Bella Mendez finds her way in with the Aussies


Submitted Photo

Bella Mendez jumping around with some Aussie kangaroos.

When you think of studying to become an occupational therapist, you don’t often think of Koalas and Kangaroos. That is certainly not what Bella Mendez thought of when she chose to pursue a career in OT. But after a thirty-three-hour trip across the world, Mendez is now gearing up to continue her studies in Kangaroo and Koala bear country.   

Bella Mendez is currently a junior at Elizabethtown College and studying to become an occupational therapist. For the North Penn graduate, it is hard to believe that it will soon be three years since she has walked the bustling hallways of North Penn High School. Although she misses her former classmates and the community North Penn provided, Mendez has now gone on to bigger and better things, such as studying abroad in Australia. Although it has only been a month since she arrived in the unfamiliar country, so far her experience has been unlike any other. 

“I have been here for over a month now, which is kind of crazy, time really flew by,” Mendez stated. “My experience has been really fun so far. I am very fortunate because the University system is a little different here so classes didn’t start until the first week of March. Since I got here at the beginning of February it was nice to have some time to get settled in and do all the touristy stuff before getting wrapped up in schoolwork.” 

Before applying to colleges, Mendez wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to pursue as a career. During her time at North Penn, she eventually found the path meant for her and was able to gain some experience that solidified her choice to become an occupational therapist. 

“When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in high school I just listed out the things I wanted in a career. Some of those things included a social environment, working in the healthcare industry, and a job where I get to help people. Occupational therapy was one of the things that hit all those points and at North Penn, I career studied my senior year, so I got to leave school early and shadow two occupational therapists to see if I liked it and I did,” Mendez explained. 

Although she wasn’t sure exactly what career path to pursue, there was one thing she knew for sure she wanted to be a part of her college experience, and that was to study abroad. 

“I knew before committing to college that I wanted to study abroad and Elizabethtown was one of the only schools that had an accelerated occupational therapy program as well as the option to study abroad. It is actually built into my junior year that if I wanted to study abroad I had that time period built in,” Mendez explained. 

For Mendez, the hardest part about her decision to study abroad was choosing where to go. Once she determined that she would study abroad, she was forced to consider many factors knowing that she would be in a foreign country for five months. 

“The world is so big, and there are so many places to go. There are pros and cons to everywhere you want to go so figuring out what suits you is important,” Mendez stated. “I was considering Spain or France but the language barrier was a little intimidating for me. I ended up picking Australia because of the numerous occupational therapy programs and also because they speak English here so that was one less thing I needed to worry about. I knew I was going to be away from home for a long time in a new culture and environment so if I could go somewhere that speaks English that would make me feel more comfortable.” 

Even though the language barrier was something that intimidated Mendez, one thing she didn’t shy away from was distance. In fact, she was hoping to go as far away as possible. 

Since I will be gone for five months I figured when will I ever have that chance again to be able to explore as much of this country as I can. Australia is a huge country where you have to fly to different cities and there is just so much to explore

“Australia was the furthest place I could go,” Mendez said with a laugh. “Since I will be gone for five months I figured when will I ever have that chance again to be able to explore as much of this country as I can. Australia is a huge country where you have to fly to different cities and there is just so much to explore. I think it is nice that I am here long enough that I have the time to get settled and adjusted as well as hit all the spots I want to hit here.”

Obviously, when picking the furthest location to study abroad that comes with some challenges, including getting there. 

‘It was a brutal 33 hours of travel time and the tickets were certainly expensive,” Mendez shared. “But it was worth it because now I get to be here for five months and it is not just a two-week trip.”

Mendez is currently residing in a burrow in Melbourne, Burwood. She is staying on campus at Deacon University and has found the country to be very welcoming toward exchange students. 

“I feel like the country itself is very excited to have international students back after covid. Their covid restrictions were very strict to the point where you couldn’t go a certain distance from your house and a lot of your everyday life activities were regulated. Now with the restrictions lifted, their international population has grown again, especially with students,” Mendez explained. 

