Greetings from the USA again, this time from Holly Woodrow in Minneapolis. She was one of the stipis of 2007, the same year as Bianca Delbao. After her exchange in beautiful Lübeck, Holly did an amazing array of diverse things, such as Sales Ambassador, SAGSE Committee member, party bus host, some study in Berlin, and research. This is what ultimately took her to Minnesota, where she is now a Research Project Manager at a health research and investigation institute. Holly even managed to flee the tough Melbourne lockdown, via Germany, to travel to the US for this role.
Year of exchange: 2007/08
Group Leader: Ada Yu
School: Billanook College
Sponsor: Daimler Chrysler - just as they were breaking up! So I ended up being a Mercedes Benz stipi.
Town / city of exchange in Germany: Lübeck
When I think back on my exchange, I'm carried away to a marzipan-scented, heartwarmed, nosetip-frozen feeling of total happiness. I remember being involved in my school's rehearsals of Fiddler on the roof (Anatevka) and singing along loudly "Tra-dit-ion!". My family were actually from Poland originally, so not only did I get the magically German Christmas, I also got to celebrate a Polish Christmas feast with beetroot broth and 12 fish dishes and my beloved extended Soroko family. I don't remember this so well, but my host sister does, apparently I disagreed with their English teacher's interpretation of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night’s Dream and thought I was engaging in some literary debate, but apparently the less than favourite teacher was seen to be shown up and the class loved it. Whoops. Apart from math and biology (languages of their own) that was the only class I was really able to interact with as I was often overwhelmed with the pace of the German being spoken. For New Year’s girlfriends from school came over and we had a Raclette Party before heading out to a party. I remember never ever passing by a Zara or a H&M (this was before they had made their way to Australia and were such an exotic retail experience!). On free travel my friendship with one of our few Perth Stipis Daniel was cemented on our tour of the Beck's brewery with his phrase "Gold! Beck’s gold!".
I went on to do my Bachelor of Science at University of Melbourne with a Major in Physiology and had a Minor in Creative Writing. I then did a Graduate Cert of Leadership in Health and Human Services at UTAS, a Masters of Public Health / Health Economics and finally got back around to doing my Dip-Lang in German at the same time at University of Melbourne. I even got to go on exchange to Humboldt Uni in Berlin in 2019.
I have had a few different working lives; Party Bus host, Tiffany & Co. Sales Ambassador, Major events fundraising contractor at Peter Mac, Children's Entertainer... Often they were all happening at the same time. On one tax return I had 12 jobs listed!
However, I am now where I am now due to the researcher path I pursued. I recently left my role as a Researcher / Study Coordinator at the Florey Institute where I worked on studies, led by Prof. Malcom Horne, in Parkinson's Disease and the use of a medical device to objectively measure symptoms (the PKG). If you're interested in the large national study I ran the published paper can be found online.
Now I am in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA working at HealthPartners Institute as a research project manager where I am currently involved in projects ranging from a sauna intervention study in firefighters, vaccine hesitancy surveys, AI modelling to look at the Mathew Effect in research, economic modelling to look at interventions for primary healthcare eg blood pressure, melanoma prevention studies, and work with improving healthcare for refugees and new arrivals to the US. I also am enrolled in a Global Health/Social Medicine course at the University of Minnesota and it has been such a deep and meaningful way to connect with my new community and location. Never being satisfied with the tourist experience, I always try to seek out ways to understand the culture and history of where I find myself- something I have no doubt was fortified by my SAGSE exchange experience.
There are so many ways. The immediate one for me was on my return to VCE and Year 12, to find I had a deep sense of calm about my future. I had seen and lived in a world beyond this immediate one and I just knew ENTER scores and Uni courses were never going to make or break me. That my life wasn't going to be measured in scores or certificates, it would be in the connections and relationships made. The cultural exchanges that evolve you. And that certainly continues to be true for me. I made friendships and family for life. I recently took my partner back to Lübeck to meet my Soroko family and we celebrated Christmas together 10 years after my first one with them on exchange. Oh, and on my last trip to Berlin my little exchange brother (not so little anymore) gave me my first tattoo! He designed it himself and inked me in his apartment! (see below, in Minneapolis celebrating my first week of work there) Another is the meaningful experience you get from travel and experiencing new cultures when you make the effort to engage in the language of that place and/or people. It makes a huge difference.
After having had the opportunity to reflect on and celebrate SAGSE's 50 years in 2017 (which was also the 10-year anniversary for my Jahrgang) it is so clear this exchange program offers so much to the recipients, the sponsors and I don't think it is hyperbolic to say, the world. Which is why I hope there is a safe and swift return to the program.
Like Holly, we hope it will be safe to resume our Exchange Program this year, so that current school students can have amazing experiences like her exchange group at the famous Brandenburg Gate. Whilst individual exchange scholarships are donated by the generous companies and bodies below, we do also rely on memberships to cover our administrative expenses. So please visit our website where you can pay your 2022 membership and while you are there, please consider making a donation towards the next SAGSE Alumni Scholarship.