Student experience - Katie Moularadellis
Katie Moularadellis is currently studying a Bachelor of International Relations with a Bachelor of Arts. She recently completed an exchange to the University of Stuttgart (Germany), and in this article tells us about adjusting to living overseas as an exchange student.
What drove you to apply for an overseas program?
I had done an exchange program for two months while I was in high school. I spent two months in Hamburg with a host family, and prior to this, their daughter came to stay with my family for three months. I applied for my Stuttgart exchange because I wanted to stay longer than before, and I also wanted to be more independent.
Had you travelled before?
My dad’s side of the family is Greek, so we try to travel to Greece every two or so years to see his family. We would always manage to squeeze in visits to other parts of Europe though. What was different about this experience was that I was completely on my own, which was totally freeing. It was also more of a 'slow travel' experience, where, rather than spending a week in this city and a week in that city, I got to spend an extended amount of time in a foreign place, getting to know the area and the culture, and putting down roots.
What did you like about your overseas study destination?
The difference in attitude towards higher education. As public university is completely free to students over there, tertiary education is, in a sense, more accessible. Germans really emphasise the importance of high level thinking (which isn’t a surprise when considering they have at least five words to express the idea of 'to think'), and so going to university is thought about differently. Instead of going because you need it to get a job, Germans think about university as a way to educate their population and better their society.
My favourite thing about my host university was the student bars. Every dorm 'neighbourhood' had its own bar, and there would often be events there too, especially for the exchange students association, so it was a really easy and casual way to meet people and have some fun.
How did you find navigating day-to-day life in your host country?
Getting used to the day-to-day was interesting. Ultimately I found a rhythm, where I would have classes Monday to Wednesday, and then on the weekends I would either travel (making sure to come back on Sunday ready to prepare for the week) or I would just spend some time in Stuttgart with my friends. Meal prep was an important part of my week, as it meant that I was able to save money and time when it came to my food choices - but I always made sure to have some junk food in the freezer in case I wasn’t feeling like eating my prepared dinner.
Is there anything you struggled with while settling in to your overseas experience?
Homesickness was a massive struggle in the beginning. Six months seems like a really long time when you first arrive in your exchange city, but that time flies so quickly that suddenly you’ll look up and it’ll be a week before you leave. Homesickness isn’t really something you can cure, you just sort of have to wait it out and do as many fun things as you can in the meantime.
(I actually wrote an article for the travel website Shut Up And Go about this very topic).
Did you notice any changes in yourself since completing your overseas experience?
I am definitely more confident now that what I was before I left. I still lived with my parents prior to my exchange, so moving overseas with only a suitcase to my name forced to me to take care of myself in a radical way. Once I found my groove, I was unstoppable.
Were you a member of any clubs at your host university?
I was a regular participant in the AEGEE, which is like the exchange student’s society in Europe. It’s usually for Erasmus students but in Stuttgart, all international students were invited to their events. They hosted games nights, mixers, and excursions, and it was an easy way to meet new people.
Tell us your thoughts on the benefits of completing an overseas program to your destination.
If you’re a STEM student I would highly recommend the University of Stuttgart, but even if you are a humanities student I would also recommend them. The reason I picked Uni Stuttgart was because they offered such a wide range of subjects, and they really do produce top quality classes – I enjoyed every course I took and was challenged not only in my way of thinking but in my way of studying.
What is your aspiring career path?
To be quite honest I am unsure. This exchange program, though, has helped me to become more confident in what I want and more sure in myself. Eventually I would love to move back to Germany, perhaps to continue studying or just work.
What do you want to accomplish in the next six months?
Within the next six months I want to have moved out (which shouldn’t be too hard – I’m moving in a few weeks!), to have continued to improve my German, both through university study and outside interaction, and I hope to find a career path that excites me and takes advantage of my German skills.
Where would you like to visit next?
Anywhere that’s open at this point (but ideally back to Germany to visit some friends, as well as the US and Brazil to visit some international friends). I was planning on doing some more overseas study, but thanks to COVID-19 I doubt that I’ll be able to do it before I finish my bachelors.
What is one piece of advice that you wish you had known before undertaking your exchange?
Exchange will be the best time of your life, but only if you give it all you’ve got. Instead of sitting in your dorm room on a Friday night, go to that international student mixer and meet some new people. Travel while you’re there, solo and with friends. Your international experience will be what you make of it, so be determined to make it something you’ll remember forever.
Coming home to Adelaide after living overseas can feel daunting. I hadn’t realised how many roots I’d put down in Stuttgart until I had to pull them out again to come home. But part of life overseas is making new friends and building yourself a new life, even if it is for a short while. Making those connections makes it hard to say goodbye, but at least you’ll know that with those hard goodbyes, there will hopefully be a happy hello again.