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Lessons from the Land Down Under

If you asked me in high school if I ever wanted to study abroad, I would have shrugged my shoulders. As an engineering student at Bucknell University, I did not really think it would be an option. During my second year at school, I had a conversation with my academic advisor about the possibility of studying abroad. She told me that although it may be difficult to find some of the subjects, I would benefit in ways beyond the classroom. Having been in Australia for about two months, I am beginning to fully appreciate what she meant.

Studying abroad is so much more than having a university that offers the required classes – it is an opportunity to change the way you think. At my home university, engineering students are notorious for being in their own academic bubble. In my experience, I have had little opportunity to pursue courses beyond the “standard course sequence” for mechanical engineers. In light of this, the most rewarding component of my time studying abroad has been interacting with and learning from a diverse group of people.

Both inside and outside the classroom, I have met heaps of local Australian students and exchange students from other countries. During conversation, it is fascinating to learn about their unique educational upbringings and how these have shaped the way in which they perceive the world. Many people I have spoken to enjoy engaging in political conversations offering their viewpoints on world events. As a student from the United States, I am constantly asked about my opinion of the Trump administration and my views on gun control. These conversations help me to grow as a critical thinker and an informed citizen of my own country. In particular, my perception of the world is altered to allow for a more complete understanding of different viewpoints.

I have also enjoyed learning about Australian culture during my travels. One of the quirkiest parts about the culture is the array of Australian expressions. Whether I am talking to a local Australian or watching TV, I enjoy hearing a new phrase such as “ripper day” (i.e. beautiful day) or “thongs” (i.e. flip-flops). Outside of the classroom in Sydney, I have taken the time to expose myself to other culture opportunities through learning to surf at Manly beach, fishing for flatheads at Rose Bay, and biking around Centennial park. Additionally, for my spring break study vacation, I thoroughly enjoyed participating the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program as I traveled to the Snowy Mountains to live with an Australian family for a week. These travel experiences have been some of the most memorable and rewarding parts of my semester abroad.

Whether it is through having conversations about culture or politics with diverse groups of people or through exposing my taste buds to the mysterious flavor of Vegemite, my study abroad experience at the University of Technology Sydney has facilitated a paradigm shift in my life for which I will be forever grateful. I encourage any student with even the slightest interest in studying abroad to pursue the opportunity because the experience will certainly change your life for the better.


Maxwell Skirpan

3rd Year Mechanical Engineering

United States, Bucknell University

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