Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Australia: A Blonde Abroad

A Blonde Abroad

Walking into the exercise science office at Berry and seeing a flyer about studying abroad in Australia freshman year was all what was needed for me to be convinced that I wanted to go study abroad down under. The program I chose to apply for was a 3 week research program through the University of Canberra focusing on comparing the Aussie sporting industry to the American sporting industry. During those three weeks, a group of 39 students adventured through 4 cities and gained a better understanding and a new perspective on the sporting industry.


This was honestly my favorite city visited because it reminded me so much of Belgium. Melbourne was home to lots of really good coffee and a small little coffee and waffle shop called "Waffee", which for the duration of the stay I managed to become a regular at.

Not only did Melbourne have great coffee and waffles, Melbourne also had it's own share of street art. Alley ways were covered in graffiti and Chuck Taylor Converse were hanging from rooftop to rooftop. The artwork was a form of expression from life mottos to political statements - even targeting U.S. presidential candidates. One very memorable piece of graffiti was one of Donald Trump, but the artist depicted him with devil horns coming out of his famous carrot colored hair. No political statements made in the graffiti alleys that I visited contained artwork of Hilary Clinton.

The Great Ocean Road was breath taking and a great way to take a break from the Australian City life. I wouldn't call myself an overly religious person, but standing on literally one of the closest parts  of the globe to Antartica and seeing just how amazing some of the world's natural wonders are left me speechless. I've heard from being part of Campus Outreach, a form of campus wide bible study at Berry and throughout the Southern U.S. that Australia is very secular. Touring the great ocean road makes me wonder how can you not believe in God and miracles.

During our free day in Melbourne, I found what I had been patiently waiting to locate; the aquatic center. Public transportation was actually very safe and I was really amazed by how helpful Australians are willing to help lost tourists. A professor from the University of Melbourne stopped me as I tried to find the right tram platform and offered help; which I gladly took. Eventually, I learned to navigate the rails and found my self heading to the Melbourne Aquatic Center in Albert Park. During the three trips that I made over to the center I got to watch iron man triathletes, nationally competitive divers and swimmers, and get the contact information for the club team that trains there if I have any questions about how Olympic trials work in Australia compared to the U.S.

Melbourne was also where we got to attend an AFL game (Australian Football). The game was played in the Melbourne Cricket Ground; which is an oval shaped stadium. The field is shared by cricket. In the summer Cricket games are played, but in the winter Australian football games are played. Before the game started we had the chance to learn some of the skills involved with playing the game. We learned how to properly throw and kick an AFL football and how the scoring worked.
The game itself was really fun to watch. It appeared more like soccer than american football; there was a constant amount of running and there wasn't a lot - if any - stopping during the game.


A place that we were warned about for being very bland seemed to hold up to all of the very little expectations... However, In the very "boring" city; I found arguably the most interesting experiences. The lecture given by Lennon Wicks, our professor for the Canberra and Sydney, discussed the differences in both the Australian and American sports medicine and sporting industry. 
While there were many complaints about the single dorm styled rooms looking like "prisons", I actually enjoyed having a room to my self because it allowed me to get up at 5:30AM and make my way to the Canberra Aquatic Centre. The best part of these swims were when I got to meet with the local swim coach who had previously been a four time Australian olympic swim coach. Discussions with him included the differences in swim culture and preparing for trials in the US versus Australia. Sadly, I didn't get to talk to him till the day before we left. He offered me a spot with his team to train during my stay in Canberra, but I had to decline it since I would be leaving for Sydney the next morning.

Canberra also was the city where we got to visit the Australian Institute of Sport - the Aussie version of the U.S. Olympic Training center in Colorado. Some of the Australian athletes were present working out during our tour and it was really cool to see them motivating each other in the weight room despite playing different sports. The aquatics facility is a 50 meter pool but with a really cool feature. Coaches can take a set of stairs down to a sort of tunnel that allows coaches to watch what is going on under water. It's sort of like turning the pool into a fish tank in an aquarium.

