University of Iowa

What they don't tell you about studying abroad

May 22nd, 2019
 

 

Greta Larget is a music composition major at the University of Iowa.  A native of Madison, Wisconsin, Greta spent the 2019 spring semester at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia, on the Iowa Regents Semester in Australia program. The following is a transcript from a speech Greta delivered to her classmates at the end of the semester, centered around the theme "Words of Wisdom." 

 

If you ask any study abroad student why they chose to go on exchange for a semester, they’ll give you the same response every time. They’ll say they wanted to experience a different culture and travel more and they were given this amazing opportunity to do all of that while still getting credit for uni, so why not? That’s what I’ve been telling people for the past year myself. After being here in Australia for 3 months, however, I can tell you that the actual reasons why people choose to study abroad go much deeper than that, and most of the time it has less to do with a new life abroad and more to do with an old life back home.

My name is Greta Larget. I’m 20 years old, I’m from Madison, Wisconsin, I study music composition and writing at the University of Iowa, I love cheese, my favorite color is blue, and I’m bisexual. These are all just facts about myself that any of my close friends, both here and in America, could tell you. But what has amazed me the most about studying abroad is that you can take the exact same person and put them in a completely new social environment and they will fundamentally change.

"People keep asking me what the biggest differences between Australia and America are and all I can say is that I don’t know anymore. They both feel like home and they both feel foreign... I wasn’t expecting this much connection and familiarity with a foreign place."

I was terrified of coming here at first because I thought for sure that I would get bitten by a deadly creature on day one and never actually make it to uni (American media is not so kind to Australia). Now, I’m really more scared to go back to the life I used to know. Reverse culture shock is something I learned about in an online class that I had to take before coming here, but I didn’t realize just how deeply it would affect me. It was really easy for me to see that my American life was just the way the world worked and no circumstance was going to change the familiarity of home. Turns out I was wrong. But it’s not like I can point to a specific event and say “that’s it. That’s the moment I changed and started to associate more with Australia than America.” That moment doesn’t exist. It’s more like an accumulation of many small things: looking automatically to the left side of the road for traffic instead of the right, having Nicki Squibb point out to me that my “so” and “one” can sound pretty Australian if I try hard enough, and automatically using “uni” instead of “college” in this speech to avoid any confusion. At some point I realized that all of these small changes in my behavior and thinking has made my life here feel normal and Jane Franklin Hall feel like home, making America-the place I lived for the first 20 years of my life-feel foreign. People keep asking me what the biggest differences between Australia and America are and all I can say is that I don’t know anymore. They both feel like home and they both feel foreign, and in that way, they are one and the same. I wasn’t expecting this much connection and familiarity with a foreign place, and yet here we are.

That’s not to say that this was all a deeply moving experience in one direction, though. Traveling is still a sacrifice; you just replace what could be a lot of really cool memories in the same routine for a stash of different really cool memories in a foreign country instead. I’ve had to miss a lot of things back in America because I decided to come here this semester, and that was hard to swallow when I was still finalizing my plans to study here.

My brother was the lead in his high school’s musical, he led his team to first place in a program that I talked him into joining 4 years ago, and he’s going to graduate next month. I couldn’t be there to help him make his college decision, but instead, I could only spectate as I watched him plan his next 4 years. He and I are close, so it was hard to know that I was going to miss all of these important milestones in his life by coming to Australia.

I’m still in group chats with my friends from Iowa, so it was hard to watch them plan really cool socials and complain about the homework and talk about something they overheard in a hallway at uni and not be able to relate. My music friends had an end of year bonfire last night before they take final exams this week and are on summer vacation next week. That blows my mind a little bit, especially given that it also snowed on them last week. Don’t really know how to explain that one.

"I don’t quite know how I’m different now than before, I just know that I am and that I’m happy."

My grandmother refused a serious heart surgery a little over a year ago, and her life expectancy was set for about a month after I got here. Before I left, my mom told me to make sure I said my final goodbyes to her because there was a good chance she wasn’t going to be alive when I got back, and they weren’t going to be able to fly me over for a funeral. My grandma called me the night before I left America and wanted to tell me that she was so excited for me to be having this experience and that she wanted to make sure she talked to me once more before I left. She has always been a huge supporter of traveling and I definitely think part of the reason I was able to adjust so well here was thanks to her. I haven’t gotten the call yet, and I’m happy to say that last week she celebrated her 93rd birthday 20 months into an 18-month life expectancy. I know that if I get that call in the next two months, I won’t be able to be with my immediate family to process and grieve, but I know now that that doesn’t have to mean that I won’t be around family.

I wish that I could explain this greater change that I’ve undergone in a nicely worded speech with bullet points and tie everything up in a bow to save you a lot of time and money by sharing my wisdom of the TRUE MEANING OF STUDY ABROAD, but I really can’t. I don’t quite know how I’m different now than before, I just know that I am and that I’m happy, and honestly, that’s good enough for me.


Jane Franklin Hall softball team just after losing the final game to Fisher college. We grew close as a team and I've been involved in three sports over my time here (softball was the first). Sports at Jane was really important to my enjoyment and sense of belonging in Tassie.

Honey farm out of Deloraine in the north of Tasmania with friends on a road trip (from left to right: me, Cassius, Hannah, Laura, Lilith, Nicki).
 


Wineglass Bay with my friend Hannah.
 

This was the most beautiful walk of my life and one of my favorite days here.


My friend Cassius and I sitting on top of a mountain on Maria Island.


One of the first nights that my close friends and I stayed up talking all night, solidifying our friendship with each other.

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