Monthly Archives: March 2016

Culture shock and perceptions of America

I’ve now been in Australia for almost two months and living at college since mid February. Recently I’ve gotten to the point where I know and am interacting with Australians enough that all the small culture differences are coming out. Usually it’s not a big deal, just small things like finding out that they don’t use cups as a measurement, not being able to fill out a form because I no longer know my height and weight in the proper units or mentions of a toy that everyone else loves and that I’ve never heard of. Sometimes there are more substantial differences, but I’m finding myself surprised by how much of a difference the accumulation of the little things can

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Found in the local grocery store “American party drink cups”. Significantly more expensive than Red Solo cups of course

make. On days with many of them it can wear on me and start feeling frustrating. No one likes not being in the know and when I feel like I constantly have to ask for explanations or try and explain myself it’s hard not to feel like a total outsider.

I had someone ask me about the culture shock the other day. When I explained that there isn’t much of an issue she mentioned a friend who spent the summer in America and found herself constantly struggling to adjust. I took it for granted that Australia is just incredibly similar to America, but it seems in many ways to be a one way street. They consume enough of our media to not be phased by American accents (some Australians even have American accents from watching so much TV). They know all the US slang and have sufficient knowledge of US geography that’s sometimes better than that of many Americans. We as Americans don’t have nearly the same exposure to Australian culture. Pretty much the Australian stereotypical activity for Americans seems to be throwing shrimp on the barbie — something which I’ve been informed is not a common activity. They love to barbecue, but they don’t often throw prawns on (Australians don’t even call it shrimp).

People have a lot of expectations of America and it’s been made clear that we can never make everyone happy. A woman from China expressed frustration at our lack of overseas spending while others I know think we meddle too much. I’m learning more than I thought I would about how people perceive the US and it’s fascinating. They consume huge amounts of our media, host American themed parties and in so many other ways embrace the US. Despite this I get a lot of questions about how we can be so patriotic. Which is not something I’d ever realized was unique. And the question surprises me, because if anything being in Australia makes me feel more patriotic. America’s clearly producing the most popular media, considered to be a great vacation destination and a source of highly-skilled jobs (so many people I’ve met plan to go to America after graduate school to pursue a career). It’s a topic I look forward to exploring more.

Early Saturday morning I head off to Kangaroo Island and Adelaide for 11 days. One of the biggest pieces of advice I got before coming here was to travel by myself so I decided to do just that for the Easter break. I hope to spend my days lying on the beach, hiking in national parks, doing my 4 hours of field observation for my Australian Wildlife Biology class, going wine tasting and much, much more. I’ll tell you all about it and my past two weekend trips in my next post.

Until then…


P.s. Here’e a photo of me feeding a wallaby



The first two weeks I was in Australia, I kept track of all of my “first”s: first time SCUBA diving in open water, first time ordering a drink in a bar, first time white water rafting, the list goes on and on. And I had a first for 14 out of the first 15 days though I will admit it was occasionally things like “my first night in a residential college!”. Still, I’d just landed in Australia for the first time ever.  Every thing, down to the smallest detail, was exciting.

Well here I am having finished up my first week of classes and admittedly things are a bit less exciting. I don’t get to spend my days exploring the rainforest or just laying on the beach. But I’m taking classes that are more closely aligned to my desired career than any available at Whitman. It seems that the best part of going to school in a major city will be the numerous resources available. My zoology classes are taking me to the zoo, botanical gardens and other field sites around the city. The elective class I’m taking is Art and the Indigenous Voice and we’ll hear from Elders, Activists and other influential people. These are all advantages that I’ve missed out on a bit by going to a school that’s surrounded for miles by nothing but agriculture.

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The only directions provided to find the classroom

Another upside of a big school is the number of professors here. Three of my four classes are team taught. One of which has had a different lecturer for each of the three lectures held last week, a trend which is supposed to continue. This allows us the opportunity to hear from experts about their own field where they’re not only extremely knowledgable, but the most passionate. Not to say it’s without it’s disadvantages. Not only does this class have different lectures, but it also has different lecture theaters. One of the most disconcerting things about the first week of classes is walking into a room and not being totally confident that it’s the room your class is being held in. With lectures being held different classrooms AND being taught by different people you get the joy of going through that experience multiple times for one class.

That’s not the only way it feels like the University is trying to trick us. I had the hardest time last week finding one of my classes. I knew where the building was so I wasn’t too worried about it, but every time I went in an entrance I found a dead end in a hallway that did not contain my classroom. It wasn’t until the fourth unique entrance that I finally found the elevator that took me to where I needed to go.

Now that I’ve successfully made it to all my classes and settled in Melbourne, my firsts have begun to dwindle. But stayed tuned because in a couple weekends I’m going on a trip to Phillip Island and I just booked my Easter break trip to Kangaroo Island.

Until next time,