Viktoria Funke: Green River to Australia and New Zealand

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Viktoria Funke is a German gap year student who is doing the Green River to Australia and New Zealand gap year program. She just got back to Green River from Australia and New Zealand so I interviewed her about her experience in this program. Contact Green River for more information.

Why did you decide to do a gap year program?
“After I finished high school in Germany last summer I did not want to start University at home right away. Some people think that taking a gap year is a waste of time. I disagree. Of course you might need a year longer until you finish university, but you gain a lot of experiences, become more independent, and you meet a lot of international friends. I had already done a few study abroad trips during my summer vacations and I loved it, so I thought, why not?”

Why did you decide to do the Green River to Australia and New Zealand program?
“After I  decided that I did not want to start university right away, I had to decide what I wanted to do. The three most popular gap year options in Germany are either attending a foreign university, working as an au-pair or doing ‘work and travel’. I have never really wanted to work as a nanny. I liked ‘work and travel’ for the travelling part because NZ Below Zero Ice Bar in Queenstown.jpgnormally if you attend an average foreign university you stay at one place. The Australia/New Zealand program of Green River gave me the opportunity to do both studying in a foreign country and travelling to a variety of places.”

How was the start of your gap year at Green River?
“On the one hand, the first few days were a little rough. I had no idea how college works and I was jetlagged. I remember being close to black despair when I had to register for classes for the first time. On the other hand, I really liked that I have never  been alone. Since I am living together with a lot of international students in the Campus Corner Apartments, it literally took me half a day to find friends. Moreover, you get a lot of help as a new student here at Green River and in my opinion it is quite normal to freak out a little bit at the beginning when everything is new and unknown.”

How was the switch from Green River to Australia?
“After my first quarter was over, attending Green River College seemed to be normal for me. I was used to my daily life and to the other students around me. In comparison, the first week in Australia – our orientation week – felt like a summer camp. We had barbecues, a scavenger hunt and we went to the beach while it was up to 100°F (36°C) warm. I love the heat so I really enjoyed that. And even after the classes had started it was very different from my time in Auburn since we all had classes together as a group.”AUS Australia Day

What was your first impression of Australia?
“It was love at first sight. After the grey and cold months in Seattle and Germany, it was awesome to see the sun again and to feel the heat. Melbourne is definitely one of my favorite cities in the world. It is a big and busy city with a lot of things you can do but at the same time it is so clean and green.”

Where did you live in Australia?
“In Australia we lived at Newman College. We all had dorms next to each other. Instead of cooking for ourselves we received lunch and dinner in the dining hall. In my opinion that was a very good solution for the first few weeks. We were all very close to each other which enabled us to get to know the other members of our group better. Nevertheless, we still had our own rooms and were able to shut the door if we needed some time alone. Moreover, our classroom was literally next to the dorms so we were able to sleep longer. Newman College is only a 20 minute walk or a 10 minute tram ride away from the city center of Melbourne so it was very easy to go there whenever we felt like doing something. Additionally, Lygon Street was only two blocks away and there one could find heaps of nice restaurants.”

What did the program in Australia look like?
“We stayed in Australia for five weeks. During the first four weeks we had biology, culture and history classes and all of these were related to Australia. We did not have any final exams. Instead we had to write a long term paper for each class. On most of the days we had in AUS Grampians National Park.jpgclass sessions from 9am to 12pm and then in the afternoon we visited museums or other cultural sights. Furthermore, we did a couple of biology field trips. I enjoyed these a lot. In my opinion it may be interesting to hear something about the habits of marsupials but it is a lot cooler to hike through the rain forest and see them in real life. In addition to that, we were divided into eight groups at the beginning of the week. Each of the group was assigned an Australian or New Zealand movie which they then had to present. Therefore we had a few movie nights. This was the educational part. On the weekends we had time to explore the city and its surroundings. One weekend a group of girls and I did a two day tour along the Great Ocean Road and through the Grampians National Park. This is where I got the opportunity to take a selfie with a kangaroo, which was on my bucket list for this trip. The fifth week in Australia was our break week. Seven of my new friends and I used this week to fly up to Cairns – a town on the coast of the Great Barrier Reef – and got certified in scuba-diving. This was one of my highlights of the whole trip. We lived on the sea for three whole days, swam with a lot of fish I had never seen before, we swam with sharks on the night dive and saw gigantic turtles. Additionally, we had no service or wifi for three whole days which was very relaxing. It was just eat, sleep and dive. I still want to go back onto this boat when I am thinking about it.”

