Tips and Tricks for an Australian Exchange; The Diary of a 21-Year-Old Muslim Girl and her Experiences in Melbourne

Khadijah is a Queen Mary English student and Turing Scheme grant recipient, currently studying abroad at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Moving abroad comes with its own set of adventures and challenges that one can never be fully prepared for; that’s what makes it so exciting! The experiences I have had during my year abroad at the University of Melbourne, have undoubtedly shaped me into who I am today. The thrill of exploring a new city, paired with the inspiring experience of studying subjects I’ve always loved at one of the top universities in Australia, has enriched my university experience. Hopefully, this post will shed some insight onto my journey as a 21-year-old Muslim girl living in Melbourne, and the challenges and positives I have experienced during my time here.

There are a number of trials that come with uprooting your life and literally moving to the opposite end of the globe. I thought I would outline a few of the key challenges I faced while preparing for my exchange and upon arrival; here are some tips that worked for me. Trust me, getting past these challenges makes the final feeling of accomplishment even sweeter! Lastly, I’ve summarised some of the best halal food spots and coffee places I’ve tried, and some of the facilities that I’ve found useful for Muslims close to university.

Firstly, the volume of paperwork to complete for my exchange was overwhelming; in the midst of my final year exams, I found myself swamped by forms and contracts from various institutions. Make a note of important deadlines because the Australian academic year starts in February, with semester two beginning in July! I created a spreadsheet of all the different institutions that required information from me and categorised them, prioritising earlier deadlines. This helped immensely as I was able to organise my time efficiently whilst preparing for Australia!

My second challenge took place upon arrival in Melbourne. Staying in the suburbs meant I had to figure out public transport pretty quickly. Melbourne has an expansive tram network that operates throughout most of the city; if you’re going further out, you can get trains too. Buses here drive as if they’re on a racecourse, so if you want a stable ride take the train or the tram! Cash or cards are not accepted on public transport so make sure to always have your myki transport card handy – inspectors are always around, and if you’re caught without it you can face a hefty fine! The most useful app to download is the PTV app, which allows you to top up your myki and plan journeys. Exchange undergraduate students can also apply for a concession! Tramtracker is also pretty good, as well as LostOnCampus which contains detailed photos and directions for the campuses of most universities in Australia.

Onto the third challenge…money. The cost of living in Melbourne is very high. On my first day, I bought essentials like toothpaste and shampoo, and spent almost $150 (£80)! I worked out a monthly budget plan so that I stuck to spending what I could afford. The funding I received from the Turing Scheme was a lifesaver, as it helped me to cover the high costs of rent and food and budget for a few experiences in Australia! I opened an Australian bank account for my rent (Commonwealth Bank is really good), and separated my spending money into ‘essentials’ and ‘extras’ using two other bank accounts (Revolut and Starling are great as they charge low exchange fees!).

These strategies helped me to manage my time and finances in a way I’d never had to before despite living at university in London. Living abroad is a totally different ballgame; it’s not so easy to run home if things get rough, and even a phone call needs scheduling with an eleven-hour time difference. If you try and be organised from the beginning, things are a lot easier in the long run!

Now that the hard stuff is out of the way, we can talk about some of the fun parts of living in a thriving city like Melbourne! Melbourne is famous for its vintage fashion and thrifting culture, with awesome thrift shops like Vinnies and Scavengers where you can find goodies for as little as a dollar (I once saw a wedding dress for $50 – about £27.50!). Art galleries and exhibitions are constantly popping up, and many of them are free or offer student concessions.

For Muslim students, the university offers a prayer room that comes equipped with wudhu facilities near the Law Building on Little Pelham Street. You can apply for access so your student card will let you in. The University of Melbourne Islamic Society (UMIS) also holds numerous academic and social events throughout the year. There is also the wonderful ICMG Mosque frequented by the Turkish community in Brunswick (a neighbouring suburb about a twenty-minute tram ride from campus). The mosque offers free weekly classes and heartwarming community events; I went to a lovely ladies’ breakfast and to some of its classes. I have met so many beautiful people there, and the friendship, gifts and support I have received from the welcoming community in Brunswick have made my time in Australia a truly life-changing experience. Brunswick also boasts a wide selection of halal shops, restaurants and butchers, so is definitely worth checking out!

Below are a list of some restaurants and cafes I liked – many food places offer halal chicken, so make sure you ask when placing your order! Buying a a main and a drink will usually cost you about $30 (£16.65).

Halal Restaurants:

  • Papparich (Malaysian fusion food – huge portions)
  • Tiba’s (Lebanese, Brunswick)
  • Rashays (best steak ever)
  • KFC on Swanston Street near uni
    Cafés:
  • Flovie Cafe (halal chicken)
  • Humble rays (not halal but lots of veg/fish options)
  • Green Refrectory (not halal but lots of veg/fish options, Brunswick)
  • Professors Walk and Castros (cafés on campus, not halal but have veg/fish options)

Annnnnnd that’s it from me folks! I wish you the very best of luck on your future travels! 🙂

Khadijah

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