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Student Stories from Around the World

Category: Newcastle (page 1 of 4)

What I Learned While Studying Abroad in Australia: The Adventure is Never Over

Author: Sarah Tubbs

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Today marks the start of the last week I am here studying abroad, and truly I never thought this time would go by so quickly. I remember everyone saying at the beginning of the semester how study abroad flies by and to be prepared for that. But no matter how prepared I was mentally for the fast motion of studying abroad, I never thought it would have gone by as quickly as it did. As my time here studying abroad in Australia comes to an end, the conversations I have with people start to shift. Rather than talking about upcoming adventures and events, we all end up chatting about how it will feel re-assimilating back into the United States and the sadness we feel leaving all of the people we got so close with these past few months.

So here I am, writing my ‘goodbye’ to study abroad and the experience that it was for me. This past semester I have had my highest highs and my lowest lows. I’ve done things I never expected to do, went places I’ve only dreamed about, and most importantly, I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would. I’ve tried to narrow it down to the five main things I’ve learned while studying abroad, but truly there are so many more than the ones I will mention below. But here are some of the biggest realizations I’ve had these past five months while studying abroad that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life…

I was put on this earth to love and be kind

And yes, it’s really that simple. There are so many things in the world that seem extremely daunting and intense. We as a human species put such an inordinate amount of pressure on ourselves to be perfect, have everything figured out, and know our next steps. But in the reality that not many seem to talk about, this isn’t always true. We can expect certain things to happen in the future, but we will never 100% know what’s coming. Things are always changing and evolving, and to be creatures that can adapt to this change is becoming even more important as the world around us drastically changes everyday.

While I’ve been abroad, this fact of an ever changing and unpredictable world has been a continual lesson I’m experiencing and learning. When you never know what will happen next, you focus in more to the present and those that surround you everyday. I found myself doing this more often that ever since I had limited time in Australia, there were so many moments I didn’t want to forget. When I started actively focusing more on the present moments in my life, I discovered some simple facts. These included being there for people, being kind and open hearted to those you meet, and loving all beings in the world in any way you can. In the end, this is what matters. It’s not how much money you have or how fashionable your clothing is, it’s how you loved and were compassionate towards those who surround you in life. It’s these moments that will bring you endless happiness and contentment, if you are keen enough to push yourself to see the world in this perspective. And it can be challenging… especially in a world that has become so geared towards advertising and pushing things you “need” or want. But overall, studying abroad has made me realize to a deeper degree how important finding connections and loving people is in the world.

Sadness never needs to be justified

While you’re studying abroad, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. And I believe that not many people expect it to be that way. For me, being so far away from home and also being the only one from my home university to be in Australia, there were moments when I was very sad or lonely and couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was making me feel that way. Throughout my time being abroad, I realized more and more that I don’t need justification for the way I feel and what’s going on with me emotionally. If I needed to stay in and be with myself, I didn’t let others make me feel bad for doing what I needed to do for me. This may or may not happen to you when you are abroad, but no matter where you are in life, your sadness doesn’t need to be justified.

When you challenge yourself, you learn more more than you will ever know (Don’t ever doubt your strength)

Growing up as a woman, I was always told to always be aware of my surroundings. To never walk alone in the dark. To never travel alone because of the horror stories of single women traveling to foreign places. To not wear certain things because I would get unwanted attention. I carry pepper spray with me and my heart is never not racing whenever I’m walking alone in the middle of the night… or even when it’s just dark outside. This is how many women were raised. This is how I was raised, and yes I do need to always be aware of my surroundings and be smart when I’m alone. But being a woman should NEVER be a deciding factor for certain decisions I make in my life.

Studying abroad has taught me this in such a profound way, because there were a lot of things I had to do by myself. But sometimes being a woman came with an inordinate amount of precautions before I went anywhere alone. This was shown to me when I went to Cronulla Beach in South Sydney for a weekend. None of my friends could come with me, so I decided to go alone. But before I went, I had so many people telling me to be extremely safe… to watch out for my surroundings… to never be alone in the dark… etc. Which I understand, these need to be talked about. Being smart and safe is something everyone should be aware of. But one thing that all of these precautions made me question was my own strength. I became more nervous because everyone was making me feel like if I went anywhere alone something wrong would occur.

This IS NOT the case!! There were so many trips and adventures I decided to do solo and it was the best thing I could have ever done for myself. So DO NOT limit yourself when abroad, you have a lot more strength within you than the world makes people believe.

Reading books can change your life

When I was a younger kid, you would have never seen me without a book in my hand. I remember being made fun of in eighth grade because I would read a book at lunch rather than go outside and play basketball. From teen romance, to fantasy, to mystery, and so many more, my world was one that included solving mysteries with Nancy Drew, sailing on the Pequod with Ishmael, and fighting in the Hunger Games with Katniss.

