What You Need to Know When Studying at University of Newcastle!

Author: Jessica Hanson

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Well it seems to be getting to that time in the semester where many of my fellow Valpo students are trying to decide where they want to study abroad or, if they’ve already chosen their program of choice, are getting anxious to see what all the hype is about! For any of you considering University of Newcastle (UoN) here in New South Wales, Australia, I figured I’d give you some tips and tricks to make your transition into the Aussie lifestyle as smooth as possible!

First, I thought it would be helpful to orient you to Australia as a continent and where we are in relation to, well, everything else! Fun fact- Australia is the world’s largest island as well as the world’s smallest continent. Australia is the about the same size geographically as the United States, yet has less than 10% of our population! The name ‘Australia’ comes from Latin Terra Australis meaning ‘land of the south.’ It is also lovingly referred to as the Land Down Under, or even, the Land of Oz (which, may or may not have anything to do with Dorothy, but that is for you to find out!) It consists of 6 states and 2 territories. Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria are the three states along the East Coast of Australia and contain about 3/4 of the population, which totals just over 24 million. Sydney (NSW), Melbourne (VIC), and Brisbane (QLD) are the three largest cities- if you like the city life, Sydney is about 3 hours south by train and you can get round-trip flights to Brisbane or Melbourne for a weekend get away for around $100-$150- I would definitely recommend taking the time to check these out if you get the chance. You will also notice while you’re over here that many cities have some pretty odd names thanks to the Aboriginal culture- Wollongong, Wagga Wagga, Katoomba, Toowoomba to name a few!

(Travel tip: while everyone is immediately going to recognise your American accent, you can save yourself some embarrassment by knowing the correct pronunciation of the city names. They don’t have a hard ‘r’ sound like we do in America, so you might want to practice these a few times before coming over: Melbourne–> mel-bin, likewise Brisbane–> briz-bin, Cairns–> cans (yes, like the soda!) I probably butcher the Aboriginal names as much as you would but they seem pretty phonetic to me, so good luck!)

As far as where you’ll be living, University of Newcastle is often shortened to UoN or referred to simply as Newy! Where you will be living and going to classes is the Callaghan campus, although there is also the city campus with the NeW Space (an architecturally abstract building that opened this fall- definitely check it out!) where many of the business and law classes take place. If the program is still the same, you will most likely be assigned a single studio apartment in one of the really nice new residence towers- you get your own kitchenette and bathroom, which means, unfortunately, you’re responsible for buying your own groceries, cooking your own food, and doing your own dishes. Thankfully, you get a weekly bathroom cleaning courtesy of the lovely cleaning ladies in the building. The campus is much bigger than our small Valpo home- say goodbye to rolling out of bed 10 minutes before class and making it on time! However, most professors are also pretty lax so making it to class a few minutes late won’t hurt. Make sure you take the time to do some exploring when you get here but it only took me a few days- once you find the Shortland building in the centre of campus, you’ll figure out the rest from there 🙂 Night life on campus is also a little different than what we’re used to in the states- most of the buildings/dining on campus close around 5 and any activities are going to be over in the city. Make friends in your building fast so you’ll have people that know the good places to go out if you’re looking for something fun to do!

The Aboriginal, or Indigenous, people and culture is also something you might want to do some research on before coming over. It is very complicated and a dark part of Australia’s rather-recent past. The Aboriginal Australians are thought to be the oldest tribes in the world and most of their population was wiped out due to violence or disease during the British colonisation of Australia during the late 18th century (you will find many parallels with British treatment of the Native Americans during our colonial history, although the issues have continued up through the 1970s and  is still a very sensitive subject in the culture.) The good news is that Australia is in the progress of amending some of this dark past, such as working with some Aboriginal tribes to give them control and ownership of their original lands. One thing that I find very touching is that often when people stand up to talk in front of crowds, perhaps for class or giving presentations, they will pay respects to the Aboriginal peoples by saying something along the lines of: “I would like to acknowledge that this meeting is being held on the traditional lands of the [insert local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island Nation]. I pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.”

Finally, thanks to our lovely US standard system, it will take some time to get used to the metric system! I wrote down a key for reference before coming but you won’t reeeally need it, especially thanks to phones that have automatic conversion apps. However, I still am not used to seeing 100 on speed limit signs- 100 kilometers per hour that is, which is akin to our 65 mph limit. It is also important to remember that since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are flip-flopped and they use Celsius as well. If you are planning to study here next semester, you will be leaving snowy cold Valpo and arriving in the lovely hot Australian summer (unfortunately, I get to do the opposite transition…) It will be around the 80s/90s, or around 25-30 degrees Celsius, so pack your summer gear, but be prepared for temperatures to drop to ‘chilly’ fall temperatures around 50F (10C) by the end of the semester. Also, they aren’t kidding when they tell you to be prepared with a LOT of sunscreen- especially coming in the summer since Australia is positioned right underneath the hole in the ozone layer- sun blisters are NOT something you want to deal with!

Alright, I think that’s enough of my rambling, but I am going to leave you with some Australian lingo that it will be helpful to be familiar with! Thanks for tuning in, and good luck if you’re off to Australia next semester!

Kebabs– an Australian staple, kebab shops are fun places to grab a bite!
Capsicums– their odd word for bell peppers
Avo– avocado! Australians love shortening their words, but they might like avocados here even more! They’re a tad expensive, but oh so delicious.
Vegemite– another Australian staple, but one that is extremely foreign to the American food palate- you definitely much try it (its a spread for putting on toast), but make sure an Aussie prepares it for you, otherwise you’ll likely end up spreading it on thick like nutella, which is a terrible idea.
Lemonade– sprite. The word sprite? Also sprite. Our idea of lemonade does not exist over here, but you can find some fizzy lemon-flavoured sodas that are pretty close. Also, if you love rootbeer like me, I’m sorry to say it will be very difficult to come by 🙁
Soft Drink– soda or pop or sodapop, however you call it! If you’re at a restaurant and want to know what ‘sodas’ they have, you should ask them for their soft drink menu instead.
Wooly’s– short for Woolworth’s, your go-to for all your grocery shopping needs.
Hungry Jack’s– the same thing as Burger King, just called differently. They also have Domino’s and Pizza Hut if you’re craving some American fast food.
Macca’s- a country wouldn’t be complete with out a McDonald’s right? Aussies lovingly shorten it simply to Macca’s, and I’m sure you’ll be at peace knowing you can get your late night chicken nugget or McFlurry cravings taken care of!

Op Shop– short for opportunity shop, these are the lovely Australian thrift stores- Vinnie’s (St. Vincent de Paul) and Salvos (Salvation Army) are the most common!
Thongs– yes, they will probably laugh at you if you forget and call them flip flops anyway.
Runners- tennis shoes
Swimmers– swimsuit….makes me feel like I’m in the 60s but I guess you just roll with it!
Jumper– sweater
Sunnies– sunglasses

Other Lingo
Dodgy– sketchy
Rubbish– trash/garbage
Footpath– side walk
Carpark– parking lot
Trolley– shopping cart
Life– elevator
Revision– review
Mozzies– mosquitos (The word is definitely cuter than the thing itself)
Timetable– class schedule
Concession– student prices- always ask if there are concession prices for events/tickets!
Power point– NOT the Microsoft Word program, power points are little orange lights on the power switches letting you know if it is on or off
Boot and Bonnet– the trunk and hood of a car
Aluminium– notice the extra ‘i’, it might take a while to get used to saying this metal element the way it is actually written on the periodic table…
Bubbler– for all of my Indiana friends who make fun of us Wisconsinites who use bubbler, guess what- so do the Australians! This was definitely a win for team Wisconsin <3

Alright, that’s all I have for today, hopefully this helps alleviate some of the frustration before you get here, and best of luck figuring out Australia!


P.S. Make sure to finish all your favourite binge-worthy Netflix shows before you get here! Australian Netflix has a different selection, and unless you’re really skilled at figuring out VPNs (Netflix recognized my preliminary attempts and I gave up after that), you’ll have to live without a few American shows for a couple months!

Meet Elise!

Author: Rachel Silcox

Location: Utrecht, Netherlands

Hi Friends! Welcome again to Utrecht, NL. Today, I will introduce you to one of my best friends here, Elise! Elise (pronounced Ill-ee-za) is 100% Dutch and was born and raised not far from Utrecht, in a small town called Hilversum. Whenever I want to explore the Utrecht area she knows just the place to go! My favorite time with Elise is when she took me on an hour bike ride! We rode to the small village of Lage Vuursche about 15 km away, where we had a dinner of Dutch pancakes (like crepes) with bacon and apples and cheese. Elise also showed me the outside of the former Dutch Queen’s current residence! We couldn’t see much because it had a huge fence in the way, but like Elise said, “That’s normal considering the Dutch version of Barack Obama basically lives there.” She is quite funny and is always interesting to talk to!

Elise is studying law and politics as she wants to go into international relations, specifically dealing with border conflicts. Her international interest is so strong as she speaks Dutch, English, Spanish, and French fluently, even though she was born and raised in the Netherlands. I asked Elise about herself and her interest in international studies, so here are the answers so you can get to know her too!

Me: How did you get so interested in international affairs?

Elise: I’m not sure. I’ve always really liked listening to the stories my grandparents would tell me when I was little and especially when I was old enough to start connecting what they would tell me to what I learned in school. For example, in school we learned about the Hungry Winter of 1944. This was when one part of the Netherlands was liberated, but the Allies couldn’t cross the big rivers in the South to get up North. It was a historically cold winter and people were walking from Rotterdam to Germany (about 90 miles) to get food because there was so little. Then, my grandparents told me about their specific experience and it was so cool to see how regular people fit into history. They survived by eating flower bulbs and making soup out of the most basic things. It’s interesting but sad to hear of how regularly had to people behave. It was also so crazy to hear about the German soldiers. Even though they were fighting for the Nazi’s, my grandparents said they acted nice, grateful, and welcoming. Not hostile at all. It is hard not to vilify someone who supported the Nazis, but it really makes you think how any of us could have been there if it was our country. Hearing these stories makes you think a lot about the individuals in different countries throughout history and what they were really like.

Me: You see history as an important part of understanding people?

Elise: Yeah, history is especially important when understanding conflicts between people, I think. Conflicts are so complex and you have to trace the origins of a specific conflict back so far to understand why these problems have come about, particularly when thinking about border conflicts. In the past, some borders were simply drawn arbitrarily, but it is interesting to think about how borders and country sovereignty determined our world today. That’s why I wanted to combine history, law, politics, and biology. Especially when dealing with political issues like border disputes, it is necessary to know about history and law. They are intertwined, like with the Arab-Israeli conflict you need to understand history to work effectively in politics today.

Me: Interesting! How does biology figure into that?

Elise: Oh. Well, I like Biology, so that’s for fun!

Me: Ah! Now that is a real Liberal Arts and Sciences student talking!

Elise: Yeah. I’m just genuinely interested in lots!

Me: What do you see yourself doing in the future?

Elise: Traveling. I really want to travel. I’ve been to the U.S. and various countries in Europe, but I really want to travel to Asia. My country gets so boring; I want to see something completely different!

Me: I feel that! Why do you think I came here?

Elise: It’s so cool that you chose the Netherlands to come to! It’s cool for me to see people interested in my country. I also love to talk to people from the U.S. There are so many opinions and ideas that I find interesting to listen to, so you should tell more people to come here from Valpo!

Elise is so easy to relate to! Even though we have grown up in very different places, we both have an interest in studying and learning about other cultures. We both love to share our culture and our experiences with each other. I hope you enjoyed Elise sharing a bit of her experience with you too!

Understanding Culture Through History

Author: Zoe Henkes

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is most known for its breathtaking environment and biodiversity, so sometimes it is easy to overlook its rich culture and history.  Although I have always been intrigued by Latin American culture, after being here for a month, I realize how surface-level my understanding really was.  In order to fully understand and appreciate Costa Rican culture today, I think it is imperative to first gain an understanding of the nation’s past.

In the ethnology class that we all are required to take here, we learn about the history of Costa Rica, as well as Central America, as a whole.  We are then able to use this knowledge to make connections to the phenomena that we see in daily life, and deepen our understanding of it.  For example, in front of the Central Bank in San José, you will find a group of statues depicting poor farmers and peasants directly outside of the main entrance to the bank.  After learning about Central America’s history of huge inequality, it is apparent that these statues were put in place to remind the wealthy bankers that the bank was established for the common people.  This image is a very stark contrast to image of Wall Street and affluent business tycoons of the United States.  Another thing that makes Costa Rica different than the United States is that it doesn’t have an active military.  Since the abolition of the military in 1948, the Costa Rican government has been able to take the money that would have been used for the upkeep of armed forces, and apply it to other endeavors such as education or the universal healthcare system.

Furthermore, I was lucky enough to be here to celebrate Costa Rica’s Independence Day.  On Thursday, September 14th, we went to my host brother’s school, where the young children sang and danced, then closed the night with a parade of lanterns.  On Friday September 15th, I went to a parade in Santo Domingo with my host family.  It was very similar to what I have observed in the United States for the 4th of July—there were marching bands, flags, dancers, and more.  While it sometimes it is easy to assume that the United States is bigger, better, or more patriotic, it was apparent that Costa Ricans have just as much, if not more, pride for their nation and history.

Overall, while there is still much more to learn, I have already gained a deeper level of understanding of Costa Rican and Central American culture.  Of course, the vast biodiversity and beautiful beaches are important parts of Costa Rica, but even more so is the nation’s rich history.  I think that in general, for anyone looking to truly appreciate a nation’s present-day culture, he or she must first understand the nation’s past.

Taking Time to Unplug

Author: Zoe Henkes

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

Have you ever taken a day or more to fully unplug from technology and the stresses of daily life?  While it might seem crazy or even impossible, it was just what I needed.  Recently,  the other students and I took a weekend trip to Savegre, a private biological reserve located in the Talamanca Mountain Range of Costa Rica.  While we had electricity and hot water, we did not have any access to internet—the point of the trip was  to relax, enjoy nature, and reflect on our time in Costa Rica thus far.

Although Heidi, the director of the Costa Rica study abroad program, warned us that it would be cold in the mountains, I was definitely not prepared.  We arrived in Savegre late Friday night.  It was raining, and the cabin that we were staying in had no heat, so we piled on the blankets in order to keep warm.

The next morning, we had a host of different activities to partake in, the first being birdwatching at 6 AM.  While I would never ordinarily wake up practically before the sun itself, as a nature enthusiast, I couldn’t pass up this amazing opportunity.  Many birdwatchers come to see the quetzal bird, which is famous to Costa Rica.   While some people come in search of the bird and don’t see one the entire time they are there, we got lucky and spotted one right away.  Our guide had a special telescope for birdwatching so that we could see the birds from far away.  It was a beautiful creature with bright green feathers on the back and red feathers on the breast.  I watched in awe as it sat perched on a tree branch so peacefully.  It was a truly amazing experience—I stood there and just listened to the sounds of the forest.  I can’t remember the last time I felt such a strong connection to nature.

Next, we had the opportunity to go horseback riding through the mountains.  It had been several years since I had ridden a horse, so I was a little nervous.  I was expecting the path to be fairly level and smooth, but that was far from the truth.  While we started out on the road, we soon branched off into the forest.  As we waded through rivers and climbed high up into the trees—it was so amazing to see how powerfully, yet gracefully these horses navigated the difficult terrain.  We eventually found ourselves at a waterfall, neatly hidden within the thick forest.  The water was so cold and refreshing.  I had been feeling silly about wearing my bright blue rain boots on the excursion, but then I was thankful for them.  As we turned back and headed back down the mountain, I could see all the valley and forest beneath us—wow.

Overall, among other things, these were the highlights of my trip to Savegre.  While we were only there for a short time, arriving late Friday night and leaving early Sunday morning, I had an amazing time.  It was so liberating to take a break from my phone and social media and just enjoy my surroundings.  I will never forget feeling so close to nature.  I felt at peace.  I felt at home.

Views From the Conservancy

Blogger: Keith Nagel

Location:  Namibia

Almost all study abroad experiences are filled with moments of awe, wonder, and excitement. Although the people of foreign countries are the greatest source for learning,there are other things have the potential to enrich the experience tremendously as well. My experience in Namibia was enriched by a visit to N/a’an ku se Wildlife Sanctuary. This privately owned nature conservancy plays an important role in taking in animals from a number of different unfortunate circumstances. In Namibia, community based resource management has been a huge success in maintaining and reviving threatened animal populations. It was an honor to see these animals in person, and I was lucky enough to get a few pictures to remember them by. Although the big cats had names like Shakira and Billy, they were still just as intimidating as one might expect. An interesting side note is that although lions weigh about 420 pounds, they appear about five times larger than I had expected. Cheetahs on the other hand only weigh about 80 pounds and were much smaller than I had expected. The presence that these big cats have is something that I have never experienced prior. Seeing these amazing animals up close was one of the highlights of my trip so far and a must see for anyone doing the program in the future.                                           


Halfway Gone and Off I go

Author:  Jessica Hanson

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Hey friends!

So so sorry I haven’t posted in what, at least to me, seems like forever! I had intended to post an update during this last week, but a philosophy essay kicked my butt and I didn’t get around to it. For anyone who wants to talk about informed consent ethical issues, I’ve got you covered!

Many of you may be surprised to hear that my semester is already half way over! We just finished week 8 of classes (out of 13, with 3 weeks of finals) and it is officially my 2-week semester (spring) break here! Woo-hoo!! I am heading off to Sydney later this afternoon so I can fly out at 7AM Monday morning for a week adventure down in Tasmania! I’ll be travelling solo and staying in hostels for the whole thing, so I’m hoping it will be a wonderful experience! For those of you who are not familiar with Australian geography, Tasmania is one of Australia’s 6 states and is a little island off the southeastern corner of the mainland. I’m pretty sure it’s like 75% national park- and yes, you can find Tasmanian Devils there!
Image result for tasmania
(this is a Tasmanian Devil)
Following my adventure in Tazzie, I will be heading up to Melbourne for the second week to explore what I have heard is a beautiful city. I’ll be on the lookout for the street-art-filled alleyways that seem to be a rather famous aesthetic and likely spending a good amount of time in lovely coffee shops to warm up from the colder weather. Otherwise, I haven’t planned anything else in the city yet except booking a ballroom lesson while I’m there, which I couldn’t be more excited about! Shout out to all of my ballroom loves back home- I miss you guys! <3

Before I (potentially) go MIA for two weeks, I wanted to give everyone a little update of my semester now that the half way point has officially passed. The first month here I was definitely feeling nostalgic for my Wisconsin/Indiana family, friends, and routines! It wasn’t particularly difficult getting adjusted to schoolwork over here or other ways of Aussie life in general, but it was weird that nothing was familiar- people, city, shopping etc. Even worse, I quickly realised how I definitely take my car for granted at home- being at the liberty of public transportation can be frustrating, but I’m glad I’ve learned how to use public bus systems to make my way around! I also was able to rent a bike while I’m here that allows me to make it to the nearest shops and back really easily- thank goodness I can fulfill those late-night ice cream cravings! 😉 Anyway, the past few weeks I’ve finally found my groove- I’ve been meeting a lot of amazing and lovely people, and I’m starting to be sad that I have to go back to the states now…if I didn’t have obligations at home, there’s a chance I might have chosen to stick around! ;P Either way, I am definitely enjoying my time here and will make sure to take full advantage of the time I have left with the lovely people I have met- it is shaping up to be quite a lovely semester 🙂

As for classes, they are definitely different than what I am used to…Instead of having class MWF or TR like they do in Valpo, I have each class only once or twice a week. I have a one- or two-hour lecture and then a few of my classes have what is called tutorials- what is similar to what I believe is called recitation at other universities in the states? It’s a small group class that typically has discussions/time for presentations, therefore not interfering with the lecture time! So, here’s what my schedule looks like:
Monday- 9AM Lecture (Sustainable Society) w/ 11AM Tutorial; 2-4 pm Lecture (Innovation/Entrepreneurship)
Tuesday- No class!
Wednesday- No class!
Thursday- 8AM Lecture (Ethical Debates); 12-2 PM Lecture (Biology)
Friday- 10AM Tutorial (Ethical Debates); 2-4PM Lecture (Biology)

The best part is that if you miss a lecture, such as the dreaded 8 am, all of the lectures here are recorded and posted on Blackboard! This may or may not minimise my motivation to go to some of my classes…but I make sure I am caught up and do the work I need to! The grading system here is also different. First of all, instead of letter grades, they use HD (High Distinction, 85%+), D (Distinction), C (Credit), P (Pass), FF (Fail, <50%)….and sadly, many Aussies seem to be content with simply aiming for a P in their classes, which makes me definitely feel like a try-hard with my American-bred school motivation! Additionally, my total number of assignments (for all my classes) is only: 1 group presentation, a total of about 6 essays, weekly quizzes in biology, a handful of quizzes in innovation, and two finals- and that’s it! It definitely allows plenty of time for exploring, or as I’ve started to do, personal time for doing things I don’t normally get time to do, such as practice guitar and piano again, listen to podcasts, watch documentaries, or even go for the occasional (very occasional) run!

Alright, well I’m going to be late for my train if I keep rambling about my adventures! Last weekend I did hike to the bottom of a waterfall in the Blue Mountains, and yesterday I went to the horse races with a bunch of lovely ladies (they even had the fancy hats, called Fascinators!!) but I will have to update you on those when I get back to campus in a few weeks! I will try to post all my pictures as soon as possible- I take way too many, but with a broken laptop, I forget to upload them when I’m in the library, so will get around to it eventually.

Here’s a sneak peek of the blue mountains!
PC: Cole Wesselman

I will try to post an update post-Tazzie adventures, but that of course will depend on my access to Wi-Fi in the hostels…until then, enjoy the fall weather back home and I will see you in a few weeks <3


Some Things Are Universal

Author: Abbey Little 

Location: Newcastle, Australia

My second semester studying abroad has commenced and I have found a deeper sense of gratitude in my opportunity to study at the University of Newcastle for the entire year.  The first semester truly, and unexpectedly, put my character to the test.  I faced several hardships from 9,205 miles away—some that were anticipated but most that were not.  I knew the education system was different, but I wasn’t aware to what extent.  I knew I would make new friends, but never imagined how difficult it would be to say goodbye to some of them after one semester.  I knew my parents were going to get divorced, but I did not think their court date would be rescheduled three times.  I knew life would go on back home, but I did not prepare for death.  I knew studying abroad would be a life-changing experience, but I was not anticipating it to change my character as much as it has.

The majority of my first semester was spent alongside an irreplaceable group of fellow Americans.  Together, we learned the ropes of a foreign education system—standard 2-hour lectures once a week, along with a 2-hour lab or tutorial and a whole month dedicated to final exams.  We formed a family through supporting one another during individual struggles and embracing Australian culture together.  Saying good-bye to all of them was agonizing, but I am forever thankful for the bond that was formed between us.

One aspect of being half way across the world that I am yet to truly acclimate to the considerable time difference.  As of now, I am 15 hours ahead of the Central Time Zone –(this will change when we experience the next Daylights Savings, where Australia will jump ahead an hour and America will fall back an hour).  Considering this, I must admit that I have not been the best at communicating with family back in America.  Corresponding to my parents’ messages throughout the process of their divorce was tough—they would send a message during their day while I was asleep, and I would respond when they were headed to bed.  I got news of my uncle’s passing in midday while I was studying for an exam I had the following day.  It isn’t that any of this was inconsiderate on behalf of either parties—it is just that communicating from across the world comes with difficulty.

I have had the great privilege of establishing a support system via my Australian friends, whom I never want to leave.  I have created a happier life for myself amidst a foreign culture that I have positively delved in.  I can only imagine what my time here has  prepared me for.

I travelled across the world for a reason—for exceptional reason.  I’ve learned that no matter how far I run though, I cannot escape reality. So much of who we are is where we’ve been.  So much of where we go is who we’ve come to know.  I’ve lived under many different roofs, but I found my favourite home 9,205 miles away from what I’ve always known.  I have an endless love for this remarkable country—Newcastle especially—and for all the people I’ve encountered along the way who make each day the next best.


Cheers! xx

Living Your Childhood Dreams

Author: Keith Nagel

Location: Namibia

Childhood dreams are powerful things. From a young age people are encouraged to follow and embrace them, and yet the unfortunate reality is that few of those people ever have an opportunity to do so. Dreams like scaling the great pyramids or the slopes of Everest, catching a glimpse of a rare animal or flying across oceans far above the clouds often get thrown to the wayside. Soon the reality of the world kicks in, and ones realizes that perhaps being a captain of a pirate ship or wielding a sword in a medieval battle isn’t the most practical of occupations. For those lucky enough to live the life a younger self might have imagined, the world can be a wonderfully fulfilling place. I consider myself one of the dreamers lucky enough to pursue some of my childhood ambitions. At Valparaiso University I felt a freedom to pursue these dreams, through studying abroad in Southern Africa.

Growing up I always imagined Africa as a spectacularly beautiful place, full of amazing animals and cultures. And upon landing in South Africa, I knew that the image lived up to my imagination. On an outing to Addo Elephant National Park I saw Kudu, Warthogs, Buffalo, Zebras, Lions, and the amazing African Elephants. When I saw such amazing animals it didn’t even feel real; I was  in a zoo and somehow the animals were as tame as house pets. Luckily, I retained enough common sense to remain in the vehicle. To see these animals in their natural habitat without cages or behind glass was truly an amazing experience and one I will never forget.

It should be noted that there is a much less glamorous side to what I saw as well; gross economic inequality, pockets of extreme poverty, and families torn apart by HIV/AIDS. This is not the utopian image I had crafted as a kid, but never the less it is important that this reality also be shared to understand a true picture of the Southern African region. I’ve learned that to really travel far in Southern Africa you must travel light, and not just in the physical sense either. Especially in Southern Africa you must disregard any preconceived stereotypes, because despite its problems Southern Africa has amazing potential for social and economic growth in the coming decade.

It is truly an honor to begin my studies here in Namibia. I have fallen in love with this program and can’t wait for what adventures will come next.

Meeting a New Friend, Christine!

Author: Rachel Silcox

Location: The Netherlands

Hello friends! Welcome back to the Netherlands and to Utrecht! I’m so excited today to introduce you to one of first people I met here and now one of my good friends, Marie-Christine, so you too can get to know her! Born and raised in the Netherlands, when I first saw Christine, I knew she was a Dutchie, the endearingly colloquial term for someone from the Netherlands. At 6 ft. tall and with blonde hair, she could actually be one of the Dutch milkmaids of yore, or just a really good rower as she has recently joined a local crew team. Olympic dreams can still be alive even in early adulthood! But beyond the obvious, Christine is from a small village outside Maastrich, at the southern tip of the Netherlands sandwiched between Belgium and Germany. She loves international food as she can’t decide between sushi or Italian food! Yum!

But to stop from boring you, or sounding like an online dating profile, I’ll now let Christine just tell you about herself!

Me: “So why did you choose to come to a Liberal Arts and Sciences College and UCU in particular?”

Christine: “First, I really like the international setting at UCU and the small campus! But also, I don’t know what I want to do! The Liberal Arts and Sciences here gives you the chance to keep it broad. Plus I’m interested in a lot of different subjects. Mostly social sciences, politics, law, economics, sociology, and psychology subjects. Also, the humanities and sciences are nice to get different perspectives. Like energy and sustainability, my science course, I can use and connect to politics, which I am more directly interested in.”

Me: “So you like the application of the social sciences to more general life, if you get what I mean? Sorry I’m not a professional interviewer.”

Christine: “Haha! Yeah I think so! I am really excited for human geography. It is so much more interesting to learn about societies and how they interact with their geographical place in an applied manner, rather than the pure science. It’s a cool mixture of the humanities and sciences. I really enjoy sciences that interact with people and the international aspect of social sciences.”

Me: “Ok Cool! So why do you like international affairs?”

Christine: “Well I’ve always enjoyed being in an international setting. I started at international school when I was five years old and I really enjoyed it. Everyone was so cool and different. It’s really nice to know people around the world and see that everyone has their own story. It made me more open to the idea that people are different and that’s ok. But coming back to the Netherlands made me realize how unique that was. In the Netherlands, everyone has same culture. I live in a little village and went to elementary school there. The other students, their world revolved around that village. They all shared the same story. It was weird to go back where so much was taken for granted. People followed each other more, from what they did to what they liked. At international school, everyone did their own thing and nobody really minded you doing your own thing. Back in the Netherlands though, everyone wanted to fit in and it was more important to fit in, where among international school people didn’t have to try to fit in. Everyone was different. Everyone thought each other was cool because everyone was different. There wasn’t a mold. But I came back, and I wanted to fit in again. I didn’t want to be different, or an outcast. But looking back, I didn’t need to do that. I still would have had friends. In the end, it would have been fine.”

