At Georgia Tech, a majority of students go on Study Abroad Programs. Most of the adults and professionals that I work with always say that the thing that they regret most about college was that they didn't study abroad. I wanted to be able to live without saying that!
Traveling was something that I desired to do and I really wanted to go to a part of the world that I might not be able to later in life, so I chose the South Pacific!
I went on the Georgia Tech Pacific Program. It is a program that is specifically sponsored by Georgia Tech and is led by Georgia Tech faculty. We traveled to New Zealand, Australia, and Fiji. In New Zealand I lived in Wellington for 6 weeks in accommodations from Victoria University. Excursions with the program involved attending a night of traditional Maori celebration and welcoming , countless museums and libraries, and the Beehive to see the opening of Parliament in Wellington. We also visited Lake Taupo as a unit to hike along the Tongariro range.
In Australia, I lived in Sydney for 3 weeks and stayed at the Sydney Harbour YHA (recommend to everyone!!!). The only excursions here were to tidal pools off of the Cooge-Bondi walk and to the Blue Mountains Valley of the Waterfalls trail. We then went to Heron Island Research Station in Queensland. This was a week of excursions in itself as we were able to snorkel and dive on the Great Barrier Reef every day.
In Fiji, we stayed at the Uprising Resort in Pacific Harbour (also HIGHLY recommend to everyone). The only program led excursion here was to the Deuba Village right next door. We did a service project, created a rugby field, and attended church services (as desired). The people in this village became our best friends over this two week period.
I obviously took classes as well. We had two 6-week sessions. The first was in New Zealand where I took classes on this History of Wellington, Herman Melville, and general biology (with lab). The second 6 weeks was in Australia and Fiji where I continued the general biology class without lab as well as a Comparative Politics class that specifically looked into nations in the region. Classes were Monday through Thursday and in two hour blocks, allowing for travel on the weekends.
I am a Gates Millenium Scholar and I was able to use my funding for this program.
How quickly it goes by. I definitely would have focused more on cultural experiences while abroad if I would have known that the whole thing flies by. I would have spent more time outside and less time exploring the wonders of New Zealand Netflix.
I definitely experienced discrimination in Australia. I think that in most part it was because there were few to no African Americans. The extent of people who were non-white and non-asian were Indian, Malaysian, and Fijian. The biggest lesson I took from it was that I was going to be anomaly some times while in foreign places and that it was totally okay. I do not have to defend my skin or my hair to anyone. I do not have to give the history of being Black in America to everyone. I could if I wanted to, but it was not required.
Studying abroad has benefitted me by opening my mind. I did not know that the Maori people even existed until going to New Zealand. I am much more globally conscious and internationally curious.
Academically, I am very sure that I want to go into Energy and Environmental work across the world. Being able to talk to the New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, about NZ's plans for COP21, visiting conservation parks in Australia, swimming and making a research project on the Great Barrier Reef, and doing mangrove clean up and education in Fiji made it very clear to me that my passions lie in making the earth a more habitable place.
The most memorable experience was watching a group of Maori men do the Haka in Auckland. It was incredible. I was almost like I was being let into a secret part of their heritage and culture. The passion and knowledge of the dance was effortless and captivating. I felt like I was looking at something that was older than time itself, yet timeless.
There was always something to do or to keep us entertained. In New Zealand, everything closes at around 4:30/5pm, but the nightlife starts up at around 9/10pm. It was all located in the same location in Wellington and not once did I feel unsafe.
Sydney is the New York City of the Southern Hemisphere. There was ALWAYS something to do and since the public transportation ran at almost all hours, there was always a way to get to where we needed to go.
As I mentioned before, I think that I confirmed my passions while abroad. Being able to talk to the New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, about NZ's plans for COP21, visiting conservation parks in Australia, swimming and making a research project on the Great Barrier Reef, and doing mangrove clean up and education in Fiji made it very clear to me that my passions lie in making the earth a more habitable place.
I think it also prepared me in adapting to new cultures. Even though New Zealand is similar to the rest of the Western World, there are certain characteristics that set it apart and make New Zealand, well, New Zealand. Learning new languages (Maori and Fijian) in order to adapt to the place where I was instead of making everyone try to understand my English was hard, but something that I am glad that I did.
YES! If you are at Georgia Tech, you should not even hesitate to go on this program. It gets you the furthest away from the United States that you could possibly imagine. Going to Europe or South America sounds great, but those areas of the world are actually much more accessible to Americans than the South Pacific is. Go while you still can.
*There is a similar program at the University of Georgia.
Don't just think about. Find a way. Apply for every scholarship, talk to every person that you can, take out a loan if needed, get your school behind you and GO! You will regret if you don't go. You will create memorable experiences and explore cultures and spaces unlike anything that you could in the United States.