Olivia Ghorai arrives in Germany

I arrived in Hamburg on a Sunday afternoon. I’d been awake and hadn’t eaten for over 24 hours, and my grip on reality was fading. That afternoon my exchange, Isi, showed me around her lovely neighborhood and we took a walk on the river’s edge. I felt incredibly laid back and wondered if most of my exchange would be this relaxed.

We drove to Louisenlund later that day. Just seeing the school made all those nervous feelings I’d been trying to suppress come right back up. Looking around and hearing people rapidly speaking a language I didn’t understand was overwhelming. Just being in a different country with only one person I knew was overwhelming, which is what brings me to mention an effective piece of advice I was given before leaving: take a shower the night you get to your exchange school/house. It gives you time to yourself to reflect on the beginning of your exchange, and it feels good to be clean after a long plane ride.

The first school day was a bit hectic for me, but I expected that. I’m not in the same program as my exchange, as her classes are in German, so she brought me to a group of girls who are in the IB [International Baccalaurate] program like me. They were incredibly kind and inclusive, and one of them skipped their German class to give me a tour of the school. The rest of the day I was tossed around like a ball to multiple people who showed me different things and took me different places. It was intense, but I was glad my first day had gone how it did.

The time my exchange was scheduled for was a bit weird, as school is only going on for three out of the six weeks I’m there and exams are happening while I’m in school. Most of the days I’m told by other students that I shouldn’t waste my time by showing up to class, as it’s just a study period. This was a bit disappointing at first, as not having class left me with more free time than I know what to do with, but I’ve found that there is always something to do if you go looking for it. At one point, there were five other exchanges at Lund with me. They came from Australia, New Zealand, India, Canada, and Colombia. All of them are in the IB program as well, so we’ve all had a lot of free time. As a group, we’ve gone to Lübeck, Flensburg, and Kiel to sightsee and explore for a day.

The second week I was at Louisenlund, we had a long weekend that started on Thursday. Isi’s family took me to Berlin to sightsee and I got to know her family better. Her parents and older sister both speak English very well and her younger brother is learning it incredibly fast. They’re super generous and kind. I feel really lucky to have them as my host family.

So far, my exchange has proved to be nothing like I expected, but I’m really glad I’m in Germany having this experience.

Laney Schwantes in Australia

Streams of yellow light escape through stiff curtains as the sun rises over the leaf-littered rugby field outside the window, covered in frost for a few minutes before melting away. Uniform shoes clap against the pavement as students hurriedly rush to select the largest piece of cake at morning tea before getting back in line for seconds. Melted cheese and crumbs from lunchtime toasties litter the dining hall tables before being wiped away at the ringing of the bell. Wiping suffocating dust off riding pants after a quick ride and grooming the horses before hurrying to dinner at dusk. A mix of rap and early 2000s pop music vibrate off the shower walls, still humid with remnants of steam from the few warm showers earlier in the night. Silence in a boarding house of girls eagerly anticipating bed checks before running down the dark hallways into rooms to play cards late at night.

I’m approaching my final days here at New England Girls School (NEGS) in New South Wales, Australia. Most people think Australia is either just another version of America or a barren desert crawling with tarantulas, crocodiles and kangaroos. Based on my experience here, neither of these impressions are true–although I did see a moth larger than my hand. Since it’s winter here in the southern hemisphere, it snowed a little on my birthday in June!

As an Athenian day student, I adjusted to the many changes that come with boarding at an Australian Christian girl’s school. I wear a uniform every day covering my entire body with the exception of my face and hands. I go to chapel every Thursday and attend marching practice a couple times a week. While these were all very strange changes for me, I was able to quickly accept them as part of life here at NEGS. The most difficult changes to adjust to were the numerous, and sometimes unnecessary, rules. You can only have your phone before dinner and after prep. Hair must be worn up with a ribbon at all times outside the boarding house. Younger grades must yield to upperclassmen when entering and exiting buildings. Backpacks aren’t allowed in the classrooms. Living at NEGS has definitely helped me appreciate the freedom and trust given to students at Athenian.

While the strict structure at NEGS is sometimes challenging, I’ve been provided with so many incredible opportunities and experiences that I wouldn’t have had anywhere else. Less than 24 hours in and I was already on an excursion to a farm with my buddy’s agriculture class. I learned about biodiversity and biosecurity, how to determine soil fertility, and the process of running a farm and raising cattle. Agriculture and farming play a significant part in the lives of many girls and their families at NEGS. About half of my class, only 40 girls total, grew up on a farm or riding horses. Many of these girls have a horse in the school’s stables; they play polocrosse or do equestrian after school and compete almost every weekend.

One of my favorite parts about going to school at NEGS is taking courses that Athenian doesn’t offer and learning new things without the pressure of grades. I’ve been able to take culinary classes and learn about design and fashion in my textiles class. My favorite academic classes are Geography and Science. We’re currently learning about global wellbeing, evolution and natural selection. Evolution is an especially interesting topic here because it sparks heated debate in our Christian Studies class. Attending Christian Studies and chapel has allowed me to better understand the concept of religion, and routines like saying grace before every meal have helped me appreciate a different lifestyle embraced here at NEGS.