What was your first impression of New Zealand?
“New Zealand is a lot greener than Australia so the view while landing in Auckland was very pretty. Before we arrived in New Zealand I thought that climate and the weather NZ end of bio fieldtrip.jpgwould be the same as in Australia. Apparently, I was wrong. The first week can be compared to the weather in Seattle. It was neither really cold nor super warm and it was raining cats and dogs. Very frustrating. Luckily, I had my rain jacket and my sweater with me and the weather got better after the first few days.”

Where did you live?
“In New Zealand, we did not live in student dorms. We were sharing small apartments in groups of three and four. There we had to cook and to take care for ourselves. I think it was a very good idea to do that on the second half of the trip since we were able to get to know the group and decide who we would like to live together with this way. The only thing I did not like about the apartments was that it took us at least half an hour by train to get into the city center of Auckland. It made it a lot harder for us to do something during the week. But since we saw a lot of cool things on the weekends that was not too bad. I mean: we had to do homework at some point. ;)”

What did the program look like?
“The program was basically the same as in Australia. School during the first four weeks NZ Queenstown.jpgwith biology, culture and history classes. We had three biology field trips, an essay for each class and four more movie presentations. The only significant difference was that we did not have culture classes in a normal classroom. Instead we learned a lot about the Māori culture (Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand) by the Māori themselves. We got to know how to introduce ourselves in Māori, we learned a few songs, practiced the Mau Rakau (an indigenous war dance) and were told about a variety of mythologies and beliefs. However, our weekends were a little bit more exciting in New Zealand than they were in Australia. Whereas we had all been a little bit helpless and unorganized in Australia, we knew how to plan trips, rent cars and find cheap hostels when we arrived in New Zealand. Hence, most of us went camping every weekend and we explored most parts of the north island on our own. Our biology teacher Jenny also offered one weekend trip to the Bay of Islands. I joined this trip and I have to say it is very recommendable. On our last week, a lot of us (including me) flew to Queenstown or Christchurch on the South Island. We got together in small groups and either drove around the Island or stayed in the city. Four of my friends and I drove to Fox Glacier and to Milford Sound before we went back to Queenstown to spend our last three days in New Zealand there.”

What is your best memory of Australia and New Zealand?
AUS scuba-diving on the reef.png“My highlight in Australia was definitely our break week. Learning how to scuba-dive on the Great Barrier Reef was an insane experience. We lived on the sea for three whole days. I swam with a lot of fish I had never seen before. On the night-dive, we were swimming with sharks and giant sea turtles. Moreover, I saw Nemo and Dori.”

“I am not sure what my highlight in New Zealand was. When it comes to nature it was probably my trip to Milford Sound. This is a big lake in between the mountains where we did a cruise on. In my opinion Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful places in the world. During the cruise, I felt like I was staring on a screen because everything looked soNZ Milford Sound.jpg unreal. However, Queenstown is a very cool city, too. Especially for young people. New Zealand is commonly known as the global capital of adventures and in Queenstown you can really experience that. I did the Nevis Swing which is the world’s biggest swing with a 70m free fall. Furthermore, we went to an ice bar which was a really “cool” experience. ;)”

Would you recommend this gap year program and why?
“I would definitely recommend this program to everybody who wants to make international friends and see the world at the same time. In my opinion, this is an awesome change to get introduced to the culture of the different countries. Take our culture classes in New Zealand as an example. I would have never learnt so much about New Zealand’s indigenous population as a tourist. This way I was taught by Māori people themselves which is probably the best way to learn it.”

Do you have tips for people who are considering the Green River to Australia/New Zealand gap year program?
“There are a few tips that the returning students from last year had already told me before I left to Down Under and I should have taken these hints more serious. First, be prepared for every kind of weather. Even if it is hot and sunny in Australia, you definitely want to bring a sweater, long pants and a rain jacket for the slightly colder days in New Zealand. Secondly, save your money and budget different things beforehand. You might spend more money than you originally planned to spend because there are so many cool things you can do. But they tell you about that on the orientation day. One thing I would personally recommend is renting a car for the weekends in New Zealand and explore the North Island. This way you are independent, you can see a lot and you will have time to go to the South Island on your week off which is definitely worth it. Last but not least: be open-minded, try new things and just do it! You will have a great time anyway.”

