task so taking advantage of ANU’s guarantee of accommodation at a residential hall, I moved into Burton and Garran Hall just 5 minutes walk from the centre of campus along with 500 returning students, fellow exchangers, and first-year students. Little did I know that these strangers would during my semester at ANU become my friends, my family, and my primary support. Residential living was without a doubt the most defining thing for my experience here as living so close to everything going on around campus makes the feeling of belonging so much stronger – which is something that can otherwise be hard to find when you are new in town. Most halls also offer both social activities and societies as well as academic and pastoral support so making friends turned out to be easier than making a vegemite sandwich (which by the way is a real and terrible thing).
However, ANU itself also boasts a wide range of clubs and societies and coming from a university where most activities take place outside of uni, I was quite taken aback by the many activities that were offered. Whether your niche be fashion, writing, entrepreneurship, gender-related issues, mountaineering, or even Kanye West appreciation, there is a club for it. And if there isn’t, you are free to create it yourself. By the end of the first week, I had already signed up for the caving club, the science student association, the XSA (cross-disciplinary student association), and participated in events from many more clubs and societies. Add to that a full program offered by ANUSA (ANU Student Association), the ANU Global Programs, and my residential hall and suddenly it did not matter much what Canberra had to offer – all I needed was literally right outside of my door.
With all this stuff going on, it can be quite hard to focus on the studies but I quickly found out that the social success of the ANU goes hand in hand with its academic success. I can not recall how many times we were encouraged to engage as much as possible during the first few weeks and it turned out to be some of the best advice that I have ever been offered. Because the academic standard is so high and the staff so engaging, the courses can be quite demanding but I have always found help whenever I asked for it. Sometimes, it was from ANU, my instructors, or my hall’s academic team, but most often it came from that statistics girl whom I had met in my kitchen bay or that PhD guy from ANU sports.
Despite what I wrote before about everything being right outside of my door, I may have to correct myself. Flying in all the way from Northern Europe, I was always determined to explore this giant land of Oz. I would have my backpacking experiences in Australia too and luckily I met my group of exchange students who were just as eager to travel as I was. As it turns out, getting away from Canberra is much easier than you would think. Sydney and Melbourne are both fairly short bus-drives away (by Australian standards) and during the two-week semester break in April, we managed to do a roadtrip and camping along the Great Ocean Road, visit Cairns and swim above the Great Barrier Reef, go out for pizza in Brisbane and surf in Byron Bay. But you do not even need two weeks to get traveling. Blessed with amazing, car-owning friends, weekend trips in and around Canberra’s stunning nature were easy to squeeze in between the teaching weeks. You can even hike Black Mountain on foot straight out of your afternoon class.
Needless to say, recounting an entire semester’s experiences in one blog post is an impossible task. There are just so many things to share. If you are considering going on exchange at ANU, I honestly can not recommend it enough. The campus experience, the residential halls, the closeness to nature, the active social life, and the bite-sized city makes it the easiest and best way for you to fully profit for a semester or two – both academically and socially. The only drawback about going here is that you are going to miss it like crazy when you leave it. I know I will.
But as all good things come to an end, so I will end this post by thanking everyone who made this experience unforgettable; the friends I laughed with, the friends I travelled with, the friends that became my family, the Global Programs Office, the girl who helped me with my statistics course, the amazing Burton and Garran Hall, and first and foremost Australian National University.