Old Beginnings

My time in Australia is coming to an end. It’s strange; I feel like I’m just now getting comfortable. I’ve made friends, and the thought of saying goodbye to them is pretty painful. I really like Monash, and I’ve gotten pretty involved in some organizations here, that I can’t imagine what it’ll be like when I’m not here to see their future.

I had similar feelings, to a lesser degree, as I was getting ready to leave Spain. There are a lot of differences between that study abroad experience and this one, however. I spent my time taking relatively easy classes and traveling through Europe, I made friends, but spent most of my time with people from OU. Other students did the same thing, and while we were all cordial to each other, and would often run into other groups in our travels, people mostly stuck with others from their university, even if they hadn’t met those people before. I stayed with a host family, and while they really did make me feel like a family member, it was very clear that I was a guest in their home, and I came and went mostly as I pleased (without inconveniencing my host family).

I come and go as I please here too, but I’m weighed down by assignments and a less reliable public transport system. There aren’t as many nearby places to travel to, and I don’t have three-day weekends. I go into the city pretty often, but schoolwork definitely gets more importance in semester-long exchange programs. In addition, I spend a lot of time around my residence hall, hanging out with other exchange students, all of whom come from a wide range of countries, and some local friends I’ve made.

I can’t believe it’s coming to an end. It’s a familiar feeling, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I’m not sure how to cope. I do miss my friends and family and country, and it’ll be really nice to be back stateside (and not have to wait 4 weeks for international shipping), but it’ll also be a large adjustment.

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Wrapping Up

The end is near and I don’t know how I feel.

I am so behind on all of the things that I need to do, and I’m feeling so overwhelmed with my academic work. Add to this the bittersweet feeling of knowing that it’ll be over soon, and a tiny dash of homesickness, and you’ll have an accurate picture of my emotional state. I’ve been coping by cooking for friends, reading books I brought from home, and making a copious amount of lists. I guess when things are too much, I go back to my favorite activities, and they haven’t let me down yet.

Beyond schoolwork, there’s a lot more that I feel I haven’t sorted out. For example, I have a lot of things in my room, and my luggage was pretty full when I came here, so I’m thinking about sending some of my stuff home by mail. One of my friends did something similar when she studied in Japan, and it worked out well for her. Furthermore, there are so many more places that I wanted to visit, and I have a few days off between exams, so I think I’ll travel a little bit more. I haven’t set any definite locations or dates, however, so I have a lot of planning to do in that regard. I need to also figure out my plans post-graduation. I have some time, but I need to do some clear thinking about what I want my career to be.

May is always a busy month, and Australia is no exception. I have a lot of things that I need to sort out, but I know that as long as I keep my head above water and do what is necessary, things will work themselves out.

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Academic Tips

Changing universities really forces you to examine the way you study and prepare for classes. Here are some things I’ve learned that may be of use to other exchange students:

  • Go to class. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to rationalize missing classes for other, much more fun things that come up, like spontaneous beach trips, and going to the biggest shopping mall in the Southern Hemisphere. Going to classes prevents having to self-learn the material and cram the week before the exam. Seriously. Go to class. You’ll thank me at the end of the semester.
  • Actively revise notes. A lot of the time I spend “studying” is just me staring at my notes, trying to remember what the previous page said. I’ve found that actively engaging with the material (explaining it out loud, making mind maps, connecting it to material learned in previous or other classes, summarizing and contextualizing it, ect.) helps engrain it in my memory better. It’s an efficient way to study, and much more entertaining than dragging a highlighter through the textbook. Do this frequently, but do give yourself time to rest and allow the knowledge to solidify, so you’re not just cramming.
  • Take practice tests, and do practice problems. What can I say? Practice makes perfect: especially in math and science subjects.
  • Find a good place to study. The importance of setting cannot be overstated. I’ve found that it varies person to person. I like working in my room when I do practice problems, but I really prefer coffeeshops when I’m working on essays. I think that the bustle and noise in the background is more conducive to creative work, personally, while the quiet really allows me to concentrate on my work.
  • Engage with your professors. Incredibly difficult classes can become much easier with the help of a kind teacher. I like to meet with professors to discuss essays, prepare for tests, and just talk about the class generally. Professors have such interesting backgrounds, and are usually very eager to help out students in their class. Knowing the professor makes going to class more engaging, and assignments seem less daunting.
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Where else?

I’m in Melbourne currently. Over mid semester, I saw Brisbane, Gold Coast, Noosa, and Byron Bay, and the trip was maybe the most fun I’ve had on study abroad so far. At the very beginning of the semester, I took a trip along the Great Ocean Road, and that was also such a memorable time. These experiences lead me to wonder: where to next?

I have some time off in my exam month, and considering different places that I could visit. I would love to go to New Zealand, Tasmania, and still haven’t been to Sydney yet. However, as the semester wraps up, it seems like everyone has their own different travel plans, and another group trip does not appear to be likely. I might have to go solo this time.

