Bringing the learning home (Australian Learning & Teaching Council)

Cultural differences

Alone in the Middle


During my International Student Exchange I have found that it is when I am surrounded by people, especially my close friends that I feel most alone.
Currently studying at Sophia University, Tokyo, from the outset I decided that I wanted to join a club. After learning about Japanese Club culture throughout my Japanese study I did not want to miss the opportunity of being able to actually participate in one. In Australia I am a rather sporty and outgoing person, playing tennis, dancing and working as a swim school teacher. After considerable deliberation I decided to join the 上智大学水泳部 Sophia Swim Club. I have never swum so many laps and spent so many hours in a pool but it has definitely been worth it, not only for the improved fitness but the amazing friends that I have made and the opportunity to practice my Japanese.
The first week of Spring Break I went with the Swim Club on 合宿 (Gasshuku) an intensive week-long training camp, in a remote location. During this time we swam 6 hours a day; over 5000 meters per session in addition to strength and cross training.
However, being away from what I have come to call ‘home’ I became homesick for my life in Australia. This was compounded when I heard the other students talking about how their parents had helped to pack their luggage and made them lunch to bring for the travel, or what home cooked meal they were looking forward to eating when they got home – the little things that you don’t realise that you miss until they are not there. Also at times when I couldn’t understand the Japanese they were speaking or when I thought I could not complete a swimming drill I felt defeated and wanted to give up (at one point there were even tears). I felt so alone even though I was in the middle of a group of people, which made me feel even more isolated.
Although if it were not for those group of people I would not be where I am today. They were there to help me through my emotional state and took the time to talk to me and make sure I was alright. The next morning I completed the seemingly impossible swim set, bettering my previous time by five seconds. Everyday each and every person would do their best to encourage all members of the group so that we could get through it together. Despite all being tired and in pain we would push through to make sure that we completed every set that was assigned, aiming to swim faster and harder. At the pseudo competition we competed in, each member stood at the side of the pool yelling chants into loud speakers with so much enthusiasm and energy despite having just swum their own race and having to prepare for the next. I learnt so much from this experience, not only that there really are no boundaries but the strength of people as a collective whole is a much stronger and more positive force than I ever knew.

Venice Beach, Los Angeles

This might not look like your typical medical centre or hospital, but if you need a prescription for marijuana, you’d be most successful in getting one on the streets of Venice Beach.

Bike lane, bus lane, it’s all the same…

So it’s been just over three weeks but it feels like it so much longer than that, still just kind of getting into the swing of things. Uni is off to an incredibly slow start, but nothing happens quickly/at all in Espana. I’ve been to two information sessions this week for exchange students held entirely in Spanish, so surprisingly, I’m still pretty unsure about everything in general but nothing really new there.

Took to the road on my bike today. No matter how many times you tell yourself to stay on the other side of the road it’s impossible not to panic when someone is coming towards you. Played a bit of the old this path ain’t big enough for the two of us and ended up in a bush for a brief but very embarrassing period on the main street of my university, but then back on the bike as they say. Also might have convinced my new friends that one lane was defiantly just for bikes, actually just for busses. Whoops. Very angry bus driver, four very scared Erasmus students peddling as fast as our little feet could take us out of the way. Let’s just say, I don’t think I’m going to live that one down, and I don’t think they’ll be taking my advice again in the near future…However, I did get us to the beach, which for a city is really quite nice.

The main beach


Other than almost getting us killed, I’ve had a fairly good look around the city. It’s pretty incredible. It has a really relaxed vibe, and everything is really well linked by the metro, and by my new friend Valenbisi, which is a system of bikes that you can hire all around the city – practically for free.

The centre of Valencia

Been out a few times. But over here everything starts so late! People don’t go to the clubs until 3am. I was reading a guide the other day that said, “This club gets going when the others start shutting down at about 6-7am!” So I’m struggling a bit to keep up but hopefully I’ll get there.


Guess that’s all for now, having a great time and hope everything is going well at home.

