Creating a sense of place: Arcadia Australia's Orientation sessions


January 13, 2020

 The only journey is the one within.
(Rainer Maria Rilke)

Studying abroad is a great adventure filled with new encounters, places and experiences. Traveling to new locations, we expand our understanding of the world around us, broaden our cultural horizons and most importantly, challenge our prior perspectives. Coming to Australia, our students have the unique opportunity to think critically, recognize complexity and explore the country’s particular social and cultural contexts. Students are encouraged to think critically, question dominant narratives and truly immerse themselves in all the opportunities to learn and grow.

Reflections on place and belonging

Coming to a new location and encountering differences can be an exciting and occasionally overwhelming experience. For this reason, it is important to take some time to truly consider where we are, what this means to us and our goals and how we can make the most out of an experience. Following this notion, our Orientation sessions are structured around the central concepts of place and belonging. Students are invited to consider some of the following: Where do we belong? How do we develop a sense of place in a new surrounding? What does belonging mean in Australia and who gets to feel that they belong? All of these questions are deeply subjective and require open reflection. The answers we come up with will depend on our personal identities, experiences and social structures that surround us. In order to encourage this dynamic questioning, our students spend the three full days of Orientation immersed in a particular location –North Head Quarantine Station (Q station). Located on the beautiful Garangal Country, we begin our Orientation sessions with the centering of Indigenous Australian cultures and perspectives. As the prominent author and scholar Jackie Huggins points out when addressing Australia’s dominant histories, “rather than be at the margins, we should be in the center” (2). As students learn about Indigenous Australian histories, cultures and resilience, they are invited to think critically and question dominant narratives.

Understanding Q Station
As a historical site, Q Station site and accommodation is rich with individual and collective stories and narratives as it once served as a Quarantine Station for migrants coming to Australia. The unique site provides a contained, fully immersive and layered experience for our students arriving in Australia. Q Station is a specific site vastly different from usual hotel accommodation, reflected in the unique way it is structured and accessed. After arriving at the location, students are settled into different rooms dispersed around the site which may range from suites, singles and cottages. They can either walk or call a shuttle to be transported to different locations such as the breakfast or dinner restaurants, and reception. While students spend most of their time exploring Q Station, our orientation also contains outings to Manly’s center, a surf lesson and a ferry ride to central Sydney among other activities. Exploring on their own, students can take a leisurely walk from reception to Manly’s busy center, or get there by bus or Uber.

Immersive experiential learning
Most importantly, Q Station is a site offering numerous opportunities for experiential learning. From analyzing archaeological gems and inscriptions, exploring the seafront Visitor Centre and immersing themselves in the stories of people who stayed at Q Station, this historical site weaves together Australia’s complex histories of migration, survival and the importance of community. The vast site itself is rich with various life forms from eagles, cockatoos and bandicoots, to occasional sightings of humpback whales in early winter (Hobbins et al, 16). Human presence also remains on the site, not only through Q Stations buildings and constructions: as Hobbins et al (2016) point out, “resilient traces of Indigenous ways of knowing and landscape remain, protected in pockets of bushland, while the stories about North Head live on with Indigenous elders and knowledge keepers” (16-17).

In the three full days of immersion, our Orientation sessions include opportunities to walk around the site with our staff, enjoy stunning views, appreciate Australia’s histories, ask questions and consider our own sense of place and self. More experiential learning on the site is enabled through additional individual and group explorations, games, information sessions and a guest lecture by Dr. Todd Phillips from the Department of Indigenous Studies (Macquarie University). Acknowledging and drawing on Indigenous Australian perspectives, students discuss their understanding of Australia and reflect on their own contexts, histories and senses of belonging.

New perspectives: shaping the journey ahead
Study abroad does not have to be an isolated moment in one’s life – it can be a journey filled with potential and life-changing moments and encounters that continue beyond the immediate experience. It is not just about being in a different place physically – we have the potential to expand our horizons with each new experience. Embracing each moment, growing and learning is an ongoing process requiring active reflection and our Orientation sets the stage for students’ individual journeys ahead through dialogue, critical thinking and connecting across differences.

References and further recommended reading:

Heiss, Anita (ed). 2018. Growing up Aboriginal in Australia. Black Inc.

Hobbins, Peter, Ursula K Frederick and Anne Clarke. (2016). Stories from the Sandstone: Quarantine Inscriptions from Australia’s Immigrant Past. Arbon Publishing.

Huggins, Jackie. (1996). ‘Experience and Identity: Jackie Huggins and writing history’. Limina, Vol.

Pascoe, Bruce (2014). Dark Emu. Magabala Books.