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Aussie Natasha Fitzpatrick has made Southern her second home — and set a university record in the process.

It takes about 30 hours for Natasha Fitzpatrick to travel the 10,403 miles between her home in Tasmania, Australia, and Southern’s New Haven campus. The senior public health major transferred to Southern after completing two years of college in her native country — and although she’s only been home once in two years, she’s found her comfort zone. A record-setting member of Southern’s Track and Field Team, Fitzpatrick has met students from around the world while living in North Campus on a floor for international students. “We help each other out,” she says. “I’ve met people from Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom . . . ”

As for the U.S., she says the country has exceeded her preconceptions, which she jokes came largely from movies, like “High School Musical” and “Mean Girls.” “That was the only idea I had of the U.S. It was a lot different than I expected it to be, which was probably for the best,” she says with a smile.

She, in turn, has corrected her classmates on a few fallacies about life Down Under, including common catch phrases like, “Throw a shrimp on the barbie.”  “We call them prawns, so it’s a little ironic,” Fitzpatrick says. Americans do, however, have some things right. “The word ‘mate’ is definitely used as much as people think it is,” she says. Following, she shares more of her Southern story.

 Tell us a bit about Tasmania.

Natasha Fitzpatrick: We’re a little island at the bottom part of Australia. It’s the typical Australian scene, with the beaches really close by and warm weather. We get a winter, but nothing as extreme as in New England.

So February in Connecticut was an adjustment.

Yes! My first winter was a bit of a disappointment. There wasn’t much snow. [laughs] I kept hearing about this thing called the snow day! But I had my snow day this year — and by the time the morning passed, I was ready for things to get back to normal.

How did you come to attend Southern?

I went through a company in Australia called NSR. They recruit Australian athletes in all sports to the U.S. They help us find the right schools, the right coaches, and universities that have our major. I got introduced to coach Stoll and really enjoyed talking to her. [Melissa Stoll is head coach of women’s cross country and track and field at Southern.]

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Why did you choose Southern?

Mostly for athletics purposes, but I am glad I chose this school for many more reasons, including the friendly people, the academic opportunities and the opportunities to get involved within the school community.  It helps everyone to fit in.

 What activities are you involved in?

In addition to Cross Country and the Track and Field teams, I’m an orientation ambassador during the summer. I’m also involved with the Public Health Club on campus and work at Southern’s Center for Educational and Assistive Technology.

 Let’s talk about track a bit. Are there any differences between track and field in the U.S. and Australia?

We don’t have indoor track. That was probably the most nervous I’ve been — my first race lining up indoors to run the mile, which is not an event we do at home. So that was nerve-racking. But I loved it and I hope to bring it back home. We should have indoor.

 You’ve done extremely well at Southern, making nationals in cross country and setting the university record in the steeplechase. Can you explain the event?

In college, the steeplechase is 3 kilometers. Each lap has multiple hurdles. They’re the wider hurdles — so you can step on them — and there’s a water jump. The idea is to clear the water jump. But sometimes you get wet, so it’s definitely a sport to do in the warmer weather.

SCSU_17-NatashaFitzpatrick--10What was it that like to set Southern’s record?

I didn’t realize how close I was. I kind of left that up to the coaches. . . . They just kept pushing me along. When I actually broke it, they came over and congratulated me. It was quite a good moment. It felt like I achieved something for the school.

 Had you traveled previously?

I pretty much have traveled the whole of Australia. This was actually my first time out of the country. So it was a bit of a big move. But it’s been a good choice.

 Have you had the opportunity to travel in the U.S.?

I have, luckily. With the team, we get to travel a lot in the New England area, which has been a lot of fun. And during breaks I have been able to travel both the East and the West coasts.

 What are some of the things that you’ll enjoy once you’re back home?

It’s so stereotypical but we love our barbecue. Just the whole idea of going to the beach for a barbecue. I got to go home for Christmas which is [during] our summer — and I think we had a barbecue every day.

 Speaking of food, any new favorites?

I haven’t had a proper one yet, but I really want to go to Chicago for a deep-dish pizza. I’ve been to a few states and had their main dishes. The Philly cheesesteak is definitely one of the tops on the list.

What is the most common question you get from Americans?

They definitely ask things to do with the outback and the animals we have in Australia. We kind of reassure them that there aren’t too many deadly ones. [laughs] If you stick to the cities, you’ll be fine.

Since you mentioned animals and stereotypical questions from Americans, how often do you see kangaroos and koala bears?

Kangaroos aren’t in the big cities, but if you go a bit further out, you’d find a lot. They’re common — a little like deer in the U.S. [Koalas] aren’t as common because they need a certain tree — the Eucalyptus tree.

And since you’re from Tasmania, you know where this is leading.

I’ve only ever seen one wild Tasmania devil. You find a fair few in sanctuaries.