I’ve never travelled anywhere alone before: I’ve travelled in a group, or had people waiting for me at the destination. I toyed with the idea when I studied in Spain, but it didn’t really pan out. The idea is kind of daunting because of both the dangers of traveling alone as a girl, and the feelings of loneliness it might inspire. Once in Barcelona, I was with a group of people who wanted to go to the beach, while I, ever the art history nerd, wanted to see Parque Guell. We went our separate ways, and while I do not regret going on my own to see what ended up being the highlight of my Barcelona trip, I do remember feeling a bit isolated while I was there. It felt like everyone else around me had someone to take selfies with, while I wandered around alone, with no one to share the amazing sculptures and sights with. In the end, the group I was traveling with decided they wanted to see Parque Guell as well, and sprinting up the steps to go to the park before it closed is something I remember fondly today.

I don’t want that feeling to put a damper on my trip to a city, however, and I don’t want my impression of the city to be tinted with the fact that I was alone when I was there. Many travel blogs, on the other hand, claim that traveling alone is an incredibly fulfilling experience, that really shows you the meaning of independence. Some even go so far as to call it “liberating.” It makes sense; some of my most treasured time is the time that I spent alone, walking around a city and getting to know it for myself, without feeling distracted by other people.

My travel plans are so uncertain right now, but I haven’t ruled out the option of traveling by myself around Oceania. I’ll take the proper precautions, and check in with people periodically so that my friends and family know where I am; it seems silly to miss out on going to a new place just because other people aren’t going there.

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Fun Alternatives to Talking About American Politics

Studying abroad broadens your horizons, no doubt, but it can be quite daunting to think about how you’re representing your country and home institution. How you behave and comport yourself may influence how the people you come into contact with view America. This is especially relevant in the current American political climate, and you may face questions similar to: “So, what’s up with Trump?”

In my experience, this question is merely a precursor to a larger discussion of American politics. While some of these conversations have been intriguing and have shown me new perspectives, most have been frustrating, and made me want to swear off of talking politics for the rest of my life (but I’m an International Studies student, so that’s never going to happen).

In honor of those frustrating conversations, I have made an Australian themed list of activities that are more fun than discussing Hillary’s emails for the umpteenth time.

  1. Eating Vegemite straight out of the jar
  2. Waiting for a Victoria PT bus that’s running late in the middle of January
  3. Predicting Melbourne’s weather
  4. Finding a Huntsman spider in your room (has happened to two girls in the time I’ve been here)
  5. Waking up after a night of drinking only goon
  6. Driving for 10 hours and still being in the same state
  7. Taking at least 7 hour flights to get anywhere else in the world
  8. Having bird calls wake you up at 3 AM
  9. Seeing road signs demarcating a “kangaroo/wallaby area,” but seeing neither kangaroos nor wallabies
  10. Going to a club in the CBD, only to have them play very bad music

 

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Midsemester Break!

It’s crazy to think about how half a semester has almost gone by! I got here two weeks before classes started, and it still feels like units are weird intrusions into my schedule. I have to write out my schedule for the week every Sunday night to remind myself where I have to be at what time. I have to do something similar for my classes in the United States, but it’s definitely taking longer for me to adjust into the Australian schedule. I’ve had so many essays due, and the first few weeks certainly haven’t been easy.

That’s part of the reason why I’m looking forward to mid semester break so much! My friends back home have all had their Spring Breaks, and I’ll admit, seeing their vacation photos on social media has made me a little jealous. I’ve realized that part of study abroad is accepting that life back home will go on without you. That being said, I’ll be posting my mid semester break photos while people are beginning to cram for finals, so everything is a tradeoff, I suppose.

I’ve made plans to travel along the East Coast with some other exchange students, but I’m not sure which exact cities I’m visiting. It’s a bit unnerving, but I’m not in charge of the trip, so I’m more comfortable taking a backseat. We’ll be staying in hostels during our trip, and will be spending most of our days at beaches along the coast. I haven’t stayed in a hostel since my time in Europe a few years ago, so this may be a bit of an adjustment, but I’ll be staying in these hostels with my friends, so it won’t be as like I’m sharing a room with five other strangers again.

I’m looking forward to warmer weather, getting tan on the beach, taking time to relax, and getting to know the people I’m traveling with and the country I’m living in a little better. Cheers to an exciting and relaxing mid-semester!

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Trying New Things

I like to say that I’m a flexible person, and that I can “go with the flow,” but the truth is, I like to have things my way. I know what I want, and I do what I can to get it. I’m not set in my ways, but I know what I like.

A while ago, I watched an episode of one of my TV shows, and the main character decided to say “yes” to every question asked of him that day. It was fascinating: he had an incredible day (the punchline was that his friends had a coordinately terrible day). I don’t think I could go an entire day saying only “yes,” but I did decide, upon arrival in Australia, that I was going to say yes to things more often.

