From one international student to another – Ashley asks Kristen about her Aussie experience
Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from, and what are your interests?
Hey, I’m Kristen! I grew up as a Portland, Oregon native before moving down to Redlands, California in my teenage years. In the beginning of 2017, I took the leap of moving to Australia, which I had been anticipating doing for years. To this day, I’m not sure what originally planted the seed in my mind, but for as long as I can recall I have had an intuitive knowing that I would move here. In university I studied art, counselling and communications, but chose to work in the field of mental health after graduating. In my first weeks of working as a Mental Health Worker it became overwhelmingly obvious that this was the field I needed to be in. Since working there, I have been approached by a friend who runs a wellness business who hired me to write for her website. I’ve been writing content about all things mental health, such as managing emotions, decision-making, creating healthy relationships, and setting boundaries etc.
How did you end up at Avondale?
I grew up in a very cozy Adventist community, attending SDA school and university. Therefore, Avondale’s name had been dropped several times to me, especially when people would hear of my dream of moving to Australia. However, the actual move itself was quite impulsive. I was loving my studies at La Sierra University and didn’t picture removing myself from the community I’d found there. But as I understood it, I would never feel ‘ready’ for such a drastic life change. The move was a bit more uncoordinated than I’d anticipated, but upon arrival and first few weeks of study my intuition to move here and finish my degree at Avondale was affirmed.
What did you study while at Avondale?
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise that many of my units didn’t transfer from my previous university to Avondale. And similarly, that Avondale’s curriculum differed from my previous uni, suggesting that I had to choose one major and two minors to complete my degree. I had nearly completed my required units for my art major and communications minor, but despite having little to no experience in the subject, I picked up a counselling minor. I absolutely fell in love with my counselling courses. This was probably due to equal parts my burning desire to educate myself on mental health topics and also because of how much I enjoyed my lecturer Paul Bogacs. I always felt engaged in his classes, and felt that what I was learning was helpful for both my counselling practice and personal relationships. I cannot even explain how much it impacted me as a student to have a teacher who so apparently cared about his students, and I accredit much of my positive experience at Avondale to my experience in his classes and the friendships I developed in them. (In summary, my major was Visual Art and my minors were Counselling and Communications haha)
How would you explain your #avondalexp to people who’ve never heard of us before?
Oh wow. Well the confusion that inevitably comes when explaining to a stranger what Avondale is (or generally just Adventism) usually begins somewhere between haystacks, Ellen White, and chicken salt (WHICH I WAS STOKED TO DISCOVER IS VEGETARIAN!!!). When I tell people that I moved across the world to live in Cooranbong, NSW I usually get one of two responses: “Where?” or “Why?” But I quickly follow up by telling them about how charming and cozy Cooranbong is, and about how quickly it became home for me. The fact that people seem to somehow know everything about everybody has its strange benefits. You make one friend; you find you have somehow suddenly made twenty more friends. The adventurous nature of so many students is so contagious. I was terrified that not having a car when moving to Avondale would leave me stranded on campus, but I found myself receiving quite consistent offers to Catherine Hill Bay Beach or Newcastle (which, sorry Cooranbong, won over my heart).
What was your favourite part of the #avondalexp?
When I first arrived I was an international student with no car who knew zero people on the entire continent. The transition from life in bustling Southern California to Cooranbong was a bit shocking, and it was my first time out of the U.S. But, I kid you not, within the first two days of being in the country, I had already got invited to somebody’s home for Sabbath lunch. Week and week again, I would attend church and end up spending the afternoon eating, hiking and socialising with the other students. Moving overseas has its challenges, but making friends at Avondale was absolutely not one of them.
How has your experience at Avondale helped you make a difference in where you are now?
Coming to Avondale was intertwined with satisfying my dream of moving to Australia, so I find it difficult to keep the two separate. Regardless, I arrived with an open mind and keen to make friends which benefitted the way I approached the entire experience. My social foundation in Australia was laid at Avondale. One family in particular that I met at College Church took me in, feeding and housing me when the dorms were shut. They were actually the ones who helped me physically move to Newcastle, which I am deeply thankful for. It’s thanks to them and many other friends that surrounded me at Avondale that I am both physically and mentally where I am at now… I am absolutely more intentional, creative and engaged in life and people since my Avondale studies.
What are you up to now?
Since graduating from Avondale in 2017, I have committed to the full Novocastrian life. I figured it was time to stop selling myself the empty promise of living in a beach town, so I devoted every ounce of my being to making that happen after graduation. The first few months of establishing a job, house, car and friends tested my resilience and capability more than anything ever has. Now my days are filled with all things beach, coffee, and mental health. I am a permanent staff at Flourish Australia, which is a mental health and wellbeing service provider funded by the NDIS. On my days off work I write my articles for Death by Lycra (and my own website), frequent the public libraries with my boyfriend, surf the local op shops and catch up with friends at various Newcastle venues for dinner or a concert.
Thanks to Kristen for sharing her experience with us! Check out more about studying abroad at Avondale here.
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