 E x


I’ve found that to most Americans, Australia is seen as a great holiday destination with strange animals and friendly people. This is a very good reputation to have but unfortunately, it is these topics which make up the bulk of the conversations I happen to have with Americans.

The kangaroo usually comes up first in conversation which I don’t really mind. In fact I enjoy talking about what is unique about Australia; although I am starting to suspect that Americans are not really interested in my version of Australia. They are more interested in simplified caricatures and national symbols, that offer them a more comfortable albeit conventionalised version of Australia. I suppose this is something that I’ve found difficult to understand, because I am aware that I don’t exactly represent the quintessential Australian, but I offer some diversity that could potentially educate Americans about Australia, and relieve some of the simplistic views they might have of us. I think that a country is more than just the image it projects, but sometimes the image is all people care to consider. It is not bothering me so much right now, but it is starting to dawn on me. I do miss my family, but I love being here. I don’t miss my life back home as much, because I definitely think I am having way more fun where I am.

Switzerland – first day

Luke Cassar – University of St Gallen from Wollongong.

So its 1am here and i cant sleep, so i thought this would be a great opportunity to make my first post.

So soo far Ive been mostly sleeping but i still have noticed some things about this country. Firstly their public transport is awesome, it may be expensive but sooo good. However on train trip from the airport to St Gallen I accidentally seated myself in the first class seating, and i really couldn’t tell the difference between first class and normal class except the seats were red and had less people in first class. I guess the red makes all the difference ay. Asking people for help is quite easy here, just you have to pick out the ones who can speak english, on the train asking people in business suits work for me hehe. Ok now to buses, which i caught 3 times so far without paying, because of the simple fact i don’t know how to. The machines are in German, the devil inside me wants me to see how long i can act like an innocent tourist, but the angel says im a guest in their country and i should pay, hmm.

As for the weather its not soo bad, snow everywhere but not to cold, apparently I brought the sun out according to university staff. Speaking of the university my fondest moment so far was walking into the exchange office and seeing a post card with wollongong harbour on it. Such a proud gong boy then.

Hmm anyways that’s all for now, hopefully Ill be taking photos soon. And gradually as I get used to wordpress my posts should get better.

Cheers Luke


My first stop on my way to uni in victoria BC is Hawaii. i was so lucky on the plane and had a spare seat next to me so i had a glass of wine and slept the whole way! i am apart of a group called “couchsurfing” where you stay on locals couches for free and they can show around. they are the host and you are the surfer. (just explaining so you will understand when i say my host). So my host lives in the middle of waikiki! she is 19 and a uni student so i slept on her collage dorm. I only had a bed for the night as she was going home for the holidays but when i met her 2 of her friends offered me there couch! so i was set for the rest of my stay. This is my first trip to USA and oh man they are soooo nice! really friendly and helpful. here are some things that stood out of my shot time here:

Australian beaches are better: there beach has coral on the bottom! but they have really good snorkelling. and there break is often way out the back where the drop of is.

Their crossings: at intersections they have like a zebra crossing so i am just crossing the street when ever and people arnt stopping much, so i asked some local near by to tell me how to cross the road “um..excuse me i have a really dumb question but…” you have to wait for the signal to cross at lights but some dont have the signal, also it dosnt make a noise, so i am day dreaming and missing the lights.

language: pretty similar however when i was waiting for my host to come home i said “oh i will just go for a wander around the shops till you get here” andshe thought it was the cutest thing ever “wander” her and her friends payed me out for ages!! and sometimes when i am telling them a stoty or just talking they will just be lauging at me because i have a funny accent – i was a bit confused at first – why are they laughting this isnt even the funny bit…

they photos are of: my ‘couch’, the famous hawaiian surfer, my hosts, a guy in his army uniform, the barbie (more like a grill), the potato bake i made, they loved it!, and the beach/ islands that i kayaked to.

Manchester United

I spent Christmas with relatives from my dad’s side of the family in England. On Boxing Day I was lucky enough to have my dad’s cousin Dave take me to see the greatest football team in the world, Manchester United, play (and win) at their home ground, Old Trafford.

