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NC State Students Find Silver Lining During COVID Pandemic in Land Down Under

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What’s a more valuable college experience than four months of traveling, exploring exotic locations, and experiencing new cultures — all the while receiving a world-class education? This is something that many students dream of. Every year, countless students seize the opportunity to learn, explore and adventure by studying abroad in a foreign country for a semester. These students often return with unbelievable experiences and memories that will stick with them for a lifetime. Last spring, NC State students Cameron Goddfrey and Grace Jackson both had the grand aspiration of traveling across the world to study abroad in Australia for a semester. A smooth start to their journeys in the “Land Down Under” was quickly interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic; however, these students refused to let this stop them from engaging in the experience of a lifetime.

“Given the circumstances of the pandemic, I would say that it went the best it could have possibly gone. Obviously, it would have been a whole different experience had there been no Coronavirus, but it was definitely a positive experience that I will never forget,” said Goddfrey when asked how he would rate his experience overall.

Cameron is currently a senior at NC State who expects to graduate in Fall 2021 with a degree in Civil Engineering. He always knew that he wanted to study abroad during his college career, and after hearing about experiences from older students who had gone abroad before him, he decided that he wanted to spend his time on the opposite side of the world in Perth, Australia. He packed his bags, said goodbye to his friends and family, and boarded an international flight February 15th. He arrived in Perth the following day for the start of a semester that went a bit differently from the way he imagined.

For the first few weeks, Cameron was attending class in person. He said that “it was a really cool experience going to class, because it was nice walking through an unbelievable campus and interacting with the Australian students there”.

After just under a month of Cameron’s Australian school experience, the Coronavirus started to become a significant global issue, and nationwide lockdowns were beginning to be implemented. The Australian Coronavirus culture was somewhat similar to what we experienced in the United States, according to Cameron, “people were definitely worried, but they were very cautious about following the regulations put in place”. NC State recalled a good portion of its students that were studying abroad, and made it mandatory in some countries who were experiencing high case numbers, but students in some parts of Australia were given the option to stay if they wanted to. After talking with his family, Cameron decided that he wanted to stay and finish the program in Australia despite the pandemic.

“My family was definitely worried for me being on the other side of the world during a pandemic, but we agreed that it would be best for me to stay there because the virus was taking a much bigger toll on the United States. I made sure to FaceTime my family every couple days to stay in touch and check up on each other,” said Goddfrey.

Fortunately for Cameron, Western Australia took many precautions early on and was able to limit the spread of the virus. After a month or so of tight restrictions with limited social action, the laws eased up, allowing Cameron to continue experiencing the culture of Australia, while also maintaining his health and safety.

Quickly after businesses reopened and Cameron was allowed some social interactions and exploration of the country, he grew very fond of the culture and people there. “All the people there were very genuine and interested in me, which allowed me to make lifelong friendships. I also discovered pretty quickly that many of the people there had similar interests as me (surfing, sports, nightlife), so that helped me make friends quickly and led to some great experiences.”

There was one specific experience that really stood out to Cameron, saying “me and a bunch of other study abroad students rented an Airbnb in Margaret River (a town south of Perth) for 4 nights, and while we were there I got to surf some of the best waves in the world, visit some unbelievable beaches and really cool caves, go on a couple beer and wine tours, and so much else. It was just an unbelievable 4 days and I will never forget it”.

The day before Cameron landed in Perth, approximately 3,891.5 km to the east, NC State student Grace Jackson landed in Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia to begin her journey studying abroad on the other edge of the world.

“I was so excited and nervous at the same time, but I had known for a while that I wanted to study abroad in Australia, so I think I was definitely more excited,” said Jackson.

Similar to Cameron, Grace is a senior at NC State, but she is majoring in Business Marketing with a minor in Nutrition; she expects to graduate this spring. Studying abroad was always an aspiration of hers, and she quickly decided that Australia was the location that she wanted to live in for a semester. Like Cameron, she was able to attend class in person for the first couple weeks; she found that her class structure was similar to NC State’s, but with an added twist that she liked.

“The classes I took in Australia paralleled classes at NC State in that there was a lecture for each class each week. However, each class lecture was accompanied by a tutorial rather than another lecture. Tutorial classes had around 25 people or less, were often taught by a different instructor than the lecturer, and were very discussion-based with a lot of group projects, which I really enjoyed,” said Grace.

Unfortunately, when COVID became a global issue about a month after she arrived, it became more serious in the area of Australia that she was in, compared to Western Australia where Cameron resided. Sadly, Grace’s time was cut short in Australia as NC State allowed students in her area to remain there but strongly recommended against it. On March 30th, Grace opted to fly home. Although she did not get to stay there for the full semester, she still made the most of her experience there. Prior to lockdowns and quarantines, she enjoyed some great experiences and grew to know the culture.

Her favorite parts about Australia were the people and the environment, stating “the people I was able to meet genuinely cared more about everyone’s happiness and collective well-being, rather than competing to be the prettiest or the smartest behind a fraudulent smile. It seemed like everyone was always smiling, because they were actually enjoying life in and out of school.”

The learning-by-doing approach to education states that students must interact with their environment in order to adapt and learn. Grace would be the first to tell you that during her most memorable experience from her trip, this process definitely helped her learn more about Australia as well as bringing her closer to her friends there.

“It was a moment that had potential to end horribly. A group from the school I was studying at went to the Taronga Zoo using a train, metro, and a ferry. I guess the animals, performances, and the view of the Sydney Opera House were distracting, because our group left early without me and a few of my friends. Once we realized this, we had to navigate our way home across quite a few platforms which was stressful, but it taught us a lot in a short period of time. Getting lost actually turned into a social adventure with some great views.”

Even though her semester abroad ended much quicker than she had hoped, Grace emphasized that she still had an incredible experience, “I still rate it 10/10 even though it didn’t go as planned. Being able to see how a different country operates socially, environmentally, politically, etc. was eye opening. I now value more meaningful things like the environment, community wellbeing, and individual happiness. This even influenced me to want to help change America in some positive way. This experience was so far from my comfort zone, but now I would travel almost anywhere alone.”

The experience of studying abroad was very different this past spring compared to previous years, but it is clear that it was still just as exciting, impactful, and memorable as it has been for so many students previously. Both Cameron and Grace continually highlighted that they cannot wait to go back and are already working on planning return trips for the near future.