Brianna Goes to Canada! An Autoethnographic Process of Preparing for Exchange

Virtually anyone who knows me would have originally laughed at the idea of me going on exchange. In fact, they probably still would. I live at home, I rarely venture out and have never actually been out of Australia before. In fact, my longest flight has been only 2 hours. Given that I was probably not the ideal candidate to go on exchange, I found it incredibly hard to relate to most accounts of previous students. I am not outgoing, I am shy. I am also terrified. I couldn’t find an exchange story that spoke to me, so I am hoping to create an autoethnographic digital story that I wish I could have read when I first applied. The theme of this post follows the question: what is it like to prepare for exchange, and how does the internet help facilitate this process?

I am a planner. I am a researcher of everything. I am a nervous wreck. And, I am planning the adventure of a lifetime, one step at a time.

Step One: Decide to go!

Four weeks before the December 2 (2016) deadline, I had never considered going on an exchange- not even a little bit. Three weeks before the deadline, I was still only contemplating the vague idea of it. Two weeks before the deadline was when I suddenly realised this was something I needed to do so with no time to waste (literally and figuratively) I started my application. My top 3 universities were either closed for exchange or didn’t offer film studies (a non-negotiable course for me) on further investigation. So, after being given a few Canadian universities to choose from (and obsessively looking up each of them, and their locations and campuses online), the University of Alberta stood out to me.

rutherford-south-
Photo source: University of Alberta 2017

Why go on exchange in the first place? For me, the biggest reason was personal growth. I needed to challenge myself; to know that I could do something big and potentially life-changing. I’m not alone in this, with studies showing 95 per cent of study abroad students believe it served as a catalyst for increased maturity, and 96 per cent reporting higher self-esteem (Kinloch 2016). It also extends beyond this; job prospects are higher for study abroad graduates and they receive higher starting salaries in those jobs (University of California 2017). Although those statistics come from large studies on post-exchange students, colloquial evidence through student testimonials proves how valuable the experience can be. Many speak of the strong relationships built that outlast the exchange itself, as well as an increased respect of other cultures and an overwhelmingly positive response to their exchange overall (University of Wollongong 2017; University of Sydney 2017; IES Abroad 2017; Tucker 2014; University of Technology Sydney 2017).

uow exchange photo
Photo source: University of Wollongong 2017

Step Two: You’re In! To the exchange program, anyway.

I was accepted into UOW’s exchange program and I was given a few universities to choose from that offered what I wanted in Canada. Originally, I wanted to be in either Toronto or Vancouver, so I hadn’t looked at options in other states. But, UAlberta is ranked in the top 100 universities worldwide (QS Rankings 2017) and is located in the town of Edmonton. Edmonton is a few hours from Calgary, Banff and Jasper National Parks, and if you are in the right place at the right time, the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) are visible so it didn’t take me long to warm up to it.

edmonton-ab-ca
Photo source: Best Movers Edmonton 2016

Step Three: Apply and Wait!

For me, the waiting game lasted months. I put in my official application in March and once it was received by UAlberta I was also able to apply for student accommodation online in a simple application. I finally got my official acceptance in late September so I had a lot of time to wait and research Alberta, and then wait some more. It was a strange period of time because I had a good chance to get in, but I couldn’t afford to book anything, or even feel as though I could fully commit to mentally preparing myself to leave.

Buuut, I had a lot of free time to ask inane questions to Google. Here are a few random things I wouldn’t know without the internet:

Sure- some of these things could be found off the internet. Guidebooks and information from a travel agent can be great, but it is either potentially outdated or requires a lot of effort to acquire it. The internet has been invaluable to me in feeling a tad more comfortable with the whole idea of temporarily moving there, especially thanks to programs like Google Maps’ Streetview and the 360-degree photos offered by UAlberta of everything from student accommodation to public shared spaces. What a time to be alive! But I will be honest in saying that if it weren’t for the internet, I would not be going on exchange in the first place.

Step Four: You’re In!

