Hi all, I’m SuJin. I went on exchange to the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom in the first semester of my third year in 2014.
Well why Belfast, why Northern Ireland? Well I knew I wanted to study in Europe and be in a country where English is the mother tongue. Being that Interior Architecture is quite a specific degree, there weren’t as many UNSW affiliated universities that offered this course. (Note: you can look into doing exchange under an architecture degree, you would just need to triple check with the course coordinator/ program director to sign off accordingly). And hey, the Irish accent is awesome!
I joined the second year’s Interior Design Program at the Belfast Campus. This program is relatively new to the university with my intake being the second year in running that they have conducted this program. Considering that the full program duration is three years, the program director decided to drop me back into second year just so that I wouldn’t need to experience the stress of graduation semester and project.
To my great surprise my entire cohort had only sixteen students. Most of the time only a handful of them would turn up to class! The workload was a lot lighter than what we experience at UNSW. Most notably was the absence of technical documentation guidance which lead to the program a lot less rigid and more interior decorating. In hindsight, this meant more time for daytrips into different counties, extra-curricular activities with the Mountaineering Club whom organised a climbing trip to Spain and trying out Irish set dancing which were all so much fun!
Classes consisted of a studio course, a history course and a visualising course. We had three projects for studio, the first was a quick two week exercise to design an experiential installation for Culture Night; the second a cinema and office space for the Irish Film Board; and finally a retail space. For history, we had to compose and essay and a short three minute video on a topic of our choice.
While classes were held at the Belfast City Campus, I stayed at Dalriada Student Village on the Jordanstown campus. The Jordanstown campus is University of Ulster’s biggest campus, just a 15 minute express bus commute. I reckon this was the best decision as it meant that after class I could walk all over Belfast City and its surrounds, and return to a quaint seaside abode.
The exchange and accommodation office at University of Ulster made settling in very easy. There was a week long induction, by the end of it, we had attended a handful of get-togethers and dorm parties. It was so interesting to learn of culture from other parts of the world. On a weekly basis, we would have themed parties or gathering to commemorate birthdays or special national events.
I learnt so much more about architecture through all the places I visited over the six months I was over. I attempted to cover as many design greats from the Alhambra to Norman Foster’s Reichstag, works by Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, Steven Holl and so forth; but some of the best moments are the unplanned ones. For example, finding out I was staying just around the corner to Thomas Heatherwick’s Rolling Bridge in Paddington and the only time it ‘rolls up’ is at noon on Friday. I practically ran down to watch it unfold before me. And much to my delight, I left with a complimentary palm sided flip book about the project. Things you don’t get to grasp at when you see it from a screen.
Then I was in Norway towards the latter end of my trip where I stumbled upon one of my favorite building, a space where every bit of its interior appeared like a render! The Oslo Opera House by Snohetta. I saw how the building was used to it intention- public gatherings on the outside roof space. Precision detail: one slab of stone finished three ways. That evening, there was a talk show recording with a group of acapella singers, what’s more, it was a day I debuted on Norwegian tv! It was one of the many instances of you-had-to-be-there.
It was surreal to finally visit places we only see in lecture slides, books and websites. I set out my exchange journey to be some sort of architectural pilgrimage and it turned out to be so much more than that with new friends met along the way. Architecture, art and design is so much more fun when experienced firsthand. Before further ado, look into creating your own unforgettable exchange experience! The toughest part is the preparation prior to departure, once over, things will fall into place.