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Oh, the places you'll go! (Australia & New Zealand)

human interest




Oh, the places you'll go! (Australia & New Zealand)

The chronicles of Duke students around the globe

Nelia Ekeji


Duke's status as a global-oriented university is fitting, given that the school currently boasts over 150 study-abroad programs across six continents. Over 40 of the programs are Duke-In programs, where students get the familiarity of Duke's rigor and resources in settings outside of Durham. The various other programs are affiliated with a number of prestigious universities such as Oxford, Vanderbilt, and Princeton.

Junior Danielle Holt and senior Aedan Hannon decided to deviate from the norm with their study abroad experiences: rather than choosing more familiar territories in Europe as most Duke students do, both decided to travel down under for unique experiences as undergraduates in the STEM field.

Danielle Holt

Year: Class of 2019
Major(s), minor(s), and/or certificate(s): Environmental Engineering major and African & African American Studies minor
Where you studied abroad: Sydney, Australia, through the University of New South Wales
Highlights of studying abroad: Traveling around the country was really great. Also, I did a lot of place-specific learning. That means I learned a lot about Sydney: the history of Sydney, the environment of Sydney, the people of Sydney, so that gave a better understanding. It wasn’t like I was just taking classes, and I happened to be in Sydney: I was learning in Sydney and learning about Sydney.

Difficulties of studying abroad: Well, first of all, the racial makeup...there were no black or hispanic people. It was mostly white people and Asians. Since it’s a developed nation, I assumed there would be more diversity there, but there wasn’t. A lot of people asked me if I faced racism while I was there, and I really didn’t, but I was often the only black person in the room. Another thing that was hard was managing finances, since I was on my own and had to do everything myself.
Biggest cultural differences between the U.S. and Australia: The racial makeup, like I mentioned before. That’s one that’s just glaring. Another one would be their attitude towards race. Okay, so for example, you know the native people of Australia, right? The aboriginals. Basically, they were there when the English first arrived, and when they came, they brought these diseases that decimated the population. And those that survived were pushed towards the outskirts of society. But there’s been a new wave, after the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, in addition to a recent academic push by higher educational institutions, basically forcing Australians to confront this history and foster open dialogue and awareness about the lasting effects. This isn’t the case, based on what I’ve seen, in the U.S. regarding Native Americans.
Best places to visit in Sydney: The Botanic Gardens, that was great. There’s this place, what was it called...Market Street! They have a lot of shopping. Sydney Harbour is also beautiful. Bondi Beach, it’s the most famous beach in Sydney, maybe even Australia. I would literally just google things to do in Sydney and just go.
Anything else you want us to know? I would say, at UNSW specifically, there were a good amount of Duke students. For me though, I didn’t like that. I wanted to get a new experience. So my advice would be to branch out and get to know locals. They’re so nice. Also, when I was there, I went to the Great Barrier Reef, the Outback, and Melbourne; it’s really easy to travel when you’re abroad, so try to do that as much as you can.

Aedan Hannon

Year: Class of 2018
Major(s), minor(s), and/or certificate(s): Environmental Science major and Documentary Studies certificate
Where you studied abroad: Dunedin, New Zealand through the University of Otago
Highlights of studying abroad: One of the highlights of studying abroad was definitely the people. The other study abroad students and kiwis I met there had a really relaxed attitude and an appreciation for life outside of school, which I feel is often missed here at Duke. All the friends I made were ready to go out and explore/travel New Zealand at the drop of a hat. A second highlight was just the country of New Zealand. It is such a magnificent place with incredible natural areas, which was particularly great for me since I love the outdoors. The scenery is a combination of California and Alaska, filled with stunning landscapes and wildlife. I could drive ten minutes to the beach and see penguins, then drive 3 hours and be in the middle of the exquisite Southern Alps.
Difficulties of studying abroad: The difficulties were rather slight. Trying to understand New Zealand English at the beginning was rather difficult, as well as figuring what way to look when crossing roads. I think the greatest difficulty is/was that we all have these great expectations of what a study abroad should be. I found that ultimately these expectations are shattered for both the good and the bad. For me, it was that I ended up having to do a little bit more work than the people around me because of the classes I was taking.
Biggest cultural differences between the U.S. and New Zealand: In terms of cultural differences, I'd have to say one of the biggest was the work/life balance. Everyone in Dunedin seemed to really value their own personal time out of work, so no matter where people worked/studied, they made time after 7 to enjoy themselves every day. I'd one professor who told us to go play basketball instead of study if we couldn't focus completely on our studies because he believed that too much of academic life is wasted on inefficient studying. One of the greatest cultural differences to me was homelessness (this stood out to me because my mom works for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless). In my entire time in New Zealand, I didn't see a single person that was homeless. There were definitely people living in poverty, but the New Zealand government has relatively progressive social programs in place, so those in poverty have more government assistance than here in the U.S.
Best places to visit in Dunedin: Okay, bear with me here, because I have so many...for Dunedin and New Zealand in general. There's the Catlins: it's this big swath of protected forest where forests crash into the ocean, and you can see the rarest dolphins and penguins in the world. Then there's Wanaka and Queenstown, which are these tourist-y mountain towns where you can bungee jump. For food, there's Etrusco, which is an Italian place, Speight's Alehouse, and FERGBURGER, this quirky burger place.
Anything else you want us to know? With study abroad, you don't have to stick to the norms of going once and going your junior year. I've technically had two study abroad experiences because I went to the Marine Lab the first semester of my sophomore year, and I just went to New Zealand the first semester of my senior year. I've really enjoyed doing these study aways at times when many people wouldn't consider going because I think I've done them at times when I needed them most. I think you gain the most out of study away when you feel ready to go, not by the norms of study abroad. In terms of New Zealand, University of Otago is truly a hidden gem. Most people go to Auckland because it’s the big city that everyone knows. But Dunedin has 60,000, so it has urban opportunities, and it also has plenty of outdoor/travel opportunities because it's one of the cities closest to the natural/tourist wonders of the south island. I think it’s usually between 2-5 people who study at the University of Otago from Duke every year, so I'm sure many people don't know about it, but it’s really such an amazing area.