My Abroad Experience


August 27, 2018

We had the pleasure of having Maddison Harrington, from Rodger Williams University take part in our Semester study abroad program in Townsville studying at James Cook University this past Spring. Maddison had a fabulous semester and was very involved with the Arcadia co-curricular program. Maddison has kindly shared her experience with us through her contemplative co-curricular learning project.

Maddison Harrington

Studying abroad at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia was the best experiences of my life to date. As a junior in college, I wanted to study abroad in order to experience something I never had before. It was important for me to put myself in situations that would make me uncomfortable in order to figure out the solutions without help from anyone else. I have always had help from other people. Of course I am grateful for that help from family and friends, however, I was never really sure what I would be able to accomplish on my own. Traveling and studying in Australia was needed for me to learn how to be independent and I think I did just that.

I started college in August of 2015 knowing that I wanted to study abroad sometime during my college career. In February of 2018 I landed in Townsville, Australia so excited to start my abroad experience. Even though I was excited, I was also nervous to be on my own. My parents were roughly 20 hours away and my best friends were even farther. I wanted to take my nerves and use them to escape my comfort zone. The first thing I did when I finished unpacking was go and meet my Australian neighbors. Most of the friends I have made at my home university were made through mutual friends. I only have one or two independently made friends at home and I wanted to change that. I wanted to be the one to meet friends and then be the one to introduce them all to each other. I was not nervous to meet new people, however, I was nervous that the new people I met were going to be too different to even compare to my home friends.

I was so wrong. The people I met were incredible and I am happy to say that I am still in touch with many of them. I got especially close to my neighbor Keely. I can honestly say she is one of the best people I have met abroad. I would walk into her room next door and talk with her for hours about everything and nothing at all. We compared our lives and asked each other questions and I learned so much from her. I learned much of the slang used in Australia, although I’m sad to say I don’t use much of it at home.

Keely brought me to her hometown in Mission Beach where I ended up staying in a hostel. Another thing I have never experienced before. I went skydiving here and absolutely loved it. I found the heights and free falling so exciting and loved every minute of it. I would have never been able to do this unless I became friends with Keely. I realized that becoming more independent and branching out of my comfort zone is important to new experiences. Without knocking on my neighbor’s door, I would not have made such a great friend or be able to do one of the best things I’ve ever done. 

When beginning my study abroad experience, one of the major aspects I wanted to focus on was studying as well as finding out what study techniques work best for me. Since the education standards were vastly different in Australia compared to the United States, I needed to break down studying into topics rather than whole sections like I have done at my home university. The system of grading was harder to wrap my head around with only three or four assignments being graded as well as finals being between 40 and 50 percent of my overall grade.

To break down the study material, I began by retaking my notes on lectures as well as highlighting key points that I felt were important. Once all the lectures were completed I had a study packet of roughly 20 pages. I then took this packet with me to the Science Place. This location had white boards set up where I wrote down potential exam questions as well as topics and answered anything I knew about the topic.

Using the white boards was a new technique for me and really helped me visualize what part of the topics were lacking as well as which I knew completely. This new technique seemed to work for me because when it came time for exams, I knew each of the questions that were given. Studying independently rather than with peers helped me go through each of the topics in great detail and understand what I still needed to learn. I am very proud of the grades I received while abroad because I knew I did this on my own. My studying did not rely on peers and my grades reflected the effort I put in.

One of the hardest assignments I’ve ever completed would have to be this fish skull project. I had to dissect and reassemble a fish skull while also doing research and studying to complete the assignment. This was extremely challenging to complete but the hard work paid off when I received an A, or high distinction, as a final grade on both the skull and the paper. Doing this independently helped to prove to myself that I can really succeed at daunting assignments if I focus and take the time to do so.

I loved studying abroad because being on my own allowed me to discover what I plan to do for a career one day. Having the ability to speak with professors one on one and see what they were passionate about inspired me to find a passion as well. One of my professors, who taught coral reef geomorphology, absolutely loved his job and educating students on the role coral plays in everyone’s life. Because of this professor, I have decided to focus my Master’s degree on corals reefs and the importance they have on the environment. I want to be able to help others become more educated on ways they can help protect these structures and in turn support the creatures that rely heavily on the reefs.

I absolutely loved my abroad experience and not only learned about the country but also about myself along the way. It was a privilege to travel across the world and to be given the opportunity of a life time. I have found that I do not need to rely on others as much as I have and doing things independently can open up new opportunities for me to experience.