Valerie Niklas - 2015 Program Participant

Hiking in Tasmania

Hiking in Tasmania

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I love to travel. Exploring new cultures and countries is one of my favorite things to do. I also found myself looking for something more in myself and my routine. I wanted to meet new people, experience and learn new things, and hopefully find myself along the way. Applying for an international program means throwing yourself into the complete unknown and coming home stronger. I learned how to be truly independent, I learned how to be happy in new circumstances, and I learned that every day can be an adventure if you make it one.

Why did you choose The Education Abroad Network’s program at the University of Melbourne?

I chose the University of Melbourne because it is ranked as Australia's top university; I chose Melbourne because it is the creative capital of Australia, and I chose Australia because I had had an obsession with it since I was young (based on what, I'm not totally sure). I didn't do much research into TEAN, but it was the only program that went to Australia that was affiliated with my school. It ended up being a blessing in disguise.

TEAN was there every step of the way, took us out to footy matches, coffee breaks, and delicious meals. They planned really amazing excursions to Thailand, New Zealand, and Cairns (which I highly recommend). TEAN is a respectable organization that honestly thrives off giving you the best possible study abroad experience.

What was your favorite part about Melbourne?

It's hard to say what my favorite part was. Melbourne was the perfect sized city, not too big, not too small. It's close enough to beautiful beaches, mountain ranges, and rainforests when you feel like getting some nature.

I have to say the first thing that comes to mind is the food. My favorite thing to do in Melbourne was eat. If you wanted authentic Italian, you went to Lygon. Greek gyros, French Belgian waffles, Chinese dumplings, Thai mango rice, American burgers, you name it, Melbourne had it, and they had it good. I still drool over Instagram accounts that boast the Melbourne cuisine.

Waterfalls in Bali, Indonesia

Waterfalls in Bali

What made studying abroad through TEAN unique?

TEAN seemed like more than just an organization to me. I was always in contact with someone who was helping me out, giving me information, or answering questions. They made sure you got everything you needed in on time; they made sure you were well accommodated and situated. When I was in Melbourne I received just as much support as I had before. They offered enough freedom to make you feel independent and enough guidance to help you through whatever you needed.

How did the local staff support you throughout your time in Melbourne?

Our local staff member was there day or night; I don't mean that figuratively either. One night a student got too drunk and needed to be picked up. Our local staff member was there at 4 a.m. driving around Melbourne looking for him to make sure he was safe. He really went above and beyond his duties. Whether we needed emotional support or just someone to save our butts, he was there. He was also very generous with coffee and dinner breaks.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I had met more Australians. I found myself spending most of my time with the other girls in the program. We were living together, new to this place together, it was convenient. Looking back now, I can only think of one Australian friend I had to say goodbye to. My advice would be to separate from the group sometimes. When you're alone you are forced to meet new people. Meeting more Australians would have allowed me to really immerse myself in the culture, and maybe even come back with an awesome new accent.

Describe a day in the life of your program. 

After my morning routine, I'd usually make my way to a coffee shop where I'd get my daily cappuccino (Melbourne is famous for their coffee). I'd catch a tram or walk to campus where I'd attend a lecture or tutorial once a day. I usually found myself scoping out which delicious restaurant to try out that day and make plans to check it out for dinner.

On my way home from classes I'd stop at the Queen Victoria Market for cheap and local groceries. If I had work to do I'd stop by the library around the corner from where I lived (also a gallery if I felt like checking out the new art installation). I'd go to the rooftop gym, shower, and get ready for a night out.

We found hidden bars down alleyways, hidden bars behind bookcases, bars that you had to find your way out of, bars without roofs, bars with hospital beds; pretty much any bar that you could dream of, they had it. If I had lots of work to do the next day, I'd usually stay in and watch some repeats of Friends or some of the crazy Aussie shows they had over there.

Weekends consisted of excursions to beautiful places, surf trips organized by our school, and extended vacations to random parts of Australia.

What was your favorite thing to do on your free time?

Traveling. Being able to take a quick trip to Bali, New Zealand, or other parts of Australia was truly amazing. I never felt stagnant. Life was an ongoing adventure with endless possibilities. I got to skydive in Australia, bungy jump in New Zealand, scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef, hike a volcano in Bali, and ride elephants in Thailand. It was a really phenomenal experience that I count myself extremely lucky to have been able to do.

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

We lived in a brand new high rise student accommodation building. The location was definitely the best part, right in the heart of Melbourne's CBD and a 15 minute walk from the University of Melbourne. The facilities were beautiful and very clean. We had a gym and cinema on the roof, as well as grills and dining tables so we could have BBQs. There were pool tables and study rooms on the ground floor. If you got lucky, you were on a high floor with amazing views of the city.

The Twelve Apostles in Port Campbell National Park in Victoria, Australia

The Twelve Apostles

How has studying abroad in Melbourne impacted your life at home?

It's hard to say right now; it feels like it was all a dream. I came back a different person. I came back with a new view of the world, not just one of the little corner I've known. It was a humbling experience to visit countries like Indonesia and Cambodia, where things are so different from our way of life. I came back grateful for my experiences and driven to continue to have them. Since I've been back, I haven't stopped thinking about planning my next adventure. I realized how easy it can be to just get up and go! People always asked me how I did it, how was I traveling? The answer was simple: you just do it.