We also had the opportunity to have a small "training" session with Mel Breen, Australia's fastest female sprinter. Being responsible for the motivational Monday quotes with my college's swim team, I couldn't resist asking her what her favorite motivational quote was. It turns out it was one that her coach told her: "Just because it hasn't been done before, doesn't mean it's impossible."

Canberra is also home to "freakshakes" which are really extravagent milkshakes. I had a "pretzella", a combination of a nutella milkshake and pretzels. The hour long bus ride and the sugar coma afterwards were defintely worth it. 


In Sydney we stayed at a hostel; it's like a hotel but dorm styled and budget friendly for students. We were about five minutes from China Town and the market. We were also 15 minutes away from the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Center.

During our first night in Sydney, we went to eat at an Italian Cafe where we realized that we needed to work on our Italian pronouciation skills a bit more.

On our first night in Sydney we went on a harbor cruise and saw the harbor and the world famous Sydney Opera House lit up for the Vivid Lights Festival. I learned to never put a digital camera lens cap inside a jacket pocket while on the boat deck. The harbor now has a Nikon lens cap somewhere at the bottom of it.

We also discovered that the address from Finding Nemo is not real. There isn't a Wallaby Way in Sydney.

During our time in Sydney we also went to a Rugby Union game. It was different from AFL because there was a whole lot more contact. It varied from NFL because the clock and game kept moving during the tackles. The halves took 40 minutes and 40 minutes only. (Unlike with American football where a 15 minute quarter might actually end up taking 45 minutes).


Cairns, otherwise pronounced "Canes", is like a small tourist town. Our hotel is just on the water and the views from the 11th floor balcony are amazing. Surrounding the town along three sides are mountains of lush tropical rain forest. Cains is home to massive bats that come out at night and countless birds that are in all the trees along the side of the roads. It's so weird to look outside and see them flying around and no one squealing. The grocery store here is my favorite. It has food from France and Belgium that I can't get back home in the states. 

I also went out to my first club while in Cairns. It was really fun getting to go out with a group of students and have fun. Especially since all of my exam scores are finally back, it was nice to be able to not have to worry about anything and "let loose". All the girls who went were able to get a card to get up to five free drinks the night we went. (In our eyes it made up for the fact that we missed out on getting to see crocodiles).

I also got the chance to hold a koala and feed wallabies at the Kuramba Koala Center. (The Koala was named Hazel.) Koalas aren't bears; they are marsupials. They carry their young the same way kangaroos do (without the hopping).  The wallabies are equally as adorable as the koalas. You could walk into their enclosure and, grabbing a handful of wallaby food, hand feed the wallabies. They would hop right over to you and take the food out of you're hand.
There were other enclosures of koalas that we could take pictures of before and after getting to hold one. The koalas pretty much just sat in the trees and ate the leaves but one of them was really active and decided to do some jumping from one tree to another.After visiting all the animals we went to the markets in Kuramba. We also got to eat and drink from a fresh and raw coconut. I definitely prefer fresh coconut milk and meat than the bottle and packaged stuff you can purchase in the stores back in the United States.

White water rafting through the rain forest was also quiet an experience. Our river guide seemed to be more of a hippie; and his opinion and views on the way things worked were very different than what I've heard before. It seemed as if it was a combination of a lot of physics and science fiction. At the end of the trip we only had one "major" injury; someone chipped a tooth.

During one of our free days we ventured into the tropical rainforest. The rainforest in Cairns in the world's oldest rainforest and is considered a world heritage site. While we didn't see any animals; there were massive trees and some really nice waterfalls. We also got to see the Cairns reservoir. While my college has a very nice reservoir as well; the Cairns one was way larger and slightly more secure; the reservoir at Berry College is very easy to "fall in to" while the Cairns reservoir required an access key to drive past.

Our last group excursion was out to Fitzroy Island. While the turtle hospital tours weren't available we were able to snorkel around the reef and go on a glass bottom boat tour.

In the end....

Participating in the Australian Sporting Industry study abroad program was definitely the adventure of a lifetime. I'm hoping that someday I'll get to come back to Australia and explore more of what this amazing place has to offer.

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