What do you plan to do after graduating?

I’ve always thought that I’d probably end up in Australia, but in the meantime, I’d love to stay — work a bit. I definitely want to do my internship in the U.S. and if I can keep studying, do graduate school [here].

SCSU_17-NatashaFitzpatrick-6263Any advice to someone who is considering coming to Southern to study from abroad?

It gives you a hugely different perspective – even traveling between English-speaking countries. There are so many differences in the way of life, in schooling, sports. It is definitely an experience I recommend.

Last but not least, vegemite. Yeah or Nay?

I am a huge fan. My mom sends over vegemite just for me. I’ve tried to get people to like vegemite as much as I do, but I don’t think it’s something Americans enjoy. We’re working on it.

Laos

In terms of diversity of and access to faculty-led study abroad programming, Southern is now “walking the walk,” says Erin Heidkamp, director of international education. With the recent addition of five new study abroad programs, destinations now range from Liverpool to Laos, and program fees are affordable compared to other institutional and third-party programs study abroad programs outside of Southern.

New programs this year include Amsterdam (sociology), China (nursing), Guatemala II (special education), Laos (English), and Liverpool (recreation and leisure). These programs join the university’s existing programs in Belize (biology), Bermuda (the environment, geography, and marine sciences), Guatemala I (public health), Iceland (the environment, geography, and marine sciences), Rome (English), Spain (world languages and literatures) and Tuscany (world languages and literatures).

Heidkamp says, “The publication of our new 2016 faculty-led program abroad booklets has sparked tremendous interest among faculty interested in establishing their own programs. We couldn’t be more excited about the growth in this area of OIE (Office of International Education) services. It’s the direct result of having defined the direction in which we, as a university, want to move.”

A key part of Southern’s mission as an institution of higher learning is “preparing our local students for global lives,” and each year, a significant number of Southern students study abroad. Last year, the university joined 240 institutions nationwide in the Institute of International Education’s Generation Study Abroad initiative to double the number of American students who study abroad by the end of the decade.

Amsterdam

The Amsterdam program (July 7 – August 7) will address social problems in The Netherlands, especially as they relate to crime, drug culture, sexuality and social control. These and other topics will be covered in courses taught by experts on Dutch social policy and field experiences led by activists, policy makers, and scholars from the University of Amsterdam.

China

The 2016 China program (March 17 – 26) will provide nursing students a unique opportunity to study global healthcare abroad within a developing, culturally diverse population. Students will identify how cultural issues and global diversity impact the delivery of healthcare and will work collaboratively with Chinese nursing students from Central South University in Changsha, China, to explore, understand, and appreciate these differences as well as identify, assess, and plan interventions from a global perspective.

Guatemala

The special education field study in Guatemala (July 31 – August 14) will provide students with a unique opportunity to learn about special education in a developing country through interactions with children, teachers and families; discussions with in-country experts; community observations; and visits to schools, residential facilities and other agencies serving children with disabilities. Students will examine special education policies and services with attention to availability, accessibility, assessment, professional preparation, and resources. Topics such as cultural and linguistic diversity, literacy, school attendance and completion, and successful post-school transitions will be explored.

Laos

In the Laos program (May 30- June 16), students will take a course that introduces and teaches travel writing while offering intensive practice in multiple forms within the genre, making it suitable for seasoned as well as aspiring travelers and writers. Students will use their daily interactions with Lao culture, food, historical sites, and people to inform their written reflections on what it means to be a foreign person traveling through an unfamiliar country.

Liverpool

The Liverpool program – “Atlantic Crossing!” (April 3-12) — will provide students with the opportunity to meet like-minded students at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), and learn about the shared historical and cultural roots of two significant coastal cities that played a major role in the international economic and cultural development of the United States and England. The program may also serve as a practicum experience for a student in the Tourism, Hospitality and Event concentration, with student involvement in the planning and logistical management of the program. Students will be required to attend face-to-face meetings with RLS faculty, online meetings with LJMU counterparts prior to departure, and develop a research project linked to their current course work and concentration.

For more information about any of these programs, including fees and contact information, visit the OIE website.

To hear study abroad alumni speak about their experiences with international study, don’t miss the Global Ambassador Symposium on February 24 at 12 p.m. in Engleman A120.

Athens Trip

After a second rehearsal at the Literary Club Parnassos on Tuesday, we sat down to a festival welcome dinner at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, The Olive Garden (not to be confused with the Italian restaurant chain of the same name).

SCSU choir in rehearsal in Athens, Greece.

Fun fact: Greece is the third largest producer of olive oil, after Spain and Italy.
While helping ourselves to the sumptuous buffet, we enjoyed a breathtaking view of the Acropolis glowing in the distance. All were in great spirits, anticipating their first performance Wednesday. The romantic atmosphere even inspired two couples to announce their engagements! Geeta and Matt, left, and Nick and Ashley, center, pose with choir members after sharing the happy news.

