Malia Smith says farewell to Denmark

Leaving Herlufsholm was bittersweet. It hurts to think that I will not be able to live the Danish lifestyle any longer. I am excited to know that I am coming home, however, re-energized by the many great experiences and lessons.

Now that I have experienced exchange, I thought it would be appropriate to give out some pointers for those who are thinking of applying. Of course, I cannot speak for everyone. You will have a different experience. Even if you end up at the same school as me, you will experience things differently. So please read this with a grain of salt.

Exchange gave me so many opportunities to grow as a person. I have become much more independent and self-sufficient. I made life-long friendships. Overall, I had an amazing time, in ways words cannot describe. However, exchange was not all just fun. I faced a lot of challenges. I learned from these challenges and so here are some tips based on my experience.

  1. The first week will be rough, but it gets better.

For me personally, the first week was very hard, since I didn’t have any friends to rely upon. An easy way to start getting comfortable is to mingle with other exchanges (if there are any). As the days go by, you will become a lot closer to your new classmates and you will become a lot more accustomed to the environment that you are in. One thing that I found helpful was not to call home during the first week, especially when you miss those at home. Calling them will make you want to go home and see them even more.

  1. There is more school work than you think. (This only applies to students looking to go during the fourth quarter)

I was under the impression that I wouldn’t have much school work to do while on exchange; however, to my surprise, there was a lot more work than I expected. For sophomores, there are a couple of chemistry packets and of course this blog. Depending on your math and language classes, you may also have to keep up with those classes. I had to take a Spanish test covering the entire second semester after I returned. And don’t forget, the school where you go on exchange will expect you to do work too. I personally was assigned a lot of group projects at Herlufsholm. In addition, keep in mind that you are also trying to make new friends and experience the culture and the country where you are living. Your host and new friends may take you to places or events. You will likely find yourself busy with limited time after-school or on weekends.

  1. Bad experiences can be good.

I learned to take every opportunity that came to me even if I was skeptical about it. It may seem strange or uncomfortable at first, but I found that these experiences were most memorable. The bad experiences that result from good intentions are never that bad and can make for good conversation and stories to tell later. I found that what seemed to be bad experiences at the time often became funny learning experiences from which I gained a lot.

Harrison Shaw Reflects on Australia

Baby pet kangaroo named Lebron owned by a fellow student (Riley)

After spending over a month down under, I have come to appreciate many more aspects of Aussie culture. Last weekend, I was introduced to Russel Coight’s “All Aussie Adventures”, a hilarious show starring a man and his mishaps, I mean adventures, in the Australian Outback. I’ve also experienced vegemite, a salty, thick brown spread that many people here apply to their toast along with some butter. I even had the unfortunate luck of being in a car as it hit a jaywalking kangaroo, dealing considerable damage to both parties. I’ve come to know nearly all the students in my grade, and a number of upper classmen as well.

During my second-to last weekend, I was able to spend more time in Sydney for the annual City2Surf 14-kilometer run, the largest fun-run in the world with roughly 80,000 participants. During the six-hour drive out, I saw plenty of the Australian countryside, and then I got to see it all again on the way back. My school sent over 200 students, making us the largest group attending. After waking up at an ungodly 5:00 in the morning, we all donned matching blue-and-white uniforms and went out into the freezing morning air (it was winter) looking like a tired, shivering army. Despite this, the run itself was awe inspiring. People from all over Australia congregate in a single location to support those with mental illnesses and to run through some of the richest neighborhoods in Sydney. This experience is one I will never forget and would gladly do it again if I have the opportunity.   On my last weekend, I visited a friend’s 3000-acre ranch, where I saw cows, kangaroos, sheep, and many other animals. During my stay there I got to go hunting, as well as dirt-biking through parts of the huge property. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, one crash broke my arm in three places, which was quite a surprise when I found out a couple weeks later back home. Staying there showed me how fun living on a farm could be. There was so much to do that it felt like I was still missing out on many opportunities when we returned to school. I would have gladly grown up in a place like that, a land brimming with endless opportunities for exploration and play.

