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Kelsey Harkness ’11 writes about her semester studying in Sydney, Australia

Kelsey Harkness ’11 (Wilton, Conn.) spent the fall semester studying in Sydney, Australia. A double major in international affairs and a self-designed major in film and media in politics, she was a member of Lafayette’s Division I women’s lacrosse team and interned with Tom Kraemer ’86 of Kraemer Inc. marketing communications firm in New York City in the summer of 2009.

I considered myself a perfect candidate to study abroad.  After spending an unforgettable summer studying in Seville, Spain, I knew a semester abroad would be the best time of my life.  Fortunately, I proved myself right.

While some people cautioned me against studying in Australia, saying it “does not foster the cultural experience one can gain in Europe,” I knew it was right for me.  The beaches and lax lifestyle were an obvious factor in my decision, but I knew Australia had more to offer. While in no means am I attempting to devalue the historical and cultural significance of Europe and other parts of the world, I found that Australia had a culture that could be compared to no other.

I attended University of New South Wales and resided in Coogee Beach. I found Sydney, which was within a half hour of Coogee, to be the most beautiful city in the world. While the opera house, Darling Harbour, Sydney Harbor Bridge, and many other famous landmarks greatly contributed to this conclusion, I held the friendliness and happiness of its people of equal importance. I found myself lost many times and almost every time a complete stranger reached out and offered me directions before I even asked.

The citizens of Australia taught me much of what I learned there. While laying on the beach one day, I saw a crying boy running to the lifeguard station, and after explaining that he had been stung in the mouth by a blue bottle (a jelly fish which stings similar to that of a bee), the lifeguard responded, “Well mate, what were you doing swimming with your mouth open!”  It was times like those that taught me to slow down and appreciate the little things in life.

One thing I learned to appreciate is Lafayette’s small student body. UNSW has over 40,000 students.  Knowing this before I went abroad, I was a little nervous.  I arrived to discover a competent system at the university with each course consisting of a lecture with up to 200 students, and a “tutorial,” similar to that of a science lab, which broke the class down into groups of 20 or fewer students. While this was a relatively new concept for me, I found it gave me the space and ability to engage with the students who were genuinely interested in hearing culturally diverse opinions.

I do have a few complaints about my time in Australia. The coffee is pretty terrible; it has just enough caffeine to make you realize you need more and has given me a new appreciation for Starbuck’s luxurious prices.  Also, Sydney’s public transportation can be worse than standing in Disney World’s Splash Mountain line, and our 1990’s style Vodafones (or “toy phones” as we liked to call them) were almost as dependable as the transportation.

Complaints aside, my experience as a whole in Australia was one I will never forget. It was one that went well beyond its borders. Australia is perhaps one of the most beautiful, exotic, and welcoming places in the world.  I have returned to the State’s with a great deal of nostalgia, and know that it is not a matter of if I will go back, but rather when.

Categorized in: Academic News, News and Features, Study Abroad
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