Study Abroad in Sydney: Stories of Personal & Professional Growth

Feb 27, 2017 1:30:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

A CAPA Study Abroad Alumna Interview with Cherilyn Beckles

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Meet Cherilyn Beckles, a SUNY Oswego student studying broadcasting and public justice. She studied and interned abroad in Sydney, an experience that helped her grow both personally and professionally. Below, she talked a bit more about her day to day life interning with Southern Cross Austereo, the classes she took with CAPA and shares some practical advice on everything from living on a student budget to creating a sense of community with your housemates when you meet for the first time overseas.

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CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
CHERILYN BECKLES: I am from Brooklyn, New York with a Trinidadian background. I am a senior, graduating in December 2017, studying broadcasting and public justice at SUNY Oswego. I love to watch movies and not only for the enjoyment but because I love watching directing styles, costumes and set designs. It interests me how producers can recreate NYC in a studio in LA. I also enjoy coin collecting and reading literature. Coin collecting is a great way to learn about the history of a country and just an overall fun experience. I collected many coins on my way to Australia since my flight stopped in Hong Kong.

I chose to go to Sydney through CAPA because I have always wanted to go to Australia and figured that being able to not only study there but intern there would be the best way to get the true experience. As I was searching for the best program for me during the study abroad process, many caught my eye but CAPA stood out to me. I read a lot of reviews from satisfied people and talked to people who did the CAPA program and loved it. I knew that the program was for me and when I was accepted I was so excited for this trip and so grateful that I had also gotten the internship. CAPA seemed like the only program that offered an internship while abroad that you can also get credit with which was very important to me. I wanted to experience media abroad and immerse myself.

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CW: When you arrived, you settled into your accommodation. What was this like? Were you able to build connections and a sense of community there?
CB: When I arrived, I was very cranky. I had been on a plane for a long time and just wanted to rest. But after meeting my housemates and seeing everyone else in the program, it cheered me up a bit and I immediately started to make friends. We were housed not too far away from our classes in an accommodation called Urbanest. The rooms were bigger than I expected and had large windows which I liked. I also liked that we had our own bathrooms in our rooms that we only had to share with our roommate. There were eight of us in total in an apartment, all from different places and backgrounds but we bonded the first night when we introduced ourselves. I felt close to them and knew that I could trust them. Sometimes our kitchen and common areas got dirty, but we had frequent discussions about it and kept it as tidy as we could. We respected each other’s space and tried to hang out as much as we could just to be more comfortable living together. We had a pasta night where we all cooked pasta and contributed a dessert which was really nice. We were able to connect well and form a positive group among the eight of us and I really miss them.

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CW: Talk about academics abroad: Which classes did you take in Sydney? How did you balance academics with exploring and daily life?
CB: In Sydney, I took three classes including my internship class. I took a communications class, a film class and a creative writing class.

In my communications class, we talked about connecting with people and ways in which people communicate. Our teacher was able to ask us questions about the US and help us compare and contrast it to life in Australia. This helped us understand the differences but also appreciate the country. In my Film class we watched movies and presented on them to the class. We went through all of the different time periods of Australian film and while doing this we learned a lot about the history of the country and why the people are the way they are. We also touched on Aboriginal history and film which interested me the most because I had never heard about Aboriginals before coming to Australia. They have such a beautiful culture and ideology. My creative writing class allowed me to explore my creative side and write short stories and poems based on field trips around Sydney with our professor. I was able to go to art museums and historical houses which I probably would not have known about if I did not take this class.

All of these experiences that I had in all three classes made me think about Sydney on a deeper level and prompted me to go out exploring. Balancing exploring and my academics was not as hard as I thought. Classes were only once a week. I had my three classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays. After I did my hours from my internship, I explored and hung out with friends. Also, CAPA sent out weekly newsletters about things that we could do in the neighborhood which really helped me figure out which was the best thing to do and at what time.

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CW: Tell us a bit about your internship in Sydney, your expectations and what it was like in reality.
CB: In Sydney, I interned at Southern Cross Austereo which was a radio and television station in the heart of the Sydney. I worked only a few feet away from the radio personalities and reporters for the station, so it was interesting seeing that. I did TV ad sales which meant that I worked with clients to place “spots” or commercials into television. It was a great opportunity to work behind the scenes in the media world and to be given high value projects from my boss. I had to learn a new program called IBMS Sales which made buying and booking spots possible. I booked over 200 commercials a day! This was exhausting and sometimes repetitive. It also got frustrating when clients wanted a certain time period for their commercial but it was already taken. I made a few mistakes throughout the internship which sometimes caused me to have to scrap everything and start all over. This taught me to be more organized and detail-oriented when completing tasks. I did however like that my boss trusted me to give me difficult tasks, taught me things when I was wrong and praised me when I did something well. She was a great motivator, mentor and overall friend.

