Tasha Repella snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef with a large wrasse fish

Tasha Repella is a biomedical engineering student at the University of Arkansas. In early 2018, she spent five months studying abroad in Sydney, Australia. Below, she reflects on her experiences and discusses what she’s learned:

A year ago, if someone had told me I would be sitting in Sydney, Australia, writing about the last five months I spent in one of the most beautiful countries, I wouldn’t dare believe them. Looking back at this semester, I am so humbled by such an incredible opportunity I was given and the valuable lessons that helped shape me.

Because Australia is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons there are opposite from the U.S., so their school year doesn’t begin until March, which is late summer for them. So at the end of February, I took a leap of faith, and I boarded a plane headed for Sydney. I was thrilled, but the nerves also stuck with me. While I have grown up with a deep love for travel, I knew that leaving the comfort of my Fayetteville community of three years would be tough, but it was the best thing I have ever done.

Tasha Repella at the Sydney Opera House

Living the majority of my life in Northwest Arkansas, I always wanted to experience living in the middle of big city as well as being closer to the beach, and in Sydney, I got both. The city was thrilling. Tourists could be frustrating at times and the traffic was crazy, but on the weekends I enjoyed the sandy Australian beaches, and at night I could be at the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House after only a ten minute train ride. I met students from all across the globe, all at different points in their lives with different stories to share. This was one of the best parts. At home I met other international students, in class I met local Aussies, and while traveling, I met and stayed with the locals of the area.

I continued my studies in biomedical engineering at the University of Technology Sydney, and the courses were quite different from what I was accustomed to. Most of them only took place once a week, all of them had outside of class group or individual research projects, and none of them had typical midterm exams throughout the semester like every other class I had ever taken. This method of learning really required diligence in keeping up with my studies and made note-taking and study habits critical rather than relying on an exam and numerous homework assignments to force me to keep up with the material. The research projects outside of class allowed me to pursue other topics of my own interest related to my current studies, and enabled me to go deeper with my knowledge while working in groups. I experienced a lot more freedom in my classes abroad, which was a refreshing change of pace from more exam-heavy courses.

A gorge in Karijini National Park in western Australia

Of course, during my “uni” breaks, I took advantage of every second and traveled all over the country, and even to other countries within Oceania. I experienced everything from white sandy beaches to the Aussie outback, rainforests, the Great Barrier Reef, and I even ventured all the way out to New Zealand and Fiji. Honestly though, studying abroad felt unreal even on the days spent in class.

Since this journey abroad, I have seen a new side of myself emerge. I have become more confident when I’m out of my comfort zone, in day-to-day communications and when meeting new people, and in research projects while presenting and working together with others from various backgrounds. I’ve also learned that nothing ever goes as planned, and that it’s important to adapt, stay positive, and keep pushing towards your goals. The world is filled with millions of opportunities, and there isn’t just one direction to go, but instead there’s many different chances for our lives to diverge and create new, unexpected journeys that may just require a leap of faith. It’s not easy, but taking that leap of faith into something unknown is so worth it. Even though I may not know exactly what my future holds, I am excited for new opportunities that may change my life in the ways that studying abroad has.

Tasha Repella standing on a lookout at Wallaman Falls, the tallest waterfall in Australia

Post-study abroad life will definitely be tough. The city buzz and all of the incredible experiences I have shared with others will be deeply missed, but I am thankful for the growth and memories I made abroad. I plan on continuing my research into regenerative medicine and tissue engineering and growing in my academic knowledge. While pursuing these goals, I also am open to new opportunities abroad, perhaps in the form of a new job or a graduate school program. While it’s hard to leave such an amazing country and its culture behind, I know it’s necessary in order for me to pursue new adventures elsewhere.

– Tasha Repella