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.
Harrison Shaw Reflects on Australia
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!