Getting Ready for Australia

As I prepare to go abroad in July, I continue to be surprised by how much I have to do, how hard it actually is to go abroad, how fast my departure date is approaching… going abroad is just one huge exciting mess. And a ton of (usually really minor) stuff always goes wrong.

How much I have to do:

Course equation requests. Language placement tests. Choose Australian insurance. Order a Visa. Order plug adapters. Buy a plane ticket. Sort out housing in Monash. The list goes on and on (and on and on…). I’m surprised people ever actually make it abroad, I keep getting hung up on this eternally long “to do” list (and I actually really like “to do” lists). It feels like I will spend the next year trying to check all of these boxes just so I can go abroad, and this is just what is required of me by OU and Monash. It doesn’t even include all the things I have to purchase/do to function in Australia once I get there (see: plug adaptors, unlocking bank card/credit card for international use, figuring out cell phone service…). But I’ve done this before (with slightly less red tape thanks to it being an OU program) and I made it then, and other people have made it abroad before. I know it all gets sorted out and eventually I get on the plane and arrive, and that’s what it’s all about. I just hope I don’t lose my head before then!

Things that go wrong:

For example: last time I went abroad I way overpacked with all the wrong clothes. And I had more information about where I was going than I do this time. I also had various little issues with hotels and taxis and communication… the list always goes on and on.

I’m trying to minimize the number of those mistakes for this trip, but I’m realizing (thankfully before I leave this time) that stuff is just going to happen. Maybe this time I won’t haul 30 lbs of clothes I won’t wear across an ocean, but something else will go wrong. Maybe I won’t have warm enough stuff for cold nights, or dry enough clothes for the rainy season. Maybe my taxi ride from the airport to my hotel won’t cost 90 euros this time, but it’ll take me hours to find it. Or it will take me to the wrong place first.

I’m not trying to be pessimistic or predict everything that will go wrong, my point is just that things are always going to happen. No one can prepare for every contingency, but, at least for “Type A” people like me, it’s really hard not to try. And that was how I wound up hauling 30 unnecessary lbs of unbearably hot dress clothes and uncomfortable shoes around the Italian train system for a week of my last study abroad (in addition to the other 30 lbs of junk with varying degrees of usefulness in my suitcase). I swore not to do that again, but because I’m a faithful believer in Murphy’s Law, I know I’ll just make another mistake instead. And that’s fine. If I can lug a 60 lb suitcase up and down multiple flights of stairs and down cobblestone streets and still have a good time in Italy, then I can handle whatever goes wrong with Australia and still have a good time. Big perk I’m seeing to semester long study abroad: guaranteed “home base” to store most stuff at so I can take light bags on weekend trips (see: no more hauling 60 lb suitcase).

How fast my departure date is approaching:

Too fast. Not fast enough. It seems forever away, then I turn around and it’s May, and I leave two months from Saturday when I swear it was four months away a minute ago. It seems forever away through a mound of paperwork and purchases and phone calls to make, but then I clear another hurdle and it looks a lot closer. It’s one crazy psychological roller coaster that’s going to come to a screeching halt when my plane finally touches down in Melbourne. Then a whole new roller coaster starts.

OU Cousins Thoughts

My OU Cousin this semester is Patricia, a freshman international student from Kenya. When we met for lunch back in February, President Trump’s first travel ban had just been put into place – and quickly put on hold. So, as most conversations back in February went, we tried to talk about other things, but eventually the topic got around to politics and to Trump’s latest executive order. Patricia told me about her friends on the international floor in Adams who were concerned about trying to go home over the summer. That part of the story I’d heard before, people afraid to go home to see their families because they might be banned from returning to school. As if going to college out of your home country isn’t scary enough, now these students were faced with the possibility of having to choose between seeing their families and wasting thousands of dollars on starting an education that would likely have to be completed elsewhere, with the risk of losing any credit they had completed. But Patricia also said that many of those students understood where the ban came from, even if they didn’t agree with it. Those countries listed on the ban are home to groups that openly and actively try to cause harm to the US and its citizens. It makes perfect sense to try to keep those groups out of our borders, but we need to consider how we do that. Blocking everyone from those countries from entering the US might reduce the risk of terror attacks in our borders – if we assume that no one already in our borders is planning an attack – but it won’t solve the root problems. It won’t address the fear and hatred that come from a lack of understanding of each other. It only encourages them. It makes the US look even more opposed to anyone from those nations, and it prevents the interactions that would promote understanding and empathy between our nations. I’m all for preventing terrorism, but I don’t think cutting off all travel between our countries is the solution. I think we need to look for a more long term solution, one focused on promoting understanding and comradery between our nations instead of encouraging the fear and hatred that these terror groups feed on.

