Marija’s Postcard from Melbourne

Marija Dimitrievska is a Bachelor of Science student majoring in Molecular Genetics from King’s College London. Marija spent two semesters at the University of Melbourne, in Semester 2, 2019 and Semester 1, 2020, remaining in Melbourne during the pandemic and lockdown. Despite some of the restrictions in place, Marija made the most of her time in Australia both on and off campus and shares her Global Learning experience with us.

Why did you choose the institution and location of your overseas program?

When I was applying for the exchange program at my university, out of all of the options, the University of Melbourne was one of the more prestigious universities and I was sure I would get a really good quality education there.

I knew that it would be a challenge going so far away from home for a full year. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and throw myself into a new situation to see how I would deal with it. Since I was young, Australia always seemed like the end of the world, with so much cool wildlife and beautiful nature. I was definitely excited to explore that when I got there.

What was your experience when you first arrived at your overseas study program? Was this different to what you expected?

When I got there, I was more stressed than I thought I would be. I was trying to adapt quickly and meet new people. It was a lot to take in at first, but at the same time, everything at the University was great. The campus was really nice which I appreciated because we don’t really have a campus in London. It was a really good experience to be around so many students. Most of my classes were also easy to follow content wise.

I did feel homesick, even though that’s not normally something I feel. When I came to study in London, from Belgium I was completely fine. But not being with my family for a full year, I felt it more. Things got better after the first month though as I got to know more people and made friends. In the end, it all worked out.

What actions did you take to make sure you maximised the opportunities your overseas program offered you?

Meeting new people at my accommodation and through student clubs was important. Also talking to people during classes and practicals is a great way to meet people. I was also part of the Peer Mentor Program and I made some friends there including students from the older years. This is how I found out about the Science Research Project subject, which is the project I did at the Jusuf Lab with Dr Jusuf.

The research project unfortunately started right before quarantine, but I did still get one month in the lab. Afterwards, it was more working with the data and writing up the report. I also did a presentation for the lab group which was good practice for me. I was looking at the regenerative potential of the ciliary marginal zone which is the corner of the retinas in zebra fish. I also got to visit the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research at the facility where they keep all the zebra fish. I was in this room with hundreds of aquariums and incubators where they kept the baby zebra fish, it was really interesting.

What was your biggest culture shock moment?

In my student accommodation I had a balcony. I was surprised that a lot of mornings I was woken up by the singing of really colourful parrots on my balcony. I also visited the RMIT Bundoora campus to meet a friend and around sunset time we went to a field and saw a bunch of wild kangaroos hanging out in the field. There was at least 20 kangaroos there, that was definitely surprising.

What was the highlight of your overseas program?

I would say the people that I met, I made a lot of good friends which is something I really value. The trips I took were really amazing too. During September and October, I went with a friend to Cairns to the Daintree Rainforest which I found out was the oldest rainforest in the world. We also went to the Great Barrier Reef. We went snorkelling and scuba diving and it was even prettier and more colourful than in the pictures. Whilst we were diving, I strayed away from the group a bit and I looked down saw two sharks swimming. So I can say I’ve swum with sharks!

Between lockdowns in June, I managed to go to Sydney for one week. Sydney is a city that I really fell in love with. On the way back, we stopped at this small town Huskisson in Jervis Bay. I heard that there was bioluminescence in the water which normally happens in summer. The water just glows blue. I wasn’t expecting to see it because it was wintertime when we went, but we actually saw blue in the water when the waves were crashing. We were so lucky that we saw bioluminescence in the water on the day we went.

What is the one piece of advice or tip you wish you had known before you went on your overseas program?

I would have liked to have a Driver Licence because I wasn’t always able to go to a lot remote places that you needed a car to get to. You can do group trips but they were quite expensive and it adds up over time.