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Bearcats on the Road

Reflecting on the Adventure of a Lifetime

Posted by Catherine Kohler on Wed, Jul 24, 2013 @ 09:59 AM



These past five months have been one amazing adventure that I will remember for the rest of my life. It has now come to an end as I have returned home to Maryland, after a very long 23-hour flight. I will be in Maryland for about only a month for summer break and then will return to Saint Vincent College to undergo my junior year.

It would be an understatement to say that my life has changed. Studying abroad has not only allowed my eyes to be opened of what lessons the world has to offer but it also allowed me to appreciate how thankful I am to have the family and college I have been blessed with in order to allow me to take on this opportunity and challenge.

This experience has been one big lesson. Australia has taught me so many things about myself as well as about my country and the world. I have learned there is more than one “right” way to live your life because cultures and customs vary greatly around the world. After being home for a few days all the lessons I learned while in Australia started to become very clear as I experienced some reverse culture shock.

On July 2nd I flew out of Newcastle at 6:30 in the morning and landed in Brisbane Australia, and then from Brisbane I flew for 15 straight hours to Los Angeles and landed at 10:30 am on July 2nd. It felt like I had time travelled! From there I had one more five-hour flight to DC and I was finally home. However, because I kept flying into the daylight the jetlag hit me hard! For about a week I would wake up around 3am and then go to bed around 4pm. My body just didn’t know what time it was anymore.

Once I got use to being in America and was not sleeping for most of the day I was able to look back and reflect on the things that I learned while abroad. One of the most prominent things was how to use the metric system. I learned that I am 180 centimeters tall and that 28 degrees Celsius is the perfect day. I also learned kangaroos are not everywhere like most people would picture Australia to be like. They are mostly only in the country and in open fields. The reason I did not see them very often is because I lived in a city. Australians also use strange names for things. For example, sometimes they call McDonalds, “Maccas,” and a gas station is called “servo.” Actually, they don’t even call it gas it’s “petrol.” I also learned a kebab does not come on a stick and it looks more like a burrito.

When I returned home one of the most frequently asked questioned by Americans was, “So, did you enjoy that shrimp on the barbie?” Whenever someone asked me this I always had to laugh because Australians do not say this…ever! First of all they don’t even call it shrimp, they call it prawns, and if you said shrimp they would most likely look at you very confused.

While living in Australia for almost five months I learned some very interesting things about their government and their educational system. First, Australian teenagers can be independent from their parents at the age of 18.  They do not have to save for college and they do not need the assistance of their parents to help them pay for college. This is because of a program substantially subsidized by the Australian Government called “HECS.” Students are required to only pay interest free, ‘student contribution’ amounts for their units of study. They also do not have to pay their tuition for college until they get a job and start earning a certain amount of money.  The rate of repaying the principal is based on a sliding scale tied to their income. If they never earn above a certain threshold of money or if they study/work in a field or geographic area of need, they will never have to pay for college. The thought is that if you go to college you will most likely earn enough money to pay for college. Once they are earning enough money, it is a small tax that is taken out of their paycheck to pay for college. The students told me it is so small and gradual that most of the time you do not even notice when they are paying for college. When I told my Australian friends how much my parents and I are paying for college they were in shock. The look on their face was priceless.

In American schools, as well as Saint Vincent, students study a variety of subjects outside their field of study.  However, in Australia, the course schedule is confined to the field of study. If you are studying engineering, then you will only take classes that have to do with Engineering. When people would ask me what I was studying and I would say Communication, they would then ask me why I was taking primarily English classes. I would then have to explain how I needed core classes to provide a well-rounded education and to fulfill requirements to graduate. It seemed strange to them to take classes they perceived as unnecessary for their careers.

As a part of their courses they are required to go on placement. This is something they take five weeks off from school and they have what we would call field experience. They work in the area where they want to have a career and learn what it takes to actually be in that profession. You can travel to anywhere in Australia for placement. Some of my friends went 30 minutes away and others were a 5 hour plane ride away. They would be assigned a place and they had to work and live there just as they would as if it were their career.

Their government is different from ours as well. It is not a democracy; it has a constitutional and federal monarchy as well as a parliamentary system similar to England.  This means that unlike the United States they do not have the choice whether to vote or not. They have to vote, and if they don’t they will be fined. If they are unable to vote on Election Day then they must fill out an absentee ballet. This also means that they have a Queen, and it is the same Queen as England’s. Therefore, as soon as she leaves England and steps on Australian soil she then becomes Australia’s Queen and not England’s.

Their government system also differs from ours because they do not have Democrats and Republicans; rather they have the Labor party and the Liberal party. They also do not have a President. Instead, they have a Prime Minister. For most of my time in Australia they had their first female Prime Minister named Julia Gillard. She was faced with intense opposition throughout her tenure, but was able to push through several social reforms, including greater funding for education and health care for the disabled. However, it was her introduction of the carbon tax that displeased voters and eventually led the labor party to have Kevin Rudd return as Prime Minister towards the end of my stay in Australia.

Being home has required me to make a few adjustments to my lifestyle. I had gotten very comfortable with the laid back Aussie way of life. One of the first things that was hard to get use to was the fact that in America I actually had to wear my shoes everywhere I went. In Australia, they rarely ever wear shoes. It is a beach town so you can go to the mall, to class or walk around the city with no shoes and no one will look at you like you’re homeless. Students would bring their surfboards to class if they were going to the beach after class and that wasn’t strange either.

Now that I am home everyone always asks me, “Are you happy to be back?” My answer is always, “Yes, but I would go back in a heartbeat.” I have learned so much but there are still so many more things in this world that I would love to discover.  This experience has a created a desire to widen my knowledge of the world through the experience of travel.

Topics: study abroad, Katie Kohler

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In Bearcats on the Road, students chronicle their lives while studying abroad or completing internships away from campus.

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