The Pennsylvania State University

School of Visual Arts

Down Under: A SoVA Perspective

Study Abroad in Sydney, Australia

Social and Cultural Explorations in the Visual Arts in Sydney, Australia, is Penn State School of Visual Arts’ newest addition to a catalog of study abroad experiences.  Angela Rothrock, SoVA instructor, along with Graeme Sullivan, director of SoVA, took undergraduates from various Penn State majors to Sydney during winter break, where they were immersed in a learning environment that presents new ways of thinking about cultural and social issues as expressed through visual arts.  Students participated in creative workshops with local artists, toured various public artworks, and visited a number of galleries and museums.  The story below written by Shana-Kay Hart presents a student perspective from this experience.

Understanding the Land Down Under
By: Shana-Kay Hart

As another fall semester came to an end, I looked forward to escaping the wintry dreariness that would soon plague State College. With the promise of good weather and an unforgettable experience ahead, I set out to the other side of the globe to Sydney, Australia. Through the Penn State School of Visual Arts, twenty-two other students and I had the opportunity to participate in a two-week study abroad program in the land down under. Prior to leaving, I had many hopes and expectations for my time in Australia, as did my peers. I told myself I would do it all: hold a koala at the zoo, swim in the crystal-like waters of Bondi, and watch the fireworks by the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I quickly came to learn, however, this was more than just a chance to pet kangaroos and take selfies at the beach for the fact that by the end of the trip, we would leave with a new perspective and understanding of the land down under.

Fresh off the plane from more than 15 hours of travelling, we were immediately on the go and began our Australian adventure. Our activities ranged from lectures to spontaneous street interactions where we formally and informally learned of Aboriginal people's history, culture, and present-day struggle for basic human rights. We took a hike through Australia’s famous Blue Mountains, had interactive museum visits and walking tours of the city -- all of which helped expose us to Australia in a way many can only dream of. We met world-famous artists and saw some of the most beautiful pieces of street art that developed through activism. We met interesting people from all over the world and enjoyed the unique food culture of Sydney. By the end of the twelve-day immersive experience, it was evident that we were all individually affected after everything we had seen and done.

“When asked about my time in Sydney, Australia, two words come to mind: pleasant and profound,” says William Okrafo-Smart, a fellow participant and Penn State student. “I had unique experiences visiting the beautiful beach of Bondi and making our own boomerangs, to watching my first opera at the Sydney Opera House. I had the chance to learn so much about the Aboriginal people and their struggle through art and interactions. I bore witness to how the systems of racism that affect the Aboriginal people there are similar to those that affect people of color right here in the United States…in a way it was almost as if I had never left.”

Our experience in Sydney exceeded all prior expectations, to say the least, and after having time to reflect on the trip in its entirety, I came to the conclusion that the best experiences in life tend to work out that way. We were shown there was more to Australia than beaches and exotic animals and this course allowed us to witness another side of a culture and hear from its people that are generally left silenced. 

Click here to view a video montage by Emily Dunn.

Photo Credit: Kevin Dunn