Alyson Albertson - 2014 Program Participant

Student with Koala in Australia

Alyson posing with a koala

What inspired you to study abroad?

Personally, I've always had a great desire to travel and explore the world. There's a quote that goes, "how can I die without seeing every inch of this earth?" and I couldn't find that to be more relevant to myself. I knew applying to study abroad was a great chance to make this dream a reality. Additionally, at the time I was looking to apply, I found myself in a bit of a rut both at school and home. I've spent my entire life in Philadelphia, and don't get me wrong, I love it here but I needed a change. So I figured the best way for me to get out of this funk I was in was for me to get out of the area and spend a few months in a new atmosphere completely.

I thought this would give me a chance to explore who I really am and what I wanted to do with my life. I knew by putting myself in a new situation that I would learn more about myself than I already knew and grow a lot in the process.

Why did you choose to study abroad in Australia at Macquarie University?

I studied in Sydney, Australia mainly because Australia was always at the top of my list for places to see in my life. Also, snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef was at the top of my bucket list! Because Australia is so far away from the U.S., I doubted that I would ever make it there unless I went for school. It was a bit challenging to make it work for my major, but I am so happy I worked around the issues and got everything sorted out!

The reason I chose to study at Macquarie University was because my advisor compared it very well to my home university. It is one of the smaller unis in Sydney, and it is located only about a 40 minute train ride from the city center. These two qualities were ideal for me. I feel way more at home at a smaller university where you are able to recognize familiar faces on campus and get to know your professors. I also loved the location because I knew there wouldn't be too much of a city vibe. I'm definitely a suburbs girl and Macquarie is located in a nice town just north of the CBD.

What else did you like about Macquarie University’s location?

As I mentioned, I loved that Macquarie was just outside the city. It gave us some space from the hustle and bustle of Sydney, but provided us the opportunity to hop on a train and be there in less than an hour.

My favorite part about Sydney as a whole was that it is so iconic. When people think of Australia, they picture the Sydney Harbour, both the Opera House and the bridge. I loved spending weekends strolling around the harbour, the botanic gardens, and in the downtown historic district, known as "The Rocks." There was always a fun festival or event going on in the city as well, whether it was the weekend markets, the numerous food and cultural festivals, or fireworks in Darling Harbour.

The Sydney Harbour at sunset

A view of the beautiful Sydney Harbour as the sun begins to set

In addition to the city life, you could hop on a train or ferry and get to the coast within minutes. The number of beaches were endless and each one was more beautiful than the next. And if all else failed, Sydney is basically the hub to get to anywhere in Australia. They had flights going to almost every city that were both convenient and cheap (for Australia's standards). I had so many opportunities to travel the country that I don't think I would have had otherwise, if I studied in another city.

Sydney really has a taste of everything; my opportunities were endless.

What made studying abroad with IFSA-Butler unique?

They honestly made my experience one of a kind. I was the only student from my home university studying in Australia, so I was nervous I wouldn't meet many people because I'm a pretty shy person. I was also nervous I wouldn't experience much of the culture or really know what to do while abroad. But because of IFSA I was able to meet a great group of kids and experience a lot of things I never would have thought to do!

For starters, we went over on a group flight and all sat together. This was comforting because we all were leaving the country by ourselves for the first time, so we all understood how each other felt, which made leaving a lot easier. Upon arrival in Sydney, IFSA staff picked us up from the airport and transported us to where we would be staying in the city for a few days during orientation. The staff was super welcoming and really took care of us.

As I mentioned, IFSA provided us with an orientation program which included a walking tour of the city, a hike in the famous Blue Mountains, a visit to a local wildlife park where we got to feed kangaroos and wallabies, and an aboriginal experience. Instantly we were immersed in the Australian culture. In addition to the orientation programs, IFSA also took us on several events throughout the semester. We went to a rugby game, a show at the Opera House, dinner at an old pancake shop, participated in The Colour Run, and spent a weekend in the countryside.

