Returning to the UK

It’s been just over a month since I returned home from Perth, and I am finally beginning to re-adjust to living normal life in the not-so-sunny English summer. Having had some time to reflect upon the past 6 months, this final blog will describe the travelling I squeezed in en-route home, before detailing the highs and lows of settling back in to life at home.

Feeding Elephants in Bali
Feeding Elephants in Bali

My journey home was somewhat unconventional. Following the goodbye’s that proved even more saddening than I had predicted in my last blog, with several of my friends from college I organized to go travelling through Asia en route to the UK. The first stop for our internationally diverse group (containing 2 Brits, 3 Americans and a token Australian) was Bali, which we had been informed was the Australian equivalent of Magaluf. Despite the extensive number of bars and opportunities to go out, we managed to visit a variety of cultural sites, including the first of many temples we would see in Asia. Furthermore, we were able to jet-ski, banana boat and paraglide over the sunny beaches in the space of one action-packed morning, which proved an unforgettable experience.

The Angkor Wat temple complex
The Angkor Wat temple complex

Our time in Bali proved far too brief, and after only 4 days in Indonesia it was time for more goodbyes. My friend Kaya, from Notre Dame University in Indiana, and I left the rest of the group to continue our adventure. Next stop: Bangkok. We had pre-arranged to travel through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam with G-Adventures, which organized accommodation and a tour guide throughout the 14 day trip. Of the many incredible experiences we had touring through these spectacular countries, the highlights included sailing through Thaliand’s floating markets, visiting Angkor Wat, the largest temple complex on Earth, and touring the harrowing Cambodian killing fields. What made our trip particularly memorable was the kindness of the ordinary people throughout these countries, which enabled us to emerge ourselves in their cultures, even for a brief period of time. Overall, travelling back to the UK via Asia was an unforgettable way to end my semester, and I would highly recommend travelling as much as possible to any future study abroad students.

Following the completion of our G-Adventures tour and a mix-up by my flight company, which left me both stressed and stranded in Singapore, I made it back to the UK. What initially struck me were actually the similarities between Australian and English culture. Despite picking up a few ‘Aussie phrases’, there is no need to re-adjust to a different language, whilst University is run in a fairly similar manner, and the food and drink is almost identical. The British weather, I will admit, did leave a lot to be desired.

Naturally, it was fantastic to see both my family and friends in the UK, with my first priority being to give my dog Sacha a long-overdue hug. After a few weeks of getting back into the swing of normal life, however, I began to miss my former college mates back in Perth. This is where Facebook came into it’s element, as the ability to drop someone a message who could be anywhere, anytime, has meant I am still in regular contact with my good mates down under.

Additionally, I always had the comforting knowledge that I was likely to see some Aussie’s again. In fact, I have already had 2 of the lads stay with me in Newcastle, with another 3 mates saying they will pop in on their travels around Europe over the next year. This serves as the perfect summary to studying abroad: it is an incredible opportunity to learn about another part of the world academically, culturally and personally, which will remain hugely significant even after you return.

Final Days in Perth

By Joseph Barker (The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia)

Sadly, the end of my time in Perth is rapidly approaching: yesterday, I had a horrible moment of realization that I only have three days left in this beautiful corner of the world! This penultimate study abroad blog will reflect upon everything I haven’t covered thus far, to both keep you informed about my final couple of months at UWA and hopefully raise my spirits during a period of somber farewells.

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The Western Australia Oaktree team

One significant aspect of my time studying abroad, which occurred in the second half of the semester, was my work with the Oaktree Foundation. My college frequently advertised a volunteering scheme called ‘Live Below the Line’, which entailed a small group of students living on under $2 per day, the global poverty line, for one week. Intrigued, I researched the organization and came across an advertisement for a media internship, which suited my future interests of pursuing a career in media and journalism perfectly. Following a successful interview, I became part of Western Australia’s Oaktree Branch. My work schedule for the following ten weeks involved writing and producing a promotional film for Oaktree, as well as calling Live Below the Line participants to offer encouragement. Although this resulted in me spending an extra ten hours per week on top of my studies volunteering, I gained invaluable experience volunteering in a foreign country, and was able to observe some of the exceptional charitable work which goes relatively unnoticed to many of Perth’s foreign visitors. I would, therefore, highly recommend taking advantage of any similar opportunities that come the way of students studying abroad in the future

Continue reading “Final Days in Perth”

Travelling the West Coast

By Joseph Barker (The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia)

The midterm break during my semester abroad provided the ideal opportunity to explore Australia’s west coast, which has proved to be the highlight of my study abroad exchange so far. Having excitedly planned the trip in the preceding weeks, I took to the road with nine of my fellow exchange students, cramming a week’s worth of food, sun cream and ‘Goon’ (The Aussie equivalent of Tesco’s own brand red wine), into two hire cars. With a rather unfortunate amount of American pop music being blasted from our stereo, we set off on our first real adventure down under!