But things changed when I entered high school. Life got busier, I had more homework and activities to do, and I found myself not having the time to read as much as I used to. Time management became even harder as I entered college and had so many more things swarming my mind than my mind wants to read.

Before I went abroad, I wanted to change this. I made the decision to bring books other than school books for reading. And once I started reading again, it made me realize what I had been missing these past few years of not reading!! Reading is such a positive thing for the human mind since it helps with mental stimulation, stress reduction, vocabulary improvement, and so much more. There have been so many studies showing the benefits of reading everyday and not having our heads smashed in our phone screens, and I believe this to be very true. If you aren’t a big reader or simply don’t enjoy it, I challenge you to try for one week. Everyday for one week sit down and try to read a book, even if it’s a short article or a magazine. Sit down and read something and open your mind to different perspectives the world offers.

Knowing myself and loving her so much

I don’t know if this is from studying abroad, for simply growing up, or just where I am in my life at this moment, but after studying abroad this semester I feel I know myself in such a deeper way than I have before. The challenges I have faced here are things I would have never went through while staying at university in the states. And that’s truly the beauty of studying abroad. You push yourself to do these things you could have never expected to be experiencing, and you feel this internal growth in such a profound way that is hard to explain in words.

I remember when I first was looking into studying abroad. Not knowing exactly what would happen while abroad was a nerve-racking thing to experience. I thought about studying abroad all of the time. Thinking about the adventures I would have wherever I was, the people I would meet, how I would feel being by myself so far away from home, and so much more.

And in my last week of studying abroad, I get teary eyed thinking about what this time in my life has been for me. Studying abroad in Australia was a time I will never forget. And all that I learned while I was here will forever be with me for the rest of my life. The adventure is never really over… it’s truly all just beginning…

The Wanaka Tree in Wanaka, New Zealand

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone and Making Friends While Doing So

Author: Sarah Tubbs

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

One thing I have always loved about the randomness of life is meeting new people. Not over a technological or social platform, but randomly meeting someone at a cafe, at a movie, a school event, or anywhere really and having an instantaneous connection with them. One thing you learn all throughout life and while studying abroad is that these true connections might not happen very often. There are many circumstances as well where you meet new people and you just don’t connect with them, and that is just a part of life. It’s the moments when you meet people and do connect right off the bat and enjoy being around them, that can change the course of your life in so many beautiful ways. While studying abroad, I have found myself in both of these situations. There have been many people that I have met and haven’t clicked with at all. The hardest part about those instances is that at first I thought I was connecting with them. But overtime I learned that it was because I had simply just met them and didn’t know them yet. Moments like these though just make the instant connections that you do experience with others that much better. I’ve experienced many situations like that while studying abroad, but one of the most memorable friendships I have found while here was when I was least expecting it.

Facebook is a huge thing here in Australia. Everyone here is on Facebook, it is used more than any other social platform. All of my friends at the University of Newcastle use Facebook messenger to talk to people, make events pages on Facebook, and simply keep in touch with all of their friends through this platform. To find out what is going on around town and around wherever you are, you check Facebook. So one night I was randomly looking through Facebook events in my area, I found a movie that was premiering for one night only at the local theater. The premise of the movie is talking and discussing the birth of the conservation movement for the oceans and water systems of the world. So being an environmental science major, this interested me very much. I asked some friends of mine if anyone would have liked to go, but everyone was either busy or weren’t interested. So I ended up buying a single ticket and planned to go to the movie event with myself. I was a little nervous about this because the movie theater was quite a ways away and I would be going there alone during the night, but I wanted to push myself to do something new so I went for it.

When it came to be the day of the movie, I got myself ready and took the bus to the movie theater. This wasn’t like any ordinary movie event, this was a one time premiere where the makers of the film were there and would be answering questions after people had watched the movie! It was an amazing time. I got to the movie and got myself a popcorn and got ready to watch the movie. As I walked into the theater and was searching for a seat, I saw an open seat next to a random girl. Almost all of the other seats were taken, so I just chose to sit by her. Before the movie started we had introduced ourselves and were chatting about our shared interests in environmentalism and ocean conservation. We had really connected and wanted to talk more with each other, but the movie was starting so we quieted down and focused on the screen. After the movie the filmmakers did a Q&A, which lasted longer than I had expected since I had planned to take the 9:45PM bus back to campus. The Q&A went until about 10PM, and the next bus wasn’t going to come until 11:15PM. I really didn’t feel safe sitting at the bus stop for more than an hour by myself so late at night, so I asked the girl I had met if she could possibly give me a ride back to Uni. Thankfully she was happy to help me out and said she’d be able to give me a ride! During the ride we chatted some more and planned to hang out again to see Caves Beach, a famous beach near Newcastle. So the next weekend we ended up hanging out again and headed down to Caves Beach where near it the “Living Smart Festival” was going on. We spontaneously went to the festival and walked around, then we ended up going to the beach and spent the day laying in the sun.

