Kayla Sutter spent Fall 2013 studying abroad in Sydney with CAPA International Education. During her semester abroad, alongside her classes, she interned with a team from the National Rugby League, attended a weekend surf camp and visited Malaysia. Below, Kayla shares a story of a conversation with a local that changed her outlook, the differences in grocery shopping between Sydney and the States and an area of the city that was completely unexpected.
CAPA WORLD: Tell us a bit about yourself.
KAYLA SUTTER: My name is Kayla Sutter and I just graduated from Arizona State University. I studied business with a concentration in communication and international business. I studied abroad in Sydney, Australia, during Fall semester 2013. While I was there I interned with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, which is a team in the National Rugby League. For fun, I enjoy being outdoors, watching any kind of sport and traveling.
CW: Which MyEducation event was most memorable for you and why? How did your participation in this event change your understanding of the city?
KS: One of the most profound MyEducation events I decided to do was attend the International Fleet Review at the Sydney Harbor. It’s an annual event where Navy ships from around the country arrive at the harbor and are welcomed by thousands of people. The event takes place at night and there is a light show and fireworks that accompany the presentation of the ships. The event really helped me to observe the diversity of Sydney. There were people of all ages and ethnicities present but they were all embracing the same thing. Being a part of such a huge event made me feel like I belonged in Sydney. It really conveyed the message that Sydney embraces everyone and everything and that we can all belong there.
CW: Describe your first trip to a local supermarket. Did you see anything you wouldn't find at home? What was similar? What was different?
KS: Even though many aspects of life in Sydney were very similar to the United States, some things were quite different. Grocery shopping was one of these things. There are two main differences with grocery shopping in Sydney.
The first is that they have a ton of markets. At every train station and throughout the streets there are markets of fresh meats and vegetables. It seems that everyone buys their groceries daily or every other day vs. in America where we prefer to buy in bulk.
The second difference was that even at their major grocery stores, their selections were more limited. Not only that, but it was common for them to be out of a certain item. In America you would never find something missing at a major grocery store, but in Australia it happened often - mostly in their produce and imported item departments. I think it had to do with the fact that they only ordered for the day or for a couple days and didn't keep a lot of back stock. It made me feel a lot better to know everything I was consuming was fresh! There were a lot of items at their stores that I wouldn't find here, especially some of their favorite local treats like Tim Tams.
As far as American products go, you could basically find whatever you wanted as long as you were willing to pay the higher import price.
CW: Describe an area of the city that has 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?
KS: In Sydney not far from where we were staying there is a huge China Town. It was crazy to me that within a block you literally felt like you were on another continent. In China Town, there were a ton of Asian restaurants and stores for all sorts of different things, ranging from clothes to spices and medicines. The streets were decorated like you would find them to be in Asia and the entire area was crowded and busy much like the streets in Asia. Sydney is very westernized, so it was surprising to see such a stark difference in a very short distance. I didn't expect to see an entire other culture so severely embraced right in the heart of Sydney. It made my sense of everyone belonging in Sydney stronger. It was unique for me to observe such different cultures embraced by the city.
CW: Tell us about your internship in Sydney. Talk about American work culture versus the work culture in your host country.
KS: I interned with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, a National Rugby League Team. Interning in their office, I experienced work culture similar to that in America but also very different. I found interning there to be a lot more laid back. It was common and encouraged to take “tea time”, or short breaks throughout the day. It was also common for employees to visit one another’s work space and talk about their personal lives. In America it seems a bit taboo to talk in detail about your weekend with your coworkers, but in Australia there was very little division between work and personal life. It felt more like a family than an office. Despite their laid back atmosphere, I did not notice a difference in quality of work or productivity. Everyone was very ambitious and motivated to get their work done. I very much enjoyed interning in Australia and with this company.
CW: Did you attend a play, a concert or another event in your host city. How was your experience different from home?