Contact Green River for more information |Read Viktoria’s Blog|

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Six steps to choosing your Gap year program

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Are you thinking about going to the U.S. but you haven’t officially made up your mind? Here are six steps that helped me decide to do my  Gap year at Green River College.

STEP 1: Visit an agency.
There are a lot of agencies out there that offer a lot of fun things. Visit multiple agencies to figure out which one you feel most comfortable with and who offers Gap year programs that you might like.Blog (5)

STEP 2: Explore your Gap year options.
There are a lot of Gap year programs: language schools, High School programs, work and travel, Colleges etc. Try to get as much information as possible for you to have a clear idea what the programs are like and what program suits you best.

Blog (1)STEP 3: Talk to current and alumni students in the programs you’re interested in.
Every student has been through what you are going through right now so they know exactly how you feel. They can tell you what it is like to go to a place you have never been before.

STEP 4: Make a list of pros and cons.
Pros and cons always helped me to make decisions. It is a clear and easy way to see what the best option is for you.

STEP 5: Get the correct paperwork.
Make sure to check  that the paperwork needed for your journey is correct and discuss this with your agency. Think about TOEFL test scores, student visa, housing paperwork etc.

STEP 6: Get the courage to do it!
Once all the practical stuff is done the only thing left for you to do is to get the courage to actually go. Don’t hesitate anymore; you won’t regret your decision!!

Contact Green River College or contact me at mtromp@greenriver.edu for more information.

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Margot Steijger: Green River to California

Margot Steijger is a Dutch gap year student who is doing the “Green River to California” program. She is currently in Santa Barbara, studying at Santa Barbara City College. Contact Green River College for more information.

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Why did you choose to do a gap year?

“I had never thought of doing a Gap Year until I heard about a theatre program offered in America. I’m really passionate about acting, so this sounded like music to my ears. This program made me think about taking a year off between High School and University. My mum told me it would be a great opportunity to improve my English, meet new people, do a lot of acting and go on an adventure. Although it sounded like a lot of fun, it took me a while before I was sure I wanted to go. You know, America is a long way from home and a year is a long time to be away from home. Eventually my decision was made and I started to make plans.”

Why did you choose to do the “Green River to California” program?

“The theatre program I heard about was offered at SBCC (Santa Barbara City College). Unfortunately, by the time I wanted to go, they stopped offering the program. I still wanted to do a Gap Year in America, so my agency helped me look for a good alternative. Since SBCC was still one of the best places to go to when it comes to acting, it stayed on my list of places I wanted to go. During one of my conversations with my agency, Green River College came up. They told me Green River offered a different kind of program, in which a student could choose to go to two different colleges. And what are the odds, because one of the other colleges I could go to was SBCC. I was interested right away. It would give me the opportunity to go to two different states, two different colleges and meet even more people.”15871504_1148161711963513_1653611385529417378_n

  • What was your experience at Green River?

“Before I arrived at Green River, I already got a lot of help from the people that work there.
They wanted to make sure that everything would be set and done before I got on my airplane. From the first moment at the Green River till the day I left, I loved being there. It has a beautiful, green and modern campus with a lot of facilities for students. Nature is literally all around you and with just a ten minute walk over one of the many trails behind the campus you reach a stunning view of Mount Rainier. All of my teachers were great and I enjoyed going to all of my classes very much. In my free time, between or after classes, I worked at the Foundation Office with these wonderful people, I hung out with my amazing friends or went for a work-out in the free gym facility on campus. Also a good thing about Green River is that whenever I had a problem, I just had to tell someone15390777_1144823762298294_7611567420120114906_n and help was on its way. I had such a good time that it almost made me stay at Green River and not go to SBCC.”

Where did you live when you studied at Green River and how did you like it?

