By: Stephanie Foster, Columnist
Since commencing my studies as an Australian exchange student in the fall of last year, I have been asked a myriad of questions. These range from the genuinely curious: Is it true that it is illegal to look inside a kangaroo’s pouch? To the ridiculously amusing (Has anyone ever seen Tasmania? Is Tasmania even a real place?). FYI: yes, Tasmania is very real! I am a student at the University of Tasmania, one of Towson’s exchange partners.
One common thread in many questions is, “What’s the main difference between Australia and the U.S.?” Naturally, this is impossible to adequately answer in a single column.
Personally, I was shocked at how different life is here. Australia gets a lot of its media, TV shows, movies and music from the U.S. As a culture, there is definitely a degree of aspiration toward the American way of life, as there is in many parts of the world. Hence I was surprised that our societies differ so much.
To pinpoint one thing, in my experience, Americans are incredibly straightforward, up-front and sincerely helpful. When I ask someone what they think about this lecturer or that dining hall, I get a serious, thoughtful and constructive answer. In Australia, you’d more likely get a wry smile, a sarcastic comment and perhaps a friendly “bloody hell!” I’ve had friends, colleagues and lecturers go out of their way to help me — lifts to the shops (in one instance, three times in as many days due to my hopeless inability to choose which brand of zip lock baggie I wanted), loaning of text books (thanks mate, I promise I’ll find it and give it back soon!) and generous offers of hospitality during Thanksgiving and winter break.
I do believe that being the token Australian wins me some free brownie points and I have, on occasion, used my nationality to get me out of some sticky situations. On a recent Thursday night when I paid a visit to Towson’s indoor pool. It was a hideously cold evening, especially for an Aussie, so as you can imagine, mustering up the courage to walk to Burdick was a triumph in itself. However, my bag packing skills were rather less triumphant that night. I had left my bathers in my dorm. Genius. I went to the service desk to ask if I might borrow a pair from lost property. After about five minutes of blank, confused looks (something I am used to now), I realized the word in common usage here is “swimsuit,” not “bathers.” What they must have thought when I asked “Can I please borrow a bather?”… I do not know.
There were no spare bathers in lost property and I returned to the change rooms. Unwilling to trek back to my dorm, I desperately asked my fellow swimmers if any of them had a spare swimsuit. “Are you Australian?” “Yes” “Do you ride your bike around a lot?” “Yes” “Oh! I think you nearly ran me over last semester! But then you yelled out “Sorry! I’m Australian,” “Yes, that sounds like me.” The kind girl, who I sadly cannot glorify in-print as I did not catch her name, then lent me her neon yellow sports bra. I proceeded to have a most excellent swim in a makeshift bikini. Later on I discovered I had also forgotten my towel, but that’s another story.
So dear Towsonians: thank you so very much for your kindness and hospitality! Keep up the good work!
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