Erika Penrose - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

As a biology student, I study life. As a girl from a small Midwestern town, I knew I had a limited view of life. Although going to college exposed me to new adventures, I still wanted more. I wanted to see more, do more, and experience more. I wanted to meet people with different backgrounds, people who had unique stories and people from other cultures, and I decided the best way to make that happen would be to immerse myself in a new place, one unlike what I was familiar with.

I went to Australia looking for new life, both literally and figuratively. Quite literally, Australia is home to one of the most unique ecosystems in the world, which can be seen in everything from the huge trees in the rainforests to the kangaroos that sometimes hop across the road. This provided an amazing learning environment for a biologist. Figuratively, I wanted to expand my horizons. I wanted to understand new cultures and viewpoints as well as learn new skills and chase after the unknown. This was achieved and exceeded as I made lifelong friends not only from Australia, but from around the world.

Gold Coast, Australia
Even on a cloudy day, the Gold Coast is breathtaking.

During my time in the dreamland that is Australia, I not only made friends I never could have imagined before and learned about cultures around the world, but I started to find myself as well. It's a strange thing, leaving to explore the world and coming back with not only new knowledge about the world, but also newfound knowledge about yourself; it is a reality that every student who has studied abroad experiences, and one of the coolest parts of studying abroad.

Thanks to everyone on the TEAN staff, I was able to experience a new part of the world. They immersed us in the culture, taking us to local events and making sure we had insider knowledge about all the goings-on around us. Although I went abroad to learn about the world, I never could have dreamed of how many amazing memories I would make. From the moment I landed down to the moment I left for home four months later, every moment was impactful in one way or another and all are moments I hope to never forget.

I was inspired by a desire for more, and in learning more, I became aware of exactly how much more there is to explore, which is truly an amazing reality.

Why did you choose The Education Abroad Network (TEAN)? Were you satisfied with your decision in the end?

I chose The Education Abroad Network (TEAN) because they have the best reputation for education abroad experiences in the Asia Pacific, and I can confidently say they upheld that reputation. The moment I landed in Australia, they had staff waiting for us at the airport, eager to get to know us and help enable everything we wanted to do.

From taking us to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef to sending us to climb the tallest building in Australia to bringing us to local rugby games, everything they did helped make our experience more authentic and more memorable. They made sure we were aware of the cultural differences between America and Australia, which gave us a huge advantage over our peers who had come through other programs. Additionally, they introduced us to friends whom we would later visit and stay with while traveling the country.

In every possible way they could, the TEAN staff made us feel at home, taking us out to eat and making sure all our questions were answered. Without TEAN, I would not have been able to experience nearly as much, and TEAN played an immeasurable role in making these some of the best months of my life.

Rock pool in the rainforest of Australia
Rock pool hopping in the rainforest.

What was your favorite part about Australia?

My favorite part of Australia, and specifically the Gold Coast, was the possibilities. With a beach on one side, a rainforest and mountains on the other, and a city in the middle, the possibilities in the Gold Coast are endless. You can meet every type of person, go on any type of adventure, and enjoy true Australian life. From talking to surfers on the beach to watching Aboriginals play the didgeridoo, hiking mountains to cliff jumping into rock pools, and street dancers to farmers markets, the Gold Coast truly has it all, and in one of the prettiest locations to boot. I could wake up and have a million different days and still never get bored.

Somedays, I'd meet a local hiking and they'd invite me out for dinner that night. Others, I'd go downtown and simply watch tourists go about their days. The Gold Coast was the perfect location for my Australia experience: the people were laid back, the downtown was always buzzing with weekend festivals and events, and the beaches were plentiful. It was a dream come true.

What made your experience of study abroad unique?

I think one of the most unique parts of my experience was the location itself. Going into this experience, I didn't know anyone who had studied abroad in Australia, and as such, had no idea what to expect. I knew that it was easier to get to Europe than Australia, and I knew I would always be able to go on a Europe trip if I wanted to, but Australia was unique and different and I didn't know if I'd ever get another chance to go.

 Australia is unique in that although it's a major power of the world, it's one of the most laid-back cultures I have ever experienced. People are less career focused, and more orientated towards overall happiness in life and contributing to the world in whatever way you most enjoy. They don't take life too seriously, and it was definitely much safer than America or Europe, all of which helped to make my experience a unique one.

