Bullet Trains, Godzilla and Temples – The Real Japanese Experience

Elise L, Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Fine Arts

Ritsumeikan University (Semester 2, 2016)

In the Fall Semester of 2016 I studied at Ritsumeikan University in Osaka, Japan. I was part of the short term ‘Study In Kyoto’ program (SKP), but because I study in the Business Track my home campus and life was actually in Osaka.

Ritsumeikan University, Osaka Ibaraki Campus, from the ninth floor

I lived in a studio apartment (in the same building as many other SKPers) about forty minutes by train from uni. OIC campus was only completed in 2015, so dormitories are still under construction. Our apartments were small (22m2) but had everything we needed and I really came to love that little space. Being based in Osaka, we also had places like Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara only an hour away by train! Cost of living in Osaka seems moderate – rent is quite high and travel can be expensive (a ride on the bullet train can cost hundreds of dollars…), but food is very cheap and it is easy to walk to many places.

Home base – Aya Mikuni apartments

SKP students were assigned a Japanese student buddy, and they helped us with the little complexities of day-to-day life – how do you pay your bills when you can’t read them? How do you call the maintenance guy when you don’t speak Japanese and he doesn’t speak English? Our buddies helped us to function as residents rather than tourists, as well as taking us sightseeing and making us feel very welcome.

Shinjuku, Tokyo, feat. Godzilla

I spent more time on campus at Ritsumeikan than I ever have at QUT, and the timetable was more intensive than I’m used to – going from part-time study to 10 x 90 minute classes a week was a bit of a shock to the system! I studied Japanese too, and I’d highly recommend it – the things we learned were very practical for everyday life. There are also many university events to attend – we volunteered in a Haunted House at the Halloween festival, and we supported the university team at their American football games (go Panthers!). I attended the first World Community Power Conference in Fukushima, which was fascinating, and also visited the Toyota factory in Aichi.

My top 3 tips for studying in Japan:
1. Say yes (hai/はい)!
A piece of advice that my Dad gave me when I moved from our small country town to the big city of Brisbane. Whether it’s a student excursion on offer, or grabbing dinner with new people, say yes. If you don’t enjoy it you don’t have to do it again, but at least you tried!

2. Learn the language!
Downloading an app, buying a phrasebook or enrolling in classes like I did – language was the biggest barrier I encountered in Japan. By the time I left, I was able to have very simple conversations, and that felt like a huge achievement when I couldn’t even read my own mail.

3. Get an ICOCA card
A bit like a gocard in Brisbane, except you can’t get a discount as an international student (boo). It streamlines your travel process (no queueing for tickets), works across the whole country, and you can pay for a travel pass –  I had unlimited travel between my university station and the central Osaka station (with my home station being in between) which was worthwhile. Just don’t lose your card!

Japan is an amazing country and I feel like I barely scratched the surface, despite travelling as much as my budget allowed. My exchange actually postponed my graduation by a year, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat – in fact, I’ve already booked my flights to go back!

The famous red tori gates of Fushimi Inari shrine, Kyoto

Singapore Sojourn

Alina K, Bachelor of Business/Creative Industries

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (Semester 2, 2016)

I chose to spend two semesters in Singapore because I have always felt attracted to this country. While I visited Singapore multiple times throughout my childhood, I made a decision to see this country under a different light. My host university was Nanyang University of Technology, or NTU – also a technological university like QUT.

I thought the campus was quite spacious and beautiful, though it blew my mind how such small country like Singapore has space for such grand campuses. Unlike the majority of exchange students, I chose to stay off campus. My reasoning behind it was that I wanted to live closer to the centre area because NTU is too far away from everything else in Singapore – well except Malaysia; locals even call the university ‘Pulau’ NTU, meaning it’s really far away. So I stayed at Nanyang Girls Boarding High School, which is about over an hour away by public transport from NTU. Since public transport in Singapore is super convenient, I didn’t have a problem getting around anywhere. The hostel at boarding school was very convenient for me for its price and location – it’s near newly opened blue line that can get you to all the best places around CBD.

