Ishaani Gokli

Ishaani 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!


Ishaani’s Final Weeks in Australia

These past few weeks have been jam-packed with excursions throughout Victoria and Alpine Camp, a weeklong AWE experience with snow.

I spent the weekend before Alpine Camp in Ballarat and Bacchus Marsh. I enjoyed walking down Ballarat’s main strip, Sturt Street. Ballarat has a lot of beautiful architecture. The stunning Victorian architecture is due to Ballarat being one of the most important cities of the Australian gold rush.

Ishaani 11Another highlight of that weekend was getting an opportunity to attend an AFL (Australian rules football) game! My host father, Dom, is a die-hard Richmond Tigers fan, so he was keen on me barracking for the Tigs.  He even let me borrow a signed jersey of his. All of my friends know that football to me is like air to anyone else. I just can’t get enough of it. By the end of my exchange I have become quite keen on watching the AFL, however American Football will always be my favorite sport.

Like my NFL team, the New Orleans Saints, the Tigers aren’t that good, but the fans are die-hard. The matchup was between the Richmond Tigers and Collingwood. Both teams were bad. The game went back and forth, which resulted in a lively crowd–and even some brawls on the field.  As the end of the game approached, the Dunnes and I were happy to cheer on our Tigs as they gained a lead over Collingwood and won the game!

Ishaani 12The day after the game I spent the night at my friend Grace’s birthday party. It was interesting to see how dressed up people get for parties compared to America. Dressing here, in general, is a lot stricter–even outside of school.  These norms made walking outside in sweatpants supposed “social suicide,” as you risk being looked at like a “bogan” (trashy, slob). This was very interesting to me, as back home I live in my leggings and sweats.  The experience allowed me to appreciate the lack of set dress norms in my life.

Grace’s party was great as it was so cool to see the many similarities and differences between parties in the U.S and Australia. You know you’re at an Australian party when there are meat pies and sausage rolls. Sadly, the music was very “Radio Top 10” and seemed to lack what people from the Bay Area would call “hype.” But it was great to spend time with people outside of school and a fun night.

Ishaani 14After a relaxing weekend in Ballarat and Grace’s party, my host Millie and I were off to Falls Creek for Alpine Camp. Alpine Camp was the most challenging experience of my life. Maybe after AWE I’ll feel differently, but for now Alpine is at the top of my list. The camp was five days of cross-country skiing with a 70-pound pack on your back. The freezing climate was tough to say the least. What made the experience even more difficult was the fact that I am, at best, adequate at skiing.

The whole trip was a challenge, but I couldn’t be happier that I did it. Going into junior year, the Athenian Wilderness Experience [AWE] is a prevalent theme that is constantly in the minds of my peers and I. With this trip completed, I couldn’t feel more prepared to take on the Sierras or Death Valley–especially since neither contains snow. J

Ishaani 13The trek had its positive moments such as: sleeping in a quinzhee (a Canadian Soft Snow Igloo) and having the warmest night of the trip; building a snow fortress as a kitchen (which included a fire pit!!!); and skiing without falling (which only happened once).

With the intense climate–8 degrees F was the highest temperature and there was lots of snow and rain–I was able to become a much stronger individual. I learned to live without feeling my hands and feet and without sleeping for three days. I also came to the realization that if I was in Game of Thrones I’d be unable to live like John Snow at The Wall (or even survive winter).

To any future exchange going to Ballarat Grammar, I’d recommend the camp. It was a fantastic experience that helped me learn a lot and grow as an individual. The camp allowed me to gain a close-knit family (my camp group) and the difficult situations made me both mentally and physically stronger. Even though the camp is demanding, Falls Creek is a stunning area and so while we struggled, we had a view!

Ishaani 15After my week in the snow, the Dunnes and I spent a relaxing long weekend at the beach in Angelsea and ventured to Melbourne on Monday. We spent the day exploring the National Art Gallery of Victoria and surveying Churro and Chai Tea bars in a hipster suburb called Fitzroy.  I fell in love with Fitzroy and the abundance of hole-in-the-wall cafes, urban record shops, and parking garages filled with graffiti. After a delightful afternoon of hopping from one free art gallery to the next and visiting MANY churro bars, I was incredibly sad to leave. I now consider Melbourne a second home.

It’s surreal that I am at the end of my exchange. I am so blessed to have been able to make such amazing friends and have such a fantastic experience. I know the connections I have made here at BGS are genuine and ones that can last a lifetime.

Exchange has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I am so thankful to have been exposed to a different lifestyle and have a newfound appreciation for my Athenian Ishaani 16education and Bay Area lifestyle.

The goodbyes coming up will not be easy. It’s going to be weird not waking up in the same house as my host and best friend, Millie.; however, I know I’ll make my way back to Ballarat and Melbourne soon.

I’m so thankful for the chai, music, and memories that Australia has given me. I can’t wait to one day make more in this beautiful place. Till next time Aus, x.


Some Random Notes from Exchange

  • I want pho
  • I’ve already had pho
  • I miss my car
  • What if I forget how to drive
  • Why am I always hungry here? (They have lunch at 1:15!!!)
  • They play country at parties RIP
  • Okay they like rap too, It is A OKAY!
  • Wow I hate having my hair up
  • Yay for me being stubborn
  • Love Freedom of Expression
  • I have been here for about a week and it’s been quite different than I would have thought. When I envisioned exchange I imagined I’d be going to like an Aussie Athenian, but I guess this is a much realistic change.
  • I love Athenian.
  • I’ve been asked about Donald Trump and shootings more than anything. Nice to know what people think of when they think of America.
  • I think Millie is busy right now, but I lost my timetable so RIP
  • Why can’t I bring my backpack everywhere
  • Why don’t people like KANYE
  • Are my hands supposed to be blue???????
  • Wow I wouldn’t survive Game of Thrones
  • I love my friends
  • Wow I love dogs
  • I am in a very appreciative mood after camp
  • Tea is cool
  • More greatful than I can express
  • Can I bring meat pies home??
  • I’ll miss everyone so much
  • My family is amazing
  • Where is Bruiser
  • I say “Keen and Reckon” and “cool as” now. This a bit bonza since I have only been here six weeks.
  • Melb knows how to make dumplings
  • These goodbyes are so bittersweet
  • Can we make afternoon tea a thing???
  • I love everyone and everything. Wow.