It was an absolutely incredible experience! Even if you’re not a football fan, or a sports fan in general, I think you couldn’t help but enjoy yourself. There’s so much atmosphere and so much energy, it’s contagious. I had a brilliant time, even though by the end of the match I was frozen to the seat.

One of the things that most struck me though is the intensity of the rivalry between Manchester City and Manchester United. Having a father who was born and bred in Manchester and has been a United support since he was 5 years old, I’ve always understood that they were rivals, but seeing it unfold in front of you is completely different. The hatred between the two teams is so intense that even when they’re not playing each other, United fans are still singing songs like “knick knack paddy-whack give a dog a bone, why don’t City f**k off home!” I saw United play Sunderland on the day that I went, but that little rhyme was sung loudly and proudly many, many times.

It’s something I really think we don’t have in Australia. We love sport, but this is on a whole new level. My 85-year-old great aunt has a framed picture of Eric Cantona hanging in her hallway next to pictures of her great-grandchildren, that’s how much this matters to people. I don’t know anyone back in Oz who not only loves their team that much, but who hates their local rival that much as well!

Gun handling in the U.S.

How can I go to America and not shoot a gun? Of course I can’t, which is why we went to the shooting range today and I fired a gun for the first time. Yet another thing I can now cross off my imaginary list. I used two different types of guns, one .357 caliber shotgun and the other, a semi-automatic handgun used primarily for self defense.

The laws of gun handling and ownership are quite strict in California in comparison to other parts of America, particularly in the Eastern and Southern parts of the U.S. I’m not too clear on the specific laws and regulations, but in general you have the right to own a gun if you intend to use it for self defense. There are also strict rules about locking your weapon and leaving it unloaded when not in use.

However, the thing that surprised me the most about this whole experience was how easy it was to just walk into the shooting range, snag a couple of bullets and start shooting away like a maniac (at the target). There were no questions asked about my obvious (lack of) experience with gun handling. All I had to do was supply ID, sign my name, and briefly take note of the 7 or so house rules. After that, I was handed a gun and told to take aim and fire. Crazy stuff.

I can’t tell you how nervous I was initially, my mother would be so proud. My advice would be if you happen to be in the United States of America, I recommend you start shooting something.


I definitely see this experience as a significant example of cultural difference, because people’s reaction to guns here is quite relaxed. Many Australians are aware of the American way of thinking when it comes to guns in use for “self defense” and it’s almost comical to us at times. But I believe that U.S citizens take the right to bear arms very seriously. Didn’t stop me from having a laugh though.

I love being in South Korea right now.

Well, not much happened so far. My friend called me up telling me that 200 missiles were fired up upon a island in the Yellow sea. At the time I was in a dog cafe (a cafe full of dogs, girls seem to love it even though it stinks like dog) so I asked him if I should be worried and get back to my home. His reply was him laughing and said dont worry about it. He then says to me “I should get back to the army soon, want to join me to fight the north?”. I replied that I “was going to stay behind and protect the cute girls”. Not to many people have taken it too seriously so far. Walking home a hour later I seemed to be the only one worried. Everyone was acting normal.

On (not) smiling in France

I came across this in an article I was reading, written by a Canadian scholar, and wondered if it resonated with any of you. Are you beginning to see aspects of your own behaviour – your ‘Australianness’ – more clearly , do you think?

“One common experience of international travellers is the sense of ‘foreignness’, of being different, and that difference being obvious to others. Yet, it is not obvious what it is about oneself that is recognised a being different. It is easier to see what is different about others, but this is compared to an innate belief about right, wrong, appropriate, inappropriate, in order to register that difference. For example, while travelling in France, I noticed that people didn’t smile very much. At first I registered this behaviour as rude. I had compared the common behaviour I saw around me to my innate norm of smiling whenever eye contact is made. When I talked to people in France about my own cultural heritage, telling them I was Canadian, they would often talk about how friendly Canadians were and that many Canadians they had interacted with always smiled. It was then that I started considering perhaps my behaviour did not represent the global norm, but rather an extreme end of the scale and that in fact, the French norm might represent something closer to the global average. I do not know the answer, not having found a study of global smiling behaviour; however, I did register my comprehension that I had been assessing French behaviour without really understanding my own within a context of global behaviours.”

