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Makenna Casto

“The spring semester of my junior year was remarkably one of the most notable experiences of my life- spent quite literally across the globe in Brisbane, Australia, with three of my classmates (and quickly friends).

Before that semester, I had only been on two flights in my life. I had never left the east coast, let alone the country, and suddenly I found myself on a 26-hour trip wearing nothing but a denim jacket in February, prepared to land in the heat of an Australian summer- but this is exactly what I knew I wanted to do when I was admitted to Penn Nursing.

I had heard story upon story of unforgettable times from students who had studied abroad in the past; however, as much as I was looking forward to the experience, I was terrified of feeling alone in a place so new- especially given my lack of travel. But I knew that this was more than just an opportunity to see new parts of the world. It was an opportunity to learn more about myself, my qualities as a nursing student, and the implications of a different health system on its people.

Immediately upon landing at Brisbane International Airport, my fears about being so far away dissolved. The intensity of the sun, the friendliness of the Australian people, and the excitement of the months to come dulled any and every reservation I felt prior to leaving my home in West Virginia. The group of us were eager to explore the beautiful campus of the University of Queensland, meet other students through club activities, and quickly jump into every bit of fun we could in a place we knew we were so lucky to be in. After suffering from the worst eyelid sunburn of my life during a weekend at the Gold Coast, classes officially began. In the days to follow, I put on my purple and black UQ scrubs- quite a different look than the navy blue of Penn- and was off to my clinical placement at a nearby hospital.

There were a few weeks of normalcy before the COVID-19 pandemic started to impact life as a whole in Brisbane, and luckily all of us who were abroad with Penn Nursing were able to stay for the expected duration of our trip. Although we experienced life in Australia mainly through the lens of a national lockdown, the pandemic did not stop the intensity of the learning experience or the relaxation of time away from Penn. It was truly an incredible moment of time to be abroad, despite the circumstances. I got to witness the means of a national pandemic response that was successful in its working and remain in my clinical placement while doing so. I got to witness the implications of a free healthcare system and the infinite level of benefit it provides- especially in the time of the pandemic. And I also got to witness the differences in nursing care and curriculum within both the classroom and hospital setting, which only further taught me the uniqueness of education in health systems and how that affects the population it serves.

I could write a novel about the many things I learned from and about myself during the five months I spent in Australia. Ultimately, I learned that there are so many things in life to be passionate about that I can bring to both my practice as a nurse and presence as a human being. The atmosphere of Penn is so professionally focused that it can be very difficult to truly take time to find yourself through what makes you happy- but finding happiness within myself is exactly what I got from this experience, and it is something that motivates me every single day I have to wake up for a class. Who knew you could take a three-day surfing trip with fifty strangers and then set up an operating room for a colonoscopy two days later? Needless to say, I am excited to return in a few years, hopefully as a travel nurse!”

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