Let’s talk about the differences

Excerpt from Emily Shenk’s personal blog “smaller details“. Emily is a Fall 2017 student from Eastern University. Reproduced with permission.

The program here is very heavy on culture. There is not a single day I have had when we did not discuss how culture affects my experience of Australia, how Australians experience me and how cultures interact with one another. As a part of this conversation on culture, we were assessed through the Intercultural Development Index which is a diagnostic tool used in 17 different countries to evaluate cultural competency. As a part of the results of the assessment, there are five categories of scores, all which describe your ability or inability to recognize difference and similarities between cultures and if you have the skills to adapt or not. Basically, its one big Buzzfeed quiz, just more important and actually valuable. The coolest part is after your scores have been evaluated the IDI provides you with a profile of your score, what it means in real life and a plan on how to improve your cultural skills! How cool is it that God created us as beings that each feel a part of one or two cultures but also have the capacity to improve our abilities to relate to one another? This gives me such hope in the world.

According to the IDI there are five stages of orientation. First, denial is when a person can recognize very basic differences between cultures(such as food) but not deeper differences (such as conflict resolution styles). People in denial may avoid or withdraw from cultural differences. Second, polarization is a stage where a person exhibits a judgmental orientation that views cultural differences in terms of “us” and “them”. Third, minimization is an orientation that highlights cultural commonalities, values and principles that can have a tendency to struggle with noticing differences. Forth, acceptance is an orientation that recognizes and appreciates patterns of cultural difference and can see both sides. And fifth, adaptation is when a person is capable of shifting their cultural perspective and behavior authentically based on the situation.
It is not important to me what my score is. Instead what I have gained from the IDI is a mental framework through which I can interpret all people, opinions, fears, conversations and contexts and how I can build my cultural skills in each setting. A wise band instructor once repeated a statement so much it became a mantra for me: knowledge is power. Knowing what I know now about my self perceived and actual cultural competency skills, I am able to use the information as mental power to grow and learn. What better a time or place to do this work than in Australia? Every day of my semester so far I have been challenged to consider the similarities and differences between my own country and this one.

I have found for me it is natural to see commonalities between myself and other people. It is actually in the differences I struggle to resonate. Where I see a person unlike myself, I find I jump to connections of how we could bond and be same as opposed to recognizing and celebrating the differences between us. If you and I were different, wouldn’t you want to share with me how awesome your culture is and how you would rather do something? I wish I were naturally able to see those opportunities. The IDI plan I received after taking the assessment suggests it takes 50 hours of mental effort to improve your cultural competency skills. That is a lot of hours! Considering I am in class 15 hours a week, serve at a Salvation Army mission 5-8 hours a week, and sleep roughly 49 hours weekly, its as if there is no time for growing! I have taken this blog post as a chance to engage some of those 50 hours thinking about the difference between my life at home and my life here. If you wish, consider the list below (whether it be silly or serious) and learn a bit about Australia!

Scuba diving

Differences between USA and Australia:

  • Toilets have two buttons to flush! no handles. (no Dad, the water does not go down counter-clockwise)
  • The driver and the steering wheel are on the right side of the car. the driver is always next to the middle line, throwing me for a loop when I think we are turning into oncoming traffic.
  • Cut (hurt), OY! (hey), cuppa (tea), car park (parking lot), hashie (hash brown), rubbish (trash), Uni (college), bogan (redneck), sunnies (sunglasses), theater (surgery!!), devo (devastated), maths (mathematics), bub (baby), jumper (jacket)
  • They are weird with their prepositions…ending sentences with a prep is fine and they use strange phrases. “coffee ON lactose free milk”, “heading TO hospital”
  • I have felt 4 raindrops since landing in Australia. Not because I don’t go outside, but because it hardly ever rains
  • Australian, British and South African accents are all different.
    gasoline is listed in cents/liter. So instead of it reading “4.65″, it is “122.7″
  • For new babies, 6 months paid maternity leave, 3 months paid paternity leave and a year long job suspension.

Safeguarding a Generation

Written by Tarian Attallah about her service placement at Red Frogs Chaplaincy and Support Network. Tarian was a Spring 2017 student from Cairn University.