During my time in Australia, I rarely found myself missing things back home. The few exceptions were family/friends and the accessibility of various activities. Armidale, while sizeable, is the only place boarders can go on their own. If something you want isn’t there, you aren’t getting it. The Armidale School may share the same initials as The Athenian School, but the similarities end there. If I had to choose, I’d say that I still prefer school back home, but they both have their strengths and weaknesses. The greatest strength of TAS is its inhabitants, both students and teachers alike. People in this country are unbelievably nice (way more than in the states), from my roommates to a ranch owner I met during my flight.

Before my whole exchange experience, I regarded Australia as a big island with kangaroos. While that’s not entirely false, this country down under has proven to be so much more. The time I’ve spent here has gone by in the blink of an eye, and I’ve had many unforgettable experiences. I’ve made many new friends, tried new things, and experienced a new culture. It’s going to be hard to leave the homey, laid back feel of the Australian countryside and return to a busy life in the states, but I have some great memories and hope to see my amazing friends again. If I ever can go back, I would do so without any doubts.

Three, two, one, Yeah the boys!

My roommates- Ellis, Charlie, myself, and Ashton from left to right.

Benjamin Shaw on his time in Denmark

There’s a clock tower at Herlufsholm that, for the entirety of my time there, rang the hour two minutes late. I don’t know how long Herluf’s clock has been late, nor do I know how long it will continue to be late. I do know that it stood, ringing crooked time, as a pseudo monument to life passing and time yet to come.

The clock tower stood tall for many of my defining moments in Denmark. What strikes me most about exchange and coming back from it is that people usually ask the wrong question. Everybody wants to know what was the most exciting thing you did or the coolest thing you saw. And while I saw and experienced incredible things abroad, it’s not those days that color my experience. It was the everyday that made exchange more than a trip; the routine of the mundane was what really created a life.

It was the clock tower that stood attached to the centuries old church where we’d hold school meetings every morning. Announcements would come reliably in Danish, leaving the foreign students to string together words and phrases to find a piecemeal agenda for the day.

It was the clock tower that rang the time, unhelpfully, when we were already late for class, rushing through cracked stone hallways and up tilting staircases to make it to class before the teacher noticed we were missing.

It was the clock tower that counted the days until a teacher strike that may or may not have come, but that left every student itching for school to be cancelled.

It was the clock tower that welcomed students back at 8:02 the following morning after the announcement that teachers would not, in fact, go on strike (much to the disappointment of students and teachers alike).

My host mom would tell me that five weeks was a turning point in living in a new place. During those first five weeks you settle in, learn the lay of the land, explore the world around you. After that time you start making the space your own, asking for favors, inviting people to the house with you. Exchange felt like putting that time in a pressure cooker. It was exciting, and fast paced, and everything was new. It made me want to relive everything twice. But at the same time, exchange can be a wildly different life than what we have here, one open to exploration discovery of new places, new people, new foods, and a new self.

Time itself seemed present in many of the things I did. There were little moments, of timing each other across zip lines during a tree-top climbing excursion, or counting down the final seconds in a soccer match in PE. There were bigger moments, following a costumed guide through ancient castles, or trekking across the city of Odense (and getting a little lost) to find the house that Hans Christian Anderson might have, maybe, possibly lived in once hundreds of years ago. And there were the worst moments of all, when time made itself known slipping past us. Sitting in the garden with matching cups of coffee, silent but hearing time together pass away. Waiting for a weekend that for my friends would be a relief from school, but for me held only a plane ride home. Hearing the clock tower sing, mocking, two minutes too late, a reminder that some things couldn’t be said, or done.

There’s not a lot I wouldn’t give to be back on exchange. The longer it’s been since my time there, the more I miss it. I know that some things will fade, and some things won’t, but most of all I know that all the things I learned there will stay with me as a testament to a time spent making myself known in a world apart from ours. I see, as time moves on, parallels drawn between here and there: school starting again, graduation rituals, friends growing. But the more time moves, the more I wish I could stay wrapped in a bubble of time the length of my exchange, living it all again, the clock tower no longer a reminder of time going by, but of time well spent and well loved.