“During the time I was at Green River, I stayed with a host family. Before I met them I was a bit nervous, because I didn’t know what to expect. It turned out to be the best host family ever. They were so nice and took me in as part of the family. They wanted me to have the best time of my life, so they took me and my friend to a lot of places. We went on multiple mini road trips through Washington State, but also to Portland in Oregon. We went Black Friday Shopping, we went to the theater, to events at the High School of my host sister, to a Halloween party, we had a game night with some friends of my host mother and so on. I never felt bored or homesick and they indeed made sure that I had the time of my life. I think saying good-bye to them when I left for SBCC, might have been the hardest thing in my life.”

You transferred to SBCC, what is your first impression of SBCC?

“My first impression of the campus of SBCC when I arrived was “wow”. The campus is located almost literally on the 16864600_768154420028683_2212319187531755329_nbeach and the view over the ocean is amazing. The campus itself is really big. They have their own baseball, tennis and soccer/football fields, they have great buildings, nice places to sit outside and palm trees everywhere. I don’t think it is fair to compare it to the campus at Green River, because they both have their own beauty and one is not better than the other. I do believe that the help new students get when they first arrive is a lot less at SBCC than at Green River. And where Green River organizes a lot for their students, such as hikes, events at school and trips in the introduction week, at SBCC, they don’t have that at all. You are much more on your own, and for some people it works and some people it doesn’t. This doesn’t say anything about the classes and teachers, because the ones I am taking are great.”

How different is SBCC from Green River?

“I decided to stay in  student housing in Santa Barbara, since I already experienced living with a host family in Washington. I don’t regret this choice, because my housemates were the first friends I made. I think it is really fun to have friends living in your house. You can spend a lot of time together, it is easy to make plans for the weekend and when you need something or want to hang out with them, they are only a door away. The house I live in is a part of a bigger housing association. They have multiple houses and apartments for students and organize a lot of events for them. Through these events I explore the area and they are also a good way to make new friends.”

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Washington State

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California: Santa Barbara

What did you do at SBCC to meet other students again?

“As I said, SBCC doesn’t really have an introduction week in which I was able to make friends. That is why I started to make friends at school once the classes started. In acting classes students get to know each other rather quickly and really well, so within two weeks I had made friends in all of my classes. Besides having fun during our classes, we meet up in weekends or at the end of a school day to hang out, go on hikes or go get food.”

Would you recommend the Green River to California program and why?

“So far, as you might have read, I really like the Green River to California program and I would recommend it to every student that is considering going to America. You get to experience two whole different worlds and that is what makes the program so great for Gap Year Students like me. I’m not here to study hard and get good grades, I am here to go on adventures, make new friends and get as much out of my year as possible.”14666066_10209559294171531_2824777906745348010_n

Do you have tips for students who are thinking about coming to the US?

“I think it doesn’t really matter what kind of program you choose to do, as long as you grab every chance with both hands and enjoy it as much as you possibly can.”

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Learn more about Green River College’s Gap Year programs.

Want to know more about Green River College and all it has to offer?  Contact Green River College, we’ll be happy to hear from you and help answer your questions.

Say hi to Ana, another international student

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Ana Ballesta is an 18 year old international student from Uruguay. She is trying to get her Associates in Arts degree here at Green River College.

Why did you decide to study at Green River College?
I decided to study at Green River College because I spent two months in EF Seattle (language school) and I loved Washington State, so I decided to start my education here. When I did my research I found out about Green River College and how welcoming they are to international students so I decided Green River College was the place to start.

How do you like Green River College so far?
So far my experience has been great. I love the campus, the people here are really nice and welcoming and the classes I am taking this quarter are going good.

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Campus Corner Apartments

 

How do you like Campus Corner Apartments (CCA) so far?
CCA is a really good place to live, especially when you just get here. I like it because it’s next to the campus, and because you live close to your friends. I was lucky that I became friends with one of my roommates this makes the experience at CCA way better.

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What do you do as an international student to get involved around school?
Getting involved around school is really important, mostly when you are new because you get to meet new people. Personally, I joined the European club and I’m always looking for events. There is always something going on on-campus, and most times it is really fun to join those events.

 

What are you trying to achieve at Green River College?
I’m here at Green River College trying to achieve my Associates in Arts (AA) degree, and then transfer to a 4 year university.

What are your plans after Green River College?
I haven’t decided exactly what my plans are after I finish here at Green River College, my major is International Relations but I’m still considering whether to transfer to a university in America or Europe. But there is still time :).