If you’ve come to this page, you might be looking for more information about the Bringing the Learning Home project or inspiration from our students on adding reflection to a study abroad or international exchange program. We’ve stopped adding new posts to Oz Students Abroad for the time being. Jan, Tonia and Greg have gone back to their day jobs, and we’re not enrolling more students right now.
That said, the curriculum that we’ve developed is now available. As I write this, we’re finalizing design on ten curriculum modules to supplement study abroad, including teacher’s manuals, resources for students, slideshows, video examples of the workshops being run, and other resources. All of that material is available, free to download and adapt to your uses through a Creative Commons license, at the Bringing the Learning Home project website. Just click on the Learning and Teaching Resources to find the whole list of what’s available.
Good luck with your international exchange or study abroad, or with helping to administer study abroad programs! We’ve had a great time doing this project and hope that you find it useful.
Greg, Tonia and Jan
10 days later it was time to leave the mountains. My bag was full of delicious jam, pickles and bread that I had helped make. I left on Sunday night, with a lift through carpooling.co.uk. A man called Viktor was driving from Villach to Bratislava, and I managed to get a lift to Vienna for only 10 Euros! (the train was 50 Euros). I was feeling pretty tired, as I had had a late night and a few drinks the night before. I was looking forward to listening to my music, staring out the window and perhaps having a little nap. Not if Viktor had anything to do about it. Viktor was a very inquisitive man, he could speak 7 languages and was thirsty for knowledge. He made it his mission to get out all the information I had on Australia. This involved 1000’s of questions ranging from what were some famous Australian icons/celebrities/brands/foods; the metric system; the Australian dollar; house prices; Australians’ average annual income; the distance between capital cities; the population and demographics; the weather… and the list continues. I had to make up a few things, but I’m sure he checked everything I said when he got home anyway. He had little interest for the 3 other Austrian passengers sitting squashed up in the back of the car. I guess there was probably nothing about Austria that he didn’t already know.
A small kite festival I stumbled upon on a Sunday walk
I got back to my miniature flat in the student residence where I was staying. The hospital-like interior and grey atmosphere didn’t bother me at all, I was just happy to be away from the endless Australia-related questions. However the contrast between the mountains and city was felt straight away, and I immediately missed the fresh air and happy little routine that I had had. The next day I started my 2 week intensive German class. I found out why it was called intensive. 4 hours of German a day, for 10 days. Intense.
A lot of the other students in the class where European, and had experience at learning other languages, at least by learning English and in some cases other languages too. It makes me angry that Australian schooling is so lax at teaching foreign languages. There is a certain arrogance at thinking that because English is a dominant language that no others are useful. I understand that because Australia is so far away from everywhere it is difficult for students to practice the languages that they are learning, but I still think that it is a skill that every brain should have to concur. And they say that it’s much easier for children to pick up new languages. I struggled initially in the German class, and felt that I was behind the students in picking up the language. I don’t know if it was because I didn’t have any experience at learning a language, or that I had other things on my mind at the time, or simply if languages were not my strong point. However, it did get a little easier. The class became a lot more enjoyable as everyone got to know each other. We even went out for drinks a few times, and would chat in the breaks about our troubles and successes in our new homes.
We learnt a lot in the two weeks. Everyday I could understand more and more German words written on advertisements; in the metro; on street signs; or spoken in the street. It was really useful learning the numbers, as I began to know how much my shopping cost at the vegetable market; which meant that I didn’t have to guess or always hand over way too money just to be on the safe side.
Me at the fruit and veggie market outside the metro station near my house. Much cheaper and fresher and friendlier than the supermarket.
During my first two weeks in Vienna I wasn’t so happy. After my busy and fun time in the mountains the realisation that I was all alone in a big foreign city hit me. I have traveled a lot in the past, but always with friends. This makes the difficulties that you come across not such big dilemmas, as they are shared with others and solved together. Now I was the one solely in charge of the map (not my strong point) and getting lost was a frequent occurrence. I was really missing my friends, family and lover back home, and was wondering why I had chosen to come and live on the other side of the world from them. Small things, like washing my clothes or getting my film developed, became difficult tasks. I knew it would get easier as it all became more familiar, but I still felt lost and frustrated a lot of the time.
