2022 Street Stories

“Insanely proud to be Australian”: how an overseas science festival changed Ruth’s life

Ruth Oettle standing next to an Aboriginal painting.

Ruth Oettle was only 16-years-old when she was selected as one of 20 young Australians to travel overseas for the APEC Youth Science Festival in Seoul.  

Her trip to South Korea was the first time Ruth had left Australia’s shores, and she remembers the experience vividly.  She had the privilege of attending the international festival with her brother and says she found delight in travelling for the purpose of science.   

“It was just so thrilling, and it was such a huge learning experience,” she said.  

Key Points

  • Ruth Oettle first travelled abroad from Australia when she was 16 years old.  
  • Her first overseas trip was to South Korea, when she was selected for the APEC Youth Science Festival in Seoul.  
  • Her biggest takeaway from the experience: the most challenging things are usually the most fulfilling.

The theme of the festival was science communication. This was right up Ruth’s alley, given that she was part of a science drama group at the time.  

“That really lit a fire, and a desire to go out and explore other bits of the world.”  

Ruth came to enjoy the exotic feeling of being in a new place, and she learned a lot about pride and the views that other places held of Australia.  

“It was such a thrill, being foreign,” she said.  

“People had this view about us, and I was all of a sudden just insanely proud to be Australian.”  

Alongside the food, landscape, and language of South Korea, Ruth remembers the tropical storms that she had never experienced as a Tasmanian.  

All these experiences from the trip came together to spark a long-life passion for travel within Ruth.  

Ruth is now 39 and works with ABC Radio Canberra. She believes that her trip to South Korea kickstarted her desire to explore the world, and that the trip affected the study she chose to do.  

After finishing year 12, Ruth did a student exchange with Rotary and spent a year in France with multiple host families.  

“That was a wonderful experience.” she said.

“Being able to learn another language, and all the different food and the culture and getting to live somewhere is a very different experience than travelling there.”  

Like her trip to Seoul, she gained a greater understanding of herself and how Australia is perceived by the world.   

There were many important takeaways from the experience. Ruth believes that the most critical one was how she challenged herself.  

“Often the most rewarding things that you do are probably a bit nerve-wracking or scary to begin with,” she said.  

“But they are the more worthwhile and so, if something is scary or hard to begin with, that often means it will be more fulfilling by the end. You sort of have to persevere through that tricky bit.”  

Since she took her first trip as a teenager, Ruth has been to many parts of the world for study and leisure. To this day, Ruth still feels the rush of knowing that she’s in a new place after hopping off the plane.