All three pictures from Caves Beach near Newcastle

After that we have hung out a few more times and have really bonded. She graduated University with a degree in environmental science and marine biology and has helped me make connections for potential jobs in the future (in Australia and the US). I was so grateful to have met her and to have pushed myself out of my comfort zone by going to a movie alone in a new place. If I had never done that, I wouldn’t have met Abby and made the connection I did with her. Overall, I hope people will hear this story and that it inspires them to get out of their comfort zones while abroad, because you never know what may happen or who you may meet wherever you go.

The Blue Mountains UNESN Trip: An Adventure You Don’t Want to Miss

Author: Sarah Tubbs

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

While I have been here in Australia, I have realized how eco-friendly and conscious a lot of people and places are. Literally no one uses plastic straws or packaging, the grocery stores push the use of reusable bags, there are talks and conferences every week regarding climate change, and there are many designated places for national and state conservation areas. Of these places, one of them is the Blue Mountains National Park and Conservation Area and UNESN (the international exchange group on the University of Newcastle’s campus) has a trip they put on for people to go there!

An hour outside of Sydney, you will find the Blue Mountains National Park, a beautiful place with many stories and folktales that are tied to the breathtaking landscapes you hike through when there. UNESN puts on a weekend trip that sells out fairly quickly to the Blue Mountains every semester at the University. Paying for this trip gets you two nights in a backpacker hostel in Katoomba (the small and cute city bordering the National Park), two breakfast meals, and two dinner meals. When you get there you have the opportunity to meet new people, eat some pretty good food, hike all around the National Park, and get to see some of the amazing landscapes of New South Wales. I recommend whoever does choose this study abroad program or finds themselves in this area of Australia in their lives, this is one place you don’t want to miss.

View from the Wentworth Falls Trail at the Blue Mountains National Park

The best part about this weekend were the endless hikes and views we got to see on Saturday and Sunday. We all woke up early both days and split up to hike the different trails found throughout the National Park. My friends Linneya, Krista, and I went and walked the Charles Darwin hike into the National Park. One fascinating thing we discovered about this trail is that it was named after Charles Darwin due to him visiting this area in Australia once in 1836. This is a very easy hike that has no steep inclines or challenging paths that is a great time for anyone! This trail then led to the breathtaking cliffs, overhangs, and waterfalls on the Wentworth Falls trail that is found deeper in the park grounds. The Wentworth Falls trail is more challenging of a hike. With steep stairs, ladder climbs, tricky footpaths, and more, this trail may be physically demanding but is absolutely beautiful. This was one of the highlights of the entire weekend. My friends and I decided to walk the entire thing and got to see some pretty epic landscape views of the National Park. We stopped throughout the trail to either catch our breaths, eat a little snack, or take pictures of the beauty that was surrounding us. As we were hiking, one of the most spectacular things happened. We randomly stopped and looked at the waterfall when all of a sudden a rainbow appeared right before our eyes glowing in the waters flow! It was a rare moment that we randomly were able to witness and remember from this trip together.

Rainbow seen in the Wentworth Falls Water Flow

Wentworth Falls at the Blue Mountains National Park

Krista and I on the Charles Darwin Walk

Another hike we took on Sunday was to the famous Three Sisters viewpoint in the National Park. This was an adventure I will really never forget. For the month of September in Australia, it is still considered winter time since the seasons are opposite that of the US. So when we did go to the Blue Mountains it was around 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit the entire weekend. This didn’t ever affect us when we were hiking on Saturday since we had trees to block out most of the wind. But when hiking to the Three Sisters lookout, there were no barriers to the cold wind that was hitting all of us. Google Maps made us believe it would be a short 15 minute walk to the lookout, so we were all down for it. But this walk ended up being around 30 minutes of us fast walking to get to the lookout where the sun was setting. We were all freezing cold and barely able to move our fingers, but the view was amazing. Not one of us didn’t have a smile on our faces as we watched the sun set over this breathtaking scenery. Overall, this weekend was truly magical as seeing these amazing sights really puts into perspective what is truly important in the hectic world we live in. Simply breathing and looking at the natural beauty of the world can put you into your place found on this planet that sustains us, and show you that we should try to return the favour.

