When it comes to experiencing Australia’s arts and creative sectors, few cities stand out like Melbourne. Known as the World’s Most Liveable City, Melbourne prides itself on its ever-changing and vibrant music history, championing art and its tastemakers across disciplines. For Selma Ducanovic and Grace Powers, studying in Melbourne was an opportunity to broaden their horizons, focusing on their work all the way from pre-production to completion.
Taking up the opportunity to study at Collarts, the duo—along with two other exchange classmates—found themselves deeply touched by the Collarts community, attending events and familiarising themselves with Australia’s always-friendly demeanor. Catching up with Selma and Grace, we asked them what tips they could offer for those wanting to study abroad and the experiences they cherished on the other side of the world.
Hey Selma and Grace, thanks for chatting with me. When did you arrive in Australia and what are you studying?
Grace: We arrived in Australia on September 7th!
Selma: We studied things like Intro to Entertainment Management, New Venture Project, Business Strategy, and then had two classes on different campuses: Business Metrics and Business Research Analysis.
Awesome, so did you two jump straight into your studies?
Selma: Yeah, it was intense. Grace got here on a Thursday and I got here on a Friday. Grace’s flight got cancelled, so we went to our apartments and went straight into orientation. The good thing is, we were staying at a uni lodge right on Flinders St which was super nice—if we wanted to get anywhere with the trains, we’d just walk outside and were in the heart of the city.
How did you find travelling around Melbourne?
Grace: We took a ton of road trips since we would try to leave the city at least once every weekend. Driving on the opposite side of the road is very weird!
Selma: Yeah, we messed up the blinkers and the windshield wipers all the time! Our first couple of weeks, we would try to go signal and everything would go crazy. It was terrifying at first, but we got used to it.
“All I would say is get in touch with the Australian students. I think if you’re going to come to Australia, reach out to them beforehand and talk about accommodation.”
That’s hilarious. How did you hear about the Drexel Collarts exchange?
Selma: Our university came to us with a presentation, Darren—the man who’s orchestrating it all from Drexel’s end—was really excited to finally get it up and running, especially as they’ve been trying for years.
Grace: Yeah! They’ve been trying for a while to get to make this happen. They gave us a big presentation and from there we put our applications in. It was all touch-and-go.
For those looking to apply, what do you wish you knew in hindsight?
Selma: All I would say is get in touch with the Australian students. I think if you’re going to come to Australia, reach out to them beforehand and talk about accommodation. On this trip, you have to organise that yourself so talking to those students could be really helpful. Luckily for us, our lease ran out in December so we could go home without a worry. I’d encourage future people to reach out to those students, for things like accommodation and social media
Grace: Also, for me, I would say bring something that will comfort you a little bit. I got homesick halfway through… things are different in Australia. You’re surrounded by new things all the time, and you miss your family and friends. What helped me a lot was bringing something familiar.
I totally get that. Did coming to a new place broaden your industry horizons?
Selma: Yeah, I started interning for a label and then could get into the shows for free through freelancing. Australia has a really great website and it’s called the Australian Independent Record Label Association. American students should check it out, since there’s a whole database of all the labels that are members and then they could reach out themselves and help out, get involved. I saved a lot of money on concert tickets and it’s easy, that database was awesome.
What’s been your favourite experience or thing about Melbourne?
Grace: I feel like Australians are—and this is really, really difficult to explain—but in short little interactions, like if you’re talking to your cashier or a stranger, Australians are much more open to just keep talking. In the U.S, it’s more get in, get out, and don’t say too much. In Australia, people genuinely want to talk to other people.
Selma: Yeah, everyone’s been super nice and welcoming, and they genuinely want to help you. We’ve seen some amazing things—we did a cool waterfall tour around the Otways and went to a heap of national parks. If you’re an American with the same opportunity, definitely make a friend with a car.
“Being in Australia has made me come out of my comfort zone… I have been pushing myself outside of the boundaries that I had previously set for myself.”
When it comes to friends, did you make long-lasting connections?
Selma: We were only in Australia for three months, so before we arrived we decided we weren’t going to try super hard to make long-lasting connections as it didn’t feel long enough. I almost regret that, because now we have our close friends and met so many people that ended up being long-lasting connections.
Grace: Yeah, we’ve both been really happy and fulfilled in that sense of making connections. And of course, we friended a heap of Collarts students on Facebook. Facebook is amazing for communication, and even calling home.
That’s so sweet. Do you feel like this experience has made you more creative or inspired you to look at your work differently?
Selma: That’s actually a very interesting question. I talked about that for one of my self-assessment projects in New Venture. Basically, I was preparing to go through the pre-production process for recording an EP because I wanted to do that when I got back to Philly. Being in Australia has made me come out of my comfort zone because I’m a songwriter, so I’ve noticed—and maybe it was because I was writing more often—that I have been pushing myself outside of the boundaries that I had previously set for myself. So the material I have written while I was in Australia has been different. I really liked that, it made me okay with being uncomfortable which is super important. And this trip has made more aware of the global music scene. Melbourne is similar to Philly as it’s very DIY, and a tonne of Philly bands are best buds with Melbourne bands.
Yeah, Melbourne has a great DIY scene. Has this trip inspired you to take time to self-reflect on your work or goals?
Selma: I never even thought of that. I don’t think it’s made me reflect on myself internally, but I think it’s made me reflect on the different goals I may have in terms of wanting to travel a lot and what my priority will be. It made me hopeful for the future.
Grace: Yeah, maybe not outright. It hasn’t made me want to reflect on what I’m doing more, but I guess it has made me reflect in other ways. Just thinking about the experiences that we’re having and where it can take us feels exciting.
“Prepare for homesickness—it’s not a bad thing and it’s not something that should overshadow how amazing your trip is. It’s just a normal process that happens. So if it does happen, remember to treat yourself and it will all be okay.”
What tips would you give those wanting to study overseas as part of the Drexel Exchange? And how did you deal with feelings of homesickness?
Grace: I feel very fulfilled. We did have a period of time—especially myself right in the middle— where I was down and I wanted to go home. And that’s normal when you’re travelling far away for a good period of time, but the thing is, I thought I wouldn’t have to go through that because I’d travelled before. My one piece of advice would be that even if you think you’re going to be fine, you might not be. So prepare for homesickness—it’s not a bad thing and it’s not something that should overshadow how amazing your trip is. It’s just a normal process that happens. So if it does happen, remember to treat yourself and it will all be okay.
Selma: Yeah, it definitely hits people at different times. I was going through the same thing and I was Googling it, asking if this was normal. We both got our different bouts of homesickness at very different times; in my first few weeks I was a mess. I had a lot of things go wrong due to banks and phone companies not processing things properly… so that really excelled those feelings, but you have to move through it—it gets better.
Grace: Yeah, and no matter how bad it gets, it’s really really normal. So if anyone wants to do this, they just have to know that feeling homesick may happen and it’s okay to just sit in and watch Netflix.