Those Other 6 Months of Uni

INTERNSHIPS! VOLUNTEERING! TRAVEL!8708348-white-passenger-plane-is-landing-away-in-the-blue-sky

The downhill stretch of semester is upon us and you are probably caught up in a mass of assessments and a backlog of readings to do before your exams. Hard to think past week 13 right now isn’t it? Unless 8 weeks off is your motivation!

With roughly 8 weeks off in winter (even if 4 of those weeks need to go to exams and finishing assessments), and then November through February free in summer, there is up to half a year to fill – for the next three years. 18 months of endless opportunities.

Some of you will be lucky and not have any exams, or maybe just one, some of you maybe unlucky and have four. The ideal situation is none or only early exams in order to free you up with more downtime.

It’s high time I take you through some of the options you have for filling those 6 months of uni, so that you can make a plan and graduate in your 3, 4 or 5 years with volunteering and global experience and practical skills to match.

Okay, first a disclaimer*. This math does count the eight weeks a year of SWOTVAC (study without teaching vacation) and exams, but I count it because not everyone has exams and sometimes they are done early June/November and you end up with extra time! You may even be able to plan a semester by making sure you have no exams – in the subject descriptions look at assessments and don’t pick ones that have exams, or just pick ones that have mid-semester exams 😉


*Use your discretion if you are already doing placements every semester in a degree like nursing or teaching.  This bit is aimed at students who are doing one or no placements their whole degree.

Internships are a great way for sure to start at ‘ the bottom of the ladder’ while you are still in uni getting Austudy or sponging off your folks, so that when you graduate you do have some sort of previous experience in your chosen field. You may even get a mentor you can look up to and be inspired and learn about their journey. The practical skills you gain will inevitably put you ahead of your peers when it comes time to graduate. And you will hopefully earn yourself a great reference to boot.

The downsides however, might sometimes outweigh the benefits, even if you have the best intention. You have to be able to work for free, or very little, and that is not practical when you have rent and bills to pay and you can’t sponge off your parents for help. You may even have a job and being able to leave that for a few weeks and expect them to give you your job back after the winter/summer is unrealistic. Doom and gloom.

Well fear not! There are options!

Do your research. Within Australia, many internships pay a stipend which may help meet your financial obligations. You can always offset the experience with a weekend retail job or evening hospitality or babysitting. **Take note that international internships never pay. So unless you get a massive scholarship, or start saving now so you can do one in third or fourth year, count the international jobs out and consider going for the paid local ones. (Or capitalise on those rellies living overseas and go on an ‘extended visit’).

Do a part-time internship. First, know that getting an internship requires you approaching potential employers, not the other way around. Unless you are awesome. Seriously. In approaching them you can always say that you are interested in a part-time internship. Most of them are grateful for extra free help, so outline your availability giving them 2-3 days a week, you can even ask for 1 day a week if you must, show your enthusiasm and they might still take you on. Better than nothing right?

So how do you get in on an internship? Talk to your course convenor, attend career days and follow the events on Career Hub. Go into Student Enrichment and talk to the Careers Team, or help yourself to many of their wall of brochures as appropriate. Attend the Big Meet and other external career events as well. Ask around about local associations to get involved with relevant to your degree. For example, in the past six months I went to both the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) and the Melbourne Development Circle’s Vocation Aid career days, suited to International Relations and International Development students, respectively. For a small cost these sorts of mega career events allow you to network with a number of companies, government departments and organisations in your field. Following your interests, treating it like a job interview by being professional, shaking hands/introducing yourself, asking all the right questions, collecting cards and following it up with a friendly email soon after is a great way to make key relationships with firms you like, and use that opportunity to secure an internship where they may not normally offer one. Or, give you the lead edge to nab it if there is one on offer. If you are super savvy, make up your own business cards to exchange at these events and ensure they remember you 🙂

Summers are normally the main time for these due to the longer break, and some may be available anywhere in Australia. So do some research, follow some leads, make a few calls, and keep your eyes and ears open, it will pay off if you are willing and able!


Volunteering is very similar to internships, in the sense that you have to work without pay and be able to cover yourself in that respect. Plus to find out about some of the options you can have, they are often found in the same places – career hub, Student Enrichment/Careers Department, the Career events and meets, and of course, online with a google search.

STA Travel is the best agency to go to for finding out about interesting international and domestic options you make not have thought of – building a house in Peru anyone?

The difference is that they don’t have to be work-related, or in the lines of your professional ambitions. Volunteering can be at a local community centre, RSL, hospital or sports club. It might be at your favourite charity, or whilst on an adventure overseas. Wherever you are, you are probably doing it because you are invested in the cause or club, and you do it because you love it. No one works for free unless they care.

Volunteering is a great thing to have on your resume, because it shows your passion and commitment to a cause, as well as your flexibility to do something different, and also because you gain so many practical skills. Skills that can be transferred to any job – like teamwork, communication, leadership, initiative (that’s an important one you get from volunteering!), problem solving and self-management.

