Zarmeena Arrives in Australia
After over 20 hours of traveling, I arrived in Adelaide, Australia at 11:30 in the morning. When I reached the arrivals area, I finally got to meet my exchange, Rebekah, and her family. I was so excited to finally meet my exchange after months of emails and Skype calls. I already knew that it was going to be cold in Australia but I was welcomed with strong winds and 50 degree Fahrenheit weather, which was extremely different from the 98 degree Fahrenheit heat I had left.
Rebekah lives in the small farming town of Minnipa. It took over seven hours to drive there from the airport. I was constantly panicking internally because they were driving at speeds of 120. I had forgotten that they don’t use mph and that 120 km/h on a highway is a normal speed. Whenever we left the house to go somewhere and I was sitting in the front, I always went to the driver’s side because I didn’t remember that their seating is the opposite of ours.
Minnipa has a population of about 100 people, which was a big difference from the cities in the Bay Area. After I had settled in at their house, I was treated to netball and footy games that went on all day. While we were there, I met all of her friends from home. I spent the rest of the week sightseeing what small towns in South Australia looked like. We went to Streaky Bay, which is a town on the coast with beautiful views of the ocean. We then visited Gawler Ranges, which has amazing rock formations. I was given of a tour of their farm, which is huge, and we even got to chase their sheep around. Rebekah and I also went camping with three other friends and I got to witness a beautiful sunrise. It provided me with two completely different environments that were within an hour of each other. Back home you can only see kangaroos or emus are in zoos, but I was given the opportunity see them in the wild, which I was really happy about!
One major difference I noticed between California and Australia are the amount of farms that are in Australia. When we were driving back to her house all I could see was farms that would stretch out for miles. It was surprising because when I was landing the first thing I saw was the coastline and the houses and towns on the beach. I didn’t expect there to be so many farms.
As soon as Rebekah’s parents dropped us off at the boarding house at Westminster School, I was introduced to almost all of the girl boarders. Throughout that day it was just a blur of faces and names. When school started the most obvious difference was the uniform. I wasn’t that worried about the uniform before starting school, but when it was time to actually put it on Rebekah had to help me with the tie after seeing me struggle for ten minutes and my skirt was kilt style. I was a little uncomfortable at first because I had never worn a uniform in my life, but my apprehension quickly went away when I saw everyone else in the same uniform. Another notable difference is the size of Westminster compared to Athenian. Finding classes at Athenian is relatively easy even if you are a new student because of the close proximity of most classrooms. Westminster, on the other hand, is huge. There are different blocks all with upper and lower levels and tons of staircases, making it difficult to orient yourself.
Luckily, I had the same girls in most of my classes, so throughout the week I could actually figure out how to get to class while simultaneously getting to know other people. I still get nervous when talking to new people, but fortunately I became friends with some boarders who show me around and introduce me to new people. Every day at lunch students explain Australian culture and what “bogans” are to me. I am told that my accent is “very American” and asked if I see famous people all the time. I also get asked about American politics and whether I will move to Canada if Donald Trump wins. Every time someone asks it reminds me that the whole world is watching American politics because you never hear about other countries’ politics as much as America’s.
Life here is somewhat similar back in California. Everyone uses social media to communicate with their friends and a lot of people share my interests and have the same type of personality as me. But there are also things here that I haven’t seen back home. For example, teenagers here have to go through a complicated process to get a driver’s license. It takes at least 4 years in order to get a full license at the age of 21, whereas I could get my license at 16 after getting my permit at the age of 15½. Even though Westminster is a lot different than Athenian, I’m really enjoying my time here and I look forward to what experiences I will have in the future.
Zarmeena says Good-bye to Australia
These past six weeks have taught me so much about different lifestyles and in ways I couldn’t have imagined before going on exchange. As I started settling into school, I noticed major differences in the way Athenian and Westminster operate. One of the biggest ones was behavior in class. In most classes here, people aren’t listening to the teacher or are talking over them. I realized that Athenian has an environment where there is mutual respect in the classroom. It has also taught me to appreciate how much Athenian values education and helps students to reach their full potential. Through these experiences, I have come to appreciate that even though Athenian is regarded as a “hippie school,” it provides an amazing environment in all ways for its students.
At Westminster, they have a “tutor” session, which is just like advisory, but it happens for fifteen minutes every day. I was surprised by this because at Athenian we only have advisory once a week, while students here have an opportunity to meet up every day. During this time, I also got to sit in on the all-school assemblies that they have every Wednesday. Learning how to get to my locker between classes was also something I had to adjust to. At Athenian, everyone just has their backpack with them and takes it to every class.
A refreshing change for me was how most people here come together at one common place during lunchtime. At Athenian, everyone spreads out across campus. At Westminster, most people have their lunch on the “oval.” You can always find groups playing footy or just talking and enjoying each other’s company.
Westminster also has their version of AWE called Westventure. Groups go for two weeks on an outdoor excursion in which they hike, kayak and run. Even though it’s for a shorter duration than AWE and it’s focused more on outdoor activities, it reinforces an appreciation for the planet and maintaining a relationship with nature just like AWE does.
Rebekah’s birthday was during the time I was here, so her parents took us to Melbourne for the weekend. Melbourne was named the world’s most livable city and I quickly learned why. As soon as we started exploring, I instantly fell in love with the city and how nice it was. The people were friendly and there was good energy in the air. There were so many things to see. They had tons of alleyways, which boasted eye-catching street art and were filled with restaurants and shops. You could always find performers on the street, whether it be singing or painting. Melbourne also has an enormous open-air market called The Queen Victoria Market that dates back to 1878. While we were there, I got the opportunity to see two Australian-rules football games. After 4 weeks, I finally understood how the game works. It was so fun to be a part of the crowd cheering the team on and to see what football culture is. Melbourne offers multiple birds’ eye views of the city. You can go on the Melbourne Star, which is a huge, brightly lit up Ferris wheel, or go to the absolute top of a building which has a glass elevator that pushes you out to 1000 feet above the street. These provide you with a breathtaking view of the city and are especially stunning at night. I also was treated to holding a koala and even got to pet a kangaroo!
While I am excited to return to California and meet my friends again, a huge part of me is already missing all the close friends I’ve made here and the school. I stayed in Westminster’s Girls Boarding, which was a whole different experience in itself. I have had such a good time. I found a new family instantly and always have someone to talk to. My time here has flown by and I feel like I could stay at Westminster for a lot longer.
Going on exchange was once of the best decisions I’ve made and I’m so grateful that I was given this opportunity. For anyone thinking about going on exchange, I highly encourage you to go. Before I went on exchange, I had prior expectations and they turned out to be completely wrong as soon as I started attending school here. I would just like to thank the Forrest family for hosting me and to Westminster Girls’ Boarding for being so welcoming and for providing me with a second home. I loved my time here and wouldn’t trade it for the world.