Visiting the Australian countryside

Our IFSA-Butler group during Country Life weekend.

What activity arranged by IFSA did you enjoy the most?

"Country Life" was easily my favorite program hosted by IFSA. We spent the weekend with a host family in the country about three hours outside of Sydney. Throughout the weekend we had giant cookouts, helped plant trees, fed horses, and drove around the land of several farms where we saw heaps of wildlife (kangaroos and emus!). Country Life gave me a real taste of Australia that I would not have seen otherwise if it weren't for IFSA.

How supportive would you say local IFSA-Butler staff were throughout your program?

The IFSA-Butler Australia staff were A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! They put on unforgettable events, always stopped by to visit us on campus, took us out for lunch/dinner, met up for coffee, and were always a phone call or text away. The staff always provided us with amazing ideas for things to do in and around the city and helped us find things that suited our interest. If I ever needed anything, I never felt alone because I knew the staff would always be there to offer me the exact guidance I needed to solve any problem I faced.

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

Looking back, I wish I would have put myself out there a bit more at first. I was very nervous and shy to do much both at uni and in the city for the first month or so (the rainy winter weather wasn't much help, either). But overall I have no regrets.

My time in Australia was the best time of my life and I wouldn't change it for the world!

What was a normal day like for you as a student in Sydney?

A basic day for me would consist of going to class, hanging out with friends, grabbing dinner, and maybe venturing in the city. We were always looking for somewhere new to try and something new to see or experience. As the spring approached and the weather got nicer Sydney had many events and fun outdoor activities, and I tried to do as much as possible. It got to the point where I was planning my days around getting to new places in the city, rather than planning them around school. But don't worry, I still managed to get all my work done.

Sculpture on the Bondi to Coogee beach walk

Sculpture by the sea on the Bondi to Coogee beach walk

What was your favorite thing to do on your freetime?

My favorite activity that I did several times was definitely the coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee beach. It is about a five kilometer walk full of nothing but beautiful coastal views that stops at several beaches along the way. I'm a very outdoorsy person, so getting out and exploring the coast was my favorite thing to do on weekends. And when you get hot from all the walking, there are so many natural pools that you are able to take a dip in! The best time to experience this walk is during the annual "Sculpture by the Sea" event, where hundreds of sculptures are lined up and placed perfectly along the walk. The coast becomes an outdoor gallery and makes the views even more stunning.

What was your housing like in Australia?

I lived in Macquarie University Village in a five person flat. It was nice because I had my own room and my own bathroom! Plus, I lived very close to a lot of my friends. The village was great because it was like a little community of international students so we had the opportunity to meet and become friends with people from all over the world. The village also held welcome events and small events throughout the semester to help us get accustomed to university life in Australia and to survive the semester and finals.

Now that you're home, how has studying abroad in Australia impacted your life?

Living in another country impacted me in more ways than I could have ever imagined. For starters I'm a lot less reliant on technology to get through the day. Being abroad, wifi wasn't readily available everywhere you went, and it was amazing. I live a lot more in the moment and experience and enjoy things in ways I never used to. Additionally, I am a lot more easy going and relaxed. Australians are very laid back people and go with the flow. Living in this culture has helped me to understand things always work out the way they should and if something goes wrong I don't need to stress out because eventually I will figure it out. Everything will always be okay.

Studying abroad has also helped me grow as an individual. I am a lot more independent than I was before I left. This is because while abroad I had to figure things out on my own and fix things when something went wrong. I'm a lot better at problem-solving, communicating, multi-tasking, planning, and a lot of other things that I will use throughout the rest of my life.

Surfing in Australia

Giving surfing a shot!

As I mentioned earlier, the reason I looked to study abroad was because I was in a funk and was looking to find myself. I can easily say that while in Australia I found exactly who I am and have never felt more myself. I finally know what I want to do with my life and where I want to go and I owe all of that to studying abroad and Sydney, Australia.