Ishaani Gokli arrives in Australia

It’s crazy how quickly one teenager can assimilate into a whole different part of the world. After three weeks attending Ballarat Grammar School I can easily say I feel like another student there. These past three weeks have been a blast!

Ishaani 1After 15 hours of traveling I was reunited with my Aussie soul sister Amelia Dunne (Millie). She was waiting in arrivals with a hilarious welcome poster. Luckily for me, Millie came on exchange to Athenian in the fourth quarter, so we had both already bonded over our many escapades by the Bay. We then headed to Ballarat. While driving I found out that there were A LOT more farms in Australia then I had previously thought. And this is coming from a teenager who lives in the definition of suburbia. It was amazing to see paddock after paddock right outside a main city like Melbourne.

Because I am only in Australia for six weeks, the Dunnes really wanted to fit in as much as they could on every weekend. Each weekend would be another excursion and adventure.

First Weekend

My first day can be described as a day of travel since I flew in that Friday and had to quickly prep myself for a six-hour drive to Millie’s’ aunt Mandy’s farm in New South Wales. As a driver of only six months it was very odd to see the steering wheel on the right side of the car and the lane directions switched. I’m hoping I don’t forget how to drive by the end of my exchange.

The following day on the farm was spent driving a gator with Millie and blasting some of our favorite music on my portable speaker. It was so much fun exploring the different nooks and crannies of Mandy’s farm even though a HUGE SPIDER FELL ON MY HEAD (I’m terrified of spiders) and bit me! Luckily the spider was not poisonous, but it gave me quite the fright.

After a stunning hike at Galore Point, we all went to watch a local footy (Australian Football) game at a local club stadium called Osborne. It was interesting to try to spot the similarities and differences between American football–my favorite sport– and footy. While I love American Football, I have to say that footy seems to be the more difficult sport. It was quite an experience as I watched the thrilling game and indulged in some steaming hot meat-pies in the 30-degree weather at the field.

I never really appreciated the minimal dress code at Athenian until that very moment at the uniform shop. After fumbling to learn how to wear a kilt and roll my skirt so that it wasn’t down to my calves, I felt thankful for the freedom and individuality Athenians have to express ourselves using our clothes.

After picking my sizes of clothes, Millie introduced me to all of her friends. Everyone I met was so friendly and hilarious. They all loved my “American Accent” and it was clear I’d get along well with all of them.

Once I started school I had to get used to wearing a uniform and having my hair tied up, but I overcame that quickly. A big challenge of exchange is getting used to the different norms set up in my new school environment.  For me, at Athenian, everyone is very inclusive and there aren’t really clear gender divides. But at Grammar that seemed to be a blatant thing in each of the classes. Luckily, once I was given my own timetable I found it a lot easier to break some of the divides and bond with people over shared interests.  The first three days were difficult as I was unsettled by the increased amount of rules and such. But sharing my love of music with others, I was able to fit in as a student and make friends with my entire year level.

Second Weekend

I had an opportunity to participate in a community service activity where I slept outside (on BGS school grounds) to get a perspective on what it’s like to “sleep rough.” I thought it was an enlightening experience as it was difficult to get sleep because of the cold. I only had to do that for one night, while some people sleep rough every night.  It was great to see the other students support each other throughout the night and I made lots of friends as we tried to stay warm together.

Ishaani 2After this I spent my weekend exploring the Great Ocean Road and surf towns. Some highlights of this weekend were seeing the lush forests and falls known as Erskine Falls, the hipster cafes and surf boutiques in Lorne, and the beautiful and famous beach known as Bells Beach. Bells Beach is home to some of the most important surf competitions (Bells Beach Classic and Rip Curl Pro). While visiting Bells Beach I was able to see some incredibly dedicated and talented surfers take on difficult waves in freezing temperatures.

This excursion was gorgeous and I fell in love with the surf culture of each area. While we stayed in the Dunnes’ caravan for the weekend in Anglesea, I got the opportunity to see some wild kangaroos and even go to take some pictures with them as they came up to our area.

Third Weekend

Ishaani 5This week I was able to explore the gorgeous and lively city of Melbourne. After a delicious breakfast in the famous DeGraves Lane, I went to explore different hidden shops and alleys of art. After a morning of roaming, I went up on the Eureka Skydeck where I was able to see Melbourne’s entire skyline and appreciate the beauty of it all.  After we exited the Skydeck, we decided to head back to DeGraves for a late lunch and feast on some delicious prosciutto plates and chai tea. Millie and I went into some underground art exhibits and shopping areas and came in front of the Flinders Street Station to see a protest going on.

Since I am from the United States, specifically the Bay Area, protests are not something new to my eyes, but it was the difference in atmosphere that inhibited me to sit down and listen to the many speakers there advocating for their cause. Many protests in the U.S Ishaani 3seem to get tense–quickly–and are soon broken up. But this protest sparked my interest as I was intrigued by how the police began to clap for some of the statements and I saw so much support given from every individual in the area.  The protest was about the need to close the Don Dale Detention Center in the Northern Territory. There have been many reports about children being beaten and abused there. Throughout Australia, many protests were held as anger was sparked by a video released in which a child was beaten by four guards at Don Dale.

In the protest, there was a cage in the middle of the audience and in that cage held four aboriginal teen girls who had chained themselves there until justice was served. The sounds of the teen girls yelling justice and the sight of the poignant posters made which read “Kids Need Nurture Not Torture” made for a striking scene.  Sadly, I was only able sit and applaud the “Justice for Don Dale Victims” for forty minutes but it was an incredible experience that really opened my eyes to how similar yet different the U.S and Australia are.

Ishaani 4I ended my third weekend with a birthday party and found I made so many friends over my love for music. One thing that has always been very important to me is music and it’s safe to say BGS kids have some GOOD tastes in music. It felt great being able to connect with students over our love for artists that aren’t as big in the U.S (ODESZA, Hippie Sabotage, DOPE LEMON). Rapping and dancing with my BGS friends to “THat Part” and “Saint Pablo” really made me love my new schoolmates and it’s crazy to think that I am already halfway through my exchange.  Here’s to another amazing three weeks with my Aussie sisters and brothers!