Red Frogs Australia tags itself with the motto, “safeguarding a generation”. I personally had the opportunity to witness and take part in this ministry whilst studying abroad in Australia. Red Frogs is unlike any ministry I had ever seen in my (21) years growing up in America. The ministry truly meets university students “where they are at” by showing up at college parties, dorm rooms, etc. There were various college parties where the Froggers (what the Red Frog crew are called) cared for the physical needs of college students. I recall one such party, a Jazz Night held at an airport hangar in Brisbane. My role was to make fairy bread (buttered bread with sprinkles), hand-out throw-up bags, water, and of course the Red Frogs shaped gummies. But here’s the thing, none of this was glamorous work. By the end of the night, I could smell the stench of beer in my hair and was pretty sure I had stepped in vomit several times. The other part of the ministry occurred back on college campuses where Froggers would walk students back to dorm rooms or pull individuals out of dangerous situations often the students were quite intoxicated. I witnessed many lives saved by this physical form of care.

“Red Frogs is a support program for young people from the ages of 15 – 25. Red Frogs recognize that the culture of young people is dominated by alcohol and that excessive consumption of alcohol and other substances can lead to dangerous and life altering behaviours.  Therefore Red Frogs make it their mission to provide a positive peer presence in alcohol-fuelled environments where young people gather, educate young people on safe partying behaviours, and promote and provide non-alcoholic and/or diversionary activities that engage young people in these environments.”

The Froggers would also have something of a weekly pancake cook-up, where they would show up at residential colleges and cook pancakes unannounced. This allowed for natural conversations to develop with students. Over time, I got to see some students give their life to Christ! During these cook ups, I was either on pancake duty, walking around dorms and handing out food, or simply in casual conversations with students who’d showed up. I don’t think I had ever been asked so many questions about America then those on my Thursday nights spent with students. It was amazing how receptive the students were to our team, they opened their lives to us and we had the privileged of loving them just as they are!

Tarian in a Red Frogs tshirt carrying 2 jugs of milk

Throughout my life, I had always been encouraged to serve the ones around me from different stages of life, like the elderly or children. And although our world needs people to serve in those areas, it was just so special to serve those who are of my age. I learnt how to love and serve young adults exactly where they are at in their life journey. Red Frogs helped me to relate and understand my peers better, in ways I had not experienced back home.

I would say, Red Frogs is a change agent to the community they serve. They enter the lives of young adults in a loving and non-judgemental way. Their ability to care for students in all situations is so compassionate, so loving. More importantly, their ways of helping college students to see different ways to approach and participate in life beyond the party scene was nothing I’d seen before.

Don’t Worry

Excerpt from Vicki Crocker’s personal blog “Heights and Depth”. Vicki is a Fall 2017 student from Roberts Wesleyan College. Reproduced with permission.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” – Colossians 3:1

This was a verse I had read about a week ago and it has really stuck with me. While being in Australia I have wanted to spend my time focusing of God and how God is planning on shaping me while I’m here. I’ve done my best to spend time with Him and Listen to his soft whisper. There are times where he speaks to me through the songs I’ve listened to.

“As you call me deeper still,” (Good, Good Father, Chris Tomblin)

“… I forget what’s left behind cause I’m surrounded by the grander things” (Gravity, Jenn Johnson)

Through verses like the one above and Psalm 42 and Philippians 3:7-8, where, in my devotions, I’ve noticed that there is a common theme of seeking God and leaving everything else behind. Learning to search for him on a deeper level so that when I’m in that place of surrendering myself, all of the things I worry about fade. They fade because I KNOW that God will place me right where He wants me.

The other day I was worried that I wouldn’t deeply connect with any of the other American students since there was no one else there from my school. A day or so later I had gone out to dinner with a small group of the girls and I felt a comfort and again the following day I felt a comfort that I will be able to connect deeply with my amazing American group.

Another worry I had, which is connected to the one above, is that I wouldn’t be able to easily join a college life group (or small group). I was worried that when I would show up to the church, they would just place me with some random person and it would be as if I was being babysat the whole night. The same night that I  was expressing this to one of my friends, I get home and God’s answer is literally sitting at our kitchen table. A new friend who had gone through a growing journey and was needing a new friend to go to church to and to find a new life group.