From Berdrow, Iris (2009) ‘Designing effective global competence development opportunities’, Int. Journal Management in Education, vol 3, nos 3/4, pp 335-345; p. 339

No qualifications required!

Before beginning my student exchange I participated in a working holiday in Okinawa, which was an absolutely unforgettable experience. I learnt so much not only about the Japanese and work culture but myself. Being in Tokyo I actually miss the breathtaking place and the amazing people who I met down there.

Despite having no prior experience working in a restaurant or a bar, I was placed working behind a bar, pouring beers and mixing cocktails for the Japanese customers. What surprised me is that anyone who wants to can work behind a bar. During my two months working at that restaurant we also had numerous high school work experience students who worked with us behind the bar, not only serving drinks but also making them. The legal age to consume alcohol in Japan is 20, so these students were definitely underage. This contrasts the strict RSA laws that exist in Australia.

Furthermore, marine staff and lifeguards are not required to hold any formal qualifications; they do not even need to know how to swim! Being a qualified pool lifeguard, holding numerous mandatory first aid certificates myself this shocked me, particularly to think what would happen if there was an emergency. Frequently the marine staff would be asleep at their post despite being the only lifeguard on duty and people being in the water.

Another thing that I found strange was that despite living on a beautiful island the Okinawan people do not swim and if they do they go in the water fully clothed (shoes included) and almost always wear a floaty. Very different to the Aussie beach lifestyle that I am used to!

where are you at?

This week we have had a couple of very powerful reflective pieces on student experiences of exchange in North America – one overwhelmingly positive and the other showing that all is not just beer and skittles (or whatever the appropriate cultural metaphor is in your location – saki and sushi perhaps?…) How are others finding things? is the honeymoon phase over yet? It would be interesting to hear how you all respond to those two very different posts and what bearing those experiences have on your own. Do you recognise them as representing phases you have passed through, or are perhaps living through at present? Are these experiences tied to the North American sojourn or do you see points of similarity from Korea, Sweden, German, Finland…

We would love to hear more


Last night I stumbled onto something I hadn’t come across in Korea before. Private Karoke rooms where you order food and alcohol over the phone thats brought to your room. Cheap good service as well. Cost my party of 4  80 dollars for 4 hours of karoke, 2 main courses followed by 6 side dishes, and bottles and bottles of soju(vodka) and beer. This leads to my post. Going out in Korea for anyone young or old means drinking soju. Its very rare to see a table without the shotglasses and empty bottles or the cheering of “chan” or “geombae” or “one shot”.

(A common sight  each one of these bottles is about 7 standard drinks)

But when you hang out with young people they like to drink somaek. Somaek is when you get a middie of beer (maekju) and pour in a shot of soju and mix it with a chopstick to make sure the soju doesnt stay at the top. Then you play drinking games where you have to have your somaek in a full or half shot. Drinking in korea starts off by a “one shot”, then repeated full or half shots of soju after. After the first or second bottle of soju has been consumed someone will decide that somaek is a good idea and a jug of beer is ordered.

Drinking in korea leads to two options. One you have to get home at midnight/2 am as you have class/work the next. Usually you will stay at the one bar and maybe go to a karoke afterwards before stumbling home. Many businessmen are passed out on the streets because of this. The second option is going to one bar for dinner and drinks. Followed by another bar for snacks and drinks. Followed by karoke or another bar for drinks and snacks. Then a club. Somaek is something I wont be drinking when I return home. That is if my liver survives this deadly cocktail.

Being too drunk in Korea is not a problem. You friends will politely forget about what happened. As it could be them next.

Soju! Chann!!! Im off to get a hangover.

the college life

It was an overwhelming experience my first hour at UNCW, it involved traffic jams, getting lost and not to mention cheering from hundreds of people. I was nervous, but the intensity and bustle of everyone got me excited and gave me the immediate feeling that I had made the right decision participating in this exchange program. This feeling still stays with me three months later, the college feels like a community. It feels a lot different from me coming from UOW where I lived at home with my parents. Here at UNCW everyone lives on campus, eats together on campus, plays high level sports on campus, parties at campus etc… So what I am trying to say is everything revolves around the campus. For me therefore it gives me the feeling of warmth and somewhere I can call a home, rather than just an academic place of study.