When my first (and second) semester began I had the worst headache trying to match the units to suit my study plan. This happened because some units weren’t taught anymore or didn’t exist at all. I found that Wee Kim Wee School of Communications at NTU has a different direction in studies. It’s more concentrated on media communications, hence I struggled finding appropriate classes to suit my major. I did somehow manage to match some classes but still you should remember that in the end of the day exchange students get what was left after the registration of the main student body.

Now let’s get to the classes. Students in Singapore are quite ‘hard-core’; they study everyday, everywhere. Like seriously you won’t be able to find a free spot in McDonalds or Starbucks or pretty much anywhere around the city to sit down and do your work. It’s a very fast-paced environment being it studying at university or just taking a train. Be ready for that. It was cool for me, because I only needed to pass, same it will be for you too.I can write a lot of things about my experience in Singapore; I spent the whole year meeting people who influenced my personal and professional growth, learning new things about adulthood, travelling and seeing this beautiful country in a different way, maybe getting angry couple times for not finding a peaceful place to study, and getting caught up in the shopping-land. I am not the same person I was before this exchange experience. In the end, your experience will turn out the way you want it to be, just stay open-minded and set goals to fulfil.

My Singapore Top 5… So Far

Two months into my Singapore exchange and I have certainly been blown away by some of the attractions this magnificent country has to offer! Did you know that you can fit 22 Singapore’s within the Brisbane Region? Yup, 22! So Singapore may be tiny, certainly when compared to Australia, but somehow they have managed to pack it full with some of the most amazing sights and activities in the World.

Working full-time doesn’t leave a lot of spare time to explore, but I’ve done my best, and wanted to briefly write about five of my favorite experiences thus far.

  1. Gardens by the Bay

One cannot visit Singapore without wandering through the Gardens by the Bay. Over 1 million plants are spread out over 101 hectares of brilliant greenery, so no matter how many times you return, there will always be something that surprises you.

A word of advice, do not forget your phone or camera because it is physically impossible to NOT take a selfie as you stumble upon the supertree grove. Now this is possibly the greatest highlight of the gardens with 12 mechanical tree-like vertical gardens looming 25-50 meters high. To top it off, 22 meters above ground is the OCBC Skyway, a walkway between the trees offering an unparalleled view of the gardens.

The Gardens by the Bay also have two observatories, Cloud Forest and Flower Dome. Whilst I haven’t entered these observatories yet, they are certainly on my ‘to do’ list as I have heard incredible things. Another item on my ‘to do’ list is to come back at night, for when the sun goes down the gardens come to life with a brilliant show of light and colour in the Garden Rhapsody, where the supertrees are by far the stars of the show… or so I’ve heard!

Finally, after walking around in the Singapore heat all day, you are going to need to refuel! I definitely suggest making the trek down to Satay by the Bay where you can indulge yourself in delicious satay skewers and other hawker-like goodies. The fruit juice stall is also a hit when trying to freshen up during the heat.

  1. Singapore Zoo

If the Singapore Zoo isn’t on your bucket list – write it down! You will be absolutely amazed by the plethora of animals living in this zoo, ranging all the way from polar bears and monkeys to zebras and rhinos! I even got to see Wolverine… unfortunately not Hugh Jackman, but the actual wolverine animal. Plus naked mole rats – somehow they are both very cute and terribly ugly.

The most exciting thing about Singapore Zoo would be the fact that some ‘enclosures’ and actually not closed at all! You can get very up close and personal with some animals, such as the Cotton-top Tamarin, who I faced at a mere distance of less than 30cm, with no wire/fence/barrier between us! The tree-top trail will blow your mind even more though! As you walk along this trial, keep our eyes out for Siamang, just free flowing Tarzan-style through the treetops, and False Gavil preying in the waters below!

There is so much to do and see at the zoo, that I unfortunately did not get through it all! Luckily for me, I bought an annual pass so I can come back and watch all the shows. I’m particularly interested in seeing ‘Splash Safari’ and ‘Elephants at Work and Play’.

I am yet to do the famous Night Safari, as well as the River Safari and Jurong Bird Park, however, fortunately, they are included in my annual pass so I am sure I’ll have plenty of opportunities to make the trip! If you’re staying for a long-term trip – I would definitely recommend purchasing the annual pass!