On the beautiful day of Wednesday, September 20 I finally got the email I had been waiting for: I was in! UAlberta had accepted me and everything started to get real. Really real.

acceptance ualberta

Fortunately for me, I was able to enrol in classes as soon as I was accepted, a novelty only few host universities allow. Instead of having to wait until I got to Canada, I was simply able to put my classes in online, as long as they weren’t full. I did have a few classes I wanted to do that I had missed out on, but I was able to put them on a watchlist and receive an email if someone dropped out. The class gods were on my side and after a few watchlist notifications, I secured all my ideal classes.

Enrolling in classes online was something I took for granted, especially given that it is still a luxury today for some exchange students. Now I know my exact timetable, locations of classes and who I will have teaching me. This was such a huge relief when it all worked out; I can’t imagine how stressful it would be to have to wait until a few days before to enrol in person. What if you missed out on a class you needed credit for? What if you have one class unlike anything your own university offers that you were incredibly excited for that filled up before you landed in the country?

It may seem menial, even to students at home, but we have all had those classes that we just didn’t enjoy, and nothing makes for a bad start to a new semester like a subject you aren’t interested in but have to do, whether as a core class or just one that fits into your timetable. So, major props to the University of Alberta on this one.

Booking flights, or playing the waiting game to book flights, was one of the harder aspects of this experience. From day one, we were advised not to book flights until we received an official acceptance to our host university. When advised specifically in my interview with UOW, I thought anyone who would do that was crazy. Why risk it? But now I understand. Having applied in December to UOW’s program, and again in March to UAlberta, I regularly looked up flight costs to get a vague idea in budgeting. At the beginning of the year, tickets to Edmonton were about $1,000. By the time I got my acceptance, they were a minimum $2,000.

This is one of the downfalls of the exchange experience being so deeply entrenched online. I never would have been able to access that information as regularly as I did, because it would have required either calling or visiting a travel agent. I just had to do a quick check online. Of course, though, this leads to a rabbit hole of beautiful holiday packages and destination ideas that all got more expensive the deeper I dug. Expensive options never would have been on the table, and I would not be pining over the Rocky Mountaineer and its several-thousand-dollar price tag.

Banff-Alberta-Kanada
I still got lucky, I’ll see you soon Banff! Photo source: AMPIA 2017

Step Five: Au Revoir!

The final step is simply counting down to departure. With two months to go, I am getting the following lists ready:

  • What to clothes to pack, considering the temperature difference will be approximately 50 -60 degrees Celsius (I am going from the Australian summer to the dead of winter in one of the coldest cities in Canada)
  • What little mementos from home I should pack
  • What different foods I need to try when I get there
  • What I’ll need to buy over there (including spending way too much money on these Harry Potter sheets and doona cover)

It is here that I leave this post, less than two months until I fly out. This is only the beginning, but it most definitely won’t be the end.

Au Revoir!
Brianna

Reference List

IES Abroad 2017, ‘Benefits of study abroad’, IES Abroad, <https://www.iesabroad.org/study-abroad/benefits&gt;.

Kinloch, R 2016, ’46 study abroad statistics: convincing facts and figures’, Smart Study, 24 August, viewed 26 October, <https://smart.study/blog/46-study-abroad-statistics-convincing-facts-and-figures/&gt;.

QS Top Universities 2017, ‘QS world university rankings 2018’, QS Top Universities, <https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2018&gt;.

Tucker, L 2014, ’25 reasons to study abroad’, QS Top Universities, 14 November, viewed 27 October 2017, <https://www.topuniversities.com/blog/25-reasons-study-abroad&gt;.

University of California Study Abroad 2017, ‘What statistics say about study abroad students’, University of California, Merced, <http://studyabroad.ucmerced.edu/study-abroad-statistics/statistics-study-abroad&gt;.

UOW Office of Global Student Mobility 2017, ‘Your ticket to the world: student exchange and study overseas’, University of Wollongong, <https://www.uow.edu.au/content/groups/public/@web/@unia/documents/doc/uow235107.pdf&gt;.