I have been doing just that, and let me tell you, it’s been interesting. I have met so many new people, and done things that I may not have done earlier, like going on a road trip with 15 other people that I had just met. That trip was one of the most fun experiences of my life, and I have no regrets whatsoever in deciding to go. I’ve tried so many new cuisines, and seen cultural landmarks that I previously thought I wasn’t really interested in.

It’s true that study abroad broadens your horizons, but you have to be open to it. You really get out of the experience what you put into it, and I’ve decided to give it all I’ve got.

I’ll keep you posted on the results.

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Settling In

I’ve made it! I’m in the land down under!

The first week has been rough. I was consumed by homesickness, and had very little motivation to go out, meet people, and get settled in. I enjoyed spending time alone, and did not contact my friends and family back home, except to tell them that I had arrived safely. My suitcase was open, and my clothes were spilling out of it, but I didn’t have hangers to put them up in my closet. I didn’t even really want to put away my suitcase, or move it so that it wasn’t as obtrusive because seeing it on the ground reminded me that this was only temporary. My room was sparse, and I had brought three photographs with me from home, but they didn’t seem to be enough. I was miserable.

What changed? Well, nothing really. I went to Ikea and bought hangers, so I had no excuse to keep my suitcase lying around. I hung up my clothes. Our residence hall had a Valentine exchange on Valentine’s Day, and I gave and received plenty of Valentines with the people I had met. I decorated my room. I bought bowls and plates and silverware, and arranged my skincare products up on a shelf. I flipped through the pamphlets I had received upon arrival, and reached out to organizations that caught my interest. I talked to people at the mandatory resident information sessions, and agreed to go on a trip with a bunch of the other exchange students.

What I’m trying to say is that there wasn’t one moment where I decided to shed my homesickness and embrace Australian life. It was a series of small actions, prompted mostly by practicality, that helped me become accustomed to life as an exchange student. Meeting people and making friends is important to transitioning into Australian student life, but it can be hard to do when you really don’t want to leave your bed and are questioning your choice to voyage across the globe and start fresh. If the latter situation is where you’re at the first few days, know that you’re not alone. It’s okay to wallow a little bit, and sit out on some of the social activities those first few days. No one remembers anyone’s name in the first week anyway. Explore the area a little bit on your own, and start making steps towards making your room more homely. Talk to people around you. The new-ness will fade eventually, and you’ll start feeling more comfortable. You just have to wait it out.

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Australian Stereotypes

I have mixed feelings toward stereotypes. Obviously, it’s problematic to generalize entire groups and reduce them to simple images and often, offensive caricatures. At the same time, we tend to construct images in our mind of people based on previous interactions and context. Some prominent images that come to mind when I think of Australia are:

I’ll admit, part of the reason I chose Australia is for the wildlife. I’m a biology major. Steve Irwin, and the narrator of the Outback Steakhouse advertisements have shaped how I imagine Australian accents to sound, and Vegemite, well, I believe it to be a staple of the Australian diet.

In the back of my mind, I know that I’ll be living in Melbourne, so my koala and kangaroo sightings may be few and far between in my day-to-day life. Not every Australian will speak like Steve Irwin and the Outback man, and Australians cannot survive on Vegemite alone. These are the images I see, and that I’ve interacted with. I don’t have any other concepts to help me predict what my time in Australia will be like. Of course, this problem is remedied by engaging further with Australian culture and consuming Australian images that have been created by Australians.

I look forward to having my stereotypes and pre-conceived notions of Australia shattered by actually living there.

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Pre-Departure Thoughts

My classes in Melbourne do not start until February, so I’ve been spending the past few weeks relaxing and decompressing after the most stressful semester of my college experience. In my freshman year, I did not believe the upperclassmen who told me that it would only get harder, but as the days go on, I realize that it’s true. The difficulty of classes increases, along with the expectations, and there is less and less free time. Reflecting on the past few semesters, a question comes to mind: will this pattern continue into my study abroad?

I’m in my third year, but in Australia, I will take mostly second year units because the course structures are so different. In Australia, a course isn’t a class, a class is a unit. Course means degree plan, or something similar to major. There isn’t a dead week, but there is a “Swot Vac,” or preparation holidays: students get a week off to study before finals. Finals span over a month, rather than just a week. Courses can take anywhere from 3-6 years, while degrees in the US usually take 4 years. At the same time, degrees that can only be attained at a graduate level in the US, such as medicine and law, are done in undergraduate studies in Australia.

I still haven’t fully wrapped my head around all of the differences, but I know I’ll be adapt pretty well once I’m there. Once I get there, I’ll be living on campus in the Halls of Residence, which will be a throwback to freshman year. This time, however, I’ll have my own room, but I’ll share a bathroom with the rest of the floor, and I’ll have a kitchen to share too! I cook my own meals, but I don’t know how much I’ll be cooking once I get there because I don’t want to invest too much in cooking supplies and spend time that I could spend exploring the city on cooking. I’m trying to plan out my time there, but I know that once I get there, things will change according to the situation. I’m just very eager to get there :)

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