The biggest surprise upon my arrival in Canada was the pace at which North American universities operate. I’d say that the work at ANU is generally easier, however the volume of work will quickly get to you if you don’t stay on top of things. It pays to spend half an hour each day just working out when your assessment items are and when you’re blocking out time for recreation. It’s taken me a month (or three years) to work out that doing a week’s worth of reading in 20 minutes isn’t feasible. Plan your downtime and you’ll really enjoy it! – Andrew, Dalhousie University


I’ve faced relatively little in the way of surprises since my arrival in Dublin, and for this reason I’d say the biggest surprise so far has been the vast array of things this gorgeous little city has in common with Canberra. The Wicklow Mountains that are just an hour from Dublin’s city centre could just as easily be a less rugged version of the Brindabellas; Urbanity in across the river in Smithfield could go toe to toe with Manuka’s Urban Pantry; Dublin is as much a student city as Canberra is, so there are student discounts aplenty to be found; the Irish capital is as devoid of skyscrapers as Canberra is, and, perhaps most tellingly, I’ve even heard a Dubliner refer to their hometown as ‘The Crapital’. Despite Kingos’ best efforts, however, the similarities between Dublin and Canberra end at the pubs. While the oldest pub in Canberra by all reports was built in 1857, the ‘Brazen Head’ down the road from where I’m living here dates back to 1198. And the Guinness it serves is much better. – Alex, Trinity College Dublin


Somehow I’ve been immediately surprised by Spain even after only 30 hours. It is not a surprise that Zaragoza mixes the ancient cultures of the Visigoths, the Romans, the Moors and the Catholic Aragonese. It is not that everything is at least 40% cheaper here (or in the case of a schooner, 89% cheaper!). Heck, it isn’t even how beautiful this city is.

It’s that the people, despite not speaking much English whatsoever, will go out of their way to not only help me but to show me.

I was in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar along the magnificent river Ebro when a dear older gentleman volunteering decided to explain to me the ingenious ventilation system of the Cathedral. He realized that I was not a native speaker but gleaned that if he spoke slower, I would understand him without a problem. That understood, he proceeded to show me all the intricacies of the Cathedral and to explain to me the historical significance of it, both religious and secular, for an hour. This man saw a young man unsure of whether or not he could stand over the vent and decided to impart his wisdom, despite a language barrier, and he did so with humour and compassion. Truly, this is an omen of all the good things to come. – James,University of Zaragoza


When I first told people that I would be going on exchange to Scotland for a semester, the first thing that they warned me about was the weather. According to them, Scotland was notorious for being very cold, very windy, and very rainy! And to think, I was going to be trading my sizzling Australian summer for a chilly Scottish winter.

Let the fun times roll.

Before leaving Australia, I was already beginning to embody my inner Ned Stark “winter is coming” impression as I filled my suitcase with the warmest winter gear I could find. However, since arriving in Edinburgh some five short weeks ago, I was, and am still surprised that this Scottish winter is very much similar to a Canberra one.

I was expecting grey skies, windy and rainy conditions – typical UK weather. But it’s been far from it. At least nine out of ten days are consistent clear blue skies, still crisp air, and not a drop of rain to be felt. I must admit though, on the odd day when the weather does go astray, it can become quite cold, wet and very windy. However, it really only lasts a few hours before the sun comes out again and warms old Edinburgh to an impressive golden colour. – Laura, Heriot Watt University