  1. ArtScience Museum

Now this is a great place for adults, children, and adult-children – of which I believe I fall into the third category. If playing virtual Fruit Ninja while sliding down a slippery slide, or designing and trialing your own hopscotch track sounds fun – then you would have had a blast at the Future Work exhibit!

My personal favorite piece, was the depiction of space using thousands of LED lights hanging from the ceiling. I stood for over 30 minutes just watching as these lights created brightly colored patterns and planets to a musical background. It was amazing how something so simple could completely demand your unwavering attention.

If you are not prone to motion sickness, I would also strongly recommend participating in the immersive audiovisual installation “Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are destined to be Chased as well, Transcending Space”. As you stand in a room, you are transported into a breath-taking show of light and music, following a story of the Yatagarasu, a three-legged crow, believed, in Japanese mythology, to be the embodiment of the Sun.

  1. Merloin Park

Selfie central. If your selfie/selfie stick game is not on point, then I certainly recommend going with a friend! This park is home to the infamous Merlion, the half lion, half mermaid, mascot of Singapore.

The large structure is backed by the most beautiful scenery, making it a photographers dream come true. With Marina Bay Sands, the ArtScience Museum and the DBS sailing boats in all their glory in the background, this is the place you can capture some of Singapore’s most iconic landmarks all in one picture! Plus there are a bunch of cute little food stalls around as well, in case you just want to admire the view whilst munching on some lovely brunch.

  1. Haji Lane

Now this is the Insta-lovers dream. Nothing beats a cool pic with a street art backdrop, and if that’s what you’re after, Haji Lane can give it to you! This funky lane is practically designed for young adults wanting cool boutique clothes and food and restaurants that are Insta worthy, for sure. If you make your way right down the end, there is a cool bar with a black/white updo and at restaurant with a rainbow coloured abstract pattern – these places are the best to grab your cool street pic. Oh, plus there’s great food and good vibes in Haji Lane for after your all photo-ed out!

 

 

Interning with Kyoto Journal

In the second semester of 2016 I was afforded the opportunity to study abroad at Ritsumeikan University, Osaka, Japan. During that time, I also undertook an internship with Japan’s longest-running independent English publication, Kyoto Journal.

Initially focusing on Japan, specifically the ancient capital of Kyoto, the quarterly magazine has broadened over the past thirty years to include insights and perspectives from all of Asia. The publication is run and produced by an incredibly talented and committed team of volunteers based locally, nationally, and internationally.

I discovered Kyoto Journal while searching for articles about Japan, trying to do some ‘pre-reading’ before I arrived in a new country. I loved the style of the magazine and was interested in the articles and the volunteer nature of the publication, so I emailed them to see how I could get involved. If you’re on exchange (or even if you haven’t left yet) and you find an organisation that you’re really interested in – reach out to them! You never know what might happen.

My role as an intern varied quite a lot. I did research, collaborated with other volunteers to build information databases, participated in brainstorming for new projects and PR, interviewed a local apprentice artisan, provided feedback on a crowdfunding campaign, and helped to prepare for an upcoming photography exhibition. Kyoto Journal does not have a designated office space, so work was done and meetings were held in coffee shops, public spaces and at Impact Hub Kyoto, a co-working space to which Kyoto Journal has a membership. I enjoyed this transient and collaborative approach to working, which also allowed me to see parts of Kyoto that I would not have otherwise encountered.

Impact Hub Kyoto (L) and working at the Rohm Theatre in Kyoto (R).

The volunteer nature of the work meant that the entirety of the Kyoto Journal team that I met, whether online or face-to-face, were very committed to and excited by what they were doing. Being a volunteer also allowed for a great deal of flexibility – I was based in Osaka and studying full-time, so it was understood if I could not make it to Kyoto on short notice. Everyone else has jobs, families and other commitments as well, which makes for a dynamic and engaged team – volunteers who have made time in their lives to be involved. Everyone wants to be there and bring their best to the job.

As far as I know, this flexibility and work-life balance is atypical of jobs in Japan, but I would assume that this comes down to the fact that involvement with the editorial side of Kyoto Journal is entirely volunteer-based.

