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New Insights

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Warning: most of this blog is me nerding out about how neat Planet Earth is.

A few weeks ago at a market in Sydney, I had a heart-to-heart conversation with a vendor at one of the booths about the Great Barrier Reef and the implications of climate change on humanity. We talked about the threats that our ecosystems are facing, and just how big of a role these reefs and oceans play in Australia’s economy and in the world.

Thinking about that conversation afterwards, it was one that I would never think of having back in Indiana. Being born and raised in landlocked Indiana, I never spent time around the ocean. It was never a major focus in any of my classes, let alone being talked about around the dinner table or at random markets. Yet, it’s such a common thing for Australians to talk about conserving their oceans and reefs and the threats among them.

For that reason, living next to an ocean and a place with such incredible wildlife has completely expanded my horizons of thinking about water, Earth, and everything that’s inhabiting it. In Indiana, I’ve studied aspects of biology that are equally important, but different nonetheless (IU, I still love and appreciate you!).

Over Easter, I took a trip to see the Great Barrier Reef first hand after I had been hearing all of this talk about it, and it turned out to be the most remarkable experience I’ve ever been blessed to have. I had never been snorkeling, let along scuba diving, and doing so blew me out of the water (quite literally). I felt like I was put in a scene straight out of Finding Nemo—bright corals, giant clams, schools of fish around my head, and even a shark that swam beneath me. While the reef in itself left me speechless, I also saw part of the reef that looked like it hadn’t fared so well. I saw fields of white, bleached coral in the distance, completely vacant of life that had once inhabited it. In these moments, it was easy to see the implications of climate change and how devastating it truly can be. Once I had seen something so lifeless that once had so much beauty, it was impossible for me to not feel passionate about the conservation of it.

snorkeling

Once in a lifetime experience at the Great Barrier Reef.

The great thing about this experience and passion has been that I keep learning more and more about it in my classes. Something about the Great Barrier Reef gets brought up just about every other class because of how intertwined it is with all of biology. I’ve been able to study the biodiversity of molluscs in class, and the next week actually measure this diversity on the beach for ourselves. We’ve gone out on a boat to collect samples of plankton in the ocean to study them even further. Definitely different experiences than biology labs in Indiana!

Australia beach

Studying mollusc diversity on this beach

So, a piece of advice for prospective study abroad students: go somewhere that will actually be beneficial to your major in ways that your home university cannot. I know studying abroad usually appeals because it seems like you’re going on a 6 month vacation (and you’re not completely wrong), but it is also an opportunity to completely reignite your passions or discover passions that you never knew you had. I have always been passionate about wildlife and the environment (a big reason why I’m studying biology), but being here has struck a different chord in me. It’s a new aspect that I would have never gotten in Indiana, as much as I love and miss it. As students, it is so necessary to keep learning through experiences and exploring, not only from textbooks and lecture slides. While that may not mean visiting the Great Barrier Reef for everyone, it could also mean going to see a landmark or exploring a new city. We live in an incredible world!

cliffs overlooking the ocean

Exploring the coasts of Australia

Hollay Paddack - exploring the ecological diversity in Australia

It’s a Love Story

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Any true love story goes something like this: First there is an initial attraction between two. Then comes the pursuit of one by the other, but not without some sort of conflict. Something is always in the way—whether it’s distance, love that isn’t returned, or the dreadful parents keeping two lovers apart. Then comes a sigh of relief when the two overcome obstacles and are actually able to fall head over heels in love with each other, and in the end they live happily ever after (thank you, Disney).

I like to think that Australia and I have our own little love story going while I’m here, and I’d like to let you in on it.

When arriving in Australia, I was blown away by the newness of every tree, flower, insect, and animal that I had never seen before. You might even say it was love at first sight flying into the Sydney Airport!

Then comes the chase. It’s been easy to see how Australia has been wooing me with the perfect sandy beaches on one side of Wollongong, lush green mountains on the other. There are flocks of bright red cockatoos that always greet me in the morning on my walk to class, and the Opera House in Sydney is even better than all the pictures make it out to be; it is truly remarkable sitting on the edge of the Sydney Harbor.

kangaroos

Pure happiness while befriending some kangaroos

opera house

The view of the Opera House never gets old!

So here comes the conflict: In my case, Australia has definitely been pursuing me and not the other way around—I admittedly had not come in with the best of mindsets. I couldn’t help but feel homesick and I longed to be at home. I missed my fiancé (who had just proposed to me days before I left) more than I could have ever imagined and have never felt such a pit in my stomach like the one I felt my third week here, realizing I had to be away from him for 5 months. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy transition, and I wasn’t about to let Australia whisk me away from my home without putting up a fight.

So that’s just what I did—I ignored most of Australia’s beauty for a while. Don’t get me wrong, there have been lots of laughs, adventures, and memories made over the past few weeks here in Wollongong, but in the back of my mind I had been secretly counting down the days until I could come back home.

As the storyline progressed, I found myself taking a trip to the Blue Mountains this past weekend. One of the first places we hiked to was a lookout point over a section of the mountains. Words don’t do justice for the view that the overlook gave us, so I won’t even try to describe it, but just know that it was immense and it was incredible. It was one of those moments when you have no idea what’s about to hit you, but then it does, and it completely takes your breath away. There was practically no use of taking any pictures, because they didn’t do it justice. I wanted to stare into that valley of mountains long enough until I had the image ingrained in my mind forever.

echo point

Fun Fact: The Blue Mountains look blue because of the mist of oil that comes from the leaves of the Eucalyptus trees, which actually refracts blue light.