UTS Global Exchange 2016, ‘Global exchange testimonials’, University of Technology, Sydney, <https://www.uts.edu.au/current-students/opportunities/global-exchange/what-global-exchange/global-exchange-testimonials&gt;.

USydney Global Mobility 2017, ‘Global mobility guide’, University of Sydney, <https://sydney.edu.au/content/dam/corporate/documents/study/overseas-exchange/Global-Mobility-Guide-2017.pdf&gt;.

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“Never half-ass two things; whole-ass one thing”

Most of us a media multi-taskers: meaning, we use multiple screens (be it phones, computers, television etc.) simultaneously (Gorlick 2009). Given that we live in a world where news and entertainment is available 24/7 and it is always at the tips of our fingers, we are struggling to concentrate and focus on what matters. It could be regarding education or work, but currently the temptations are quite strong.

Our attention span is relatively limited, especially given that it draws on glucose and metabolic systems to provide it (Rock 2009). So, by multi-tasking and getting distracted, valuable bodily resources are lost to the wrong task (Rock 2009). This takes effect particularly when using two sides of the brain; they don’t work simultaneously as you may think, they actually divert the resources necessary from one side to the other (Gupta 2016). Unfortunately, given that only 2 per cent of people are actually able to maintain focus while multitasking, many of us are probably just kidding ourselves, with me included (Gupta 2016). Aaaaand it gets worse. The more we multitask using several screens, the less able we are to ignore distractions and concentrate on important information in the long run (Teaching Centre 2015).

So, I decided to do an auto-ethnography on myself, rather than another person. Currently, I am binge watching the television show Pretty Little Liars, which is highly addictive. I also needed to catch up on lecture notes from another marketing subject, so I decided to try and do the two simultaneously. Using two computers (a desktop and a laptop), the desktop was a spilt screen between Netflix and the lecture notes in question. On my laptop, I had OneNote open and ready to type the notes into there.

However, I found that I struggled to focus on the notes completely, because the distraction of Pretty Little Liars was just a little too much. I also kept checking Facebook, Instagram and Twitter on my iPod, introducing a third screen to the mix. I was definitely not getting anything done for a while there! It wasn’t that I had typed nothing, but I was getting the notes done much slower, and it was frustrating to not have it finished in the time frame I had expected.

So, in the wise words of Ron Swanson…

Credit: NBC’s Parks and Recreation (2009)

 

Reference List

Gorlick, A 2009, ‘Media multitaskers pay mental price, Stanford study shows’, Stanford News, 24 August, viewed 16 September, <http://news.stanford.edu/2009/08/24/multitask-research-study-082409/&gt;.

Gupta, S 2016, ‘Your brain on multitasking’, CNN, 1 August, viewed 16 September, <http://edition.cnn.com/2015/04/09/health/your-brain-multitasking/index.html&gt;.

Rock, D 2009, ‘Easily distracted: why it’s hard to focus, and what to do about it’, Psychology Today, 4 October, viewed 16 September, <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-work/200910/easily-distracted-why-its-hard-focus-and-what-do-about-it&gt;.

Teaching Center 2015, ‘Media Multi-Tasking: Effects on Students’ Attention’, Washington University St. Louis, 11 September, viewed 16 September, <https://teachingcenter.wustl.edu/2015/09/media-multi-tasking-effects-on-students-attention/&gt;.

Experiencing the Private in Public

The task this week was to take a photo of strangers in a public space using their smartphone. But, I just could not bring myself to do it.

Ethics surrounding the photographing of strangers is murky at best, or at least, that is my perception. Generally it is perfectly legal to take pictures of people in public, as well as buildings and sites (Arts Law 2017), but it still just makes me feel so uncomfortable. Sure, the task technically would not have been hard. People on smartphones in public? It is certainly not a rare phenomenon! Trains, shopping centres, lecture halls, libraries; the list goes on and on. People seem to find it genuinely hard to disconnect from their phones but given the media landscape, we can hardly blame anyone for that (DiSalvo 2017). There is something distinctly personal about mobile phone use, because today, almost any social experience can occur online. Breakups, baby announcements, engagements, obituaries, parties, even dating can all occur online, just take your pick!

