A Semester in Sydney

My STEP Signature Project was transformative semester abroad at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia sponsored by Arcadia University’s College of Global Studies. Throughout the semester, I attended classes at a foreign institution, integrated into Australian dorm life, built friendships with individuals from all over the world, and traveled throughout Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia.

This was a semester of countless new experiences. Never have I had so many firsts in such a short amount of time. My new surroundings, new daily routine, and all these new experiences contributed to a transformation in my understanding of myself as well as my world view, but certainly the most influential aspect of this transformation was all the new people and relationships. Sydney is a very international city and my unique position as a study abroad student placed me in constant flow of new perspectives and ideas. This immersion in the unfamiliar and contradictory opened me up in so many ways.

Before beginning this project, I had a very concrete set of views about society and justice and despite strongly believing I was resolutely correct in these views, I considered myself to be very reasonable and open minded to others’ arguments. However, the people I’ve met this semester and the conversations we’ve had have made me realize how closed off I’ve been from the world. It was easy to be open minded and reasonable in Columbus surrounded by my liberal peers who were essentially saying the same things I was. The real challenge came when talking about Zwarte Piet, the Dutch blackface companion of Saint Nicholas with a Dutch person. Or when explaining why the N-word is so harmful to Australians who hear it all the time in American music and media but don’t have the same violent history of slavery and oppression of African people as the United States or even a Black population to truly understand it. Or even when navigating a dating culture with mush stricter gender norms and expectations for men and women than in America.

These experiences haven’t altered my opinions or beliefs, but they have made me appreciate the thought processes of others and how deeply influenced they are by our cultural environment. The clearest example of this fact is in my own upbringing. I grew up in a country convinced it is the best and inclined to only focus on itself. As result, other nationalities know far more about Americans than Americans know about them. I was faced with this reality repeatedly as I traveled this past semester.  This newfound appreciation for cultural relativism allowed me to truly open up and see things from other perspectives as well as sparked reflection and introspection of myself that led me to establish a part of my identity that I had never really thought about while living within the confines of my country: being American.

With the world becoming more and more global, the discoveries I made this semester will become more and more valuable in my daily life, my academics and the workforce. Employers will want people with a global perspective who understand and appreciate the intricacies of different cultures, and I want to contribute to companies who value these things. In addition, my experience of living in Sydney has been key to helping me narrow in on what I want to do with my life. I still don’t have any specifics nailed down, but I do have certain characteristic figured out, namely, I want to be a part of a city like Sydney. I want to live surrounded by many different cultures and with that the opportunity to constantly be learning and growing. I don’t want homogeny in any part of my life, not in my work, my personal life, nor my environment. I want to exist in a constant flux of different people, cultures and ideas. This important for me to continue learning about the world and expanding my worldview. I also want to keep traveling, to experience more than just what I’m used to. I want to keep growing as an individual and this semester has convinced me that the best way to achieve that is to get out there and experience as many things as possible. I plan to do just that. 

~ Remi Lassiter

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