Despite my short stay, lasting only a few months, I was made to feel very welcome and valued. It was incredibly rewarding to work with such a passionate, talented, diverse group of people and I’m very grateful to the Kyoto Journal team for allowing me to be involved with this unique publication. I’m looking forward to being involved in their Kyoto photography exhibition when I return to Japan in April!

(from L to R) Elise, Hirisha Mehta (Head of Design), John Einarsen (Founding Editor) and Ken Rodgers (Managing Editor) study an early edition of Kyoto Journal.

 

Touch Down in Singapore!

Well it has officially been three weeks since I touched down in Singapore! Let me quickly tell you just a bit about myself. The names Dana, I am an avid netball and sports fan, action/comedy movie enthusiast, aspiring traveller and dog lover. I am doing a BS08 Bachelor of Business – International degree with economics major, and am currently 3 weeks into a 15 month adventure in SG! Yes. 15 MONTHS! I was fortunate enough to have been awarded a New Colombo Plan (NCP) scholarship to work and study in Singapore this year. My program (at the moment) starts with a 6 month internship at PwC Singapore working in their Growth Markets Centre, followed by two semesters of study at Nanyang Technological University.

Strangely enough, I almost feel at home here in Singapore. Adapting to the different country and culture came a lot more naturally then I had anticipated and thankfully this has made for a relatively smooth start to my exchange. Transport here is unfaultable so I am finding my way around easily and food is never hard to locate (or afford if you are at a hawker centre!). The local Chinese family I am bunking with are wonderful and welcoming, and I think they have made leaving my family for the first time much less difficult. My accommodation itself certainly met expectations and is well located in a traditional and local area not too far from the city. Even adapting into the professional workforce for the first time hasn’t been too rough, although my back and neck are protesting a desk life.

Nevertheless, not everything about this exchange has been easy. I’m going to be honest with you – I’m the baby of the family, I’m overprotected, I haven’t travelled much and I have a very strong and close relationship with my family and 4 month old puppy…

Leaving wasn’t easy – it never is.

Saying goodbye to loved ones was probably the hardest thing I have ever done. Even just thinking about hugging my puppy for the last time, and waving goodbye to my family as I walked to the airport gate brings tears to my eyes. It’s hard to grasp that you will be leaving for so long, but when you do it is one of the most nerve wracking and sickening feelings.

Rolling on from having to say goodbye – day one was the worst. A 2am flight with a busy day full of visas and bank accounts probably didn’t help, but day one, for me at least, was when everything sunk in. All I did that day was cry. I’ve never felt so lost and alone in my life. I felt isolated and out of my depth.

I made it to perhaps 3pm before I threw myself onto my bed, called my mum and bawled. And that was all I needed. I just needed someone to talk to, to cry to, and to tell me everything was going to be ok. That I had the experience and opportunity of a lifetime ahead of me. That this is what I wanted and I was going to do great. The call lasted an hour, but it fixed everything, and when I woke up the next day I was ready. It was as if day 1 never happened. I felt at home, I felt adventurous, I felt safe, calm and ready to explore. So I did – all weekend, to get used to my new home. Now, 3 weeks in and I haven’t had a bad day again.

There is no denying that shock will hit you. For me it was day 1; for you, it might be a week or even a month in. It will hit, and it will hurt, it will be tough, and you will doubt yourself and want to go home. My advice is to take it as it is. Moving overseas is a new and intense experience, it can’t be flawless. Expect to have bad days, because you will. Just make sure you have someone to call, to tell you everything is ok. That’s all you really need to hear. You realise home, familiarity, normal, is just a phone call away. It’s not as far as you think.

If you are worried about going on exchange – don’t be. Yes, there will be tough times, but I assure you the good times will outweigh the bad a million times over! Going overseas is such an incredible experience and in the technological and integrated world we live in today – home is never far away. Plus, there are so many people who can help you along the way, the QUT international student mobility officers, present and previous exchange students, friends and family – you are never truly alone, there will always be someone to back you.

