While most of my posts have been about traveling places during my year abroad in Australia, the majority of my time was actually spent in school. My school experience in Australia was really the most different and challenging event I had to face. It’s easy traveling places and having a good time; high school is the hardest part of the journey.
It was my first time going to a private school and I was very lucky to go here since they don’t typically accept students from Rotary Youth Exchange. I had to wear a uniform properly which was quite a trial since I was so used to being eclectic and individual in my personal style. For the first few weeks, I got scolded for having my tie improperly tied (I didn’t know how to do a Windsor knot and everyone else had learned since Year 5) or my shirt untucked or having colorful socks that clashed with the school colors. People could get put into uniform detention for having too much makeup or the wrong uniform on (there was a summer, winter, and gym uniform)!
Besides the uniform, there were other school customs that were really unfamiliar to me. I was sorted into a house (like in Harry Potter!) which only mattered for school-wide events like the Swimming Carnival, Athletics Carnival, and Eisteddfod (a festival of drama, art, debate, dance, and music). There were four houses: Ryall (yellow), Fairley (red), Mclennan (green), and Dunlop (blue). In Year 11, there’s the deb ball which is as big a deal as prom in the US. Some schools go really traditional with the deb ball, only letting girls wear white dresses while other schools – like the one I went to – allowed different colored dresses. But everyone had to learn how to properly dance like waltzes and it was quite ceremonious.
There were six classes in a day but classes were really long but there was morning tea and lunch after every two classes. Morning tea was shorter than lunch. There weren’t any yellow school buses! The charter bus that took me to school every day was nearly an hour-long and my host mom had to drive me to the stop (I lived that far out in the country). And there wasn’t really a proper cafeteria in my school; students had to eat outside on nice days or in the classrooms on colder days.
It was all very overwhelming at first. My school was very small and included Year 5 – Year 12 while most secondary schools go from Year 7 – Year 12. I entered halfway through the third term of Year 10 and left at the end of the second term in Year 11 (I never got to finish my VCEs!) so I did get to experience the thick of Australian high school life. My year level only had about 90 students which was a stark contrast to the 300+ students in my grade back in the US; it was admittedly hard to make friends because everyone was already so tight-knit and had known each other since the beginning. Coming from public school and from a lower middle-class background, sometimes it was hard to relate to these posh kids but then I later learned that many of them had jobs after school and weren’t just the stereotypical rich, private school kid. All in all, it was a valuable experience that I’ve come to appreciate; I’m not saying that I would do it again (high school is AWFUL no matter what country you do it in) but I definitely do not regret really committing to school and being a regular student while also getting to experience traveling in Australia.