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Hutton Honors College

 — Indiana University

Coraline Haitjema spent her junior year abroad in Adelaide, Australia.

Coraline Haitjema
Fall 2001

Reflections of a Semester Abroad in Adelaide, Australia

When I told people that I was going to study abroad for a semester in Australia, they would gasp and say how amazing that sounded, and what an experience it would be. But I didn't quite know what to expect. It wasn't until the moment that I boarded my first plane in Indianapolis, and I waved good-bye to my family at the departure gate, that I realized that I was actually doing this, I was actually going to Australia, "the land down under."

Thirty-six hours later I arrived at Adelaide International Airport and was greeted by the international student's host from Adelaide University. I remember not knowing which way to look, or what to listen to as we drove through the city of Adelaide. When I arrived at St. Mark's college I was greeted by Phil, a tall, chiseled redheaded Australian, and the president of St. Marks. The college was picturesque, much like the campus of Oxford. I was shown to my room in Memorial Hall, overlooking the lawn tennis courts and the back of St. Peter's Cathedral, the "largest in the Southern hemisphere" I was told. I still had no idea what to expect, or how this college would be the center of my universe for the next 4 months.

"So where did you stay?" When people ask me this I hesitate because a thousand images of everything, from the sink in my bathroom to the bench in the shade around the pond to the dining hall, the center of bustling social activity are running through my head. Also, the spirit of all the crazy college events, from intramural sports, to Marksenfest, to the College ball, suddenly fill my veins. The bright light from the Australian sun flashes in my eyes and touches my skin. The smell of the constantly fresh cut grass fills my nose. So I say, "at a coed college called St. Marks." And then all of the sensations surrounded me suddenly sink when I realize I wouldn't be able to describe what it was like. This is what "culture-shock," the most frustrating part about being back.

"Did you get to travel?" They ask. And I say "yeah, I went up the Red Center, saw Uluru, and the second week we went down the coast of Queensland." What I can't explain is the vast nothingness that my friends I and experienced when we traveled for 19 hours on the Ghan from Adelaide to Alice Springs, and that when we went to bed, and we woke up, there was no difference in the landscape. I couldn't tell them about the interesting travelers I met, and their expressions as they told of their own adventures. Then when I woke up at 4 o'clock in the morning and was walking around the base of Uluru at sunrise, the amazing colors that painted the rock that literally took my breath away. Or I couldn't describe the sensation of the warm tropical Pacific water on my skin that sprayed up from the Catamarang on the way to the Great Barrier Reef. Or the intensity of conversation we had with these Irish backpackers in Brisbane.

"Did you meet some cool Australians?" Some ask. My usual answer is "yes, I met a great group of girls and guys and ended up spending a week on an island with them when school got out." What I can't describe is the bliss happiness I felt around the campfire on the beach at night, and how I felt I could really be myself, and that I was excepted for who I was, regardless of what city I came from, or who my friends were.

As much as I fell in love with the carefree, happy attitude of Australia, on September 12th, at 1:30 am I realized where my home was. I predict that the events of September 11th will be remembered much as the assassination of JFK, it was a national trauma, and no one will ever forget where they were when they heard the news. Much the same way, I will never forget sitting around on my floor of Memorial Hall, and my friend Jess flying down from her room on the top floor to drag us in front of her TV because there was something going on that she "just couldn't explain." And for the rest of the night twenty American students sat teary eyed in front of the TV not knowing what kind of honor movie they were watching. Most of the Australians were hanging out in the hall, not knowing exactly what to do or say to comfort some of the crying American students who couldn't get through to their parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends in New York and Washington D.C. For the next few days the Americans didn't leave the college. The only time I was homesick was in these following few days. There was talk of the boarders being shut. It was then that I realized how incredibly far away Australia is and how isolated we were. A week later we were traveling up to Alice Springs on vacation, and to a certain extent we were living in our own little bubble, where the realities of the crisis back home just wasn't in our face, but more over only in our thoughts.

Now that I am back, I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to go to Adelaide and have these unforgettable experiences. Above all studying abroad helped me to encompass who I am, how much I have, and where I belong: I am therefore also thankful that I was born in this country, where opportunities for study abroad, and for self discovery are so plentiful.