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CW: What was a typical day in your life as an intern like? What were some of your responsibilities and accomplishments and how will these help in your future career?
CB: Each day of my internship, I got to the office around 9am and immediately checked my email. In my email, my boss had already sent me a list of things that she had wanted done that day. I would grab a coffee (very important ritual) and begin responding to emails and corresponding with clients. When lunchtime came around, the entire office would get together for lunch on the rooftop and we would just talk and hang out until we had to get back to work. The remainder of the day, I assisted my boss with any extra work she had or helped my other co-workers. I was responsible for organizing companies and their budget for commercials for each month and placing commercials on the lineup each week by a certain deadline which was 3pm. This helped me to become more responsible and organized and work as part of a team.

Other internships I've had were more individualized and I did not have much of a relationship with my boss and co-workers but at SCA it was completely different. It made me realize that I want to work at a smaller, more intimate company. Especially for my first job out of college, I do not want to be thrown into a “pack of wolves”; I want a chance to grow and learn and at a bigger company I would not get that chance. This internship also helped me learn how to speak up and ask for assistance. I was so afraid to ask for help when needed or if I made mistakes that could have been avoided, but my boss explained to me that sometimes it's okay to seek help because it shows that you care and want to learn. This I will never forget and will remember to utilize in my future career.

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CW: Let's talk about budgeting! What are your best tips for stretching a student budget? What regular expenses should students plan ahead for when studying abroad?
CB: Budgeting was difficult, especially since Australia is a very expensive place to live.

Groceries took up a chunk of my money, but it was all about writing down what you need. Often I got distracted at the store and bought things that I wanted rather than what I needed. Living in an apartment with other girls, food often spoiled or was not used. It is best to buy groceries that will last the week so they take up less space in the fridge and buy something that you can make multiple meals out of. I mostly shopped at Coles and got a rewards card and deals on items that were on sale. It was easy to sign up and I saved money on everyday items.

Definitely plan ahead for trips and traveling. Your whole time might not be spent in Sydney and maybe you want to take a plane ride to another location while the tickets are not over-priced. It is best to plan ahead and use Groupon and student flights to get the best deals.

Shopping was also a big thing for me. There was so much nice clothing for great prices that I ended up having to donate some of the clothes that I brought with me to have space in my suitcase. If you know that you love to shop, budget out money for shopping and be careful not to over-shop like I did.

Lastly, another expense for me was eating out. Eating out was costly and is something that I suggest you only do once in awhile because by doing it every night it adds up. It’s much wiser and healthier to cook for yourself.

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CW: Did you ever experience homesickness abroad? What are some of your best tips for future students who struggle with the same?
CB: In the beginning I was fine and super excited about being abroad, but then after seeing all my friends on social media doing things back home, I felt like I was missing out. My FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) began to kick in and I wanted to go home at some points.

The time difference was a big problem and I was always late to respond to messages from friends or I would call at a bad time and would not be able to reach my family. There were times when I spent more time on social media and watching movies then actually building friendships in Sydney, which I do regret.

Coming around Thanksgiving was also hard because I usually spend it with my family, but that year I was in Sydney. I did, however, enjoy that CAPA made a Thanksgiving dinner for us in order to comfort us a bit. CAPA students also got together and had a potluck, so it made up for the fact that we were away from home.

Another thing that caused a bit of homesickness for me was peanut butter. I know this sounds crazy, but I love Skippy peanut butter and no matter how hard I looked, there was in fact no Skippy in Australia; there was only Kraft and Jif which I was not really a fan of. This one small thing sometimes made me sad because it was the idea of missing of all my “American” brands and having to compromise with Australian brands. This sometimes made me wary of trying new things, but honestly there were many times when I actually preferred Australian brands over American ones such as with  milk, cheese, blueberries, cookies and bread. The bakeries down there comforted me a lot.

To combat my homesickness, I traveled to other neighborhoods and learned to point out the similarities but also to appreciate the differences which is the key. You do not want to spend your entire time noticing things like peanut butter and Doritos being weird, but try alternatives and see if you like them. By complaining about things not being the same, it puts you in a box where you fear the unknown. So go out and explore and put down the cell phone all the time!