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My incredibly gangster car-mates

The one downside of our excursion was our accommodation, or lack of it. Due to the financial restrictions of student life, we decided to buy $40 tents and sleep in campsites throughout the trip. Despite the ever-present plague of flies, roughing it in Australia’s countryside whilst visiting a variety of national parks provided an authentic experience of the stunning Aussie desert. Even more incredible were the beaches of the west coast: my description of the sensational views, pure water and soft white sand they have to offer truly does not do them justice. Our visit to Shark Bay, where we wondered at one of only three surviving stromatolite formations on the globe (which provide a glimpse into the biological history of the earth), exemplifies the astonishing natural features that confirm Australia’s coast provides much more than beaches on which to tan (or burn, if like me you have an incredibly pale complexion).

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The Pinnacles, Numbing National Park

The wildlife we were fortunate enough to witness, however, managed to eclipse the outstanding natural sights. Throughout the trip we were able to snorkel above coastal coral reefs, coming within inches of an extensive variety of beautiful, multicoloured tropical fish. Furthermore, we were able to see both wild dolphins and sea turtles during our visit to Monkey Mia. The highlight of the trip, however, was an experience totally unique to Exmouth, our most northern destination: swimming with whale sharks. Whale sharks are the largest species of fish in the ocean, reaching up to lengths of over twelve meters, with the capability to dive over three km down into the ocean and reach one hundred years of age. Despite the day costing $380, swimming with these astounding creatures was worth every penny…

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Dedication to the Global Ambassador Beanie Photo

Our day began as we were picked up from our campsite and provided with a bus tour of Exmouth en-route to the harbour. From there, our whale shark swimming company Charter 1, which I would thoroughly recommend, provided snorkeling equipment and food throughout the day as we sailed on their boat. Whilst the company’s spotter plane flew in search of whale sharks, we were once again able to snorkel around coral reefs, this time in deeper parts of the ocean, allowing us to see both jellyfish and a baby shark. After the spotter planes found our first whale shark, however, we set off in hot pursuit. Once the boat was ahead of its target, we rapidly formed lines within the water to avoid scaring the shark as it swam. The thrill of being able to swim with such gigantic sea creatures five times over the course of the afternoon made for a truly unforgettable day. During our third swim, one shark unexpectedly changed direction, meaning we had to quickly dive to its side in order to avoid colliding with one of the largest animals on the planet! The image of an enormous shark being a mere two meters away from hitting you is one of the most terrifying, yet memorable, moments I have had thus far during my time in Australia. Overall, our trip was a truly unforgettable experience, which in my opinion demonstrates the incredible opportunities studying abroad offers to students outside of academic terms.

Academic Life at UWA

By Joseph Barker (The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia)

Studying abroad offers the opportunity to become truly immersed in an alternative way of learning in a new university within a different country, and I shall therefore use this blog to describe my own academic experience in Australia. Studying History at UWA followed the same basic structure of weekly lectures, readings and tutorials as my studies in Manchester. The nature of module selection, by contrast, varied hugely. At the University of Manchester, the History course provides an exceptionally diverse range of modules, covering a variety of geographic locations, time periods and ways to study history. By contrast, despite UWA advertising a similarly appealing list of course modules, unfortunately only two of these modules were run during this semester. As Manchester stipulated two of my four module selections had to be history units, these courses effectively became compulsory. This lack of choice firstly proved challenging, as I have not found the ‘City in History’ module academically stimulating. Although I would not have voluntarily chosen to study medieval women in Europe, the excellent teaching and range of course readings provided has enabled me to develop a stronger interest in gender history.

The Australian university system also places much greater emphasis upon broadening units than in the UK. The Anthropology module ‘Environment, Disaster and Power in Asia’ has allowed me to gain a greater understanding of modern issues within this region, which has compensated for being unable to pursue my primary interest in studying Asian history. Furthermore, I have been able to enhance my understanding of journalism and the media through taking a communications module as my fourth course option. This has been a hugely useful opportunity, which I would not have been able to pursue in Manchester, as I have gained greater insight into the academic aspects of journalism and film production, a field I intend to pursue following my university studies.

In terms of assessment, the Australian university system provides further contrast. In general, there is less focus upon examinations; indeed, I have been fortunate enough to not have exams this semester, meaning I have extra time to travel over summer (a source of much jealousy amongst my university mates). Instead, more emphasis is placed upon ongoing assessment, with weekly attendance, tutorial participation and quizzes counting for around 20% of each modules’ marks. Moreover, at around the mid-point of the semester, a shorter written piece has been required for the modules I have taken, to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the course so far. These tasks have taken a variety of forms, but are not equivalent to a fully written essay. Finally, the most significant form of assessment is a larger essay of around 2,500 words, to be completed for the end of the semester, accounting for around 50% of a students’ grade. As these essays entail firstly a bibliographic exercise, which I recently submitted, I have found more feedback has been available at UWA, meaning I feel more confident for writing up the final essay.

Overall, my academic experience whilst studying at The University of Western Australia has, so far, been more relaxed in comparison to studying in Manchester. The constant forms of assessment, however, mean you must maintain a degree of focus throughout the semester; unfortunately, you cannot rely upon a week of all-nighters in John Ryland’s Library in the last week of the semester to achieve a respectable grade.