That’s all from me (for now), but please feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding exchange, Singapore, internships, the New Colombo Plan – anything! I’m happy to help! If you’re interested in Singapore or Asia in general, check out my Instagram downunderdana – I am challenging myself to post a different photo every day I am away, so over the 15 months… there’s going to be a lot.

An action-packed semester in Hong Kong

Jaime L, Bachelor of Business

City University of Hong Kong (Semester 1, 2016)

New Colombo Plan mobility grant recipient

I completed one semester of exchange at City University Hong Kong. Going on exchange has opened up so many doors for me. My time abroad in Hong Kong has been invaluable to building both my career opportunities and my global mindset. Personally, my whole exchange was a highlight. I have built so many great memories and experiences in the past 5 months that I will never forget.

Highlights

Hong Kong is an absolutely incredible country. It is so condensed yet there is something for everyone. Living in Hong Kong I discovered there is so much more to the country than just high rises and condensed city. Catching a ferry or even bus just out of the city you’ll find so many hikes offering incredible views of the nature in Hong Kong. One of the many things I loved about Hong Kong was the public transport. You can get a student oyster card and ride the MTR for next to nothing, and it’s so easy and fast to use! But we found that even just catching an MTR somewhere and exploring the streets of Hong Kong was enough, there was something to see everywhere!

Finances

I had budgeted $10,000 for the whole trip. I went over budget in my time in Hong Kong, spending around $14,000. However the reason for this was spontaneous trips that I went on to Thailand, Macau and China. I had not planned on overseas travel but when the opportunity arose I jumped on it blowing budget but not regretting it at all. Also, I loved exchange so much I extended my trip at the end, also causing me to go over budget. Getting student accommodation is one of the best things for the budget as it is so cheap. Eating in Hong Kong is generally pretty cheap, unless you eat at Western style restaurants: then it can be quite expensive. CityU has a number of canteens where you can pick up a decent (not great) meal for around $5 AUD. As I mentioned before public transport is not expensive nor is the shopping there if you barter hard enough.

Accommodation

I was lucky enough to be given a shared room at student accommodation. This was great! They had a bus come and pick you up from the airport to take you to residence; they had tours to IKEA so students could get all their bedding and such and also a large number of Welcome Parties and Galas. The room and facilities itself was nice, definitely comfortable although small. I was lucky in that I got a really nice roommate which definitely helped. The accommodation is right next to the uni which is a massive bonus! It was also nice to be living basically with all of my friends I had made there.

Challenges

Overall Hong Kong was easy to live in and feel at home. I had no issues with safety at all which was huge in making me feel at home quite early on. Luckily I had a travel card so when I was running out of money I could easily just transfer across. The main challenge I faced was to do with my subjects. Once I got to Hong Kong Cityu told me that I had to change a subject to meet their requirements, and this was about a week after I arrived. Being in my second last semester of my degree I didn’t have much room to move subject wise and it turned out the subject I had chosen would not work with QUT, however I found this out too late and could not change. This has now resulted in me having to complete 5 subjects this semester.

Tips

  • Take your own bedding! Chances are you’ll be arriving late in the evening and just wanting to get some sleep: they do not provide you with bedding so spare an uncomfortable night on a thin unprotected mattress and take some sheets at least!
  • Take some extra passport photos, these will come in handy for your octopus card and any visas you may apply for (for example China).
  • Go to Tequila Jacks in Tsim Sha Tsui, they have a great happy hour including $2AUD tacos!
  • When bartering in the markets do not be afraid to walk away if they are not going down to the price you want, they will chase you lowering their price.
  • Be open and friendly, just smile and say hello, you have no idea where it will take you!

 

The benefits of exchange are endless. I cannot recommend it enough to anyone and everyone who is even the slightest bit interested. There will be times where it does seem tough and you don’t have your family or friends from home, but the memories and friends you make there are invaluable. You build a new support network of people who are in the same boat as you. I think it’s incredible to be able to live in another country for nearly 6 months. Hong Kong has changed my life and opened up so many more doors for me. I wish I could do it all over again!

