Bringing the learning home (Australian Learning & Teaching Council)

Time to reflect

Coming Home

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some memories from europe

My coming home is a bit different as I am not returning to Australia but after 4 months of traveling 3 of which were spent in Europe I am now returning to Victoria Canada to complete another semester of exchange. It feels really weird calling this home, but it really is. I managed to set up an apartment before I left which was really lucky to do, I am living with a friend near downtown its really nice and really cheap. It is surreal being back and I really miss all of my friends most of whom have returned back home after there exchange. Everything I see reminds me of them and all of the fun that we had. I have met up with the few people that are still here, my Canadian friends and international student which is great. I have met a few of the new “exchangers” but as I arrived at uni late, I have missed some of the orientations and activities.

UVic looks a lot different that I remember as well, for one, I have been here a week and have only seen blue skies and sunshine! Definitely not a complaint about that, I was worried it would be cold and raining as usual. But it is supposed to be the warmest week all summer, people are laying on the grass the fountain has been turned back on, its so nice. I am telling the other new exchanger to make the most of it because it wont last.

Classes started yesterday, I am so looking forward to it! i am doing French photography and American sign language.

I don’t really miss home now, I did at the start but my friend wrote me a letter every week and I was so busy, the busy traveling so i think i have been lucky to miss the home sickness. but I wouldn’t mind if they emailed me more!

Today my best friend Michelle is going to visit me for 2-3 weeks! i am so excited she will be the first person from home to visit 🙂 I have so many things planed and I know all of the good places to go now because this is my home. Tonight we are going to Olympic National Park and are going to hike to a hut on top of a mountain and sleep there 🙂 – I hope she is prepared….

My Europe trip was incredible, the highlights were the 2-3 weeks I spent working on a farm in Ardeche France, my french improved so much! and I loved it there, hitch hiking around France and Switzerland, hiking in the Swiss alps, rock climbing in the black forest Germany, my 2 weeks in the Netherlands with the awesome dutch guy I met in uvic and visiting all of my new European friends thanks to the exchange!

That’s about it for now, I will post pictures when I can,


Home again

I leave within the month to return to Australia. I have this acceptance that I have to leave. I want to go home, but I wouldn’t mind if I stayed here for another 6 months.
It’s strange for me to explain how I feel. It’s not like homesickness where I would cry and feel sorry for being in such a stupid town in stupid old Germany full of stupid people with stupid ancient buildings.
Now I just feel like, I know what it’s like to live in Bavaria. (I say Bavaria because it is the richest state in Germany) and I think I’d be happier in Australia.
Although, “happier” might mean angrier too. Here I’ve been completely devoid of notions of politics and stupid politicians. Recently I’ve been catching up on Australia and my god, is there a lot of things I’ll have to get involved in when I get home. Not the least getting a big sticker that says, “Failure O’Farrell”
But I also like the way I’ve seen how different things are here and how they should maybe be implemented back home. I have this feeling that from seeing how other people do things I can make my country better.
I don’t know, it is this strange sort of patriotism. I think that Australia is one of the best countries in the world, and I’ve seen some examples on how to make it better.
I’m afraid of that “I’m not from here anymore” response to returning. I don’t want it to be like that. I want to be able to just go back to the familiar.
Don’t get me wrong. Things aren’t strange and unfamiliar here, not anymore. It’s just that I feel I’d be happier with the stuff I’ve been familiar with for 20 years than what I’ve been familiar with for 6 months. I know,, it’s not really a fair time to compare, I also want to come back here later in life, but right now I feel like I could be accomplishing more back in Australia.
Who knows…

P.S. I also really miss sandwiches/salads/small lunches. Here a hot, cooked lunch is really common. Took me a while to notice that, but the “Mensa” or cafeteria has mostly only warm dishes, and everyone seems to think it is normal… I also miss our type of bread. I can live with bread here, but it’s mostly a choice of sourdough or really crappy “America bread” which is stale, preservative ridden, horrible tasting bread that looks like what you can get in Australia. I also am a bit of a food snob, so I can’t wait to walk into Woolies and have such selection of brands I know and fruit and veg from the next state not South America (not that it’s a problem, I just like buying Aussie grown) and I won’t miss the ability to know where all my food comes from (here nothing is labelled unless it’s something from Aldi that they sell in Aus). Probably only 3 foodstuffs I will miss from here are Kaiserbrotchen, Spatzle and Chocolate. Beer and it’s quality and diversity and cheapness is also a problematic farewell.

Culture Shock: Australian Edition

I recently returned from three months living and studying abroad in the current economic shambles that is the country of Greece.

