Friday, August 21, 2009

My First Four Weeks as a "uni" Student at the University of New England-Armidale.

Hello, my name is Emily Robinson. I am a senior at Purdue University and am spending my last fall semester at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia. My decision to come to Australia was made in early March of 2009, a little later than most, but I suddenly realized I was running out of time as an undergraduate. I had always planned to study abroad, but as each year passed, I still hadn't made the commitment. So when my summer internship plans fell through, I made the final decision. In March I didn't realize the magnitude of my decision, and I wouldn't until the Friday I was due to board my plane in St. Louis.

I said goodbye to my family at a special dinner on Wednesday and my Mom dropped me off in St. Louis on Thursday. Friday I had said goodbye to my friends in St. Louis and was sitting alone in the airport. That's when I realized that this wasn't going to be as easy as I expected, a little late huh? The entire 15 hours I spent in flight was miserable. I couldn't sleep (which is very unusual considering the amount of Dramamine I had taken and it's usual affect on me), and all I could think about was the fact that I did not want to be leaving.

My plane reached Auckland, New Zealand on Sunday, July 12th, at 5:00 AM where my sister was waiting for me. We toured the city and did "touristy" things, such as, canyoning in Piha and sailing in Auckland. My favorite part would have to be our two hour walk to the Auckland Aquarium and Mission Bay. Even though I was with my sister, I was in a very foul mood and secretly did not want to be 15,000 miles from my life. We did not stay in New Zealand for very long, on Wednesday, July 15th we flew to Sydney, Australia.

Sydney was beautiful and I had an absolute blast while there. We stayed in a hostel in King's Cross, soon to find out, one of the infamous party blocks of Sydney. Since prostitution is legal here and the drinking age is eighteen, the two girls from rural Indiana were "cultured" to say the least. On our first full day in Australia we walked through the Royal Botanical Gardens and along the coast to Circular Quay Harbour where we took a ferry to the Taronga Zoo. This was my first experience with a wombat, very cool! Also in Sydney, we went whale watching. The sea was very rough and we got incredibly wet. Surprisingly (and thanks to my very good friend Dramamine), my sister and I were in the 5% of passengers who did not vomit. We spent the majority of our ride in the front of the boat, catching the waves of course, but when we felt frozen, we ventured to the back and that's when we discovered all of the sick people. Honestly, didn't realized that so many people were sick. I saw one kid throwing up and I immediately yelled for the Captain, when he came I told him about the sick passenger. He said, "dear, look around. Do you see those white bags?" I then closed my eyes and asked my sister to walk me back to the front of the boat. I don't do vomit, AT ALL.

In Sydney, we also visited the Opera House, Sky Tower, Hyde Park, Bondi Beach and attended mass at Saint Mary's Cathedral. Our train left Sydney on Tuesday, July 21st at 10:00 AM and arrived in Armidale at 7:30 PM. It was dark outside and very cold. I checked into my college, Duval, and began to get settled. My sister left Armidale on July 27th at 8:00 AM to catch a flight back to the states. Before leaving, she gave me a necklace. It is a Tiffany's chain with two hearts;the big heart says "Sisters" and the smaller heart says "Em" with a diamond. It is very nice, but it made me cry!

I had orientation on July 23rd and 24th. This is where I met my first friends. Two were American and one was Canadian, the orientation was for International Students. I was very certain that I did not want to get into a group of Americans for fear of not immersing in the true Aussie culture. Soon after classes began and I spent more time with my college I made many friends that lived around me and spent less time with the Americans.

As far as administration goes, I have been very impressed by some things, and upset with others. I have had an unsatisfactory experience with the International Student Office. It took them 2 weeks to get my student ID, which I need for printing on campus, checking books out of the library and getting into restricted areas. I also did not have my classes registered or have access to BlackBoard until Friday, July 31st. Their system is not as current as Purdue's. They did not begin registering new students for classes until the Thursday before classes started, so as you can imagine, there was a huge backup. However, our professors still expected us to have read all the first week's materials on BlackBoard. Another con to the International Office is that it is nearly impossible to talk to anyone other than a receptionist, who must talk with the person in charge, and then the receptionist will get back with you. It takes two days to get a simple question answered. The chemistry department here at UNE has impressed me greatly! When I needed to take Organic Chemistry but was being blocked by the Course Review Office, I was able to walk right in and speak with the Associate Professor of Science. He was very nice and sincerely took time to deal with my problem. VERY different from my experiences with Purdue's Chemistry Department.

I am enrolled in Film: Style and Theory, Modern Australian History, Feedlot Animal Management, Biological and Organic Chemistry, and The Sociology of Juvenile Delinquency. My management course is online until holiday, leaving Sociology to be my favorite class. I never would have imagined this, but it is very interesting to learn about what they are doing and have been doing with children/teens. Classes, all in all, are going well. I have experienced what it's like to be an "international student". In my film class we were reviewing the film Fargo and my professor asked me to explain to the class why American police officers wore the American Flag patch on their uniforms. When I told him I didn't know, but assumed it was both a signature of status and that they are proud of what it stands for. He said, "That is so American. No other country wears their flag on their uniforms."
I hastily replied, "With all due respect sir, is it a crime to be proud of one's country?" He didn't like this and winged a bit, but class went on. I can recall international students being called out because they understand things we don't about their countries. It's a very uncomfortable situation.

As far as extracurricular activities, I have joined the Armidale Pony Club and am riding a horse named Skylarke. With help from Dr. Mark Russell at Purdue, I was able to make contacts and showed up at a Rally Day in August. From there I met a lady named Ania who had a very green horse she needs ridden. Ania invited me out to meet Sky. She only lives 2 km from Duval and has been very gracious in picking me up from college anytime I want to come out and ride. Sky is a nine year old Australian Stock Horse who stands 16.1 hands. Moving 15,000 miles from home has been much easier with a horse here for me to ride!

Our holiday is two weeks free of classes in September. This is also when intensive schools are held, I have one intensive school from September 17th through the 20th. September 12th through the 16th I am flying to Camberra with my new good friend Megan. Camberra is the national capitol of Australia and where she lives. After my intensive school I will be traveling again, but am uncertain as to where.

I won't claim that I don't miss home or the people there, but this is a lot of fun! There are hours when I wish I were back in Indiana, but at the same time, I love this atmosphere and all of my new friends! I have just wrapped up my fourth week of classes and Armidale feels more and more like home with every passing day.