Mentally, a few questions keep spinning around in my head. What if they see me taking a picture of them and confront me about it? How would I react? Or, would I like someone taking a picture of me without my knowledge or consent because I am in a public space? The answer would unfaltering be no, I would not like that at all.

Some people have the skill of photography that allows them to make mundane moments into something remarkably special. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people, and probably never will be. So for now, I’m going to leave street photography where it belongs: with those who won’t make a mess of it.

 

Reference List

Arts Law 2017, ‘Street photographer rights’, Arts Law Centre of Australia, viewed 1 August, <https://www.artslaw.com.au/info-sheets/info-sheet/street-photographers-rights/&gt;.

DiSalvo, D 2017, ‘The reasons we can’t put our smartphones down’, Forbes, 9 April, viewed 2 August, <https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2017/04/09/the-reasons-why-we-cant-put-down-our-smartphones/#3f3776144970&gt;.

 

When movies are Everything, Everything.

Since the lecture on Tuesday, I have been to the cinemas twice. First, on Thursday, to see The Big Sick, and again yesterday (Saturday) to see Everything, Everything.

The Big Sick summed up my usual movie attendance. I went alone to Event Cinemas at Miranda early in the morning so parking wasn’t an issue, and I utilised the cheap ticket deal I earned, meaning $8 tickets for this month. In fact, bar one movie, I haven’t paid full price for a movie ticket in years. I see films on Event’s CineBuzz ‘Movie of the Week’ roster, and when I want to see a movie as soon as it comes out, like Wonder Woman, I just use my points I’ve racked up and watch the movie for free.

Hagerstrand’s constraints offer explanations on why accessing the cinemas is a challenge for many people. Capability constraints refer to the physical or biological limitations on accessing a film or cinema space (Hagerstrand 1970; Corbett 2001). Coupling constraints refer to the logistical challenges of aligning multiple schedules to fit in with seeing a particular movie at a particular time together (Hagerstrand 1970; Corbett 2001). And finally, an authority constraint refers to the rules put in place by the cinema restricting access to their premises (Hagerstrand 1970; Corbett 2001).

For Everything, Everything, I had to go drive about an hour away to see it at Hoyts (because of course no other cinemas were screening it in the area!), in the Entertainment Quarter at Moore Park. This posed a capability constraint; I have never driven there alone, and I really wasn’t keen to do so for this either even though I am a licensed driver with access to my own car. So, I asked my mum to go with me, because if I’m not going to a movie alone, I’m probably going with her. Another capability constraint was the money; since it was with Hoyts and not Event Cinemas, this was the aforementioned full-priced ticket. The movie itself was quite expensive, but given my absolute love of the book and the actors in the movie (*cough* Nick Robinson *cough*), it was something my mum was willing to pay for so we could both attend.

She works as a teacher and we live together, so it was easy to organise a time that suited us both; the coupling constraint didn’t pose a problem. As for the authority constraint, at 19 I am legally allowed to see all movies, so the only part that could have resulted in a problem with the staff was sneaking food in (because, again, I am a massive cheapskate/broke uni student) although we weren’t picked up on it.

Film and television is incredibly important to me, so the CineBuzz program has been invaluable in partially removing financial capability constraints. I know the movies might be seen as a rip-off or as being too expensive, but the return of sitting in a cinema and being fully absorbed in a great movie is absolutely worth it to me. The day cinemas are rendered obsolete will be a dark day indeed.

 

Reference List

Corbett, J 2001, ‘Torsten Hӓgerstrand, Time Geography’, Center for Spacially Integrated Social Sciences, viewed 24 August, <http://escholarship.org/uc/item/2t75b8sj&gt;.

