Rocking new horizons

Studying abroad can open up a whole new world of possibilities, but picking up your life and transporting it halfway across the globe can be a pretty big – and costly – deal. For Jordan Van Berkel, the first US-based student to study at UOW under the UOW USA Foundation’s new travel grants program – expecting his parents to pay his way was never on the cards.

“I really wanted to study abroad, but it’s an expensive thing to do and I don’t come from a wealthy family,” Jordan explains.

“I feel like my parents have done so much for me already and I don’t like the idea of burdening them financially; that’s not how I operate. It was important to me to apply for as many grants and scholarships as I could. Without this grant, I wouldn’t have been able to do it – at least, not without getting into significant debt.”

When Jordan first learned about the UOW USA Foundation Alumni Travel Grant – made possible through the generosity of the university’s US based alumni and launched in 2018 to assist one UOW student to study in the US and one US student to study at UOW each year – he applied immediately. He was ecstatic to learn later that he had been successful and that a $5,000 grant – intended to supplement anything from accommodation and tuition fees to food, travel and general living costs – was headed his way.

Within weeks, Jordan had landed in Wollongong ready to undertake the final semester of his degree: a four-year Bachelor of Arts in Geology with a minor in sustainability from the University of St Thomas, located in the US midwestern state of Minnesota. Growing up immersed in the prodigious natural beauty of his home state, which shares a border with Canada and is known for its more than 10,000 freshwater lakes, pursuing a career in the field was a deliberate effort to unite his personal and professional interests.

“I’m a very outdoor-oriented person and have always spent lots of time camping and hiking, so environmental science, geology or ecology seemed a natural choice. I took a few introductory geology classes and was hooked.”

Coming from a close family and having always lived and studied within a few miles of his childhood home, the 22-year-old says Wollongong offered him the chance to stretch his wings without the daunting prospect of heading to a major capital city.

“My university back home only has around 10,000 students and my home city is relatively small, so I felt like going right into somewhere like Sydney or Melbourne would be overwhelming. Wollongong feels like a good transition. I love it here, and the campus is so friendly and green.”

And of course, the beautiful beaches and abundant opportunities to get out into nature proffered a siren song Jordan couldn’t resist. Having left Minnesota knee-deep in snow and with temperatures well below zero, he is relishing the opportunity to explore the coastal summer lifestyle and everything the region has to offer.

“I want to make the most of this chance to see Australia. I bought a bike the second day I was here, and I have my skateboard so I’ve been rolling everywhere – to the beach, exploring the rock pools and meeting locals at the skate park.”

Jordan is committed to using his UOW study abroad experience to broaden his horizons, globalize his knowledge and elevate his career potential. He ultimately hopes to stick around for a year or two after completing his studies to work in his field within Australia’s unique natural environment.

“I’m being exposed to a whole new set of earth structures and rocks in a completely different part of the world, giving me a global perspective in geology that I can bring to my career,” he says.

“Studying abroad also shows future employers that I’m willing to step outside my comfort zone and that I’m flexible, independent and ready to put myself out there and try something new – all very marketable and transferable qualities.”

If you would like to learn more about the UOW USA Foundation, click here.

Story by Jenifer Waters