What comes with this setup of American universities where everyone lives on campus is an opportunity to meet hundreds of people that you would not have otherwise met. For me, this is one of the greatest benefits of my exchange program. Even half way into my semester I have met people that I will never forget and call friends for a long time to come. With these new found friends it makes the transition of living in a foreign country so much easier, and feeling lonely impossible.

One of the other highlights for me in this exchange program has been the sports and the school spirit that is associated with it. It was a massive culture shock for me to see the intensity that all students here have when following sports. However saying this, it is not only the students that are flying the flag for their school, but also the parents. If I had a dollar for every bumper sticker or shirt I saw saying “UNCW MUM” I would have enough money to cover my HEX debt when I graduate. Even local businesses have big signs up supporting the school before events saying “good luck this weekend UNCW”.

All in all, I have no hesitation in saying this is the best experience of my life to date, looking back now at the extraordinary long process to get here with what felt like hundreds of forms to fill out, and hours spent at the U.S consulate. It was worth every minute I spent working to get here. Knowing what the rewards are now that I’ve stepped off that plane, I would fill out one hundred more forms and spend another week camped out at the U.S consulate.

In conjunction, coming to University over here is the best thing that has happened for me not only academically but also personally, as I am learning much more about life and myself than I could of anticipated. So I’m being educated just as much outside the classroom, as I am in it. You learn so much and become more independent without even realising it, the experiences you go through make you grow up, whether you like it or not.

Can I have snuff with that?

Having just seen The Girl who Played with Fire, I re-read The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and was struck with all the snuff-taking – a whole lot of the book’s characters do it, male, female, young, old – odd! It seems to me a habit I associate with upper-class Victorian men (ie 19th century, not the lot who live south of NSW) and I find it really strange. Those of you in Sweden – have you come across it socially?Have you tried it? What’s it like and what are the social meanings associated with it?

Any other odd cultural customs you have come across like this – eg chewing tobacco in the States?

Just curious…

US of A

I’ve been in the States for about three months now, and I’ve learned:

  • to sharpen my “r”s, especially when introducing myself – I think “Clare” in an Australian accent sounds like “Clehhhhh…a”, so I am now “CleRR”, the American version of myself, who is about twenty pounds heavier because of the high fructose corn syrup in.. well, everything;
  • that the word “gig” is meaningless here;
  • that even by American standards, Vegas is regarded as a city full of trash-ed and trash-y people (think 24/7 deep-fried cheese sticks with ranch dipping sauce);
  • that America is a lot more classist that Australia, with a more clearly defined class structure, a much larger low/working class who are often severely or noticeably economically disadvantaged, and less movement between classes;
  • that college campuses turn into drunken orgies on the weekends, regardless of the drinking age, and that at 24, I seem to be the oldest undergrad on campus;
  • a different way to learn – as someone posted earlier, the classes here are five days a week and there’s a stack of small assignments throughout the semester; in my classes, participation is worth a fair amount, and often there’s an expectation of a weekly response (written, oral or online) to readings so you can’t get away with skipping readings like at home; the assignments are also less research-based and more critical, which is entirely different to the way I normally work; overall, I feel a bit like I’ve been sent back to high school, with the excitement over binge drinking, daily classes and these expectations of how to engage with coursework;
  • a lot about “the American dream” and “mythology – I’m taking three classes of American literature, two of which study the classics and the beginnings of an American identity, and another which is about contemporary African-American lit. I expected more blind patriotism, more active belief in the supriority of America as “land of the free, home of the brave” etc., but actually the idea of the American dream seems to be something existing only in the hopes of the citizens and maintained for the benefit of one another and as a facade for the rest of the world. It could just be that I’m here at a bad or unusual time (recession, support for the War here and abroad waning, Americans generally becoming more aware of the way they’re perceived) which has made everyone more disillusioned.

