Not another mainstream pick
“I’m spending my exchange in Austin, Texas.”
From some of my friends, I got blank stares. Others told me to “send pics of horses and cowboys”. As for my mother, she was just really excited for me to see Joseph Schooling.
I knew close to nothing about Austin, Texas initially – I chose University of Texas (UT) simply because I heard that we could overload there. It isn’t as popular as University of Washington, or University of South California for sure. But in a short span of five months, I’ve discovered so much about this city and have come to love every part of it. If you’re still undecided about your exchange destination, here are 9 reasons that might convince you to pick UT.
1. Incredible music scene
There might not be Broadway or Coachella, but the music scene in Austin is still pretty sick. Austin City Limits is a huge music festival held every year, boasting popular artistes like Jay Z, Vance Joy, and Chance The Rapper. It’s held over two 3-day weekends, and would make for a lit exchange experience. Think Coachella, but half the price and less… basic (haha jk!).
If you’re into rap, Austin also hosts JMBLYA, an annual music festival that featured stars such as MIGOS, J. Cole, and Young Thug in the past.
Austin is also home to many local bands which play live at various bars and pubs, and has earned the title of “Live Music Capital of The World”. With great music and food, your weekends can never go wrong here.
2. FOOD TRUCKS!!!
From tacos to ice-cream to donburi, you can find a food truck for almost everything here in Austin. Plus, the trucks are always so aesthetically pleasing, as if they came right out of a TV show!!
With a whole semester here, you can take your time to try out the tons of food trucks and dine at the rustic picnic benches al fresco style.
3. It’s a thrift-shopping paradise
Having been to several thrift shops around the U.S., I daresay that the ones in Austin are the best. There are always great vintage finds lying around the thrift shops, going for as little as a dollar. These shops are also benefiting various causes, so knock yourselves out and don’t be afraid to buy the whole shop – you’re doing a good deed.
Some of my best finds are Rebecca Minkoff shorts (retailing at $300) for just $1 at Buffalo Exchange’s Dollar Day Sale, brand new Timberland boots for $3 at Goodwill, and several Michael Kors apparel from Savers.
4. Free public transport and Lyft rides
UT students enjoy free bus rides around Austin, and public transport is quite well developed there. With the bulk of transportation costs eliminated from your exchange budget, you can get lost to explore the depths of Austin without worry, AND have extra cash to travel to other states!
Plus, UT students also get to enjoy free Lyft rides to some parts of Austin from campus at certain hours of the day through the school’s SURE Ride campaign.
5. Events all year round
Austin hosts events such as SXSW, Austin Film Festival, and Foam Glow, so there’s always something to look forward to no matter which semester you’re coming in. Look out for volunteer applications for these events – there would probably be free stuff or free admissions included.
I also checked out Eeyore’s Birthday Party, a pretty interesting “hippie” festival that offers live music, food and drinks to benefit local non-profit organisations. All that to celebrate the birthday of a Winnie The Pooh character.
6. Close proximity to outlets
It’s a 20-minute drive to Round Rock Premium Outlets and a 30-minute drive to San Marcos Premium Outlets. Remember all those savings from having free transportation? This is where you blow them.
For the ladies, San Marcos Premium Outlets is also where you can find one of the few Victoria’s Secret outlet stores in the US. The only place you can find VS bralettes for $2.99, I kid you not. My bank account dies a little every time I visit.
7. Vibrant nightlife
If your ideal exchange experience also includes a healthy dose of partying, note that Austin is one of the top 10 best nightlife cities in the US. It’s impossible to be a college student in Austin and not know of Sixth Street, a place lined with bars and clubs that come alive every night. From dollar shots to free pizza, it’s as if this street is built just for us broke exchange students.
You can also see police on their horses patrolling the area. Pretty cool.
8. Damn good BBQ
Having a whole semester here also allows you to pace yourself with the insanely good BBQ that Austin has to offer. Franklin’s BBQ is one of America’s best, with long queues that last more than four hours as proof of its title. With pounds of smoked brisket, ribs, pulled pork, mac ‘n’ cheese, and free flow bread, gaining weight in Austin is easy as heck.
If Franklin’s queues seem too daunting for you, check out other BBQ spots such as Black’s BBQ or Ruby’s BBQ.
9. Scenery + ton of outdoor activities
You could take a hike up Mount Bonnell to see the sunset, frolic in the pools at Barton Springs, or kayak at Lady Bird Lake – it’s nearly impossible to get bored in Austin. Most places are free to go to, or with a small entrance fee.
If you’ve got a little bit more time to spare, head over to San Marcos River for some tubing. I missed an opportunity to go tubing with my friends, and they haven’t stopped raving about how fun it was ever since. You might also want to check out the Float Fest too!
A second home
Austin’s kind of a hipster enclave; the fun-loving, creative, and carefree atmosphere isn’t hard to get addicted to. My 6 months there flew by way too fast, and I’m already planning my next trip there! It’s so different from big cities such as Los Angeles and New York, and the cost of living is lower too (groceries, petrol etc.).
If you like a balance of chill and excitement, consider UT Austin for your exchange!
Wanna check out other parts of America? Check out our other stories here!