Where did you study abroad? Did you have a study focus?
I’m a fourth-year architecture student at Carleton University. Last February, I was fortunate enough to travel from Ottawa to Adelaide, South Australia on a semester abroad program. My semester was four months long, but I chose to travel to Hawaii before school and to Asia after the semester ended. I was enrolled in a full-time architecture course at University of South Australia (UniSA) which included studio, technology and construction management classes. I can highly recommend UniSA’s architecture program for all architecture students. They provided a welcoming, inspirational atmosphere and organized environment. The unique surrounding architecture (the Jeffery Smart Building, for example) acts as a live learning space for student architects. My construction studio was heritage home-based. I learned a variety of new things in regards to designing, retrofitting and constructing a home. In contrast to Carleton’s conceptual and art-based studio classes, my work in Australia was was construction and technology driven.
What made your study abroad experience abroad a success?
I could not have experienced Australia without the friends I made while abroad. My international friends and I traveled together, dealt with the unavoidable homesickness, studied at the library and shared tips on where to go in Australia. I built long-lasting friendships and hope to visit their hometowns in the future. My two close friends from Adelaide are named Kane and Jordan. When I arrived, they welcomed me with open arms and by the end of my stay, even their moms felt like family to me! I was invited into their homes and experienced their culture first-hand. For example, Kane invited me to a friend's 21st birthday party and to a traditional Australian BBQ, and Jordan invited me to his home regularly for meals and studio sessions. Once I was even able to try some grilled kangaroo steak -- it was delicious! The boys gave me tips on what architecture was the best in town, took me camping, on tours, and invited me to events. Because of them, I was able to get the insider's perspective on Adelaide and its culture.
What was your return like? Do you plan to go abroad again?
My return home was pretty crazy. After my last exam, I traveled to Melbourne, Singapore, Thailand and then Bali. A friend and I spent ten days in Bali. At the beginning of our stay, a volcano erupted on a nearby island, Java, causing flights to and from Australia to be canceled for days. I stayed hopeful and adventurous, certain that the ash would clear up in time for me to fly back to Adelaide, pick up my luggage and head back home to Canada... and I was right! Everything cleared up. On the day of my overnight flight back to Adelaide, my friend and I went on a beautiful bicycle tour of Ubud, Bali. We saw rice terraces, toured a coffee plantation and the monkey forest, saw traditional Balinese buildings and villages, and socialized with the locals. But alas, during dinner I received an email… The volcano had erupted again, and my flight was canceled! From this experience, I learned to leave more than one day of buffer time while traveling! In the end, I stayed in airports and airplanes for 46 hours straight in order to make my final flight back home, traveling from Bali to Adelaide to New Zealand to San Francisco, and finally to Toronto. I can honestly say all that travel time was worth it. I experienced and learned so many things along the way. I'd definitely go abroad again, and next time I'll be prepared for things I wasn’t the first time.
What cultural differences did you notice, if any?
Social culture in Australia is very similar to Canadian culture, actually. The people were extremely welcoming and friendly while I was on exchange. People enjoyed life outside of work and school environments, and they were very excited about rugby and Australian football. While I was there, I strengthened my social skills and made lifelong connections with people from around the world.
What is your number one tip for anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Work hard so you can travel on your spare weekends. Of course I went abroad to further my education, but traveling and school-based learning go hand-in-hand when you're abroad. Sometimes, I traveled around Australia to see particular buildings that my professors had mentioned. For example, my technology class did a project on the Advanced Engineering Building at Queensland University, Brisbane. This building is very sustainably built, using passive systems, enviro-friendly materials and designed to suit its location. I've never seen a building like it in Canada. I walked around the atrium, classrooms, timber structured lecture hall and got a personal tour of the underground labyrinth walls that acted as a natural air cooling system. The experience of being in that building and seeing how it functions was unforgettable and professionally inspiring. Traveling was so interesting for my architectural studies. As a Canadian architecture student, the way I learn to design a building is different (building codes, weather limitations, style, materials, landscape) than an Australian student. Traveling to see Australian architecture opened my eyes to their methodology.
I also made lots of connections with travelers and locals. In architecture, networking is very important for building future clients. My network now stretches across America, Brazil, Germany, Netherlands, England, Thailand, and Australia it even grew in Canada.
What did you miss most about home?
I missed my family and my golden retriever, Charlize. Luckily I had an app called Fongo that allowed me to have a Canadian number so that we could stay in contact for free online. The 15-hour time difference was hard to work around, but we made daily calls to each other in my mornings, their nights. I also FaceTimed with my dog! When I reunited with my dog, she was so excited and came running to me. It was so cute! I believe that my family and I bonded over this six-month period. I appreciate them so much for helping me have the experience. The trip also made me realize how much effort it is to cook, clean and live on my own.
Describe an experience from your time abroad that made a particularly strong impression on you.
Sydney and its iconic Opera House is a particularly fond memory from my time abroad. I was in Sydney during a major storm, when all their beautiful beaches were swept onto the roads by strong winds, and everywhere was flooding. I decided to take my touring inside and see the interiors of beautiful buildings. The Sydney Opera House tour showed me all the theatres, backstage rooms and foyers. This elaborate building did not disappoint. Our guide explained the hardships of the architecture and engineering of the building. Even as they were constructing the building, they weren't sure how the building’s magnificent curves would stand. In the end they used a rib system with puzzle-like cladding to form the building's shape. Seeing this theatre was very inspirational. My previous studio project at Carleton had been a theatre, so I was particularly interested in this type of design. During the tour, I also got a sneak peak of a ballet rehearsal as they prepared for an upcoming performance.
What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?
I plan to earn my master's degree. This year, I'll be applying to universities in Canada and England, as well as New York and Michigan in the States. Learning abroad is important to me, and I believe it helps develop important skills for aspiring and practicing architects. I'm currently working for my dad’s practice and I hope to start my own business as well. Architecture is so different all over the world and I would love to see as much as I can!
Steph’s Q&A highlights her professional passion for architecture. We congratulate her for seamlessly integrating her career interests with her personal development while in Australia! This is a fantastic approach to travel and cross-cultural study, and one that students from all disciplines should take on. Steph clearly has an adventurous spirit and an open mind when it comes to travel, so we’d recommend that she consider applying to master’s programs in additional international destinations. Lots of non-English-speaking nations actually offer English-speaking master’s programs, and the cross-cultural value of being in a completely foreign host country is huge. Imagine the value of completing your degree in a fascinating non-Western nation, where you could earn your degree, see vastly different architectural styles, and make even more cross-cultural connections.
Steph also mentions her network connections in Thailand, Brazil and Germany, among other places. With these connections already in place, she could also consider taking on an international internship after finishing her undergraduate degree and before beginning her master’s abroad.
We wish her the best as she launches her global career! Check out the articles below for some related tips and inspiration:
- Career-boosting Strategies While Studying Abroad discusses how to maximize the career value of your time studying abroad.
- Language Learning and Your International Career will inspire you to build your language skills and provide tips on how to become fluent.
- How to Survive Your First International Internship describes fundamental work habits that are key to succeeding on your first international internship.