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 graduate speech-language pathology students in Australia holding a TCU flag

Reagan Sorge and Annalea Pedigo are both graduate speech-language pathology students in the Davies School of Communication Sciences & Disorders who recently visited Sydney, Australia as part of their summer study abroad course, “Evidence-Based Practice in Speech-Language Pathology: Developing a Global Perspective Through Australian Study.” Learn how their exploration of evidence-based practice, cultural diversity and issues of health advocacy in the land down under enhanced their learning and growth at Harris College in their own words.

We had such an amazing time studying abroad in Sydney, Australia this May. We chose this study abroad course because it was being taught by professors we knew and wanted the opportunity to continue learning from them. 21 other graduate students from the program were also able to attend.

While in Sydney, we visited the University of Sydney (USyd), University of Technology Sydney, Macquarie University and a variety of practice sites such as the Shepherd Centre, to explore how evidence-based practice is used in assessing and treating children and adults who have communication and swallowing disorders. Similarly, we learned how cultural diversity and issues of health advocacy were explored by comparing the health care systems in the U.S. and Australia. By listening to lectures from respected speech-language pathologists and conversing with fellow graduate students from the universities we visited, we were able to gain a deeper understanding of our field and its impacts, similarities and differences globally.

This experience was invaluable in diversifying our understanding of speech-language pathology and learning from renowned experts in the field. We had the opportunity to learn more about communication disorders that affect a range of people, from infants to young adults, while also growing our technical and clinical skills. One of our favorite lectures was from Dr. David Fitzsimons at the Westmead Children’s Hospital where we learned about his work in assessing and treating children with cleft palates. He showed us video examples of how he provides therapy and gave us tips for improving our practice. At USyd, we engaged in a thought-provoking and insightful discussion led by Dr. Mark Onslow, a lead developer of the Lidcombe Program, a widely used and researched preschool stuttering treatment. We loved challenging our developing ideas as students, soaking up knowledge from respected researchers and learning various ways to approach therapy as future speech-language pathologists.

Australia has a diverse Indigenous population. Research in speech-language pathology often focuses on culturally responsive approaches to assessment and intervention addressing unique linguistic and cultural considerations. One thing we admired was that before every presentation or lecture we attended, the speaker would begin with a verbal Acknowledgment of Country. The Acknowledgment of Country is a protocol in Australia that is used to show respect and recognition for the Traditional Custodians of the land where an event takes place. It is a way to honor and pay tribute to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, their elders’ past, present and emerging, and their ongoing connection to the land. We admired Australia’s cultural awareness and education which challenges stereotypes, increases understanding and builds bridges between diverse communities.

Our visit was also enriched with visits to amazing attractions throughout Sydney. We attended a show at the Sydney Opera House, took an Aboriginal Heritage Walking Tour, spent the night at the Taronga Zoo, walked along Bondi Beach and had tea at the Queen Victoria Building. We were even lucky enough to see Vivid, an annual festival where the whole city was lit up with colorful light installations and music. We loved exploring the city, finding our favorite spots, trying new food and meeting new people.

With our cohort, we experienced new things like learning how to surf at Manly Beach. We supported each other despite Australia winter temperatures and some of us not being the best swimmers. We had the most incredible time and grew alongside each other. Due to our vulnerability throughout the trip, we got to know our peers better, engage in more meaningful conversations and confront each learning experience with the intent to grow both as individual speech-language pathologists and as a team.

Studying abroad in Sydney was an unforgettable adventure and learning experience. The connections we built with our peers, the knowledge we gained from each speaker and site, and the cultural impacts we will take with us are invaluable. With all of the knowledge and expertise we acquired, we feel more ready to enter the world as well-rounded speech-language pathologists.