Emily Waltman


Stanford in Australia, Autumn 2016-17
Major: American Studies, and minoring in Education
College year while abroad: Junior


Why did you choose to study abroad in Australia?

For whatever reason, travelling to Australia had been a dream of mine ever since I was young. (The reason is probably “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”) When I learned that Stanford offers a study abroad program that would give me the chance to experience so much of the country on such an intimate level, I knew I had to apply!

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Australia?

The nature of the Australia program is such that the participants do everything together—live, take classes, travel, etc. As a result, I expected that 1) I might not get to truly experience all that Australia has to offer because the “Stanford Bubble” would persist even 7,000 miles off campus, and 2) the program might become real cliquey real fast. Happily, these expectations were both totally off base. First of all, the program does a really amazing job of bursting the bubble. Every day was an opportunity to engage with locals and their world. I ate meals with our Australian TAs, not just my classmates; I participated in my host family’s most beloved weekend activity, Park Run (Look it up. It’s an amazing concept!); I played rugby at the University of Queensland with some friends of friends; and I took lots of exploratory walks. By the program’s end I had a wonderful sense of the Australian people, land, and culture. Second of all, our group proved to be anything but cliquey. Perhaps we got lucky, or perhaps the Australia program consistently attracts adventurous, easy-going, curious individuals who don’t hesitate to break out of their immediate friend groups. All I know is that I left Australia with a new wacky, loving, amazing family.

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Australia?

As an American Studies major, I wasn't particularly excited about the ecology courses that Stanford students are required to take in Australia. I thought that classes would be something that I would endure, not something that I would enjoy. I have never been so happy to be so utterly incorrect! I loved learning about the world around me. I can say with conviction that I left Australia with a greater appreciation for nature, as well as a greater desire to preserve it. For example, we learned about coral bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef, and then we saw firsthand the devastating reality of those events. Seeing actual bleached corals--which indicate a threat to the entire ecosystem--impressed the importance of helping the environment, and elicited an extreme emotional response.

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?

I learned from my study abroad experience that the things that scare me are the things most worth doing. Being abroad put me out of my comfort zone more times than I can count! Even before I landed Down Under, I was exceedingly uncomfortable; the idea of being so far away from my family sickened me. However, I never would have made so many great new friends, learned so much about Australian culture and ecology, and experienced such personal growth had I spent that quarter on campus. As another example, in Australia I swam in the ocean amidst the largest waves I had ever seen. I was scared, certainly, and upon first entering the water I quickly retreated to shore. With the help of friends, though, I eventually got past the waves’ breaking point and floated with pride and happiness at my accomplishment. I learned in Oz that the little voice inside my head begging me to stick with what I know is not a friend. I began to embrace fear, whether it be bunking with a new group of girls or sampling vegemite (blech). I have taken this lesson with me back to the states, and continue to grow by intentionally taking myself outside of my comfort zone.

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?

 The classes I took in Australia were undoubtedly much more engaging, educational, and awe-inspiring than they were stressful. For the first couple of weeks, in fact, school hardly felt like school at all. Once we arrived in Brisbane and began taking classes at the University of Queensland, though, the work began to pile up as our schedules became more rigid and the deadline for our Targeted Research Projects approached. I found it challenging to work diligently when there were so many other opportunities to take advantage of. As a result, I put off my work as long as possible, a decision that I ultimately—albeit unsurprisingly—regretted. Regardless, I survived and learned a lot in the process. For starters, I learned a ton about the nation’s historiography and about Aboriginal Australia as the result of my academic research. I also learned that the grades will always turn out, and so it’s not worth sacrificing any cultural experience to stay at home perfecting every sentence of an essay. Finally, it was absolutely fascinating to see how 42 individuals handled essentially the same exact workload differently. I learned from my peers that procrastination isn’t inevitable.                                                

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

I wouldn’t say that I needed to make any drastic cultural adjustments—the common language was particularly helpful in facilitating a quick and painless transition. That being said, the 14-hour time change between Queensland and my hometown in New Jersey took some getting used to. As a result of the difference, I sometimes went more than a week without speaking to my parents, which was weird for me and them both.

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Australia?

I loved loved LOVED the sleep cycle that I—and most other BOSP Australia participants—adopted while abroad. I went to sleep at a reasonable hour (read: not 2AM like my on-campus bedtime), and woke up early each morning. How could pass up a pre-breakfast snorkel or a 6AM bird watching outing?! It was a wonderful feeling to have long, fulfilling days and go to bed exhausted each night.

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Australia?

How can I choose just one?! To name a single fond memory in the ocean of fond Australia memories, we spent two days in a small town in the “Never Never” of Australia. That is, the outback. A large portion of one day was spent exploring caves, and it was nearly sundown by the time we had finished spelunking. All of us were desperate to watch the sunset, so we sprinted to the cars, zipped down the open dirt road, and sprinted up to the vantage point of Balancing Rock. It was so worth it to see those magnificent colors in amazing company.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

Refreshing, outdoorsy, enlightening, awe-inspiring, fun.

What was your favorite food you had in Australia?

Like the United States, Australia is home to a diverse population. With that diversity comes some pretty great food from around the world. One of the best meals I ate was in a Thai restaurant in Sydney. I can’t remember the name of the dish for the life of me, but by golly it was good.

What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?

It’s a dead tie between my journal and my kindle. My journal helped me reflect on daily occurrences and in my opinion is the best souvenir out there. My kindle was equally fantastic because while the simplicity of living out of a suitcase was incredibly gratifying, it was also restrictive. I didn’t want to pack loads of heavy books.  

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Australia?

My favorite song from the trip was the one that a fellow program participant wrote and performed for us on Thanksgiving. It was beautiful, complete with inside jokes and sentimentality.