By Lindsay Simoncavage
Recently, IFSA-Butler students who are studying abroad at the University of Queensland and Griffith University Nathan have participated in a volunteer event for help refurbish some of Brisbane’s waterways.
The students helped the Save Our Waterways Now (SOWN) organisation re-plant the Walton Ridge Reserve in The Gap. They worked alongside SOWN leaders and other community volunteers as they pulled weeds from a large area of ground. Underneath the weeds, there was plenty of great soil and mulch. The volunteers worked together to plant all of the new plants. Two of the students helped to water the plants and collect their empty pots. This project allowed two cultures, American and Australian, to band together and work as a team to improve the environment.
“It was a bigger project than I had anticipated. There were so many plants! We would have never finished this project in one day if it wasn’t for your students,” commented Anne Jones, a volunteer director with SOWN.
IFSA-Butler has started incorporating a volunteer event into the mix of other events that the program offers its students each semester. It is a way for the students to become further involved with culture and the local community while giving something back. Volunteering can sometimes be one of the best way to fully immerse yourself in another culture. It is a great experience, a great way to meet people, to learn more about Australian way of life and a way to build a positive relationship with the community.
Save Our Waterways Now is a community-based environmental organsiation working to restore the habitats of waterways in the catchments of Enoggera, Ithaca and Fish Creeks in Brisbanes’s north and west.
Gabriela Nowaski Nagel (Emory University) is the IFSA-Butler April, Student of the Month. Gaby is studying at the University of Melbourne. She has been doing some wonderful volunteer work with the Victorian Immigrant & Refugee Women’s Coalition (VIRWC) who are a peak body representing immigrant refugee women’s organisations across Victoria. The coalition provides representation, capacity building support and advice for a range of organisations whose priority is the development and support of refugee women.
Gaby was the co-ordinator for the region of Latin America in the recent Mosaic festival. It was hosted by the NGO Victorian immigrant and refugee women’s coalition. This event required a lot of planning, and organising to get everything up and running and Gaby did a great job in contributing to it’s success. The festival celebrated women in multicultural Victoria and aims to encourage participation of the whole community in celebrating and valuing cultural diversity and fostering cross-cultural exchanges and collaboration.
Gaby also works at the coalition on Wednesday mornings and Thursdays. It’s great to see our students getting involved in something they are passionate about and really adding value to their local community while they are here on their study abroad experience. Well done Gaby!
For more information about the Victorian Immigrant & Refugee Women’s Coalition (VIRWC) you can visit http://www.virwc.org.au/
By Sharna Bremner
As I mentioned in my last blog, part of my job as an IFSA-Butler Student Services Coordinator involves helping students with the adjustments and challenges that living in a foreign country can throw at them.
And, as I also mentioned in my last blog, this semester I’ve found myself on the other side. I, too, am living in a foreign country: the small half-island nation of Timor-Leste.
Throughout my time as an SSC, I’ve come to know the U-Curve well. I’ve seen it in progress in almost all of my students. From the excitement that comes with arrival and Orientation, to the culture shock that seems to come after the realisation that Gold Fish Crackers aren’t available in Australia. Then comes the homesickness. The overwhelming unhappiness that can creep in when you least expect it and is usually accompanied by confusion and frustration at the differences between Australian and American culture.
But then things change. The homesickness and frustration fades. The adjustment sets in. And it’s always poorly timed, coming not too long before the semester ends and it’s time to go home. Which is where I currently find myself along the U-Curve, and where I imagine many of our Semester 1, 2013 students are.
Right now, I’ve settled in to life in Timor. Vacation mode has ended and I have a routine. The language barrier has reduced (somewhat, anyway). I have accepted that I must sleep under a mosquito net, will have a constant layer of grime and slime all over me thanks to a combination of dirt and insect repellent, and that my feet will never really be clean whilst I’m here.
For my students, I imagine they’ve now worked out the local slang. They’ve found the local alternatives to Gold Fish crackers (Cheezels, or Twisties perhaps?). Those little quirks that were so irritating a few weeks ago have become accepted, maybe even endearing.
Yep, we’re on the home stretch; on the up side of the U-Curve. The end of the semester is near. The countdown to the end is nigh, and for me, it’s almost as hard to deal with as the bottom of the curve.
I’ve just settled in. I’ve worked it out. I’ve found my place. And soon it will be time to leave.
