Gabriela’s Postcard from Melbourne

Gabriela Gonzalez Fuentes has recently graduated from her bachelors degree majoring in English Literature and Linguistics (Honours) from the University of Chile. Gabriela spent one semester at the University of Melbourne, in Semester 1, 2020, remaining in Melbourne during the pandemic and lockdown. Despite some of the restrictions in place, Gabriela 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?

One of the most important things I had in mind when applying to the exchange program was the language. As an English linguistics major (now graduate!) student coming from a country where English isn’t the main language, I wanted to fully immerse myself in the language and culture. I finally decided on Australia because I was intrigued by it, and of course because I wanted to challenge myself with the accent as we’re mostly taught American and British English in Chile, I wanted to explore something different. Once I got into the idea of Australia, I began my research on different unis around the country, but the University of Melbourne got my attention from the beginning for its beauty and diversity! I don’t regret my choice and I’m really happy I took the courage to fly myself to a completely different spot to what was by far one of the best things I’ve ever done!

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

I was completely fascinated by Melbourne right from the start. It’s actually quite similar to Santiago (Chile) to some extent so it wasn’t the craziest shock, but I do believe it is one of the nicest cities I’ve ever been to. I don’t think I had preconceived expectations about Melbourne, but it sure did amaze me!

I must admit I was very emotional the first few days upon my arrival though, as I come from a very close family dynamic, but everything was so exciting and I met so many new friends who helped me feel welcomed and at home. One of the things I actually appreciate about my exchange is that it helped me overcome my shyness for the most part and it helped me grow as a person in a lot of aspects that, maybe if it wasn’t for this opportunity, I wouldn’t have experienced.

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

I tried to go and meet new people everywhere. I joined a few clubs during the first week and I met a lot of people there. I also got into the Exchange Accelerator Program. That was something I’ve never done before. You have to create a business project, which is not my area, but that was a nice experience and I made a few friends from it as well.

I tried to connect with more people than I’m used to in Chile. I also took classes that we don’t have at University of Chile. We don’t have creative writing subjects here, only academic writing subjects. It was something I really wanted to experience and it was one of my favourite classes. The subject was called Writing Identity and Difference. You could write about your culture or community, for example some of my classmates wrote about their experience being LGBTQI+.

One of the things I really like about Unimelb is that it’s very creative – you have arts, writing, dancing. Lots of my friends were taking dancing subjects, even though they were business students.

What was your biggest culture shock moment?

Melbourne is actually quite similar to Santiago, so there wasn’t too much of a shock. I am usually very careful when I am outside by myself in Chile, but that was really different when I was in Melbourne, I felt safer.

Apart from that, the language was one obvious thing. As a native Spanish speaker, it was weird having to speak English most of the time to communicate with people. It was a nice experience though and I wanted to make sure I practiced as much as I could. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Australia, to improve my English. I feel like my English definitely improved. When I came back to class in Chile, one of my friends told me that my English is much better and more fluent!

What was the highlight of your overseas program?

My friends – I met a lot of people, especially at my accommodation UniLodge Lincoln House. I know it wasn’t a good year for anyone, especially because of lockdown. But if it wasn’t for the lockdowns, I wouldn’t have met my friends. Even though we had to stay inside, I had the opportunity to connect with all the people in the building and create my friendship group. They’re amazing and we still talk to this day.

I had two weeks of on-campus classes, which was nice and I got to experience many things with my friends, that’s something I’m really grateful for. I also had the opportunity to get a job. From June to September, I was working with the University to distribute free meals to students. I really enjoyed working there.

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

You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself if things don’t go your way. 2020 was a difficult year for all of us. Most people when they go on exchange, have an entire plan of what they want to do for that period. I had that, but of course it didn’t work. We are used to planning things in advance, when you know you’re going to do something major in your life. But it might not happen the way you want it to. So you have to be ready for that and accept it and make the most of it and just enjoy it. Enjoy the ride, enjoy the process. That’s the most important thing that you have to learn.

For people that go on exchange, if it’s your first time, you should also choose student accommodation. That was the best decision I made, you meet a lot of people and don’t feel so alone, I’m really grateful for that.

Do you have anything else you would like to share about your experience?

You may want join different clubs at uni. They have a lot of different, interesting clubs at Unimelb, there’s a club for everything. The Chocolate Lovers’ Society, the Cheese Club, anything you can imagine. It’s a great way to connect with people and make friends. Try to make the most of uni, Unimelb is really fun and you can do all sorts of social activities which I really enjoyed. I was in the People of Colour department, because I’m a Latina, I was in the Queer department, which was nice, there was really nice people. I was also in the Women’s department.