An average Elon student might bemoan the roughly one mile trek from Danieley to main campus, but for international and out-of-state students the distance is nothing compared to their journeys home.
To incoming freshmen Isabelle Stimson and Natalie Triche, who combined traveled about 13,000 miles from Australia and Washington to attend Elon.
“I have no one in North Carolina,” Triche said, a native of Sammamish, Washington. She said she’s anxious about living 2,811 miles from home because things might get complicated if she has “anything happen.”
Stimson shared a similar sentiment, worrying that over the course of the 10,286 mile journey from her home in Gawler, Australia, “something is going to happen at the airport or something’s not going to come.” With multiple suitcases coming with her on the flight to America and more being shipped here, there is room for something to go wrong.
“Hopefully none of them get lost in transit,” Stimson said.
With the stress that over shipping her belongings to a new hemisphere, Stimson said, comes the stress over the ins and outs of American immigration policy.
“My biggest issue about a week ago was that my visa wouldn’t come, because I wasn’t very organized with making my appointment, which wasn’t very good of me,” Stimson said. “The visa came only last week and then that having come, my stress levels have dropped dramatically.”
Though Sammamish and Gawler are over eight thousand miles apart, Triche and Stimson share the common experience of growing up in famously safe towns.
Sammamish, just over 20 miles from Seattle, is renowned for its safety. According to the National Council for Home Safety and Security, the town is the fifth-safest place to live in the nation.
“It’s a sleepy suburb … [it’s] super safe,” Triche said, adding that she “was definitely always sheltered and overprotected being there, and I always felt safe.”
Similarly, Stimson said her experience growing up in Gawler, just under 40 miles from Adelaide, was a positive one. “You feel safe all the time … it’s been a really good place to live and grow up as a kid.”
Stimson also shared that safety is one of the key differences she perceives between Australia and the U.S. While a mass shooting in Darwin, Australia occurred in July, conversations among some Australians about mass shootings still revolve largely around American crimes.
“My friends and I were talking … about the shootings at the moment in your country,” she said. “Talking about mass shootings in Australia just doesn’t come up, it’s not a topic at all, you don’t have any sense to feel uncomfortable about guns in Australia,” Stimson added. “It’s a possibility but it’s just not one that’s at the forefront of your mind.”
Shared anxieties, or lack thereof, are one of the main differences between Australia and the United States, Stimson said. “I think the culture is a bit different.”
Both Triche and Stimson are aware of the cultural differences that await them in the Elon area.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the median household income in Alamance county was less than a third of that in Sammamish in 2017, with households in Alamance making an average of $44,281 as compared to $157,271 in Sammamish.
“Everyone’s parents in Sammamish work for Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing, and so I live in a community of a bunch of affluent people,” Triche said. “I wasn’t necessarily exposed to people not like us, because everyone in Sammamish is the same, seemingly.”
Growing up so close to Washington’s biggest city, Triche said she got to see a different perspective.
“I really liked growing up with the city because you could go and there are different cultures.”
Stimson’s upbringing close to the state of South Australia’s biggest city-- which has a land area 50 times greater than that of Burlington, North Carolina-- had a similar impact on her.
“I grew up basically an hour just north of Adelaide but in Australia that’s hardly anything … we had family living in Adelaide, we could go and see sport events in Adelaide,” she said. “I really loved living up in South Australia, it’s a really nice nice place to live.”
And although Burlington is physically smaller than Adelaide, its population more than doubles that of Gawler, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
“Your populations in America are crazy,” Stimson said. “We’ve got a decent sized country, but we just don’t fill it up with a lot of people.”
Another of the major differences between South Australia and North Carolina, according to Stimson, is tradition.
“I am really excited to be in America around Thanksgiving,” Stimson said, “because just we don’t have anything that’s really like that back in Australia ... like your Thanksgiving is basically our Christmas, where everyone gets together and has a big meal together.”
Thanksgiving isn’t the only quintessential American holiday, according to Stimson.
“Australia is trying to do Halloween, but I’m pretty sure it’s nothing compared to what you guys do,” Stimson said. “I know I’m a bit too old to do trick-or-treating but it would still be cool.”
To Triche, however, North Carolina is most distinguished by the people.
“Going down to the South I’m always in awe of how kind people are,” Triche said. “Like if I go on a run here in Washington, and I’ll like smile at a car and wave, they don’t wave back but that’s like not the case in the South, I feel like North Carolina everyone’s so friendly, and I’m definitely really excited to go and be part of that.”
A fresh start
While Stimson and Triche had very different experiences that led them to Elon, they both ultimately decided to call it home.
Like many other students, Triche said she found out about Elon through the Princeton Review’s ranking system, which currently ranks Elon as No. 1 for the best-run college and most beautiful campus.
Compared with her hometown, Triche said, Elon stood out because of the campus and its inhabitants.
“Everything in Washington is brand new so I really like the history and all of the brick buildings and everything that’s old in Elon, and I think it’s special that the campus has been there for so long,” Triche said. “Everyone was so nice … it was so exciting that people were going to care about academics.”
Triche, who hopes to study political science, said she immediately felt at home at Elon.
“When I got in my mom and I went and toured it and like I walked on campus and pretty much knew that was where I was going to go because I just loved it,” Triche said. “Everyone talks about the feeling you get when you go onto the campus that you’re supposed to go to, and I definitely got it at Elon.”
Stimson’s path to Elon was a little less conventional, stemming from unexpected athletic roadblocks.
“I was thinking of coming over and doing a soccer scholarship because that’s what my oldest brother did,” she said, but ended up having to go through physical rehabilitation after tearing the ACL in her left knee in 2015.
“That’s sorted out, rehab was fine, I was back playing soccer it was all great.”
By last year, Stimson was ready to consider American soccer camp again in preparation for finding schools in the U.S. However, another ACL tear in May 2018 got in the way.
The accident forced Stimson to shift gears with her college search, she said, instead looking for schools that aligned with her academic aspirations, saying she’s excited to be in “a peer group that all want to strive to the same goal.”
This goal, Stimson said, is heavily rooted in her passion for education.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, that’s what a lot of people are in my family and I’m decently good at maths, so I’m now wanting to be a maths teacher,” she said. “The Elon maths faculty looks amazing and the maths department is really good there … when I then had to compare them to the other schools that I was looking at, they really like just stood out from the rest.”
Finding solid ground
Both Triche and Stimson say they are getting ready to be involved on campus and make friends.
Triche, a resident of the Leaders in a Global World living and learning community (LLC), also plans to join Model U.N., though she said she doesn’t want to fall victim to the Elon overinvolvement trope.
“I’ll probably just take it slow in the beginning,” Triche said.
Stimson, a resident of the International LLC and the Teaching Fellows program, said she’s excited to meet friends with her newfound freedom.
“If I wake up and I just want to go and see friends, I could just go and see friends,” Stimson said. “You’re all there on the exact same piece of land and can just go and see people, and I think that’s going to be really fun … I’m definitely excited to bring over a little bit of Australia.”
The elements of Australian culture that Stimson plans on bringing to Elon include a passion and enthusiasm for soccer to her new friends at Elon.
“I’ve packed my what is called a footy jersey for my local footy team,” Stimson said. “I’m sorry to any friends I make but I will be watching some football and you’re going to have to deal with me probably crying over my team losing because they’re not doing very well this year.”
Packed alongside her soccer jerseys are some traditionally Australian snacks, such as the chocolate-covered cookies known as Tim Tams, and an Australian chocolate-apricot candy known as FruChocs. Stimson said she is excited to share these sweets with her new Elon peers.
“I’m just so excited to start at Elon,” Stimson said. “I just want to be there.”