Buffalo State College (USA)
Study Abroad Testimonial – Tegan
My host university was in Buffalo, which is about 8 hours away from New York City and also one of the key factors in my choosing this university over any others. I had never been to Buffalo before, but I had been to NYC, which I loved and wanted to visit again and knew I would if I studied at Buffalo. I looked it up in Google a few times, but I preferred to go there with no expectations, I didn't want to be disappointed and wanted to keep an open mind. I am glad I did, everything was so different, mostly when asked what the differences are I would reply, "It's just So American!" The first day I was there I walked to the supermarket and was pleasantly surprised to walk past a football team training, not Rugby or League, but good ole' American football, and I knew I was not in Australia anymore. The University itself, Buffalo State, was also not what I was used to. It was huge! My campus at home is quite small, in small country town and we all know each other. Buff State, as we called it, was the complete opposite, and I was told it was a small university compared to others. There was an ice skating rink, gym, football field, theatres, everything that you would expect from an American College. It was like stepping into a movie and I loved it. It didn't take me long to get swept up in the great amount of school pride everyone felt about their school, and I was soon wearing the Buffalo State merchandise like everyone else. I no longer looked like a tourist, but an American college student who would never resort to wearing socks and sandals, which unfortunately the majority of students did.
Name: Tegan Arazny
Program of study at CQUni: Bachelor of Theatre (Specialisation Musical Theatre)
Host Institution & Country: Buffalo State College, America
Period & Year of Exchange: Fall Semester, 2012
Why did I study abroad? It is just something I have always wanted to do. I have done a lot of travelling and don't like being tagged as a tourist, what I want when I travel is to immerse myself in the culture and experience what life is really like beyond the museums, sightseeing and backpackers. I don't think you can really get to know a place and the people without working, living or studying there. So when this opportunity came about, I jumped at it and am so glad I did, I had the most amazing time.
I was nervous and very excited about starting classes but worried I had picked the wrong ones. That is something I didn't need to stress about, we had time to go to our classes, see if we liked them and if not could change them, no problem. I was lucky enough to enjoy all the classes I was in, so didn't need to change any. I study a Bachelor of Musical Theatre at CQUniversity, it is a relatively small course and we all know each other, we are like a big extended family. So I was anxious to see if it would be similar at Buffalo, which it was and wasn't. The course I was in was so big and had a large amount of classes to choose from, so everyone wasn't in the same classes like at home. So it did lack that family feel for me but I think that would have changed if I had stayed there for the full year or longer. My classes included Ballet, Jazz, Acting and Theatre History. I was dancing eight hours a week and I loved it, I will really miss those classes the most. All my lecturers were fantastic; I was delighted to know that they were still working outside of teaching, which for me added to their credibility. They definitely knew what they were doing and I learnt so much from them all. The practical aspects of my classes really pushed me, but academically it was not nearly as challenging as at home. All my exams for Theatre History were multiple choice and my assessments did not need to be referenced. Also they mollycoddled you a lot, at home you are left to your own agenda, it is your own responsibly to get to class, know when your assessments are, study etc. At Buffalo I had two days to miss class or else my grades would be affected, not that it was a problem but I found it odd and slightly stressful. They would email us when homework was due, and pretty much feed us the answers to prepare for exams and assessments weren't so much your opinion or foresight on something but just regurgitated information. It may have been this way though as my classes did include freshman in them, which is first years in American lingo.
I lived on campus, in a nine storey building called Porter Hall and it was very different to what I was used to. I am glad I went there with an open mind, as it was very useful when adjusting from having my own room and bathroom to sharing a tiny room with two other girls. I must admit it was probably one of the most challenging aspects of my experience but I got on pretty well with the girls, so it could have been worse. Despite this I would recommend living on campus, it was ideal in access ability to college facilities; everything you needed was just a walk away, food, the library, your classes etc. Plus it was a great way to meet people and an important part of the American College experience, you really couldn't study at an American university without living on campus, it just wouldn't be the same! My building had kitchenettes on a few floors so cooking for yourself was hard, I did it a few times but it was just easier to eat at retail or buffet, which was relatively inexpensive. You had the option to get a meal plan, which I did do and it was worthwhile. There was a lot of choice in accommodation and catering, I was very unsure what to expect but everything was very clearly explained once I got there.