One of the most memorable things that has happened so far (I think it’s such a favourite because it seemed like it was a lived experience of a Bukowski novel, which is part of this “American mythology” that I had formulated before I came here): getting on a Greyhound to go into NYC and listening to the conversation of two women behind me. One of the women had just been released from prison, at which point they apparently provide a bus ticket to anywhere and forty dollars cash; this woman was going to meet up with her friends who had also been serving time. The women had only met at the bus station, so they didn’t really know each other, but they formed this kind of friendship based on a combination of mutual sympathy and bravado – they had both obviously lived somewhat rough lives. The ex-con got off the bus in Scranton, Pennsylvania (which is where they set the American version of “The Office”, to give some clue as to the type of town it is..), and I somehow got sucked into a conversation with a woman (different woman, same bus), and it went something like this:

Woman: So you mighta noticed I’m missin’ my bottom teeth.

Me: Oh, um, no, I hadn-

Woman: Well, y’see, I had these false ones, the real ones got knocked out years ago.

Me: Oh, right. Cool. (I remember saying that and then realizing it didn’t make sense).

Woman: But, I – I got soooo drunk last weekend. Oh man, I puked them up! But it’s okay ‘coz MedicAid (the US version of Medicare) will get me a new set. I was going to get them before I left, but.. nah, fuck it. I’m only going to visit my sister.

At least, that’s how I remember it. And that’s all that matters in the end.

Coupons for everything ….

Now this is new — Coupons that you redeem for CASH at clubs… there are two that I’ve seen in Edmonton and its insane that they give you money at the door, Hudsons is a 10min walk from my room and I can get 10 bucks every tues, fri and sat. Its $30 a week that I

Coupons are part of daily life in Canada

enjoy…. Apparently it is how they get around liquor laws cause they cant sell drinks too cheap.

Suncheon Bay and Korean Thanksgiving

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Suncheon is small and quiet town, located approx. 5 hours south by train from Seoul.

I came down here to spend the National holiday called Korean Thanksgiving (21st Sept-23rd Sept) with a genuine Korean family. My friend has been kind enough to invite him to spend this special time with his family and it was an opportunity that doesn’t come very often.

주석 (Chuseok) is the national Korean Thanksgiving holiday celebrating the arrival of autumn. It is a time where Family takes a bigger role in this movie we call ‘Our Lives’ (at least in Korea anyways :P). Traditionally, families will gather to perform Ancestral Rites (to respect our predecessors), spend time with each other, play games, dance, sing and eat lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots. (breathe*) And lots and lots of food.

So I took the road less travelled by, and that made all the difference.

For More info:


Ray K

Parking Space for Women – Korea Seoul

One of the things I found quite interesting is this Parking Spot reserved only for women. 😀
One of my friends said that it was to encourage and promote gender equality on women, since Korea is still a glass-ceiling society I think. Another said that it was courtesy.

What do you guys think? Is it necessary? It’s certainly a quite interesting idea to say the least.

Tommy23’s gallery

Strolling in Sitges

Walking around in the older parts of Sitges, a small town on the Spanish Mediterranean west of Barcelona, I was struck (as I had been before) by how different pre-automobile streets are from the ones I’m more familiar with in Australia and the US. How different to walk around in spaces that were not built to accommodate two lanes of traffic! I’m so used to urban space and even house design dominated by the needs of our machines that the shift in scale, distances between buildings, sharpness of turns, the distance that we can see — everything about the built environment — brings me a kind of odd happiness. The space makes me, as a pedestrian, feel like the centre of attention instead of an after-thought or interloper on what is really ‘car space.’ Even ‘pedestrian malls’ in the US and Australia are more like ‘temporarily taken away from cars’ spaces if they’re outdoors; no community seems convinced enough of the pedestrian nature of space to actually make streets that are physically impassable in vehicles.

I’m not convinced it’s a ‘cultural difference’ between Spain and Australia, but I know that the difference in space gives a very different feel to most activities, including shopping, dining outside, sight-seeing…