The Australian lifestyle and the lifestyle at NEGS are very different than what I’m accustomed to at home. It is strange calling teachers by their last names and addressing them as Ma’am and Sir. While this is a sign of respect to teachers and administrators, I found that most students didn’t respect them at all. During my first lesson I was appalled by how many girls interrupted the teacher with disrespectful comments or bad attitudes masked as questions. When I expressed my shock to my buddy, she laughed and flippantly said that it isn’t even bad here compared to most Australian schools. I also noticed a different attitude towards LQBTQ+ people and issues. Hearing some of my friends use ‘queer’ as an insult or listening to them gossip about a trans student was an eye-opening experience for me. While I was prepared to possibly encounter this on exchange, I was surprised by racism towards the other exchange students. Australian girls would try to scare the Japanese exchange students and dehumanize the Indian exchange students by only referring to them as the Indians, even in their presence. This really upset me and I talked to my classmates about this behavior. While it was uncomfortable, I know it was the right thing to do and hopefully made a difference. I’m so thankful that I live in an accepting place like the Bay Area and am a part of a community like Athenian that supports all individuals and respects their identities.

Throughout the months leading up to exchange, I was becoming increasingly anxious about my time here. I was worried that I wouldn’t understand the classes, that the girls wouldn’t want to be friends with me, or that I wouldn’t like the food. But since arriving here, aside from a little homesickness, I’ve enjoyed myself immensely. Exchange has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and submerge myself in a foreign environment that has challenged me and helped me grow as a person. I’ve made so many amazing friends, tried new foods and activities, and experienced my home country in ways unique to me. I’m beyond thankful for this opportunity. I appreciate the things I’ve learned here and the memories I’ll never forget.

Amanda Dornsife says farewell to Colombia

My time in Colombia is unfortunately coming to an end. I will admit, my exchange went by much faster than I thought it would. In one aspect it seems like just yesterday that I was stepping out of the airport into a town of lights and cars everywhere, but in other ways it feels like a long time ago. Either way, saying good-bye to my host family and all of the wonderful people I have met here is one of the saddest moments of my life. I will admit it is also bittersweet to know that I will be returning home to see my friends and family. However, I will definitely treasure and miss relationships and bonds that I have made in Colombia, but luckily know that these friendships will last for a lifetime.

I am so thankful and happy that I got the chance to go to Bogotá. It is such a lively and unique city, full of multicolored buildings, traffic, and a wonderful culture. In the course of my six weeks I have had so many eye-opening experiences that have changed me forever. I was able to live and tour around the city and visit many cool places such as: Laguna Guatavita y Pueblo (the fertile land where indigenous Colombian used to live), Villa Leyva (a beautiful colonial town), Andres (the coolest restaurant ever with entertainment, lights, and great food), Monserrato (the beautiful center of Bogotá) and so many more. Some highlights of my exchange include attending my favorite class called current events, going to my first Quinceañera, hanging out with friends after school, and visiting some of the largest and coolest malls I have ever seen. I loved seeing Bogotá and the cities around it, but my favorite memories are of time spent with my host family. From baking with my host father to having our nightly family dinners, I will definitely cherish those small moments the most!

To be real for a moment, the first week of exchange was definitely one of the hardest times of my life. The culture shocks of being in a new country away from friends and family, with new people and a different culture than I am used to, was very hard. But as the days went by it got better. I found that the more friends I surrounded myself with and the more I put myself out, the easier it got. Now after five weeks, I don’t want to leave. I want to stay with my new friends and family.

To those who are considering whether to go on exchange or not, I would 100% recommend applying. Exchange has been one of the best and most rewarding experiences of my life. Over the course of these six weeks I have gained so much knowledge about who I am as a person and the world I live in. I have found so much courage and independence in myself being more than 3,000 miles away from friends and family. I can’t promise exactly what your experience will be, but I can say that it will open up your eyes to the smallest things–yourself, the people, or the world that you are surrounded by. While exchange is full of ups, down, highs and lows, it has forever changed me for the better.

Finally, to Colombia, thank you for giving me some of the best weeks of my life. This trip has taught me so much about myself. I am beyond grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in this experience. Thank you to each and every one of you who has made my time here wonderful. Even though I will miss everyone more than anything, I realize that I can come back and visit because I know that I will always have a second home and family in Colombia. ¡Gracias Colombia! Te extrañaré. Por la una última vez “chao”

Chang Duggal arrives in Tanzania

Coming from America, I was obviously different. Maybe not culturally, as there are a couple of Indian people at the school, but definitely different in other perspectives. I’m going to be outlining those differences and my experiences in this blog.

For one, there are big differences between what I am used to and what my friends at St. Constantine’s in Tanzania are used to. For example, it is $6 in Tanzania for a movie ticket compared to at least $15 in California. I would love to get these prices in the US. Life would be cheaper, simpler, and happier.