And so begins the time to relish everything. Eat all of the things I can get here that I can’t get at home. See the things I wanted to see, do all the things I wanted to do. And I encourage all of our current students to do the same. Don’t put things off. If you wanted to climb that mountain, see that sunrise, eat at that restaurant one more time, then do it. And do it soon.
If you’re wallowing at the bottom of the U-Curve, pull yourself out. Do whatever it takes; because a study abroad experience is fleeting. There never seems to be enough time. Before you know it, you’ll be home. Embrace every last minute.
Don’t let that U-Curve slow you down.
By Lindsay Simoncavage
Recently, Tourism Australia has received much hype over their “Best Jobs in the World” campaign. More than 40,000 international applicants sought the opportunity to work in Australia for six months in jobs such as an Outback Adventurer, Lifestyle Photographer, Park Ranger, Wildlife Caretaker, Taste Master and Chief Funster.*
While a 6 month contract for partying in Sydney or photographing graffiti in Melbourne sounds quite amazing, I have to say that I am not jealous of those winners at all. Why you ask? Why wouldn’t I be jealous of getting paid to swim with dolphins? Because I already have the best job in the world with IFSA-Butler Australia!
In 2009, when the Best Job in the World campaign saw its first competition, I was at home in the United States, dreaming of coming back to Australia after I had studied abroad here for a semester. I didn’t win the competition but I still made it happen for myself. Little did I know, that in a few years time I would be back in Australia and holding a job position with IFSA-Butler Australia after completing my Masters Degree on the Gold Coast. I am proud to say that my job as a student services coordinator (SSC) truly is the best job in the world.
Each semester, I get to look after students who are studying abroad at Griffith University and the University of Queensland. I get to meet these smiling new faces at the Sydney Orientation. I love watching the new students’ excitement as they get their first glimpse of the Sydney Opera House and realise that they really did make it to Australia. I love getting to know the students and their motivations for studying abroad during hikes in the Blue Mountains. It is also great to support their nervous anticipation of arriving at their host institution during the Sydney Harbour cruise during their last night of orientation.
Once the students settle in to their accommodation and classes, I love showing them around my amazing home: Southeast Queensland. For the University of Queensland and Griffith University Nathan, I welcome them with a kayak along the Brisbane river. It is amazing to see the skyline of Brisbane from the river itself. I also get to snorkel and kayak with the Griffith University Gold Coast students in the Southport Broadwater.
I get to go on a massive adventure with the students for their Aussie Experience event: Adventure Weekend at Binna Burra in Lamington National Park. Throughout the weekend, we go on amazing hikes, complete a high ropes course through the tree tops and hang upside down from the flying fox. The best activity by far is learning to bush dance! It is full of good laughs. The next events we will enjoy together include rugby games for their cultural event and a volunteer event to make a difference in the local community.
Yes, I get paid to plan and enjoy these amazing events with my students and it is incredible. That’s not the only major aspect that makes my job the best job in the world. What also makes it amazing is the fact that I get to help students have an amazing study abroad experience and provide them with the support that they need while they are in Australia. I am their support network in Australia and assist if they have any questions regarding academics, incidents, insurance, travel or homesickness.
While indulging in our three-course farewell dinner, I can’t help but always have that full feeling in my heart. I watched these students grow. Their study abroad experience opened them up to a new world and way of understanding. Some are stronger and more confident than they were when they first arrived. Some realised how much they really love home while others found a new home. Their personal growth has been apparent all semester from IFSA-Butler Australia Student of the Month nominations to photography contest entries. It is a great feeling that I have after I have gotten to know these amazing young adults. My job is rewarding and I am happy to be a part of the students’ incredible experience abroad.
* (Source: The Age, http://www.theage.com.au/travel/travel-news/more-than-40000-apply-for-best-jobs-in-the-world-20130411-2hnm4.html)
By Yogini Patel
This has certainly been a busy month for UME students with mid-semester break finishing earlier this month, a true blue visit to an AFL (Australian Rules Football) game and another public holiday with ANZAC day on April 25th where many students are taking the opportunity to sneak in a bit more travel before knuckling down to study in their last month (next month) before exams begin.