Having travelled extensivly and lived abroad before I presumed this return would be like no other, sure I would be sad for a day or two but would get back into the flow of things quickly like an professional traveller.


For some reason this return has been the hardest and I was not sure why.

This was only three months away, last time I was abroad living in Ireland for seven.

I knew I had limited time in Greece due to visa restrictions, so it wasn’t a surprise I was asked nicely to leave once those three months were up.

I was looking forward to seeing my family and friends and the beautiful country which I realised I loved more than I let on.

Yet something had gone wrong this time and I fell into a pit of sadness and had a mini depressive episode the first few weeks back.

I realised that whilst my family were pleased to see me, many friends had moved on or where busy or lived in differing corners of the globe now.

Being the constant traveller makes you extremely popular on social networking sites such as Facebook where everyone claims to live vicariously through your travels, but it makes for a pretty lousy physical relationship, with many wary of putting in a lot of effort when im potentially going to run away again to some other distant land anytime soon.

Those that I have seen have helped make the transition smoother, especially my best friend. It doesn’t matter how long we go without seeing each other nothing changes and we still have the best time.

I had applied to two internships before I came home so that the re entering of Perth would be easier, both of which I found out I did not succeed in getting.

I finally found a part time job which is lovely and has deffinatly helped in regards to finances, but something is missing still.

Two of my best friends currently still live in Greece, and it is often with a pang of jealousy that I Skype with them with their tanned skin, sunny weather and hilarious stories of the daily trials of Greek life.

Whilst in the current situation I dont have a pressing desire to be living in Greece again, I have come to the conclusion that right now Australia does not hold the answer. And that I need to continue my searches for jobs and experiences elsewhere.

I also had a terrible headache for the first week and a half which I realised was my body going through caffeine with drawls from the amount of coffee and frappes I was consuming daily in Greece.

It was also hard to get up before 12pm in the day, and eating dinner at 6pm was also eerily strange, as that was normally coffee time not dinner time!

In saying all of this things are better now, I have been home a month and have really enjoyed spending quality time with my family and catching up with friends. I am still struggling to find any work or work experience or internships in journalism/public relations but am becoming more upbeat and positive again.

I think the change of weather (well in three months when spring arrives and winter ends) shall be good and I’m starting new activities and volunteering in an effort to re inspire myself and feel as though I have a purpose being back here in Perth (study doesn’t count, its like having a job you dont get paid for 🙂 )

To all of the other returning study abroaders I hope your transition home is much much smoother than mine was this time and that the reverse culture shock of returning home does not last too long.

The re entering culture shock as bad as it has been this time around, I certainly would not change the experiences and friendships that I made in Greece and would readily go through it again in a heart beat.


Coming home


Some of you will be beginning to think about returning home – if you’re lucky, after some more time travelling before you get here.

How do you feel about the return – nervous? apprehansive? exultant? can’t wait? We hope it has been an awesome and inspiring time away, but also that you will continue to share your thoughts with us once you get back to Australia.

We will be offering you the chance to capitalise on your time away through re-entry workshops back on campus, and hope to see you all there, sharing your thoughts and learning how to make the most of your experiences once you’re back – whether that’s in an educational or a professional or a life setting.

If you find you feel a bit like a fish out of water once you’re back, remember that transition is a great opportunity for growth. Enjoy!

Keep blogging – your posts have been wonderful. And don’t forget, there are cash prizes for students from each campus for photographs and reflections – details on the blog.


BULA from Fiji!!!

As I look through this blog I see so much snow, cosy jackets and other signs of freezing weather. While most other exchange students have to deal with acclimatising to the cold of the northern hemisphere, I’m slowly getting accustomed to the sweaty temperature of the tropics. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to actually believe that I’m studying in Fiji.

When boarding the plane to Fiji I was surrounded by honeymoon couples and families already wearing their sarongs and sunglasses, ready for the usual one to two week holiday to this beautiful country. When asked by other passengers how long I was staying, I still remember the shocked looks I got when I said I was staying in Fiji for five months. Before I left people just could not understand that there was more to Fiji than palm trees and cocktails. The most common response I got was “is there really a university in Fiji?” Yes, the University of the South Pacific and what an amazing university it is. Each and every day that I am here I am realising that this is one of the most fascinating places to study.  The University of the South Pacific is extremely unique as it is a regional university. This means that there are not only students here from Fiji but students from the other 12 partner countries. These countries include Cook Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Samoa. It still gets confusing trying to figure out which countries all my friends come from (and I learnt very quickly to make sure not to mix up Samoans and Tongans).

