California Dreamin’

On location in Santa Barbara, international exchange student Brody Smith reflects on how awesome it is to be a UNSW student engineer.

When I first started my undergraduate engineering degree at UNSW in 2013, I could never have imagined the number of opportunities that would arise over the next few years. Previously, I thought my time at university would be about getting that all-important piece of paper and only then being able to reap the rewards of my hard-earned degree. However, as I sit down to write this blog post from a café in downtown Santa Barbara, I can happily say that the most enriching and unique life experiences can actually be realised whilst still a student!

In my three years at UNSW Engineering I’ve met an astronaut, helped develop cell tracking software during a two-week research experience and explored the engineering beauty of an Airbus A380 at the QANTAS Jet Base Hangar. Now, as an international exchange student at the University of California, I’m reflecting on all this and for the first time truly appreciate what my degree, and UNSW, has given me.

I knew I wanted to travel, but it was befriending a large number of exchange students during their time in Australia and speaking to them about their home country and cultures that definitely added fuel to the fire. The opportunity to live overseas as an exchange student was as appealing to me as a warm decaf-chai-latte to a thirsty hipster!

Did you know that all international exchange application fees are waived for UNSW Engineering students! That’s right, our Faculty actively encourages students to take part in an exchange because developing international awareness and a better understanding of the role of engineers around the globe is seen as so important for our profession. I completed the application process and received my nomination. Suddenly, I was in Los Angeles with six months of unknown future and 50 states of unexplored potential!

Today, winter in Santa Barbara has just officially ended but to be honest, its presence was never really felt. The palm trees lining the streets with cars driving on the right hand side reminds me that I’m definitely not in Sydney. I have lived here for over two months now. I’m content, but not complacent. I couldn’t be happier with my current situation.

Our Faculty actively encourages students to take part in an exchange because developing international awareness and a better understanding of the role of engineers around the globe is seen as so important for our profession.

I live in Isla Vista (IV), a student suburb about 20 minutes from downtown Santa Barbara. Skateboards and push bikes flood the streets as students head to class or to the beach, evoking a pleasant realisation of the idyllic student lifestyle that IV offers. I walk the streets and see live bands playing in the driveways of large share-houses, drawing in students looking for a place to hang out and soak up that famous Californian sun. The locals are infatuated with the idioms and unique trademarks of Australian culture, making it fun and easy to meet new people and make friends. The relaxed vibe is a dramatic contrast from the fast-paced, often disorientating city of Sydney.

A new freedom exists as an international exchange student. After submitting an assignment with two minutes to spare, I’m searching for the next adventure to tackle. Perhaps a weekend trip to the Colorado slopes to ski the same runs as Shaun White? Or maybe I’ll head down to San Diego to surf the famous mission beach? Perhaps I’ll go to Mexico for spring break?

I really strongly encourage everyone to apply for an international exchange. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. These exchange opportunities, along with many more across the Americas, Europe and Asia are knocking! With a bit of planning and motivation, UNSW Engineering will get you there.

My one piece of advice to most effectively capitalise on your time abroad is to live with local people in your host country. For me, sharing a house with 20 Americans has been beneficial for so many reasons. The locals know where to go, where to shop, where to travel and how to get there. Living with the locals opens up a much larger network of friends to party, study, travel and hang out with. Of course, to get involved and truly delve into a new culture, you have to live with members of that culture.

So, start thinking about exchange now and grasp this incredible opportunity you have as a UNSW student – what are you waiting for!

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