How to do a Year Abroad on a Budget

Olivia Woollam is a 21-year-old University of Leeds Journalism Student who recently returned home from her year abroad at the University of Queensland, in Australia. We interviewed Olivia to find out all about her time ‘down under’, the cross-cultural differences, the cost of living in Oz, and her top tips on budgeting for exchange.

International students obviously bring a wealth of cultural knowledge and new ideas to universities. How big of an impact do you think you made on your university in Australia?

I think I brought a different viewpoint to some of my discussions my tutorial groups. I study journalism and talking about the different laws and guidelines across the media in comparison to Australian law was really interesting. Especially when talking about British PSB like the BBC.

Despite being closely aligned, do you believe Australia and Britain are different in terms of lifestyle, education and learning?

Completely! I was shocked by the culture shock when I moved over because I honestly didn’t think there would be too much of a change. Everyone in Australia is way more chilled out- whether that be at university or day to day life. The outdoors, laid back lifestyle is something that I absolutely loved and was extremely different to the hectic lifestyle back here at Leeds University. University assessments were not as difficult as they are here at Leeds and there were much less academic readings to complete so I felt that university was actually more enjoyable because there wasn’t so much pressure.

Were there any cross-cultural differences/barriers you experienced which affected your exchange?

I think the weather contributed a lot to the cross-cultural differences. For example, have a BBQ outside on Christmas day is SUPER different to being wrapped up in a Christmas jumper by the fire. Most of the cross-cultural difference was very much a positive though!

How did you budget for your exchange? Did you work while overseas?

I had been saving for a long time because I knew I wanted to go on exchange. I worked a lot in the summer breaks between university term. Saving took time but it was easy to do as I’ve never really been someone to spend a lot of money on fancy things etc. I was lucky enough to get a job within a couple of months. I worked at a café/bar with lovely people and the wages are pretty high in Australia ($20 an hour). It was great because my visa allowed me to work max 20 hours a week which was definitely enough hours alongside university. My bosses were great too because they were so relaxed about me taking time off to go travelling!

Olivia on her year abroad

How do you compare the cost of living in Australia to the U.K.?

Some things were definitely more expensive whereas other things were super cheap. I was lucky that we had a farmer’s market every Saturday right next to my house so I could get all my fruit and veg for really cheap. We also lived right next to an Aldi so I could do a big food shop without spending crazy amounts. Public transport was really cheap as well when you had a student card and this was pretty much how all of my friends and I got around. For example for to uni could cost me between $1.20/$0.60 and the ferry only took 4 mins! However, things like alcohol and clothes were pretty expensive so there were pros and cons.

Did you ever find it difficult to balance university with social life and travel?

Thankfully no! Because university life in Australia was much more relaxed and the workload wasn’t that hard, I never found it difficult to find the balance. I really struggle in Leeds to find a balance so being able to just relax in Australia was so great.

What places did you visit whilst in Australia?

I was really lucky to visit most of the places on the list I had made before heading out!

Obviously apart from Brisbane I visited: 

  • Byron Bay
  • Gold Coast
  • Heron Island
  • Mooloolaba
  • Whitsundays
  • Airlie Beach
  • Tasmania
  • Sydney
  • Canberra
  • Noosa
  • Stradbroke Island
  • Burleigh Heads
  • Blue Mountains
  • New Zealand
  • Queenstown
  • Christchurch
  • Kaikoura
  • Franz Josef
  • Greymouth
  • Milford Sound


What will you miss most about your time abroad?

There are so many things I miss about Australia it’s hard to list them all. The lifestyle is something I absolutely adored, I loved being outside with amazing weather and everything is so relaxed. I really miss travelling as much. I miss living with a huge group of so many wonderful friends (I lived in a huge 30 person house) but I’m lucky that most of the people in that house were from the UK so we still see each other! I met some amazing people whilst I was out there too but now I’ve obviously moved away so I miss them too. 

Josephine Shannon