Kayla Schlenz - 2015 Program Participant

The 12 Apostles, Port Campbell National Park, Victoria, Australia

The 12 Apostles, Great Ocean Road

Why did you decide to apply for a study abroad program?

There were a lot of reasons behind my decision to study abroad. While part of the motivation was my school's incredible financial aid program and the psychology department encouraging all psych majors to spend a semester outside of the United States, I think in the end it came down to I wanted to see the world and fully experience a different culture, and I realized that this was the perfect time in my life to do it. There was nothing tying me down, nothing holding me back, and nothing to lose, so I decided to take a chance and see how the rest of the world looked.

Why did you choose IFSA-Butler?

IFSA-Butler was highly encouraged by my school (Wesleyan University) and was especially promoted for studying abroad in Australia. Originally, I was a little hesitant about choosing such an organized program, since I was terrified that they would "hold my hand" way too much and I wouldn't actually experience the culture. After doing more research about IFSA, I discovered that they were flexible and had a range of programs that varied from much more independent to more organized. The more I read about it, the more I realized it was exactly what I needed. Turns out it was a great choice, with amazing excursions (already paid for!) and they left us mostly independent to experience where we were.

IFSA became an extraordinary safety-net that I could rely on while on the other side of the world, which gave me the courage to try new things and take risks.

A kangaroo warning street sign in Australia

One of the more amusing street signs one will see driving in Australia

What was your favorite part about living in Melbourne? 

Melbourne, Australia. I wish there were enough words in the English language to describe how much I adored everything there. There really isn't a favorite part. I absolutely loved every aspect of it. The city is alive and filled with art, music, and an air of opportunity. Everything is accessible with their amazing public transportation, and there was honestly never a moment when I was in the city when I came across a place that felt unsafe. It is a great city to explore in and of itself, with so many attractions (both natural attractions like the St. Kilda penguins and manmade monuments such as Eureka tower) and so many unique shops, restaurants, and places.

It also is a gateway to the rest of Australia. The Great Ocean Road drive is a day trip from Melbourne, a stunning mountain range is also a couple of hours away. Amazing scuba diving is an hour's drive down on the Mornington Peninsula, as is Phillip's Island. If everything around Melbourne isn't enough, their international airport (accessible by a $18 bus fare) can take you anywhere else in Australia, or the world. Living in a place so vibrant and changing was exciting to say the least.

What characteristics of your program made it unique? 

IFSA's catch phrase is "more culture, less shock" and I feel like it is a perfect summation of what they do. They took care of the less pleasant aspects of studying abroad; housing was taken care of, enrollment in the uni was taken care of, and besides my visa, they took care of documentation. It allowed me to jump right into the process of adjusting to Australian culture (which is surprisingly different from the States). They also plan amazing excursions throughout the semester which allowed me to experience aspects of Australian culture that I wouldn't have in any other setting.

However, my favorite part of IFSA was the support that I got not only in my city, but anywhere I traveled. Since they are a well-established global organization, I had a local staff member nearby wherever I traveled. It was just really comforting knowing I had someone who could help me if there was an emergency, regardless of where I was at.

How supportive were local staff members throughout your program?

Local staff planned all our excursions and were always present for those, but besides that were there if we needed them. For the most part, we fended for ourselves, but knew that if we needed extra support, they were always there to help out.

Hiking in Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park, Australia

Hiking in Kings Canyon

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

I wish I branched out more to locals while I was there. It was difficult doing so in a city and at a uni where nearly everyone commuted two hours to/from school, but I think potentially being involved in more clubs may have helped me meet more people from the Melbourne area. As it was, I made some incredible lifelong friends, but many of them were other study abroad and exchange kids.

What was a typical day like for you as an international student in Melbourne?

Most weekdays I'd wake up in my apartment with my roommate and we'd get ready to commute to uni. It was a half hour walk to Uni down some beautiful streets, so on nice weather days we would just walk to our classes, but when it rained we'd walk five minutes to the nearest tram stop and commute from there. My classes usually ended around noon, so I'd head down to the State Library or one of the many city gardens and study there a bit, before heading back home to cook dinner.

On Sundays we'd head up to the Queen Victoria Open Air Market to do all our produce shopping from local vendors (and eat some of their street food). Certain Wednesdays there was also a night market at Queen Victoria, so we'd go there and listen to live music, explore all the booths, and eat REALLY killer street food! Thursdays and Fridays we'd head over to a club, or just head down to the riverside and watch the city lights reflect in the river.

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

Exploring the city and all it had to offer. Sometimes on weekends we'd have time outside of homework to explore the local gardens, try out a new restaurant, or stumble upon a used book store. These small discoveries were some of my favorite moments in the program.

Traveling was also a huge activity that occurred outside day to day life, but I feel that falls into a separate category. I loved being able to go on weekend adventures and experience so much in such a short period of time, and have so many life changing moments occur (such as hot air ballooning, skydiving, scuba diving, and riding camels in the Australian Outback).

 Riding camels near Uluru in Australia

Riding Camels in Uluru

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

We lived in a UniLodge apartment, which for the most part I adored. The view from our apartment was AMAZING and my roommate and I each had a really nice room, as well as a living room and a kitchen. I really adored it since it gave us the freedom of living independently, and the apartment was in the heart of the city. Everything was accessible and it was such a lovely place to come home to each day.

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

Everyday I'm reminded of my time abroad in some way. Moving outside the constraints of my structured and busy life in the U.S. allowed me to expand and grow in ways that I didn't expect to. I know I'm more confident in myself, and overall just happier in everything I do. I miss Australia but my time there solidified the idea that I am a traveler, and I now just look forward to seizing the next opportunity I have to experience something new.