The football game which we saw on April 14th was between the Western Bulldogs and Richmond – where unfortunately the Bulldogs lost! The game however was a great introduction to AFL, and Victoria is certainly the place to see this game as Melbourne is the birthplace for Aussie Rules! The students enjoyed the game and their free Bulldogs Football cap which was a nice souvenir to take home, courtesy of the Western Bulldogs Football Club.
April 25th is Anzac Day: a national public holiday. What is ANZAC Day I hear you ask!
ANZAC Day – is probably Australia’s most important national occasion. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. We now remember all the Australian and NZ soldiers who fought in any war on this day.
Each state usually has an early morning memorial and ANZAC day March through the city, so if you an early riser, you may like to attend the memorial or witness the march. You will need to do a google search on ANZAC Day march for your states details, but further information on ANZAC day can be found on the website below:
by Maura Connolly – studying at the University of Queensland, Semester 1, 2013
I thought I had the best Spring Break ever last year when I went to Florida. Then this year happened. Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Byron Bay Bluesfest, and the Great Barrier Reef.. all in one week.
The first half of my week was a little something like this: watching the moon rise over the ocean, learning to surf Easter morning, spending 12 hours at a music festival watching Newton Faulkner, Zac Brown Band, Bonnie Raitt, Ben Howard, Xavier Rudd, and the Lumineers (front row!), breakfast on the beach, sleeping in the sun, and lots and lots of hot cross buns.
And then I went to the Reef.
I endured an 8 hour overnight bus ride with breakfast at Maccas (McDonalds)… and then a 2 hour ferry ride to paradise. Pulling into Heron Island you could see straight through the turquoise water and spot sharks and rays on either side of the boat. These were the very waters I was about to spend the next 5 days snorkeling in.
We stayed at the Heron Island Research Station, since we were there on a field trip for my Australia’s Marine Environment class. This meant I had to do actual research project work such as observe fish behaviour, count species, and identify live and dead coral. It’s a tough life.
Each day on the island I went snorkeling 1-3 times per day. Sometimes we would just wade out, other times we would take a boat. No matter where we went, we were bound to see some combination of fish, sea stars, sea cucumbers, eels, sea snakes, sharks, rays, and sea turtles. While the fish were beautiful and the rays majestic (and the sea cucumbers turd-like), the sea turtles were my favourite. They did not mind if I swam above them and followed them for 10 minutes. They also did not mind if I dove down and attempted to pose with them as they nommed on the coral. Nor did they mind if I stroked their shell, their legs, and their butt. Regardless of what I did, they just gave me a look and did their own thing.
The second best parts of the day were meal times. Our caterer Maggie was a boss. She gave us an intimidating introduction to her kitchen, but man was her food good. Homemade bread all day, every day. Plus we had traditional Aussie tea times, which meant delicious cinnamon cake for morning tea and fresh fruit for afternoon tea. Love that island living- 5 meals a day.
At night there was little to do, seeing as the island consisted solely of the research station and a resort. So we roamed the beaches with red lights looking for turtle hatchlings. We never found any but we did find the Milky Way! Stars on stars on stars. One night a couple students from Lewis & Clark University put on a concert for us. With a guitar, a mandolin, a fiddle, and an ukulele they serenaded us with sing-a-long music.
For our last night on the island we decided to go out with a bang. Our lecturer organised for all 50 of us to go to the resort bar after dinner. So we dressed up as best we could in our beach clothes and headed to the bar in shifts so as not to overwhelm the resort guests too much. We slowly took over the dance floor, chasing resort guests off to bed as the night progressed (unintentionally of course). The band was an older couple who played classics along the lines of Fleetwood Mac. Until they announced their last song and started playing “I Come From the Land Down Under”. The crowd went wild. Everyone who wasn’t already on the dance floor quickly made their way there.
Another fun part of the trip was talking to all the international students. I met Wayne from Thailand, Emmi from Finland, Sandra & Therese from Sweeden, and 3 girls from Britain. The British girls loved to practice their American accents with us. The Swedish girls practiced Swedish phrases with us.
All in all, it was a very educational field trip!
by Sharna Bremner
In my position as an IFSA-Butler Student Services Coordinator (SSC) I help students through the process of adjusting to life in a foreign country. I help with dealing with culture shock, homesickness, and even language differences.
Right now, however, the situation is reversed. I find myself in the position my students are usually in. I am living in the small “third-world” country of Timor Leste, which is located close to Indonesia, about a 90 minute flight north of Darwin, while I do some research for my PhD.
