I know that for all of my posts so far I have talked about traveling, minor mishaps, spontaneous adventures…you know, all the fun stuff you do when you are abroad. But yes, I do have classes. And I do have essays and tests, and now and then yes, yes I do get homesick. Even when I am surrounded by palm trees, sunny warm days and am a fifteen-minute bike ride from three different beaches, I still can’t help but miss the comforts of home. I’ve only been here close to 4 months, but I honestly feel like I have been here my entire life. A lot of Australia seems like a new home to me now.
Yes, classes are different here. And although there isn’t much work (at least, compared to the tremendous amount of work I tend to get at home), they have challenges in their own ways. One of the main suggestions I can tell you is take classes when you’re abroad that you normally wouldn’t take at home and are unique to the area you are studying in. You’re probably never going to have the opportunity to gain that type of knowledge again. I am a biology/pre-med major, and this semester I am only taking one biology course (Biodiversity of Tropical Australia) and the rest of my courses meet general liberal arts requirements at my home university (Ecology & Australian Indigenous Cultures, Anthropology, and Human Rights and Social Issues). At home, I am used to being able to check my grades every week and see where I am at and how I need to do on last minute assignments and exams. However, here, I only have one week left of the semester and I still have no clue as to what my combined grade is in any of the four classes I am taking. Plus, the finals I have to take are worth close to fifty percent of the overall grade…yikes!
Our IFSA advisor joked with us before we came to Cairns that everyone tended to run a little…late. That is, being prompt wasn’t really that important. So, throughout the course of the semester, I have seen this first hand. The buses hardly EVER run on time. Normally, they are about five to ten minutes late. That is, if they decide to show up. Classes never start on time. If the professors aren’t late, about more than half the class always is. At home, it is frowned upon to walk in late on a class. Here, people walk in late all the time. Or just don’t come to class at all. My one professor here didn’t have mandatory attendance, so we literally had maybe five people in class every week. She would always simply say “Oh, they must have that stomach flu that’s going around” or “They must be enjoying the lovely weather outside.” Completely non-chalant haha.
At home, I’m used to having classes with everyone being around my age. Here, I have classes with people ranging from teenagers to people in their sixties. Also, people don’t wear shoes here. And it’s completely acceptable haha! But, in general, the people here that I have had class with have been extremely nice and helpful. The professors aren’t always as helpful. They grade really strict here. The grading system generally goes as follows: HD (high distinction), D (distinction), C (credit), P (pass) and F (fail). Hahaha way more different than the grading system I am used to at home! In most of my classes, the only tests I have are finals (and I have yet to find out how hard those actually are). But, I have had a lot of essays. And I have found that in some classes, it is very, very hard to get an HD. Australian writing is more simplistic than American writing (at least in the class setting here), so if you are used to using complex sentences then you need to be careful. Otherwise, if you work hard and put the time, effort, and research into all of your papers, you will be successful. However, you may feel you deserve a higher grade than you receive. I have observed that professors here have a tendency to not explain what they want you to do and expect something on an assignment that you wouldn’t have even thought of (which is very frustrating). It will be interesting at the end of the semester to see how Australian grades transfer to American grades.
So. Lets talk about homesickness. Yes, it does happen. And depending on the person, you’re going to have different levels of it. For me, I actually didn’t get severely homesick during the course of the trip. Sure, I have missed a lot of things. I miss my family and friends at home. I miss my dogs. I miss the fall weather that I love every year. I miss homecoming at my school, my sorority, and all the clubs I participate in. I miss familiar places. And driving. But….more importantly…FOOD. GOOD food. Because, in all reality, the dining hall is a hit or miss here. And I am kind of getting sick of supplementing my meals with ramen every night. I can’t tell you how ecstatic I am that I will be home for Thanksgiving! However, homesickness is very, very manageable. For me, it was very easy to get rid of. Sometimes, I would just go and workout for a few hours, or phone or skype a friend or family member for a bit. I think my biggest coping method was writing postcards to friends and family back home. Don’t get sucked into things that can spike homesickness though- spending hours on facebook seeing what everyone at home is up to is not the best thing to do, in addition to skyping people for hours on end during the day. You’re only abroad once, so make sure to live up every second of it!
Also, while we’re at it, let’s talk about good things to pack/bring with you. Looking back on it, I packed WAY too many nice clothes and not enough workout clothes. I am in workout clothes the majority of the time here. I only have classes three times a week, and besides that and going out, I literally am in shorts and t-shirts 24/7. Bring a long Ethernet cord if you’re used to doing homework in bed and don’t want to deal with the wifi going on and off every 5 minutes. Hats are a GREAT thing to bring- it gets super hot and chances are your scalp will get sunburnt if you are at the beach or pool all day. If you like to run or hike a lot, I would suggest bringing a head lamp. I know it sounds ridiculous, but a number of my friends have them here and we use them all the time. Plus, it gets ridiculously hot during the day, so running in the evening may be your best option. Pack a really nice water bottle and a great backpack because you will have those items with you the majority of the time. I basically live out of my backpack. A waterproof/shockproof camera is a good idea- I destroyed my camera within the first month of being here because it got a little wet on a trip. Also- don’t forget extra memory cards because you will be taking tons of pictures. I know my school told me not to bring my iphone abroad- if they tell you that don’t listen to it. I just shut off the data and use the wifi so I can text me friends and family, which is a lifesaver! If you have certain medicines or toiletries from home that you love- bring them! More than likely you can find them here, but they will be way more expensive. Plus, pack some things that remind you of home to put in your room. I packed a lot of pictures that I put on my wall, in addition to a pillow, blanket, and a huge stuffed dog from home. Some of the little things like that will mean the most to you in times you just want something from home.
Lets also talk about the change in environment. Yes, it is gorgeous. Beaches, palm trees- it’s literally out of a magazine! But, there are also scorching hot days, torrential rain showers, and bugs…bugs everywhere! Sunscreen and bug spray will be two of your best friends. You will never be able to thank yourself enough for packing a great rain jacket and umbrella. Also, extra pairs of good flip flops is always a great thing because they tend to wear out fast. And just remember- never EVER leave food sitting around your room. Unless you want to be subjected to hundreds of fruit flies swarming around. Some of my friends have learned that the hard way.
Being abroad for a long period of time is a really great experience! You just have to recognize that it’s not going to be all smooth sailing, and you will have some stressful times. However, I am convinced that this has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. And you just have to remember that if you ever get stuck with something, you have a lot of people in your life who can help you.
Also! The highlights of this past week included:
My last biodiversity class consisted of a field trip into Cairns to the Red Ochre Grill. There, we sampled a bunch of different bush foods. My favorites were the kangaroo and crocodile meat, in addition to the pavlova dessert.
We also had our farewell dinner with our IFSA advisor. We ate at the Cock n’ Bull, which gives HUGE portions of really amazing food! It’s crazy to think I only have 18 days left here. I will be posting soon on the roadtrip I took to Townsville this past weekend! Cheers