Matt Sirois - 2014 Program Participant

View of the Sydney Opera House in Australia

Orientation in Sydney, Australia

What inspired you to go abroad?

When I began looking at colleges, I knew I wanted to go abroad. My family had pushed traveling at a very young age, and that began my love for exploring new places. I was lucky enough to see so much of the U.S., and even parts of Europe, before I even graduated high school. By the time I got to the University of Rhode Island, I was ready to see something new.

I chose an international program because I wanted to expand my knowledge; there is only so much you can read in a book or watch a movie about. I knew the best moments in life are the experiences you have. I wanted a chance to go somewhere totally new, throw myself in, and find my place.

Why did you choose The Education Abroad Network?

I was extremely indecisive when choosing my specific program. I started off with simply a country. I knew I had seen parts of Europe already, and wanted the chance to experience a new region of the world. Australia seemed like the next obvious choice. Australia was a country that, in pictures and images, seemed like a similarly Westernized country. It was the things I couldn't see that drew me in. I wanted to experience what made Australia, well, Australia. I wanted to know the little things, the differences, and the culture that was hidden behind the images and videos I saw.

After it was decided I wanted to go to Australia, I simply asked around and did my research. Without a doubt, the most common program to pop up was The Education Abroad Network (TEAN). Friend after friend told me about TEAN, and site after site put TEAN on the top of the list. So I applied, and almost immediately I was receiving emails and phone calls from TEAN. Not just generic emails or robotic phone calls, but actual staff talking with me, to get to know me, and help me decide on what university to choose. It felt genuine and real, which in term calmed any nerves I had about my travels ahead.

Selfie with a kangaroo at the Featherdale Wildlife Park in Sydney, Australia

Kangaroo selfie at the Featherdale Wildlife Park in Sydney, Australia

What was your favorite part about Gold Coast?

Gold Coast was an incredible city to live in. The name alone made it stand out when looking at locations, and it lived up to the name. The city lives on the coast; for miles and miles it goes along the ocean, extending until you can't see much more than dots, and those dots are still Gold Coast.

It was easy for me to settle on the fact that my favorite part about Gold Coast was how obvious it was that it was built around nature, not on top of it. The city was built with waterways all throughout, that all ran back to the ocean in the end. While the city was long, stretching beside the water, it didn't go deep inland. That was due to the vast expansion of hinterlands (woods) that bordered the city. In less than an hour, you were in the middle of vast forests with trails and hikes that ran every which way. Even within the city limits, there was preserved nature to explore.

One of my favorite days was a day spent at Burleigh Heads. It was a national park that stuck itself out of the coast, overlooking the water. As you wound your way to the top, you got glimpses of the city skyline in the distance, until that was all you saw when you finished the hike. It cemented the idea that this was a city very much designed with nature as a key feature.

What makes The Education Abroad Network programs unique?

It stood out early on for me that The Education Abroad Network was unique. It was, simply put, an all inclusive program. Just about any and everything that I could think of while abroad, was answered by TEAN. They led me through all the paperwork and program info leading up to my departure so that the minute I sat on the plane to head off, I felt ready. They stayed in contact throughout my entire experience, from orientation to school to weekend trips. They always had someone, both in country and back in the states, to talk with at any hour of the day.

It was clear TEAN knew that it wanted to put the students first. It gave us so many options on ways to enhance our experience. Even little things, like having orientation with every student in the program, not just the ones in my city, gave me the chance to meet more people and make connections. It was due to this that I still have so many strong relationships with people I had met in just that semester. TEAN helped to create an environment that was friendly enough to ask questions and be "the tourist," but not overwhelm us with too much information or seem like we were being babysat. They merely presented all the information to us, and we ourselves got to make the choice whether or not to use it all.

View of Gold Coast from Burleigh Heads National Park

View of Gold Coast from Burleigh Heads National Park

What kind of local staff support did you have throughout your program?

Each city had a resident director that was also there to make sure we felt at home. Our very first day in the city, we got a tour of all the local places to go and check out. Throughout the semester, we had optional coffee breaks, where we could grab a bite and check up on life, or even get recommendations on what to see within the city. We also had excursions just for students in the city, that the staff presented and came along with us for, which were cultural events to expand our view of the city and country.

Even when we flew to visit friends in other cities, the staff was able to help us with any questions that would come up. They felt like our first and easiest resource to use while being abroad. The staff felt more like knowledgeable friends who were locals, rather than staff members of a distant program overseas.

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

I wish I would have realized earlier on how important it was that you go explore on your own. Many times I wanted to go places around the city, but was always looking for a group of people to come along.

What was a typical day like for your in Gold Coast?

A typical day would run as such for myself: I would wake up and workout, seeing that it was a city on the beach it was more of a positive pressure to stay fit. I would use the gym provided in our housing or simply run along the waterline. After getting ready for the day, I would walk to the transit system, literally across the street from our housing, and ride the light rail to uni.

Scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef during the pre-semester excursion.

Typically, I would have two classes per day. The courses had both local Australians and international students mixed in, so it provided a large variety of viewpoints in class discussions. Once classes were over, I would grab lunch with my friends on campus. Griffith is situated right near the hinterlands, so it was an extremely green campus that had plenty of nature near the cafes on campus, which felt like a nice break from the city from time to time.

Once my day was done at uni, I would ride the light rail back for the afternoon and head to the beach for a few hours. There were about 16 students in my building, so there was always someone to go lay on the beach with. If I didn't go to the beach, it was a chance to head into Surfer's Paradise and explore the markets and shops along the beach. After dinner, I could simply enjoy the sunset on the balcony, as it dipped below the hinterlands.

What did you spend your free time doing?

I was lucky enough to have my school schedule set up that I only had classes Monday thru Wednesday, which provided plenty of time to go on weekend trips. These trips gave me the chance to see more of the country and visit friends in other cities. TEAN provided a few weekend excursions to choose from, that they would lead, and included plenty of cultural events, but they also had contacts at companies that could help us plan trips on our own.

What type of accommodation did you have? How did you like it?

The accommodations through TEAN were incredible. It was an off campus apartment, just two blocks from the beach. Our balcony overlooked Broadbeach, which was downtown for Gold Coast. It had incredible views of the ocean, city, and hinterlands, as it wrapped around the skyline. We had four students in a two bedroom, two bath apartment, with a full kitchen and living room. It felt very much like a hotel at times, which made the experience even more unreal. We had two pools, a gym, sauna, steam room, and outdoor grilling area all available to us.

The best part of it was the location. It was ideal for a student, since the light rail was just across the street and took us right to uni for the day. We had a massive shopping center just past the light rail stop, which had anything we needed. There was also a variety of small shops and markets a few blocks north of us, and the beach just a few steps away.

View of Broadbeach in Gold Coast, Australia

View from the balcony of the apartment

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

Since being home, I look at many day to day activities differently. Study abroad provided me with a broader view of the world as whole. My lifestyle became more relaxed and I learned to enjoy the small things just a little more. I realized that if you look at every location you go with open eyes, and not simply running from point A to point B, you get know and explore so much more. The phrase "it's about the journey not the destination" started to make more sense.

I have this new found love for travel and international education that wasn't there before going abroad. I love talking with students now that are interested in going abroad, or simply want to know more about different locations. Going abroad gave me more independence. It made me realize that I can get lost and be ok, or explore somewhere new simply by myself, and it could be 10 times better than if I had gone with a group of people. Overall, I realized a lot more about myself, simply by going abroad with TEAN.