‘The Exchange Breakdown’ is a project created with the intention of providing curious students from the University of Wollongong the information that they want and need when thinking of crossing the ocean and going on exchange. The impressive project Melanie Manalo has curated shares some of the most crucial details on financing oneself, provides tips on how to write a stand-out personal statement and also reflects on the intimate experience she had when undertaking a year long exchange program at the University of Connecticut, US.
The exchange program provided at the University of Wollongong intends to deepen one’s understanding of other cultures whilst gaining a new appreciation for their own. It is a chance to make new friends from across the globe and a way for individuals to learn and grow both academically and personally. All this has been documented by Melanie’s blog aptly titled ‘The Exchange Breakdown’. Each blog post Melanie has shared is well-informed and what gives this blog series an edge over the standard information page provided by the university itself is that it is peppered with individual flair; whether this be in the form of anecdotal stories or by sharing photos taken on her year on exchange.
In pitching her project idea, Melanie highlighted just how important it is to keep the students of UOW informed on all the amazing possibilities that await them via the UOW exchange program. It was here that her intended social utility became clear. By utilising her own personal experience of going on exchange to the US in her project, Melanie aimed to compliment the information UOW already provided with some added personality, whilst keeping the content simple and easier to navigate. As a student who was once interested in going on exchange, I myself can vouch for the fact that the UOW exchange webpage is a little bland and can be quite startling when you are just warming to the idea of studying abroad. ‘The Exchange Breakdown’ fulfilled the #FIST components; it would be fast to produce the quality information needed to draw an audience, it was inexpensive as it would be mostly self-informed research and personal experience, and the idea Melanie had was simple and could start out tiny but certainly had the capacity to grow. By joining forces with the Student Global Mobility team on campus, ‘The Exchange Breakdown’ was destined to be a great resource for inquisitive student-travellers.
Following Melanie’s pitch for ‘The Exchange Breakdown’, she gathered the critical information needed to make each blog post she was creating engaging and informative. She approached the project curation session with several questions to ask her fellow peers, and aimed to strengthen the catalogue of information she had already started working on. By asking members of the class about their own understandings on exchange programs and also on what they would like to know about the process or experience, Melanie was able to use the discussion generated by her peers to fill any gaps she had not previously considered in the making of ‘The Exchange Breakdown’. It was also a great opportunity for Melanie to follow through with any changes she thought were necessary to the content she was working on, like adding pictures to more text-heavy posts, or spending more time to help students looking to choose a host university. By using the constructive criticism provided, she was working with the feedback loop the class had generated to make each new iteration of ‘The Exchange Breakdown’ better than the last.
When it came to sharing the progress of her project, Melanie showed just how much her project had developed with each iteration, successfully demonstrating the trajectory of ‘The Exchange Breakdown’. She also detailed all the challenges and changes she had encountered in the process of curating ‘The Exchange Breakdown’. It was great to see that she had taken a lot of the feedback she received from the previous curation session on board, and it was especially refreshing to have her own experiences on exchange interwoven through each post to make them relatable and endearing. Some of the challenges Melanie noted in her Beta presentation were regarding her chosen methodology — blog posts shared to WordPress. She stated that making sure each post she was sharing “wasn’t too text heavy” became a difficult task, and also acknowledged that reaching a wider audience proved tough. To combat text-heavy posts Melanie discussed wanting to add even more photos and perhaps some videos to the blog as a way to captivate her readers more. After visiting ‘The Exchange Breakdown’ blog I was able to see what Melanie meant, and think that her proposed change is a great way to break up the information whilst still keeping an audience curious. Melanie also said she wanted to share her posts on more social media platforms to generate a larger following for ‘The Exchange Breakdown’, placing specific focus on Twitter. I personally think that this is a great way to perhaps combat a lack of audience engagement, especially considering most university-aged students are avid social networkers. Melanie also proposed re-pitching her finished work to the Student Global Mobility team, and I think this is another excellent avenue to generate attention and gain a following for her project.
In her Beta presentation, Melanie also outlined the potential future trajectory for ‘The Exchange Breakdown’ by revealing what to expect from her project in the next few weeks. Keeping in mind the feedback she had received from the curation session a few weeks prior, Melanie thoughtfully proposed three new posts readers could have access to on ‘The Exchange Breakdown’ — a post detailing travel visa requirements, a post on accommodation and a more comprehensive account of her experiences and advice from her incredible year long stay at UConn.
When speaking to Melanie on this topic it has become quite clear that her exchange experience in the US is something that has ultimately shaped the person she is today. She speaks passionately about exchange being one of the best experiences of her life and I think this is reflected in the awesome work she has done with ‘The Exchange Breakdown’. I look forward to reading more from ‘The Exchange Breakdown’ soon.