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 to Perth. Once landing, we were greeted by her parents right at the gate which really surprised me as I expected that we would have to navigate through the Perth Airport. Getting to the car I realized that I really wasn’t in the US anymore as I sat down behind the “passenger seat” of the car and there was a driving wheel. After arriving, my exchange’s family took me straight to an island called Rottnest Island, to recover from the 21 hour flight and the jetlag. It was absolutely gorgeous, with crystal clear waters and surrounded by 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 4 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 2 blocks and everything closes very early.
Leading up to going to the school, I was very nervous about meeting people and boarding. Once 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.
Jennifer Leigh’s Final Blog Post
The time I spent at Bunbury Cathedral (BCGS) in Western Australia went by incredibly fast. One minute I was unpacking in the dorm room that would be my home for the next five weeks, and the next I was saying bye to all the great people I had met and being picked up from the school, bags in hand. I had an amazing experience that I don’t think I will ever forget.
Although most people think that going to Australia would be easy because the cultures are so similar, I found a very different culture in almost all aspects of life. Even the language, English, is different. I sometimes had to ask people to repeat themselves because the slang is so different.
Although it’s a Round Square school, BCGS is very different from Athenian. Many of the students did not do homework and the teachers never checked for completion. This lack of work, of course, is welcomed by the students and creates a more laid-back environment that seems to run through the whole country. Many students would pull out their computers in class and watch the NBA finals while the teacher was giving a lesson, which was great for me because I was able to stay updated on the scores of all the games and root for the Warriors from Australia. The experience has deepened my appreciation for Athenian’s teaching methods, the learning environment, and the fact that the teachers at Athenian care about their students. At Athenian, there is an unspoken respect for the teachers that I never really saw in Australia.
Probably the hardest part of the exchange was my exchange family and their living situation. My exchange was not very social, and I had to introduce myself to the other kids in the class and actively find a group of people who would include me in conversations. Luckily, everyone was very nice and after about a week, it seemed like I had worked my way into a very close group. My closest friend turned out to be the other exchange student, a 10th grader from Canada. We often remarked that Bunbury is a very small town, which made it hard to break into the long-established tight-knit groups. I was also able to become friends with the girls in my dorm unit. I loved boarding at the school because it helped me meet people and make great relationships with the girls in my dorm.
I boarded during the week and on the weekends my exchange and I would take a two-hour bus ride to her farm 15 minutes outside of Pemberton. The family was very nice. We went on several sightseeing trips around Western Australia, including an Australian Rules Football game in Perth, four wheeling on sand dunes, and a tree walk in Denmark on the South Western tip of Australia. The weekends on the farm were difficult, however, as there is nothing in Pemberton, so I just read, listened to music, and watched TV. One weekend it was raining, which caused the roof in my bedroom to leak at five different places, increasing my gratitude for my home and life in the Bay Area. My favorite weekend was when I stayed in boarding instead of going home with my exchange. I got to hang out with my friends, go shopping in town, and go boating with the other exchange’s family.
Now that I have been back home for a couple of weeks, I can really reflect on how my time in Australia has given me a deeper cultural understanding of Australia, an understanding of the different kind of life that my exchange family lives, and a chance to see a remote part of the world I probably would not otherwise visit. Through it, I have a greater appreciation for the style and rigor of the educational experience at Athenian, and a renewed love of the Bay Area and all it has to offer.