An International Student in Brisbane Pt. 1: Getting Started

Friday, February 17, 2017

This is part 1 of a series I call "An International Student's Guide to Life in Brisbane", particularly if you're Malaysian - this is what to look out for when you first arrive. This was actually written for my cousin who's also going to UQ to study, but eh while I'm at it why not expand and share it with everyone?

A little background about me, I studied Bachelor of Commerce at University of Queensland for approximately 1 year as part of a credit transfer program. I haven't had the time to explore every crevice of Brisbane and its surroundings, but I think 1 year is enough for me to talk about things that I personally would've loved to know when I first arrived. Also I was a Student Leader at UQ, and I had to tell things like this to new students all the time. This series is a collection of advice I've heard from people and things I've experienced myself. In no way should you treat my suggestions as the word of God. I may be incorrect and inaccurate, but I'm trying my best to help you!

Pro-tip before we get started: Don't bring so much over! Pack, remove, re-pack and do it again. I brought too much over, and then my mom came to visit and brought MORE over. I hardly use 50% of the things I have and it's just collecting dust, whether it's clothes or Malaysian food (that consists of sauces, herbal drinks and instant noodles). You will certainly purchase more things while you're in Australia and you'll find yourself bringing back home more than you've brought here. And contrary to popular belief, you can find most of the things you need or crave from Malaysia/Asia over here. You've been warned.

Let's begin!


This is the first thing you'll have to worry about before you actually get to start your journey here at UQ. A lot of my friends stay in St. Lucia because of the convenience that comes with it.

The map above shows just one part of the St. Lucia area. If you plan to go to university very often, then staying nearby university is great because it's just a 15-20 minute walk (depending on how close you live) to class. Not only does this help you save transportation costs but if you're into sports, you're near the university sports centre too. You're also near Guyatt Park ferry stop so that's an additional mode of transport. Keep in mind though that the nearer you stay to uni, the more expensive it is likely to be.

While St. Lucia may not be like Toowong or Sunnybank with all the restaurants and malls, you won't go hungry as there are a few restaurants near the St. Lucia Ferry bus stop like Nando's, Domino's and Indian Feast. Hawken Drive is also teeming with restaurants and their most notable one is Thai Nakolanna. The food isn't the best but it's a mystery to me why students always go there. Probably because it is one of the only Thai food restaurants in St. Lucia.

Nearby suburbs like Taringa is a fair bit further away but probably more affordable. If you like more hustle & bustle and don't mind taking a little longer to get to uni everyday, then Sunnybank and Indooroopilly are good areas to scout for accommodation. Know what is included in your rental costs and what's not. What's furnished and unfurnished.

Public Transport & Places of Interest

Before you do anything here, get a Translink concession card. The rates are 50% off the adult ones and will save you so much.

When you first arrive, getting around can be tricky. I live in St. Lucia, where 90% of the time I have to take the 412 bus in order to get somewhere else. If I'm at the university, I take the 412 bus from Chancellor's Bus Stop. 412 brings you to a number of places of interest. It takes you to Toowong Village (where I mostly do my grocery shopping, more on that later), Roma Street Station (where if you want to go to Gold Coast by train) and to the Central Business District (the bus stops near King George Square). The whole ride from the university to the CBD is an easy 20-25 minutes without traffic.

Other than buses, trains are also readily available. The nearest train station from university/St. Lucia is at Toowong Village and you get there from St. Lucia by taking the 412. If you're going to Fortitude Valley or Gold Coast, the train is your best bet.

Riding the 411 bus from university also takes you to Hawken Drive which I've mentioned earlier, a row of shop lots and restaurants that are relatively near and have food that are decently priced. Thai Nakolanna is a student favourite, with their dinner sets that come with sides and a main dish. Their tom yum and pad thai may not be the best around, but it will be enough to satisfy your Thai food cravings.

Speaking of efficient public transport, they have an app called Translink that keeps a real time schedule of buses/trains that go in and out your station. You can check for different services, stops or routes. You can even look at the map while the bus is moving to determine where you should stop. It's also easy to plan your journey with the app with the Journey Planner. And most of the time, the bus drivers here are friendly, courteous and on-time. 

The university has 2 bus stops: Chancellor's and UQ Lakes. Check Translink to see where your bus departs. Uni also has a ferry stop called UQ St Lucia ferry terminal.

At night, there are also campus UniSafe safety buses that take you back to your house if it's at the surrounding St. Lucia area, available at Chancellor's bus stop.

Getting Around Campus

The St. Lucia campus is pretty big. You've got your green grass fields, buildings, a lake and campus colleges. To navigate around campus, UQNav is in my opinion a great app to use and it's available on both the App and Google Play store. I find it VERY useful as it's basically an interactive map which shows you the route to take to your destination in university. Don't underestimate the app because the St. Lucia campus is huge and not knowing your way around can get you lost. It doesn't show you the fastest way or shortcuts, but it gets the job done. After a few months of exploring the campus, you will eventually know shortcuts and the best routes to take to your desired building.

UQ Union Complex is where all the grub is. You've got Indian Feast, Subway, a pop up stall (that sells different kinds of food at different periods) and so many more. I love the variety and everything is payable by EFTPos so you don't need to bring cash. My personal favourite is GYG. You don't get a lot of good affordable Mexican food back in Malaysia, so GYG is your next best bet. I love getting the burrito bowl, but they have a $12.90 set lunch every day as well. My next favourite is U Sushi with their yummy sushi rolls, quick and easy to get on the go. And guess what, they have Chatime on campus inside Schonell Theatre! So don't worry, you can definitely satisfy your milk bubble tea cravings at UQ. Take note that it's around $6 per cup, which is a lot pricier than your average RM6+ cup in Malaysia. When I came to UQ, everyone told me to try Pizza Caffe. Tbh, the pizzas aren't the best there - but if you want not so greasy, gourmet pizzas with healthy toppings then that's the place to go. Also, what's wrong with you.

There are also banks around campus which is so convenient! There's CommBank and ANZ atms sprawled around as well. I chose CommBank as my personal bank. Ask anyone, and they'll say either bank is a great choice. When you're here, you might be unfamiliar with EFTPos, where EFT stands for Electronic Funds Transfer. All you have to do is tap your debit card on the machine, and voila your payment is made. It feels like second nature to just tap the machine to pay and not have to bring cash around. Hope to see more effortless, cashless payment in Malaysia.

Great places to hang around The University of Queensland St. Lucia campus:
1. Student Bungalow - equipped with bean bags and board games for a relaxing afternoon when you're not rushing tutorial work or cramming the syllabus into your brain
2. The Great Court - a wide field for you to lie back on the grass and chill
3. Merlo's/Darwin's/Wordsmith/BellTop Cafe - cafes to get your daily coffee fix and catch up with friends over last night's Game of Thrones
4. The Red Room - campus bar with snooker, video games and food
5. UQ Lakes - sit on the grass and be surrounded by flora and fauna (ducks, monitor lizards, Ibis birds)
6. Amphitheater - another big wide field to eat your lunch, play games and hang with your very multicultural friends

Be careful of the Ibis birds! They're known for their long beaks and persistent behaviour. Very commonly found at the Union Complex where the food is. They do not know fear and will grab your lunch if you leave it unattended. Even if you're there, they'll try to grab it anyway. Don't be afraid, for they can smell fear and will attack your food when you're most vulnerable. The only way to get rid of them is to bow down and acknowledge that they are far more superior.

So that's it for Part 1! Part 2 will be about one of my favourite things in the world: FOOD. I have a great passion for good food and it deserves a post of it's own.

Have fun, make full use of your time there and don't be a hermit.

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