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Meet Ainsley Kelso

On January 14, 2019, I did something crazy. Well, crazy by my standards at least. That Monday I boarded an international flight out of Los Angeles, California headed roughly 9,194 miles from to Sydney, Australia. I was traveling to Sydney as a part of the College of Communication and Information’s Scholars Abroad program in Australia. This program was designed to help its participants get college credit and gain on the job experience all while experiencing a new environment.

While abroad, I studied Australian History at the University of Sydney and Interpersonal Communications with UTK professor, Dr. Laura Miller. Taking a course with an Australian professor was extremely insightful to how their education system works, but it was nice to know I would end my day feeling a bit like I was at home on Rocky Top. After about four weeks of class, I set off to spend my remaining time in Sydney as an intern with a nonprofit organization called Solar Citizens. As their intern, I spent my days working in communications and media with their small team, attending meetings, working on projects, and generally learning about Australian workplace culture. While I do not believe working for a nonprofit is exactly what I want to do as a career, this was an extremely valuable experience that allowed me to network and work as a professional each day. 

Outside of my studies, I toured Sydney both with groups of friends and on my own. We all enjoyed group outings to the Taronga Zoo, learning about Aboriginal culture, and discovering my favorite Sydney beaches. In my free time, I was grateful to have spent some quiet time in history and art museums learning more about the country.

For anyone, study abroad is a daunting task. For me, I knew that my anxiety issues, there would be plenty of opportunities for me to back out at any moment. Whether that be getting on a bus going in the opposite direction of my destination or having a hard time deciding what to buy from the grocery store, struggled to adjust to my study abroad experience. However, I did not back down.

I had so many reasons to stay. I tried dishes that I never thought I would be able to experience and liked them! I spent the most magical night feeling like a kid on rides and in fun houses at Sydney’s Luna Park. I worked in Sydney during a state and federal election cycle, experienced their world-famous Mardi Gras parade, and pet so many kangaroos! Instead of being the person doing the talking, I spent more of my time listening and observing. Traveling abroad and really being willing to live like a local opens your eyes to how big and how small the world is. While we are all predisposed to thinking we understand another country and culture or thinking ours is the best, it is so important to go into an experience like this with an open heart and mind. Most importantly, it is important to not give up, even on those days when the homesickness is the worst and all you want to do is pet your dog. When you give the experience a chance, your eyes will open to a world you have yet to see. There is so much to see, and do, and learn. Of course, I could spend my time comparing and contrasting my home country to my far-from-home country, but I realized how unproductive that is. People are different for a reason, and when you open your mind to that, the experience becomes even richer.

Honestly, I feel like a better person from having studied abroad, but that does not change the fact that I worked hard and struggled to have the experience. After returning to the States, I sat and talked with my mother one day about what Australia means to me now. I left not truly understanding the impact a place can have on a person. I know now that after spending a semester in Sydney, a little piece of me will always be there. I hope one day to be able to travel to many more countries and utilize some of the things I learned while being abroad in college. I hope I am able to always leave a little piece of myself everywhere I go and take a new piece with me like I did in Sydney. A piece that overcame a challenge, a piece that learned something new, and a piece that changed the way I saw the world thanks to the people I met.