Danielle Zabielski is a Communications student at Saint Joseph’s University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the University of Melbourne in Australia in 2016. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-To-Study Program.
“You want to study abroad? In Australia? But that’s so far away!”
That was the reaction I received (followed by an awkward silence) when I first told my parents that I wanted to study abroad in Melbourne, Australia. At first, this response perplexed me. I couldn’t fathom why they weren’t immediately as elated as I was over the thought of me attending a school halfway around the globe.
Once my initial thrill wore off, however, I understood their delayed elation. From their perspective, there was a lot to worry about.
Planning and preparing to go abroad—especially for an extended period of time—is nerve-racking, even if you’ve traveled overseas previously. On top of that, neither of my parents studied abroad in school, so they had no idea what to expect for me. I suppose it’s probably pretty hard to relax when you’re sending your only child 10,000 miles away to a country that no one in your family has ever visited.
Now that I’ve officially been living in Australia for a month, I can confirm that most of the fears my family had prior to my departure did not come to pass. My family had the following four concerns about me studying abroad, but with the IFSA-Butler program, among other things, they didn’t need to fret!
1. “With the 14-hour time difference, how will we ever get to talk?”
This was a big concern for my parents since we talk on the phone nearly every day, even when I’m only two hours away at school in Philadelphia. Although it’s tricky to find times in the day that are suitable for both my parents and me, it’s not impossible. If you’re an early bird, 7 AM in Melbourne is 5 PM back home. For those who’d prefer to make calls in the evening, 10 PM here is 8 AM in the States. Once you establish a time that works for everyone, you can schedule calls in advance to ensure that everyone has ample time to talk.
Now that I’ve officially been living in Australia for a month, I can confirm that most of the things my family worried about prior to my departure did not come to pass.
International calls can be costly, but there are easy ways to avoid paying that pesky twenty cents-per-minute. Skype is the obvious first choice for many, along with popular smartphone apps like Viber and WhatsApp. My parents and I prefer to use Facebook Messenger, which lets you call or video chat with other Facebook users directly from your phone or computer.
2. “Will all of your academic credits transfer easily between schools?”
Most college students tend to study abroad during either fall or spring semester of junior year; I, however, didn’t realize I wanted to go abroad until my junior year. Due to this, I had to convince my parents—and even some of my university’s faculty—that my decision to study in Melbourne wouldn’t defer my upcoming graduation date.
When selecting which classes to take while you’re abroad, first determine if any classes have been previously approved by your school. Use that list to find classes that meet your needs—just make sure they’re offered during the correct semester! Or, if you still can’t find the classes you’re looking for, you can request to have courses from the abroad university’s handbook approved by your home institution. If you have any questions while going through process, your IFSA-Butler advisor can help you out. Above all, make sure you’ve completed all of your required classes before graduation, or at least that you have sufficient time to complete them when you return to your home institution.
3. “As a serious student, how will you adapt to the culture there?”
As a college student (who is also over 21!) I can appreciate a good get-together every now and then. But truth be told, I’m much happier spending an evening snuggling up with a book than I am bar-hopping.
It’s no secret that Aussies like to drink; a quick Google search will give you countless articles on the alcohol culture of Oz. Still, this doesn’t mean that every single Australian you meet will be keen to party constantly. It’s true that Melbourne has its fair share of nightlife, of course, but the city also holds plenty of events that don’t involve consuming alcohol. There are countless other fun activities to do with your friends.
4. “But isn’t it unsafe, these days, to travel by yourself?”
I honestly feel very safe traveling in Australia. Melbourne, in particular, is actually one of the safest cities in the world, rated in the top 10 by The Economist last year. Public transport is equally busy in daytime and nighttime, so you don’t have to worry about feeling uneasy sitting alone in an empty tram car. Additionally, the vast majority of Australians are incredibly friendly and are more than willing to give you directions to wherever you’re headed.
It’s also normal for young Australians to travel by themselves, whether it’s just a day trip into the city or to New Zealand for their mid-semester break from uni. If you’d feel more comfortable exploring in a group, you’re bound to find IFSA-Butler students or uni students who are eager to accompany you on your journey. Personally, I don’t mind going solo, and Melbourne and its surroundings are perfect places to discover on your own. But as with any traveling, always be alert and take the necessary precautions.
When going abroad, the unknown can be frightening—but depending on your perspective, it can also be extremely exciting. Your parents’ fears, and your own, may be valid, but try not to let your reservations keep you from making the most of your time abroad.
And if you can, message your family often to assure them that you’re okay, learning a lot, and enjoying a world of experiences. They’ll appreciate it!