So many times this has happened while being here. Each time a worry in the slightest bit, God comes through in the smallest ways to tell me that everything will be alright. Through this I thank Him and Praise Him. I always look to Him being my focus because he is always listening to our prayers even if we don’t formally pray them.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7

Oh, How Time Flies

Excerpt from Vicki Crocker’s personal blog “Heights and Depth”. Vicki is a Fall 2017 student from Roberts Wesleyan College. Reproduced with permission.

I can’t believe it’s already been 7 weeks since I’ve first arrived in this beautiful country. I have been able to experience many things and meet many people. One of the coolest things I’ve found about Australia is the diversity of culture. For example, the other night, out of a group of 11 people, 8 different countries were represented. I thought it was pretty cool to know people across the country, but to know people from around the world just seems to make it that much smaller.

I’ve also learned that a majority of the school work here is writing papers and not having and tests or exams. Through this, I often find myself starting and finishing a paper in one day, partially because of procrastination through Zumba and other workout videos on YouTube with my host sister, but also because of my stronger desire to get the Australian experience.

With the multiple papers and piling up stress of school, I’ve felt surprisingly calm. The busier the semester gets, the more I realize how busy my schedule gets with planning when to write which paper, planning this trip, and still figuring time to do spontaneous things. With time becoming more and more scarce, I’ve felt the need to sacrifice spending more time on a paper to go and experience some Australian thing with friends. This is something that I feel slightly convicted about because I want to do well in my classes, but I’m here to experience all that I can of Australia.

However, this is quite the least of my worries because I feel the main reason my journey lead me to come here is to grow in Christ in a new way, and that is my ultimate goal of the semester. I would love to get an amazing grade and experience everything I can in my limited time here, but I believe that the reason I don’t stress over these things is because they aren’t the main reason I’m here, which I am very thankful for.

Four Day Lesson

Excerpt from Vicki Crocker personal blog “Heights and Depth” Vicki is a Fall 2017 student from Roberts Wesleyan College. Reproduced with permission.

ASC Keep Cup

So far, I have been here in Australia for 4 days and I can see how mu God is working in this trip. Not only were my travels safe, but those who I’ve encountered have been great, strangers and soon to be great friends. I can see that God has had his hand over me and all my worries. Like if I would get along with my host family. But I believe that a karaoke night with the volume turned all the way u; along with laser disco lights is a well obvious sign that I will be perfectly fine.

I’ve begun to see first hand that when you just put things in God’s hands he WILL take care of you and give you what you need to grow and endure. We just need to let go and listen to what God is telling us to do and follow his commands wholeheartedly without hesitation. Because when we let ourselves follow with our hearts and through trust, God opens these amazing doors that allow you t experience and grow.

Looking back before this adventure, I know that God was preparing me for all that I should experience here. Through hard times and times of loneliness, God has taught me to look and focus completely on him. Our ASC leaders have been telling us to embrace the awkward moments and the lonely times and the times when you miss home and in those moments, redirect your focus to what you have right in front of you and to connect with our host families.

One of the most interesting parts of this experience is that whole idea that we are here in a completely different country on the opposite side of the world in a total opposite time zone with close to nothing as our possessions and relying on those around us to live. With that, what a joy it is to be able to give back to them, to be able to serve in the littlest ways and to really become part of the beauty that surrounds you, even though it’s is almost every way opposite. This reminds me that no matter where we really are nothing is owned by us. We rely on the gifts God has given us to thrive in life, and that is something we must be thankful for.

Study abroad ruined my comfortable life

Excerpt from Wendi Jo Vande Voort  is a Fall 2016 student from Dordt College. Reproduced with permission.

I wrote this overlooking blossoming almond trees while procrastinating. I had fully intended to do homework for an hour each day over spring break and obviously, that went as planned. Not. At least I did not procrastinate as much as I could have – as the revised and edited version was brought about two months later after catching up with friends I made while in Australia. So, here are my revised thoughts pondering how my life has changed since my time in Australia. (I was in Australia from mid-July to early November of 2016).

In February, I had the privilege of providing advice to a friend of a friend who recently went on the adventure and opportunity of a lifetime at the ASC. I pray your journey was pleasant and yet a challenging adventure.

