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An Exploration of Space: Ruud ’18 at Practical Ecology in Melbourne, Australia

Of all the courses at Antioch, co-op courses—and their associated assignments—tend to be the hardest for me to complete. This is because I am usually asked to put into words experiences and feelings that, more often than not, I’m still grappling with. Of course, I know my responsibilities at work and I can discuss how the skills I’ve developed could be useful in the future but, for me, co-op is so much more than a resume builder. It’s one of the biggest reasons I came to Antioch. Not just to look good on future applications, but to live outside my comfort zone, to engage with different perspectives, and to push myself to see, do, and be more than I could ever imagine in my small hometown in Colorado.

For my third co-op, I found myself in Melbourne, Australia working at Practical Ecology, where I held a wide array of responsibilities ranging from time spent in the field to office work. In the field, I did flora and fauna surveys, invasive species removal, and prescribed burns; while in the office, on the other hand, I did a lot of data entry and management, as well as working with our GPS data and mapping projects. The work I did was very fulfilling and often awe-inspiring. From climbing over and under trees in the bush to working along train railways, I always felt like the work I did was significant, important, and enjoyable.

In addition to doing a lot of different tasks, I also worked in a lot of different locations. I really appreciated the chance to see more of the unique landscape of Australia and was intrigued by all the different urban areas and townships I visited. Living in Melbourne is the first time I’ve ever lived in a city rather than just visiting it. Inspired by a completely new environment, I signed up for the Sound, Sight, and Sentiment: Phenomenology of Place co-op course, which allowed me to engage with my new home in different ways by thinking more critically about what defines ‘place’ and, more specifically, what gives ‘place’ a distinctive meaning.

Part of the course involved assignments that asked us to think about who is inhabiting a place, what kind of sounds fills the space, and what generally defines it. These were really interesting assignments because they gave me the chance to examine the neighborhoods and parts of the city. One of the easiest aspects of the course was meeting the people that lived in these various locations. Finding the young and old, the Eastern European, the Southeast Asian, or the Middle Eastern populations led me throughout the city and made me think about why these communities have formed in these specific locations and what brought them to Melbourne. By doing this, I met a ton of different people with diverse backgrounds and was able to interact with various perspectives on today’s global issues. It was incredibly interesting to discuss issues like the environment, refugees, and the United States election with people who had contrasting experiences and ideals than me, some of which I had never interacted with before. Often, I found myself thinking of the similarities and differences between the United States and Australia. As I went on this journey, I documented some of the places I met people, and some of the conversations we had, on an interactive map, which can be found here.

As I saw the way neighborhoods change with the inhabitants, I started to think that ‘place,’ and what makes it unique, comes primarily from the people who utilize the place. I began to define places less by what was there and more by who was currently there. Even my workplace, and my home in Melbourne, changed and was redefined as different people cycled through the location. I found the importance of surrounding myself with people who support you and make you a better person. Where you are is less important than who you’re with, and that is reflected in how places are determined by those in them and the perspectives and experiences they bring with them.

Just as Melbourne is defined by the people here, Antioch is defined by the students there. While we talk about Antioch shaping students and being a base of operations, it is important to remember that we shape Antioch just as it shapes us. We are not defined by Antioch; instead, we have the chance to define and redefine it each time we return to campus, and I’m eager to see what new experiences my fellow classmates bring back to campus as we, yet again, redefine our place at Antioch.


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Jen Ruud is an Antioch College Horace Mann Fellow. Coming to Ohio from Colorado, Jen is passionate about exploring new ecosystems and continuing to understand the environment around her.

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