KS: While I was living in Australia, I attended a play at the Sydney Opera House. This is obviously a tourist destination so I can’t compare it too closely to an experience at home. However, I can say that it was an extremely incredible and memorable experience. The play I attended was Vere by John Doyle. It was about the differences between faith and science, but they put a comedic twist on it to make the heavy topic lighter for the audience. It was amazing being in the opera house and even though I didn't pick a traditional play or ballet, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I liked that the Opera House offered plays like the one I attended for younger, more modern audience members. I don’t think I could have gotten near the experience at home because the opportunity simply doesn't exist.
CW: Share a story of a memorable interaction you've had with a local and why it stood out for you.
KS: While I was abroad, I attended Surf Camp at Seven Mile Beach. It was a weekend trip that included several surf lessons and two nights stay on the beach. While I was there, I met one of the surf instructors. While we were talking he told me about his life as an instructor and about how he spends the Australian summers surfing and teaching and the Australian winters vacationing in Indonesia. Even though he was in his early twenties, he had so many more amazing experiences to share than I think people of similar ages in the United States do. It stood out to me because I firmly believe after spending time in Australia that here in the U.S. we don’t take enough time to enjoy life. It seems like we get so caught up in the daily grind that we don’t treat ourselves to travel or the things that truly make us happy. Talking to Mitch motivated me to keep enjoying life to the fullest and take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way even when it seems risky or crazy, because you only have one life to live.
CW: As a study abroad student, you were representing Americans abroad. Were you conscious of your behavior in relation to typical stereotypes of Americans? Has living abroad changed any stereotypes that existed in your own mind about your host culture?
KS: During our pre-departure orientation, we were told to be conscientious of our behavior abroad because we were representing our university and our country. Fortunately for me, I chose a country that loves Americans. There were still times that I noticed us living up to stereotypes, as Australians view us as being louder than they are. When we were on trains and buses, the American students would all be talking and laughing while all of the Australians were keeping to themselves.
I also noticed a difference in the classroom. One of our professors told us that Australian students skip a lot of classes and only show up for exams, but we made sure to never miss a lecture.
Additionally, during our Spring Break, my roommates and I traveled to South East Asia. It seemed that they had a lot more negative stereotypes about Americans. When we were in Malaysia we definitely stood out for our clothing and light skin and I could tell that everyone was paying attention to everything we did. It was pretty intimidating as we were trying to be as safe as possible while also positively representing our country.
If anything, Australia lived up to my stereotypes because people there are very laid back, happy, and enjoy the beaches and hanging out with friends.
CW: What advice do you have for other students considering a study abroad program?
KS: What are you waiting for? No, seriously. Go! It could not be more of a right decision. Before I left for Sydney, I started second guessing my decision. I was nervous to leave home, nervous I would be lonely, that I would have culture shock, that I would miss out on everything at home. But the truth is, everything will remain the same while you are away, except for you. You will change and grow and become a better version of yourself. If you don’t study abroad you will be missing out on the best possible experience of your college career. Studying abroad gives you a better understanding of the world and of yourself. It increases opportunities in the future, introduces you to people and cultures and makes you more appreciative and aware of the world around you. Stop thinking about it, and go. I promise you will not regret it. Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity that you should not let pass you by.
CW: What have you learned about yourself and the world around you by studying abroad?
KS: I think the first thing I learned about the world around me is that I don’t know much of anything about the world around me. Studying abroad ignited a fire inside of me that has increased my curiousty and thirst for knowledge a thousand times over. Before leaving for Australia, I was content with my life in America. I took a lot of things for granted, and always assumed that my life in the States was to the highest quality possible. But the truth is, there is an entire world out there full of experiences and people that should be embraced. While I was abroad, I learned that I have so much to gain about opening my eyes and expanding my horizons. I learned that although my life in America is amazing, life in other places of the world can be just as great. After studying abroad, I have decided to continue taking advantage of all the crazy opportunities that are thrown my way, and have decided that I’d rather own little and see the world than own the world and see little of it.