I’m an acting student at my uni’s conservatory, and maybe against my better judgment, I’ve decided to study abroad for a semester. I’m headed to Brisbane, Australia. I’ve never been outside of the country before, so to go somewhere so far away is pretty cool. Last week I had a long talk with one of my professors about this, and to be honest he was pretty hard on me. Conservatory is not really built to accommodate study abroad, but I want to do it. I think it’s a great opportunity for inspiration. If I’m going to be an artist, I think I need to go out and see other places and experience other countries. So, how can I make the most out of my study abroad experience as someone who wants to nurture their creative side?
Your instinct is absolutely right: while at university, as a young artist, you should be having as many experiences as possible, getting out into the world and learning as much about its multivarious people and cultures as you possibly can. Michael Hafftka, a remarkably successful painter who has had his work displayed all over the world, was entirely self-taught and spent his 20s traveling through Europe and Israel. The world is full of stories of artists like Hafftka, who, rather than taking the beaten path of school-masters-career, spent years and years wandering, learning about themselves, and thereby perfected their own self-knowledge as they perfected their craft. Taking a semester to do something risky and exciting will probably do more for you as a human being than speeding through your conservatory years.
That doesn’t mean that the path ahead of you is perfectly clear. To an arts student, one studying the performing arts especially, Australia might seem a little more agricultural than extra-curricular. According to these canola seed suppliers in Australia, the country produces 20% of the world’s canola; according to Meat and Livestock Australia, there are 67.5 million sheep in Australia, but there are only 24 million people. How, then, do you turn those excitements into growth?
Before you go, do some pre-travel research to get to know the local art scene. Brisbane is a pretty cool arts town in its own right. A quick search of theatre performances in Brisbane will return results like the Brisbane Powerhouse, a massive power station from the 1920’s repurposed as an arts venue. While the Brisbane Powerhouse is a major venue, the Brisbane Festival is the city’s premier arts festival, featuring theatre, dance, and music from across the country, and in some cases, the world. In fact, Australia is intertwined with the global arts scene. Brisbane’s Dead Puppet Society, for example, has a foot in both Australia and the United States, and Australia, which is relatively close to East Asia, provides an array of opportunities for experiencing East Asian art. If you have the time, one great way to ingratiate yourself with local groups is to volunteer. A student volunteer, especially one from so far away, is almost always appreciated.
In situations like yours, your mindset is just as important as your research. Volunteering, seeing local acts, or just talking to a stranger will make your study abroad experience all the more memorable. We all know the people who go on study abroad trips and stick to their own groups, and sure, that’s lots of fun, but if your priority is growing as an artist and a human, think of yourself like a young tree: the harder you reach for the sky, the more you will grow. In Oz, there may be no place like home, but if you are informed and ready to make the most of your adventure, you can come home having experienced Australia like nobody else.
“Theatre is a space where you cross over from everyday life, because there are real people in that moment moving in front of you — you’re being invited to believe in a story and cross that bridge.” — Cate Blanchett, Australian actor