Alumni Spotlight: Holly Johnston


Holly is a former CIS student who participated in Semester on the Gold Coast at Bond University and studied psychology, buddhism and literature. She has since fallen in love with travel and hopes to explore many other parts of the world.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program because a few friends recommended it and because it was known for its beaches, hiking trails and vibrant nightlife. I also chose this program because it offered the trip to the Great Barrier Reef as part of student orientation, which was somewhere I had always dreamed of exploring.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My university provided me with all the necessary documents and deadlines in order to apply for the program. Additionally, many of my professors helped me determine which classes to take in order to fulfill credits for my major. My program advisor sent me lots of information on the program, such as commonly asked questions and a complete video podcast that included all of the information about culture shock, budgeting, returning home etc.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

One of the most important things to know about going abroad is that you may not feel like yourself when you first arrive due to the combination of jet lag, time zone differences, culture shock and a variety of other factors, but this will pass in about a week's time. Do not get frustrated with yourself if you are unable to jump into fun activities right away. Trust me, once you adjust you will feel like yourself again, and you may even feel better than you ever felt.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

For my program, we were only allowed to take up to four courses, so you likely won't go overboard. However, classes are divided up into lectures and tutorials, which means you will have the same class twice a day or twice a week but with different course work and different professors. Lectures are where content is explained and notes are taken while tutorials are where content is applied in lab activities, quizzes etc.

Nearly everyone in my program had no Friday classes, or did not have class at least one other day during the week. Classes can start as early as 8am but its possible to select later options as well, depending on the class. For me, my Buddhist Philosophy class began at 8am but most of my other classes began later in the afternoon.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

Going into my experience abroad, my biggest fear was that I would struggle mentally and emotionally and this would prevent me from being able to enjoy the trip. I overcame this by first getting familiar with mental health services on campus and meeting twice a week with a counselor to help ease the transition. This only lasted for a few weeks and then I no longer felt the need to go.

I also dedicated a great deal of time to learning new forms of exercise, like boxing, exploring new places and trying new relaxation techniques, such as meditation . My fears that I would be unable to enjoy myself while abroad melted away as I realized that conquering my fears, and learning all forms of new activities gave me new life and improved my sense of self.

What do I do if I can't make any friends right away? How do I make sure this doesn't happen?

You might look at the brochure and see large groups of people and think that as soon as you step foot off the plane you are going to be surrounded by new friends. While this is definitely possible, don't get discouraged if you are unable to make any strong connections with people when you first arrive. Also, do not get discouraged if things change. People who you meet during your first week at orientation may not end up being the people you end up traveling with later on, and that's ok!

My best advice is to be open-minded. Be friendly and get to know a lot of people, especially the ones outside of your home country. When you find your people, you will just know. You may meet them at orientation but also through your classes, through roommates, the opportunities are endless. So if its week two and you find yourself wondering where that group of people from the brochure are, just give it another week, maybe even another day.

Also remember that you are not alone. Everybody goes through this part, once you find your true friends, it will be worth it.