Arrival Reflections

By Joseph Barker (The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia)

My first few days in Perth proved equally as hectic as my final weeks in England. Having checked into the Ocean Beach Backpackers Hostel in Cottesloe, I was awestruck by the incredible views the beaches of East Perth offered. Following three days of recovering from jet lag (or relaxing with my fellow backpackers in paradise, to give a more honest appraisal), I had yet more issues to attend to. Setting up a bank account and buying an Australian phone proved simple tasks. Following several unsuccessful house viewings in a variety of Perth’s less desirable suburbs, however, I realized that finding accommodation would be more difficult than I first anticipated. In desperation, I attended a housing advice lecture hosted in UWA: to my surprise, there were still some spaces available in university halls. Following several frantic phone calls, Beck, a lady who worked as part of the college staff, kindly picked me up from my hostel, gave me a personal tour of the hall and after a few minutes signing paper work I was officially part of St Thomas More College!

Cottesloe Beach
Cottesloe Beach

I had arrived slightly late for O-Week (the Aussie equivalent of Fresher’s), but was still able to get the most out of my first few days in Tommy. The variety of organized activities ranged from laser tag to casino nights, ensuring all the freshers were able to make friends easily, which truly helped to promote Tommy’s motto ‘Smallest College, Biggest Spirit’. Throughout the week we also practiced a college dance routine to Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it off’ which was, to my surprise, suggested by the guys on college committee. The final day of our first week culminated in a college dance-off, where we pitted our moves against the other four UWA colleges on the stunning beaches of Perth city. The bay was a sea of blue and yellow as our 150-strong flash-mob got down to ‘This, sick, beat’, although our efforts were only rewarded with second place in the competition and the following Aussie beach ‘barby’. The competitive nature of our dance-off highlighted the hugely intense and simultaneously positive college rivalry within UWA, which is continued throughout the year by a plethora of inter-college sporting competitions, ranging from football (or soccer, as the Aussies incorrectly name it), to the slightly less serious ‘ultimate frisbee’ contest.

Casino Night
Casino Night

The nature of college also created a strong impression upon me in my first few weeks, as it differed greatly to my experience of halls in first year. Firstly, several of my peers already knew each other from before college either because they had come to university with friends from their home town or had stayed in college in previous years. These older students mostly occupied positions on either the student committee or were residential advisors who ensured the well-being of students. Additionally, a large proportion of students were not at UWA, but attended other universities in Perth such as Notre Dame or Curtin University, further adding to the diversity within our college. Furthermore, a large proportion of my fellow collegians were also completing international exchange programs, meaning there were fellow British international students, as well as European and American students. Although the induction week in college and make-up of the student body differed to what I expected based upon my experiences of the British university system, my first few weeks in college flew by in a blur of socializing and studying, as college life provided an unforgettable introduction to Australia.

Pre-Departure Reflections

By Joseph Barker (The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia)

Hello, and welcome to the first of my blogs describing my study abroad experience in Australia! Following the somewhat arduous process of applying to study abroad, I was thrilled to learn that I had been accepted to study for a semester at the University of Western Australia (UWA), based in the coastal city of Perth. Before I could get truly excited about the beaches, wildlife and relaxed lifestyle however, I had a variety of things to organize in order for my transition down under to be a smooth one…

Firstly, I was required to send letters of acceptance, apply for a visa, make provisional module selections and attend country information sessions, allowing me to complete the pre-departure essentials without too much hassle. Accommodation, by contrast, proved more challenging, as I had to both find someone to occupy my room whilst I was abroad in order to pay my rent, whilst simultaneously organizing my own accommodation during exchange. GumTree.com proved an invaluable resource: after posting a basic advert for my house in Manchester, I was inundated with e-mails from potential occupants. The most legitimate offer came from a fellow exchange student, completing his exchange at the University of Manchester whilst I was away. Following several e-mail exchanges, concerning rental payment and a more detailed description of my room, house and the surrounding area, I had decided upon my tenant. Vladimir, studying accountancy in Prague in the Czech Republic, arrived on the 14th of January. Fortunately, Vlad is an incredibly polite and easy-going house-mate, meaning I had one less concern before departing to Oz. Furthermore, having met University of Manchester exchange students who had studied in Australia previously at a compulsory meeting, I followed their advice to arrive prior to the beginning of term and book a hostel for the first week, in order to view any potential places to live in person before committing to rental contracts.

Goodbyes at the Airport
Goodbyes at the airport

As the UWA term only began on the 24th of February, I organized an internship with the BBC following the end of Semester 1 examinations. Consequently, I lived with several university friends for 3 weeks as my room was already occupied. This proved both an excellent way to see mates before leaving and a hectic period which left me only 1 weekend to travel home to Newcastle, pack for the next 6 months, before returning to Manchester to catch my flight. Although I felt a cocktail of emotions, due to the stress of packing and the sadness of goodbyes, by the time I was en-route to Perth, via connecting flights stopping at Munich and Singapore, I felt pure elation. The sense of adventure was overpowering: from meeting new people and visiting incredible places to experiencing a new culture and lifestyle, I realized studying abroad in Australia would be the experience of a lifetime!