One of the requirements I am expected to fulfill for graduation includes studying abroad. We are given the option to study abroad for a few weeks during the summer or winter breaks, or we can study abroad for a semester. My inspiration to go abroad stemmed from the fact that I was looking a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity straight in the face; when else would I be given this opportunity?
As an individual who has never flown on a plane for more than three hours at a time, I seriously considered the amount of options I had. I never traveled outside of the country before, so I was not able to cancel out any options due to previous travel. I always envisioned Australia as a phenomenal destination to travel to; it was almost too good of a choice. For awhile, I was set on going to Ireland for a few weeks, but when I stepped back and looked at the opportunity I had at my fingertips, I realized that this would be the one chance I had to actually live in Australia for months. It would not just be a vacation--I would be residing there. I submitted the application immediately after.
Why did you choose IFSA-Butler’s program in Gold Coast specifically?
I absolutely love the beach, which is why this destination was perfect for me. My university offers a program in Melbourne that they run, but did not offer a program to Gold Coast, which is why I went through a third-party program provider (IFSA-Butler).
What was your favorite part about Australia?
One of my favorite parts of choosing this destination was the weather. I was in Australia from July until November, which is the end of winter into spring. By the time I left in November, summer was rolling in. While I was there in the winter and early spring, the temperature was absolutely beautiful--you couldn't beat it. It was comfortable weather, usually around high 60s, low 70s, and the sun was always shining. By the end of the semester, it really started to heat up, getting close to the 90's. I am not very fond of unbearably hot weather, so going during these months was a perfect fit for me.
As an outdoors-oriented individual, Australia fit me well. I enjoy being outside, hiking, swimming, going to the beach, and now surfing! There was always something to do or see. Even if I sat on the beach by my apartment, I felt like I was doing something productive.
What made your experience abroad unique?
One of the most unique aspects of studying abroad was volunteering my time to help plan the Griffith University Gold Coast Relay for Life. As a newly welcomed committee member, I was asked by the Cancer Council Queensland Representative to participate in the ceremony by speaking as a representative for the youth, the future, and on behalf of international students.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
IFSA-Butler assigned a staff member to oversee the participants who attended their program, so I had access to someone who could help resolve any conflicts. She was absolutely terrific and helped me in many ways. She taught a cultural engagement course while I was abroad, so she served as both my professor and my program contact. She ensured that I was getting along okay and took us to community-run events to help assimilate us into our surrounding community.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
If the option was offered, I wish I could have lived with a host family. While the accommodations I was provided with were incredible, I lacked relationships with Australian residents. I made a lot of friends with international students, however, I feel like my interactions with other Australians was limited in comparison.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
If it was a weekend, I would wake up around 9:00 a.m., get on the public transportation (tram, then bus), and head over to my favorite local destination--Burleigh Heads. After spending a few hours on the beach, I would head over to grab something to eat for lunch and then walk on a hiking trail nearby. I would head back to my apartment in the late afternoon for dinner and then go down to the hot tub to end the night. Other local destinations that I would visit include Coolangatta Beach and The Spit, located in Main Beach.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time, I enjoyed going to local markets and beaches. I enjoyed spending time in various beach communities and traveling up and down the coast of Queensland and New South Wales. I found myself hiking a lot, as well as taking train rides into Brisbane to spend the day. If I had free time, I was usually in nature somewhere, whether that was a national park, a beach, a hiking trail, or a nearby city.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I resided in Surfers Century Oceanside Apartments and absolutely loved it. I lived seconds away from the beach, could see the ocean from my balcony, and was living in an up-to-date, modernized apartment. It was fully equipped with everything I could have needed, ranging from a dryer rack to a dishwasher, and everything in between. Living comfortably was a complete understatement!
While there was a list of things I liked about my accommodation, I have to say the proximity to the beach was the best. All I had to do was cross the street and I was in the sand. Nothing can quite compare!
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
While it seems obvious, I think participants should be aware of their surroundings PRIOR to the departure to Australia. I think it is vital to know that Surfers Paradise is tourist-central, and that the beach is nearby. You would be surprised at how many people selected the Gold Coast location and did not like the beach! Public transportation will be your best friend, so if it is something you are not used to, keep an open mind because it will be your number one way around the area (and to school). Ultimately, do your research ahead of time.
Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?
Studying abroad has given me a different perspective on the concept of time. Looking back on it now, my time abroad flew by. Everyone warned me about it, I knew it was going to happen, and yet it still took my by surprise when I was in the airport heading home. It has made me appreciate time more and take advantage of the opportunities I have. Studying abroad has solidified my sense of independence and it has verified the potential in myself.
Would you recommend your program to others? Why?
I would absolutely recommend IFSA as a program provider to others, especially because I interacted one-on-one with their staff. Someone was always in contact with us and I never felt as if I had to figure anything out on my own. They were extremely helpful both before my departure and upon my return.
Annamaria is a junior psychology major at Susquehanna University and she hopes to pursue a career in gerontology. She is actively involved on campus and holds numerous executive positions for various clubs and organizations. Annamaria studied abroad for a semester in the Fall of 2016 at Griffith University’s Gold Coast Campus located in Queensland, Australia.