Home and beyond

The following are some reflections from Spring 2016 alum Sarah Kistler, now a senior at Messiah College.

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As I sat in our last class and debrief session in Australia, the ASC staff prepared us for reverse culture shock and possible struggles when facing reentry back home. They read us quotes from former students talking about how unexpectedly hard reentry was.  I mostly believed them. I knew I would miss my time abroad but had no idea how I would handle the transition.  I cried harder than I expected when I hugged my host mum for the last time and I felt less excited than I expected when I saw my parents’ car pull up to the curb I was waiting on at the Philadelphia airport.  But I was not too worried about these responses. They were bound to happen and they were easy to manage. For the rest of the summer I kept myself busy so I had little time to process.  People asked me about my semester and I would muddle through an answer that was all over the place and confusing even to me. But life went on.  I was excited to come back to Messiah College but I proceeded to have the most difficult semester of my college life thus far. I found myself so dissatisfied and had no idea that the reason for this was because of how I was personally handling my reentry process.

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Messiah students group pic at Stradbroke Island (including kangaroo)

Now that I have been home for several months I feel like I am finally able to talk about my experience abroad in a way that makes sense—the only thing is nobody is asking about it anymore.  And I think that is a part of what has made reentry difficult.  I tried to answer people honestly when they asked about my time abroad but I always kept in mind what my audience really wanted—so I made sure to throw in that the kangaroos are cute and taste good too. I made sure to make a comment about how beautiful the beaches are and to educate them on some Aussie slang.  And while these were all a part of my experience that I genuinely liked talking about, they were not significant parts of my experience.  The problem was that the significant parts of my experience were not the most engaging facts and stories.

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Service placement at Micah Projects community meal

I did not want to tell them about my near death experience with a crocodile in the outback (which did not actually happen) but about the revelation I had about my faith and how under the outback stars I felt God closer to me than I had in awhile. I wanted to tell them how my host mum made me an amazing dinner every single day and always made sure I had what I needed.  I wanted to tell them about the people I met and shared weekly meals with while serving at the Micah Projects. I wanted to tell them about the injustices that Indigenous Australians have and still face in their country and how their narrative has woken me to the reality of America’s own indigenous people.  I wanted to tell them about how our program directors have become some of the greatest role models I have ever had and the students in the program became some of my best friends.  I wanted to tell people why I cringe with guilt every time I forget to bring my reusable shopping bag into the grocery store and have to use plastic, and why I try am constantly asking what the telos is of everything I encounter.  I wanted to tell people all the things I learned about America and my own culture from being displaced from it.

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The night sky in Charleville, outback Queensland

Re-entry was hard because there were so many aspects of my four months in Australia that I had to leave out not only when answering the question “so how was Australia?” but when getting back into my normal routine at home and at Messiah College.  I went back to eating all three meals alone, using weekends to catch up on sleep and homework and figure out how to somehow get ahead for the next crazy week.  I had no time or energy to sit and reflect and a majority of my learning came from readings and lectures in the classroom rather than experience and exploration.  Despite this I must admit that I missed Messiah dearly while at Christian Heritage College in Australia.  I missed my friends, I missed driving, I missed using my debit card without anxiety that it would be declined.  I know I couldn’t stay in Australia forever nor would I want to because it isn’t home. But parts of myself were transformed there in the smallest, most subtle ways. Reentry is hard and unpredictable. I came home six months ago but my experience abroad is still challenging and shaping me as I hope continues to be the case as more distance increases between me and my semester down under.

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Highlights from Oz

Hello! How ya goin’? My name is Holly Risinger and I spent the Fall semester of my senior year in Brisbane, QLD with the Australia Studies Centre through BestSemester. I am an Illinois native and attend “uni” at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL where I am working towards a business degree with minors in leadership and music. My time with the Australia Studies Centre truly changed my life and I’m excited to share a little bit with you!

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Outback Queensland, Australia

Why ASC?

For starters, I chose this specific study abroad program because in approaching my senior year I did not have enough classes to fill my last 2 semesters and instead of cramming and graduating in December I decided to study abroad. I chose Australia and the ASC program because I was looking to immerse myself into another culture different from my own and get far away from my university for a bit. ASC also offered me the opportunity to do a business internship in Brisbane which I needed to graduate, plus I wanted to get myself out of my comfort zone and let God work in my life. I can confidently say that all of this and more was fulfilled and accomplished in my time in Oz!