Matthew Whitfield checks in from Australia

Before I left for Australia, I had planned to come through customs blasting an Australian song I had memorized in an attempt to embarrass my exchange, but to both my disappointment and satisfaction, my host family was waiting for me right as I stepped off the plane. I was greeted by the mom Lynda, dad Brett, the exchange coordinator, and, of course, my exchange Kurt. We headed to their house in Lynton, a suburb of Adelaide. Once we arrived I immediately noticed their amazing view of the city and of sunsets.  

After a day of settling in, my newfound family took me to a vibrant downtown area called Glenelg. We walked around and went down to a pier. Learning about the sea life only added to my fear of all the deadly things here. We got some ice cream and, for some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to get a lemon shake. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was the most horrific thing I have ever tasted. We then headed home and got some rest in preparation for the following day. 

By this point, I’m jet-lagged, tired and haven’t gotten much make up sleep. Nevertheless, we got up early and headed Into the city to climb the roof of the Adelaide Oval. The oval is a field where the Adelaide Crows play footy [Australian rules football]. It only took 25 minutes to get into the city from their house. The city was very similar in its architecture to San Francisco. Upon arrival at the oval, we got dressed in a jumpsuit and harness and headed up to the roof. We got hooked in and began walking across the roof shells. It had amazing views of Adelaide–the green hills, the city, and the magnificent beaches. We then got out to a platform that hangs over part of the oval and leaned off the platform 60 feet above the ground. After that terrifying yet extremely thrilling experience, we headed off the roof and left the oval. The climb was well worth the time stamp that came with it.

The following day Kurt invited a few people over so I could get to know some kids before I started at Westminster, Kurt’s school. I was nervous and a little anxious at first, but soon got comfortable and we had a fun time. They even taught me how to do a front flip on a trampoline. This created my still unconquered goal for this whole trip, to do a backflip. That night, to my dismay, we had to attend a university meeting for all year 10’s. Naturally, I didn’t want to go as I didn’t think it pertained to me. Despite the boringness of the meeting, I did get to meet a lot of Kurt’s friends and I ended up hitting it off with almost all of them. I left that night eager for my first day of school. 

around school here is more relaxed than Athenian, although it is still a fairly academic school. The community seems very tight-knit. Everyone is not only focused on grades, but also on socializing.  

After a week of school, I was taken to the Cleland Wildlife Park. I was extremely excited and it exceeded my expectations in every way. I got to see all sorts of new animals including dingos, wallabies, porcupines, emus and, of course, kangaroos. When I entered the park, I was given a bag of food to feed the animals. Soon I found a wallaby, got really low, and it came up to me to eat the food right out of my hands. It was such a cool experience, but was promptly exceeded by feeding the kangaroos. At first, I was afraid to feed the kangaroos because I was convinced they were going to box me like in the movies. Eventually, I began to feed them. They would put their huge claws on my hand and eat right out of it. At one point I was feeding four kangaroos at once! This was an experience I’ll never forget. 

Last weekend I was at the airport catching a flight to Sydney. The next day we went to the harbor and I got my first view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. My first reaction was amazement at its magnificent structure and appearance, but then I was overcome by fear as I remembered I would be walking on top of it in one day. We then walked along the harbor until we reached the Sydney Opera House. It was AMAZING. It was a beautiful white that shimmered in the sun that was only met in magnificence by its extremely interesting architecture.  

We caught a ferry to Luna Island, a small amusement park across the bridge. It resembled an old-timey amusement park only with updated rides. We got the best slushees I’ve ever had and returned to Sydney to rest up for the challenging day to come.  

