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What It’s Really Like to Study Abroad in Australia

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Pina Simonetti is an Italian graduate currently living in Barcelona. We’re both recent arrivals to the city and became fast friends after realising we share a love of travel and adventure. 

As part of her master’s degree, Pina did a semester of Marketing and Communication at the University of Technology Sydney, in Australia. Having arrived Down Under in February, Pina experienced the sunniest Valentine’s Day of her life on Bondi Beach, and she says it was bizarre to think that Australians were experiencing their first term after the summer holidays, while she was coming out of the wintry cold of Italy. 

The culture shocks just kept coming from there.  Everybody says it, but you can’t understand until you take the plunge: studying abroad is something that changes you forever. This was Pina’s second exchange trip after already having done one in Germany and I was curious to find out why she had chosen Australia.

You’d already done an exchange trip in Germany.  Why did you choose to do another one?  Did you feel that this experience would be very different?

I wanted to experience what it would be like to leave Europe.  Although there are many different cultures in Europe, they all have similarities. Plus it’s the Land Down Under, it’s fascinating, it’s like a dream for many Europeans, and it’s on the opposite side of the globe.  It was the first time I had to take such a big time difference into consideration.

What was the thing that struck you most upon arriving in Australia?

The first thing they told us in our university orientation had nothing to do with school. Instead, they gave us a lesson on how to behave at the beach. We were told make sure we stay within the two flags that mark the boundaries of where you’re allowed to swim (there are guys with ATVs and megaphones protecting you and making sure you stay within the boundaries). We were also told to check the signs every day before going to the beach in case there are jellyfish, pufferfish, etc.

Most importantly: if you’re drowning, stick your hand calmly up in the air, don’t wave it about, or people will just think you’re saying hi! It was super interesting and useful but what was really funny was the fact that they shared this information with us during university orientation.

What was the biggest culture shock?

I found the causes of death in Australia very... different!  I heard that one of the biggest killers is falling coconuts.  And the main cause of koala death is actually pretty sad: apparently, they eat eucalyptus leaves, which make them high, then they fall asleep hugging the tree trunks, and they fall off and die. 

In a similar vein, a leading cause of car accidents is car-against-koala.  Most of the cars in Australia have special bumpers to protect against koala collisions. (Disclaimer: this info hasn’t been fact-checked)

How would you compare the Australian education system with the ones you were used to (Italian and German)?

The classes in Australia were really dynamic – something novel for a person coming from Italy.  At the end of the semester, our Econ professor held a trivia session with prizes. I won a mug that says “UTS Business” (for University of Technology Sydney). 

For another class, I had to write an essay but also make a flyer, so I got to learn a little bit about graphic design at the same time.

While in Italy (and much of Europe) we put a lot of emphasis on oral presentations, most of our grade in Australia came from exams and written assignments. I think a good idea would be to combine the two and have grades based on 50 percent oral and 50 percent written assignments.

In our Communication and Advertising class we had to create a radio show in the recording room.  We decided to talk about the stigma surrounding gay marriage. It was interesting to compare the different social issues in Australia. I wrote an essay on teen suicide for another class, something that’s not very big in Italy but quite topical in Australia. It’s interesting to see what issues are more relevant to Australian society, especially as it’s such a huge country and doesn’t have as many close neighbours as Italy.

What was the best experience of your exchange trip in Australia?

I had a blast at surf camp, but I’d have to say my favourite experience was going on a camper-van trip up the coast towards Perth with some fellow international students. We got to see kangaroos and koalas in the wild, and we snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef.

How have you changed as a result of your study abroad trip in Australia?

For the first time ever, I understood that for a lot of people, I’m not Italian, I’m European. Within Europe we really see the differences between people from different (European) countries; in my previous Erasmus trip there were groups of Italians, groups of Spanish, groups of Germans. When there were international students from overseas, we lumped them together as “overseas international students”. 

Now the tables were turned, and it was a new experience for me to see so many non-European people: there are a lot of Asian and Indian people in Australia. Being in Australia really reinforced the difference between European-style, Asian-style, etc. I gained an awareness of how big the world is and a broader concept of how people interact across continents.

Would you do it again?

OF COURSE!  But I wouldn’t choose to live there forever.  I like the diversity of Europe.

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Written by Danielle P.

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