Down Under the Equator - An Overseas Internship at IU

I had never been so excited to go into a distant land. Especially after an airline prevented me from getting there on time. It was a Thursday when I took my backpack and two duffel bags to check into the Indianapolis International Airport. It had been a dream of mine to go to Sydney, Australia; and finally, due to the International requirements as a Kelley Business student, I was going to be able to visit.

But United Airlines had other plans for me. At first, they couldn’t find my ticket, mainly because they did not inform me that my plane had been delayed and it would cause me to miss my connecting flight to LAX. So they sent me to Newark to try to make my alternative connecting flight to LAX to make my 14-hour flight to Sydney. But, of course, United delays that plane for 15 minutes, causing me to miss the alternative flight. I was stuck in Newark for 24 hours. So you could imagine my relief and happiness when the plane finally touched down in Sydney. Even when they informed me that they had lost my luggage. For three days.

Now, this is not to discourage you in international travels. Out of the 40 students that traveled out to Melbourne for the orientation, I was the only one that ended up being late. Everyone else had arrived on time, with only one other student whose luggage was missing. But although I was bummed about my luggage, I was more excited to be in the country that I have been dreaming of visiting since I was in elementary school. I was in 3rd grade when I first saw a kangaroo on television. It was the most majestic creature, at least to me. I was intrigued by how they hop around, and how they kept babies within their bellies (I would learn later they were called “pouches”). While watching the kangaroos, I heard the narrator explain what it was. But I wasn’t listening to that. I was paying attention to the narrator’s accent. The accent, to the ears of a 3rd grader, was incredibly interesting and I loved how it sounded.

Ever since then, I learned more and more about the Australia’s culture and their standards of living. I learned about the Great Barrier Reef and “the Outback”. I learned about its people and their love for rugby. Once I learned about the Sydney Opera House (as an orchestra student), I was pretty much sold: I wanted to visit Australia. Upon my visit to Australia, I was required to attend a class once a week and go to my internship Tuesdays through Thursdays. As a Kelley student, they actually asked me what I was interested in interning at. Although I’m a finance major, I have a greater interest in telecommunications, concentrating on the television industry. So I told them I wanted to work on the business side of any type of telecommunications business, but would be greatly humbled if it was a television network.

When I arrived in Melbourne, I was told I had an internship at Network Ten. Network Ten is, to help describe what it is, is equivalent to NBC in the United States. It is one of the major national broadcasting networks in Australia, along with Nine Network and Seven Network. As an intern, I was literally assigned to learn how the industry worked. Although I was primarily within the Sales Department, I was sent all over the building to help with certain aspects of the industry and also to observe and understand how the television machine works.

I went field reporting with a man named Oscar, and we got footage of the Australian Prime Minister Karen Gillard (I was only a couple yards away from her!) and did a report on The Mousetrap, a very popular British play that was coming to Australia. I also watched live shows on set, such as The Project (similar to Entertainment Tonight), Ready, Steady, Cook!, and The Game Plan (a rugby show). And, of course, I met the celebrities. Well, Australian celebrities. Carrie Underwood, Katy Perry, and Goyte all appeared on Network Ten during my stay. But, of course, the American celebrities aren’t as…approachable. I know that from that explanation, most of you are probably thinking now that Australian celebrities are more down-to-earth and more respectful. However, this is mainly because Australian culture forces them to be.

In Australia, there’s this philosophy called “Tall-Poppy Syndrome”. Imagine you are in field of flowers, with some taller than the other. Tall-Poppy Syndrome is the act of cutting down the taller ones so the flowers are all relatively the same height. In other words, Australian culture brings the Australian celebrities or the highly-successful back down to Earth to everyone else’s level. Anyone who tries to make themselves above that philosophy is heavily criticized. I liked this mentality that no one person is above another. So one is a very good actress and another is a very good accountant. How is one better than the other? We were in Melbourne for only a few days for orientation as we got used to the cultural differences and got to know each other as a group. We also took a personalized tour of Melbourne, including watching a rugby match there. After a few days, we flew to Sydney for the remaining two months.

We stayed in an amazing hotel called Medina Executive, smack in the middle of the city. The train station and the bus stops were right outside the doorsteps, downtown was easy to access, and a walk down George Street was a walk of cultural explanation. Everything about Australia can be easily described with a walk down the George Street, the major street of Sydney. It describes how slow people walk, indicating the typical Australian being laid-back, not always in a hurry as they are in New York. It describes the major grocery scene, with Coles, IGA, and Woolworth’s being the three major (and really only) grocers in Australia. If you wanted cookies, you went to Woolworth (cheaper there). If you wanted fruit, you went to IGA (cheaper…and a tad fresher). If you wanted meat, you went to Coles (cheaper as well).

