One year has passed since my semester in Australia. It goes without saying that those six months in Oz were the best of my life and simultaneously the fastest to pass by. I lived through every emotion, from fear to excitement to homesickness to incredible happiness, and each new experience encouraged me to keep drifting outside my comfort zone and open up to the world around me.

Since that first 14-hour flight to Oz as a 20-year-old, I’ve wandered around Tasmania, gone sailing in New Zealand, camped in the Outback, graduated from college, become a permanent resident of California and landed my first job as a journalist.

For typical 20-somethings, graduating from college is the final move into adulthood. Once you are tossed out into the “real world,” you wonder where the time went – the time when you jumped off bridges, snorkeled dark oceans and went out five nights a week.

My own memorable experience involved studying at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Ostensibly, this is why you are attending a foreign university – to study and continue your education while broadening your cultural horizons.

At USC, my larger lecture classes relied almost exclusively on objectively graded assignments with one big midterm and final exam – usually multiple choice – answered on those ubiquitous Scantron sheets. I could reasonably assume before registering for any class that my grade would depend on these two major exams.

At UNSW, the university educational philosophy was almost completely the opposite. Instead of major exams determining your grade, a series of smaller projects and presentations – all subjectively criticized and graded – determined your fate as a student. I found this incredibly refreshing. This system rewarded creativity and self-study and gave a motivated student the chance to really expand their minds by researching what interested them in a given class while fostering critical thinking. Instead of regurgitating information and recognizing the correct answer on a multiple-choice form, your grade depended upon in-depth knowledge of a subject and the ability to research in order to put together a coherent paper or presentation.

The objective-based assignments and exams at USC enabled determined students to strive for perfection. You could get straight A’s if you studied, and there was no way a professor could deduct points because he did not agree with the circled “A” on your Scantron sheet if it happened to be the correct answer. This system is plainly black and white, right or wrong, no chance for discussion, no reason for debate.

In the Aussie system, nothing is black and white or right and wrong. There is always room for debate, and the professors encourage it. Subjectively graded assignments meant less A’s for the American student accustomed to them, but also meant a greater chance to learn. Nonetheless, a B grade meant I was in the highest percentile in class, an excellent achievement indeed. Most home universities recognize the philosophical difference in grading and adjust your GPA accordingly. My B’s at UNSW translated into straight A’s at USC.

Ultimately, you must be prepared to adapt to a different style of learning. Debating with a professor over an opinion in a term paper may just teach you more than any midterm or final at home could. Instead of memorization and rote learning, you must learn to research, argue and draw conclusions.

UNSW is situated in Kensington, a suburb in Sydney, about four miles from my Aussie apartment on Coogee Beach. Outside of the classroom, my new friends and I looked forward to “O-Day,” where all University clubs populated the lawn with information stands in an attempt to recruit new members. We found the clubs on campus to be the perfect way to interact with local and international students and participated in every event we could, knowing we had only a limited time “Down Under” to enjoy ourselves.

With a healthy balance of work and play, I made the most out of my short time in a new culture. I made local friends, participated in school events and class discussions, visited local friends’ homes for holidays and jumped out of my comfort zone. If I could do it all over again, I would.