By Alyssa Naimoli
Imagine taking a stroll to class with friends when, suddenly, a kangaroo hops across the path. Seeing wild animals so close might seem alarming, but the calm, cool and collected natives of Australia see nothing out of the ordinary, as Keira Aukamp found, almost daily, while studying abroad in Australia.
Aukamp, a senior psychology major, recently traded the suburban campus of Rider for the laid-back coast of Australia and the University of the Sunshine Coast. Upon her arrival, Aukamp and the other students studying abroad quickly bonded and formed lasting friendships.
“My first reaction to Australia was shock and awe,” Aukamp said. “We walked out of the airport into a thick wall of heat and humidity, which was quite opposite to the frosty N.J. weather that I left behind.”
Being on this new continent was nothing like Aukamp had experienced before.
“Australia is so different from the United States, and most people don’t realize that,” said Kim Cameron, assistant director of the Center for International Education. “Studying in Australia gives students the opportunity to earn four credits per class, while enjoying a beautiful climate and region of the world that is different from New Jersey.”
Aukamp took various classes, including psychological counseling and physiological psychology. She found that the classes helped her realize what direction she wanted to take in her course of study and helped her decide which aspects of psychology she found most interesting.
Not only did Aukamp adjust to an entirely new campus and surroundings, but she also found that the grading system was very different and it was more difficult to keep high marks in Australia. Rather than a letter grade, she received grades marked as high distinction, distinction, credit or pass.
“All of the classes and the grading system in Australia were extremely difficult,” she said. “Getting above the equivalent of a C was basically unexpected. I took four classes while I was there, one being a counseling for human services class. Not only did I pass the class, but I received a 98 on one of the big projects, which was completely unheard of. Being able to do so well in a foreign country really solidified my faith in my major of psychology.”
Outside of her classes, she was also able to cross a few things off her bucket list.
“I never thought I’d get the chance to go snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, or that I’d get the chance to travel to Thailand,” she said.
Between Australia and Thailand, Aukamp was given the chance to fulfill dreams that she thought might never come true and was very humbled by all the opportunities she received.
Aukamp was surrounded by a campus of not only Australian natives, but also other international students who were visiting from all over the globe. She enjoyed the easy-going attitudes of the Australian locals, and found everything about Australia very interesting.
“My campus was a wildlife preserve,” she said. “I didn’t grow tired of seeing kangaroos passing me. My friends would keep walking, but I always stopped to take their photos.”
Studying abroad is an experience that truly broadened Aukamp’s horizons. Previously, she would have described herself as very careful and as someone who always had a one-track plan, but upon returning home she found that she had adopted the carefree and spontaneous attitude of the Australians. She now sees her future as one full of opportunity and chances that she knows she will want to take.
Cameron noted that similar changes are seen in other students who take the opportunity to go abroad.
“Students are forced to go out of their comfort zones and gain their independence,” Cameron said. “They will also be 100% more confident upon their return to the United States.”
Aukamp encourages all students to study abroad and to enjoy life because the future is open and full of opportunities that should be taken advantage of.
“Studying abroad has been a humbling and amazing experience,” Aukamp said. “It is something I will remember all my life, and I hope others will have as great an experience as I did.”
Printed in the 9/25/13 edition.