Sunset over the Three Sisters Lookout Point at the Blue Mountains National Park

Adventuring in Sydney

Author: Sarah Tubbs

Location: Sydney, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Travelling around when studying abroad is a must. When you have free weekends, long breaks, or time where you can get out there and bop around, you should try to take the opportunity. One thing I didn’t realize about Australia before I got here and figured out the transportation system is that Australia is HUGE. Australia has around 20 million people populating the entire country and it is almost the same size as the US. This means that it is way less densely populated than the US, which has almost 300 million people living throughout it. This makes travelling around the country a little more challenging since things are more spread out. In saying that though, there are still many ways to get around this country if you have the time to do so. And luckily, Sydney is a short two and a half hour train ride away from Newcastle where I am currently studying abroad at.

Getting into Sydney is an easy trip. Simply take a 15-minute bus ride to the Hamilton Train Station. Then ride that train for about two and a half hours straight to Central Station in Sydney. Then you’re right in the middle of the city! Sydney is a beautiful and diverse city that strangely reminds me of Chicago whenever I have gone there, which now has been about four times. The first time I went into Sydney it was with a bunch of my American friends for a boat party put on by UNESN (the international exchange group found at the University of Newcastle- HIGHLY recommend joining). The boat party was on a Saturday, so we ended up taking the train in on Friday and stayed two nights in Sydney at the YHA Backpackers Hostel (one of the best hostels in Sydney and very inexpensive for those on a tight budget). The boat party was a blast. It was a beautiful day, the boat took us all around Darling Harbour, and this was the first time many of us got to see the Sydney Opera House!

My friend Holly and I in front of the Sydney Opera House

The next day after the boat party, we all stuck around in Sydney and explored. We walked the entire city and tried a bunch of great food along the way. We also walked up to the Sydney Opera House to get a better view of it. While there, I learned that the Sydney Opera House opened on October 20th, 1973 and hosts almost 1,500 performances annually. It was also the youngest finalist in the New7Wonders of the World campaign that lasted between the years 2000-2007, compared to the other finalists that were all built before the 1900’s. This building was absolutely breathtaking. You can’t really tell from far away or even in most pictures, but the entire roof is a mosaic of beautiful white and blue ceramic tiles. Seeing this building in person was something that is hard to explain. I’ve seen pictures of the many wonders of the world growing up in school, but when you actually see one in person it is unreal. The entire time I was standing there looking at this detailed and inordinate piece of art, it was hard for me to believe I actually was. While I was touring around the Opera House, I had many moments that made me realize to a deeper degree where I was in the world, that I was really all the way on the other side of the world, over the entire Pacific Ocean, and in Australia. This may sound like a silly thing to recognize a month into my travels here in Australia, but when you study abroad and feel it you’ll understand.

Amber, Sammi, Me, Holly, and Joey in front of the Sydney Opera House

So after this first trip into Sydney, I have been there now three more times. Once for new tattoos, another time for a 1975 concert, and another time to see the Russian Ballet perform Swan Lake. Even though it can be hard to travel around Australia since everything is so spread out and you may need to take a flight to some places, it’s fun finding things near you that are easily accessed and great fun! One piece of advice I would have to anyone studying abroad or planning to is to not forget that even though traveling to these exotic places around the world is a blast when studying abroad, sometimes there are things right next to you that are worth taking a look into, seeing the beauty in, and being grateful for.

Sunset over Newcastle Beach in Newcastle, Australia

When Homesickness Hits: Feeling Lonely on the Other Side of the World

Author: Sarah Tubbs

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

While studying abroad in a foreign and unknown place, being without those who ground you and support you can make things challenging with the feelings of homesickness and missing people creeping in. Before going abroad, I knew that there would be moments of homesickness while I was away. But being a very independent person I didn’t expect it to hit as hard as it did about a month into my program. Things had been going very well. I was enjoying my classes, meeting friendly people, eating great food, and doing pretty fun things almost everyday. But then things took a turn as more challenges were put into my path. Things started to die down as we all got into our normal routines with starting classes. Less things were happening all of the time and there were many days that just involved classes and mundane activities rather than the rapid movement and travel of new adventures that the first weeks contained here in Australia. For me personally, many overwhelming situations came into my path as I started classes.

This all started with being in a class that ended up being way more challenging than I had expected. I needed to change my class schedule, but trying to accomplish this was very difficult. That was since to do this meant having to communicate to people at VU during their summer hours while also being in a completely different time zone. Overall a very overwhelming situation that was also paired with busting my phone, seeing some true colors of new friends I had just made, and missing those whom I love back in the states. It was when hard times hit me while being abroad that homesickness found a way to creep into my mind. Not being able to even contact those whom I missed or be able to travel much off campus because my phone was busted made things even more difficult. I felt stuck, and was upset that I felt stuck simply because I didn’t have my mobile phone.

