Hey there! I’m Matt, a first-year medical student at The University of Queensland (UQ), originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Whether you’re a prospective international student exploring your options for Universities abroad, or an Australian student who is navigating the different stepping stones to your future career, I hope that my experiences so far as a student at UQ can give you some insight and provide you with some useful tips.
In these series of blogs, I will be focussing on moving to Australia (from Canada), my thoughts on UQ so far, student life, Brisbane, my adventures around Australia, some travel tips, as well as why I am grateful every day that my journey in life has led me to Brisbane. I hope you enjoy!
Moving to a new country is hard, especially if you’re like me and have never left home before. Even at 25 years old, making the decision to leave home and come to Australia for the foreseeable future was challenging and has come with its ups and downs. It’s a decision I don’t regret, and if you’re considering taking advantage of a similar opportunity, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do it. Here are some tips that I hope will make the whole process easier for you!
Travelling to Australia
Don’t book the first flight you see – being a place that is geographically isolated, but a tourist hub for people coming from all parts of the world, there are an abundance of flights coming into Australia from multiple airlines. Many of these flight paths will go through major transportation hubs like Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Auckland, Hong Kong, Bangkok, or Abu Dhabi. Explore your options from different airlines and start tracking flight prices a few months in advance. You’ll find that the same flight can vary by as much as $500, depending on when you book it.
Decide how valuable your time is to you – again, since Australia is geographically isolated, you’re going to find that the cheaper flights will have multiple layovers and may have flight paths that will have you taking two steps forward and one step back on your journey down-under. While saving money is generally a good idea for students, I would recommend calculating how much money you save per hour of extra travel. For example, if I compare the cheapest flight to my hometown (Edmonton, AB Canada) with the most convenient one, I may save $250, but instead of 17 hours travel time, it will take me 25 hours. If you feel like an extra 8 hours of waiting in an airport or sitting on a plane is worth saving $250, then go for it! If not, go for the shortest flight.
Book a return flight, regardless of how long you’re staying – this is a mistake I personally made, having never travelled long international distances before. Even if you’re planning on being in Australia for a year or longer, book round-trip tickets with a return flight around the time you expect to be going home. Even if you must pay a fee to change your flight later down the track, you may save a few hundred dollars when compared to booking one-way tickets.
Pack only the essentials – aside from your clothes and toiletries or medications, don’t bring things like school supplies, appliances, hair dryers, etc. with you. Not only do they take up lots of space and weight in your luggage, it’s likely you’ll have to buy pricey adaptors for electrical outlets. In addition, your electrical devices from home might not run optimally on Australian circuits. Make a list of all the things you would need in a typical day and pack only those things. Anything which isn’t on that list (i.e. your television, board games, etc.) are not worth taking up valuable space and money.
Don’t just pack summer clothes – this is perhaps the biggest mistake made by those who haven’t been to Australia before, myself included. Australia isn’t hot and sunny all the time, especially if you’re going to be living on the southern coast. Even in Brisbane, it can be quite cool in the mornings. For Brisbane, you’ll need a few sweaters, in addition to some jeans and other pants. You’ll certainly need a rain coat. When it rains, it pours. If you’re planning on spending time elsewhere in Australia in the winter, or travelling to New Zealand, bring a warm coat. While it doesn’t snow often or to the extent that my fellow Canadians may be used to, it can be a shock to the system when you’ve grown accustomed to temperatures consistently above 20 Celsius. Another reason is that proper ‘winter’ gear may not be readily available here. Ski/snow gear is a very niche market and can be quite expensive and hard to obtain. If you’re an avid skier and have your own clothing, it may be worth packing it, or even better, to have a visiting friend or family member bring it over with them.
Living arrangements for Mature/Graduate students
As someone who is in their mid 20’s and has already experienced what the ‘undergraduate life’ has to offer back home in Canada, I can’t give advice on what Australia and UQ are like for those embarking on their University journey for the first time. However, I can offer advice from my experience as someone who is a postgraduate student and is a few years older than many of the domestic students from my cohort.
If you’re over 20 years old, keep your eyes open for reasonably priced rental accommodation – Everyone is different but I personally found student accommodation was not for me. I ended up moving to a very comfortable apartment closer to UQ in St Lucia and put the money I saved towards new furniture. I now have the freedom to have guests over when I please, have abundant space to study and cook, and have the freedom to be an independent ‘mature’ adult – all things I found challenging while staying in student accommodation. Again, even if none of that matters to you, think of the money. Finding a housemate in a private rental will save you enough money to take a real sweet trip to New Zealand, Bali, Japan or even Europe over your break. If you’re a medical student, those getaways help you push through the endless readings, studying, clinical examinations and classes.
