When I first got off the plane in Sydney, Australia, the only thing I could think about was making sure that my exchange and I made it through customs quickly, so we could make the connecting flight to Perth. We made it to the connecting flight no problem and were off. On landing, we were greeted by her parents right at the gate, which really surprised me as I expected that we would have to navigate on our own through the Perth Airport. Getting to the car, I realized that I really wasn’t in the US anymore. I sat down behind the front “passenger seat” of the car and there was a steering wheel.
After arriving, my exchange’s family took me straight to Rottnest Island to recover from the 21-hour flight and the jet lag. It was absolutely gorgeous, with crystal clear waters and dolphins and other sea wild life. On the island, there is an animal called a quakka, a marsupial smaller than a kangaroo that is only found on Rottnest and that loves to get up close and personal with visitors to the island.
After a couple days on Rottnest, we drove four hours south to my exchange’s house in a small town called Pemberton. One of the things that struck me was how dark it was driving to her house and pulling up to her house. There are no surrounding buildings, just tall gum trees. There were no street lights and the road is made of gravel. My exchange lives on a 50-acre plot of land. The town itself takes up about two blocks and everything closes very early.
Leading up to going to the school, I was very nervous about meeting people and boarding. On arriving at boarding the day before classes, I realized that there was nothing to worry about. All the girls in my unit are very nice and made me feel very welcome.
Bunbury Cathedral is nothing like Athenian. Every building is made of brick and it was hard to tell the different buildings apart. At least for my year, there doesn’t seem to be as much homework. All the boarders go back to their rooms and watch Netflix until dinner and start their homework an hour after dinner is finished. For lunch as a boarder, we are forced to eat in the dining hall, while all of the day students can eat wherever they want except in the dining room. The only days that boarders don’t have to eat in the dining hall are Thursdays and Fridays. I found this very different because Athenian encourages relationships between boarders and day students. I have also found this difficult because I have become friends with other students who aren’t boarders and I can’t eat with them. However, this encourages me to meet new people who I don’t necessarily hang out with.
Exchange is an amazing experience, but it doesn’t come without difficulties. It can feel overwhelming at times trying to wiggle my way into a friend group that has been together for years. However, this experience so far has taught me to just be a little awkward and introduce myself to people, and after the first week at school I’ve made some great new friends.