Lets start at the beginning – the always enjoyable flight from Perth to Europe. The best part of the journey was probably wondering around Dubai Airport in a sleep-deprived haze taking photos. Mirrors, lights and green plastic-looking plants. Lets not forgot the compelling shopping experience that Dubai offers. All the alcohol, cigarettes and perfume a human could possibly want, in a clean and brightly lit environment. Nothing like a 12 hour plane ride to leave passengers brain-dead and in perfect consuming form. Or perhaps it’s the 10% discount that you can only find at an airport.
Anyway, 30 hours after leaving home I made it to Vienna. Naturally I got a little lost trying finding my flat. After a train, a few metros and a fair amount of walking I found it. Unfortunately the pin for a safe that I was instructed to use to retrieve my room key didn’t work. Even after 50 tries. On the 51st attempt I decided to accept the fact that I wasn’t getting into my room and I should probably find a hostel. I walked for about half hour in a direction where I thought I might find some internet and beer (I was pretty thirsty by now). I found a nice beer garden and managed to find a hostel easily enough. It was a very enjoyable beer. Got the last bed at the hostel and had a very satisfying slumber.
OFF TO THE MOUNTAINS
One day later I was sitting in a train heading to Villach in the Southern Austrian Alps. I had organised to work on a small organic farmstead there, through a program called helpX (www.helpx.net). HelpX is network where people can do various kinds of work for food and accommodation, and hopefully have an interesting cultural experience. I liked the sound of working on this farm in the mountains as it involved cooking with the mother, working in a large vegetable garden, and doing odd jobs around the house and on the farm. One of the sisters met me at the train station and drove me to the farm. We drove up and up and up the very narrow and windy mountain roads. The scenery and view became more and more beautiful. I was very impressed with how fast this 18 year old could drive on these roads. I tried not to think about what would happen if there was a car driving down equally as fast.
View from my window
The family was very lovely, and made me feel very comfortable and at home. The mother and father had 11 children, ranging from 18 – 30-something years old. Some of the children worked on the farm, some worked nearby, some were working on the farm for their holidays, and others lived elsewhere and often visited. So people where constantly coming and going. My German is very limited, as was their English. However we found it easy enough to communicate with the few words we knew, hand gestures, and a lot of guess work. There were two girls from New Zealand also working there, Jess and Darrienne. As they had been working there for a week they showed me a lot of what I had to do, and taught me the names of the family and friends and what they had learned about them.
Here is a list of some of the jobs that I did:
- Cleaning up after breakfast and lunch.
- Feeding the chickens (chickens are my favourite animal).
- Hanging out the washing.
- Collecting plums off the ground while Elizabeth (the mother) hit the tree with a stick like a madman. Tried not to get stung by the millions of wasps. Pitting, and slicing big pots of plums in the sunshine. Then turning them into jam.
- Making other preserves like pickles; and cutting and freezing herbs and vegetables for the winter.
- Helping make bread in the wooden bread oven.
- Cleaning the cellars, and emptying all the ash from the wood ovens.
- Collecting vegetables and weeding the veggie garden
- Helping with the potato harvest.
- Cooking lunch. I cooked lunch for everyone a few times, and other times I helped the mother. It was so fun being able to go to the veggie garden to pick all the things I needed – pumpkin, silver-beet, carrots, leeks, onion, zucchini, peas, raspberries, basil, parsley..
- Baking cakes. That was more for fun.
- Helping Heinz (the father) move wood from one part of the farm to another.
- Helping make silage bails. That involved using long wooden rakes to collect the cut grass from the steep slopes and around trees so a tractor could collect it. Then another tractor was used to compact it. Then another machine was used to wrap the bails in plastic. I got to ride in the tractor the whole time. And I even got to try and drive the tractor.
Grass Mounds for Silage Bails
Weeding in the Veggie Garden
The ‘work’ on the farm was very enjoyable and only occupied a few hours of my day. That left lots of time to go on mountain walks, lake swims, lying in the sun, reading.. We would often get taken along to random places, we would hop into a car and find out where we were going once we got there. Once it was a massive European annual Harley Davidson Festival. Random. Another time it was a journey through the mountains, across the boarder to Slovenia, to buy cheap capsicums. During the process we went in and out of 3 different cars. We were in Slovenia for about 20 minutes. Some nights we went out drinking with the boys to bars in nearby villages. Other nights we had bonfires and bbqs, and would sit around the fire drinking beers, waiting for the moon to pop up over the mountains. Life was sweet in the mountains.
