Matthew In Australia

Matthew Cannon is currently a graduate student in the Masters of Business Administration (MBA) Program at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, Ga. He received my undergraduate degree in health education from the same institution in 2014.  He was born and raised in Jonesboro, GA and he is currently pursuing a career in Healthcare Administration. After his experience in Australia, he intends to spend more time abroad throughout my career.

What prompted you to study abroad in Australia?

I was prompted to study abroad in Australia because it was a requirement for my graduate degree. Without this requirement, I would have never thought of visiting Australia. My only image of Australia before studying abroad were three things: kangaroos, poisonous critters, & Crocodile Dundee. In fact, the only city I had ever heard of was Sydney. So when I found out that I was required to go to four different cities in the country (Sydney, Canberra, Cairns, & Gold Coast), I had no idea what to expect.

It definitely is not a dream destination for many black students to study abroad. I stayed at three different youth hostels and I think I met one other black student. It’s actually funny, because Australia’s largest industries are tourism and education—although I did see plenty of non-black (Caucasian & Asian) backpackers and students.

My first impression of the country was that it was a similar and definitely cleaner version of the United States. The first things I remember seeing after landing in Sydney, was a huge McDonald’s and a blown up advertisement for the American movie Pitch Perfect 2. From Starbucks to Subway, I remember seeing nothing but familiar restaurants and stores. I thought to myself, I just flew 20 hours and paid money to visit a country that I’ve lived in my whole life. 

However, the longer I stayed in the country the more I realized how wrong first impressions can be. Subtle differences in Australian dialect can have major impacts when trying to communicate with the people. There were even subtle differences in the food. The food tasted fresher and more flavorful. For example, Australians eat beets rather than pickles on their hamburgers. Sports and gambling are also huge in this country, much more than in the United States. Everywhere I went there was some type of sport on the nearest television. When I was in Canberra I went to a local rugby match and saw first-hand how serious Australians were about competitive sports. Gambling was legal and there were opportunities to place bets at all major sporting events. There were also casinos in all of the cities I visited.

After visiting the country, I realize that Australia has much more to offer. The beaches are beautiful, the people are happy, and overall the culture is diverse. Some of the things I experienced were snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, surfing at Surfer’s Paradise in the Gold Coast, and wine tasting in the Hunter Valley. A surprising aspect of the culture was the huge Asian influence that was present in major cities. It was not uncommon to find several Japanese, Chinese, or Korean restaurants located in multiple areas around the cities.   

Describe your experience in an Australian professional work setting.

The business environment in Australia is, like most of the country, similar to the United States. One of the major differences is the lack of titles that professionals use. For example, in the United States a director of a department would have a sign outside of their corner office labeled “Director”. In Australia, this is considered boasting and is frowned upon in the culture; not just in business. I noticed this the most in the two universities I toured: Bond University and the University of Sydney. Professors were not referred to as “Dr” and definitely did not have the labels outside of their doors.

What was you experience with the Australian Aborigines? Did the nation embrace the population or not?

The Aborigines were almost nonexistent in Sydney, one of the major cities of the country. When I did see them, mainly in smaller cities like Cairns, they were always living in poverty. After attending the Prime Minister’s Questions at the Australian Parliament house, it was clear that they were not represented in Parliament. Not, at least, by someone who looked like them. There was definitely a clear divide between the Aborigines and the rest of the Australian society.

Being African American and having similar physical traits as the Aborigines, there were times when I felt as if I were mistaken as an Aboriginal. When this happened, I taken aback because I would have been treated differently if I had been. It is also seems like a taboo to discuss the relationship between the white – Australians and the Aborigines. From my experience, it seems like Australians don’t even want to acknowledge that they even exist.

Overall, my study abroad experience in Australia was amazing. There were ups and downs, but I would truly recommend that African American students take the opportunity to study abroad there.