Pulling yourself out of these negative mindsets can be one of the most difficult things in life. When they are occurring you barely know that it is happening or what to do to help yourself because things can make you feel very hopeless. Asking for help was something I struggled with. I knew I was feeling down and in the gutter, but felt as though I needed to fix everything myself. That’s where I went wrong. After about a week of finding it hard to get out of bed and do things off campus, I finally found the strength to talk to a new friend for help and tell her that I was struggling. She really helped me with a vast amount of things including figuring out public transportation without a mobile phone, knowing what’s happening in the downtown areas, and simply being there to talk and care about me. Talking with her helped me to empower myself to do more things by myself, do more things with new friends, and be confident with the unknown that surrounded me.

Overall, things started to get significantly better once I put myself out there and pushed myself to do more with others. Now this may seem like a very obvious thing, but when you find yourself in moments of loneliness it may not be something so easily seen. Even though the feelings of missing people were still there, they were less frequent and less intense. What I learned is that when homesickness hits while you are abroad, which it will, you simply have to breathe and keep going. Call those you love and care about, but don’t forget to really immerse yourself in the community where you are when abroad. You will meet amazing people if you remain kind and open-minded. These new friends will understand the feelings you are going through more than those back home and you will create a new community and connections for the short time you are abroad. Even though it is a short time, remember to not look at it like there is an end that is slowly approaching you. Simply live in the moment and don’t forget to be grateful for the experience of beautiful growth that is going on within your soul.

My new friends, Sammi and Holly, I made from the US at the University of Newcastle

Sandboarding Adventure with new friends, Linneya, Joey, Kimmy, Kendra, and Holly I met through UNESN (University of Newcastle Exchange Student Network- A MUST TO JOIN)

CIS Abroad Beach Day and Hike to Port Stevens (with bunches of beautiful people)

What is Studying Abroad Really About?

Author: Sarah Tubbs

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

When you hear the words ‘studying abroad’ what comes to your mind? Is it a whirlwind adventure every second of every day? Do you see yourself constantly traveling, meeting new people, living on the edge, and feeling free? While some of these things you may find true, studying abroad is much more than what is advertised when you are looking into it.

When I started considering my study abroad adventure, I really had no idea what to expect. No matter how many people I talked to, or how much I researched Australia, none of it could have prepared me for what I actually experienced being here. When talking to people who have previously done the same program I chose, of course they talked about the highlights and the best moments they had while abroad. This happens a lot within those conversations people have when looking into studying abroad and trying to get a grasp of the unknowns that it brings. These conversations can unintentionally sway people who are preparing to study abroad to believe that it is a consistent and crazy adventure. But in reality, it is a lot different than most may believe and also something that is hard to describe unless you personally have studied abroad before.

Studying abroad is exactly what it says it is. It is studying and taking classes while you are living abroad. You are taken away from the blanket of security you have created when at VU. Knowing almost every face you see when walking down the hallway, with friends and teachers you recognize, places you know have great coffee, the best study locations on campus, and even the language that you grew up with. The constant things in your life that you never really thought had such an impact on your daily mindset leave your life for a short while. You’re taken to a place where you really don’t know anyone, you don’t know what places have the best coffee, heck you don’t even know where those places are. But I’m not saying all of this to scare anyone out of studying abroad. It can feel like this for quite a while at the beginning, but these feelings fade overtime. As you push yourself to grow in a new location, you find your footing and learn more about yourself than you ever have before. You slowly realize and stop pinching yourself that you’re actually there. Studying abroad and living in a brand new place of your choosing. You then begin to see that it’s not such a dramatic change as you may have previously thought.

When talking to people from the US here in Australia about their experiences so far, a lot of them have told me how studying abroad isn’t what they had expected or assumed it would be like. Many of these new friends of mine talked about how it’s not a vacation. They mentioned how when they were first researching study abroad, all anyone ever talked about was the wild and crazy things that they did throughout their studies. Failing to mention the mundane and simple things of life that you experience more of when being abroad. Doing laundry, going grocery shopping, figuring out public transportation, and many more things are briefly spoken about while traveling abroad, going out to parties, and other extravagant things are what the majority of the conversations are about. These things do happen and are incredible, but a majority of study abroad is simply living life wherever you are choosing to go and becoming a part of the community that is found there. This is when you will start to feel more comfortable. When you know where the best coffee places are, you know how the buses work, you know the people around you as they smile and know your name. It’s moments like these that truly make studying abroad this beautiful experience that so many people remember and cherish throughout the rest of their lives.