A welcoming environment is crucial when it comes to having a positive experience. Because of the welcoming attitude of the Australian residents, Mendez has felt more comfortable being able to go out and experience all of the many wonders of Australia. From wildlife to landmarks, Mendez has already experienced so much in the short time she has been in the country. 

“I was also able to go to a lot of animal sanctuaries. I know when a lot of people think of Australia they think of wildlife, so that was one of the big things on my bucket list. Now I can say yes I have seen kangaroos, koala bears, and a big spider,” Mendez stated. “I have also been able to visit a lot of landmarks such as the Nobbies and the Twelve Apostles.” 

While every experience has been one for the record books, there is one experience in particular that stands out to Mendez. 

“The coolest experience I have had so far is when I went to Philip Island, an island in Melbourne, and they have this thing called a penguin walk. Basically, at night they have stands you can sit in and you get to watch the penguins come out of the water and walk toward the holes that they sleep in,” Mendez explained. “It was really cool because it started off with just five penguins and then eventually there were just hundreds of penguins walking past you. They also have a boardwalk area where you can follow along with the penguins. It was also super cool because while I was there I also got to see Wallabees which are smaller kangaroos and that was the first time I got to see them in the wild.”

From learning the people and the area, Mendez has also learned some really interesting facts about Australia as a whole. One of the most intriguing facts is how the country prepares to stop the spread of wildfires. 

“An interesting thing is that a few years ago Australia was hit with really bad brush fires so now they do a lot of predetermined burning to help prevent the spread of wildfires. They section off areas in the bush to burn so that if a fire ever comes through it would stop at the area where the brush was already burned. In a lot of the areas I have been to you can see the remains of predetermined burn,” Mendez claimed. 

Bella Mendez is getting the opportunity of lifetime. It’s not everyday you get the chance to study in Melbourne Australia.
(Submitted photo)

With less than four months left in Australia, Mendez still has so many places on her bucket list. She is particularly excited about an upcoming trip to some of the most well-known spots in Australia. 

“This weekend I am going to Sydney. I am also going to Uluru which is in the middle of Australia. Most of the people who live in Australia live on the coast because it is more developed, so the middle climate is mostly desert and bush,” Mendez stated. “Oolaru is this giant rock in the middle of the outback that holds significance to the indigenous people of Australia. I am particularly excited about that because to me I really want to go to the outback so getting to experience that should be fun. My friends and I are also going to the Australia Zoo.”

Mendez is super happy with all the great experiences she has had and can’t wait for more experiences to come. One thing Mendez doesn’t want to overlook is how important this trip is for preparing her for the real world and future travels as well. 

“I think gaining confidence and independence on this trip will help prepare me for my future when applying for jobs. This also will help encourage me to travel a lot more now knowing that I can confidently travel somewhere far away,” Mendez stated. “I know after this I want to visit so many more countries and states so I think this experience will overall persuade me to book more trips. Also getting to meet so many new people here that come from different backgrounds had really improved my communication skills. Even when I first got here, learning to ask people for help in the city and stuff like that.”

While Mendez’s trip is not nearly close to being over, she can already confidently say this is an opportunity she will never regret. 

“If I could give advice to anyone thinking about studying abroad I would say just do it. Everyone always says that studying abroad was the best experience or they wish they could have studied abroad. I know it can be intimidating but you have a lot of support systems and even though there are some very hard moments there are so many more great moments. Overall I would say you won’t regret it,” Mendez shared. 

As for now, Mendez plans to continue to broaden her perspective on Australia and learn more about the country and its culture. When she comes back she will continue to work towards earning her master’s degree in occupational therapy and hopefully land a job in the field. Mendez isn’t sure just yet where in the world she wants to continue her career and who knows, maybe it will even be in Australia. 

“I know my mom wouldn’t like this, but I honestly could see myself living here in the future. I really like Melbourne, it just seems like the perfect city to me because it is right on the water as well. I have always loved the city so I could see myself living in an area like this, especially with the suburbs so close to the city,” Mendez stated.  

While there are still so many unknowns for Mendez’s future there are two things she knows she wants for sure. 

“All I know is I want to be an occupational therapist and have a dog,” Mendez concluded with a laugh.