Clarice’s South Korean Short-Term Exchange Experience

Clarice: Seoul, South Korea – Short Term Program 2016

As a student in Seoul, I find it to be so much cheaper than being a student in Brisbane; especially when it comes to our daily food and caffeine needs. I would barely spend over 10,000won (about AUD11-12) a day while I was studying there and it would cover all my breakfast, lunch and dinner needs. If you’re lazy enough, you could always buy convenience store lunchboxes (which can have things like rice, meat and kimchi) for 3,000-3,800won (AUD4-5) and it is very filling.

Samgyeopsal

And of course, when one is in Seoul, one would need to try the famous “Samgyeopsal” (or “pork belly”) which is the slab of meat in the middle. I find that Korean meats taste vastly different (and honestly, a lot better) from Australian meats. For this meal, we usually barbecue the meats on the plate and accompany it with a few drinks (no guesses as to what those drinks are) and lots of lettuce, to balance the flavour of meat and vegetables. Generally, a meal like this would cost about AUD70, but I had it for about 30,000won (around AUD32) for 3 people.

Painfully cheap….and something I will never get while I’m back in Brisbane.

I would say that Seoul is a wonderful place for an overseas study experience, because it is so different from Australia in terms of culture and student life, and EWHA Woman’s University is an amazing place to find out a lot more about feminist issues (such as the unending justice for the “comfort” women during the Japanese invasion) and that, being feminist does not necessarily mean the Western view of loud and proud feminism, but rather, a social issue that has to be faced with quiet dignity in order to make the world a better place for not only women, but men too.

One of the many delicious lunch that we students would often go out for once morning classes are over.

One of the many delicious lunch that we students would often go out for once morning classes are over.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the male professors and most of the male students who were there for the co-ed summer program were also genuine feminists and supported many social issues that women still face.

My time in EWHA has certainly changed me for the better, and helped me in recognising many aspects of myself as a woman that I never knew existed. I will always fondly remember my time there as a student and if given the chance, would not hesitate to do a longer exchange program next time round. I also highly recommend the EWHA Woman’s University International Co-ed Summer College to anyone interested, because I guarantee you will come away learning so much more than just academically.

Does Clarice’s experience interest you? Find out more about QUT’s Short Term Study Options.

Our wonderful history class, with a few people missing, and Prof Michael in the middle. We’re standing in front of EWHA's very own museum which houses a private collection of art and sculpture pieces donated by the alumni of EWHA.

Our wonderful history class, with a few people missing, and Prof Michael in the middle. We’re standing in front of EWHA’s very own museum which houses a private collection of art and sculpture pieces donated by the alumni of EWHA.

Changing Expectations

Roisin: Zhejiang University, China: Semester 1, 2016

Whatever expectations or preconceived notions I had about China prior to my exchange, they all went out the window as soon as I arrived on a cold day in February. It is truly unlike any other country I have ever been to. It is a country both rich in history and steeped in tradition, yet moving at a breakneck pace towards the future.

By West Lake in Hangzhou, China (the city I was living in).

By West Lake in Hangzhou, China (the city I was living in).

 

From Hangzhou, the city in which I lived, I travelled to both rural villages, where I watch the workers as they spent hours picking tea leaves in the fields, and to the fast-paced city of Shanghai, where I witnessed hundreds of skyscrapers light up along the river at night-time.

The Chinese language and cultural course taught at Zhejiang University was completely immersive, with classes every day from Monday through to Friday, as well as tests on a weekly basis, which forced us to keep up to speed with the new vocabulary we were learning every day. As a result, I feel like my language levels improved exponentially over the course of the semester.

With Liam (also a QUT Exchange Student) in Shanghai

With Liam (also a QUT Exchange Student) in Shanghai

Additionally, being able to study the language with a cohort of international students from all corners of the globe, such as Morocco, Thailand, Poland, Sudan and Korea, made it a fun and exciting experience and allowed me to make friends with people I would have never otherwise had the chance to.

Find out more about QUT Student Exchange here!

Three months in Tuvalu

Kate Donnelly: New Colombo Plan Scholar interning in Tuvalu

We took our descent into the tiny capital of Tuvalu twice. The flight from Suva passed quickly enough, until the seat belt sign flicked on. The plane began to sink closer and closer to the gun-metal grey surface of the Pacific Ocean, dsc_0001at a rate exactly converse to my panic as I searched below for any sign of land. Seemingly out of nowhere, I caught the first sight of waves breaking. The tip of the islet widened just enough to support a handful of coconut trees, and then some shanty houses, and eventually the central district of a town with barely 200 meters between the lagoon shore and its ocean side.        

