Arizona State University's Kate Kunkel learned a few valuable lessons when she studied abroad in Sydney with CAPA International Education during Spring semester 2013. Below she talks about the most important phrase she carries with her now that she's back in the States, a type of pizza she tried for the first time and how her academic classes and excursions helped shape the way she learned to understand her new environment.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
KATE KUNKEL: I studied abroad in Sydney, Australia, during spring 2013. I'm pursuing a major in journalism and a minor in exercise & wellness at Arizona State University. I have a million hobbies, but a few include writing, running, playing guitar, singing, blogging, reading, hiking and—my favorite—eating.
CW: Tell us about your first impressions of Sydney and any that changed by the time you went home. What surprised you most about your host country?
KK: To be honest, I thought Sydney was pretty overwhelming at first. I had never lived in such a huge city, and getting around via public transportation really threw me for a loop. However, I adapted pretty quickly (and made some friends who had GPS systems). Surprisingly, I could navigate relatively well by the end of the trip, and I learned that exploring a new city is one of the most exhilarating/stressful/rewarding experiences a person can have.
CW: Did you complete an internship while you were abroad? If so, tell us a bit about your experience.
KK: My internship with Edge Custom Media could not have been more perfect. I had the chance to interview a few up-and-coming Australian celebrities, and my feature stories were published in the Australian travel magazines OUTthere and Cruise Passenger. Also, I absolutely adored the people I worked with in the office. I can't complain about the location, either—the Edge office sits right off of Manly Beach, so I enjoyed a nice stroll on the shore every morning.
CW: Where in Sydney was it that you called home during your time abroad? What did you like most about your new neighborhood?
KK: My neighborhood was in Cremorne, a quiet suburb near North Sydney. The area was perfect for me. It had scenic running routes, friendly people, a grocery store within walking distance and tons of cute restaurants and coffee shops nearby. What I really loved was the dog park located right by the habor. After a run, I would sit in the grass and watch the dogs play, or just watch boats float by and take in the area's serenity. Talk about peaceful!
CW: What were the biggest challenges you faced in adapting to your host country? Most rewarding moment?
KK: The biggest challenge was getting out of my comfort zone to go out, explore and meet people. I've never been a crazy spontaneous person, but for this trip, I decided I should try to change that. Some friends and I booked fun, spur-of-the-moment trips, and sometimes we would just hop on a ferry by the harbor and see where it would take us. Making friends and having new experiences with them was the most rewarding part of my study abroad trip. I will never forget my amazing host family, my friends from CAPA or my Aussie friends that truly made my time in Sydney unforgettable.
CW: Did you have a chance to interact with the local community? If so, tell us the story of one interaction that stood out for you.
KK: I began looking for a local church to attend one of my first weeks in Sydney, and after a bit of searching (with my host family’s help), I was able to find one that fit me perfectly. St. Thomas’ Angelican Church in North Sydney provided me with a spiritual home away from home and connected me with some incredible people who welcomed me into their houses, bible studies and lives. I’m somewhat of a shy person when first meeting people, so I always feel a bit out-of-place in a large group of new faces, especially when most of the people already know one another. However, the community members of St. Thomas’ always made me feel comfortable, asked questions and sincerely wanted to get to know me. Although I was only able to spend a few months with them, these people helped me grow tremendously as a Christian. I highly recommend that future CAPA students find a community in their host country that makes them feel welcome and helps them get connected with locals.
CW: Talk a bit about CAPA International Education academics. What were your favorite classes and why? Did you participate in any MyEducation events?
KK: Taking cultural classes while abroad helped me learn more about adapting to a foreign country, and it allowed me to apply my new knowledge to real-life experiences. I loved my intercultural communication class because it opened my eyes and showed me that just because people may do something differently, it doesn't mean they are doing it wrong. For example, my class learned a lot about Asian cultures because of the high Asian population in Sydney. During a trip to Chinatown in the city, we learned about the importance of symbolism in Chinese culture, such as lucky numbers, colors and animals. It was fascinating to see how much these symbolic aspects blended into the architecture and lifestyle of Chinatown, demonstrating that learning about a different culture can help one appreciate the peoples’ way of life so much more.
CW: Now that you are back in the States, have you felt any sort of reverse culture shock? If so, what advice do you have for other students experiencing the same?
KK: I don’t think I experienced much reverse culture shock, but I will tell students returning home that social media is a great tool for staying connected in the lives of new friends from the abroad trip. The hardest part about leaving Sydney was saying goodbye to everyone and leaving my new friendships behind, but I now realize that distance doesn’t have to end these kinds of relationships. Add your new friends on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or anything that allows you to keep in touch—this way, you’re never really separated from your host country.
CW: What did your study abroad experience teach you about yourself and those around you?
KK: I learned an extremely important lesson in Australia that stemmed from one simple phrase: “no worries". This was always the Australian reply to any issues, mishaps or just general statements about life. I realized life shouldn't be taken so seriously, and adopting the laid-back Australian lifestyle makes for a much happier, healthier being. I continue to use the “no worries” phrase now that I’m back in the States, and while I still work hard at everything I do, I no longer allow myself to stress out or dwell on things that are out of my control. While Australia taught me a ton of lessons, learning to fully enjoy every moment of life without worries was definitely the one that stuck.
CW: When you look back at your time in Sydney, what was the most memorable of each of these?
Sight: The top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge after sunset. City lights, a firework show and shimmering water below—gorgeous!
Sound: Music from Alt-J, an English indie rock band I had never heard of before this trip. Thanks to my host family, I’m now completely addicted!
Smell: Salty ocean air in the Manly Beach area. As soon as I would step off of the bus, the smell took me straight to heaven.
Texture: Funky plants on the Great Barrier Reef. My scuba instructor introduced me to some crazy-looking, brightly colored specimens during my underwater adventure.
Taste: Kangaroo pizza. Although it’s not a typical Aussie dish, I had to try it—and I’m glad I did!