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What did you do in Australia? All of it: A turbulent summer of firsts

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at IUP chapter.

For the last year, I have been speaking this reality into existence. Until I arrived in Sydney this past May, I was still concerned it would fall through. Even as I was living and breathing in Australia it didn’t feel real, but it was so magical. I actually didn’t experience any culture shock at all, but I did have a lot of firsts in my life. If I can make these experiences happen, so can you! Let’s go.

1. Completed my first internship (so far away)!

Some people have done more than one internship, and I don’t know how many more I will have, but I’m proud to say that I worked with The Freedom Hub in Sydney, Australia. The Freedom Hub is an nonprofit organization that aims to eliminate modern slavery in Australia and its boarders, as well as rehabilitate survivors from modern slavery–i.e human trafficking, forced labor, forced marriages. The Freedom Hub works to support survivors on their path to security and independence. In their “Survivor School,” they work with art therapy as well as English lessons.
During my internship, I worked in their Survivor School one day each week, and the rest of the week I worked on articles and Instagram reels to advertise their business. I also spent two weeks honing a womens menstrual and sexual health curriculum and transferring it onto their online learning platform to allow accessibility of this education for their survivors. By far the coolest and most fulfilling professional experience I have had in my life, so far!

2. First time traveling with a wonderful (and legitimate) company

I have done a bit of traveling in my time, and each of my trips were facilitated through companies. I’m disappointed to say that those I’ve previously traveled with weren’t always forthright about what all the hidden costs and extra fees might be. I also had experience with some program features changing at the last minute, or, when questioned, were said to have never existed/ been promised at all.
When I sought out to study abroad, I felt overwhelmed with multiple companies to travel with. After researching the length of programs and credit options with each one, I decided that CEA was the one for me. It should also be known that I was planning my trip during a time when Australia was beginning to open up their borders after a long time of lockdown. With that in mind, a lot of my travel questions were difficult for a travel company to answer. During this time, CEA shifted my program to CAPA. I can’t say enough good things about this company. CAPA was so accommodating to me during this shift, and so ready to meet with me to discuss any questions.

I am a big planner, so when they sent me checklists to ensure that my deposits, Visa paperwork, and University forms were all submitted on time, I appreciated them a lot. I’m an anxious person, but CAPA would see this, reassure me, and helped me to feel at ease in the pre-departure preparation. They made my arrival in Sydney feel comfortable and easy. CAPA went out of their way to check in on me and my fellow interns. Their staff was so friendly, helpful, and willing to stay connected with me after my program ended. I liked them so much that I wrote some blog posts to endorse them in exchange for a scholarship (p.s. They aren’t paying me for this post, I just genuinely liked them)!

It can be hard to know which companies are reputable when you’re writing them a check for your future, but CAPA is actually well known, respected, and has offices on multiple continents in multiple countries. I felt very safe with CAPA. Check them out if you want to study or intern abroad.

3. Went to my first film festival: Elvis

I was in Sydney from late May through early July; during this time, the Sydney Film Festival was occurring. I was so excited to go and watch films by some up-and-coming creators, but I realized my collective internship schedule was a bit hectic. It seemed like I would only be able to see one film… and then I learned Elvis was premiering at the State Theatre during the festival. Not only this, but the film was premiering there two weeks before it was released in the United States, so of course I had to go! My roommates loved my enthusiasm and they agreed to go as well. The theatre was beautiful and the experience of seeing a film of that scale in a place like that was truly special to me.

4. First time being within radius of Kid Laroi, Cody Simpon, Austin Butler, and Tom Hanks

Oh, did I mention “Elvis” was filmed in Australia? Well it sure was. The cast and crew arrived to premier it in Sydney and an instagram page showed red carpet coverage of their interviews. Minutes after some footage was posted, my roommates and I rushed across town to see them. By the time we arrived, other people outside the theatre informed us they had *just* left. If this weren’t enough, we also saw instagram videos of Kid Laroi performing at a popular Sydney night club, the day before we arrived. It also didn’t help that an employee from our internship center had seen him walking the streets of Sydney that same day. If only we had gotten to Sydney a day before, then we might have seen him. 

I’ll mention this in another point as well, but when my roommates and I traveled to the Gold Coast, we visited a small restaurant. While in queue to pay, I made conversation with an older lady. She said to me “now, you’re young, maybe you’d know who this was,” she leaned in and asked, “do you know Cody Simpson? I think he used to be a singer but now he’s training to be an olympic swimmer. He was in here with his girlfriend about an hour ago. You *just* missed him.” Yes, ma’am, story of my life at this point. 