Hagerstrand, T 1970, ‘What about people in regional science?’, Papers of the Regional Science Association, vol. 24, <http://courses.washington.edu/cee500/What%20about%20people%20in%20regional%20science.pdf&gt;.

 

Pitch Proposal: Have the credits rolled on cinema spaces?

For me, the experience of going to the movies has always been special. It is pure magic to sit in a quiet cinema and be completely absorbed into a good film, but is that practice now dying?

The plan at this point is to conduct an auto-ethnography. I want see if the Netflix movie experience is what is it set up to be and whether it will help or hinder cinema as we know it. Now, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love Netflix and it somehow seeps in and consumes all of my time. However, I rarely seem to watch actual movies on there, with all my time going to television shows I’m addicted to. Sometimes it feels like I can’t commit to a 2 hour movie, but then I will go and watch five 40 minute episodes of Pretty Little Liars.

Having gone through my Netflix history, since I started my account (which was November 2016 after finishing my final uni exam for the year) I have managed to watch a total of 3 movies: Netflix Original To the Bone, 2013 book-to-film adaptation How I Live Now and the 1997 classic Good Will Hunting. But, in that time I have seen 23 at the cinemas (which was down from a total of 30 in 2016). So, it is safe to say that part of me is weary of turning away from the big screen experience.

I want this auto-ethnography to be supplemented with secondary research. There is a wealth of information about the battle between Netflix and traditional cinema spaces. One quote that I found particularly poignant didn’t pit the pair against each other, in fact quite the opposite, “Netflix is picking up the scraps from an industry that’s finding itself unable to sell films that don’t feature superheroes” (Crewe 2017).

I want to commit to using Netflix for movies, and to watch movies that traditionally may not have received cinema screening, including Netflix Originals. I am also interested in extending the ethnographic research to observation, in an attempt to note the behaviour of other people interacting with the cinema space.

I am hoping to gain further insight and advice during tutorial discussions, because this idea does need to be worked on. But in the end, I want to believe they both have a place in the film industry and I hope my own experiences reflect that.

Reference List

Crewe, D 2017, ‘Netflix vs cinema: why we’re the winners in the fight for independent film’, Junkee, 22 May, viewed 18 August, <http://junkee.com/netflix-cannes-independent-film/105806&gt;.

Reflecting on television memories

Reflecting on the many stories of television memories from BCM241 students and their families, there were a few key themes presented.

What stands out is how the television brought families together. It was an opportunity to get together and create shared memories. But, one thing that also became apparent was the notion of ‘false memories’. It was something even my own grandma acknowledged, believing that the chronology of her memories were not always necessarily correct. So, that is what I wanted to delve into further.

False memories are rather self-explanatory. People can remember things incorrectly, and have recollections of events that never actually took place (Hayasaki 2013). Perhaps the scariest bit about it is that false memories are so indistinguishable from reality, there is no way for the brain alone to authenticate or disprove them. False memories are usually associated with traumatic events where the brain goes into a self-preservation mode (Bryce 2017). However, false memories are extremely common occurrences that happen to most people at one time or another (Bryce 2017). When they do occur, they are often unnoticed or or brushed off as mistakes (Bryce 2017).

The time between these television memories having occurred and when they were reiterated to fellow BCM241 students was large, given that most people consulted their parents or grandparents. So, naturally, in this time a general overview of the event is remembered, rather than the specific details themselves (Shaw 2016). Because of this gap, we naturally try to create a whole memory again, meaning we “typically fill in the gaps in our memories with what we think we must have experienced not necessarily what we did actually experience” (Shaw 2016). This isn’t a cognitive twisting of the truth, but rather an attempt by our brain to fix the error of memory loss.

Additionally, false memories aren’t necessarily limited to filling in gaps ‘here and there’ of real events, they can create new memories entirely. Again, this can be completely unintentional, but it has also been found to be linked to intentional false memory creation through “dubious psychotherapeutic techniques” (Shaw 2016). But that is a whole lot more intense than what is happening here. Stories from our past become integrated into our sense of self, and they become an important part of who we are (Whitbourne 2015). So, again, when we don’t remember something, we create a alternative memory.