Glenrock State Conservation Area Scenic Beach Walk

Whale Watching Expedition on the Shores of Newcastle (during Orientation Week)

Bar Beach located in Newcastle, Australia

Taking the First Steps to Study Abroad

Author: Sarah Tubbs

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Something as wild as living in a foreign country for almost 5 months by yourself being surrounded with new cultures and people, while also having to take classes alongside it all can sound extremely daunting. As you talk about it with friends and family while making your decision to study abroad, there are many different conversations that can occur. People may question your decision and think that it isn’t the right idea, others may encourage you and want you to experience this for yourself. No matter what conversations ensue while discussing study abroad, in the end it is YOUR decision. One that I would personally recommend to anyone who is debating whether or not to take the leap.

Though there are many people that decide to study abroad in their paths throughout university, every person has a different and unique experience with what they feel while abroad. Even if you go to the same place, you will experience things in a different way than those that surround you. This is one of the most beautiful things about studying abroad. That even though it is a very individual experience, you will feel connections to those around you in ways you have never felt before. So trust me when I say you should take that first step. Talk to an advisor, a family member, a friend, or yourself about the possibility of studying abroad. I promise that you won’t regret it. Because the growth and challenges you feel while abroad are feelings that staying at VU all four years will never be able to give you.

I had my challenges with taking these first steps when I was at VU. I had been wanting to study abroad even before I got accepted into a university. When I got accepted to VU, one of the first things I looked into was the study abroad program they offered. It wasn’t until my senior year that I found I was able to take the time and study abroad, with facing challenges ranging from changing my major, to required classes, to family illnesses, to simply figuring out when the ideal time for me to actually go was. Even though it felt like the right time to go, I found out that there will never be that exact right time to do something. There will always be things that you wished you planned for. That you had more spending money, that you needed more time mentally to figure out things, or more items you needed to bring abroad. But in the end know that it isn’t a permanent thing that will be forever happening. For only a short 5 months you will be experiencing what it is like to study abroad. If this is something you have always wanted to do, figure it out and take those steps to getting to a new country! The benefits of travel are so amazing, diverse and vast. I believe that everyone should try to push themselves to take the chance. Sometimes just taking that first step is all you need to open up an entirely new chapter in your life that you could have never expected to happen. And it will be an unforgettable adventure with whatever you choose. As long as you are kind, compassionate, loving, and most of all courageous.

Overall, deciding to study abroad can seem like a big step, but in reality it isn’t that big if you take time to make those small steps towards your goal of traveling and experiencing new things around you and inside of yourself. It all revolves around those first steps that you feel inside of yourself. To decide to go for something that feels strange and potentially uncomfortable. Because it’s when you push yourself to do those things that make you get out of your comfort zone, and that’s when you have the potential to grow and change. This is when you begin to see that everything that happens is meant to happen. You will be able to understand that in such a deeper way once you start doing things that take you out of the comfort zones we have all unconsciously created for ourselves. To take these first steps is a courageous and strong thing to do for yourself. Just know that whatever you choose, you will begin to feel growth and change within you the first step off the plane.

Sand Dunes of the Northern Shores of Newcastle, AU

Breathtaking Beaches in Australia

Author: Sarah Buckman

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Australia is notoriously known for having numerous beaches, all with different aspects worth exploring. So how do you decide which to visit? If you’re anything like me, you love spending a day at the beach more than anything and recognize they are all unique in their own way. Lucky for you, I have been blessed to visit many different beaches here and thought I would give you the insider scoop on what each one has to offer!

Picture of me enjoying Australia’s beautiful weather

The first one is Newcastle Beach, which is one of the closest beaches to the Newcastle City Campus. It is only like a 20-minute walk through downtown and is a staple for most students who go to the University of Newcastle. Since Australia has incredible weather for almost all of their first semester, you will find most students on their days off, or after class hanging at the beach. The nearby area is very high-end, featuring hotels and restaurants, but you can still find some relatively cheap eats nearby! Newcastle beach also features a separate pool, full of seawater, that is perfect for a swim. A bonus sight that is a must-see is the Bogey Hole! Once you get to the Newcastle beach, it is only a half hour hike from there. It’s a gorgeous hike that allows you to see a great aerial view of the ocean, as well as the flora and fauna.

Newcastle Beach

My friends and I grabbing some delicious burgers and chips at Newcastle Beach

The Bogey Hole

Another beach that is worth spending a day at is Nobbys Beach. From first glance it may not seem as interesting as the other ones listed, but it does not make it any less special. Nobbys has a fairly flat landscape compared to the other ones, making it perfect for a chill kind of day. Due to this kind of landscape, it’s a great place to go if you like to swim without the intense waves. After you have had your fill of relaxing, one of Nobbys best features is the Nobbys Lighthouse and Breakwall. After about a half hour walk you will find the lighthouse on top of the hill and then there is a breakwall that stretches on for another 20 minutes. Fair warning in advance, the breakwall gets slippery due to the huge waves that crash against it! So worth seeing.