It is so amazing to study development in a country described as ‘developing’, surrounded by students from all over the region. In the very first ‘Geography and Development in the Pacific’ class I had, the lecturer told us that for our research project we had to do our own research. He gave the example that we could go to the squatter settlement just 200 meters from the classroom. Literally I can almost see a squatter settlement (and also the ocean) from my classroom.

One day I was sitting with a close Samoan friend talking about marriage and weddings. She casually stated that she wanted to wait until her father had passed away before she got married. I was shocked at the casual way she said this and asked her why. I ended up finding out that she is the daughter of a head Samoan chief who is also the associate Minister of Health in the national parliament. Because of this her wedding would be like a national event. She explained to me just some of the complex rituals that would have to take place. Sitting on the floor of the dorm at midnight just chatting to these Samoan girls was probably the most interesting anthropology lesson I have ever had.

One of the best things about this university is the field trips. The most memorable one so far has been a three day village trip for my “Agriculture and nutrition in the developing world’ class. The first day of the trip we spent stopping along the way to visit different commercial and subsistence farms. It was so fascinating as I have never learnt much about agriculture and what a better way to learn then standing in a hot (never been so hot in my entire life) cassava field with a farmer, in the interior of Fiji. Arriving at Lutu village and meeting the family I was staying with was so wonderful. The next day I spent the morning with the elderly women of the village as they taught us how they weave mats. It included collecting the pandanus leaves, scrapping of the hard edges, drying, boiling the leaves, drying them again, smoothing them, cutting and then finally beginning to weave. They also explained to us the importance of the mats and how much they mean to women in Fiji. That afternoon one of the men in the village took a friend and I to his dalo (taro) plot, were we helped him dig up some dalo for dinner. Later that night us students held a cultural performance night. It was amazing to see dances from Tonga, Kirribati, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Fiji and French Canada, and they were all people in my class… Amazing! Throughout the time we were there they were always trying to explain to us about their livelihood and culture. They were so proud and content about their lives. I learnt once again that communities like these are the ones with so much wisdom. They live life the way it was meant to be lived. They in many ways are developed, we are the underdeveloped.

I realise that there are three things that are important to Fijians; Kava, Rugby and Church. What surprised me at the beginning was that Islanders can be very shy especially around international students. Many presume (and sometimes they are right) that the international students are more than happy to stay together and they are shocked when you actually show interest that you want to do more than just be acquaintances. Some of the highlights of the exchange experience is the moment were you transfer from being that Australian exchange student to being part of the group. And every time that it has happened, it has been while doing one of the three things mentioned above.  Yesterday I was playing a game of touch rugby with some friends and like usually failing pretty badly. Then it was announced that due to the fact that we had been playing for so long, the sun had almost disappeared and that no one was bothering to score that whatever team scored next would be the winners.  The game went on and I was trying so hard not to completely stuff it up for my team, as the guys especially were getting extremely competitive.  As  I was concentrating on the guy who I was meant to be defending I surprised everyone (including myself) by intercepting the ball and charging towards the try line (or the invisible line between a pair of thongs and a fallen coconut :)). Unfortunately my little legs couldn’t run fast enough and I was touched before I scored. But as I turned around every player was on the ground in hysterical laughter because I took everyone by surprised. As I left to go home every single one of them, including all the guys shook my hand and high fived me saying goodbye Katie. Suddenly I was no longer the white girl, I was Katie.

Kava is also a massive, massive thing in Fiji. Approximately 10 kava ceremonies down and I still cannot understand what is the huge appeal of drinking dirty looking water that taste revolting and makes your mouth go numb. But I’m slowly learning to block out the horrible taste and enjoy the amazing discussions and moments that occur around a Kava bowl.

Sometimes I feel like exchange is a bit like a balancing act. I’m still trying to figure out how to balance study and all the other things an exchange experience has to offer. Some weekends I choose to stay back in Suva to finish an essay and not go travelling with the other international students. I feel sometimes that I will end up regretting studying when I could be snorkelling on an island. But other times I realise how much I am learning and that studying human rights in the common room with a girl from Tonga and another from Vanuatu is experiencing the true life of a university student in Fiji. Other times it also is a balancing act between working hard to build friendships with Fijian and regional students or hanging out with the other international students. Sometimes I feel guilty that I am spending too much time with the other international students and therefore I am missing out on other cultural experiences. Then I realise that spending time with the other international students, who are mostly from the USA can be at times more of a cultural experience than hanging out with friends who live in Suva. I’ve learnt so much about Americans while I am here. Some of them I love and others are so different from me in their attitudes and goals for their time in Fiji.  I’ve actually begun a list of crazy things other international students have said. At the top of my list and my current favourites are “is Wales in New Zealand?” and “Katie, why don’t you have an Australian accent?” (still don’t understanding what accent they think I have).