After getting up, we walked to the bridge and yet again got dressed in jumpsuits and harnesses. We began by climbing up four extremely steep ladders with grates to look through at the ground below. This was the scariest part. On the actual walk, there was three feet of steel on either side of the pathway, which made it feel like an extremely safe walk. Once we were on top of the bridge, we began our trek to the middle. As it was a stop-and-go tour, we got to take in all of Sydney. At the top we walked across a see-through catwalk to the other side. As we walked across, I could see all the way down to the cars and the water. which gave me a lot of vertigo making it all that much better. The next morning, we caught a plane back to Adelaide and school life returned to normal. 

I’m now in week four of my trip and I have one week left. Before coming on exchange, I had expected there to be good and bad parts, but so far I’ve experienced very few lows. I have had an amazing time here and made so many friends who I hope to keep for a long time to come. I am so thankful to have been able to go on this trip and hopefully I’ll be able to come back in the future. 

Harrison Shaw’s Aussie Adventures

After being dropped off at the small Armidale airport, I was picked up by Miss Barnier in her right-hand Holden sedan and taken to my home for the next month, The Armidale School (TAS). I was given some time to settle in, during which I acquired a new uniform, greeted my house mother, and unpacked in my new dorm room.

That afternoon was a blur of shaking hands and forgetting names as I met many of the boys, including my three roommates, Charlie, Ashton, and Ellis. The first thing that struck me was the difference in the way they and all the others talked. Although I could understand words through the Australian accent, the slang made comprehending conversations a little difficult. At first, I found myself feeling lost and confused when more than two people were talking; however, after the first week, understanding conversations became secondhand. I even started using some of the slang myself. Australians tend to shorten their words; afternoon becomes arvo, breakfast becomes brekkie, etc.

Another major difference from home was how rural everything and everyone felt. Initially, I couldn’t determine what this strange difference was, but as soon as I figured it out it became crystal clear. Nearly all students here live somewhere near Armidale. When viewed on Google maps, Armidale looks like a tiny spec of civilization nested in a bunch of open, empty space. Most of the other boarders live and work on farms. Some were able to give me useful insights into country life, which has shed a new light on the opinions of some back home.

The whole school life dynamic here at TAS also differs drastically from that of Athenian. While I was accustomed to calling teachers by their last name from middle school, I was not accustomed to the uniform. It’s a pain to put on, doesn’t fit very well, and the shoes seem intent on murdering my feet. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the freedom of dress that most take for granted at Athenian. Boarding life is also new for me, but I’ve become accustomed to the daily routine and it’s nice to have everything you need within walking distance. Over the past two weeks I’ve become pretty good friends with nearly everyone in the dorm. Getting to mess around with them after school has made the boarding experience even better.

While classes are plentiful (most people have at least ten) the content in them is less so. The homework far easier than that back home, and the students seem to respect their teachers far less. This makes classes quite funny, but not very informative, which contrasts sharply with the athletic culture. Unlike Athenian, sports play a paramount role in TAS culture. Most weekends incorporate some game (most often Rugby) that most of the boys participate in. At first this felt quite outlandish, given that Athenian doesn’t even have a football team, but I soon became accustomed to this aspect of the school and have come to appreciate rugby more as a sport. I was also able to practice with the sport shooting team and experience another activity that Athenian doesn’t offer.

Despite these differences, I’ve still been having a great time here at TAS. Life here is more laid back, and its been a great experience trying new things. So far the best experiences I’ve had have been my interactions with the other people here. They’ve transformed what would normally be a standard, uptight boarding school into something so much more. I’ve made some great friends and am really looking forward to the coming weeks that I will get to spend here with them.

Maya O’Kelly Checks In from Australia

Greetings from Alice Springs! I arrived here on July 13. On July 17, I went on a ten-day backpacking trip through the Australian outback and bush with the school and some of its students. The days before the backpacking trip were spent with my host family, Linda, and her dad as we biked around different places throughout town. The backpacking trip was truly an incredible experience. It left me feeling a little more prepared for AWE. I went into the trip not knowing anybody else. My host is in year 10, but this camp consisted only of year 11 students. Throughout the ten days, everybody in the camp group got close as we bushwalked, abseiled through Hugh Gorge, cooked dinners by the campfires, had a reflective 48-hour solo, and backpacked through the outback. Some of my favorite parts of the trip included swimming through the gorges while looking up at the remarkable walls, being able to see the stars and planets in the night sky, learning how to find your way using the sun, and the beautiful sunsets behind the ranges that surrounded us. This week-and-a-half in the outback was truly an amazing experience. I’m so glad that I was able to go on the trip.

