The place I’ve been since being overseas that is the farthest place from home – First Time Outside of Australia

Claire Churchward
Exchange to VU Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Semester 2, 2015


I am a third year Law and Global Studies student, studying on the Melbourne Campus. This semester I’m abroad in The Netherlands, studying at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU).

Going on exchange holds appeal for many reasons. Like most students considering international study, the opportunity to experience a new culture, language, and learning environment and to meet people from all over the world all appealed to me. However, there was one major consideration that I couldn’t find many people who shared – I had never been overseas before.

Up until I left for exchange, the furthest I had travelled from home was 1,458km, the distance from Melbourne to the Sunshine Coast. Upon landing in Amsterdam in August, this record increased to 16,565km.

If you’re thinking about exchange but you’re like me and have virtually no travel experience, don’t let this put you off. I can’t profess to be a solo travel expert, despite now having a grand total of one international flights under my belt, but I can offer some advice on how to handle the trip and getting settled in a new country for the first time.

The Flight

  1. Make sure you have all of the information and documents you need together and in your carry on the night before.

This sounds simple, but it can’t be emphasised enough how important this is. In a plastic document wallet, I had the following:

  • Passport
  • Boarding Passes
  • Flight Itinerary
  • Acceptance Letter from your host university
  • Copy of my birth certificate (This came in handy when I had to fill out a form which asked where my parents were born)
  • Insurance Policy
  • Visa documents

Being prepared for anything saved me a whole lot of hassle. In the small hours of the morning before I left, I decided to print off a copy of my acceptance letter, even though I didn’t think I’d need it. When I arrived at Passport Control in The Netherlands, they needed to see the letter to confirm my reason for entry. With a single piece of paper, I completely avoided a very messy situation.


  1. Know where you need to be well ahead of time – even if you have a monstrous stop over

As soon as you clear border control or disembark into your transit airport, locate your gate. It’ll give you a little piece of mind for when you need to board. The duty free shopping will wait, this is more important. If you have a long layover, make sure you check your gate every couple of hours. Over the course of 8 hours in Singapore, my departure gate changed 3 times.

  1. On the plane – move!

As I discovered the hard way, it’s better to slightly inconvenience your neighbours by getting up every couple of hours to walk around than it is to remain seated for hours on end to avoid annoying anyone. The latter will result in leg pain, and is not particularly healthy. Moral of the story: Annoy strangers – it’s good for you.

When you arrive

  1. Know how to get to your accommodation

Again, sounds like common sense, but I have met students who arrived without considering this. Fortunately for me, the International Students’ Society at VU had organised a shuttle service. However, those students who arrived outside of the shuttle times didn’t have it so easy. When don’t know where you’re going and don’t know the public transport system, you may spend a lot longer travelling than you need to by getting lost with a massive suitcase in tow. Throw in jetlag and the situation becomes even less fun. Locate your city’s equivalent of Journey Planner, print off your route with maps and put it in your document wallet.


  1. Get Lost

When you arrive, you may find things such as locating the supermarket and navigating the public transport system daunting. For the first couple of days, getting out and about may be the last thing you want to do. Despite this, you still need to eat or acquire items you didn’t bring with you. The first time you head out you will probably get lost. However, this isn’t a bad thing. Getting lost gives you opportunity to familiarise yourself with your neighbourhood or city, and you’ll probably never make the same mistake again. If you get really desperate, depending on your city, you can always ask someone. The Dutch people are very friendly and almost everyone speaks English, so there’s usually someone to help you out.



Additional tips:

Avoid unnecessary regret – bring TimTams. Learn from my mistakes.