One of the biggest things I have had to adjust to is what is commonly referred to as “Fiji Time”. As a person who is usually pretty punctual, it has taken a while to actually force myself not to be on time to things. But still I seem to rush to the place I need to be, overtaking about 100 people to get there on time, realise that I’m in Fiji and no other Fijians are yet to arrive. Then I wait around for half an hour or more. But then occasionally something will start on time and all the Fijians are there on time. I still haven’t figured out when a set time is a vague suggestion and when it actually is going to start on time.  Luckily it never really bothers me too much and is really teaching me the true meaning of patience.

Another 3 important things to islanders are family, laughter and generosity. One of my favourite things to do is go to the cinema in Suva to watch a movie. I don’t go just to take advantage of the $3.50 prices but to hear the Fijians hysterically laugh. Even in the most serious movies they still find moments to laugh at. I also have had to stop complementing my friends on their appearances or one of their belongings. I’ve already got a collection of bracelets, necklaces, a fan and even offered a shirt all because the moment you say you like it they take it off and hand it to you and no matter how many times you offer it back they won’t except it.

I like a recent comment made by another exchange student- “Fiji softens the heart and hardens your feet!”. I’m only half way through my exchange but already know that Fiji and the lessons I have learnt here will always be a part of me

Feels like home

It is hard to describe but this now feels like home. Especially now when the classes are dying down and i have time to read in the morning (not a text book or study but just for fun), i have time to do more normal things that i would do at home. Tonia often asked if we have ever felt like a fish out of water. i do not think that i ever felt that way, often i forget that i am an exchange student, i forget that my friends are as well. they do have accents obviously but i dont attribute them to countries but rather to the person if that makes any sense. There have been some “final” things, such as the farewell dinner and the last church dinner. there is a church that feeds about 400 students every Tuesday night, awesome! So the reality that we are leaving is sinking in. Everyone is trying to make plans to hang out during the exam period and after. I will be going camping with 3 of the girls here, Stephanie, Iris and Pernille. i am really looking forward to our little retreat in the middle of this hectic time. when i go home i want to get away more and explore more of the beautiful things around Wollongong that i have taken for granted.

i also love the community here, i am living with like 20 of my new best friends. I know that this is not the real world and i think that is a shame that people don’t live in such environments anymore, well at least in the instances that i have seen. for example people don’t even know their neighbors! I really enjoy being able to show up at any time to someones door and ask them if the want to get a coffee or lunch with me. Where you don’t have to arrange a specific time or a specific place and write it in the diary 2 weeks in advance.

Home sickness—i haven’t really had it much thank goodness! last time i went away i did get home sick and it is a horrible feeling. But then again i have only been gone what … 3 months? only 10 to go… =\ I do miss everyone of course! Sometimes i wake up and forget where i am, especially when the person in the room next to me has the same alarm as my brother whom i sleep in the room next to at home. so i think, oh scott is getting up to go to work… oh wait he isnt here. My 3 good friends at home, Phuong, Sam and Dan write me letters, Phuong does every week! and i love getting them, makes me feel like i am not forgotten 🙂 i write back obviously and it will be very interesting to read them when i get back. Like a journal of my trip. I have the best friends ever! i dont think that she will be able to write to me when i am traveling through europe though, but i will still write to them.

The weather is getting warmer! more sunny days and it is up to 11 degrees today! makes such a difference.

After exams i am going to the east coast (montreal, toronto, NY ect) for a month, then i will go to europe untill 2nd of september when i will return to UVic for another session. I am a bit intimidated by planning such a massive holiday! I really need to start organising it, and it feels weird organising it when i am not at home in Oz. Also i have to organise my funds really well! i am used to working more when i am going to be going on a holiday, but here i cant! i just need to budget. At times like these i am glad that i am not a girly girly, as i can save a lot of money but hating shopping 😀

I am still getting A’s in Astronomy and i actually passed my French test yesterday!!! SOO excited, it is pretty hard! i have to do a dialog in French tomorrow, i just got help on my pronunciation…. hmm but worried!

