by Susan Jacobs
We hear of many students signing up for these exciting opportunities, and often their families find ways to meet up with their students, undergraduate or graduate, to take advantage of these distinctly non-touristy opportunities. We have Facebook and Skype to keep us connected around the world, but sharing in person is an incredible experience.
Am I suggesting that mom and dad hide out in the suitcase that’s bound for Buenos Aires or Perth? Not quite, but my husband and I were lucky enough to join our son at the tail end of his Study Abroad experience, with terrific results. Last year, Ben (a DePaul undergraduate), was accepted for a 5 month SAP in Australia. He spent a semester studying at Monash University, Melbourne; since his major is sociology and social justice, many courses offered there fit into his academic plan. The program also counted towards his experiential credit.
Unlike Dr. Mulderig’s upcoming trip to Berlin (described earlier), the Australian semester was not a guided tour. Students signed up for a full 5 course schedule, lived in dorms, and were absorbed into full Aussie university life. Their studies took them into the outback, through major cities, and along a good deal of coast land. When the program ended in November, Ben stayed on and backpacked for 6 weeks. That’s when we joined the experience. For my husband and me, the challenges of getting to a place so far away, which looks like a western culture but is so different, were thrilling and tremendously rewarding. We met up with Ben in Sydney, where we stayed for 5 days, then rented a car and drove 1700 miles along the coast from Sydney past Melbourne, then up the Great Ocean Road to the 12 Apostles (shooting location of the 2009 film “Where the Wild Things Are”).
We spent the last 5 days in Melbourne, visiting Monash University and doing our best to soak in the mighty spirit of Melbourne. We can confirm that Australian drinking culture is much more robust than our Midwest sensibilities would think possible. Our Thanksgiving dinner, probably the best ever, was fish and chips at Bondi Beach in Sydney. In Murramurang National Park, we watched wallabies cool off at Pebbly Beach. We hiked up a road beyond a trailer park near Apollo Beach on the Great Ocean Road and found Koalas swaying in the trees. On our last night, we sat on the rocks of St. Kilda’s watching a ship set off for Tasmania and little rock penguins swim ashore during sunset. This just doesn’t happen at Fullerton Beach!
Overall, the key observation we made about our son’s study abroad experience: it was transformative. He grew; he changed; his world outlook expanded with awareness that living in the burbs or in Chicago could never have afforded. As he showed us the places he’d visited and studied, he shared his new world view, and he knew so much! My husband and I often felt well outside our comfort zone— and our son was so comfortable in this new world. It was good for all of us to stretch and share, whether we were looking at an elaborate graffiti mural in a tiny Melbourne alley or learning about Aboriginal artist Sally Harrison, a Kamilaroi woman who was part of the “Stolen Generation.” It was amazing to experience “otherness” of other cultures.
A parent once told me that her prime goal in raising her daughter was to enable her to feel comfortable anywhere in the world that she might travel. Study Abroad can do that, at any level, any age. We’d love our MALS/IDS students who have Study Abroad experiences to share them right in this blog. Victor, tell us about China! Vesna, we want to know how your trip to Berlin turns out. Christina, share your stories about Ireland and how you developed your website. Amy, how did your studies in France lead you to your IDS List of Courses? Post your photos and your stories and share the worlds you discovered.