I like to think that hiking through those mountains was a turning point in Australia and my relationship. It took bringing me one Australia’s most beautiful sights to make me fall in love, but I sure did. I suddenly wanted to see more of Australia and I wanted to travel to every inch of this continent.

With all that being said, the story is surely not over. That weekend made me finally realize that there is so much for me here in Australia, and the most fun part about that will be the adventure of figuring it all out. There will continue to be ups and downs, but I truly believe that Australia and I will end up happily ever after in my time abroad.

van

Loving everything about whoever’s van this is!

Hollay Paddack - exploring the ecological diversity in Australia

Take the Leap

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plane ride

First sight of Sydney

After what seemed like an eternity in a plane, I finally made it to my new home for the next 5 months. I hopped off the plane and into a shuttle that took me from the Sydney airport, through the city, down winding roads through miles of national park, and finally to the beautiful coastal city of Wollongong. I was dropped off at my dorm, where one of the RA’s got me checked in and gave me a little tour of the area. After he led me to my room, he handed me my key, wished me good luck, and then was off to help the next student in line. My immediate thoughts at that moment after he left:

  • Oh no. What am I doing here.
  • I’m alone in my room, and I don’t know anyone in this dorm. Actually, I don’t know a single soul in this entire continent. Wow, I’m really alone.
  • What am I supposed to do now?
  • Is everyone else feeling like this?
  • And again, what am I doing here?!

After my initial freak out, I felt like I couldn’t handle the intensity of how alone I was feeling, so instead of unpacking my suitcase, I decided to do something risky. Something that as an introvert, I normally wouldn’t think of doing—I walked out of my room. I went straight to the only place I knew people would be at (the cafeteria) and joined a table. After introducing ourselves and talking for a bit, we decided that it was too beautiful of a day not to go to the beach (only a 10 minute walk away—one of the many perks of living here!).

All in all, I spent the entire afternoon at the beach and met more people than I would have ever expected on my first day, something that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t left my room. It would have been much easier to resort to what would have been comfortable for me—unpacking, organizing, and going to a store to get some essentials for the week. However, I think that’s true for most situations that seem scary or uncomfortable. It just takes one big gulp of courage to take that leap of faith and from there your comfort zone will expand right before your eyes.

beach

Can you believe that this is my backyard?

When I went back to my room later that evening, I quickly learned that my bed hadn’t come with sheets or a pillow and that the nearby stores had already closed for the day. That night, I slept with an airplane pillow and sweatshirts as blankets on a bare mattress pad. I wasn’t mad in the slightest though, because I had just spent my day on a beautiful beach in Australia with awesome people.

If there’s one thing I’ve been learning during my first week as an exchange student in Australia, it’s that I am not alone. At the beginning of the school year, we’re all figuring things out as we go, making mistakes, and wanting a group of friends by our side to experience it with. Turns out, those friends I made at the beach are the ones who took me to Target the next day to get a pillow and sheets. 🙂 

hiking

Hiking through some local forests

Overlooking Wollongong from Mt. Kiera

Overlooking Wollongong from Mt. Kiera

Hollay Paddack - exploring the ecological diversity in Australia

The Beauty of Adventure

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Last week, I had an epiphany sitting in the chair at my dentist appointment. As my dental hygienist and I were talking about my upcoming trip to Australia, one of the first questions she asked me was “does your dorm have air conditioning?” and while I sat there for 20 minutes with tools in my mouth preventing me from talking, it hit me that I quite frankly know nothing about what’s about to happen to me. I had no clue whether there was air conditioning in my dorm, let alone what phone plan I was supposed to get or how to transfer my money to Australian currency.

Most people I run into ask questions like “Aren’t you SO excited?!” and “Have you started packing yet??” when they find out I’m studying abroad. Well, first thing’s first—I’m writing this a week before I leave and I have yet to even think about packing. But what’s more alarming to me when people ask me those questions is the fact that I haven’t actually felt all that excited to leave. It doesn’t seem appealing to not be able to see my family, friends, and boyfriend for five whole months. I love my roommates, I love IU, and I especially love Bloomington. Why would people voluntarily leave something that is so good to them?

Well, things have a way of seeming surreal until they’re actually happening—studying abroad is no exception to that. You don’t actually know what they will be like or what’s in store, but little reminders (like going to the dentist) keep telling you that it’s coming up, it’s happening, it’s inevitable. I have known since November that I was going to be spending a semester in Australia, but I hadn’t been faced with the realities that go along with that decision until now. With this intimidating realization, I can only remind myself of why I chose to study abroad in the first place.

I have long struggled with the pressures that come along with being a pre-med student at IU. Classmates seem to be members of every club on campus, all while maintaining a 3.9 GPA and volunteering on the weekends. I quickly fell into the trap of academic and professional pressure, always wondering if I would ever be enough. Studying abroad came out of the conclusion that I desire to be more than words on a resume. I want to truly live out those words so that people around me can testify what type of person I am by my actions.

So, I could either ignore that voice inside me, or I could start doing things to grow and better myself. If I do know one thing about myself, it’s that I love a good adventure. However, adventure forces you to turn away from what’s familiar in order to turn towards the unknown. It’s the simple beauty of adventure. Explorers may have no idea what’s ahead of them, but they do know it can only be good. They thrive for something different, something to stimulate a different part of their brain that’s never been aroused before. I want to see different sights, feel different feelings, and learn things about the world that I would never learn by simply staying put. What better way to do these things than studying abroad? I’ve made the choice, paid the fees, and said goodbye. Now it’s just time to sit back and hope the person next to me on the 16 hour flight and I get along!

Hollay Paddack - exploring the ecological diversity in Australia

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