In financial preparation for my travels I made sure I took what I thought I would need and then extra, I planned to travel as much as I could so wanted money in reserve to be able to do this. I had my savings from working, I was fortunate enough to be granted a scholarship through the program and I had a fortnightly income of Youth Allowance from Centerlink. I would highly recommend trying to organise Youth Allowance, for me it was reassurance that if I ran out of savings I had something to fall back on. My scholarships funds went straight to rent, meal plans, textbooks and other school related expenses and I can't thank CQU enough for it, it was a massive help and took a great deal of stress off when planning my budget. So apply for Scholarships, you've got nothing to lose and everything to gain! Food and living expenses were less expensive than I expected, but it took a while to get used to adding taxes to everything and tipping, you even had to tip hairdressers! I would definitely recommend sitting down and working out how much you will need for the essential things, like accommodation, food etc, then add to it or even just double it! No matter how well you budget, it is always safer to have more than less; I find when travelling unexpected expenses come about so you always want to be prepared. Like I said I wanted to travel as much as I could, and was lucky enough to visit Toronto, Niagara Falls, Washington DC and of course New York City. This took up a lot of my weekends and was defiantly a highlight for me. I also wanted to experience the place I was living so even though I did venture off a fair bit, the weekends I wasn't away my friends and I would go to the mall, watch a football game, go to a local street festival or market or travel to local areas around Buffalo etc. Another highlight for me was going to the theatre. I had to see so many shows as part of my grading, happiest marks I've ever got. Buffalo was fantastic for theatre, lots of off-Broadway productions and touring companies to go see, which I took full advantage of and will miss. My only forms of transportation were the bus, which was free for students thankfully, taxis, and the rare American friend with a car. I avoided Taxis as much as possible as they were so expensive, no surprises there. Around Buffalo I would walk everywhere, obviously not by myself at night but of a day if was safe and everything I needed was close enough. Anywhere you go there is a bad side of town, but I knew where it was and would avoid it or if necessary go in a group. I was involved in dance outside of class and most of my friends did join a sports group or group of some sort outside of classes. It was a great way to get more involved in the college community, meet new friends and I think another important part of the American college experience.
American life was quite different, even though I didn't have any language barriers or anything like that to overcome, I did have to adjust to it. I can't emphasis enough how important it was for me to just keep an open mind, I just took every day as it came and soon enough it felt like I had been there forever and it was completely normal. Everything was exiting and new, it wasn't hard to enjoy myself, I would be walking to class and think 'wow I am actually in America, studying at College and Its Snowing!' Try and put yourself out there, go to social activities, join a sport team or the fashion club, hang out in the common room and meet and make friends. I have learnt no matter where you are, if you have a good bunch of people to hang out with you will enjoy yourself and have the best experience no matter what. Also don't forget, you are not the only International student, there will be others. I met all the friends I would hang out with for my whole experience on my first day of orientation. We were all in the same boat, nervous, in an unfamiliar environment and did not know anyone. Meeting this fabulous group of people was just another highlight for me; I now have friends from all over the world, and will miss them very much.
I don't think I have changed from this experience so much as gained confidence in myself and my skills as a dancer and actor, which is invaluable when heading out into the judgemental and competitive environment that is the entertainment industry. I had some difficult experiences to confront but overcame them and became a better person for it. I have met so many wonderful people, both friends and contacts for future networking in my chosen field. I just had so much fun and that alone would have been enough. This whole adventure was very rewarding both professionally and personally and one I will look back on in years to come with a huge grin on my face.