Set yourself up in alternative accommodations for a week or two when you arrive – in Australia, you cannot sign a lease or rent a property without first physically inspecting it. You’re going to have to wait until you’re in the country before you can book showings with realtors and decide on which apartment you like best. Thankfully, there are typically an abundance of rental units on the market in Australia, and friendly and accommodating realtors to help you along the way. So, in the meantime, book out an AirBnB for a week or so. If you’re fortunate enough, stay with someone you know! While this may seem expensive and stressful at first, it will allow you the time and freedom to find a place that meets every requirement on your list.
Use Flatmates, Gumtree or even Marketplace – if you are moving to Brisbane/Australia completely solo and don’t have someone who you plan on living with already, explore your options using sites such as Flatmates.com. You’ll be able to find other students who either have a room vacant in their house/apartment or find potential roommates who you can rent with. While I didn’t personally use this, my peers have had good luck.
Sign a lease that fits your academic schedule – try to time the expiry of your lease with the time of year you’ll be going back home. Not only will this save you money, but you won’t have to worry about trying to sublet your place or worry about paying for rent while you aren’t there. Some landlords will want a 12-month lease, but many are open to leases of six months or more. Use that to your advantage! If you’re certain you will be staying in Australia for more than a year, then sign a 12-month lease, as they’ll usually save you some money in the long run.
Set up your transit pass with concession fares – transit can get expensive, but thankfully, University students get a 50 per cent concession fare in Queensland. You can set this up online using the TransLink website and your student ID from UQ. If you don’t drive, use transit whenever you can, because Uber/rideshare will get expensive. In addition to transit, many other things in Brisbane offer concession fares, including sporting events like Brisbane Lions (AFL) and Brisbane Heat (BBL Cricket) matches.
A good work-life balance
One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to appreciate the importance of balancing school/work with the rest of your life. While some people can study for hours on end, day in and day out, this doesn’t work for everyone and may even prove to be unhealthy. Managing your time well so that you can have enough time to complete schoolwork, exercise, sleep and get out of the house to see your friends is so important. Not only will you be happier, you may find that you feel better physically and emotionally. It’s important to rest when you need it, if you appreciate the tasks at hand. Don’t set yourself up for failure by leaving assignments and studying until the last minute, especially in a fast-paced and content-heavy program like Medicine. Take time to cook your meals, get some sun, share some food and laughs with friends, and to go to bed at a reasonable time. Even better, try and take advantage of peer-study groups, which allow you to revise and learn in a low-key, social setting. We are social creatures, and it’s important to acknowledge that. If you spend all-day, every day going between class, the library, and your textbooks/computer, you’ll eventually burn out and it will be hard to hit refresh.
Schedule time to video call home
While time can fly by during your studies, being occupied with assignments and classes, it is important to call home. Getting homesick is inevitable for everyone, but everyone experiences it differently. You may feel it immediately; you might feel it after a few months. You might start missing home because of a birthday, family gathering or a festival you would normally enjoy with friends. Whichever way you experience homesickness, I’d recommend calling home, and setting up times that you can video-chat with your family and your friends. It’s remarkable how seeing a familiar face for the first time in a few months can spark a two-hour conversation and how you can feel rejuvenated from it. Life is too short not to share it with those we love. Take advantage of how technology allows us to share so much.
I could probably go on for ages about my experience in Australia so far, about my program, about things I feel are important for prospective students to know, but that article would be much too long and nobody would finish reading it! So, I’d like to leave you with one last piece of advice – take chances. Take advantage of the exciting opportunities in front of you, whether that’s starting a new program, embarking on a new career path or – if you’re like me – moving across the world to a place you’d only dreamed of seeing. Take every opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. After all, you never know who and what you’re missing out on. Forge new beginnings, whether it’s joining a new student group or saying hi to the person next to you in class. That’s how I met all my new friends on day one of orientation. Now I can’t imagine what the last six months would’ve been like without them.
Thank you for taking time to read about my tips and experience and I hope to see you walking the Great Court soon!
Year 1 MD Candidate
University of Queensland