My time in Australia seems like so long ago by now. I’m glad I’ll have the pictures, blog posts, journal entries, and memories to remind me of all my adventures abroad. Before leaving the US, I’m not really sure I believed that I would really go to Australia to study and travel for 4 months. I kept taking more steps to get there like applying for the program, saving money, and buying a plane ticket. However, I still didn’t feel like any of it was real until my best friend and I landed in Auckland, New Zealand before our semester started. That’s when our adventure began.
I never could have imaged all of the amazing, unique, crazy things that we did, but they just sort of happened and seemed like normal things. Sometimes we’d be doing something super awesome and just feel like it was a typical activity since we did awesome stuff a lot. Other times it would really hit us how lucky and blessed we were to get those amazing opportunities. At the Great Barrier Reef, my best friend and I looked at each other with the look that says “Is this really happening? Are we REALLY at the Great Barrier Reef snorkeling with a bunch of fish and coral surrounding us?” I’ll never forget that moment. I had a similar moment on the south island of New Zealand while sailing through a fiord call Milford Sound surrounded by impeccable mountains and awestriking views. The white sand and blue waters at Whitehaven Beach (creative name right?) were pretty incredible as well. I’m so thankful for all of the adventures and special moments that I’ll remember forever.
I learned a lot about myself and the world on this journey. I learned that no matter where I go, I’ll always be the same person who enjoys hiking, watching movies, or going to SkyZone more than going into the city for a night. Everyone is unique, and I met some pretty cool people from several countries that I hope to visit sometime soon. It was really neat to learn about the culture in Australia but also the culture of other countries from my fellow exchange students. I have realized that some people know more about my own country than I do. Thinking about things with a global perspective can really impact how you form opinions or connect certain events to others.
Not everything will go as you planned while studying abroad. You’re bound to miss a flight, bus, or some planned activity, but don’t worry. You’ll deal with it and learn from mistakes. Maybe you’ll go early next time just in case ;) I have definitely learned to go with the flow and trust that we’d figure things out. This experience has taught me to trust the locals more, see the best in people, problem solve, and make the most out of every situation no matter how tired I might be. Something good can come out of every experience. For me, studying abroad has increased my passion for traveling while also making me realize all the blessing that surround me back home. I’m glad I went on this wild adventure with my best friend, and I can’t wait for more to come.
These are some things that we would do on weekends or mostly free days since we traveled several weekends. Belconnen is the part of Canberra that the University of Canberra is in. That’s where you would live if you studied here. Civic is a 15-20 minute, $2.30 Australian Dollar bus ride away. It’s more of the downtown area where there’s more nightlife, restaurants, events, and historical things.
While you’re studying abroad, you’ll likely meet some pretty cool people that come from diverse backgrounds. For my orientation at the University of Canberra, all of the exchange students went through it together with some free activities during the week as well. My first friendships were with the people I met in those first couple of days. It was interesting to learn about people from different countries, why they came to Australia, and what their lives and home universities were like. I also learned that instead of answering the question “where are you from?” by saying “Iowa,” I had to start by saying “the United States.” That was such an odd thing for me having been out of the country only a couple of times on vacation and once on a mission trip to South Africa.
I met people from several different countries, and now I can consider some people from all around the world close friends. Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Hong Kong, and the US are where my closest friends here are from. However, I’ve also gotten to know several people from France, Great Britain, Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, China, Japan, and more. I think I’ll be better at detecting peoples’ country of origin based on their accents when I get back which is neat. One of my close German friends is slowly teaching me German phrases, so I felt pretty awesome when I could ask another German friend what his name was and how he was doing in German. I hope that I can keep learning other languages at least on a basic level because I’ve felt a little strange only knowing one language while English was most of my exchange friends’ second language. I know some Spanish, but I hope to better my language knowledge in the future. Even though I’m studying abroad in Australia where the most common language spoken is English, this experience has made me want to learn more languages and expose myself to different cultures even more.
I think that talking with people from other countries is a unique experience because you have to move past cultural boundaries and be open to how they think differently. I have loved learning about all of the traditions that people have in other countries. I have been convinced by one of my new friends that I need to experience Oktoberfest and Christmas time in Germany sometime in my life, and now I even have a place to stay when I go! It is pretty cool to have friends from all around the world get together because there are so many different perspectives and ideas about things that you might never have thought of. I think it really opens peoples’ minds, and personally, it’s taught me a lot about myself and the world.
