Student returns from ‘Down Under’
Published: Thursday, August 8th, 2013
While Custer is no stranger to hosting exchange students for an entire school year, not many from Custer can say they lived and attended school in another country. Olivia Dahlstrom is one of those few.
Dahlstrom spent the last half of her sophomore year in South Rochedale in Queensland, Australia, located just half an hour outside Brisbane.
“I wanted to experience something outside of Custer before I left high school,” she said. “I’m not really a big fan of small towns, so I wanted to experience something else for six months.”
The original idea for Dahlstrom was to stay with a family in the States or Canada.
“That was still a little close for me, so we started looking at Ireland, England and Australia,” she said. “My aunt lived in Australia so it would have worked perfectly to have lived there for six months. But then she moved, so we decided to go through an exchange program instead.”
While researching exchange programs, Dahlstrom learned that a lot of restrictions are placed on American exchange students. A lot of exchange programs don’t offer six-month programs to students, but Dahlstrom found what she wanted through Education Queensland International. In December, she left for Australia.
“It was a really good experience,” she said. “Six months went by really fast, but it was the perfect amount of time. But it was hard since I started to meet more people by the time I left. That was the difficult part, leaving (the friends I made.)”
Going into the exchange, Dahlstrom wasn’t sure what to expect.
“I was surprised at how friendly everyone was,” she said. “People would come up and start talking to me. Foreign exchange students are common there, but once they found out I was from America, it was a big deal. Since a lot of them want to travel to America or they want to know more about the country, they asked a lot of questions.”
Dahlstrom stayed with a host family that lived only a few blocks from the school she attended and was considered a year 11. She even had the opportunity to play volleyball for the first semester before solely focusing on her studies.
“Sports aren’t as competitive in Australia; it is more like a social hour for (students), but it was nice because that’s how I met a lot of girls,” Dahlstrom said. “School was a lot more intense than it is here. My grades really counted, so I focused on that for my second semester.”
Schools in Australia go year round, with two-week breaks between each nine- to 11-week semesters. Grades for each class are based on what grades students get on their term tests, which Dahlstrom wasn’t a fan of.
“If you failed that test, you were kicked out of the class. Their grading scale in high school is like our college grading,” she said. “In year 10, you decide if you want to go to ‘uni’ (university) and what you want to do. In years 11 and 12, you take more classes and specialty tests in that field.”
Students’ grades and level of classes determine what colleges they could apply for.
“You pretty much have to know in year 10 what you want to do for a career. It was definitely intense, but it’s the normal for them,” she said. “If students have a full-time job, they can drop out of school and it’s not even a big deal ... so much different from here.”
A typical day for Dahlstrom would be getting up at 7 a.m., putting on her uniform and walking nearly a mile to school, which started at 9 a.m. and ended at 3 p.m. Each class lasted 70 minutes and there were two breaks in the day, a 45-minute lunch break and a tea break after the first period.
“Australia is pretty comparable to America,” Dahlstrom said. “The food and people are the same. I went to a couple movies while I was there, ran errands with my host mom and went into the market to shop.”
While in Australia, Dahlstrom’s cousin unexpectedly passed away, which caused her to feel homesick.
“It was after my birthday and my parents called me on Skype to tell me the news,” she said. “It was hard for me since I wasn’t there at the funeral and to be with my cousins and family. For four days I really wanted to go home. But then I got better.”
After the first term, Dahlstrom became homesick once again, wishing she could go back home. Since she was on a break from school, she visited her aunt in Port Vincent for a week.
“Being with family and seeing something outside Brisbane got me out of it,” she said. “After that, I found a good group of people at school to hang out with and have fun. The last three months just flew by.”
Her parents and sister were even able to visit Dahlstrom and take a two-week trip to Auckland, New Zealand.
“I had a cousin there at the time so we went to visit them,” she said. “My mom and I were there two weeks and my dad and sister came out for the last week.”
The family hiked, walked around the beach and even bungee jumped off the Auckland Bridge.
In Australia, Dahlstrom shopped at the South Bank market, attended soccer and net ball games and spent time with her host parents’ families, who lived up the road from them.
“I was born and raised in Custer, so it was nice to go to a place where nobody knew my parents or siblings. They just knew me,” she said. “I had to go outside my comfort zone and experience something outside of the usual. I learned to make friends and grow as an individual and discover who I am. I got to be how I want people to think I am. It was really good for me.”
Dahlstrom came back to Custer June 26, where she was happily reunited with family and friends. She plans to do a student exchange again — this time when she’s in college.
“If anyone is thinking about doing an exchange, go for it!” she said. “At first it’s scary and I questioned myself a lot in the beginning, like on the first day of school. But you get to do amazing things, meet great people and have this amazing experience. There may be days you want to go home, but in the end looking back, even those days weren’t as bad as you thought they were.”
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