Chiara is a student on BA (Hons) International Business. As part of her degree she was able to take part in a year long exchange programme during her third year and is now back to tackle her fourth and final year. Chiara spent her first semester studying at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Melbourne, Australia, which is one of the University of Westminster’s exchange partner. And during the second semester she opted to take part in a work placement in a company in Ho Chi Min City in Vietnam.
Why did you decide to take part in the year exchange programme?
Since the day I decided to apply for a degree in International Business, I knew I wanted to go on exchange for a year. Being myself an international student in the UK, I knew that going abroad would not only give me the opportunity to develop my interpersonal skills further, but it would also boost my CV.
When I chose Australia as my destination, I remember thinking ‘When will this ever happen again?’. For me moving from Italy to the UK to study was relatively easy as the two countries are close to each other, while going to Australia can take up to 24 hours by plane. This time, I wanted to take part in the opportunity of a lifetime during which I could discover another continent and their culture through my degree.
Why did you pick the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Australia?
I chose Australia, but in particular RMIT in Melbourne because on their website I saw that they were providing a large range of services, especially for students coming from abroad. It looked like a very active and supportive University, and it was indeed! During the mandatory orientation week and during the semester, they organised plenty of events with free gadgets and food/drink to involve new students. A range of workshops was also available for those who were seeking a part-time job while studying. In addition, if needed, they would even offer a free revision and support service run by professors, to help students with their assessment and various other topics.
Please comment on your overall experience. What did you find the most enjoyable and what the most challenging?
I found Melbourne to be a charming and multicultural city, full of positive vibes and welcoming people. The atmosphere was less stressful in comparison to London. There was the right balance between working hours and leisure time.
I decided not to stay in a student accommodation, but I stayed in a shared flat, and it was amazing! I had never met so many people from South East Asia before! I was enchanted by their cultures, stories, habits, and food! Meeting people from different backgrounds, especially Asian background, was the most enjoyable, but at the same time, the most challenging experience.
Although London is a multicultural city too, Melbourne was multicultural in a different way. The Asian predominance was higher compared to the European one. The more I connected with the Asian culture, the more I realised their different approach to life and mindset. I, therefore, learnt how I should behave if I would ever go to their countries (great knowledge, especially for an International Business student)! And then I did go to Vietnam in the second semester.
Which graduate attributes and transferrable skills have you gained or enhanced as a result of your exchange?
One of the great aspects of being an exchange student on a sandwich year is that you can choose to study any courses you like in your field and level of studies. So, I decided to challenge myself, by choosing topics that I had never studied before. It ended up to be the best decision ever, as I extremely enjoyed all of them. I feel I developed my critical thinking, problem solving and creativity by working in various business areas. Studying abroad also helped me to clarify and define my career goals after graduation, as I believe that being in a different environment broaden one’s horizons.
During my time in Australia, I was also planning to find an internship, replacing the second semester of studies, as this is an option offered to business students as part of the year exchange programme. I knew it was not going to be an easy task, as it is a highly competitive environment. However, I did my best to obtain one. Unfortunately, I did not manage to obtain one during the summer break (under Student Visa regulations, you can work full-time only during the semester breaks). This at first made me disappointed and sad, but I did not give up.
Although that was not what I planned, thanks to great connections I made during my time at RMIT, I obtained an internship in Vietnam. This meant I needed to pack my belongings and fly to a country I did not know much about. Once I arrived, I was surprised by the warm welcome received by locals and colleagues. I felt fortunate to have the chance to experience another culture and to have new challenges ahead of me.
While working in Vietnam I gained many valuable professional skills, such as project management and planning skills, but most importantly, I received many life lessons that I will always be grateful for.
I would describe my experience abroad as life-changing. The challenges I encountered helped me to build my confidence, my knowledge and to define my future career path. The people I met helped me to understand the persona I am, whom I want to be and the impact I want to make.
What top tips or advice would you give other students considering to go on exchange? What should students know before going to Australia?
I would advise all students to undertake at least one experience abroad.
During their time abroad they should follow 3 basic rules:
- speak to as many people as you can during orientation.
- participate in events and get involved in societies you are interested in.
- ask for help when you need it.
If they are considering to go to Australia, I would make them aware that it is an expensive country, therefore, to be sure to have enough savings and financial support while there. This is important to know to not get stressed while there. I would also encourage finding a part-time job, to get to know the Australian working environment. In particular, RMIT University offers plenty of job opportunities on each campus.
What message would you like to pass on to students who are considering taking part in international opportunities?
Go and don’t give up until you accomplish your goal! There will always be unexpected events, but they will teach you to be resilient.
I will always promote and encourage other students to take this opportunity, not just because I had a great experience, but because I know, it will help them understand more about themselves, clarify their goals and open their horizons.