Ciara Chow says Farewell to Australia

Ciara 12Over the course of my exchange at Scotch Oakburn, I’ve learned to be adaptable and resourceful, to appreciate different ways of life, as well as my own back home. Some aspects of Scotch, a Round Square school, felt Athenian-like, such as the value they put on multiculturalism and acceptance. Speakers came in to discuss how Australians should view the refugee crisis as an opportunity to help instead of as a cause for fear. The drama program emphasized the importance of LGBTQ+ acceptance through a play about a homophobic hate crime. In their classes, they discussed the importance of humanitarianism.  In chapel, they extolled value of being both spiritual and a believer of science.  Through annual camps, they instilled an appreciation for the natural world. I even noticed some education for democracy when students were invited to meet in groups with the Head of School and give honest feedback.

It was also apparent, however, that many teachers were more concerned with their students’ presentation than their performance. Students were chastised for wearing makeup, having shirts untucked, or wearing the wrong uniform jacket, but were allowed to slack in their academics. Many students skipped homework or behaved disrespectfully in class without consequence. Although it often made for an interesting and fun classroom Ciara 14atmosphere for me as an exchange, I can’t imagine trying to learn in such an environment. It has led me to appreciate Athenian students’ natural respect for teachers and classmates, as well as Athenian’s focus on academic rigor rather than superficial appearance. I have also learned how rare and valuable Athenian’s clique-less social culture is. This newfound appreciation and reinvigorated love for our “hippie liberal school” even has me a bit excited to return to Athenian for my junior year.

After six weeks in Tasmania, Amy’s family and I traveled to Sydney for my last weekend on exchange. Tasmania is absolutely stunning, with vibrant greenery and endless farmland; Ciara 16however, Sydney has the city wonders I am more familiar with. I repeatedly expressed my surprise at how clean, safe and beautiful the city felt. We shopped, climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge at sunset, marveled at the Sydney Opera House, and swam at Bondi Beach. I loved watching the expanse of the city lit up at night. I appreciated the familiar sounds of cars on freeways, as opposed to Tasmania’s two-lane highways. Although we didn’t have much time in Sydney, I soaked in every moment before getting on the plane this morning.

Ciara 13As I sit in my aisle seat, ten hours away from LAX and then another hour from the comforting aerial view of SFO, I believe exchange has been a growing experience for me. I’ve had to learn how to live in a new household and adapt to a different dynamic. It has reminded me how hard it can be to be new. I’ll be sure to express the same compassion and open arms to the next round of exchanges at Athenian as the people I met at Scotch. My bond with Amy grows closer every day. It feels almost as if she is my slightly younger sister, making it exciting for me to get to show her how I live too. Exchange has humbled me and inspired me to be a more empathetic and friendlier person.

On a final note, I would like to thank Amy, her family and everyone in Australia who has been so kind and helpful to me (and Chloe) as we tried to make sense of a new place and new culture. A special thank you to Caitlin for her open heart and constant willingness to listen to all our rap music. And, of course, a big thank you to my family and friends back home for giving me a great place to come home to, one that I can appreciate more fully now. I can’t wait for Amy to experience all the diversity, entertainment, and differences from Tassie that California has to offer.

Ciara 11Sydney is rated the second friendliest city on Earth, and I truly believe it. Aussies are some of the most selfless and helpful people I’ve ever encountered. That became crystal clear on my very last day in Sydney. I took the bus alone into an unfamiliar neighborhood to get to a limited time, limited supply, limited location Pablo pop-up store (yes, that’s the Kanye store) in Bondi Beach. After waiting in line for hours, it became clear I wasn’t going to be able to get in before needing to return to Amy’s family in time to get dinner, go to the hotel, and eventually get to the airport. Defeated, I gave up my spot in line and decided to just peek in, when I saw a guy walk out with bags and bags of clothes. Jokingly, I asked if he would sell me one. He responded by calling his friend, who was still inside the store, and arranged for him to buy me one of the last shirts available in my size. He trusted me to run to an ATM to pay them back in cash. They didn’t want to resell it to make a profit and they had no ulterior motives. They just wanted to spread the Pablo love and help out a slightly disoriented, underprepared tourist. Already feeling appreciative and excited, I got several messages and Snapchats throughout the day from my friends at Scotch, wishing me safe travels and goodbyes, as well as mutual appreciations of Frank Ocean’s new album, which I had told them to anxiously await. I am so glad I was able to have this experience, to bond with people from all over the world, and to see it from a new perspective.

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