UW and USYD Compared – My Experience

Guest Post By: Vincent Ung, a Junior studying Finance and Information Systems. He is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient, and he studied abroad through Foster Exchange at the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia, during Spring Semester 2023.

Studying abroad was one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences I’ve had. In the moment, it felt like a roller coaster of highs and lows each day and week. However, now reflecting on my experience after being home for 6 months, I’ve come to appreciate how much I’ve grown.

Going abroad had always been a dream of mine even since I was in high school. This might be because I’d grown up and lived in the Seattle area my whole life, so I was always eager to experience living somewhere else. I always considered myself pretty independent and I felt very prepared before going abroad as I had done lots of research and had a plan for when I arrived. But to my surprise, nothing prepared me for how challenging it felt during times when I had too much free time to the point where I didn’t know how to spend it.

The immense amount of free time may be because of the differences in school systems. At UW, I was constantly busy with classes and RSOs. UW’s quarter system and coursework are demanding as I frequently take 3-4 business courses a quarter along with a general ed course. My weekdays are typically filled with classes all day along with a club meeting in the evenings, so it requires me to always be on top of things. However, at the University of Sydney (USYD), it was on the semester system and much different.

At USYD, I took 3 business courses and 1 elective which is typical of a full-time USYD student. Since it was my first time experiencing a semester system, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it would be the same amount of daily workload as UW but just for 15 weeks. Surprisingly, it was a lot less demanding. Each week, all my classes only had 1 lecture (2 hours) and 1 tutorial (their equivalent to a quiz section that’s 1 hour long). Since it was also a weird transition period after the pandemic for USYD, all my lectures were online/recorded, and only the tutorials were in-person (which I only had three). 

This essentially made it so that each week I only had three 1-hour in-person tutorials and four lectures I could watch anytime. I’m not sure if this is USYD-specific or semester-system-specific, but because of fewer lectures, there seemed to be a greater emphasis on following the textbook and self-learning. This made it so the midterm and final exams were weighted much more heavily as it sometimes made up 70-80% of my final grade. All business classes also had a group project and a small participation aspect, but there were no other graded daily/weekly assignments. This made the whole semester’s workload a lot lighter but did require much more studying before midterms and finals. However, all my classes made it so that anything learned before the midterm was not on the final. There was also a mid-semester break which provided time off to recharge, and a one-week study vacation the week before finals. This study vacation made it so everyone had no classes the week before finals and could use the time to study which made reviewing a lot more manageable. It seemed like USYD put a much greater emphasis on work-life balance for students as this schedule and workload provided much more free time. In effect, this allowed students time to work a part-time job and pursue their hobbies.

For me, this immense amount of free time was the most challenging part. I found myself procrastinating a lot more because there was nothing to consistently turn in. It was still important for me to keep up with the course, so I didn’t fall behind, but besides the three in-person tutorials and four online lectures I had each week, I didn’t have much else to do. In the beginning, I would spend my time just watching YouTube videos and shows, but that quickly became unsustainable. 

I did attend some club meetings and did some sports but most clubs I joined only met about once or twice a month, which still made my daily schedule always open. Most people I met seemed to have more work as they had more classes and labs, which made weekends the only time available to go out. In my free time, I did do a lot of solo exploring around the city, but there was only so much to explore without going way out of the city.

Looking back now, however, I still wouldn’t change a thing. I sometimes think I should’ve gotten a part-time job to fill the time, but I only knew what I knew at the time and wouldn’t have experienced this if I had. It was a great period of growth where I grew tremendously both individually and mentally. Having “too much” free time allowed me to experience first-hand—and appreciate—how much Australians value free time and how they make time for their passions and hobbies. It made me realize how back home I focused too much on work and should try to make time for other things that are important to me. As cliché as it is, I really do think studying abroad changed my life. I didn’t realize how comfortable I was in Seattle, and I didn’t realize how much I’d grown until coming home for a few months and reflecting. I’m grateful for Foster and the opportunity to study abroad.