The mere acts of travel and observation of a culture that is not your own can have a huge influence on your existing perspectives on the world around you. After spending nearly three months immersing myself in Australian culture, I can safely say that I have picked up new views, habits, and principles that will have a lasting impact on my behaviors and beliefs for years to come.
I have learned that viewing the outdoors as a companion one should embrace rather than a frightening nuisance one should dominate will lead to a much greater sense of fulfillment and happiness. Australia has some of the world’s most dangerous creatures, but it also harbors world-renowned sights, wonders and landmarks that are simply breath-taking. We tend to shy away from what’s seemingly hazardous, become too lazy when we see a strenuous journey ahead, or discredit the value of nature altogether and miss out on experiences of a lifetime. By actually learning about the environment and the nature of the creatures that reside there, we can turn blind fear into caution, knowledge and respect for our surroundings and embrace nature at its fullest. The feeling you get when you look over a rocky ledge after a long hike to find an endless sea of lush trees and water masses below or when you are completely surrounded by thousands of hectares of untouched alpine forest or when you feel the warm ocean water rushing over your sandy toes is unmatched by anything else. By embracing the natural environment around me—both good and bad—I’ve had the opportunity to take part in these incredible experiences, and I feel truly lucky to have these memories.
Though rather small and specific, one trend in Australia that really sticks to me is the use of ‘partner’ in place of ‘girlfriend’ or ‘boyfriend.’ I was initially confused by the overwhelming use of this term since mainstream US culture normally sees it as a subtle denotation of a same-sex relationship. Yet it made me realize how unnecessary it is to gender our significant others and how obsessed US culture is at placing everything into these static categories. Some couples back home are already using the gender-neutral term; this trip has showed me how important it is to promote and continue this trend.
Most stereotypes are vastly oversimplified or downright false, but the notion that Australian culture is marked by colloquial language and a laid-back demeanor is still a generalization, but a rather accurate one. There are nicknames for essentially everything here, and they’re recognized nationwide. Hitchhikers are not normally viewed as freeloaders or suspicious people who might murder you like they are in the US. You can even go into many stores without a shirt and shoes, depending on your location. Their social norms and views on being ‘formal’ or ‘polite’ are not as stringent as ours and friendliness and humor are definitely integral parts of the culture. This sense of casualness is one of my favorite aspects about Australian culture. It really fosters a sense of stress-free living and community that I want to carry with me when I return to the States.
The most important thing I’ve learned throughout my travels here is why members of foreign nations, at least Australians, are not terribly fond of Americans or the US. We are everywhere. Our culture is more pervasive and invasive than loose glitter in a shag carpet. I was aware of this prior to my travels abroad, but only in theory. I never fully understood how influential American culture is until I realized that the majority of shows shown on Australian TV were American. I have yet to hear an exclusively Australian song on the radio, and it seems that the people here know more about American politics than Americans! Though Australians certainly have their own unique slang, they were familiar with all of the US versions of their terms. I have also come across way too many McDonalds and Subways, and our icons tend to be their icons too. Though the sense of familiarity helped my initial homesickness, I was really disappointed by the US cultural takeover. The beauty of having diverse customs and traditions is that what is perfectly natural to one culture is fascinating and surprising to another and the opportunity for personal growth and a broadening of views is there for the taking. Instead of experiencing a culture that was truly distinct from my own, I more or less got an extension or adaptation of what I already knew. This is not to say that Australia doesn’t have its own traditions because it certainly does, but the level of American influence is simply staggering. For instance, Christmas here occurs during one of the hottest times of the year, yet Australians are still well aware of the white, snowy holiday the US is familiar with. Halloween is not a practiced tradition in Australia, yet because of our cultural dominance, people here are not only aware of Halloween, they are beginning to celebrate it. The trend of cultural dispersion is very one way, since I’m sure most Americans are unfamiliar with Australian holidays like Australia Day and Anzac Day. It’s beneficial to share ideas and traditions for the progression and enlightenment of all humankind, but when one ideology and way of living dominates, the lack of diversity smothers creativity, discredits alternative ways of life, and sets us back. Whether you study economics, biology, or ecology, we are taught that diversity is a good and desirable trait, and we should promote it. The significance of retaining one’s unique culture never really hit home until this trip, and I’m incredibly thankful that I finally realized its importance.