Over 17 years ago, I took part in an Education Abroad experience at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. In making just one important choice in what now seems ages ago, I uncovered the focus of my graduate research, laid out a road map to my career, constructed the beginnings of long-enduring friendships, and explored cultural gems that still beckon from the other side of the world.
I’ve always wanted to go to Australia ever since I was a little kid. Reasons included experiencing unique animals, landscapes, and accents. I also had a good friend growing up who had family in Australia so naturally, it piqued my interest. I had traveled previously for shorter periods of time to Colombia, where the majority of my family resides, and Cameroon and France during a part of first year seminars abroad. Australia, however, was the first time that I ever been so far away from home. As the son of a single mom who worried over her son, going away for six to seven months was no small decision.
Most students would go to Cairns, Sydney, or Melbourne, but I wanted something different. I also wanted to focus on Aboriginal and Australian history for the International Studies portion of my major. I ended up falling in love with the University of Newcastle which offered both and so much more.
When it came time to select housing, I chose to live in housing with Australian students rather than with other international students who, like myself, were studying abroad from the United States and other countries. Once I arrived on campus, I moved into Evatt House, B 1st floor specifically where everyone shared one television and sometimes their cooking skills. I quickly formed friendships with local students who exposed me to authentic aspects of Aussie life.
I ended up volunteering for the Australian Red Cross while I was down there, and I participated in the Newcastle Ultimate Frisbee Club. Everybody in my hallway became a family. To this day, we still refer to ourselves as the B 1st Family.
Up until selecting the University of Newcastle, I felt some pressure from my academic advisers to study abroad in France or a French-speaking country because I was getting a minor in Francophone Studies. I discovered, however, an important French connection in his Australian studies that brought everything together. The University of Newcastle had a French-Australian history course that was phenomenal. I learned that there are still pockets of French-speaking communities in Adelaide and other parts of Australia. I also learned during my Australian History course about the budding independent nation of East Timor, which captured my interest in numerous ways.
After returning to the United States, I went on to do my undergraduate thesis on Australian and Indonesian foreign relations with East Timor. After graduation, I enrolled in graduate school where I earned a master’s degree in international public service and nonprofit management, while focusing my research on the Timor gap issue. I would never have heard of East Timor if I had never gone to Australia.
The threads of my education abroad program in Australia remain woven into my daily life. I am lucky to work in a position that allows me to assist students in realizing their own dreams of study abroad. Friends from Australia have now visited me on several occasions in the United States, and I recently went back for a mini a 10 year reunion with my mates. One of my Colombian cousins is now a permanent resident of Australia, and I visited him and my mates who I remain in close contact via Facebook.
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie….oi, oi, oi!
About the Author:
Lewis Cardenas is the Assistant Director of International Partnerships and Special Programs here at MSU. When he’s not jet setting across the globe, meeting new students and university partners, he’s usually buying the office some kind of sugary confectionery. 😍 Find out more about Lewis here.
Interested in learning more about our programs and exchanges? Take a look at our website, americansemester.msu.edu, where you can find a variety of resources.