Members of the SCSU choir at the hotel in Athens, Greece.

Top: Maestro Simon Carrington directs the choir during rehearsal.
Above: Choir members atop the hotel at the festival welcome dinner.

Tuesday dawned sunny and warm, perfect for a trip to the ancient city of Corinth. We boarded our motor coaches at the hotel entrance for the hour-long ride, guided by our Athens-based historian, Yannis, who provided colorful commentary on everything from the number of taxis in Athens (16,000) to the four pillars of the Greek economy (shipping, agriculture, industry, and tourism).

On the way were groves of olive, cypress, and pine trees; mountains disappearing in the mist; car dealers and auto parts stores; oil refineries; and highway signs in a mix of English and Greek. We passed a number of small, ornate roadside shrines, marking the sites of car accidents. Friends and relatives construct these as a thank you to the saints for sparing the lives of those involved in the accidents.

Corinth, Greece

Located on the isthmus that connects mainland Greece with the Peloponnese, and surrounded by natural springs, Corinth was the biggest city in ancient Greece. Ancient Corinth became a center of early Christianity, following visits by Paul the Apostle, a Christian leader who is credited with several chapters in the new testament. The ruins, a few miles from modern-day Corinth, were first excavated in 1892 by the Greek Archaeological Service, and are dominated by the remaining pillars of the Temple of Apollo.

On the way back to Athens, we stopped for lunch and a visit to the Corinth Canal. Constructed in 1893, the canal shortened the trip between Greece and Italy. Now popular among “bungy” jumpers, the canal is four miles long by 70 feet wide, with a height of about 300 feet, and rock walls that are nearly vertical. Several bridges span the canal, offering a breathtaking view.

The Corinth Canal, Greece

Top: President Papazian and several choir members at the Corinth ruins;
the remaining pillars of the Temple of Apollo; the Corinth Canal; at the Corinth ruins.

After two days of travel, the Southern choir still managed to muster enough steam to attend the first of three scheduled rehearsals upon arrival in Athens on Monday night.

The trip began with a flight from New York to Zurich, Switzerland. Due to a heavy blanket of fog, we sat in the Zurich airport drinking $7.50 cups of coffee. Our arrival in Athens was a bit behind schedule. But the greeting from our tour guides, Alex and Tassos, and the transfer to the hotel, could not have been smoother.

Images from Athens, Greece, including the lobby of the Titania Hotel.

We arrived in two state-of-the-art motor coaches, where porters unloaded our luggage. On the way Alex gave us a brief descriptive tour of the area. Our hotel, the Titania, is in the heart of the city, among parliament buildings, museums, foreign embassies, and ministries. Even in the dark it was still easy to admire the neoclassical style of the buildings.

Although Athens is considered the cradle of western civilization, today it is a thoroughly modern city. In 2014, Athens had an estimated population of 3.75 million in the metropolitan area.. There is even an IKEA!

Tuesday: a visit to the Corinth Canal, more rehearsal, and dinner at a rooftop restaurant with views of the Acropolis.

Pictured above: The Titania hotel lobby and surrounding neighborhood.

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Southern’s globe-trotting University Choir, led by Director Terese Gemme, travels to Greece this Sunday, thanks to the vision and support of Walter Stutzman and the Stutzman Foundation.

The choir has previously traveled to Ireland, England, and Spain, working with internationally-known guest conductors such as Simon Carrington and Craig Hella Johnson. This year’s 53-strong choir will be made up of current students, SCSU alumni, and longtime community members, and will once again be working with Simon Carrington. Also traveling with the group through Jan. 4 will be students from the Honors College class “The History of Athens.”

By arrangement with host company KIconcerts, our choir will be performing in several venues around Athens, including, by special invitation from the city, a Gala New Year’s concert at Syntagma Square. On Jan. 2, the choir will perform as part of a special holiday program at the Piraeus Municipal Hall, a classic architectural gem.

In addition to a busy rehearsal and concert schedule in Athens, the choir will travel to the islands of Hydra and Aegina, Delphi, and Corinth. This exciting trip will once again enhance the students’ musical education and global awareness, while providing them with a life-changing experience.

“Being able to perform great music with new friends from around the world in historic venues is awe-inspiring, and these trips, with their combination of musical inspiration, cultural exploration, personal discovery, and community-building experiences have been life-changing events for everyone,’ Terese Gemme said. “As an educator and as a musician, I can’t think of any more worthwhile endeavor.”

And KIconcerts President Oliver Scofield added: “SCSU is a choir that does more than sing for the sake of singing; through performance SCSU engages its students with the larger world as ambassadors of peace, bridges between cultures and custodians of better futures for humanity.”