International students in Gold Coast, Australia
Everyday is a beach day on the Gold Coast!

How did the local TEAN staff go above and beyond to support you throughout your time in Australia?

TEAN had two local staff who lived in the Gold Coast, Helen and Emma. These two were both funny and friendly, making sure we had everything we needed. One day, they took us out to a local chocolate cafe to get desserts and chat and I remember thinking that they must've bought the entire cafe out so that we could try it all, and then after eating as much as we could, Helen asked if we wanted any more. We of course had to decline as we were getting to a point similar to the fullness of Thanksgiving, but our whole experience with them could probably be summed up there.

They were always so happy to take us out and share their lives with us, and always always always made sure we all had what we needed. They made themselves available at all hours for any questions or late-night homesickness we might be feeling, and I could not have asked for two better people to welcome me to the Gold Coast.

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

I honestly wouldn't change anything because even things that weren't 100% perfect taught me invaluable lessons and I definitely would not have gotten all that I did from study abroad if everything went perfectly all the time. Part of the process is making mistakes and learning from them, and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

On a typical day, I might wake up and run on the beach before class, go to class, and then maybe grab lunch with some people on campus before taking the tram back. I might stop in downtown and watch the street performers or enjoy the atmosphere before heading back to go watch the sunset on the beach, or go back and swim in the ocean depending how late it was. I'd almost always end my day by making dinner with my roommate and our friends in the building and catching up on life.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time most?

I enjoyed going to the beach and attempting to surf, or getting a car with friends and going to explore the local towns and hiking spots. Living in a big city that was surrounded by mountains, rainforests, and beaches was a cool experience because you were literally never bored. Whether I wanted to spend the day shopping or hiking mountains, there were endless possibilities.

Hiking in the mountains of New Zealand
Hiking the Southern Alps in New Zealand

What was your accommodation like?

I lived in an apartment that was situated midway between the metropolitan downtown and the neighboring surf village that was known to have lots of locals shops and cafes as well as crazy views of the entire coast. I loved the location. Although it was a 30 minute tram ride from my school, I was able to more fully explore my city because of the location. All of the staff there were so friendly and the facilities were top of the line, creating a welcoming home to return to every time we returned from our adventures.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

Something interesting about Australia is that on the coat of arms, there is a kangaroo and an emu. It is long said that these were chosen as the animals because both lack the ability to walk backwards, and thus symbolize Australia as a country that is always moving forward. I believe this is important for people to know because, in my opinion, this truly captures the Australian spirit. Laid back and willing to take life slow, they are always moving forwards, never dwelling for too long on the mistakes of the past and never stopping to worry too much about the future; they simply take life as it comes, head-on, always moving forward.

If you're looking for a friendly, laid-back bunch of people who are open to new ideas and love to get to know strangers, Australia is the place to move, and I guarantee that it will move you forward.

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

My time abroad has opened doors and brought in ideas that I carry with me everyday. Watching current events from another country really opens your eyes to the rest of the world; I have more motivation to keep up with current events because I have friends all over the world and I now better understand their importance. I would say that I carry more awareness with me everyday of the injustice of the world, but I am also surrounded by a feeling of love that my friends abroad sent with me and I carry in my heart everywhere I go. I carry a new empowered-ness, a sense that anything is possible, because I have already accomplished more than I dreamed of being able to do.

Going abroad opened my eyes to the fact that there is more to life than what I knew previously, and taught me that life will come and go and I can either enjoy it or not. I would say that I now have a better sense of purpose, a better understanding of my place in this giant world, and an idea of the adventures that are out there.

Would you recommend TEAN to other students? Why?

Yes definitely! In fact, not only would I recommend TEAN, I might even encourage people already involved with another program to consider switching. Everything TEAN did for us was done full out, making sure they were organized enough that we didn't have to worry about things and could instead spend our time enjoying the places we were in. TEAN planned several group activities for us, all of which they paid for, and were open to suggestions of what we wanted to do as well. They made sure everything was taken care of to the best of their ability and that anything we needed we had. The staff were 100 percent positive and welcoming, taking interest in our lives as they shared their home country with the truest spirit of hospitality.

Everything about TEAN was perfect, and I can confidently say my experience would not have been the same without them.