Staff Spotlight: Paige Santelli


Paige is a student at Lafayette College & is graduating in May 2019. She studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at University of Melbourne in Australia & loved the experience so much that she's moving back to Melbourne in June!

Why did you choose this program?

My goal for study abroad was to become as immersed in the host country's culture as possible, so I knew I wanted a program where I could attend university with natives rather than an island program. Due to language barriers, this limited my options to English-speaking countries. I had always been intrigued by Australia & figured I might as well go as far away as possible with this incredible opportunity to live anywhere in the world.

I did some research about Australia's cities because I had only ever heard of Sydney. After learning about Melbourne's art, music, & diverse population, I knew it was a perfect fit for me. My college offers a program in Melbourne with IFSA-Butler, so I looked into the program & loved what it had to offer- apartments in the city, classes at University of Melbourne, & space to make the experience my own.

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

IFSA-Butler was extremely helpful during the pre-departure phase. I was always ahead of schedule with the things I had to complete before leaving, but I would still email IFSA with my anxieties about completing everything on time. They were super reassuring, quick to respond, & overall helpful. While they provided info on things like packing, visas, budgeting, living situations, etc., I did have to do a lot of my own research on Melbourne's culture. It was also on the student to organize their own course registration, which was a bit confusing, but they helped with whatever they could.

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

Something that worked really well for me with this program was the freedom IFSA gave us once we arrived in Melbourne. They were very involved in the pre-departure phase & the orientation when we first landed in Australia, but once we were in Melbourne, IFSA let us go off & find our way. This model worked for me because I am very independent & don't really enjoy organized group activities that I feel required to participate in. I'm the type of person who prefers to wander off on my own, meet new people, & go where the wind takes me.

Some people want their study abroad to have organized travel trips every weekend, & if that is what you want, this program is not for you. If you are not the type of person who is motivated to make the most of your experience by putting in a little extra work & being alone & uncomfortable at times, then I would find a more assisted program.

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

Since lectures at University of Melbourne were recorded online, attendance for the lecture was optional, meaning I only attended class 3 days out of the week. I also had a job at a local cafe, so I would go to work about 3 days out of the week too.

My free time during the week was often spent sipping coffees, reading or journaling, cooking fresh food bought at the Queen Victoria market or trying out restaurants around the city, volunteering at the university's food co-op, biking around the city, & hanging out with friends.

My weekends would be full of art, music, & dancing. My favorite music events were punk shows & techno raves. However, my week may differ from other students' in the program because I had a job, which is unusual for study abroad students.

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

My biggest fear was finding comfort in being alone. One of my biggest goals for study abroad was to become my own best friend & enjoy time spent with myself. I accomplished this goal by disconnecting myself from the comfort of other Americans in the IFSA program & going off on my own at times. While I was friends with lots of people on the program & still am to this day, I knew I was there to dive into Australian culture rather than bring American culture to Australia. Getting a job also helped because I was able to market myself in a different country all on my own & become close friends with locals. I now love spending time alone because I know if I could do it in a foreign country 10,000 miles away from home, I can do it here.

What's your favorite memory of this trip?

One of my favorite stories was the night IFSA had the Farewell Dinner for the end of our program. Every activity IFSA hosted was optional because they recognized that we are adults who can make our own decisions, but everyone was planning to go to this Farewell Dinner, myself included. However, the night of the dinner, I was at this DJ event with my coworkers. I had meant to leave the event early so that I could go home & get ready for the IFSA dinner; however I was having so much fun dancing with my Australia friends that I didn't want to leave, so I made the decision not to attend the dinner.

I thought about how fondly I'd look back at the night I was having with my coworkers. Ironically, I was awarded the "Most Immersive Abroad Experience" award at the dinner while I was the only IFSA student not there because I was out with my Australia friends. Still to this day, I do not regret my decision because that was one of the best nights I had in Melbourne, but it's a funny story to tell.