In some ways, people from different countries are very different, but in most ways, we’re quite similar. Everyone is unique; some of my new friends are shy, some are extremely sarcastic, some are quiet and sweet, some are always happy, some are extremely thoughtful, and some are always ready for a new adventure. Together, we manage to have a pretty good time. I think the key to making new friends is finding shared values, accepting people, and taking advantage of all the awesome opportunities that come with studying abroad.
Studying, learning, lectures, grading, and exams are much different here than at ISU. It’s different for every class, but in general, you’ll spend much more time studying than you’re used to. By studying, I guess I mostly mean reading. At Iowa State University, we’re mostly just told to read chapters out of a textbook unless we’re researching for a paper. Here, I only have one textbook that they barely reference, and I have to read many more journal articles than ever before. I like it though because you get to read about what professionals are debating about and trying to educate the world about regarding topics that you’re interested in. It does take a lot of time, but we have more free time here. Each class only has one lecture and maybe a tutorial each week, so we don’t spend nearly as much time in class on a daily basis. For my schedule, I have Mondays and Fridays off which is super nice for traveling and getting school work done.
I think that I’ve learned more while I’ve been here than in a typical semester at ISU. Part of it is the kind of teaching style, part of it is the assignments, and part of it is that I’m getting to the point in my university career where I’m starting to learn more about what I’m specifically interested in because I already took most of my general requirements and introductory classes.
The grading is so much different here. I’m not even sure you can compare the two grading scales, but I’ll try anyway. At ISU, you have an A, B, C, D, or F depending on your percentage. Here, it depends on percentages as well, but they mark much harder. They have a High Distinction (HD), Distinction (D), Credit (C), Pass (P), and No Pass (NP?). I’m not sure if the last one is right, but hopefully I’ll never have to worry about that! To get credit for the classes I’m taking here, I have to get a “Credit (C).” When I got my first graded paper, I had a minor freak out because the percentage was so much lower than I’m used to getting as an honors students who puts forth quite a bit of effort. However, then I had to look at the grading scale and compare it to what most people got. It takes some time to get the hang of how they grade things and what they want you to do, but it hasn’t been too difficult.
Another thing that is way different at UC is the number of total points, homework, papers, quizzes, and tests in the whole class. For example, I have a paper worth 65 points due in the next couple of weeks that is worth 65% of my grade for that class. No pressure right? And I thought a 20% final test was stressful! I actually really enjoy that class, and I’m not too worried, but it’s so weird to get used to. Most of my classes have a total number of points available between 100 and 130 points. I remember at ISU that one of my classes had over 1000 total possible points, so it’s an adjustment. There isn’t any busy work here which is something I really enjoy. At Iowa State, there’s generally some sort of homework or quiz each week worth not very many points that takes not very much time, but when all of your classes have that, it tends to add up. Here, there might be a few weekly or monthly things, but usually they just have big papers, presentations, or discussion posts based on journal articles to prepare for. It allows you to take the time to research more and turn in a good product.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with ISU’s system, and I think I’ll enjoy going back to it. However, it’s nice to gain a new perspective and learn in a different way. It also shows the difference in learning techniques in different countries. I think I’m almost out of motivation to read journal articles all the time, but I guess that’s the life of an Aussie student, so I should just go with the flow. The motto here is “no worries,” so I’m going to take that to heart as I get ready to head to the beach for the weekend and learn how to surf with a bunch of my exchange friends. There’s no reason to let school work stress you out while you can’t do it anyway. That’s all for now.
Here are some things to consider before you study abroad. It's beneficial to know what matters the most to you before you leave.
Everyone has different priorities, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you really like spending a night in a fancy hotel, and you can afford it, go ahead! If you’d rather stay in a hostel and use that money to go skydiving, do it! These are just some of the many things to consider before you leave the comfort of your home country. Sometimes traveling can be stressful and complicated, but it’s well worth it with all of the friends and memories you’ll make. Experiencing new things is a great way to change your perspective of the world and make you appreciate all of the blessings that surround you.
Spring Break in Cairns and the Whitsunday Islands: September 24-October 1
This post only includes some of the highlights from all that I did over spring break. If you want to read about all the awesome stuff, you’ll have to wait for the details later! They arranged a trip to Cairns for a big group of exchange students from the University of Canberra. We spent a lot of time together staying at hostels, jamming out to music on the busses with our awesome drivers, and enjoying all of these crazy fun things.
1. There’s a free lagoon/pool right along the side of the ocean where you can spend the day. Some friends and I spent the majority of a day applying sunscreen, swimming, and relaxing. It was a day well spent in my book.