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HIGHLIGHTS!

Where do I even begin… I’ll limit myself to 3 so we’re not here all day.

  • Home Stay Family. At the beginning, when we first met, yes, it is nerve-racking and it took time to adjust but the experience is SO worth it! Your host family, at least in my experience, becomes your home away from home. Along with the other ASC students, your host family is one of the few constants in those fleeting 4 months abroad. I tried my best to not stay cooped up in my room but to be downstairs, in the kitchen, talking, helping, getting to know my family from beginning to end. When I had a question about the bus, they were there, question about places to visit while in Oz and how to buy a plane ticket, they were there, even a question about how to experience the best of Brisbane, they were always there. This is not everyone’s experience, but I think in this instance of home stay families you will get out as much as you put in, so invest!!!

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  • Travel Opportunities*** TRAVEL can be considered an UNFORSEEN COST so if you want to travel make sure you budget BEFORE coming!
    1. *** Tip for traveling Oz: STAY AT THE YHA’s EVERYWHERE YOU GO! They are a great chain of youth hostels in Australia that are much cheaper than hotels, are very clean and very friendly. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
    2. Australia is next-door neighbors to New Zealand and is FULL of amazing beach towns, cities, and adventures! I made a point to take advantage of every spare weekend, evening, and days off school to go to the beach, Cairns to swim the Great Barrier Reef, Melbourne, and even New Zealand on our break week. I was fortunate enough to make friends with the other ASC students and traveled with them! So don’t worry about booking anything before leaving the states because you will make friends there and then you can all book and travel together! Its no good not to take advantage of being half way around the world because who knows when you’ll get back there so if you like to travel, JUST DO IT.

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  • Academics/Business Internship. Also, I had a business internship in Brisbane as one of my four classes. I was very excited for this internship because it helped me complete my credits back home to graduate but also immersed me into international business practice and offered amazing growth. CHC placed me at a company in Brisbane where I spent one day a week as their Human Resources Intern. My time there was amazing, my supervisor was awesome and I did not only gain professional and valuable HR experience, but also knowledge in how to work well with those of other cultures. We had a number of funny, sometimes confusing cultural differences, but with a grace filled heart we usually laughed it off. As far as assessments went for the internship class, there were still 3 papers and a presentation at the very end for CHC. If you are a business student, not even just international business, I would highly recommend considering doing your internship overseas. You will gain business and professional knowledge but also being able to work with people from around this world is very attractive to employers today.
  1. I’m sure your thinking, “Really, academics as a highlight? Seriously Holly?” But YES! I’m not even a huge nerd and I greatly appreciated the education I received in my time at Christian Heritage College. As you know, I’m going for a business degree and the classes I took at CHC challenged my thinking greatly! You are required to take 2 Australian culture classes (CS254 and AS200) along with all the other ASC students and then 2 other classes of your choice. For these classes I chose a Counseling Ethics class (SO251) and a Business Internship (BZ339). As a student use to taking exams and quizzes towards my final grade, the Australian way of doing things was very different. All of my classes, with the exception of Business classes, are based on 3-4 big papers and a few weekly assignments for your final grade. For me this was challenging compared to what I’m used to back home BUT, this way of education really broadened my learning experience and although it was challenging and annoying at times, I am very glad I had this experience in my college career.

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Is it worth it?

During and directly after my time in Oz I concluded that every college student needs to study aboard. It offers an amazing time to grow in your independence, figure out some things about yourself you cannot see being entrapped by your “normal,” and opens your eyes up to just how big the world around us is and how small we are. But, this conclusion has changed a bit since I’ve been back home and had time to reflect on the change that has happened in me. I do think going to Australia, doing any study aboard has the power to change a person, but it can only do this if the person is changeable. I saw many people walk away from this experience unchanged because they were unwilling to get uncomfortable and have their way of life and way of thinking be challenged. I think to make this experience worth it YOU have to be willing and open to let all you learn, experience and live through have the chance to change you. I’m not suggesting you have to completely change who you are and come back home with an Aussie accent and refuse to live anywhere more than an hour from the coast, but to make this experience WORTH IT, have an open mind, an open heart, and be ready to be uncomfortable. IT IS WORTH IT, I PROMISE.