Hello, my name is Genevieve Wilson and I am a third-year student majoring in marine biology at the University of Maine. I am currently studying abroad at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia for a semester. I departed the United States with my massive bags, passport in hand and an open mind for the wonderful experience ahead. My experience began with a four-day orientation in Byron Bay where I met other people in the same program who were going to various places in Australia. My experience in Byron Bay was incredible, filled with kayaking, adventure walks, surfing and meeting tons of new people. Each night everyone in the area would gather on the beach and listen to locals play live music while the sun set in the background. It was an experience I will never forget.
I have noticed some significant differences in culture between the United States and Australia. First of all, Australian slang can be quite difficult to understand at times. You will often hear the sentence, “G’Day! How ya goin?” which essentially means, “Hey, how are you?” in the States. My American friends and I catch ourselves saying “what?” for half of the conversation while talking with an Aussie, simply because of the language barrier. Australians like to chat, but not for long, so they shorten most words. To give you some insight, “biccy” means “cookie” and “brekkie” means “breakfast,” “S’arvo” means “this afternoon” and when someone says “deadly” it means something is super cool or awesome. It sounds simple, but when someone says anything like this in conversation it catches you off guard, and you end up just standing there with a blank face struggling to respond.
Another adjustment is the grading system, which is a lot different here than it is at home. For example, the United States grades on a system of A, B, C, D and F. In Australia, they grade your work by distinctions. So, if you were to receive an HD, that stands for high distinction and is equivalent to an A+ in the U.S. and is the highest grade you can receive. From there on it goes “D, C, P, PC, and F, where a D is equivalent to an A or B+ in the US.” That being said, it is difficult to get used to a D being a good thing.
Aside from the cultural differences, I am very excited to explore more of Australia. This includes visiting Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns, and I’m hoping to visit New Zealand over break.
Something I wish I had read or known before coming to Australia was how difficult it would be to make travel plans on my own. I am a very independent person, and am capable of many things, but I am used to family vacations when traveling, which means that my parents seek the best prices and organize things to do and places to stay while we are away. Now that I am in charge of my own travel plans, it is a bit stressful trying to find places to eat, stay overnight and go to while staying within my budget.
Another thing I wish I had read up on before coming here was the aboriginal culture, which is having trouble staying alive in Australia but is very valuable. I wish I read more on the history, because the aboriginal people whom I have met so far are amazing people and make me want to learn more about them.
Additionally, Australians are not big on dessert after dinner. Growing up in an American home, chocolate is very important to my family. After dinner, my other American friends and I find ourselves wanting something sweet to eat. We are used to having chocolate around, but in Australia, it isn’t available unless you either make it yourself or travel to the grocery store to purchase it.
Regardless of the challenges I have been adjusting to, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world. I would encourage anyone out there, if they have the opportunity to study abroad, that they should 100 percent do it. I have already developed so many new life skills and am so grateful for what I have learned and for what lies ahead.