Alternative Studies

What They Don’t Tell You About Studying Online and Travelling

words by Year13 | photo by @marlee_harrison

Since I was 14, I’d always planned to take a year off and hit up departure lounges and boarding gates in a million different countries. But, by the time final exams and late night coffee binges swung around, circumstances had closed a door on that dream. And so, the beginning of 2016 saw me crawling fresh out of high school and jumping head first into my first year of university.

While I loved my university experience, my longing to pack a bag and take off grew stronger every day that I made the trek into Melbourne city. A couple months in, I reached breaking point, and decided that I was going to let my travel dreams become a reality – while continuing my study online.

It was so picture perfect. It made sense on paper, and I was being cheered on by friends who knew how much I wanted travel to be a significant part of my life.

My second semester saw me relocate to Murwillumbah, New South Wales, to give myself the opportunity to explore Australia’s Northern Rivers region, as well as parts of Queensland. Lush rainforests and incredible beaches became my backdrop to ‘Introduction to Immunology’, ‘Animal Structure and Function’ and some torturous statistics subject (the name escapes me – I guess I’ve succeeded in suppressing its memory).

It all worked so smoothly for my first two to three weeks. I balanced watching lectures and doing quizzes online with little road trips along the east coast, and falling through humid air into ice-cold creeks.

I barely noticed my workload increasing. It was a couple extra quizzes here, and a report and an essay there. I spared them no attention, instead shovelling them into a mental ‘to do later’ list at the back of my mind. Before I knew it, I had ten days until my exams, and was already treading a precipice – I had assignments overdue, and was weeks behind on my lectures. My perfect setup was bordering failure, and I was low-key a mess as I locked myself away to scrape the grades I wanted.

In hindsight, it was my inability to manage my newfound independence that let me down. I’d let myself run too wild while ignoring the fact that my study was important to me too. The learning curve that most experience towards the beginning of their online study only really hit me towards the end of it – though it was more like an uppercut that knocked me back into reality. I had to forgo what seemed like a million hangouts, a trip to Fraser Island, and the beginning of summer – all so I could end the semester with some dignity.

Would I recommend studying while travelling? Fuck yes. But here’s a couple tips from yours truly to do it right:

1. Be aware of the incredible responsibility you now have

To an extent, you’re still spoon-fed while studying on campus. When you’re state lines away, you’ve got only yourself to remind you of due dates, and to push you to hit the books.

2. It saves you a world of stress when you know what’s coming for you

There aren’t many things that are worse than an unfinished paper hanging over your head when you’re riding a bicycle of exhilaration through a new city.

3. Book your tickets fairly early if you need to fly out for a lab sesh

Fluctuating airfare costs add only worry when you’re trying to focus on memorising digestive system vocab. Keep an eye out for sales – Tiger and Jetstar tend to have decent ones pretty often.

4. Take on less online subjects than you would while on campus

I found that I learned a little slower than I did when I was in an environment dedicated to learning. Plus, you want the time to explore the new world outside your door.

5. Don’t be too hard on yourself

This is new to you, and you’re going to trip up. Just be sure to brush yourself off and learn from where you went wrong.

Travelling while studying was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. I learned a crazy tonne of stuff about myself, and while it was hella stressful at times, it pushed the boundaries of what I thought I could do. Plus, getting a degree while watching a Byron Bay sunset isn’t too bad.