The Fun Stuff

Carly Forsaith, a Level 5 student from the Cass School of Education & Communities, shares the story of her first week in Australia

Are you thinking or spending a semester or a year abroad as part of your studies at university but not sure what to expect, or feeling a little nervous?

Throwing caution to the wind can be a daunting experience: will I make any friends? What if the higher education system is too different? What if I don’t fit in? What if the locals aren’t friendly? What if the process is too difficult and I miss something out?

I took the plunge, and here I am going to talk about my experience both with the Study Abroad program and the social aspects of living abroad, so as to hopefully answer the questions you may be asking yourself, and cast off any doubts you may have about whether or not to start the ball rolling.

So, after almost six months of planning, filling in application forms, visits to various offices and invaluable help and advice from the Study Abroad teams at both my home and host universities, I am finally here in Cairns, Australia. It’s a coastal town in Queensland’s tropical north, close to the Great Barrier Reef and the oldest rainforest in the world. I’ve arrived in winter, when the temperatures are “cooler” (17-25°c) and the humidity is lower. It’s not supposed to rain much at this time of year, but Cairns is apparently experiencing a “cold patch”, so it has been raining and I’ve been taking a cardigan with me every time I go out. I feel slightly guilty that I brought the English weather over with me.

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The forests of Cairns

JCU (James Cook University) arranged for me to be picked up at the airport on arrival, and a lovely lady was waiting for me with a sign with my name on it. I’ve always dreamed of having that happen to me. Check!

JCU can pre-arrange temporary, affordable accommodation for any international student, although I preferred to stay with two lovely Couchsurfers. I went straight to bed as it was 5am and I’d been travelling for over 24 hours. The next day, I followed my host to the beach, right round the corner from her house, and we had a jog and a mini yoga session. She then took me into town where she showed me around. We visited the incredible Rusty Market, with its fresh fruit and vegetables at very cheap prices. The first thing I noticed was how friendly everyone was. The vendors always greet you with a “G’day mate, how ya going?” and are up for a chat. Everyone is in such a great mood.

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My home…

Come Monday, first day of O-week at uni. Super excited, I make my way to the induction session and sit in the lecture theatre, along with about a hundred other international students who for the most part have, just like me, left their friends, families and routines back home and travelled half-way across the world on their own to be here. We are introduced to the university, the people who will help us make our experience here successful, and the customs and traditions of the region. The importance of paying respect to the Yirrganydji people, the Aboriginal tribe who are the Traditional Owners of the land, is emphasised. Several ice-breaker games and activities take place in order to ease the atmosphere as everyone is probably a little nervous. Lots of prizes are to be won too, such as stationery and discounts on trips. This was followed by pizza and biscuits for lunch, and more games of course!

The next day was an introduction to our course – so in my case, Education – and this included the Australian students too, giving me a whole other bunch of people to meet. Student mentors showed us around campus, explaining the ins-and-outs of everything from grabbing a coffee or going to lectures to connecting to the WI-FI or borrowing a book from the library. They also organized ice-breaker games and introduced us to some of our lecturers. At lunch time all the students from the different courses came together in what I will call The Square until I find out whether or not it has an official name. The Square is a kind of courtyard with a bunch of picnic benches, two Ping-Pong tables and Foosball, surrounded by the café/restaurant, the bookshop, the bar and the JCUSA office (they are in charge of all things fun such as social events and sports teams). Anyway, so new friends and old friends (you know, the people you met yesterday) got together for more pizza, to form a yet bigger group of people who are new to the university. That afternoon a few of us grabbed our student IDs and then we went on an open-top party bus tour of the city, with exclusive commentary by the members of JCUSA.

Thursday, ah Thursday! I spent the morning using the WIFI to check out Gumtree – it’s a GOLDMINE. I found ideas of things to do during the holidays, a tennis partner, second-hand bikes and rooms in house-shares. Following this, I took part in a selfie-scavenger-hunt, which turned out to be a smart way for the organizers to get us to explore the university campus. I’ve played tricks on my students like that before too, disguising something educational as something fun. Anyway, my selfie-partner and I ran around campus for over an hour, taking random selfies, making fools of ourselves, sweating and buying bribes for people to help us find Big Joe (we found him – see photos). We very much tried our hardest to be the first team to make it back after having completed all the tasks, but unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Oh well, we gained a lollipop and an experience we will remember forever!

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After that, the bar in The Square played music and everyone grabbed a beer. At this point our group grew bigger and we all decided to go into town. It was Ladies’ Night and we promised to spot the guys a few drinks. That too, wasn’t meant to be: apparently late-night bars and clubs here don’t let you in without showing your passport or driver’s license. So instead we went to some fun bars and discovered that it was Summer In July. Everyone was dressed up and there were carol-singers. We didn’t get the memo, but found out that Aussies love an excuse to dress-up, so we know to keep our ears out for the next event! I personally love meeting new people in bars and exchanging stories with random girls and boys. To me it’s the magic of travelling: everyone is interesting and everyone is interested. But I wasn’t prepared for the friendliness I would encounter here. Everyone treats you as a friend. You could walk up to any table of people and start talking to them and they would chat back. In London people would stare at you in silence until you were so uncomfortable you got up and left. Or maybe I am just seeing everything in pink because I’m on an adventure and everything is new and exciting. They do say a positive attitude attracts positive things.

On Friday, the sun was out and the sky was blue. It didn’t rain in the morning for the first time since I arrived, which was perfect as I was going on a trip to Green Island the next day. I went swimming with a friend in the Lagoon, which is actually a public swimming pool right on the beach, in the city centre.

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Come Saturday, the day of the big trip. The uni organized cheap tickets (90AUD) to board the Big Cat for Green Island, on the Great Barrier Reef. Lots of other international students and even more Chinese tourists were there.

If like me, you are a little nervous in the large, open sea, and more than a little nervous about sharks, fear not, nothing here is out to eat you, apparently. So when my friend popped her head out the water and said “Look, there’s a shark!”, eager for us to dunk our heads under so she could point in its direction, I thought best to ignore her and pretend that there wasn’t a shark swimming around in my personal space. From then on I decided to use my goggles only for looking at what was right in front of my nose rather than gazing into the underwater distance. This caused me to miss a turtle and a stingray, but I have no regrets. Or maybe I am just seeing everything in pink because I’m on an adventure…

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Carly will be talking about her preparation for studying abroad in the next instalment of her blog next week.

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