Last weekend i went on a massive bike ride. my friend and I rode about…25km then couch surfed at a really nice guys house, he is a full on vegan lives in a trailer is an anarchist and loves animals. When i saw his profile i was a bit hesitant but when i talked to him on the phone he was lovely. And when we met him he cooked us dinner – all from dumpster dived food! (he also taught us some of the good places to go dumpster diving, so we tried it and go some fruit!) so cool and we played awesome game called carcassone. i won twice :p Then next day we went up to the potholes, my friend went swimming in glacial water – he is a bit special. This area was amazing! and great to see on a bike! lakes and river and forests and horses. at one point along the galloping goose (the name of the bike track) there was a pony pulling a cart with 2 people in it and my friend was racing the pony! it was awesome! unfortunately i did not get a picture 😦

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Re Entry into Australian Life: Reverse Culture Shock

Hey all,

It’s been my first week back at UOW this week and I found myself a little scared to be back! So much had changed and was different and yet so much was still the same! Every now and again I find myself thinking “I’m homesick.” I had this really weird moment the other day, where I was sorting through my UK photos for printing and I thought “I miss being home.” Huh? Was? Ich wohne nicht in London/Scotland/Wales. But it doesn’t matter, I’m still homesick.

I was thinking about what was discussed at the ‘welcome back’ session with Tonia, and I can definitely say that I feel like a bit of a hybrid of an Australian and a British girl now. As I posted on my personal blog, “I love Australia. I love the bush. I love the sun. I love my friends. I love to write Australian bushland poetry and I love going to The National Park for swims and picnics. I even love the song ‘I am Australian’, in particular these stanza’s:

I’m the teller of stories
I’m the singer of songs
I’m Albert Namajira
And I paint the ghostly gums
I’m Clancy on his horse
I’m Ned Kelly on the run
I’m the one who waltzed Matilda
I am Australian.

I’m the hot winds of the desert
I’m the black soils of the plain
I’m the mountains and the valleys
I’m the droughts and flooding rains
I am the rock, I am the sky,
The rivers when they run
The spirit of this great land
I am Australian.

But see the UK and Ireland have my family and they have the culture we don’t have.”

I decided in light of how I’m feeling at the moment I’ll sum up the things I liked best about the UK using pictures.

1. Seeing real snow for the first time and understanding the meaning of ‘proper cold.’

A day trip to Loch Ness

Stuck in a snow storm without an umbrella in London.

2. Meeting my relatives overseas in both Ireland and England for the first time!

3. My flatmates and our weird and wonderful adventures.

Halloween at Flat 12!

4. The history and culture in the UK

All those old buildings and churches were so awesome. One fond memory is of my American flat mate and I doing a guided tour of Lancaster castle with a truly creepy guide who seemed ghoulishly obsessed with death. On the entertainment front, I went to the theatre four times when I was in the UK itself! That’s a play a month! I couldn’t help it. The tickets were so much more affordable then back home and I loved the atmostphere. And after all, who wouldn’t have fun trying to explain the three hour plot of Les Miserables in London’s West End to their Chinese flat mate throughout the entire performance without annoying everyone around us?

My two play Guides. One for Hamlet and one for Season’s Greetings with some of the cast’s autographs.

5. Real Christmas Markets.

Market and fair in Edinburgh, Scotland. I took this on the actual ferris wheel.

It’s funny. When I got towards the end of my trip in the UK I was so homesick and just wanted to come home to Australia. After a week or two I instantly wanted my travelling life back! Anyone else going through this?

Pa pa, Polska!

It’s the night before I leave Krakow and finish up my exchange experience. Obviously it’s time for a quick reflection.

I didn’t enjoy the university aspect of exchange much, I’ll be honest. I got through two subjects without reading a single academic article or piece of writing – I managed to write entire presentations and exams using Wikipedia and lecture notes alone. And to me, that is a complete joke and should never happen. Other classes I didn’t even bother turning up to because they were boring, because no one did the readings, because no one took attendance and it wasn’t mandatory and I didn’t feel obliged to sit through two hours of an old, fat jolly man enjoying the sound of his own voice while really teaching nothing we couldn’t really in a Norman Davies book.

And because I didn’t get the classes I’d organised to enrol in before I left Australia, my timetable ended up being five days a week, with the one class that attendance was taken for – Polish – being on Mondays and Fridays. No weekends away for me, really, I just skipped a couple of classes here and there but at the end of the day, I had to study and I had to pass. And again, it wasn’t terribly fun and sometimes I feel like I almost wasted my time here because I’ve only been to 6 countries, including Poland.

But 6 countries is still a lot more than a lot of other 20-year-olds I know at home have seen. How many 20-year-old Aussies can say they’ve hiked up Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh,  have best friends in Hungary and Slovenia, touched the Berlin Wall, seen Manchester United play at Old Trafford, enjoyed the charm of Stockholm’s Gamla Stan or – more to the point – managed to stumble through four months of living in a still somewhat developing post-communist country where they didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language and had never been to before?

