The Colgate Scene
May 2003

Fair exchange
A new reciprocal arrangement with Australian university gets underway

Kendall Barnes, front center, Tim Hewitt, left, and Alison Mellor represented half of the students participating in a new exchange program between Colgate and the University of Wollongong. The Australian trio spent at least six weeks in Hamilton during the spring semester. Three Colgate students are currently studying at Wollongong. [Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko]

As part of a new exchange program between Colgate and Australia's University of Wollongong, six students (three American, three Australian) spent portions of the spring semester studying at each others' campuses.

Tim Hewitt, Kendall Barnes and Alison Mellor, students from Wollongong's School of Geosciences, came to Colgate from January through March. The three Colgate students, Maggie West '05, Greg Austin '04 and Chris Karmosky '04, are currently at Wollongong to conduct comparative geographic research down under.

The ties between the two universities began in the fall of 1994, when Colgate's geography and environmental studies study group first spent a semester at Wollongong, which is located on the eastern coast of Australia, about 50 miles south of Sydney.

"It's been a wonderful relationship, but it's been in one direction up until the past couple of years," said Ellen Kraly, professor of geography. With the exception of one University of Wollongong professor acting as a visiting professor, Colgate students have gone to Australia without a reciprocal exchange, Kraly added.

However, funding from the Mellon Foundation's New Models for Study Abroad grant allowed Colgate to explore ways of enhancing its study abroad programs. In late February 2002, five Wollongong and six Colgate faculty members met in Los Angeles to discuss potential programs, and the idea for the new exchange between the two schools was born. Three University of Wollongong students would visit and conduct research at Colgate during the first five to six weeks of spring semester 2003. In exchange, three Colgate students would spend the same amount of time researching at the University of Wollongong later in the semester.

According to Mellor, the three Australian students applied because "it is such an amazing opportunity to be here; it's such a different university to what we have at home." Wollongong is a large, public university of about 15,000 students, and Hewitt, Barnes and Mellor admitted they were not used to the intense, direct contact between students and professors characteristic of Colgate.

Despite these differences in environment, Hewitt, Barnes and Mellor adjusted to Colgate well, said Kraly, who described the Australians as "gregarious" students who had few, if any, problems adjusting to life in central New York. Kraly confessed to "getting choked up" as the time neared for the Australian students' return home.

"They just seem to be a part of things around here. They've energized us," Kraly said. "It's interesting to see our reflection in their eyes because they're seeing us from a fresh vantage."

The Australians arrived knowing little about Colgate. Barnes stated, "I didn't realize that Colgate was such a high-standard university academically." The students resided in campus housing -- Barnes and Mellor in Drake and Hewitt in Brigham -- and Mellor commented that "we feel really blown away by the standards of the facilities," and added that at Wollongong, most students live off campus. The keen competition in college admissions in the United States was also new to the students. In Australia, many students enter apprenticeship programs after high school, and college degrees are not as vital to success as they are in America. Moreover, Australian high school students do not apply to as many colleges as American students do. Most Australian colleges are public, and students typically go to the institution that is closest to home.

After a four-day orientation, the Australians delved into their respective research projects. Hewitt's research, which he conducted in Utica, looked into the social and spatial relationships among places that high school students identify as "cool," safe and dangerous. Barnes researched attitudes towards Middle Eastern immigrants in the United States and Australia since 9/11, as well as immigrants' perceptions of these attitudes. Mellor compared tourism policies between state parks in New York and New South Wales, often traveling to the Adirondacks, and even was able to interview state environmental officials.

Kendall Barnes signs a Hands for Peace banner during a campus peace rally in February.
Hewitt, Barnes and Mellor took advantage of much more than Colgate's academic offerings. Although Americans may assume that Australians rarely, if ever, see snow, the southern part of New South Wales is actually the home to a number of ski resorts. Arriving at Colgate during one of the harshest winters in recent memory, the three Australians took full advantage of the opportunity to learn how to snowshoe and telemark ski through Colgate's Outdoor Education Program, and even attended their first fraternity party.

In spite of the cold weather, the Australians said they thoroughly enjoyed their stay in Hamilton. Although Barnes and Mellor had been to the United States prior to applying to the exchange program, Hewitt had not. He arrived in America having heard Americans stereotyped as loud, brash and ignorant, but his experiences quickly contradicted that prejudice.

"I have not had one bad experience with an American so far," Hewitt said. "I've never seen anyone be pushy or arrogant or any of those sorts of terms sometimes associated with Americans." The Australians realized there were preconceptions about their country that had to be overcome as well. Hewitt added, "It's like people think we ride around in kangaroo pouches."

Before leaving for Wollongong, Colgate students West, Austin and Karmosky expressed excitement about their novel opportunity, as none of them had ever been to Australia. Austin and Karmosky took advantage of the program because they were not able to study abroad for a semester. West applied for the program as a means of extending her stay in Australia; she will join the Colgate study group going to the University of Wollongong in the fall.

"Being in another country, working on my own project is a great excuse to explore Australia and see new things," said West. "I expect to leave with a greater understanding of how others operate and to have had an incredible time in Australia."

In addition to enjoying the culture and Australian sunshine, the Colgate students will be as engaged in their research as Hewitt, Barnes and Mellor were with theirs. Karmosky is studying climate change in Antarctica and over the Southern Ocean, the ring of water that lies between 60 degrees south latitude and the coast of Antarctica. Karmosky is eager to work with the Wollongong faculty, who include some of the world's leading experts on the Southern Hemisphere's climate. West is comparing wildfire management and policy in the United States and Australia. Austin's research focuses on sustainable development and demographic change in New South Wales.

"With all that is going on in the world, international exchange and communication are critically important," Kraly said. "I may be idealistic, but I believe this exchange program is one small, but effective way that Colgate and the University of Wollongong can help to encourage international understanding and cooperation."

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