Exchange Student Column: Taking a piece of Penn State home


When people meet me for the first time their words usually go along the lines of “Oh My God, I love your accent,” followed almost immediately by the inevitable question,“ are you from Australia ?”.

Sometimes it takes a me a while to fully convey to people that I’m from New Zealand and not Australia.

New Zealand, you know, that small island near Australia where they filmed Lord of the Rings.

But sometimes stating this just isn’t enough and I just have to reside to the fact that I’m going to be stuck deflecting questions about Kangaroos and Sydney. I was once even complimented on my amazing English, which by the way is my first and only language.

But New Zealand’s a pretty small place and I don’t see any reason why you should have heard of it.

Our population is a third of the size of Pennsylvania. We have 60 million sheep and four million people. The only time you’re likely to see us on the news is when our Prime Minister Bill English creates a national scandal by revealing he puts tinned spaghetti on pizza ( which by the way is disgusting Bill).

But the point of this article isn’t to talk about New Zealand. The point of this is to talk about the last ten months I’ve spent at Penn State.

This experience has shaped my life in a way I could have never imagined. From tailgating at football games to trying to learn obscure aspects of American state politics, I’ve certainly learnt a lot.

I’ve dealt with sub-thirty degrees’ weather and slid around on frozen sidewalks.

I’ve listened to more country music and seen more pick-up trucks than I have in my entire life.  I’ve even managed to develop a liking for iced coffee from Starbucks, something that disgusted me in the first few weeks when I arrived.

But the best part about this entire experience is being able to consider myself a Penn State student.  This is no longer a holiday or a ten month-long party. Attending Penn State feels as normal to me as it did waking up and going to classes at home.  I’ll always have an accent and spell words differently but a part of me is just as much a Nittany Lion as everyone else.

Driving on campus for the first time ten months ago, my goal was enjoy the journey and make the most of everyday here.  Ten months later I feel like I’ve achieved this goal and being a member of The Underground has played a huge role in this.

I don’t think every exchange student would prefer to sit up past midnight finishing articles or attending debates on the Second Amendment but I wouldn’t have given any of this away for the world.

I’ve learned so much in my time as a writer for The Underground and I’ve certainly grown as both a writer and a person because of it.  Being part of this organization has given me the opportunity to attend such a diverse range of events on campus and have the chance to talk to so many new people. Most importantly I’ve been able to see how our work is appreciated across campus by so many groups and people.

This being my last article there’s a few people I want to thank before I leave State College for good.

Thanks to my editors Adithya and Ethan for always being understanding and providing me with sound guidance which was always much appreciated.

In particular thanks to Adriana – you welcomed me on to the team when I know almost nothing about journalism. You showed me the ropes and opened by eyes to whole new world.

Thanks for putting your faith in me when I certainly didn’t have much of my own.

To the Underground in 2017 and beyond, keep changing the narrative and continuing to produce some amazing work.  I’ve seen this organization grow so much in one year and I know it’s only going to keep on getting better.

However, for myself it’s now time to get on the plane and begin the long sixteen-hour journey home.  Although I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends again I think a little part of me will always remain a Penn State student in Happy Valley.

Photo Credit: Adriana Lacy | The Underground

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Caitriona Pearson

Caitriona Pearson is a junior economics and political science major from Napier, New Zealand. She enjoys writing about current affairs and politics, particularly from an international perspective. You can find her on twitter @caitrionapear or you can email her at caitriona@undergroundvoices.co