Afritz am See for an afternoon swim
Hi to all new students about to embark on exchange. Maybe you are already in transit, maybe you have arrived and semester has started (depending on your destination) or maybe you have a bit longer to wait. But for most of you, the count down is on…
Tonia, Greg and I want to invite you all to share your thoughts and photo reflections with us and with the others on this blog. We really do want to know how you are feeling as you embark on exchange. Nervous? exhilarated? confident? downright petrified? all/none of the above?
You will find there is a lot of good material embedded in the blog from other students who have already been through this process. Do a bit of searching – things like country-specific themes, ‘I wish I’d known’, culture shock – you will find lots of good tips and even more, the recollections of people who have already ‘been there, done that’. We hope this will be helpful and we also hope you will add to the collection of experiences.
And of course, don’t forget the photo competition – good cash prizes for all Bringing the Learning Home students from Murdoch, Wollongong and Macquarie – see the info on the blog home page
Good luck! we hope to hear from you soon and we look forward to sharing your journey.
So I’m going back soon, however it I don’t feel like I’m leaving. I know I’m leaving, however it just feels like everyday I’m just going keep waking up in America and go about my normal life just as I have done for the past 11 months. It’s funny I remember a similar feeling when I was leaving Australia. However I know when reality kicks in I’m going to miss this place so much. It’s turned into a home, I don’t want to leave. This is the best thing I have done with my life and I will recommend exchange to anyone, but I’ll tell you the one negative about it… you have to come back
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
Another morning here in Dundee!
It’s been incredible over here.
Well into my first month now, so much has happened!
I remember arriving in Edinburgh and seeing snow! Silly that I sound so excited, but its my first time seeing snow! From Edinburgh, I headed into Dundee, where its all ice instead of snow.
Defnitely did feel homesick, but I made an effort to get out and explore my surroundings for abit.
Over the week, I met my other housemates and their friends who’re really good fun and uber friendly. One of my housemate friends were exchange students from Belgium, but sadly they were finishing their semester and were preparing to leave. Although we’re just a couple of week old friends, I was really glad to have known them. I remembered my first night, they came and ask me to hang out with them, and at 2am in the morning to bake apple crumble! They were so spontaneous and random! But good fun nontheless.
Uni’s begun. Over time, I met a few other exchange students as well – Sophie from Tasmania and a coupla others from Newcastle, Canadians, Americans and of course Scottish!
There was an international event called a Ceilidh (pronounced ‘kay-lee’), which was a traditional Scottish dance. There are various dances, and its pretty simple once you get the hang of it, as its pretty repetitive. And it can go on and on, making you super exhausted! We got to try some Haggis as well, which was their Scottish traditional dish, made of lamb offal, intestines, stomach, those kind of stuff we normally wouldn’t eat. But I apparently love haggis! The thought of it may sound gross, but its really not that bad as you may be imagining now (:
Bascially getting into the routine of Uni now, and exploring Dundee and its surroundings. Our favourite hangout is at DCA (Dundee Contemporary Arts) its a really unique place, with only two cinema theatres, and they show artsy, historical, meaningful movies here (e.g King’s speech, Hereafter, Black Swan, Nenette etc.) and its cheap!
The main highlight was heading to Saint Andrews for the weekend! Goodness, it was beautiful. I really love it there, and apparently St. Andrews University was where Kate Middleton and Prince William met! We went to St. Andrews castle (which was bascially ruins really, but holds much history), the cathedral, climed St.Rules Tower which gave a spectacular 360 view of the town.
Fourth and fifth week:
The fourth week, was bascially getting my lab reports done, so not very exciting there. But I’m really enjoying my modules here. Yesterday was Valentines, and hope you all had a lovely one! As for mine, I celebrated it with my housemates, made Thai curry, had a Belgium chocolate cake and wine for dessert and ended with a movie. Also, whats planned for this week is horseriding this weekend! And am really excited for that! So for now that sums up what’ve been up to in Dundee but pictures tell a better story anyway, so enjoy!