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CW: Tell us about a few things that you did that were "out of your comfort zone", how you found the courage to do them and how you felt afterwards.
CB: For starters, I cannot swim and I do not like heights which is something I had never compromised on before, but in Sydney I did. While in Australia, I befriended someone named Joy who was the complete opposite of me and pushed me to come out my comfort zone. I went snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, which is something I never thought I would  do. I was scared and uncomfortable at first; I did not even want to get into the water. But after talking to her and the instructor on the boat, I dived right in and had an amazing time. I saw beautiful fish and wildlife and, looking back on it now, I do not regret getting off that boat. Soon after, I was going out on my own and exploring the waters in the safe zones without an instructor. It built my confidence in myself.

This same girl, Joy, then took me on an adventure to view a forest area on cable cars that were more than 40 feet off the ground. The first time we got on it, I cried and freaked out because I truly fear heights and I had never really been that high up before, but she comforted me and showed me not to be afraid. By doing this, I got great pictures from up above and even though my fear of heights is not completely gone, I think that it is something I can compromise on for a great experience.

I remember my parents freaking out about me doing these activities because they know how fearful I get and even they were proud of me and quite shocked that I had stepped outside of my comfort zone to do some things. My mom calls me a “daredevil” which I think is hilarious especially because I still think that I have a long way to go.

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CW: Where were the places you carved out as "Your Sydney" - the places you found outside of the tourist sites, the places that were most meaningful for you? What was special about them?
CB: I loved a small neighborhood near Ultimo, which was where we were located. This was called Surry Hills. When I first heard of Surry Hills, CAPA had mentioned that there was a festival/food fair going on that day. I had no idea where this place was, but I knew that it was going to be a fun place to go to for the weekend. I used Google Maps and of course ended up lost, but eventually I got there. The neighborhood was just so active and full of colours. The flowers were so beautiful, they had so many different cuisines and events for children. The park there sold a lot of artisan crafts like jewelry, scarves and home trinkets. It was a great way to see Australian culture and other cultures too, mixed together in one place. I even got to see a horse which was pretty cool even though it caught me off guard. While Surry Hills is not a “turn up” place, it really is a quiet nice area to eat food, see interesting shops like a shop that dyed your clothing for you on the spot. Even better, it was right near the bus and train station, so if you ever need to go anywhere else or if you were going to Surry Hills, it is not really a hassle.

Another place I really liked was Newtown. Less than a 10-minute train ride, CAPA took us there for a food tour. At first, I was a bit skeptical because it looked like such a small neighborhood, but they sure can cook. I got one of the best Chinese food meals there and gelato. I found white chocolate Reeses there after looking everywhere, and I even got my hair braided. I felt a big connection there. It reminded me of the back parts of Park Slope which is a small neighborhood in Brooklyn because of all the benches they had and the artwork on the walls. I would recommend anyone to go check out Newtown especially in the evening when there are lots of pretty lights.

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CW: What changes have you seen in yourself since you began your study abroad program? What has your experience taught you about yourself and the world around you, including any larger global issues we face today?
CB: Being abroad has made me realize how uninformed about the world I was. I thought I knew so much about global issues, but I did not. Australians are super informed and knowledgeable about what is going on in their government, so when I was faced with difficult questions I knew that I had to do some research and try to keep up with politics. Politics never interested me because it is boring and mundane, but I have downloaded news apps and have dedicated time to reading at least two articles a day about global news. I want to be a reporter one day and it is important to know the facts so that I can give my viewers an honest story.

While I was down in Australia, the US election was going on and everyone was on their toes days leading up to the event. While I had known about the racist and sexist comments Trump had made I had not looked into his policies which also suck. I wish I had read up more on the election so I could understand fully what those rallying against him were fighting against. Feminism, wage gaps and education are now issues that I am seeing prominently since I got back to the US.

In Australia, they have way more vacation days than we do in the States and women were treated better in the workplace. Men and women were both going to the gym and doing “manly” stuff and not once did I hear a sexist remark during my time there. This is something that the US truly needs to work on.

I also learned a lot about myself while abroad: that I am passionate about my field and about learning as much as possible. I went down there as a sponge soaking up as much information as I could. I never want to settle and I never want to stop learning. I know that being down under is not the last stop in my global education map, because if I could travel over 20 hours to get to Australia I am sure now that I can go anywhere and be anything.

Thanks Cherilyn!

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Topics: Interviews, Sydney, Australia