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Hutton Honors College

 — Indiana University

Jeremy Brown
Spring 2001

It didn't seem like much when I first arrived. It was just a little pool with low brick walls located in the courtyard of St. Mark's residential college, where I was to spend the next 6 months. 'I can't believe I've been worried about this,' I told myself as I walked past it for the first time. 'After all, how scary can a little pond be? Especially one in the shape of a cross with the statue of a saint in the middle!' For months I had been imagining a gargantuan lake that stood just off the edge of the St. Mark's campus like a dark, forbidding guardian looking down on all who disobeyed the rules of her beloved college. This was certainly not what I found.

My fear had arisen, and indeed grown, over the previous several months after having been regaled with so many stories of this famous body of water. The reason it struck such worry in me was the idea of being ponded. Ponding is the process by which you are laid on the edge of the wall surrounding the "pond", soaked with water, and then rolled in, regardless of whether you are enthusiastic about this whole idea or not. Upon hearing such accounts, I immediately began to think of fraternity hazings here at IU. Hazing in general just seemed like the most ridiculous thing on Earth to me. Needless to say, I did not warm up to the idea at first.

While I managed to escape the ponding experience through effort, a little luck, and a few connections to the right people, it did happen to the more luckless of my compatriots. Hazing was certainly one of the motivations behind ponding, but it also served a much more important purpose. For the most part, this punishment only resulted if you violated a sacred St. Mark's dining hall rule. These included not wearing shoes in the hall, not refilling the pitchers if you emptied them, standing up during a formal dinner, and answering a cellular phone, among others. While most of these seem like trivial infractions, you would never see them enforced in such a way here in the States. These were obviously things that carried a lot of importance to the Australians at St. Mark's.

For the longest time I could not put my finger on exactly why these would be so important, so I passed them off as merely tradition. However, reading an essay given to me by the international students office in Adelaide made me immediately recognize the their way. Their land is a harsh one, as compared to the rich bounty of natural resources Americans have found at their disposal. Only by working together could they have survived. While this is hardly the same as refilling drinks or making sure to wear shoes, it does have a common theme; respect for others. The dining hall was the one true place of community for the entire college and it was important to respect such a place. While many, including some Australians, might disagree with me on such origins, I am sure that at some level this is the root of the tradition. Such a community respect explained other Aussie phenomena I came across, such as the insulting nature of sitting by yourself when you had the opportunity to sit with someone else at a meal, or how it was almost impossible to find an egotistical Australian. The individualism that Americans cherish so dearly was overshadowed by a respect for the group.

This realization gave me a new appreciation for the intricacies of the two cultures. There are quite distinct differences, but they often manifest themselves in very subtle ways. Initially I was somewhat concerned that this would dilute my study abroad experience, since there were fewer outright cultural differences to point to. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that such subtle differences require a much more observant eye. Only by being in tune with my newfound surroundings in a way that would have been impossible in many other countries with wider cultural gaps, could I begin to appreciate such differences. In this way, I learned a great deal not only about Australia, its people, its culture, and how to avoid getting thrown in a pond, but also about how to pay attention to the little differences in people. Who knows, maybe I even learned how to more closely examine myself in the process.