Not a bad effort, in my books. I wouldn’t come back to Poland to study again, and I don’t know if I’d come here to work in anything other than an EU-sponsored or funded job because organisation and bureaucracy is terrible here. But I hope there’s an infinite amount of visits to this incredible city in my future.

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave – but it’s not my home.


Been a while since the last blog, I think I was ranting about my Brazilian VISA experience, which worked out thank goodness. I did go to Brazil for winter break and had a wonderful time with my best friend and her family, that is definitely something I will not forget any time soon. Back at UMass Amherst now and I have four-ish months left of my experience here and I’m starting to miss home, everything about home, my friends and family and the feeling that I really belong. As soon as I got back to UMass and class started again it was evident that this semester was going to be different from the last. I had close friends leave to continue their adventures and other friends let me down when I needed them. I had tried so hard to make this the best experience I could that I wanted America to be my home. But it’s not my home, it’s not the place where people love and care for me and help me through tough times, Australia is and I had forgotten that. Thankfully my sister is arriving for a visit later this week and I’m going to have two crazy busy weekends ahead of me, one in Boston and one in New York City. Then later in March my parents are arriving to visit me and have a little American experience of their own.

I don’t want to seem like I regret going on exchange, I don’t at all but I do have to admit I was a little bit too cocky about how I would cope over here. Bad shit happens everywhere, no matter who you are or where you are and exchange isn’t going to be all fun times and happiness, especially not for 9 months straight. So my best advice for pending and current exchange students is don’t forget where you are from, don’t get caught up in a swirl of new things and forget about home because eventually you have to go back home and it should feel good.

Student Today, Husky Forever

Even though I have only been home for a month, it seems like a lifetime since I left the University of Connecticut on a very, very cold day. Summing up a week is hard enough, so 5 months is all but impossible! Instead, I will write about some of the things that I learnt that stuck with me.

Firstly, there were the little things that were different to Australia that I simply did not think of, but made a lot of difference. Driving on the opposite side, not a problem, but crossing roads defiantly did! The first night my 2 friends and I arrived in LA, we decided to walk down to Dennys (best restaurant ever). After standing at the traffic lights, having a chat, for AGES, we were soon embarrassed to discover that in LA the ‘walk’ signal doesn’t make a noise, so we had missed about 3 goes, because we weren’t paying attention! It may seem insignificant, but I can still clearly remember it, 6 months on! Being a western country, I had naively assumed that everything would be the same as in Australia. Boy, was I wrong. And don’t even get me started on tipping! 5 months later, and I’m still not 100% sure of the proper way to do it.

Next up, adapting. While for the first couple of days I felt like a fish out of water, by the end of my stay, I was an unofficial American. I adapted really quickly to all the little things that would make my life easier. With limited funds and no one but yourself looking out for you, you have to! I also started saying ‘bunch’ instead of ‘heaps’ and ‘chug’ instead of ‘skull’, just to make my life easier when the Americans had no idea what I was saying.

I cannot write about my stay in America without mentioning School Spirit. At UConn, there is a slogan written all over the place ‘Student today, Husky forever’, and that is how I feel. Long after leaving there, I will still be a Husky, and I have all the merchandise to go with it! On any given day, half the students would be wearing UConn clothing, on game day, this would go up to 99%. The basketballers were famous around College, people would literally go up to them and ask for photos. The Co-Op sold UConn branded EVERYTHING, from Christmas decorations to dog collars to baby clothes. UConn wasn’t just our school, it was our life.

By the end of my trip, I was feeling homesick, and I was ready to go home. After 1 week back in Australia but, I was already missing everything about the place that had been my home for the last 5 months, and the best 5 months of my life. Exchange was the best thing I have ever done, and the experience will stay with me for life.

On the Road home

My semester abroad is now coming to end, with exactly 14days left until I have to get on that long haul flight back to OZ.

Its exam time here in Bath. Which I am finding quite odd. Classes finished about 5 days before christmas, students are given 3 weeks off and then into exams. If I was to be continuing on for another semester, I would only have a one week break before starting the next semester. I much prefer our univeristy system, it just seems to make more sense! (although the 3 week break over christmas did allow for ample travel time! Spain was gorgeous!)

I spent the christmas town hopping, 3 or so days in different towns around the UK with friends from uni and also friends who were on exchange in Australia last year. A cold christmas felt a tad odd, although it did feel more ‘ traditionally christmas’ or what christmas seems like in all the films anyway! But it felt pretty weird without my family and friends and the beach! although we did manage to get in some snow cricket on christmas day just for my benefit.

