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Currents: studying down under

Travel Log: Studying in Australia

Aubrey Thomas '09, a Communication Studies major and Wesson Honors student, spent the Spring 2008 semester with the Institute for Study Abroad, Butler University at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia.

Before I came to Australia, I had only a vague idea of what to expect on the other side of the world. The American view of the land Down Under is that of one full of kangaroos, wide-brimmed hats, boomerangs and men who tackle crocodiles on a daily basis. What I soon learned is that while this is a distorted view made popular by the media, even now Australians themselves find it hard to define who they are.

The recent months have presented a new challenge for Australians, as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an apologetic speech in February to the Aborigines for past government policies that "inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss." A side issue is that some Australians wonder if they should even call themselves Australians when the Aborigines have resided here for an estimated 60,000 years, and everyone else has arrived only since the end of the 18th century.

Australia has changed a lot from its first convict settlements on the East Coast. Today, it has a population of 20 million and is highly urbanized, with most of its people living in big cities along the coast. That means that most Australians wouldn't have a chance of surviving in the bush. Most of my friends here are from smaller towns in Western Australia, but they seem to like Perth (Australia's fourth largest city with a population of 1.5 million) better than anywhere else in the state. They don't wear wide-brimmed hats, and they certainly don't identify themselves as “bush people.”

For all the commonalities and American influence on Australian culture, especially media,I have found certain characteristics that do, in fact, separate me from my Australian comrades. For one thing, there is an insatiable love for Vegemite, a dark brown paste made from yeast extract that can be an acquired taste. Yet, when I put together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, most turn up their noses in disgust. The young men in my flat all sit around and watch cricket every Sunday, which can easily drag on for 10 hours or more. They also enjoy rugby and Aussie Rules Football. Most of my Australian friends are extremely laid back, and they never seem to brag about anything. They might say they did “all right” on an assignment, and have a nearly perfect score. These are just a few of the many things I have come to love about my Australian friends.

What I have concluded is that although Australians may be having a hard time at the moment defining who they are--a nation separate from the world--I can see that their seemingly wonderful lifestyle will continue on throughout the country. Even with the similarities to the U.S., Aussies are certainly not the same as Americans - for one thing, they seem to have a better understanding of the world and how to make the best of life. I hope to leave this country with a more open perspective on different values and world views. I think that we Americans could learn a lot from this misinterpreted country.

This article is reprinted from the Wesson Honors Newsletter.