2. You won’t run out of ice cream shops in Cairns. There are around 15 near the beach to choose from, so we had to try a different one almost every night we were in Cairns. My favorites were “Nitrolate,” “Cold Rock,” and a local shop with a deal on some delicious choices.
3. Cairns is a great place to see the Great Barrier Reef. Let’s just put it this way…everyone should see this marvelous wonder of the world in their lifetime. It’s absolutely incredible, and it was definitely my favorite thing we’ve experienced while in Australia so far. Just to give you a little motivation, you should see it sooner rather than later because climate change and increasing acidity in the oceans is causing coral bleaching. It’s worth the trip to the land down under to snorkel or scuba dive with the hundreds of species of beautiful sea creatures.
4. You could also visit Fitzroy Island, go deep sea scuba diving, or even wear an underwater helmet that allows you to breath without wearing a snorkel. There are plenty of attractions to experience this tropical place in whatever way you like best.
Cape Tribulation area:
1. Port Douglas is a charming town where celebrities often go for some R&R. We spent some time there briefly where we could hike up to get a good view of the famous 4 Mile Beach. We also got to swim in the clear water and enjoy the cool feeling ocean while we soaked in the sun.
2. There are waterfalls and swimming holes galore. We got to see a new waterfall or swim in a creek or jump off a cliff into a swimming hole basically every half an hour. Nothing beats that feeling of falling while you wait to plunge into the water below. Don’t worry, we had a bus driver/guide who knows every safe place to swim and jump in.
3. There are plenty of hikes through the rainforest where you can explore the unique flora and fauna and hope that nothing will kill you ;) The hike we did was pretty hard and steep; I didn’t finish it because I ran out of water, and it was much too hot and humid not to have water. A few from our group finished and said the view was pretty nice.
Fun things around Cairns:
1. The Atherton Tablelands offer incredible views of the land below and have many cool things that surround them. We saw the Cathedral Fig Tree which is a giant tree that’s super old. They have unique characteristics where they work together with other plants to grow.
2. Milla Milla falls is the famous destination for hair product commercials where the girl will flip her hair back, and it makes a circle of water. My friend Kiley and I did it at the same time and made a heart with our hair, so that was pretty cool. We could also go behind the waterfalls and see it from the other side.
3. We were able to spot some platypuses in a creek close to our hostel one evening I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes, I’m fairly certain that the correct plural of platypus is platypuses. It was pretty cool to see them in their natural habitat swimming around since they’re only found in eastern Australia.
4. We went mountain biking and canoeing which was pretty awesome. The biking was on a road through the rainforest where volunteers have planted trees and successfully bridged the gap between two big sections of rainforest to protect endangered species. While we canoed, we saw some cool birds and water dragons which look like big lizards.
5. There’s a giant lake that was created by a crater years ago and filled up with pure rain water, so it’s extremely clear and clean. We got to jump in after our bike ride which felt absolutely wonderful. We swam around for a while before we had to move on to the next fun thing.
1. There’s another free lagoon there on Airlie Beach. Kiley and I spent some time there after walking along the beach path for a while. We even saw a beach side wedding on a cliff while we walked, and we found a sand sculpture of a crocodile that was pretty sweet.
2. If you go to the Whitsundays, and you really should, you have to take a boat cruise out to the islands and see the beauty. We sailed past some of the 74 islands on our way to Whitsunday Island. The sunshine and the breeze make for the perfect conditions while you look at the water in hopes of seeing a turtle or some dolphins. We did get to see one huge turtle on our cruise, but we weren’t fast enough with our cameras.
3. We snorkeled near Hook Island, and it was amazing. This part of the Great Barrier Reef had completely different fish and coral. I’m glad we got to see the reef in two different areas to see the differences. We enjoyed our time swimming around and discovering more brightly colored fish or finding ourselves surrounded by so many fish that we felt like we couldn’t move. It was pretty incredible.
4. Some say that Whitehaven beach is the nicest beach in the world, and I would have to agree with them. Its pure white sand feels like sugar on your feet. The sand never gets hot, so you can walk barefoot or lay down for as long as you want. We walked for a while to enjoy the feeling of the sand before we got in the incredibly clear, blue water. That feeling where the beauty of the nature that surrounds you strikes you to the core happened to me in these moments. Swimming on that beach with my best friend talking about life and how blessed we are is something I will never forget.
This may sound like something out of a dream, and sometimes I feel like it didn’t even happen, but it did. I experienced these awesome things, and you can too. Don’t be afraid to go after a dream just because some people think it’s unrealistic.