My Exchange Experience

Science student Rodrigo Vazquez Lombardi recently returned from one semester at Cornell University in the United States. Read all about how he prepared for exchange and the highlights of his exchange experience.

Why did you decide to go on exchange?


This is an interesting question, because I grew up in Peru and I came to Sydney only three years ago. You may think why did I decide to go on exchange if I am already in an exchange kind of situation? One of the main reasons why I decided to go on exchange was to make friends from all over the world. Two things that made me appreciate this opportunity were chatting with one of my best friends about his exchange experience and watching the movie “The Spanish Apartment,” which I highly recommend. Other reasons included experiencing a different academic system and doing a little bit of travelling. Basically, I wanted to do something out of the ordinary with my degree.

What did you do to prepare for exchange?

First, I did some research about the potential places to go on exchange. When looking for a University overseas, one has to be careful with the restrictions for each particular School/College. For example, exchange at Cornell is only allowed at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).

The next thing is to try and match the courses you are supposed to take in Sydney to those of the host institution. Because no two universities are the same, this is a really difficult task. However, there is a fair amount of flexibility regarding subject validation, and one can even vary his/her enrolment while overseas as long as it is notified to the Faculty of Science in Sydney.

Something I found really helpful before going on exchange was to attend the pre-departure sessions offered by the International Office. In those sessions you get to know the essentials about going on exchange and they also give you advice about common difficulties while on exchange.

Finally, because I went to the US I had to buy some winter clothes and also had to apply for a student Visa at the American Consulate (which I recommend to do with lots of anticipation).

Which overseas institution did you study at and what did you study?

I went to Cornell University in the US for the July semester 2008. All of my subjects were either in the microbiology or in the biochemistry department. The subject I liked the most was called “The Molecular Basis of Human Disease”, in which I learned how human disease (ranging from cancer all the way to microbial infections) works at the molecular level.

What was your living situation like? What were the people like?


I lived in a residence hall at Cornell, where I became good friends with people living on my floor. I found that people at Cornell were really friendly in general. For example, when I caught a really bad cold, my floormates knocked on my door to check on me and they even gave me some orange juice, vitamin C and cold medicine!

What were the main differences between studying here and there?

I think the amount of work required for each assessment/exam was about the same as in Sydney. However, I felt that the semester was way more intense at Cornell. This is because you get more assessments during the semester. You get more chances of improving your marks (unlike Sydney, in which most of the final exams are worth ~65% of the final mark) but you have to do a lot of work.

What was the best part about exchange?


As I said before, the main reason why I decided to go on exchange was to make friends from all over the world. It is not surprise then that the best part about the exchange was to make international friends. In fact, I am currently planning a trip to Europe so I get to spend sometime with the European friends I made at Cornell!

What were the challenges and how did you overcome them?

I cannot think of many challenges while at Cornell. As I mentioned previously, the study load was very intense, and I overcame this with lots of coffee!

Would you recommend exchange to other students?

I encourage Sydney Uni students to go on exchange at some point of their degree. It is an experience you’ll never forget and the friends you’ll make will last forever (as long as Facebook lasts forever!).