Welcome to Life as an Exchange Student

It’s now been over a month since I journeyed from Cleveland, Ohio, to Canberra, Australia, and I’m starting to understand why past study abroad students often impart such cliches as “Don’t blink or you’ll miss it” and “As soon as you adjust, it’s time to return home” upon prospective abroad students. As an exchange student, I find that these cliches and the associated intensity of emotion and experience hold particularly true. Between all of the excitement and the challenges, the past month has been a whirlwind of disorientation, euphoria, new friends, homesickness, intellectual stimulation, and stress.

The Canberra Balloon Spectacular (air balloons in the sky)

Waking up early to see the annual Canberra Balloon Spectacular


It wasn’t until I was in the tenth hour of the flight from Los Angeles to Sydney that I realized the magnitude of what I was about to do—which was, in essence, start a new life, in a new country some 10,000 miles and upwards of 24 hours of travel time away from home, and commence studying at a new university with an academic system unlike the American one I’d been immersed in for the past fourteen years.

Perhaps this late realization was a blessing, because if I had realized the implications of my decision to move to Australia by myself for four months, I might have ultimately been too overwhelmed to take the leap. Regardless, my plane landed in Sydney, and I was committed to a semester at the Australian National University. After a much shorter flight to the nation’s capital and my new home, Canberra, I arrived at the apartment building that would be my place of residence for the semester.

The beach shore at Canberra

Surf Beach on the South Coast of New South Wales


Living alone was my first challenge, and has been one of my enduring challenges as well. Throughout my time at Rochester, I’ve either had roommates, hall mates, or suite mates, and a ready supply of friends or social interaction as a result. Additionally, before life at Rochester, I lived at home, where all my meals were cooked by my parents. Since I live on campus at Rochester and have been on a meal plan for the last two and a half years, I must admit I’ve never quite gotten the hang of cooking for myself.

So, over the past month, I’ve faced a twofold challenge—first, how to balance relishing the privacy and comfort of my own studio apartment and making social connections; second, how to cook a meal for myself that both offers nutritional and taste value. While I’ve made friends who live outside my building by attending classes, meeting other exchange students, and attending various events on campus, cooking remains a work in progress as I experiment with variations of the same themes—pasta, stir fry, veggie burgers, and omelets.

Regardless, the successes and failures of living independently in a studio apartment have made me feel more like an adult than any previous college experience. For example, I experienced a bank issue with no immediate roommate to consult, and my parents live in a time zone 16 hours from my own. These are preparing me for postgraduate life in a real, urgent, and practical way.

The iconic Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria

The iconic Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria



While each day brings challenges, from recognizing how unfamiliar I am with the Australian university grading system, to realizing my bike (my main mode of transport) has a flat tire, I’d also like to discuss the many moments of pure joy that have been just as much a part of my exchange student life as the scary, trying moments have been.

The intensity of the experience of being an exchange student means that simple moments have a much greater impact. For example, a lecturer (which is what professors are called in Australia!) praised something I said in class, which filled me with happiness and confidence. In Rochester, I might have barely acknowledged it. Meeting Australian students and witnessing their eagerness to teach me about Australian traditions, cultures, and norms, and hearing their enthusiasm for advising where I should travel have been incredibly exciting as well.

Travel, too, has been another highlight of my experience so far—I’ve gone on several day trips to hike through the stunning national parks and mountains near Canberra with the school’s mountaineering club. I’ve journeyed to the beautiful nearby South Coast beaches, and I recently spend four days in the wonderful city of Melbourne with some other exchange friends. Taking advantage of the short time I have in Australia has led me to seize opportunities and adventure in ways I never consider in Rochester.

The city of Melbourne

Flinders Station in Melbourne


Though it’s already been a month, I find that I’m still adjusting to everyday life as an Australian National University student. In some ways, choosing to go on an exchange program leads to feeling like a freshman all over again. The difference is having the firm foundation the University of Rochester has provided me, and the knowledge that I have the full support of my friends, family, and professors at home. In addition, I’m sure Rochester students currently abroad on a variety of programs feel the same sorts of emotions that I do.

In general, going abroad is an adjustment, but the opportunity of a lifetime—and I know I will come home changed for the better, with a fresh perspective and a renewed confidence to take on senior year.

Stay tuned for my next post, which will examine some of the specific differences between the Australian National University and the University of Rochester!

About the author

Natalie Ziegler

Hello! I'm a member of the Class of 2018, and I study anthropology and comparative literature. Within my comparative literature, I study fiction and creative writing, as well as gender studies. I spend most of my time on campus studying in the beautiful Rush Rhees Library, but I can also be found at various Students' Association Government functions, at work in the gym or the Department of Rare Books, cohosting an online radio show for WRUR The Sting, or relaxing with friends. I enjoy exploring Rochester's neighborhoods and its downtown, and I love newspapers, biking, and reading.


Leave a comment
  • Your mom shared your blog with me. She is excited for you to be on this new journey in life. Now I can see why.
    What a beautiful story you are writing (and learning).
    I am happy for you to have this experience.
    Good luck! You are brave.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.