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Study Abroad in Australia: Immersion Enhances the Experience

Beach near Brisbane, Australia
Beach near Brisbane.

The 26-hour trip from the United States to Australia not only transcends time, but catapults you into another world of culture, landscape, and adventure. As you miss a day on the flight, advancing steadily through time zones, it starts to set in that you are also going to miss your family, your friends, your school, your car, and other things that you associate with home. When you finally reach Australia, all of those worries have melted into a sleepy numbness that leaves you paralyzed by the blazing sun and warm smiles that welcome you to your new temporary home.


As a sophomore in college, I had always planned to study abroad my junior year. I quickly set my sights on my school’s study abroad program to the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. I imagined surfing at Bondi Beach in Sydney, camping outside in the Outback, and snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. Brisbane is literally on the opposite side of the world from my hometown, which made it that much more appealing to me. I was ready to venture out and experience anything that Australia had to offer culturally and physically, and during my stay I had the opportunity to explore Australia’s vast terrain while also learning more about myself in the process.


When I was planning my 6-month study abroad trip, it was important to know such details as where I would be living, what the average temperature in Australia would be while I was there, how I would handle money, and what classes I would be taking for the semester. Program coordinators and mentors were available both in America and in Australia, making the guidance I received plentiful and helpful. In fact, my program advisor in Australia recently created a website for students traveling abroad in Australia which offers tips and advice. Additionally, she has published a book titled “Studying Abroad in Australia,” which serves as a pre-departure guide for students. Although I did not read any travel books before my trip, it is relatively easy to find study abroad experiences and testimonials from students on a variety of websites.

I packed clothes for the appropriate summer season and researched banks in Brisbane so that I could open an account there and transfer money from my American bank account. I found that this was the easiest way to deposit and withdraw money in Australia, since I would be there for 6 months. I chose classes once I was enrolled via the University of Queensland’s registrar system, and used a map of the campus to see where my classes would be held. I felt fully prepared for my living and academic situations prior to arriving in Australia.


Once abroad, the most difficult challenge involved setting aside the traditional notion of being a tourist and accepting that I had to fully immerse myself in Australia in order to gain the most from the trip. For the next six months, I was an Australian. It was very important to me to make friends with Australians quickly, and I was able to do so because I was living in a college with 250 other students, some of whom were from Zimbabwe and South Africa, though the majority were Australian. I have come to learn that many study abroad programs place students in an off-campus apartment with other American students, many times from their same home university. I find this counterintuitive to the mission of study abroad, which is to learn about native culture and build relationships in addition to attending classes. Luckily, my study abroad program provided me with the opportunity to meet Australians on my very first day in the country – some of whom remain my friends today.

Immersion into Daily Life

The importance of meeting native Australians meant that I was accepted in social circles and invited to participate in activities such as team sports and clubs. My Australian friends were pleased to introduce me to Brisbane nightlife, and offered up which tourist traps to avoid. I also went on two home visits with friends to meet their families and see the neighborhoods where they grew up. These personal glimpses into the lives of Australians were special to me, and provided time to talk intimately about cultural differences as well as Australian’s views of Americans. My Australian friends were also able to give me tips about public transit and the best vacation spots to visit.

Getting Around

One of the things I wish I had known more about before arriving in Australia is how the train and bus systems in major cities work. My American friends and I often found ourselves lost in the city looking for a bus stop and walking without direction in search of a way home. However, once we learned the bus routes for our university stop, travel around Brisbane became much easier. Doing research on websites about bus fare, student discounts, and where to buy bus passes made public transportation easier to manage and less expensive than taking a taxi.

Exploring Australia

In addition to the trips my friends and I took to various beaches near Brisbane, the study abroad program also organized trips in order to show us other sides of Australia. We took a long weekend trip to Sydney where a personal tour guide showed us around day and night. Often, on such trips, we would stay in hostels — which is the cheapest way to lodge in Australia. Similar to Europe, hostels are clean and inexpensive places to stay and often plentiful and easy to find. The study abroad program also provided an Outback trip for us in which we stayed on a 5,000-acre cattle farm with a family that lives and operates it. They allow for visitors, provided the visitors work on the farm during the day. During our week in the Outback, we learned how to feed the cattle, set out pumps for drinking water, chainsaw prickly pear trees, and tend the orphan calves. This experience is one I will never forget and feel lucky to have joined in.

For spring break vacation from school, some American friends and I went on a sailing trip to the Whitsunday Islands, which has beaches hailed by National Geographic as the most serene and precious in the world. We spent five days aboard a sailboat with 12 other travelers from around the world. Our daytime activities included sea kayaking, snorkeling, as well as visits to the islands.

A koala bear in a park near Brisbane
A koala bear in a park near Brisbane.

Academic Immersion

At the university, I chose to take classes that would help me learn more about Australian culture, such as courses in Australian literature and Australian marine life. As an English major, I found the Australian literature course very interesting and informative. While early American literature courses consist of captivity narratives and stories told in the Puritan tradition, Australian literature focuses on the Aboriginals and the consequences of being a colonial nation. The Australian marine life course offered students studying abroad in Australia to learn about amazing habitats, such as the Great Barrier Reef, the many rivers and estuaries, and the native animals that inhabit these places. Enrolling in a class like this was a very valuable tool which proved helpful when studying Australian wildlife. The class also took two field trips accompanied by the professor and teaching assistants to explore the coast of Australia and conduct marine research projects of our own. The two field trips were to Heron Island and Stradbroke Island, both of which offered chances to see what for me were exotic animals,  to experience tide changes, and to see coral reef formations.

Lessons Learned

Planning ahead for a study abroad trip is essential in order to make sure you will experience some of the many facets of life in a new place. In addition to securing information on living arrangements and financial needs, it is also important to learn what the food will be like, and how to get around your new location. However, some things cannot be planned and will come naturally once you are abroad. Making friends quickly and being willing to adapt and explore new situations is a must for anyone studying abroad. While a 6-month or 1-year trip seems like a long time, it passes very quickly once immersed in a new culture and a new way of living. 

Since returning from Australia, my interest in traveling and experiencing new cultures has been stimulated. Instead of regretting that I did not get to visit places like Thailand while I was abroad, I look forward to traveling to the Pacific region again in the future. I also returned with a calmer nature and more optimistic outlook on life that I believe I picked up from my Australian friends. Their motto of “no worries” rings true in terms of how they live their lives and enjoy each and every day. Australia is a country of thriving cities, such as Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney. Nevertheless, a laid-back attitude pervades everyday activities. I find myself reflecting about my study abroad trip to Australia often, and retelling stories to my friends whenever I can. Studying abroad and immersion in Australian life has made me a better-rounded person with broader cultural experience, which has contributed to a better understanding of my limits and abilities.

For More Info on Australia

The University of Queensland has a partnership with Dickinson College, therefore this was the only study abroad option in Australian for my home university. Other American universities have partnerships with Australian universities such as Griffith University, University of New South Wales, and University of Sydney. Website for students traveling abroad in Australia.

Cromwell College: The term “college” in Australia refers to a collection of dormitories for students located near the university.

Visit Brisbane: Brisbane is the third most populous city in Australia and offers many diverse activities such as museums, wildlife sanctuaries, beaches, and sporting events.

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