When I first learned that I would be going on exchange to Alice Springs I didn’t really know what to expect. I thought that it would mainly be a flat and desolate desert, since it really is in the middle of Australia. From this trip and simply going around Alice Springs, however, I have truly seen the beauty within the desert here with its gorges, spinifex, extensive ranges, and saddles.

One thing that really took me by surprise was what it’s like living in a small town like Alice Springs. Alice Springs really is in the middle of Australia. The closest big cities, Adelaide and Darwin, are both about a day’s drive away from Alice on the Stuart Highway, which connects the three destinations. The Stuart Highway itself is also very empty compared to the highways throughout the Bay Area. We actually bike across it every day on our way to and from school. Living in a small town also means that you’re close to everything, since it’s all within the town’s limits and therefore easily accessible by bike. It was a unique change being able to walk home for lunch or being able to bike a mere five minutes to a friend’s house, since at Athenian most people live at least a 15- 20 min drive away from each other.

The people here in Alice Springs and at St. Phillip’s College have been incredibly kind and welcoming. During my first couple days of classes, I was greeted by familiar faces from camp and they introduced me to all of their friends and other people within the school. The school is quite different from Athenian. We have uniforms with strict hat rules due to the hot afternoon sun, houses, and prayers at assemblies. The classes are quite enjoyable, although a bit different than Athenian’s. I’m currently taking English, Philosophy, Psychology, Visual Arts, and Chemistry.

The school also organizes lots of trips for the exchanges within Alice Springs. This is great way to get to know the other exchanges. They are from places like Colombia, Denmark, South Africa, Germany, France, Japan, and India. During my first week of classes, we went on a hot air balloon trip while the sun rose. It truly was a breathtaking experience as we also saw wild kangaroos hopping around below us in the desert. Last week, the school organized a trip to Kangaroo Dundee’s kangaroo sanctuary, which is about a half hour outside of Alice Springs. There we walked around the sanctuary while kangaroos hopped around us, and we got to hold some of the baby kangaroos or joeys. The sanctuary rescues kangaroos that were once kept as pets, the majority of the kangaroos end up there because their mothers were killed by cars while the babies survived inside their pouches. I spent the night at one of my friend’s houses here only to awake and realize that they had a baby kangaroo in their house. They’re currently helping to take care of it before they pass it onto somebody else who will rehabilitate it more and eventually release it back into the wild. There are about 50 million kangaroos in Australia, so they’re quite common. Lots of people in town help nurture them back to health.

I currently have about two-and-a-half weeks left out of my six weeks in Alice Springs. I’m sad to be over halfway through my exchange because I’ve enjoyed it so much. I’m looking forward to the next upcoming weeks here in Alice Springs!

Micah Ross bids farewell to Peru

No amount of words could ever do justice to the past two months. I’ve spent an unhealthy number of hours trying to contemplate how I would describe my exchange to my friends, family, and even on this blog post. I’ve come to accept that I cannot. The raw happiness and love I’ve experienced here in Lima will stay with me in my heart forever, even though I know that no one will ever be able to fully understand the depths of my love for this beautiful country and these beautiful people. In fact, this ties into one of the main lessons I’ve come to learn on exchange: some experiences were meant to stay buried in your heart and trying to express such feelings is an impossible task. Too often in life we feel that we need to validate our experiences by posting everything on social media, or ensuring that we relay every story to our friends and family. On exchange, I learned that experiences can have just as much meaning even if you never tell the story. Because for every experience you have, you grow as a person and learn more about yourself.

