During Spring semester 2013, Rob Clarkson embarked on a journey that would open his eyes to the wider world and provide him with many memorable interactions and experiences. He studied abroad with CAPA International Education in Sydney during his junior year at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he also completed an internship with a professional team in the National Rugby League. Below, Rob talks about how his internship will impact his future career, tells the story of an encounter with a certified scuba diver and describes the very specific taste of kangaroo.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
ROBERT CLARKSON: My name is Rob Clarkson. I’m a senior Marketing and Communications Major from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I love exploring, meeting new people, and experiencing the unfamiliar. Last spring, during my junior year, I studied abroad on the CAPA program in Sydney, Australia. It was an experience I am very grateful for, and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to study abroad.
When I’m not working, I love practicing guitar, playing tennis, hanging out with some good friends and taking photos. Making videos has become a hobby of mine and I take pride in creating great visuals for everyone to enjoy. My goal after graduation is to combine work and travel, to continue discovering new things and to keep educating myself further.
CW: Tell us a story of a memorable interaction you had with a local and why it left an impression on you.
RC: I took a weekend trip to Cairns the week before the program was going to end. The intention of the trip was to go scuba diving for the first time in my life, on the Great Barrier Reef. Other than that activity, I really didn't have any plans. So when my flight landed just around 9am, I decided I would explore the town a little bit and check into my hostel. When I opened the door to my room, I was greeted immediately by one of my roommates - Tobi. He walked up to me, reached out, shook my hand, and introduced himself as well as everyone else who was staying in the room. It turns out they were all German which was really cool, and after some conversation, he invited me to go rock climbing with him this same day.
I didn't have anything to do, so I gladly accepted. What better way to begin my Cairns adventure? Another roommate of ours, Florian, joined Tobi and I as we embarked to go rock climbing. On our walk to the rock climbing place, we ran into this old couple that had a giant goose for a pet, and we all stopped to start talking to them and admire how big their pet goose was. It turned out, through our conversation, they owned a boat, and have led Reef tours in the past. The guy was a certified scuba diver with over 5,000 scuba dives to his name, and he and his wife were looking for a crew. Unbelievably, they offered us a job - to be their crew members for a week, maybe more, live on the boat, eat only what we catch, and the guy would teach us how to dive and take us to all of the best spots on the reef.
I didn't take this offer. You may be thinking I’m crazy, and you’re right. But the timing just couldn't have worked. I still needed to go to school, complete my internship, and I didn't want to miss out being with everyone on the last week on the program. Whenever I think about this interaction, I always wonder, what if? If it wasn't for the internship, the schoolwork, and my obligation to the program, I would have done it. I really would have. Part of me wonders if it was worth it to miss and if I made the right decision - after all I did have a flight back to the States I didn't want to miss if this boat trip lasted more than a week. Imagine having to explain that to my parents. Tobi checked out of our hostel the next day and left with them.
What I learned from this interaction, and from that day, is that people are inherently nice, and you never know what a day will bring. The couple gave me their card and told me if I was ever in the area again to let them know. This is an offer I intend to take next time around.
CW: Which MyEducation event was most memorable for you and why? How did your participation in this event change your understanding of the city?
RC: The MyEducation event that was most memorable for me was TropFest. TropFest is the largest short-film festival in the world, and as someone who loves making movies and watching films, I was extremely excited to hear that TropFest was a MyEducation event. The timing just worked out perfectly; it was the last year the event was going to be held in February, and I chose to go abroad in the Spring, thus being able to attend.
What made the event most memorable for me was the excitement. It was a communal event and nearly a hundred thousand people turned out all for the love of creating and sharing art. My friends and I just found a spot among the masses and laid down on some blankets to enjoy the atmosphere, eat some snacks, and watch some good films. If the event changed anything about my opinion of the city, its that Sydney is an immense community, and its diversity is only out shined by the support everyone has for each other.