If I had to describe the impact of my time abroad in another country for 3.5 months, 16-time zones away from my support system, and about 22 hours of flight away from home: it was terrifying, marvellous, and one of the most meaningful decisions of my life.

The world’s a stage: my home throughout the safety I find in the rural countryside. I have learned something important about the place I call home since my study abroad. Home is where I find God’s country as many farmers and ranchers call the rural countryside. Home is where I can breathe in the fresh air, smell livestock, and touch an ever-changing living plant. Home is my comfort zone. Home is my safety net. Home is the lands in which agriculture rises and falls with the markets. Home is where my heart, soul, and passion thrive. Home is the driving force which reminds me to pursue my career goals. Throughout the Australian outback, the rolling hills in Iowa, the rows of almond blossoms in California, upstate New York’s classic New England-looking farms, or New Zealand’s lush hills overflowing with sheep I feel at home.

I will forever be a practicing minimalist. I can pack like a queen, also known as packing the kitchen sink, according to some. So, when you are told you get one fifty-pound checked bag (and two extra-large carry-ons) for 3.5 months we have a problem. You truly learn what you can and cannot live without. I returned from Australia with many of the belongings I left the states with, but I had a deeply changed mindset. Stuff mattered much less. People and relationships mattered much more. Buying plane tickets to go on adventures and visit friends was much more exciting than buying a new piece for the ever-perfecting wardrobe. (Although, I did buy some clothes.) Going home with souvenirs – who needs those? I got photographs, friendships, and memories.

Here’s a worldview, beaten to a pulp by my own doing. I went to Australia with what I thought was a well-developed worldview. Then I lived among the worldviews of a people with different histories and mindsets than my own. I took their worldviews and my old worldview to develop a completely reconstructed perspective of life – especially related to politics, world issues, and faith. What better way to reinforce what you truly believe then to challenge it.

I have an awakened appreciation for culture. I lived under the impression much of my life that I fully appreciated other cultures. I was wrong. I thrive on an unconscious white privilege if you will. I still do not quite understand it, but I am learning. Learning to accept portions of cultures I do not agree with and choosing not to instantly go on defense has been challenging. Every culture is subject to differences, and that does not mean one way of living is incorrect from another. Only by grace can you accept that sort of mindset.

A friendship that started out as complete strangers, turned into something as strong as a family, and I’m an introvert (but a bold one). To the GI of GIJO and the Roo Hunter, may our adventures (so far) in Australia, New Zealand, and New York remind us that distance means nothing when memories can be retold a thousand times over. It only took us a weekend trip to the Sunshine Coast within the first month of the semester to realize we were the three musketeers. For your advice and friendship, I am forever indebted. Then for my advice about relationships – your welcome. *Insert crying laughing emoji.* May our short time together have lasting effects on our lives in the future.

Learning how to get along as an individual and on my own. Sixteen-time zones are a long way to ask advice for little things such as I am frustrated about ‘x’, I cannot navigate this bus system (bloody bus system could have been my death the first two weeks), or I had a bad day. Having the experiences, did make me realize and appreciate my host family, friends, individuals, and the program coordinators I leaned on for advice. We are not an island as individuals, nor do we need to expect help from the same people all of the time. Help comes in many forms and choosing to live life regardless of the challenges you face is part of being an independent individual. (Adulting for the win?)

Be still and know that God is still God, and God is still good. I was terrified something would go awry when I was away for 3.5 months, but nothing traumatizing happened. I had to learn to let go and let God lead my life. As a type A person, someone who finds perfection the epiphany of life, I struggle to let God lead my life. Going to a place completely unknown to me and living life out there for 3.5 months taught me a lot about trusting God, listening to his will for my life, and knowing God would be there regardless of the situations I would face.

Like I said, study abroad ruined my comfortable life. But, the new ways I have chosen to live are some of the best decisions I have made.

P.S. For the record, American coffee, especially if you are the Australian espresso black coffee-type, is not going to cut it for you. Still trying to figure out how to afford a $700 investment in an espresso machine and a coffee grinder… Sincerely, a coffee snob who can make her own espresso thanks to a day crash course in making and serving espresso. (I have certification and everything.) Disclaimer: I promise I am a good person, I just like excellent coffee. If you are ever in NYC, GIJO have put the seal of approval on Bluestone Lane Coffee which has a handful of locations within the city.


