FIRST Scholarship Provider: Macquarie University

Sep 08, 2017 Written by FIRST Scholarship Provider Macquarie University

My name is Zachary Spencer, and I am a current student at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. I am also a mentor on FIRST Robotics Competition Team 3132 Thunder Down Under, and a FIRST Alum from Team 2137 TORC from Oxford, Michigan, and this is my story of how I went from small town America to life Down Under. 

I jump into my journey during the FIRST World Championships in St. Louis in 2016.  After hearing about the Robots in the Outback program, I knew it was time for me as a student to take a leap into the mentor role and share some of the amazing experiences I had had with robotics so far.  So, I applied as a mentor, and was accepted into this new role. Me, a high school student from Michigan… YES!   In January of 2017, I left the world I knew in Oxford, Michigan, and travelled nearly 10,000 miles to Sydney, and I was off to the Outback!  Armed with my experience and passion for robotics, I knew this would be a life changing experience.  Little did I know, it would not end after my three-week Outback adventure.  As my connection in Australia grew along with my now expanding FIRST family, I applied not only to Macquarie University but for the FIRST Vice-Chancellor's International Scholarship.  Within weeks of applying, I had been accepted to both. Was this really happening? Australia for college?   My pending college departure would no longer be a packed car with all my things from home to tag along, but two duffel bags, a backpack, and my ever-growing sense of adventure.  The Outback and life Down Under had captivated my passion.  This was an amazing opportunity for me and I knew I could not pass this up for the comfort of school in the States, even though it was so far away for a local Michigan kid.  After all, FIRST is all about testing limits and the discovery of new paths.

As one of the benefits of the scholarship, I have the privilege of working with FIRST Robotics Competition Team 3132 for the duration of my studies in Australia.  Due to my adoption into Thunder Down Under or TDU while serving in the Robots in the Outback, I was invited to attend the FIRST Championship in Houston with the team, and was very fortunate to witness firsthand 3132 win the FIRST Championship Chairman's award at the Houston Championship.  What an amazing testament to the heart of what FIRST is all about...No Limits!  Following the regular season, I was then invited to attend the FIRST Festival of Champions in New Hampshire.  This was such an amazing experience for not just me as an individual, but for the entire team.  From the in-person interviews with Dean, Woodie, and Don, to the excitement of the 4 FIRST Tech Challenge matches, to the breath-taking play of the 5 FIRST Robotics Competition matches, the overall experience was truly fantastic, and a once in a lifetime experience. Here is an image of Team 3132 walking around Manchester.  What a weekend!

3132 in Manchester NH

Back to my reaction…  Once I heard that I was receiving a full tuition scholarship, I was simply ecstatic, to say the least!  This is what I had worked for, the long hours in the robotics lab, the studying, the commitment, and the sacrifice... But then as the thought started to sink in, I started to say, “holy cow, I am moving to Australia!” G ’Day Mate was going to be G ‘Day Me!  The coming months of preparations flew by… passport, visa, overseas medical insurance, international class schedule, and of course, high school graduation... and all of a sudden, I was at the airport, two duffel bags and a backpack in hand, leaving for a quick trip to New Hampshire for Festival of Champions, then directly onto my great new adventure Down Under, alone!  Thoughts started rushing through my head, memories of playing with Legos, to flashbacks of Boebots, to Vex to my first FIRST meeting on TORC in Michigan, to four FIRST Championship appearances, and all of this leading up to me actually heading off on an intercontinental adventure.  What a journey it has been...  But now having been in Australia for over 2 weeks, I can say it has been truly fantastic with an overall smooth transition to my new home. Having the TDU family has certainly helped significantly and I could not have made the transition as easily without my new family Team 3132.  

Looking back on it all, I have to say FIRST has transformed my life 100%, and I would not be sitting here Down Under if it wasn’t for FIRST as well as everybody at Macquarie University.  My life has truly taken a turn for the absolute best and I cannot thank everybody that has helped get me here enough.  And so, my adventure continues, diving into classes and preparing for the upcoming FIRST season. The adventure never ends!  I look forward to the future and to contributing my skills and passions to not only my new team, for they are far more than that, but to my new family, Team 3132 Thunder Down Under!  

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