5.Went to my first movie premier: Trafficked to Australia

After reading my first point in this article, you might agree that my internship was pretty cool, but my first movie premier was so neat. Seeing Elvis at a film festival was great, but what about attending a premier for a documentary in which my boss (Sally Irwin) was featured? Even better. It was a small premier hosted in The Freedom Hub cafe space, but regardless of size, it was my first ever premier and it was special to me. The film was insightful and interesting, and the creator was kind enough to upload it to YouTube for free. I’ll insert the link here so you can watch it. Tell them the intern sent you!

6. First time flying around the world and leaving my time zone

I’ve traveled before and I’ve even traveled once on my own (to a different continent, by the way), but I’ve never been 12 hours outside of my time zone. I have to say, it was cumbersome trying to keep up with the time change between Pittsburgh and Sydney in order to call back home, but it worked out. I was lucky that my mom worked a night shift and was able to call me every day on my commute home while she was just waking for her day. The flight there was certainly a rough one–it was about 23 hours of travel– but a very worthwhile experience. 

7. First time trying TimTams

When one of my best friends was younger, she lived 7 years of her life in Australia. When she learned I was visiting Sydney, she told me the first thing I needed to do was eat a TimTam. She was correct.

Tim Tams are a staple in any Australian cabinet, almost as much as Tiny Teddies (look them up, they’re so delicious). TimTams are a sweet, crunchy, crisp, chocolatey, light biscuit (or cookie) and they come in so many flavors (pictured above is white chocolate and milk chocolate, as well as some coconut bars). They’re famously Australian, but you can find them on Amazon if you feel so inclined to try them yourself. I highly recommend.

8. First surfing lesson

I was never too keen on learning to surf but my roommates had a huge desire to try it in Bondi Beach. They really wanted to go, so I tagged along to support them. At the last minute I changed my mind and signed up to surf with them. When you’re in Bondi Beach, you just MUST surf! Unfortunately their session was full, so I joined another group, and I’m so glad I did. I met a really cool friend from Scotland that I’ll likely be visiting next year when I move to Ireland! 

9. First time having passionfruit

You may have had passion fruit flavored candies or drinks, but you haven’t *lived* until you’ve tried passion fruit in acai bowls, raw passion fruit in natural juices or lemonade, or even in cocktails. Raw fruit is always better, and the quality of it is always best when it’s grown in its native climate. 

10. First weekend getaway with a flight: Gold Coast

I have never taken a weekend getaway, let alone one that required a flight. Two of my roommates really wanted to travel each weekend and when our third roommate decided she wanted to join them on a trip to the Gold Coast, I reconciled the fact that I would be alone in Sydney. Their impending absence and frequent conversations about the trip made me feel excluded. They didn’t explicitly invite me, but their conversations around me made me feel some type of way. At some point they mentioned their trip included holding koalas… so I immediately decided to go. 

11. First time holding and petting new animals

No matter how I initially felt, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. You guys, I got to hold a koala, AND I was able to pet kangaroos. That’s an unbelievable experience that I probably won’t ever get again. It was so amazing. 

12. First time being called Brazilian

I’m uncertain if I’ll ever write further about my experience with this, but I’ve talked at length about this with my friends. Since being in University, I’ve gotten many guesses as to what my ethnicity may be. Now, before you scramble to see what my profile picture looks like and guess for yourself, let me assure you that I am evidently a white woman. The argument I’ve heard, however, is that the confusion stems from my curves and big curly hair. Regardless of these features though, I am a pale, blue-eyed, white girl. Funnily, though, as I said, I get a lot of guesses about my ethnicity. I often get Spanish, Italian, Puerto Rican, Irish, Jewish, Arab, Mexican, or some combination of these. On this trip though, it was my first time ever being told I look Brazilian. 

While I don’t seek to appear racially ambiguous by any means, I respect and appreciate when people go out of their way to compliment me by assuming I might be a member of their culture or one that they are most familiar with. Australia has a large population of Brazilian immigrants, so that ethnicity is seen as common there, hence his guess. Standards of beauty are relative to different parts of the world and if someone wants to call me beautiful by assuming I’m like them, then I’ll accept the compliment and gently remind them that I am not what they assume. However, I do also want to appreciate that someone thought I was pretty enough to be Brazilian, so thank you, man that danced with me in the Gold Coast. Anyways…

13. First time following astrocartography

So, as I said before, when I chose to complete an internship abroad, I was given the option of many locations and programs. True, I may have been overwhelmed by companies, but boy oh boy was it a whole different ball game to be overwhelmed by locations. There were too many choices!