The two parts of GIJO (Gianna on left and Wendi Jo on right) and the Roo Hunter (Caven in center) in the Outback.

ASC in Sydney

Blown away in Sydney because I touched one of the wonders of the world! (I truly do despise puns, but sometimes…)

God Helps the Outcasts

Excerpt from Bethany Van Eps personal blog “An Australian Adventure(r)” Bethany is a Spring 2017 student from Dordt College. Reproduced with permission.

(a fitting song related to this post is Follow You by Leeland. Put it on for mood music if you’d like 🙂 )

Today marks a week since serving my last shift at an organization that has quickly become a huge part of my life and I have a lot of feelings about it. This semester I had the honor to spend every Tuesday morning from 9:30 until 12 serving with some of the most kind hearted generous people I’ve ever met and I’d love to tell you about it.


When I was assigned to Gateway Baptist Care Centre when I first arrived in Australia I had no idea what to expect. At orientation I learned that I would be working with the ‘On Track’ Program. This program was a branch of the Care Centre which admitted a set number of clients every six months and provided these clients with food parcels and listening ears every 3 weeks. The goal of this program is to support families and individuals in the midst of troubled times while also helping them regain their footing and encouraging them to break cycles of reliance on welfare programs. It was such a beautiful ministry. My fellow ASC students, Marissa and Alyssa, as well as myself were told it was our job to set up for community tea and that we would be taking turns interviewing clients and working in the shed. I was excited.

On our first Tuesday we got a taste for how impactful our relationship with our fellow volunteers would be. We started the morning by praying together, and in between meeting with clients we were asked about how our experience was so far, what America was like, etc. Genuine interest was expressed in us, which was touching. One of the sweetest gestures though, was when all of our fellow volunteers banded together  to find out where we lived and who could give who rides to placement every week. This small gesture of kindness was huge to us three Americans (who were already getting a little sick of public transport 😂).

As the weeks passed we all had a chance to interview clients, which really just meant sitting with them, asking how they’re doing, and listening and showing genuine care for their situations. If you weren’t assigned to interview you were working in the shed assembling food parcels to be given to these families and individuals who were down on their luck. At the start we rotated two interviewing and one in the shed. As the semester progressed however, and the supervisor Robyn began to know our personalities and strengths a bit better we found a permanent role that was perfect. Marissa, as a psychology major interested in counseling was assigned the task of interviewing every week (which she LOVED) while Alyssa and I, as business majors who like systems and organizing, got to work in the shed. Again, this reassignment was an itty bitty gesture that communicated a large amount of care and concern that we should all be comfortable and utilizing our skills.

At the start of the semester I had a feeling this placement was God’s vehicle for blessing me but I had thought it would be through the clients I worked with or perhaps in the warm-fuzzy “I helped someone” feeling. While those were both true and present I found my self blessed immeasurably by the staff of volunteers I had the pleasure of working with week after week. Our little team grew so close and saying goodbye last week was  more difficult than I had ever thought it would be.

This semester I witnessed first hand what actively loving your neighbor looks like, as well as the power of recognition of suffering as well as the recognition of common humanity. Sitting and talking to people (a pass time I greatly enjoy anyway) offered them an outlet to share their troubles and feel validated amid their suffering. For some, this program is their first glimpse of God’s love. Being able to show God’s hospitality to refugees and his love for strangers was an honor and to be honest it’s mind boggling to me that God chose me to be a vessel in this way. This semester I also had the joy to feel the rewarding power of generosity both in being able to give generously in food and compassion to those who need it as well as in receiving more from this volunteer crew than I could ever repay.

After all of our clients were taken care of last week our little team came together and gifted us cards, along with parcels of Australian goodies to bring home with us. We were speechless and so so thankful. Then, as if they hadn’t given us enough, they drove us up to the Mount Gravatt lookout, bought us coffee and we had one last hour of fellowship. I teared up as we hugged goodbye then and am getting misty eyes writing this now.

I will never forget my time at Gateway Baptist Care Centre, nor do I want to. I pray God continues to bless this spectacular ministry and that people continue to be blessed through it.

Blessings from Brisbane
Bethany ♥