CW: When you think of your host city, what first comes to mind when you hear the following:
Sight: The Opera House
Sound: The Ocean
Smell: Fresh potato wedges (with sour cream and sweet chili sauce)
Taste: Kangaroo. It’s a very sweet, very lean meat, distinctive from other meats I've tried.
Texture: The broad-leaved paperbark tree. The bark is extremely soft, and instantly identifiable.
CW: What were your first impressions of your host city? How did these change over the course of the semester?
RC: Upon arriving in Sydney, it just felt different. I got a sense of the culture very early on and my impressions of the city developed along with my fascination for it. Cars were driven on the opposite side of the road, McDonald’s and Burger King each had different names (Macca’s and Hungry Jacks respectively), there was a greater emphasis on using coins and not bills, sports betting was legal and encouraged, and everything was very, very expensive. My impressions didn't change too much over the course of my time abroad, and I still describe the city the same way.
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?
RC: I can’t begin to describe everything that I learned about myself during my time abroad. My abroad experience has taught me that I can do anything that I put my mind to. It has helped me gain invaluable cultural awareness and experience, and the knowledge that I can successfully live on my own. I am more freely able to step out of my comfort zone, and be the person I want to be. I've seen the positive changes in my personality, well-being and mentality as a result.
If I've learned anything about the world around me, it’s that the world is a massive landscape that is begging to be explored. Don’t be afraid to meet new people, as everyone is inherently nice and is willing to help you out. Furthermore, you and only you determine your day - so how will you spend it?
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?
RC: My internship abroad was with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, a professional Rugby team in the National Rugby League. I worked in the Membership Department, and my responsibilities consisted of managing the entire clientele database, selling individual and season ticket packages, as well as being the primary contact for all customer inquiries. I felt very privileged to be given the latter responsibility, as they trusted me to perform this enormous task.
The internship experience undoubtedly has helped me in my career. For one, it confirmed to me what I do and what I don’t want to do with my career, and for that I’m grateful for the path I've taken since then. Secondly, I absolutely love how I can say I have international work experience - it definitely sets me apart from others in the workforce. I learned an immense amount about the role culture plays in the work environment, how the employees, and the business as a whole, conduct themselves, and how to effectively run a business of my own.
CW: What were the biggest challenges you faced in adapting to your host country? Most rewarding moment?
RC: The biggest challenge I faced when adapting to the Australian culture was just the freedom and independence I had. It was up to me to learn and figure out how to immerse myself in the culture. The most rewarding moment to me in this regard was on the very first night in Sydney. One of my roommates, whom I just met that day, and I, decided to walk the hour back to our apartment from our location in the center of the city. It was a liberating feeling knowing that after only a day, we were able to navigate ourselves home through the city.
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?
RC: North Sydney is probably the area that surprised me the most. One aspect of this part of the city that is very noticeable is that there are no trash cans. Trash cans were banned in North Sydney in the 80’s and contrary to what one may think, the place is absolutely spotless. The mayor at the time, Ted Mack, believed citizens would find other methods to get rid of litter if trash cans weren't present, and he was right. When I was first told this, I was surprised, but I fell in love with the idea. This fact made me realize the city was very environmentally friendly and proactive with sustainability efforts. Sydney, and especially North Sydney, is the cleanest city I've ever been to in my life.
CW: How do you imagine that your experience abroad will change the way you approach your environment now that you are back home? How do you think it will change the way you approach your studies?
RC: My experience abroad has changed the way I view my environment at home simply because the broad perspective I’ve gained through my travels has allowed me to view my surroundings differently. I’m no longer just “home”, but I’m in the United States, and I feel excited and privileged to have the opportunity to both be where I am currently and to visit new places around me. What I’ve come to realize, is that everywhere I go is a different stop on my journey, no matter how close or how far away from home I am.
My approach to educating myself, not just my studies, has changed. The opportunity to learn is limitless and I won’t hold myself to just what is taught in the classroom. I find myself more eager to take on challenges and more focused in my studies. Among my new interests is learning a new language and I hope to begin learning one soon.