My exchange in Peru was without a doubt the best two months of my life. That doesn’t mean, however, that it was all positive or easy. I learned that the most meaningful and fulfilling moments in life occur when you overcome a previous struggle or fear and see yourself grow from that. In other words, you get out that which you put in. These past two months were littered with moments like that. From gathering the confidence to walk up to a group of people and join into their Spanish conversation or even deciding to take a salsa class, every moment of the two months I spent here were educational on a level I had never experienced before.

I think of my exchange as divided into two parts. My first few weeks consisted of a lot of hard moments in which I ultimately learned so much about myself and found my footing at Markham. Throughout my second month, however, I was so purely happy and grateful to be where I was. Nothing could bring me down. I started planning after-school hangouts with friends every day. Whether we went to the cinema or out to sushi, I made sure that not a day went by where my schedule was empty.

One of the many reasons that I was so lucky on this exchange is because I had the opportunity to go on three completely separate trips within Peru, two of which required flights. The first one was Santa Eulalia, an outdoor adventure school-sponsored trip. Secondly, about a month into my exchange, my host took me to Cusco and Urubamba. While here, we stayed with one of their family friends who took us sightseeing throughout these two beautiful cities. We also went to see Machu Picchu, which was without a doubt one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen in my life. Finally, for my last week of exchange, I went on a surf and service trip with the school to a small beach town in northern Peru called Poemape. Every morning we woke up at 5:30 AM, surfed for two hours, did service all day, and then surfed for two hours again at night. One of the service activities that we did was delivering a 15-minute presentation about micro-plastics and their effect on marine life to students at a local public school. At first, doing this 15-minute memorized presentation in Spanish seemed too daunting, but I finally gathered up the courage I had acquired in my past two months, and did the presentation in my second language. While I can’t say I didn’t make a few errors, it felt really rewarding to be able to do something so scary and challenging that I never would have done before this exchange.

I remember my first few days in Peru. I was convinced that there was no way on earth I would ever be able to understand Peruvian Spanish. I remember writing in my journal, “I don’t know what language they’re speaking, but it’s definitely not Spanish.” However, every day I could feel myself improve, in both my communication abilities and my ability to understand. By the last week, I could understand almost everything that was being said.

One cool thing about the surf and service trip in Poemape is that we were joined by other students from a less-fortunate background, and none of them knew English. Therefore, I was in a situation that was essentially full-immersion, with very little English at all. I slowly became good friends with these girls. Some nights we would stay up for hours, having long conversations exclusively in Spanish. As I lay in bed after exhausting my brain from a Spanish overload, I thought about who I was on the first week of my exchange, and who I now was on the last week. Spanish ability aside, I had changed so much as a person for the better.

I know for certain that I will never forget the strong impact that the friends I’ve made and the people I’ve met here have had on me. They unknowingly taught me about friendship in a different country. At Markham, people are honest and straightforward, yet they love their friends with their entire hearts. I am going to miss these people so much. The second I said good-bye to them on my last day of school, I got this horrible pit in my stomach. In some ways, two weeks after being home, it’s still there.

I got incredibly lucky with my host, Almendra. For two months I got to live with my best friend in the whole world. I will never stop being grateful for that. Alme and I are different in many ways, yet also similar. I have never cried more in my life than I did when I gave her and my host mom one final hug good-bye. It’s two weeks later and we’ve texted each other life updates every day since then. I have Athenian to thank for giving me the opportunity to make a lifelong friend on the other side of the world. I am going to miss Alme, our reggaetón dance parties in the kitchen, salsa dancing at parties, the kiss on the cheek when you meet someone new, booing France profusely in all their World cup matches, the food, the people, and, of course, my new second home.

I would like to thank Athenian and Markham for giving me the best two months of my life. If anyone is on the fence about exchange, I cannot describe how important of an experience it is. Few students have the chance to study in another country, and I cannot think of a single reason not to seize the opportunity. The way I see it, you will inevitably have some combination of good and bad moments on exchange. In the bad ones, you will learn about yourself, develop your independence, and grow so much as a person in ways you could never imagine. In the good ones, you will create friends and memories to last a lifetime.