Furthermore, many people here are applying to colleges in North America, but they’re not going to the United States. Now why would the ‘land of opportunity’ be driving people away? I’ve found that one word can sum up the reasons why many Tanzanians are not going to the US–cost. Maybe the reason that I find it to be cheap here isn’t because it actually is cheap, but because it is way too expensive in the US. It is expensive enough that people don’t want to go the ‘land of opportunity.’

Finally, I came to Tanzania with the expectation that it would be free of pollution. I knew that the infrastructure would not be as good as the States, obviously. For example, when it rained for one night and about the same amount as average in California, the streets the next morning were flooded…like hurricane season flooded. The drainage system was overflowing and water was touching the side of the car. I expected that, but I did not expect there to be as much pollution as I’ve witnessed in my short two weeks here. Vehicles release so much smog that when we are driving next to even a motorcycle, it smells. There is so much trash on the side of the roads in Tanzania. Water bottles, plastic bags, garbage bags, and food containers pollute the waterways and the streets. I’ve seen roosters, baby goats, dogs, and cats eat this trash, not realizing that it will harm them in the future. There is no regulation against pollution and even the police litter.

Overall, I miss everyone from Athenian and the cozy environment at school. No couches to sit on, no listening to music on breaks, and the teacher-student interactions are very professional and not as friendly when compared to Athenian.

Amanda Dornsife arrives in Bogotá

After being dropped off at the San Francisco airport at 4 am by my mother, I frantically ran to my gate because I was very late. Unfortunately, 15 minutes had already passed since they started boarding, which meant it was almost over. I just caught my flight. After spending 12 hours traveling–SFO to Houston, with a 5-hour layover, then to Bogota international–I was exhausted to say the least. Upon arriving in Colombia, I was picked up by Camilo, my host father, and my two new siblings, Gabi and Lucas.

Luckily, I was given plenty of time to settle in since it was Holy Week in Colombia, which is a spring break just before Easter. As the week of no school went on, I found myself becoming better acquainted with my new family and the culture and city surrounding me. During the holiday, we visited one of my favorite places thus far in Bogota, This beautiful place is called Boho, which is about ten minutes from my house. Boho is a new establishment where there are small local cafés, shops and flee market-like stands in which you can buy small nick-knacks, mostly hand-made in Colombia.

After two weeks, I have found that living in the large city of Bogotá is way different than living in Danville, a small quaint town. Everything needed, such as restaurants, supermarkets and parks are all within walking distance of my family’s apartment. There is even a mall within five minutes distance. One of the first things that I noticed about Colombian culture was that everyone is extremely friendly and welcoming. Upon meeting a new person while in the United States you would simply say “hi” or “hello.” Here the culture is that “hola,”“chao,” or “adios” are all followed by a hug and a kiss on the cheek. At first this was kind of uncomfortable for me, but now I know that it is just common curtesy. Finally, one of the most pleasant differences between California and Colombia is how on Sundays all of the main roads are closed to cars and open only to human-powered transportation such as bikes, scooters, skateboards. This is in order to promote a healthy lifestyle, but also help the environment. My host mother Cecilia told me that she believes that around 3,000 people ride bikes every Sunday, which tremendously helps the environment every single week.

Everyone at Colegio Los Nogales has been super welcoming and friendly. Luckily, I made a group of friends pretty quickly. Upon arriving at school, I found out that there was another exchange named Ashleigh from South Africa; she definitely made my adjustment into the school a lot easier. Life at Nogales has been both similar to and different from life at Athenian. Nogales is almost double to size of Athenian with about 1,000 students. Almost all of them have been attending Nogales since they were four-year-old preschoolers. The school day begins at 7:10, but my day starts around 4:45 in order to catch the bus to school. This is a huge difference from in my 7:45 wake-up in the Athenian dorms. It takes just under 90 minutes minutes to get to school due to the horrible bumper-to-bumper traffic. It is almost unbelievable how bad the traffic is.

The biggest challenge for me living in Colombia has been being away from my friends and family, which is not what I expected before arriving here. I thought the language barrier would be my biggest challenge, but now I have learned that I speak and understand more Spanish than I thought. Additionally, most of Nogales’ classes are taught in English. All of the students speak mostly Spanish with each other outside of class, but are totally understanding and are willing to help me by translating phrases I don’t understand. Even though we live in the time of technology during the 21st century, it is still really hard to communicate with friends and family at home. Despite the fact that the two-hour time difference is not a lot of time, two hours puts me on a completely different schedule than those at home.  Being away from what I have known for my whole life has made me more independent and a lot more confident in myself already.

Overall, my first couple weeks here have been so much fun and quite an adventure. I have made so many great friends and have had the best time with my host family. From playing darts with my host dad for two hours straight to biking, from empanadas to shopping with friends, I am so happy to be in Bogotá, in such a beautiful and crazy city. This is only two weeks in. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me for the rest of my exchange!


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.