Interview: CAPA Sydney Study Abroad Alumna Kristen Geatz

Mar 14, 2014 10:15:52 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

Meet Kristen Geatz, from Hood College, who studied abroad in Sydney with CAPA International Education during the Fall semester of 2013. Below, she remembers fondly her time in this global city, from her "Sydney as a Global City" class to her internship at the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre of NSW which has inspired her to look for similar internships back in the States and all of the cultural experience in between.

CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
KRISTEN GEATZ: I studied abroad in Sydney, Australia, in Fall 2013, where I interned at the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre of NSW. My home institution is Hood College, which is a tiny school in Frederick, MD. At Hood, I study Law and Society with minors in Criminology and Delinquency and Global Studies. At Hood, I also take part in the Hood College Dance Ensemble, Maryland Student Legislature, and the Ionic Society.

CW: Give three examples of ways in which you were able to tie the knowledge you've gained in your CAPA classes into the way you understand your host city.
KG: I feel like my classes were truly constructed to help me gain a better understanding of Sydney. In my Australian History class, we learned about Sydney’s importance as the initial landing sight of the First Fleet and how the colonization of Australia expanded from there. We also got to visit Hyde Park Barracks, the home of the convicts that first settled Sydney. I also took the class Sydney as Global City, which looked at the development of Sydney and how it became the city it is today. That class truly helped me understand why Sydney is so multicultural and not the typical Australian stereotype we are accustomed to in America.

Barracks Hammocks
Photo: Inside the Hyde Park Barracks by Gord Webster

CW: Tell us a story of a memorable interaction you had with a local and why it left an impression on you.
KG: I was lucky enough to be in Australia for the Melbourne Cup, a horse race that is watched nationwide. I was so excited to be included by my coworkers in such an important event. They made sure that I was present to experience the event as a true Aussie, and took great joy in participating in my first viewing of the race. I was also impressed with the camaraderie of Australians, and felt like I had been welcomed into a tradition. I knew that an experience such as that was why I wanted to study abroad, to truly become immersed in the culture, and that event made me feel like a genuine Aussie.

CW: What were your first impressions of your host city? How did these change over the course of the semester?
KG: When I first arrived in Sydney, I was simultaneously excited and overwhelmed, which I’m sure is normal for everyone who suddenly finds themselves transplanted. I found Sydney very fast-paced and bright, but I soon found my groove within the city. I also initially thought navigating Sydney would be nearly impossible, but once I figured out the public transportation system I felt like I could go anywhere I wanted with no problem at all.

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?
KG: I feel like a completely different person since studying abroad. I feel much more relaxed and ready to take on whatever comes my way, which I attribute to the Aussie state of mind. I also have acquired quite a case of wanderlust, where I just can’t wait to travel to a new destination. I had always wanted to travel the world, but now it feels like an absolute need. Studying abroad gave me a sense of independence and self-assurance I wouldn't have found without being a stranger in a foreign land.

Best of Sydney - the sun, gardens, history, cathedrals, architecture
Photo: Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney by Nagarjun Kandukuru

CW: When you think of your host city, what first comes to mind when you hear the following:
Sight: Bright! The thing that really struck me about Sydney was how sunny and beautiful it was all the time. The sky was always so blue. There are a lot of vibrant colors as well, bright green grass and palm trees and the flowers in the Royal Botanical Gardens. And at night the whole city lights up with restaurants and clubs. It’s a very vibrant city.
Sound: The sound I can hear is the noise the pedestrian walk lights make when it’s safe to cross a street. Another CAPA student pointed out it resembled the noise Buzz Lightyear makes in Toy Story, and I could never get that out of my head. I find myself waiting to hear it when I go to cross a street here in America.
Smell: The most intense smell in Sydney was that of the seafood in the fish markets. There was a seafood market in the North Sydney train station that I had to walk past every time I went to class, and it’s definitely a connected memory for me.
Taste: Meat pies! I became addicted to meat pies while in Sydney. They were my go to snack whenever I got hungry while out exploring the city. They were also a comfort food for lunch during a long day at my internship.
Texture: The sand between my toes at Bondi Beach. I loved digging my toes into the sand while watching the surfers.

CW: Tell us a bit about your internship that you completed while studying abroad, your duties and accomplishments. How will this experience help you in your future career?
KG: I loved everything about my internship while in Sydney. I interned at the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre, commonly referred to as HALC, as a paralegal. The great thing about interning at HALC was that in Australia, law students have to participate in practical legal training as a graduation requirement, so my office was accustomed to new people coming and going. They were very understanding with me in helping me not only get acclimated to work in the office, but also adjust to life in a new country. With HALC, I met with clients, did research for the solicitors, helped handle communication and outreach, and generally learned about the plight of people who are HIV positive. My internship helped me with my future career because before I had never had any interest in HIV/AIDS related issues, and now I am searching for ways to continue working with HIV/AIDS related groups here in America.

CW: How has internship experience impacted the way you think, study, work and/or live since you've returned home?
KG: I have found a new passion for human rights issues and HIV/AIDS related issues since working at HALC. I am currently working on applying for internships with HIV/AIDS rights groups in hopes to use the knowledge and training I gained in Sydney to help education and tolerance for HIV/AIDS in America.

Photo: Sydney bus by Nick Stylianou

CW: What were the biggest challenges you faced in adapting to life in your host country? Most rewarding moment?
KG: The biggest challenge for me was navigating the city using public transportation. Getting lost scared me immensely and I was terrified to travel to a new destination. I also didn’t like transportation times and running on someone else’s schedule. However, I remember being out with my roommate in Sydney and another person asking us for directions and we were able to explain to them in great detail how to get their destination without having to think twice. We were incredibly proud of ourselves at that moment, and truly felt we understood the city and belonged in Sydney.

CW: Describe an area of the city that surprised you and tell us what it was about it that you didn’t expect. How did this change your perceptions of the city as a whole?
KG: I had no idea Darling Harbour existed prior to arriving in Sydney, and yet it became one of the places where I spent most of my time. Darling Harbour is an exciting area with great restaurants, night clubs, an IMAX Theatre, a shopping center, a convention center, and my personal favorite, the Lindt Chocolate Café. It was a favorite go to for a relaxing Saturday, or a fun night out. That showed me that I really had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to study abroad in Sydney, but that Sydney had all kinds of amazing surprises to discover once you took the time to look for them.

Thanks Kristen!

Topics: CAPA Alumni, Interviews