Australia: Many G’Days Spent Down Under, by Mary Ann Ostach, Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences major


Posted: May 31, 2017

Every week seemed to bring a new adventure and I was able to grow as a person.
Day spent at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary where I got to hold Rodney the koala bear

Day spent at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary where I got to hold Rodney the koala bear

I contracted what some call “the travel bug” at a young age. Seeing the world, the different cultures and environments, excites me to no end. When I was a high school senior applying to Penn State, I read an article about a student who had traveled to Australia. Since seeing the article which included a picture of the student holding a koala bear, I was determined to study abroad and hold one for myself in Australia. Once I was a student at Penn State, I found a semester long Arcadia program in Brisbane, Australia at the University of Queensland and was able to study there this past spring.

Going into the semester, I didn’t really expect to experience much culture shock. Being a developed country with English as its first language, I couldn’t foresee the same obstacles as someone would have studying in other parts of the world. I did experience culture shock in my own way though. Adapting to everyday life such as learning to navigate the public transport system and being a 14 hour time difference instead of an hour and a half drive from home had its own set of challenges. I also learned how different the English language can be and how much slang the Aussies use. Many times I had to ask what they meant when having a conversation with an Australian. No matter the confusion, I was always left with a “Cheers, mate.”

While at the University of Queensland, I discovered the differences in the structure of the university system between the U.S. and Australia. To fulfill my major and general education requirements, my classes varied from agriculture and science to web design. My fellow classmates in my web design class were very unsure of my presence. Why was a girl who studied Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences in the class? I found that most bachelor degree programs in Australia were three years long and did not include general education courses. Fortunately the web design class was built so that no previous experience in computer programming was expected, and I now know the basics of constructing a website!

One of my favorite classes, Food for a Healthy Planet, was more related to my field of interest. Throughout the semester we discussed various issues and advancements in the agricultural sciences field and tackled the question of how to feed the world without destroying its resources. We were given a project to research one of these issues in teams, and report on our findings to our peers in a one day conference. My team researched the effects and controversy surrounding genetically modified crops. This experience enlightened me not only to how genetically modified crops are utilized around the world, but it also sharpened my skills in teamwork and public speaking. While the conference was just with my classmates and instructors, it was the first time I had to present to an audience that had such a different background than my own.

When I wasn’t in class, I traveled as much as I could. During my adventures I still found myself learning. I can now cross surfing, throwing a boomerang, and sandboarding - three things I have never tried before - off my bucket list. A goal of mine while in Australia was to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef; I even took a diving class before I left Penn State so I could earn my open water certification. It proved worthwhile, as the reef did not disappoint! The abundance of marine life astonished me, and from a distance I even found a very shy little clownfish! On another trip I was able to visit Sydney during the light and music festival, Vivid Sydney. With all the iconic locations brightly illuminated at night, it added to the already light-hearted atmosphere.

By the end of my five months in Australia, I was ready to return home to my family and friends. My semester spent down under is one I will never forget. I was able to see, learn, and accomplish so much. Every week seemed to bring a new adventure and I was able to grow as a person. In the future, I look forward to sharing with future employers how this experience expanded my communication and speaking skills and encouraged me to be open to new opportunities. Before I left, I made sure to visit Brisbane’s local koala sanctuary. I was able to meet and hold my new friend Rodney the koala bear, and got a picture similar to the one that inspired this whole journey.