Fulbright Musings

I keep coming to these info sessions hoping for a stroke of genius on what I will ask to research on my own Fulbright application, and I keep coming back empty handed. Every time I go I hear about all these awesome research projects – video diaries about the effects of a polluted river on the lives of women, research on the lasting effects of the first school in Israel that mixed Jewish and Arab students together, and research on identity and urbanization in Chinese cities. As a chemistry major, I’m expected to choose either research or a graduate program for my Fulbright application (the English teaching route is not very open to me). However, I have struggled to find a research topic in my field that would actually require me to be in another country to manage my research (chemistry, unlike social sciences, works the same way pretty much everywhere), and this, along with the need for some kind of community-interaction element, makes choosing a research topic extremely difficult. This leaves me to look at research in biology, possibly to advance my future in zoological veterinary medicine, but again I have yet to figure out a thesis that doesn’t sound like I want to just go work for National Geographic. I have yet to hear from a Fulbright recipient that did research in physical or life sciences, and even on the Fulbright website, the list of people who completed research in zoology or ecology is remarkably short. The more research I do the more I feel that my only option is a graduate program, but I would much rather do original research. I suppose I have another year(ish) to figure this out, but the closer I get to application time, the more I worry about this.

STEM Abroad

I attended the STEM Abroad session at Global Engagement Day both this year and last year, and what I keep learning is that STEM majors basically have to forge our own way abroad. There’s just no way around it yet.
OU is trying, that’s for sure. O-Chem in Italy, Engineering programs in Arezzo, and now a Pre-Med program is being tried out in Arezzo (apparently all STEM majors want to go to Italy?) but the fact remains, we’re just really limited on our options. I heard horror stories about getting 12 hours credit for a full year of courses abroad, and frankly that sounded fairly lucky to me. STEMs just don’t have the elective freedom other majors have that allows them to go abroad and take all the courses that just come back as “transfer electives” without putting them off their graduation plan. Our major checksheets are too specific, our requirements are tuned to the university we’re at – even transferring within the US can be a pain.
STEMs have to fight to get transfer credit from study abroad, and often lose course equation requests because a course happens to be half of each of two OU courses, or a combination of multiple courses. Sometimes it’s hard just to find a university that offers a comparable degree plan in a language we speak that isn’t in England. And even when we manage all of that — or ignore it — we often end up drowning in courses once we’re abroad, sometimes to the point where we miss the great opportunities studying abroad is supposed to offer (see: all my regrets from O-Chem in Italy).
But none of that means we shouldn’t study abroad, or that we should just write off study abroad as a gap year/semester (although sometimes that can be the better option). Studying abroad offers its own set of advantages that, to me, make it worth risking my 4 year graduation plan on. I got the travel bug on my short summer study abroad, and I really want more. The independence, confidence, and adaptability I gained abroad just couldn’t have come from taking courses here in the US. There’s something different about being so far away in such a different place that really drives one to grow and change and open his or her eyes.
I really hope OU continues to try to create more opportunities to help STEM majors study abroad without wrecking our 4 year plans, but I don’t think anyone should pass up the opportunity in the mean time if they can avoid it. Studying abroad is its own credential on any resume, it’s worth taking an extra semester or year in college (in my opinion) where money allows, and it’s an experience I will never forget or regret.

Global Engagement Day – Panel

I really enjoyed serving on the “Preparing for Your Adventure” panel this year, it really let me reminisce on my time abroad last summer, and at the same time it let me get some good advice for my next trip from the other panel members and even from the students there to listen.
The topic that just seemed to keep coming up was packing – how to pack, what to pack, and how much was too much. (Hint from personal experience: if you can’t carry the suitcase up and down two flights of stairs to take a pedestrian overpass over a highway, it’s too much). And packing really seems like the thing that can make or break your trip. Going out of the country for weeks or months at a time, it seems catastrophic to get there and realize you left one thing at home that you needed – but it definitely isn’t. Other countries have stores too, and short of prescription glasses and medicines, you can find almost anything you actually need wherever you are. (If you can’t find it, odds are pretty good that you can survive without it). The greater danger is over packing – as I learned the hard way. Having too much stuff just becomes an issue when you’re traveling. You’re likely moving from place to place pretty regularly – especially if you’re on a shorter study abroad, a few weeks to a month or so. The more stuff you have, the harder it is to move. You have to lug really heavy stuff around, and you might even have to take more expensive travel options (Ryan Air and Easy Jet don’t allow full sized suitcases). My rule now is to lay out what I need, cut it in half, and then think really really really hard about whether I still need that stuff, and try to cut it in half again. (The second part doesn’t always happen, but it’s a good goal to aim for, and it usually gets me down to a reasonable amount of stuff).
But the biggest thing to remember is that YOU’RE ABROAD. Over or under packed, you’re in a new country, probably on a new continent and maybe even in a new hemisphere of the world. You’re seeing and doing things you may never experience again in person. Over or under packing or forgetting something can be annoying, but ultimately it won’t take away from your overall experience. So once you’re on the plane, just take what comes. Make it work, and go with the flow – you learn that one fast abroad. Enjoy your trip, and don’t stress about your suitcase. You’re not abroad to show off your packing skills.