Generally, none of this is harmful but as Shaw points out, it remains important to remember that our mind does play tricks on us, and no one is immune to a few false memories (2016)!

 

Reference List 

Bryce, E 2017, ‘False memories and false confessions: the psychology of imagined crimes’, Wired, 22 July, viewed 15 August, <http://www.wired.co.uk/article/false-memory-syndrome-false-confessions-memories&gt;.

Hayasaki, E 2013, ‘How many of your memories are fake?’, Atlantic, 18 November, viewed 15 August, <https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/11/how-many-of-your-memories-are-fake/281558/&gt;.

Shaw, J 2016, ‘What experts wish you knew about false memories’, Scientific American, 8 August, viewed 15 August, <https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/what-experts-wish-you-knew-about-false-memories/&gt;.

Whitbourne, SK 2015, ‘Why we remember things the way we want to remember them’, Psychology Today, 17 February, viewed 15 August, <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201502/why-we-remember-things-the-way-we-want-remember-them&gt;.

“I travelled the world in cinerama”

Some of my earliest memories of watching television both alone and as a family were watching episodes of the classic Doctor Who, and then the reboot from 2005. Doctor Who is culturally ingrained in me; with my grandma watching it from its inception and my mum watching reruns through it’s hiatus, there was little hope for me to avoid it. I watched the reruns on an old box television at my grandma’s every afternoon after school, and even though I only half understood the why the reboot was a big deal I was EXCITED.

I approached my grandma with the question of her first memories of television. Funnily enough it wasn’t even her own particular interactions that sprung to mind, it was that of her brother, Geoff. Back when television first arrived in Australia, my grandma, Edith, and Geoff were in their 20s. They were both sharing an apartment in Sydney (although they were originally from Bega) and on a random day Geoff decided that he was going to buy a TV, but only if they could deliver it that day. They could, and when it arrived Geoff set up a bed in front of the television and watched it intently for a month.

At this time my grandma was working as a nurse at the Royal Alexandra’s Children’s ward and was on the night shifts. During the day, while Geoff was planted in front of the television screen, he would call out to her claiming to be seeing the most marvelous things that she absolutely had to get up and watch. Of course, by the time she got herself up (when she heeded his advice in the first place!) it was already over, but there was an undeniable sense of awe from these interactions with what he was seeing on the screen.

Being so worldly all of a sudden, Geoff would spurt out tales of great adventures and speak of events with such detail many assumed it was first-hand knowledge. Although, when asked when and where he had travelled, he would reply by saying “I travelled the world in cinerama!”. Upon reflecting on his statement, grandma admits that even though he was referring to the television, what he was saying didn’t technically make sense in the context of it (although he was a great cinephile too). Regardless, the quote stuck with me, much like it has stuck with her for almost 60 years.

I never met my great-uncle Geoff as he passed away much too early, and a great time before I was even born. I wonder how many more stories like this I may never know, purely because I don’t know the questions to ask. My grandma often claims she remembers nothing from when she was younger, but sometimes I’m not quite sure that is the case. I think it may simply be because I don’t know how to best prompt these memories. This conversation with my grandma was very relaxed, with her repeatedly stating I should have been asking one of my uncles who had a more definitive memory of the television. I probably should have, but it was her story I wanted to hear the most.

She offers additional stories about watching the Queen come to Australia with the kids in the hospital and admits her memory of the events could be misplaced or misdirected, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to hear them, especially given she was fundamental to my own introduction to television through Doctor Who. Memories of television are inherently the same, regardless of generation. They tell of awe and wonder at the stories told and it is still a universal medium today. I will never forget the day on the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who that the three of us trudged to the local cinema to watch the special on the big screen. Three generations, fifty years, and one memory to connect it all.

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Credit: BBC