It’s not the first time I’ve lived in a foreign country after spending some time in London many years ago, and studying for a semester in Thailand during my undergraduate degree. Yet, despite this, and regardless of the fact that I have helped many students through homesickness and culture shock, I had forgotten how tough it can actually be.
Living in another country, any country, being away from family and friends, isn’t always easy. Homesickness is inevitable. Frustrations occur regularly. Different cultures have strange quirks that you just don’t understand.
I often remind my students that feeling sad, lonely, isolated, and frustrated is part of the process. It’s completely okay, and you need to feel it, not ignore it. I tell them to embrace the differences, instead of being annoyed by them. I ask them to remember all of the reasons they wanted to study abroad in the first place. Sometimes, it’s not quite that easy.
Right now, I miss my dog. I miss my Mum. I miss talking to my sister a dozen times a day. I’m sick of my feet always being dirty because of the dirt and monsoonal rain. I’m frustrated that I don’t understand the language. I’m irritated by the painfully slow internet that means that I can’t check my emails or Facebook every day. I would love a hot shower and consistent electricity.
I could almost guarantee that for some of the students who attended our Sydney Orientations in February 2013, the shine is wearing off. The homesickness is setting in, or has been lingering for bit now. Australia is now home – but not the home you know – and life is no longer a vacation. I get it now, more than I did before.
Know that feeling that way is totally okay. In fact, I think it’s necessary. I might have forgotten how hard living in a foreign country can be, but I do remember that the homesickness, sadness and frustrations fade. I remember how much I grew, how much I learnt, and how very proud of myself I was at the end of my time in Thailand. I don’t think I would have felt that way without hating it for a while.
Right at this second, I’m reminding myself that living in another country is amazing. Yes, it’s different and challenging, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I am lucky to have. It’s an opportunity that I wanted, with challenges that I am capable of facing. I was actually reminded of that by a past student of mine. I put out the call on Facebook asking for tips for dealing with homesickness, and her response was perfect: “Sharna, you got this.”
She’s right. I’ve got this. We all do.
Homesickness and culture shock be dammed. We all chose our study abroad adventure. We wanted to be challenged. We wanted to experience another life.
We got this.
Although, I still wouldn’t say no to clean feet, a hot shower, and some Vegemite on toast…
Devon Burton from Vassar College, is a returning IFSA-Butler student at the University of Wollongong. She is making the most of her study abroad experience in numerous ways and she has been selected as the Student of the Month for March!
Devon is a Student Development/Office Administrator (SDO). She works at the International House as an SDO, which includes working in the office during the week and orgainising iLive events. iLive is a program created by the house manager in order to promote unity and culture within International House:
“We aim to be more than an accommodation but a home. We do this by running events every Tuesday and Thursday, surrounding current issues, discussing global cultures, and just finding fun and interesting things to do and talk about. In order to fulfill this role, I have gone through safety training. This position gives me an opportunity to get to know everyone in iHouse and be involved in bringing people together.”
During Devon’s time in Australia, she decided to go on a Vispanna Buddhist Meditation retreat:
“I signed up for this retreat in hopes to calm my nerves and have a clearer head. This experience was more than i have hoped for. Although there were hard days, the meditation has changed my life. It has helped me to focus on reality, on what is happening NOW in my life, and not to let the past hold me back or my thoughts of my future stop me from making every moment of my day counts. This retreat helped me to see life in a different way, and helped me to be more motivated and productive in my life. But most importantly it helped me to start making choice with a love and kindness, to stress less and just enjoy life for what it is now. I recommend enrolling in a retreat to anyone who is willing to take 10 days out of their life to learn more about themselves and help you to move forward in your own life.”
This semester Devon was thrilled to be a part of a theatre production through the University of Wollongong. It is a course offered to students to take upon themselves a technical role within a theatre setting. Since she has been training to be a stage manager back home, Devon was happy to take on the role again this semester. As a stage manager Devon is in charge of rehearsals, safety, keeping communication open between the entire production, and running the shows among many other responsibilities:
“Since I have only stage managed at my college back home, this is a great opportunity to see how much I have learned and put my practice into action. I am taking this as a very big learning opportunity and am excited to see how much I can improve on being a stage manager. It also helps me to settle down here in Australia and meet new people who have a similar passion as I do.”