Locking eyes with locals who’d come out of their houses to watch the arrival, and bracing myself for our landing (5 seconds, 4, 3, 2…) the plane suddenly veered upwards and away from the runway we’d been so close to hitting. Five confused minutes passed before the pilot’s voice nonchalantly crackled over the speakers: we’d be descending again soon, not to worry, just as soon as air control confirmed that the authorities had successfully run down a pack of dogs that had strayed onto the tarmac. Until then, enjoy the view. With plenty of swearing and full-bellied chuckles from the Tuvaluans on board, we circled back and touched down in the world’s fourth smallest nation.dsc_0003

At this point, you’re probably wondering where on earth this country is. Hop on Google Earth satellite view, and search for Funafuti. I got goosebumps the first time I saw the capital like that – it seemed so vulnerable, a tiny crescent of land built up over millions of years from the broken down coral reefs that rimmed ancient ocean volcanoes – but the birds-eye perspective has nothing on the feeling you get when you first stand at the tip of the islet. On your right, there’s the crystal-blue water of the salt-water lagoon. On your left, the heaving inky waves of the Pacific. It’s unlike anything else. dsc_0015

I spent three months interning with the Tuvalu Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (TANGO), supported by the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan. In the tiny box of TANGO’s office, I wrote Cabinet Papers and delivered training workshops, developed project management tools, and memorised the words to Tuvalu’s favourite reggae remixes. Timelines were short, plans inevitably fell through or changed at the very last minute, higher decisions didn’t make sense, our internet never worked and my laptop died in the humidity of my second week. Improvisation became my most valuable tool, and relationships my greatest asset. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this country rewrote me.

It might have been the ocean breeze, the mandatory midday siestas to escape thedsc_0023 sluggish heat, or the easy-goes approach of every person I worked with, but somewhere along the way I changed my tune. From the busyness and competition of making every minute a productive one, I slipped into days that moved slowly with the sun. Life became just that again – not endless work, not long commutes nor unshakeable exhaustion. Just life. I swam and listened and made friends and stumbled upon a secret.

Tuvalu is a country whose future is a woven basket of unknowns, made and remade around the changing advice of scientists and foreign diplomats but held together by the stories and pride of generations of island people. When today is what you’ve got, you savour it unapologetically and fight hard so that your kids might do the same.

dsc_0016And that’s just it. From Tuvalu, to me, to you: slow down enough to enjoy what’s precious, then give your best to preserve it. From Australian or atoll shores, I can’t imagine doing life any other way.dsc_0028dsc_0013

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Highlights of my Time in Japan

Jackie: Kansai Gaidai University, Osaka, Japan – Semester 1, 2016

At KGU you have three accommodation options; you can apply for a homestay, apply to live in a dorm or you can find your own options. I chose to live in a dorm because I had never lived independently before. I had always wondered what on campus living was like and it was well worth it. I made close friends with the other girls I lived with and it was a nice area to be in. It wasn’t too far from school or a grocery store or the bus.jackie_4

The highlight of exchange in Japan was the amazingly rich and diverse culture. One day I would be in Osaka (which is known in Japan for being the life of the party) exploring all the weird and quirky things. The next day I would be in Kyoto exploring the incredibly significant and important government building, learning about all of Japans history from my friends who are smarter than me and staring in awe at the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) wondering how a flower could be so beautiful. (Side note: also the food was amazing. My friends and I still message each other about how much we miss Udon and Sashimi).jackie_3

My exchange was amazing and if I could do it again or go back and extend my trip I would. I learnt so much about myself and other cultures, which I would never have known otherwise. I can’t recommend Japan enough as a host country. I feel like I have seen so much of Japan because of my exchange and for that I will be forever grateful.

Interested in going on a QUT Student Exchange? Learn more here. Or drop in and see our exchange ambassadors at Gardens Point in A Block.