Having exams right before I finish my semester abroad has made it incredibly hard to see everyone before I fly out. But making sure I see everyone has made me realise just how many amazing people I’ve met over here. From england, europe, and even some new aussie mates. My english friends have taken me under their wing completely and where at the beginning of the semester I was introduced as “the token Aussie”.. I’ve now recieved “oz” instead of Erin as a nickname.  My sports team were even going to see if they could get uni funding for me to come back to italy in april for their beach tour! (unfortunately its not going to happen 😦  ) I’ve managed to convince some friends from some of my classes to do placement in the southern hemisphere, with some scattered over Aus and a  few in NZ, just gives me an excuse to go and see more of the world closer to home ( I have most definately got the travel bug!)

This 6 months has gone so fast, and yet at the same time it feels like so long ago that I was in Wollongong. Leaving Bath is going to be Bittersweet as i’m excited to go home, but also sad to leave. But yesterday when I packed up a box to send home (mainly consisting of a winter wardrobe) I thought about just how amazing this expereince has been.
Not only have I made friends from around the world and seen 16 countries,but i’ve seen snow for the first time, had a cold christmas,  learnt how to cook, tried new sports, survived a long distance relationship and minus temperatures! I’ve even been able to reccomend places and travel spots to other people. I’ve had a snow day, town hopped the UK, met reletives on the other side of the world, experienced homesickness, stood on a frozen lake and represented my country as we lost the rugby and the ashes and loved every minute of it all! I’ve even started hearing english accents as normal and australian accents as incredibly odd! (when they pop up on tv or on the street)

When I was organising my exchange trip, I met another girl from Wollongong who was also coming to Bath, we even discoverd we have a lot of close friends back home. Having her here with me in Bath has been so wonderful. Not only did it give me a travel buddy, but also a cooking partner and someone to talk about home with. She was there when I had some family troubles, and also when we both had boy troubles back home it was great to have someone to talk to.

Obviously procrastination has kicked in at its best with this long post.. But a few photos from awesome times here.

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Ultimate Frisbee Banter (post game fun with the other team, more important then the actual game itself :P), My frisbee team making it to nationals, First snow, SQUIRREL!, setting up the christmas tree,  At the top of Barcelona, amazing friends from uni, standing on the frozen lake, making it to the uni for the very first time!

Going home

For those of you who are wondering if you can keep blogging once you go home – yes yes yes! there is so much you can share with us all once you get home – please keep it up. And if you get a little homesick for the places you have left behind, the blog might help you keep in touch.

For those of you staying on for a second semester – lucky you! It will be interesting to see how/whether your perceptions start to shift now you feel REALLY at home and comfortable in your no-longer-new environment

Thank you all for your great contributions this semester – it has been fantastic!


Got Snow?.

I feel terrible that this is my first entry here and its my last week on exchange. I think others can probably relate to this as well, but I am finding that it is only as I’m getting closer to leaving that I have the time to look back and really reflect on my experience on exchange.

Think you've got snow? My friend Alex's message to her sister in the UK

I am meant to be studying but I thought I would just write to you quickly then do back to studying coz I thought this was worth sharing. I was just doing some study procrastination and looking at the uni website from home and it came up in the news feed that this girl from Alaska that is on exchange at Wollongong has won a prize from Austrade or somewhere for a video she made about her exchange experience in Australia (to promote Study in Australia). So I’ve just spent the last five or so minutes watching it and the end is just her talking about how she will miss everyone and how it will be so much harder leaving than it ever was coming. Then I just got incredibly sad. Not for her, obviously, and not coz the video is about home, but in terms of my own experience in Canada. I have less than a week before I leave, and a few of my friends have started to leave already. Its kind of surreal because it doesnt feel like its actually the end already. Many of my international friends are staying for the year, so they are going home for a couple of weeks for Christmas then coming back. So it feels strange saying goodbye knowing that some of us are leaving and some of us will be back next semester. I’m sitting in one of the U of A’s many libraries at the moment attempting to study for a final, and I asked the girl next to me a moment ago if she would mind watching my stuff while I went and grabbed my printing. And all she said was “for sure” and smiled, but to be honest, I felt really upset. What many of my friends and I have noticed her is that Canadians say “for sure” a lot more than they say “eh”. So I couldn’t help but smile as I walked over to get my printing. I love Canada.

