Home Away From Home: Exchange Students Are All Sport for the Challenge

Home Away From Home: Exchange Students Are All Sport for the Challenge

Being an exchange student is hardly easy. You have to adjust to a new country, new culture, new people, new university, and new systems. There is so much to manage – with studies and everyday life – and so little time. Because, let’s face it, the semester flies! But if you are a student-athlete, there is so much more to factor in.

But two exchange students at the University of Melbourne are taking this challenge head-on and showing that you need not just survive, but can thrive studying and playing sport in a different country.

Meet Sailor Florence (Flo) Brellisford, a third year Geophysics student from the University of Bristol in England who moved to Melbourne on exchange after competing at the 2023 World Junior Sailing Championship in July. Flo made the decision to go on exchange knowing that her spot would be safe in the squad when she goes back to her home country.

“The Royal Yachting Association (RYA - the governing body for Sailing in the UK) are always pushing the athletes to get into further education, as Sailing is not a sport that has a low cut-off age – many go to the Olympics in their 30s,”

For a student-athlete, sport doesn’t necessarily have to be something they accommodate an exchange program around. It can also be the reason they undertake one. Rugby was the catalyst for Jackson Evarts, a Computer Science student from College of the Holy Cross, Massachusetts, USA.

“I really wanted to play Rugby outside of the US. Also, I wanted an adventure,” Jackson said.

Australia would be an easy choice for any athlete looking to go elsewhere for a while, given the strong sporting culture of the country, and it was no different for Flo. But there was something that took Jackson by surprise.

“I was expecting everyone to be crazy about Rugby around here, and I had never heard of AFL, but luckily I found the University's Rugby Club with many boys also looking to work hard to play competitively,” he said.

Both Flo and Jackson represented the University of Melbourne at the recent UniSport Nationals on the Gold Coast. Both returned from the competition with medals, Jackson and the Men's Rugby 7s team surprised everyone by taking out the title over the more-fancied Queensland and New South Wales based universities.

“I loved being the underdog,” Jackson chimed, “Coming in as a Victorian team, no one expected us to be any good because usually USyd and UTS are super good, but I guess our hard work paid off and the stars aligned for us to dominate our competition. The other University of Melbourne teams who could make it, came out and cheered us on. The vibes during the final were insane!”

Jackson ranks the Uni Nationals win as one of the highlights of his Rugby career along with all the success he has had in with Holy Cross in the National Collegiate Rugby and his Boston Club in the club competition in the USA.

Flo won the silver medal with the Sailing team and was chuffed about it as she had initially missed the trials, which took place before she had moved to Melbourne.

“I got told there was one space left in the team, I was so keen to go. We raced the University of Tasmania in the finals, who were a really strong team and definitely deserved the win, so we were very pleased coming away with second,” she said, adding that she was also happy to get the opportunity to socialise with athletes from other universities at the event.

The two student-athletes have also been enjoying their time at the University and in Melbourne when not competing or studying. Flo has found the weekend hiking, sailing and surfing trips with the Sailing Club refreshing. Jackson has already enrolled for another semester and is looking forward to Rugby training during the summer break.

Once done with the year abroad, Flo aims to get back into the Transition Squad in the UK, which would provide her with a pathway to make it to the British Sailing Team after she finishes her Masters degree. Her long-term dream is to participate at the Olympic Games.

Jackson too has an ambition to represent his country and he has been training hard for it.

“I just want to make sure I don't have any regrets in Rugby. When it comes time to competing, I make sure that I have tried as hard as possible to prepare so I can always put my best foot forward when opportunities come my way,” he concluded on a philosophical note.