Nobbys Lighthouse

Nobbys Breakwall

Bar Beach is the next stop that is a must see for its natural beauty. It is a long beach, featuring tall rock features in the landscape. This is also the first beach that I visited and noticed Australia’s trend in having little pockets full of water that deserve a closer look! In some of these water pockets you will find them full of small fish, starfish, and some even have crabs. They are the coolest things to observe, and they alone are worth going to see. I saw not only starfish but even a couple of sea urchins! It was the most surreal moment to see them outside of an aquarium setting. Just another great beach to see purely for its unique landscape features. Once you have had your fill of nature, feel free to fill up on some hot grub! Bar beach is not only unique nature-wise, but also unique in its way of having some cute little stands to get some food from. This is, without a doubt, another beach worth seeing.

One of the many water pockets you can find on the rocks! If you look closely, you will see this one features some starfish and a sea urchin!

Now, if you want to see a beach in Australia that truly displays unique natural beauty, the one to go to is Caves Beach. As you can probably tell by the name, this beach does in fact have caves on it! They are big enough to explore and are so worth seeing! This beach also just has an abundance of rocks to climb on or swim around, making it an all-around exciting and adventurous kind of day. A bonus to this beach is the surfing! If you love to surf, or are interested in learning, this is the perfect beach to do it at! I went with our group of international students here to take a lesson and we had a blast! If you love to laugh at yourself, this is the perfect thing to try out. Overall, a fun filled day you will not regret.

Me exploring the caves at Caves Beach!

Playing around the rocks at Caves Beach!

Lastly, and probably the most well-known, Bondi Beach is a non-negotiable in the list of Australian Beaches to see. Yes, this beach is in fact the one featured in the show Bondi Rescue- so pro tip: if you are going to Bondi Beach, be prepared to tell everyone you know “yes this IS the beach from that show”, etc. because you will get asked about it greatly. Besides the fact, it too is a must-see place for its own reasons. There are plenty of cute touristy shops to hit up downtown as well as fantastic eats. The beach is also known for its street art that is ideal for pictures. If you enjoy skateboarding, be prepared to shred too! The skate park there is a popular place to hang at. Nature wise, besides the gorgeous shoreline, includes a hike to Mackenzies Point that is absolutely stunning to see at sunset. On the way there you will pass the Bondi Icebergs Pool which is another Bondi trip must. If you visit this beach, you will definitely want to make sure you set aside the whole day to experience it all.

The far end of Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach is home to many creatures, including dozens of birds!

Of course, these are just my top 5 recommendations to visit while you are in Australia. This only scratches the surface to the amount of beaches they have here! Every beach will give you a different experience that helps captivate the Australian culture. With every beach trip I take while I’ve been in Australia, it has shown me the beauty in finding times to relax throughout your study abroad trip—a very underrated thing every student that studies abroad should learn how to do!

Getting Involved While Abroad

Author: Sarah Buckman

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Everyone has their daily routines. At college this most likely includes the many jobs, clubs, and activities you find yourself involved in. However, this tends to happen naturally, while in your home country. So how do you get involved while abroad? Here I will share some of the things I did to get involved while abroad, that ultimately changed my entire experience for the better.

Some international students and I at Vivid Lights in Sydney!

When you get to your country that you will be abroad in, the first thing I recommend as a must do would be to take advantage of your new college’s welcome week. It is typically within the first week of you arriving there and is jam packed with optional activities to go to. Make it your personal mission to go to as many things you find interesting as possible! What better way to get your feet wet than by taking advantage of how new everyone is to college life, to meet people, join things, and make memories! Between tours, get togethers, club and sport meet and greets, and activity fairs there is so much offered during this unique week. Out of all the things listed, if I were to pick the top thing that changed my experience would be the activities fair. If you can only make it to one thing be sure to make it to this! Even though you will feel like a freshman all over again, it is something that should not be passed up in order to get involved and acclimated to your new college.


While at the activities fair, make sure to be open to trying new things, but also make sure to get to the booths you know are things you will most likely get involved with. For myself, I love to be involved religiously, so I made sure to get information from those. If you are also interested in spirituality while abroad, you are in for some good news! It is very likely no matter where you end up studying that there will be plenty of options for you! I love getting involved in the Chapel back at Valparaiso University, so I knew this would be a good fit for me! Turned out, between UniChurch and Reality Bible Study at the University of Newcastle, both are where I ended up making the majority of my friends while abroad! I hung out with these friends almost every day, go on day trips with them, and even went on a weekend retreat with them! Such a unique experience to have during a study abroad program! I even became a volunteer youth leader while I was abroad and got to work with kids! Could not recommend this bit of advice enough!

Some of my friends and I during our weekend retreat!

One very easy thing to help you get involved on your new campus is to check to see if your campus offers an international student club/organization. At the University of Newcastle, our international organization was called UNESN (University of Newcastle Exchange Student Network) and it was a fantastic resource to meet people from many different countries besides America and Australia. Through this organization, I had the opportunity to go on many excursions and planned events and got to meet many people and grow close to those people because we all looked forward to seeing each other again on the next event. Going abroad is about meeting people from new places and being a part of an international organization helps this piece of studying abroad become a reality.

UNESN group on our trip to the Blue Mountains!

Another solid way to get involved while abroad is to attend building and/or floor activities! Just like in America, you will find most colleges will still offer events that are just related to the people you live closest to! In my case, my dorm building not only hosted building events, but even floor ones. Making sure to go to them when you have the time is a great way to meet even more people, and it does not require any work! During my floor events we played games, made baked goods for each other and even potted plants together. Each event probably only lasted an hour, but it still made the best impact at getting to know people better. As far as building events go, there are too many to recount! My favorite, and most impactful one that I went on, by far, was when we all went to clean the beach on National Clean Up Australia Day! It was so cool getting together with them to accomplish something that held a bigger impact than just on ourselves. Seriously, take advantage of getting to know the people who are literally closest to you!

Cleaning up the beach with my fellow dorm-building mates!

These are just a couple of ways to help get you involved while abroad. If studying abroad has taught me anything, it is that the more people you meet, the better your experience will become. Why seclude yourself to small amounts of people when clearly studying abroad shows you just how big the world can be? Do not be afraid to branch out and to put yourself out there!

Trip to the Blue Mountains

Author: Sarah Buckman

Location: Newcastle, Australia

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

One of the many trips I have been blessed to go on during my semester abroad, was a weekend spent in the Blue Mountains. This was an excursion organized through the student exchange club on campus here in Australia. Over 100 students traveled across the country by many trains and buses to experience some of the beautiful nature Australia has to offer.

The student exchange group at Three Sisters.

We spent one full day in the Blue Mountains, which included a jam-packed itinerary. After a quick train ride to the mountains from our hostel, our long day began. Upon arriving everyone split into smaller groups to make hiking on the narrow paths easier. The goal of the hike was to see the beautiful waterfalls at the bottom of the mountain, but the day turned out different than expected. My group of friends and I made it about halfway, stopping every so often to take pictures, when Jamie and I got separated from the group. Me, being very directionally challenged, was nervous for how we would find our way; but through this trip I ended up learning a lot. Thanks to my optimistic friend, we turned our situation into an adventure. We decided to look at our situation as an opportunity to experience the most of our hiking trip. A mixture of taking frequent stops to enjoy the view, and going down any trail we wanted, led us to an amazing lookout point of the whole mountain we would have never gotten to see if we stayed with the group! We were truly in awe of Australia’s natural beauty.

Sara, Alexis, Jamie, Teleia, Sam and I making our way to the waterfalls.

Jamie and I enjoying the view at the top of the mountains.

Finally, after admiring the mountain’s horizon for long enough, Jamie and I focused on making it down the mountain to see the waterfalls. When our group leaders told us it was going to be a full day of hiking, they definitely meant it! It took Jamie and I about two hours to make our way to the bottom of the mountain- there were a ton of stairs! Once we made it to the bottom it was so beyond worth it! The waterfalls were soaring hundreds of feet above us, with gallons of water falling over them causing rainbows to be seen everywhere. To say it was gorgeous, would be an understatement. What’s one thing I never expected to happen while going hiking in the mountains? Getting soaked! So beyond thankful I packed an extra pair of clothes! Then of course, Jamie and I spent another hour or two just enjoying the waterfalls and taking it all in.

Getting soaked at the waterfalls felt so good after a full day of hiking!

After spending most of the day in the mountains, the last thing on the itinerary to hit was Three Sisters at Echo Point. On the walk over, my friends and I made up stories about why it was called Three Sisters and we never actually understood until we got to our destination. Once we saw the rock formation, sticking out of the mountain side, it made perfect sense how it got its name. The whole group stayed until the sun went down, to take in the beauty of the mountains for as long as we possibly could.

Laughing because my friends and I finally understood why it was called Three Sisters.

Overall this trip was an incredible experience and taught me some important things. First of all, I had no idea Australia even had mountains in the first place! Researching more in depth before studying abroad is a great thing to do, so you do not miss out on experiences like this! Next it taught me how taking things at your own pace and going off the main path for awhile has its payoffs! The more you try to squeeze into life, the more you will get out of it! Lastly, it taught me that on any good adventure you may go on while you study abroad- to always bring an extra pair of clothes! You never know when you’ll need them!

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