Essenia Robinson reports from South Africa

So far my exchange experience has been fun, so fun that blog posts were not really on my mind. I have met so many people here and have really broken out of my shell. The first thing I should say is that my exchange Tshedza and I get along really well. She is really funny, we have similar senses of humor, and she planned really fun things for us to do. She has done a great job making me feel welcome and included in the school. It is really nice to have someone else from Athenian go to Stanford Lake College (SLC) with me because I always have a friend. I have gotten really close to some other exchanges, especially one from Spain named Vicky. She and I talk to each other in Spanish a lot. Although the other exchanges here are really fun and cool, I have also made sure to become good friends with a nice chunk of actual students that go to SLC.

Tshedza planned activities for us to do. Those activities take place during the weekend because we are in hostel during the week and at home on weekends. We swam in a cave-like thing that was really cold. We went on a city bus tour of the “City of Gold” which included seeing some museums that were made of historic buildings. When I received news I would be going to South Africa for exchange, I was really excited because one of the reasons I wanted to go was to learn about the history from the perspective of someone more involved instead of just the American perspective. We went to Constitution Hill and saw some incredible pieces of art and I found out that that hill was the place that the government used to hang people if they committed crimes worthy of death.

My exchange is almost over and I do not want to leave. I am having so much fun, I wish it was longer!

Chris Thompson reports from India

Before I came to India, the only expectations I had was that I was only going to eat spicy food and I wasn’t going to witness anything that reminded me of home. My two expectations were completely wrong. The first meal I had when I landed was a Subway Veggie Delight without a hint of spiciness! After that I didn’t decide to expect the unexpected, but to absorb everything like a sponge. Although I experienced something familiar, I noticed many subtle differences between India and America within my first few minutes of stepping out of the airport. I was amazed that I was in a car with a steering wheel on the right side, that most people wear sandals, and motorcycles dominate the streets just as much as cars! Even the breakfast surprised me. I didn’t think I’d ever eat toast and Nutella while I’m here. Yet, I ate toast and Nutella! It’s also difficult for me to be homesick because the top fifty songs in America are always being played here! I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve heard “Girls Like You” being played in cars and by students.

I knew that other exchange students would be here at the Doon School, yet I didn’t see any until my first week in and so I felt like the new kid on the block. I could feel a sense of loneliness, but that feeling quickly disappeared once I started interacting with everybody. I felt welcomed when students, teachers and administrators introduced themselves, smiled and helped me out with anything I needed. I still ask for help from my fellow classmates. I’ve only been here for about two weeks and I’m a bit surprised that I’m so comfortable with everybody. I shouldn’t be, though. One of my best experiences is just talking to people. I’ve stayed up multiple nights talking for hours with other students and I do not regret it when I wake up extra tired in the morning. Everything I commit myself to at this school is fulfilling and it’s all thanks to my friends who push me to forward.

One of the best experiences I have had is when I took a trip to various tourist attractions. The Taj Mahal being the best one. I’ve always wanted to go as a kid and when I finally arrived, I was not displeased. I was amazed by the architecture and design of not just the Taj Mahal, but all the tombs and temples that surround it. It helped that I experienced the religious sites with exchanges that had never been to India. There was an overall vibe filled to the brim with amazement and wonder. I even enjoyed the fourteen-hour drive to get there.

I have about a week and a few days left, so I’m going to make the most out of it.

Fraser Coleman’s Australian Adventures

After 30 long hours of travelling (July 13th-14th), I finally reached Perth. As soon as I stepped outside of the Perth Airport, I was greeted by my host family. Although I was half-asleep, no drowsiness could prevent me from noticing the immense warmth and friendliness surrounding all facets of my exchange, Ned Cusack, and the rest of his wonderful family (mother, father, older sister and brother). We then headed to the suburb where they live, Mosman Park.