At the time of June of 2021, I knew about something called “astrocartography”; it helped me narrow down my choices to choose a location for the following year. This is basically the astrology of maps, and more simply, the way your birth information translates to where in the world you should be for different experiences. Astrocartography shows you lines which overlap countries in which you may be suited to live, travel, work, raise a family, or even areas to avoid and/or learn from. From my own map, I learned that Sydney would be a great place to network, mature, and gain skills, all while being challenged in a way that would help me grow. Seems like the perfect internship city to me! If you didn’t know about astrocartography, you do now, so if you want to look into yours, here’s the link that I use.


14. First time going to a rooftop bar

After following my astrocartography, I just felt like so many things fell into place. I felt like anything I thought about would happen instantaneously. In many cases it did, but two huge instances were really noteworthy. WHen we went to Elvis after the premier was ending, I thought, “Wow, one day I’ll go to a premier,” the very next day, my boss announced our cafe space was hosting the premier of a new documentary. After I saw so many pretty clubs and bars, I thought, “One day, I’ll go to a rooftop bar,” and then my new bestie from Scotland told me she made a reservation for us at a rooftop bar with a view of the Sydney Opera House. Absoloutely so cool. Not only had I never been to a rooftop bar before, but I’d cetainly not expected to have manifested an experience or a view of that scale.

15. A new tattoo: and start of a cool (adopted) tradition… now my own!

As I’ve said repeatedly, I’ve traveled before; and although it was a stressful and harsh experience, it led me to meeting some very interesting people. I was only 17 when I went to Peru, but one of my housemates was a college student, Michelle, with a wealth of travel experience. She had a tradition of getting a new tattoo in every new place she studied or lived in for any period of time. At this point in my life I’d never envisioned tattoos being something I wanted, but on this trip, I began thinking about them. It was then that I decided I loved her tradition and that I might like to have a few tattoos, but more than that, I planned to adopt her tradition whenever I traveled somewhere new. In the last two years I gained three tattoos, all with incredible significance to me, but my favorite has been my fourth, and newest addition. I now have a tattoo of the Sydney Opera House, with an aborginal swirl/circle above, and cursive lettering below that reads “no worries.” The swirl is a symbol that is significant in Aborignial (indiginous Australian) artwork and it’s a symbol I’ve seen in artwork from indiginous groups in Peru and North America. To me, it seems like a symbol of universal oneness and similarity across cultures, especially in those that I’ve personally lived in: a perfect addition to a new tattoo from a new experience. The “no worries” bit is my first tattoo with lettering, and it’s a phrase used frequently in Australian culture. It’s used in place of “you’re welcome,” it’s said when something goes wrong, and it’s most often used as reassurance and a reminder that life is hectic enough and you shouldn’t hold onto any worries! Just as my Australian experiences have added onto my life, this is a beautiful piece of artwork that I’ve added onto my physical body in starting a new tradition inspired by Michelle.

16. First sponsored trip (hehe)

Out of all of my amazing firsts, I know I worked so hard to get there and I’m so grateful to have had this experience. My university’s Honors College was so gracious in affording me this trip and working with me to make it happen. My Honors program requires something called an “honors experiential” in order to graduate. It can be anything from research experience, studying abroad, or an internship: in my case, I decided to combine all three. My honors college requires this “experimental” in order to graduate, so they offer means to help students afford this. My total program cost was honestly quite steep for me to afford on my own, and without them helping me, you would never be able to read this article! I was truly so proud to make this trip a reality and I look forward to many more trips in the future.

17. First Australian friends

Naturally, after living in a new place for awhile, one makes a few connections.  For the longest time, it was my dream to leave the United States and live in a new place. Ultimately, I plan to move permanently to a new country, but this was a perfect start! I can now say that I’m lucky enough to have made a few friends on the other side of the world, and if I ever return to Australia, I know that I’ll have a place to feel at home. I miss you already, Australia.

Dani is a 22 year old Psychology student and the co-chair for the social media of IUP's Her Campus "diamond" chapter. She focuses on topics related to experiences, lifestyle, sex, and relationships. If she isn't writing about intriguing topics, she can be found jornaling, sitting in nature, or asking you what your sun, moon, and rising sign are.