On another note, yesterday there was a snow storm so in many places, the snow was knee deep. It was crazy; something that I don’t think I will ever get used to. Even though its minus 15 on average here most days at the moment, the cold and the snow hasn’t lost its novelty value (even the one day we had where it was minus 33!). So I thought I would post a couple of photos from yesterday, where some of my friends and I went and mucked around in the snow outside our residence building. One of my friends in the photo, Chris, is actually from UOW too but we didn’t meet til I got here. It was really fun to share that with him yesterday because I think we both found the concept of that much snow a really strange one to get used to.


It’s been four months now.

I’ve seen so much of this place. Made a lot of friends, a lot of memories, seen and done things I would never ever have imagined.

This is much like the story of every exchange student, I would imagine, but to me, it feels special.

As I find myself nearing the end of my stay here in Umeå, Sweden, I feel like a little reflection is in order:

Actually, I’ve spent more time on my various trips around Europe than here in Umeå. Just got back from a trip further north at 1am today. I’m writing this blog now rather than later since I’m leaving again for another trip around Europe in a couple of days. Tiredness is no longer a problem, just a fact of life.

So far I have visited a whole lot of Sweden, plus bits of other countries like Poland, Finland (twice), Norway (thrice), Russia, Italy, Switzerland, France and Monaco, with plans to see Spain and Germany as well as Italy and France again before I leave – in a month.

I’ve been roaming around with friends I made here, friends from just about every country in the world (in fact I’m convinced Sweden has more Germans than Swedes). I have a bunch of Swedish friends as well, of course, but they are not so interested in such touristy activities…

One thing that you notice when travelling with non-native English speakers is that many will call just about anywhere “home”. Instead of “let’s go back to the hotel where we are staying for one night”, it’s “let’s go home”. Of course I don’t feel at home in that hotel, it’s just the place we sleep. In this case I usually try to correct people (which some really appreciate, more than others).

There is one case, though, when I don’t feel that this is a mistake; When people say we are going “home” as we return to Umeå, then I am inclined to agree with them. I do feel like I’m coming home. This feels like home.

The snow; the cold; the sun that we never see, and the beautiful skies by which we know it is still there; this tiny little room; my curtains that I found in a dumpster – held open by a coathanger; riding my bike across the frozen lake; cooking my own food in my own shared kitchen; my housemates, about whom I know nothing, not even their names (as is the Swedish way); the times when I find myself thinking “$5 Australian, what’s that in crowns?”; the big dirty factory next door, whose smoky beacon guides me safely home from any place in town at any hour of night…

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All of it. It’s home.

Unknown waters

I took this picture while I was in Boracay (Phillipines) earlier this year. I think it captures my feelings towards my exchange trip (now exactly 5 weeks away) as I am going to set sail away from the known and into the unknown so to speak. I often look to one of my favourite quotes by Mark Twain, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

New guys on the block


For those of you already on exchange, the next group of students is about to join you – already we have had a post ( thank you Wollongong!) from some one in pre-departure mode, and there will be more to follow as Murdoch and Macquarie students join in. For those just getting involved – you will receive an invitation from Greg Downey at Macquarie to join the WordPress blog (that’s us), and after you accept it, you will be able to register and log in to OzStudentsAbroad. Before that point, you can add comments to any one else’s posts, but you can’t actually start a new post…

Now we have people both in country and about to depart from Australia – do you new guys have any questions you would like answered ? You have the perfect opportunity to quiz people in the very countries – maybe at the very schools – you are about to visit.

And for those of you who have been away for a while – is there anything you really wish someone had told you before you came? something you absolutely have to share with new comers? Advice on accommodation/ clothing/ friends/ habits and customs/food/ public transport/relationships … can’t think where to stop really! Maybe you have accumulated junk you don’t want to take back but which you might like to pass on? books and texts? we could get an online international swap mart happening! It would all be useful and all in the name of making the experience better all round.

So – now is the time to get into the blog in a more interactive way – maybe get some conversations happening and make some connections.


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

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


According to Aldous Huxley, ‘Experience isn’t what happens to you; it is what you make of what happens to you’. What are you making of your experience, do you think?

Campus life

How are you feeling in the classroom? Is it anything like what you expected? How is the classroom experience different? How do teaching and learning approaches differ? Is the standard more or less difficult than at home? Why do you think these differences exist and what do they tell you about this new culture – and your own??

Meeting the locals

What are you doing to acclimatise? Are you meeting local students or are you more comfortable hanging out with other international students? What sorts of things are helping you find your feet? What aspects of being away from home are you finding most challenging?

Fish out of water?

Are you starting to feel ‘at home’ or do you feel a LONG way from home? What sorts of things make you homesick? What are you missing most – people, friends, sounds, sights, smells, food? What sorts of things make you REALLY aware you are a long way from home? How are you dealing with this?