Which University? (Melbourne!)

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One of the biggest changes on my year abroad has been moving from a wee university town, to a campus university which is only a small part of a much bigger city. Next blog I’ll tell you about the city, but for now I want to talk about the real reason why I am here on my year abroad… The University of Melbourne!

Here’s a list of some important factors for choosing your year abroad university – and how mine reflects!

  1. Size of the university
  2. Campus or integrated?
  3. Accommodation
  4. Look and feel of the campus / city
  5. Classes and modules
  6. Is there an Introductory week?
  7. What activities does the university offer?

The students in Durham form a significant portion of the population (almost 18,000 students), and at least in part define the small Northern English city.  The University of Melbourne has over 47,000 students (according to their facts website, http://about.unimelb.edu.au/tradition-of-excellence/key-facts), but they account for only a fraction of the students living in Melbourne, let alone the population. This means there are always new faces to meet – but less chance of bumping into the ones you know.

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The UoM campus (foreground) and the city centre

UoM is a campus university (unlike Durham), but it is an open campus, so any member of the public can walk through the grounds. One of the great things about the campus is the way it manages to blend into the surrounding city. A significant feature that struck me was the acknowledgement that the university staff and students always give to the original owners of the land – the Wurundjeri people. This is written over the campus entrance, but also verbally recognised at the start of every public address.

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‘We acknowledge and pay respect to the Wururndjeri people, the Traditional Owners of this land’

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Training on campus

Despite being part of the city, campus universities tend to have their own character. Coming to an urban metropolis like Melbourne, I expected the university to be rather a concrete jungle. Instead, I found sprawling green lawns, trees as big as any English oak, and even a full-size track and football field right there on campus.

A benefit to the size of UoM is the number of accommodation options: they have a collegiate system here too, with colleges situated just north of campus, but also Student Villages (university affiliated but not catered accommodation), plus a huge housing market for prospective students. Knowing what kind of accommodation you are looking for can help narrow down which universities you might apply to, though most offer a range.

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A modern Arts building

The architecture of UoM is one of its most striking characteristics. The sandstone buildings (such as the Old Arts house) look like they belong more in an Oxbridge campus, right down to the arches and courtyards. Right beside these, slick, modern buildings (like the Design Building, designed by UoM students themselves) provide state of the arts facilities. Somehow the amalgamation of old and new works beautifully! Though it might seem superficial, I think the aesthetics of where you are studying can really effect how comfortable and at home you feel.

Because of the sheer size of student and staff numbers at UoM, the range of classes offered reflects that breadth. Alongside classic and core subjects, there are hundreds of niche or specific topics, such as Street Art, Wine Tasting, Film Noir and Aboriginal Writing! One of the best opportunities of a year abroad is to explore subjects you wouldn’t be able to take in three (or four) years at Durham.

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The old-fashioned courtyards even remind me of Durham’s cloisters

This semester, I am taking Crime Narratives (including Sherlock stories and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo); Genre and Popular Fiction (think The Hobbit, Bond novels and even Fifty Shades of Grey… a controversial inclusion in a literature subject!); Ecology and Catastrophe (a fascinating cross-over of environmental studies and literature); and a Creative Writing subject on Novels – because you don’t have to stay within your degree. One of my fellow Durham students, studying English at home, isn’t even taking any literature modules here!   

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UoM’s Platypus mascot

As wide-eyed students freshly arrived (almost two months ago, now), we first got an idea of the university through Orientation Week, or O-Week as it is commonly known. During O-Week, the university held events and fairs, much like Fresher’s Week at Durham, to introduce newbies to the vast array of clubs, societies, sports and all other activity you could dream of (I joined MUMC, the Mountaineering Club and have loved it since). Orientation weeks are a great way to meet locals and try something completely different – its freshers all over again!

Even once O-Week finished, the activity on campus didn’t subside.  Every week on Wednesday, the university holds a farmers market, where the central square is filled with a diverse range of local providers: from organic honey and beeswax to calamari, Tibetan noodles, Southern fried chicken and waffles, Fair-trade chocolate, and the ever-popular falafel tent. On the days when the market isn’t on, there are daily club BBQs, breakfast on Thursday morning, and even a live music concert every Tuesday afternoon (all for free!). One of the best advantages of a campus uni is that there is always something student-run going on.

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One of the pop-up stalls at the weekly Farmers Market

However, I tend to find that it is the little things that become your favourite university features.  For example, I discovered a food hut in the corner of campus in the first week, which I have stuck to religiously: Carte makes delicious (and cheap, student-friendly) crepes! Go simple with classic lemon and sugar, or go all out with their extravagant creations, such as the ‘jam donut’: melted dark chocolate, raspberry jam and cinnamon. If that doesn’t motivate you to go to class in the morning, I don’t know what will!

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What a proper Study Break should look like

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