How I Made The Most of My Academics Abroad
Decision to Study Abroad as a STEM Major
Studying abroad in college was something I knew that I wanted to experience. I had watched my sister learn and grow so much during her study abroad semester in Copenhagen, Denmark and I wanted that for myself as well. However, I have also always dreamed of becoming a veterinarian and went into college on the pre-health track, taking a lot of rigorous science classes. The more I talked to my fellow STEM peers about study abroad, I became more and more discouraged about my dream to study abroad. Many of them said it was going to be really difficult to fulfill all of my major classes, not to mention getting ready to apply to a health professional school my senior year. I decided not to give up on my dream without educating myself first, so I set up a meeting with my Biology advisor to find out if I could make it work. We developed a course plan that would still allow me to study abroad.
Fortunately, the Biology department at Emory allowed for two courses to be counted as electives and my minor in Film Studies also allowed one study abroad course to count as an elective. These were courses I would have to take for my major and minor anyway, so why not take them in Australia where the course topics were unlike anything I could take at my home university? I am not sure why there is such a pessimistic view of the possibility of STEM majors studying abroad. I found that it is definitely possible if you plan ahead. My advice for incoming freshmen is to decide early on if study abroad is something you want to do and to meet with an advisor early so that you can plan out your courses. I’m glad I did not let others discourage me from having a life changing experience studying Marine Biology in Sydney, Australia!
Bush Rats and Ringtail Possums and Wallabies, Oh My!
While studying abroad at the University of Sydney, I was able to do a research internship that counted as one of my Biology major electives. My internship was in an ecology lab that focused on the ecology of herbivores, specifically mammals—how they live and interact with members of their own species, plants, predators, and the environment. I assisted lab members with foraging and behavioral ecology research, which included field-work with wallabies, ringtail possums, and bush rats. I completed around ten hours of internship experience each week.
I truly enjoyed learning about the Australian wildlife and the ecological challenges that they face living in their natural habitat. I am very fortunate to have had this research experience and it has helped me immensely in my pursuit of other research internships for the coming summer. It was an amazing learning experience to understand Australian working culture even as I earned credit toward my major back home. The internship was a lot more laid back than a lot of previous internship experiences I have had and there was more space for me to take initiative and contribute to lab meetings.
Expand Your Horizons In the Classroom
While studying abroad, I’d advise students to not only worry about taking required classes but to expand their horizons and take classes that are unique to the region. I wanted to take a class that would expose me to Australian culture and allow me to connect with the local community and culture while I was abroad. Sports are a really big part of Australian culture, so I decided to take a course called “Sports in Australian Culture.” We learned about Rugby, Cricket, Australian Rules Football, Lawn Bowls and Netball throughout the semester and were also required to go on six field trips to professional sporting events. It was so much fun and a great bonding experience for all of the international students who took the course!
The Ins and Outs of Academics in Australia
- In Australia, students study more narrow subject areas but delve much more deeply into a specific subject, while American universities often require broad “general requirements” to be satisfied.
- Some units of study bring in multiple professors to lecture. This exposes you to multiple teaching styles in one course, providing you with different ways to access the material.
- Attendance is not often taken for lectures, but it is for tutorial (discussion group) or practical (lab). Most of the lectures are recorded and many Australian students do not attend since it is common to live off-campus and commute from home. However, it is still important to attend lecture because it is easy to fall behind just watching them online at home.
- During O-week (orientation) at University of Sydney there was a club fair on the first day of classes. If you pay to get USU access which costs A$25 then you can join different societies. Some of the clubs have a A$2-5 fee to join and then you often get to attend their events for free. There are many societies including surfing, bush walking, quidditch, animal welfare, etc.
Overall, I really enjoyed studying at University of Sydney and I am grateful for the unique academic experiences I had including my internship and taking a marine biology course. I fell in love with the city and I am even considering continuing my education at University of Sydney’s School of Veterinary Science after I complete my undergraduate degree!
Amanda Henry is a Biology student at Emory University and studied abroad with IFSA at University of Sydney in Australia in Fall 2018.