George Street also introduced you to the homeless, which is way less than the likes in Chicago or New York, but still prominent in the major city of Australia. However, people are always giving money to them or giving them food. I’ve witnessed it a lot more there than I did in the American cities. George Street brought you diversity, with multiple diverse restaurants from other countries, which does include the US franchises of Subway, KFC, McDonald’s, and Hungry Jacks (what we all know as Burger King). But what’s funny about this is that the number of Subway places outnumbers the number of McDonalds AND Starbucks. Which brings the other thing I observed: Australian are very well fit. There is obviously no obesity problem here.

You learn how the bus system works quickly here. You will never complain about the bus being late. Yet, the problem is that it comes too early. People who come five minutes before the bus is scheduled to come realize twenty minutes later that the bus they were waiting for came two minutes before they showed up. You also learn that bus tickets are your best friends, the freight train and subways are your friends, the taxis are your worst financial enemies. With so many different type of transportation that get you from point A to B, and since one already has to do a lot of walking anyways, one never takes the taxi.

But of course, the main thing about George Street is that it leads you straight to Sydney Harbour, which brings you to The Rocks, a popular street plaza, and the Sydney Opera House. I must have seen it every day while I was in Australia. She is a beauty up-close, and blew out my expectations. We took a personalized tour of it, and I also watched the Sydney Symphonic Orchestra in the Opera House. That was my third favorite achievement, for me, on this trip. My other two happened in places outside of Sydney. On out second weekend, the group and I went out to the Blue Mountains. But before we did, we went to a reserve and feed the kangaroos. In actuality, they were wallabies, but they are really close relatives to kangaroos. Feeding them was my second favorite achievement.

But number 1, by a LONG shot , was my visit to Cairns: Home of the Great Barrier Reef. We took a whole day to go out to the Reef and we went snorkeling. But for 15 minutes, which really only felt like 2, we got to scuba diving. This was, by far, the best 15 minutes of my life. I got to pet a Neapolitan fish (named Wally), found Nemo (a clown fish in an anemone), and saw the amazing beauty of the Reef up close of personal. The closest. Thing. To heaven. No contest my most favorite part of this trip, and of my life.

However, it was not what affected me the most on this trip. Actually, what affected me was not even within in Australia. It was on my return to the United States. People say that you’ll get culture shock when you go over to a different country. I honestly did not feel that. If anything, I felt like I eased into the Australian culture pretty well. But it was reverse culture shock that affected me. In Australia, there were obviously political arguments and there were opinions and opposing ones. However, everyone in Australia respected those opinions. They “agreed to disagree” and respected the fact that you even had an opinion. If a person in Australia didn’t drink, he was still invited to the pub to still enjoy the company of others. In America, if you don’t drink, you’re not part of the group. If anything, you are excluded from most conversations and friendships on the fact alone. If you disagreed in politics, Australian would disagree, but would respect you a whole lot more because you are educated on the matter and no feelings are hurt. In America, it is almost an all-out cold war where it’s one person’s views against another. Not to say that Australia does not have that, but even they look at us and dislike our form of communications when it comes to politics.

Upon last days at Australia, I said my good byes to my internship and my classmates. As a last hurrah, we watched The Dark Knight Rises at “Darling Harbour”, which houses the largest IMAX Theater in the entire world. Legendary cannot describe how awesome the movie was, but it had a more powerful meaning to me. Not only was it the end of a trilogy for the franchise, but it was the mark of the end of the trip for me. No more city life. No more friendly Australians. No more Tim Tam cookies. It was sad and hard to let go of something you’ve loved, even in such a short time. I want to return down under and visit the places I didn’t have a chance to go to. I still want to visit the city of Perth, the Gold Coast, the Outback, and visit the neighboring New Zealand. There are so many things I did, yet so many other things still to be done. There are clear benefits to living in America. But moving to Sydney? That option does not seem too far-fetched to me.

Just never with United Airlines.

Name: Joseph Mwamba
Hometown: South Bend, Indiana
Degree and Major: Finance / Telecommunications Minor
Graduation Year: 2013


About The Author
* IU Students and AlumniIU Hoosiers from around the world

Any and all IU students and alumni are welcome to share their stories on  Your stories help others realize how awesome IU is, and find out what this school has to offer, not just academically, but as a whole person.