As a returning IFSA-Butler student, Devon is proud to say that this semester she is able to help the new IFSA-Butler students adjust to their life in Australia. “After being in Australia for 7 months now, I know how it feels to be an international in a new country. When students within the program and other students on my campus have a question, I am more than happy to help and give as much advice as i can. I can help them with questions that they have or just give them advice on things I know I struggled with last semester.”
“Having a chance to live in Australia is AMAZING and I am glad that i am here to help others have a great time here too.”
Well done Devon! Congratulations!
By Yogini Patel
Last weekend was the Melbourne student’s first adventure weekend away. We had a great time on both Saturday and Sunday with plenty of ‘up close and personal’ moments with Koala’s and Wallaby’s/Kangaroo’s as well as Penguins. We first went to Moonlit Sanctuary where we had the opportunity to feed Kangaroo’s in their natural environment, we also saw Tasmanian devils, Rita the Wombat and a barking owl as well as some other interesting Australian animals.
We then headed to Phillip Island and had a brief stop at a chocolate factory, mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Chocolate! We then then continued on to Churchill Island to see a sheepdog at work as well as some sheep shearing. Whip cracking and boomerang throwing were also on the agenda. A visit to Woolami Beach showcased what gorgeous beaches Victoria has to offer. We then checked into our accommodation at the Ramada Resort before we set off to see the little Penguins returning from their day out fishing.
Being the malting season, not as many penguins were out at sea, but we still had the opportunity to see many penguins at their burrows waiting for loved ones to return home or just coming out for a social chat!
The following day was a little more relaxed with a visit to Arthurs Seat at the Mornington Peninsular where we saw some great views of the coast. We then headed to Sorrento – the play ground for the rich and famous! It is a lovely little seaside town which is well worth a visit if you come to Victoria. Lunch and wine tasting at Cups Estate winery was very enjoyable which was followed by more wine tasting at Red Hill which was a great way to end a lovely weekend.
Gold Coast IFSA-Butler Students Connect With Community On Clean Up Australia Day by Lindsay Simoncavage
On Sunday, March 3rd, the students studying abroad at Griffith University Gold Coast participated in an IFSA-Butler volunteer event. The students and their student services coordinator braved the stormy weather and participated in a Clean Up Australia Day beach clean up hosted by Sea Shepherd. The event was held at The Spit, an area of importance for so many on the Gold Coast due to the story around it. The event was not only rewarding for the students but also an educational tool to teach them about the Gold Coast and the people who love it. It was a way for them to fully engage with their surroundings and the local community.
One of the first questions that Sea Shepherd asked the students upon their arrival was if they knew the historical background of the place that they were going to be cleaning. Sea Shepherd is an international non-profit organisation who are known for their fight against whaling. The organisation is very popular with locals on the Gold Coast. Sea Shepherd is also a supporter of the Save Our Spit campaign. This campaign is part of an ongoing yearly battle to prevent a cruise ship terminal to be built on Wave Break Island near the Spit. If the ship terminal is built, the beautiful protected Spit parklands and the islands surrounding it would be destroyed and made into parking lots and more hotels. The Spit is a place where people come to fish, boat, spend afternoons with their families or just reflect on the natural beauty of the Gold Coast. The students grabbed their Clean Up Australia garbage bags and recycling bags, put on their gloves and set out to collect numerous cigarette butts, beer bottles and fishing line. With each piece of trash they were removing from nature, they were connecting with the land. The students were energetic and really cared about what they were finding. They worked with a smile on their faces during a break in the rain. Even when the rain began again, some of the students stayed out in the rain and still collected what they could find. At the end of the day, Sea Shepherd wrote out Clean Up Australia Day certificates for each student.
Some of the Australians that were at the clean up commended the students: “It’s amazing to see this many Americans out here on Clean Up Australia Day. There’s only four actual Australians here and you truly put us to shame. Really it’s amazing so thank you so much for caring and learning about our country. We all need to start being more like you!” That was a great feeling for many! I truly believe that the students felt more connected to the Gold Coast and its local community that day. It also was a chance to enhance the reputation of visitors and to show that they care too! Clean Up Australia Day is held on the first Sunday of March every year. It started as a non-profit environmental conservation organisation that has been around since 1989 and the first national cleanup day began in 1990. The clean up is an effort that encourages Australians to look after their local areas.