Me: “That’s so cool that you got to grow up at least in part at an international school! How has that shaped what you want to do in the future?”

Christine: “Well, I want to work with in an international setting. Maybe with an NGO [known as Non-Profit in U.S.] or the UN or a UNICEF position, but I really don’t know. Overall though, this might sound very cliché and cheesy, but I want to have made a difference, even if it is so small. But I’m not really sure in what way. It’s hard to make a noticeable difference on your own, so I guess I want to find my place in an organization and help them make the world a better place.”

Me: “Awesome! Even if its cheesy, I love it! Finally, so is there anything you would like to say to people in US or Valpo?”

Christine: “I would say more people should do what you did! More people should go on exchange and experience a completely different culture. It really changes your perspective and that open-mindedness is so valuable.”

Me: “Thanks for your help! It’s been so great getting to know you!”

I hope through our little interview, you get to know Christine a bit too! She is so caring and interesting, as she really has a heart for people of all backgrounds. Next time, I’ll introduce you to another friend of mine from the Netherlands, Elise!


Sweet Serendipity

Author: Abbey Little

Location: Newcastle, Australia

I have reflected before on the fact that being abroad requires sacrifices—missing people and celebrations/holidays.  Yet part the glory of being abroad includes the opportunity to experience foreign holidays.  April 25th is a public holiday in Australia, known as ANZAC Day—the equivalent in America would be Veteran’s Day.  ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. There is a celebration  to honor when Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula on April 25, 1915. On this day, a dawn service is held beginning at 5 am.  In Newcastle, this takes place just across from the iconic Nobby’s Beach.  This is also the only day of the year that a gambling game called “2UP” is legal in Australia.  Many pubs host events for the game.  

A group of my fellow CIS Abroad friends and I decided that we would take the experience of ANZAC Day and its dawn service to the next level by venturing down to Nobby’s Beach the night before camping there. I was once again watching dreams unfold right in front of me.  The notion of sleeping on the beach just  sounded charming, romantic even.  We even grabbed some goon sacks (I’ll leave that research up to you) and a guitar to take down with us.  Our blankets were scattered just in front of Nobby’s Lighthouse, just before a “Caution: Falling Rocks” sign (but don’t get me wrong—I have no regrets).  

While the sentiment of this overnight beach adventure was dreamy, the reality of sleeping on the beach is bleak and harsh. The bitter breeze skimmed across the Pacific and brushed us with a wave of cool air.  The eight of us huddled in and made our circle of blankets a bit more close-knit.  As 1:00AM was approaching, we collectively agreed on a 3:45AM wake-up time to head back towards the kiosk to grab a coffee before the dawn service began.  I have never seen so many people wide-eyed and bushy-tailed at such an early hour of the morning than I did on ANZAC Day.  As we approached the kiosk –a group of eight foreigners, cloaked in sandy blankets, trudging down the footpath as a flock— you could tell that the significance of this Australian holiday was evident.  Alert, yet silent, locals made their way towards the stage where the service would be held.  Coffees in hand, we all stood together silently awaiting the commencement.  

Australian troops marched down the aisle that was cleared just for them, hundreds of people standing attentively on both sides of them.  Members of the Newcastle community took turns speaking to the crowd from the podium of the historical significance of  April 25, 1915 and the honourable Australian and New Zealand soldiers, both past and present.  Rifles were fired from atop a hill just behind the crowd to conclude the ceremony, grasping the attention of everyone in attendance.  

However, we were greeted by the true luminary just to our right—a breathtaking sunrise, fully equipped with impeccable hues of red and orange.  In that moment, I felt at home.  I felt accepted.  A congregation of Australians surrounded me, yet I did not feel foreign.  A service that is celebrated each year in Australian culture, I had experienced just once.  Yet there I stood, united with all who were present, gazing at the most remarkable sunrise I have had the glory of observing.  It is true that the grass is greener in some places and that some rivers and oceans run bluer than others—but what is so universally unique is the concept that we all look up at the same sky.  Each day, the sun rises and sets on the horizon, regardless of our coordinates.  Living on the east coast of Australia means that I am one of the first people to see the sun rise at the dawn of each day.  On ANZAC Day, the warmth provided by the rising sun gouged much deeper than simply the surface of my skin and that entity is endless. Sweet, sweet serendipity.

Cheers! xx


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