Written by Christopher Galano

Sydney was one of the most familiar yet foreign places I have ever visited. Sydney reminded me of Toronto: the Central Business District (CBD) resembled Toronto’s downtown core, and everyone spoke English. Sydney, however, was like Toronto dropped into the subtropics. Instead of sitting on Lake Ontario, Sydney sat on the Pacific Ocean. Instead of blue jays perched on maple trees, there were cockatoos perched on palm trees. And I was told to check my shoes in the morning for deadly spiders.

The locals really helped me feel comfortable in interns_sydney-opera-houseSydney. Working at the Sax Institute and with the Australian Prevention Partnership Centre was a wonderful experience. Everyone was welcoming and happy to show me around the workplace. Some colleagues also gave me advice on places to live and visit in the city. Even strangers in Sydney were really friendly. One time I was going to the University of Sydney for a seminar and I stopped to read a park sign on campus. A professor stopped to ask if I was lost or needed help. I explained I was simply curious about the name of the park, but we continued to talk about Sydney and our work. It was really warming to see someone so friendly to a stranger.

My time in Australia was an invaluable learning experience. I had the opportunity to attend exciting seminars and speak with leading researchers at the Sax Institute and the Prevention Centre. What really stood out was how happy people were to talk about their work and to share their experiences. For those who will be travelling around the world with the QES program, I would highly recommend taking advantage of the opportunity to speak with your new colleagues. These people have grown up in other parts of the world, and thus will have unique insights into their countries and diverse issues. These people are also experts in their fields and will be able to share knowledge that you wouldn’t gain from books alone. In my case, speaking with colleagues gave me perspective on the nature of systems thinking and preventive health, as well as on Australia itself.

interns_blue-mountainsAustralia is a fascinating country. Beyond chatting with colleagues, I also got to visit museums, go on city tours, and do some traveling around the country. Australia is particularly interesting because it has been isolated from the other continents for so long. The plants and wildlife are unlike anything else on Earth. Eucalyptus trees shed their bark instead of their leaves. All the native mammals are either marsupials, which have external pouches to carry undeveloped young, or monotremes, which lay eggs. They have mountains, but they’re significantly worn down from years of erosion and no tectonic forces to build them back up. In Victoria, the Great Otway National Park is an ancient forest, which comprises plant life resembling flora from the time of the dinosaurs. In Queensland, the Daintree Rainforest is the world’s oldest living rainforest. Also, the Aboriginal Australians are the oldest continuous culture on Earth, dating back 50,000 years. There really is nowhere like Australia.

Through learning about Australia and its history, I also gained a new appreciation for Canada, particularly with regards to the Indigenous peoples. The Aboriginal Australians have faced many challenges, to say the least, since the colonialists arrived. One day I truly realized the significance of colonialism, when I saw a hand-made sign by the Opera House that read: “White people, you are living on stolen land.” I felt a pang of guilt to even benefit as a short-term visitor from the exploitation of these people. My first instinct was a desire to return to Canada, my home, where I would not feel so guilty. But wait… and it hit me. Of course I knew that Canada was originally home to the First Nations and Aboriginal peoples, but now I truly appreciated what I meant for them when the colonialists arrived. Australians were very explicit about recognizing the traditional owners of the land, before every presentation and seminar, and even on the signs at local banks. It reminded that in Canada, my house, my university, the local mall, and so on, also sit on land that belonged originally to Indigenous peoples. As a nation we need to fully appreciate this truth and help the First Nations and Aboriginal people address the challenges they face.

I have gained a greater appreciation for Australia, and I now consider Sydney a second home. One day I hope to visit again and travel to other parts of the country that I didn’t get to see. I think next I would like to see the Outback and Tasmania. And, after seeing the other side of the world, I have also gained a greater appreciation for my own country.

Watch the video from Chris’ QE Scholar Insights webinar:

Watch the video, produced by the Sax Institute, as Chris shares her insights into systems approaches to wicked health problems: