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Student Stories

Hannah McGuigan

UNSW Sydney

“I first got in contact with Study Options when I was in lower sixth. When I was considering my university choices I just always knew I wasn’t going to stay at home in Northern Ireland. I was never going to go to a local university; at the very least I was going to go across to England. But, when I was going through my English university options, I just thought – I want something more. I really wanted to have a brand-new experience. I wanted to go to a place that was similar enough to home to mean that I wasn’t completely lost, but which still had a real difference. I had been on holiday to Australia and loved it, so I started doing some research into different universities. I found Study Options via the UNSW Sydney website.

“I didn’t find applying for a place stressful but applying for accommodation felt like hard work. I got my first choice of accommodation, I am so so happy here, but I had to interview for my place, I had to speak to the Dean, I had to put in a lot of effort to get it! And even before that there was a lot of work to do in terms of comparing all the different types of accommodation available here and working out which one I wanted to go for. It’s difficult to work out which will suit you best because most people my age don’t have anything to compare it to, you’ve just been living at home beforehand. Having to imagine living by yourself at all; and then trying to work out what type of accommodation would work best for you – that was stressful.

“I live in Columbo House, which is the only self-catered college at UNSW. I have my own room and my own bathroom, but I share a huge kitchen and there’s a shared laundry. There are about 240 people here in total. There’s a really big communal kitchen, and then every floor above the third has its own kitchen too. The kitchens have a load of stovetops, then you have your own fridge (it’s quite big), your own freezer, own pantry and own equipment cupboard. It’s very independent but at the same time I have a good group of friends here and there is a real community at this college. Colombo House is above Columbo Theatres, lecture theatres on campus, so I can wake up 10 minutes before a lecture and just roll downstairs to it!

“I applied to do the Bachelor of Design but when I got here I quickly found that I just really hated design. I was taking a design studio, design history and theory and then you need to choose one specific field of design, so I took graphics. I loved graphics but I hated studio and design history. By March I decided I couldn’t do them anymore.

“It was really stressful but the University was so helpful with sorting it all out. UNSW has a student services department in the library called the Nucleus, which essentially runs everything to do with courses. You can get a one-on-one consultation with them; that’s really easy to get and happens very quickly. I went to them and said that I needed to leave design, that I was hating it, and the guy set out my options. We decided that applying for a new degree was the best way to go, so I did, and they handled everything. They were really good. I got a new offer for a degree in media, pr and advertising. But I’m still able to take graphics as an elective, and I was able to transfer my programme credits, so the change hasn’t affected the total time it’ll take me to complete the degree and to graduate.

“Even when I started my new degree I was still a bit confused by electives and the structure of things – being asked to choose your courses feels strange, though I’m more used to it now. I had to ask for help at the beginning. I like it though; I like being able to personalise my degree, I like being able to do things outside of my degree. General electives can’t be from within your faculty, they have to be from another area. I’m going to take a computer science course next term. I plan to take a language in year two, and the fact that I can do that is great. I like having other things that I’m doing apart from my degree. Because sometimes the things in your degree burn you out, so it’s nice to be able to go to do something different; and get some progress with that.

“Because you get to pick your own classes you also get to pick your own timetable, which is really good for someone like me who has a job. It’s great to be able to personalise exactly when you have your classes.

“I work in a clothing store in Bondi Junction, which has a big shopping centre. But I also worked for the University during graduation back in April. It was so much fun – I was selling graduation teddy bears and merchandise. Some of my friends were dressing the graduates in their hire gowns. We did it every day for two weeks. The pay was amazing – $28 per hour!

“I love Sydney; I absolutely love it. I can’t say anything bad about it. Some of my friends are from big cities and they struggle to understand just how exciting Sydney is to me, being from a small town. I feel like I have really made Sydney my home. I have a job here, I have a life here, I have friends here, I can go places by myself and know exactly where I am. The transport here is so good, so my friends and I regularly go all over the place to eat food, go to clubs, all sorts of stuff. I am so settled here. I already do that thing where I refer to both Northern Ireland and Sydney as ‘home’. I see both of them as my home.”