After a few days full of introductions, I found myself back at the Perth Airport. This time, it was for my week-long sea kayaking expedition at Ningaloo Reef. It was on this trip that I learned, saw, and experienced the full beauty of everything to do with the Australian coast. Each day was broken into three different parts. The first part of the day concerned the initial departure: we would have breakfast, pack our tents and kitchen supplies into the kayaks, and then we would depart. After kayaking for a few kilometers, we would go for the day’s first snorkel. The second part of the day concerned lunch: after the first snorkel, the afternoon leadership group (student volunteers) would make the group lunch. After lunch, we would paddle another five to six kilometers and then have our second snorkel. The third part of the day concerned the arrival: after the second snorkel, we would paddle three to four kilometers to the beach that would be our home for the night. Upon arrival, we would go for a third snorkel. Then we would set up our camp, cook diner, and go to sleep.

Besides just experiencing the raw beauty of the clear, turquoise water of Ningaloo, we also kayaked next to and snorkeled with animals such as tiger/reef/whale sharks, turtles, dugongs, dolphins, and sea snakes. Out of all these encounters, there are two that stuck out the most.

It was the fourth day of the trip. Ned and I were taking a break from paddling to observe the marine wildlife around our kayak. We had been looking for some interesting animals for a few minutes, so we had fallen behind the rest of the group by a considerable distance. Suddenly I noticed a six-foot tiger shark dart under our kayak, swimming along the bottom, as if it was being chased. We were amazed, as tiger sharks are incredibly rare in Ningaloo. We decided to try to follow it but we gave up after a 30-foot chase due to the incredible speed of the shark. While we were turning around to start the trek back to our group, we noticed a 15-foot dark shape moving towards us. As it got closer, we both realized it was another tiger shark, heading directly for our kayak. We watched as it sped up and began to breach the water, both of us frozen from fear. When the shark was about one-and-a-half feet from the kayak, it did a quick 180-degree turn, tail splashing us with water as this beast thrashed about. Once we regained complete control of our bodies, we quickly paddled to the kayak closest to us. The students in the surrounding kayaks all thought we had gotten attacked, so it took a good while to explain the whole story. It truly is so crazy that the shark was so big–and the water so clear that all the other groups could see what had happened from over 120 feet away.

On the last day of the trip, we went snorkeling with whale sharks. While sailing to the drop, we saw multiple humpback whales breaching and swimming. The beauty and indescribable size of the animals make it understandable why the Coast Guard instituted a law requiring all boats to keep at least 225 feet away at all times. While easy in theory, however, staying away from these humpbacks was much harder during a snorkel session. I was treading water, still amazed from snorkeling so close to prehistoric whale sharks, when the captain of the boat started signing for me to look down. As soon as I decrypted his signals, I re-submerged under water. What I saw was a mother humpback whale, swimming close to my group in order to protect her calf from what she considered a threat. After I got back on the boat, my group leader explained that this was even rarer than the tiger shark encounter. Both of these encounters made my expedition—and my exchange as a whole–more meaningful.

School started the day after I got back from the Ningaloo Reef Expedition. The first thing I was told when I got to Scotch College was the house I belonged to: Cameron House. Houses are based on legacy, and since Ned’s grandfather, father, and brother all belonged to Cameron House, he is also a part of it. After completing my first day of classes, I realized how different Scotch is from Athenian. At Scotch, we wear uniforms, it is not coed, we cannot bring backpacks to class, and we call teachers either Mr. or Miss. All of these are the polar opposite of Athenian. These differences are what have made my first few weeks in Perth so interesting.

One of the school’s traditions is marching. Every Friday, there is a house versus house competition, where the winner is picked based on which house has the best marching. The competition has been going on since the school was founded.

I currently have about three weeks of exchange left. In these last weeks, I plan to continue to meet new people, explore more of Perth, and even travel to Singapore to visit my host family’s second house. My love for the people of Perth, Perth itself, and the continent of Australia is truly unimaginable. I look forward to continuing to update anyone who is reading this!