Studying abroad has given me a completely new and fresh perspective on life and other cultures. I have been bitten with the travel bug 100%, and have made it a priority to incorporate traveling and trying new experiences into my everyday life, even if that means just a short trip a few towns over. There are SO many new opportunities out there, and you'll never find them if you don't go looking. Studying abroad has opened my eyes that there are MILLIONS of different combinations of people out there, so don't limit yourself to just the familiar. Once you step out of your comfort zone, the possibilities are limitless. Take advantage of every opportunity and adventure you can while you can!
The school system was definitely different in Australia compared to America. Australian courses tend to have more condensed assignments in the form of a few papers or exams for the entire semester, as opposed to American classes that have many smaller assignments throughout the semester. Australian courses are also more independent, and classes are more 'optional', with the implication that you will complete much of your coursework outside of class. I felt that the grading was harsher, although the assignments seemed easier compared to the work I do at my home university. Teaching methods were definitely different, as most of my classes were considered 'tutes', and it was more like an informal question and answer session than an actual class.
I didn't feel as if there was much 'support' to students from America, and my opinion was that professors abroad seemed to think Americans didn't care much about the education we received in the class. I had met with one of my professors a few times, and it wasn't much help to me in learning how to complete the assignments. The classes I took were primarily general education courses, so I wasn't too concerned with really absorbing the knowledge, but it would have been easier if I had felt more welcome in the classroom.
For my housing, I was placed into apartment housing at the Griffith Uni Village. Some students lived with all Americans, some only lived with Americans from the AustraLearn program, and other had a mix. I lived with two Australian girls, an Australian guy, and a Norwegian guy. I liked the fact that I had diversity in my living arrangements and was able to experience more of the culture right in my own home.
I never felt as if safety were a problem, I never felt unsafe and was usually with my friends all the time. The Village is right next to campus, about a ten-fifteen minute walk to get to my classes. It's also about a fifteen minute walk to get to the bus stop, which we rode into town to get groceries, catch a train or plane when we were traveling, and how we got downtown to go out if we didn't take a cab (about twenty minutes from Surfer's Paradise).
Since I was living with people who had already been settled in to the Village and who were also locals, housing basics such as cook wear were already supplied and my roommates welcomed me to use whatever was theirs in the apartment. The apartments themselves were furnished, so there was furniture, dressers, beds, a desk, etc. Australearn supplied sheets a pillow, so my expenses to live in the apartment were few. I ended up buying basic things, such as a few hangers, a small mirror, toiletries, food, etc.
Food is SO expensive in Australia!!! I'm a frequenter of Dollar Stores here in America to get basic supplies, so to find that those don't really exist in Australia was such a letdown! There are no Wal-Marts either, although their K-Marts are similar, only more 'high quality' and of course, more expensive. If living near Griffith Uni in Southport, go to the Ashmore City Shopping Centre, only a few miles away and definitely within walking distance. They have a 'Crazy Clarks' store, which is about as close to a dollar store as I ever found over there-we found cheap crafts, toiletries, kitchen supplies,food, snacks, etc. There's also a Chemist (pharmacy), fruit market, and IGA (grocery store), along with a bank (ANZ) and Liquor Store right around the corner. If we were saving our bus money or just wanted to grab a few things or take a walk, this is where we went to get groceries. IGA is definitely a little more expensive than Coles or Woolworths (located in Southport at the Australia Fair shopping centre, both grocery stores similar to WalMart) but if you didnt want to take the bus 30 min away it's a nice alternative. Also remember, there aren't 'superstores' in Australia like in the US-it's going to be wayyyy more expensive to buy everything at the same store than to go to the separate specialty stores for supplies, and most grocery stores don't even sell alcohol. One of the nice things about Australian food is that there are no preservatives and nasty crap like we have here in America, so that contributes to prices as well. My diet while abroad consisted of lots of stir frys, rice, meat & veg combinations, specifically revolving around what was on sale that week. Australia Fair also has a cheap produce market that we would try to get to about every 2 weeks or so.
Traveling & Safety
I did a ton of traveling throughout my stay in Australia, including visiting multiple places throughout Queensland, Brisbane, Byron Bay, Sydney, Cairns, and the Outback. Each place had their own unique style and I loved everything about it! My trip specifically included a trip to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef before arriving at our abroad unis, which was a fantastic way to network with other students and make friends before getting settled in with school. Traveling was my favorite part of the study abroad experience, by far.
Highlights were definitely the access to travel around the country and meet people from different backgrounds than myself. I absolutely loved the accessibility-you can virtually take a train or bus to just about anywhere you would want to go within the country. The people were extremely accommodating and helpful in every aspect. There were struggles, such as not having enough money to do everything I wanted to, trying to overcome learning differences in the classroom, etc. but overall the difficulties is what made the trip unique and different than a "tourist" visit. Being able to immerse myself in the culture and actual live in Australia, as opposed to merely visiting, really made all the difference.
Australearn included many seminars about abroad life in our orientation before we headed to our different unis, and safety was stressed. We were provided many resources and information about who to call and what to do if we were in an emergency situation. I never felt unsafe or worried for my safety at any time throughout the trip.
I did have to visit the doctor several times for a bad sinus infection, and it was MUCH simpler than visiting a dr in the states...AustraLearn has student health insurance included in their package, so you just get a card when you arrive and can use the clinic on campus. I barely had to wait for my appointment, and the cost was extremely reasonable-even better than the healthcare I have in my OWN country. There is a cap on medications too, you only have to pay up to a specific amount of money. I did not need any specific vaccines prior to going abroad.
Words of wisdom for anyone thinking of going abroad with Australearn is to TRAVEL, TRAVEL, TRAVEL and make sure you come with enough money so you don't have to find a job once you arrive! So many people immediately got jobs from my program once we arrived in Southport, and it seems contradictory to live the same life abroad as you do at home, when this experience is truly once in a lifetime. Make sure you construct a budget as well, so you're making the best use of your money and not just blowing everything on alcohol and partying. Most importantly, say hello to everyone and don't be afraid to initiate a conversation! Most of my friendships, whom I still am in contact with now, began with a simple smile & "hello" :)