What your uni doesn't tell you.

Words by

Amy Campbell

You’ve got your study visa in one hand and a Longchamp Le Pliage in the other. Your wardrobe is on wheels and the world is at your feet. But what can you really expect when taking your sewing skills to study abroad?

Fashion is a global industry. So as a student, it makes sense to expand on your tertiary education off-shore. I recently took the plunge, said my goodbyes and skipped eagerly onto a flight bound for London’s Central Saint Martins. But I quickly learned there are some things your uni won’t tell you about studying fashion abroad. Planning on catching the next plane to Paris? Here are some snippets of advice to help you survive foreign fashion school.

It’s okay to wear black on your first day 

My first day was prefaced with a daunting piece of advice. “Don’t wear black,” said a friend with study-abroad experience. “the tutors will think you’re boring.” So into school I strutted, dressed in the most colourful ensemble my small suitcase could produce. And what’s the tutor wearing? Head-to-toe black. Safe to say I became a walking example of the ‘vibrant’ Australian aesthetic. It’s okay to let your clothes do the talking, but make sure they speak honestly about you. 

Learn to embrace average coffee

Raised among a sprawl of specialty roasters and cafes, for Melburnian students, coffee and study are indivisible facets of life. But try to track down a decent blend for a reasonable price overseas and I guarantee you’ll lose faith in the flat white. Don’t tell your barista at home, but it’s times like these when instant coffee will suffice. What else is going to get you through the morning commute and late nights slaving over laptops?  

Plan to be fashionably late. It’s inevitable 

Navigating yourself around a new city is a challenge in itself. But finding your way around a foreign campus requires serious directional skills and geographical expertise. Classroom numbers will never be in logical order, and stairwells and corridors always look the same. Map the way to class before your first day, and allow yourself an extra half-hour in case the bus, underground and trams choose not to run (it happens). Unfortunately, whoever coined the cliché was wrong: it’s not actually fashionable to be late.   

Wi-Fi will be your new best friend 

It WILL become your saviour. Buying local SIM cards and phone plans can be pesky and expensive, so many students travel relying only on wireless to communicate. You’ll leave the comfort of your unlimited data hoping Wi-Fi will be in abundance, but often, in reality, it’s not. And there’s nothing worse than being stuck on an unfamiliar street corner with Google maps refusing to refresh. So when in range, absorb all the Wi-Fi you can. Screen shot directions and download maps. And if you’re out and about and truly stuck, cafés and restaurants will be happy to share their internet password after you promise to purchase a (probably very average) coffee.   

Prepare to buy more luggage (or get really good at layering on the plane) 

Fashion students are terrible at packing lightly. It’s in our nature to take our entire wardrobes wherever we go. More often than not, an extra suitcase (or two) will weasel its way onto the return flight. And you’ll arrive on home soil swaddled in the semester’s sewing efforts, sweating beneath the weight of your handmade layers. But wearing is cheaper than posting, and if anyone can do it in style, it’s us. So wrap yourself up, fashionistas – and pray your plane has excellent air conditioning.  

Shop selectively and sensibly. Will you wear it at home? 

Studying abroad = shopping abroad. Surely, perusing luxury boutiques and department stores counts as research. And spending simply means you’re boosting the economy of your temporary home. But remember, suitcase space is precious and it’s easy to develop obsessions with foreign trends that will never exist back home. So when committing to the Kimono or exxy platform brogues, ask whether they’re your aesthetic or a simply a passing fad. If it translates seamlessly into your native surroundings, then okay, buy away.      

Get to know your tutors well. They’ll remember you when you want to return

In fashion, it’s all about who you know. And if you wish to return and crack the international industry, your study abroad tutors will help get you there. Spend time getting to know them – a Google or LinkedIn search is always a fantastic start. Their knowledge and connections are invaluable; they are there to impart their wisdom so like little sponges, soak it up. There will come a time when you need that glowing reference from a respected industry professional. If you’ve made the effort to make an positive impression, they’ll be happy to help out.   

The hallway is your runway. Aussies, show 'em what you’ve got

Wandering the grounds of an international fashion school is like attending a runway show hosted by the world. And stereotypes do prevail – you’ll quickly learn that students’ sartorial choices are an excellent indicator of the nation they usually inhabit. So consider it an opportunity to flaunt our local fashion scene. You’ll come to notice that on an international stage, the Australian aesthetic is pretty damn awesome. I guarantee classmates and tutors will be asking where you purchased your printed socks and neoprene tote – and whether the label has an online store. So go forth and sell it, and happy study abroad x   

You can check out more of Twylamae's illustrations including her Happy Festivus Christmas Card here.

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