Life is not always a beach.

In addition to beach hopping and Tim Tam indulging, I spend a portion of my time here in Australia in the classroom. I am an accounting major, interested in writing, headed to law school. It is easy to tell that my interests are vast. Thus, I am equally fascinated by each of my different curriculums. These include an Introduction to Sharia course that focuses on Islamic law, an Introduction to Marketing class which is particularly interesting from my international perspective, and a Plein Air painting course in which I attempt for the first time ever to paint. Without a doubt there is more wholesome culture exchanged in the classroom than on the beach or at the bar (although I was once blamed for American involvement in Syria by a guy at a nightclub in Brisbane).

I just survived my first foreign midterm examination period and surprisingly have to share that despite all the fear instilled by advisors and professors back home, it was not all that more stressful than typical American midterms. I had a speech and separate paper due in my Islam course, a large exam in my Marketing course and a 5 painting portfolio critique in my painting course. When you consider the daily assignments U.S. universities give in addition to midterms, Australian schooling has a much lighter workload. This is not to say it is necessarily easier. Australian universities place a heavy emphasis on independent work. The actual classroom time per week is typically 3 hours, 2 hours for a once weekly lecture and 1 hour for a once weekly Tutorial where the larger lecture group splits into small manageable classroom sizes for discussion. This means that the required time commitment is minimal, but the necessary independent studying is heavy. In order to further allow for flexibility, the lectures are not attendance based and many lecturers video and audio tape their lesson each week and post it online. The Tutorial is a favorite aspect of the Uni system here. It is a low-key period in which the professor or an assistant clarify lessons, review topics, answer questions and generally “hangout” with us students. In one of my first “Tuts” (as it’s commonly called) for my Islam course, we watched YouTube videos and discussed current events in relation to the Muslim-Australian community. I even made a few jokes with the professor. I highly regard the addition of a laid back, less strenuous but still academic setting for faculty and students to dialogue in the American university systems.

On my first day of Introduction to Sharia I found myself completely out of my element. I was listening and trying to understand through two unfamiliar filters of perspective. I was foreign to Australian culture and even more distant from the religion of Islam. 10 weeks into the course I still have a Muslim-Australian culture. I have learned to take a separate set of notes to be googled and understood later.  Without a doubt I feel so much more educated about one of the largest religions and cultures in the world in two months of learning than in 15 years of schooling. The exposure that is given to the Islam religion via some media outlets is unjustly wrong and I am now equipped to see through the biases.

As expected, American and mid-east relations have come up in discussion. This is particularly interesting for me, as I am aware of these references. At times though, I am sorry to know the controversy so deeply. I feel pressured to both shame and boast my country’s history and policies. I cannot avoid hearing American criticisms with a grain of salt. No matter my personal feelings, it is hard to be scrutinized as a representative for my entire country. What I say and how I act in that class represents the American culture. This is a pressure that Muslim-Americans feel every day. To be representatives of the best kind of Islam there is. I researched and wrote an essay on this topic and the assignment was an incredibly eye-opening experience in itself.

Had I not studied abroad it would be impossible for me to understand how it feels to be both shameful and appeasing but proud and argumentative. I am so grateful to have been given the chance to step out of my American bubble and experience the criticism and love from the outside world. This is an experience in itself that should encourage anyone to travel. It allows us to reflect on our home and to be able to return having gained a new perspective and the ability and desire to improve. This is what I will return home with in December.

On my first day of Introduction to Marketing I was asked to sell myself. It was a horrifying request. We were soon to pick groups for a large marketing project and the professor asked that we sell our abilities to our fellow classmates, promoting ourselves as valuable group members. Initially I was shocked, and started to worry that this forward nature was typical to Australian culture. But after we began the activity, it was clearly not. No one wanted to talk about themselves in front of the class, nonetheless boast about themselves. Most people made a vague comment about being good with people, adding that they haven’t had a lot of group experience and then ended with some self-deprecating comment about their inabilities. Essentially, most people did exactly the opposite of what they were asked. We all felt uncomfortable discussing our talents in front of strangers in a competitive way.  Seeing this activity fall apart, I decided that when it was my turn, I was going to really go for it. I boasted about my detail oriented major, my obsessive organizing and planning and my ability to be also creative in my writing and photography. I discussed my tendency to take the lead. Of course by the time I sat down I was red-faced and entirely embarrassed. But I am happy I put myself out there. It’s in my American nature to be competitive. 

In the following weeks I was able to use my international perspective in other ways that added to the classroom atmosphere. My professor often asks me specific questions about the culture and proceedings in the U.S. and how I understand or feel about Australian culture. It feels incredible to be instrumental to a course I am just a participant in.

I am not sure when or where in my time here, whether it was the understanding of different international perspectives from Islam or the business differences from Marketing, but I decided midway through my semester that I would love to focus my career on international business. When you want to expand your business globally- how does that happen? What are all the laws and culture considerations that need to be made to smooth that transition and negotiate rights? These are the answers I want to sort through. I want to study international law and how it relates to business functions. I have finally pinpointed my desired career. 

I was asked before I arrived here how my time in Australia would improve my business career and I had some generic answers, but little did I know what this time would do for my career path. It has truly opened doors for me.

On my first day of my painting course I had an entirely different experience. The course is much less about learning Australian culture (unless you consider studying the bark on the trees and the Gold Coast skyline learning the culture) and more so learning about myself.  In this course I have been challenged in a different way. I cannot blame it on my lack of Australian knowledge, or my foreign perspective, but instead it is my lifelong inability to draw, paint, and create with my hands in general. I have been truly challenged in a way where I am totally unsure of a solution and at times cannot reach it even if I see it. This painting course was taken as an opportunity to see the Australian landscape and relax- but it has been much more than that. I have learned to not compare myself to others and understand that we all have diverse talents and to ask ourselves to compete in different races at the same pace is unfair. It has been good for me to feel humbled. I have a new appreciation for art and already spend much more time at art galleries studying paintings. I plan to continue to paint when I am home for my own well-being. What I have learned in this course I will bring home with me also.

Overall, in my time in Australia I have revived my love of education and learning. Studying abroad is more than just landscapes and accents, but a chance to better round yourself as a person and to broaden your perspectives.