Many organisations are flexible about the help you can give, so you can do anything from a few weeks over the break, to 1-2 days a week as you are able, to even just 3-4 hours a week if that’s all you can spare. Imagine doing that somewhere you love for your whole degree, a couple of hours per week, in semester, for 3 years! Think how far you can go with this! Dream big. A key thing to remember is that Melbourne, as a major centre for things like business and sports (lots of opportunities!), is also home to the largest number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs/charities) in Australia. So Red Cross, World Vision, Animals Australia, Save the Children, they all have headquarters here, so there are plenty of opportunities to get involved no matter what your passion.


An activity that is key to my heart! If you are able to save enough money through semester, or give yourself a goal of second year exchange/summer trip to save up for, then taking off for summer or winter is a great way to go explore the world and learn through experience.

  • It goes without saying that Asia will be by far your cheapest destination, so the South-east Asia Loop should be somewhere on your list!
  • Joining a hop-on hop-off bus round New Zealand, Australia or South Africa is also a great way to get around, because it combines a tour with transport, but you are free to get off whenever and for however long you like.
  • Gumtree and hostels often post up ads for people who want to share a ride from one location to another, so you may be able to get ride with someone looking for company on a roadtrip up the east coast.
  • Or you can rent a standby campervan for a $1 a day with petrol subsidies and go wherever they need you to return the truck! Take some friends and share the driving to maximise the fun!
  • Fruit-picking in the north is a great option in the summer, where you get to paid to pick fruit, hang out with great people doing the same as you but from all over the world, all there to have a bit of a holiday at the same time.
  • Great Southern Rail – nothing is better than catching a train across the country for a great rate! While Adelaide is the main thoroughfare for the various trains, you can get on a train to Perth, or go Adelaide to Darwin, or to Adelaide from Melbourne or Sydney. These trains are pure lux, way better than a V-Line anyday! Large comfy chairs, plenty of space for your luggage, a dining car on offer, and space to get up stretch or chat with your fellow passengers all the way. For as low as $49. Yep. My fave memory was riding to Sydney along the open plains and seeing wild kangaroos hopping along beside us. And you can get off and do mini-tours while the train stops a couple of hours 🙂
  • Contiki Tour. Nothing but one big hangover while looking at famous European sites, it is a taster for further explorations and does let you see Europe after all.
  • South America. It may cost a ton to get there but once you are there it is very cheap. Like, South-east Asia cheap. (Africa, not so much – expensive airfares to get from one destination to another).
  • Overlanding. Oooh, back of truck, camping under the stars, driving across whole continents. Safety in numbers, but independent enough that your group isn’t stuck to a rigid deadline like you would find on a Contiki trip. Two days longer in Namibia? Sure. Now that is the dream. Talk to Intrepid or look online, they now cover all the independent companies I ever looked at doing.
  • Summer camps. Whether in the USA or Russia, there are serious options here to be paid to hang out at a giant lake, eating s’mores around a campfire telling ghoststories, sailing, swimming or playing tennis everyday. With 10 year olds. To some that is hell, but to others it’s an ideal way to spend a summer away being paid pocket money to meet new people and hang out in the USA. *The one in Russia? Talk to On the Go touring company, or maybe STA Travel.
  • Ski seasons – hello! Canada and the US, Europe, Queenstown, Japan, even the mountains here, all have winter seasons that coincide with our breaks. Look up the Ski Company for worldwide opportunities doing everything from waiting tables, supervising a chalet, to covering the mountain as a liftie or ski/snowboard instructor. If you instruct, pass your level 1 first season so the following year you can get on a higher pay rate next year.

If I tried to name all the options I would be here all day. Needless to say I have lived all around the world, 12 countries now, travelled to dozens more, and met every type of traveller there is. You don’t need a lot of money to do it, there are now cheap airlines to get you out of Australia, and then most airlines further away can offer you cheaper fares to wherever you want to go. Hostels are cheap, airbnb, couchsurfing (see gumtree) and all sorts of other options about for cheap accommodation. Take a sleeping bag and maybe a tent and sleep anywhere!

One final note, whatever you choose to do, chase down as many grants and scholarships as you can. Great if you get Austudy and the $1000 scholarships every semester. Put that aside to offset your summer/winter breaks. If you do an internship or trip in conjunction with your exchange semester abroad, apply for the OS-Help loans, which work like HECS that you get the money now and pay back when you are employed to over a certain limit. You can get up to $5500 covered, not to mention get another $1000 or so as a mobility grant from La Trobe Abroad. I don’t know much about exchanges which is why I’ve never blogged about them, but I do highly recommend you dream up a bunch of scenarios for 1st, 2nd and 3rd year (or however long you have) and look into the sorts of money you could have access to for each possibility.

Good luck! And hope you dream big, live bigger!

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