Across the ocean

Having never left her hometown in Australia, Imani Hedt ’23 found herself quickly noticing the vast, and not so vast, differences between Iowa City and her old home.


Clayton Bopp

Imani Hedt ’23 reflects on the differences she has seen so far after moving from Australia.

From frequent sightings of kangaroos to crashing waves within walking distance, life in Geelong, Australia is extravagant compared to the fields of corn in Iowa City, Iowa. Living in two starkly different places across the globe is something that not many experience in their lifetime, let alone by the age of 16. However, it is something Imani Hedt ’23 has been experiencing since her move to Iowa three months ago.

“[Geelong is] a lot like Iowa City. [But] in Australia, cities and towns aren’t really centered around a university,” Imani said. “There’s the city and then there’s universities in it, but life doesn’t really center around the university. I think [Geelong] is a little bigger than Iowa City in population, and it’s all spread along the coast.”

Prior to her move to Iowa, Imani has only ever lived in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. Geelong is the second-largest Victorian city, known for its beautiful coastline and for being the home of the second oldest Australian football team. Packing her bags to move across the world was a massive change, and Imani has been taking her time to adjust.

“I haven’t found my groove yet. I mean it’s only been two months and we just started school, so that’s [a] big change. But, it’s different. It’s very different,” Imani said.

Imani arrived in Iowa City in early July alongside her parents and two younger siblings. The family moved because of her father’s job as the chief business strategy officer for a radio-pharmaceutical company based in Iowa City. Upon hearing the news that she would be leaving Australia, Imani’s friends were confused as to where she would be settling in the U.S.

“Whenever we had told people [we were moving], they were like, ‘Idaho? Illinois?’ I [was] like ‘Nope, Iowa,’” Imani said. “When I found out, I didn’t know Iowa was a state back then. There were a lot of tears involved, just because we were so settled at home, and with my people.”

The Hedt family was able to find a YouTuber, Emily Farber, who brought more comfort to their decision to move to a foreign land. Farber had moved to Iowa City to further her realty work years ago. Whenever the Hedts were feeling “flat”, they binge-watched Farber’s videos detailing her life in Iowa City. Even with the preparation that Farber seemed to be giving Imani through the videos, Iowa City was far from what she had anticipated.

“I sort of expected big city, like New York [or] California. I didn’t really have any super high expectations, I don’t think,” Imani said. “I didn’t really know much. I was pretty naive about that.”

Contrary to her assumption, Iowa City was not a large city with skyscrapers and lots of attractions; it was more subtle than that.

“When we first saw Iowa, it was very quiet because when we got here, there were no uni students. So, it was like a ghost town. There was barely anyone around in comparison to now,” Imani said.

Early on in Iowa, Imani and her family were quite surprised by the friendliness of people in the Midwest.

“I think it was the third day we got here [and] a lady asked if we were locals to ask about parking downtown. We got talking and whatever, and she was like, ‘Oh, do you guys want my phone number? I live in Chicago. If you ever come to Chicago, we can house swap.’ So that was the third day, and my mom had a connection in Chicago,” Imani said. “But everyone smiles and [Iowa City] is a very happy, bubbly sort of place.”

Imani’s mother, Hannah Hedt, believes her family has adapted impressively well after moving. She credits the smooth adjustment to the great amount of flexibility they have as a family. The helpful nature of Iowans has also aided in their smooth transition.

“When things have been difficult, or different, there’s always been someone that’s been there to help us out and offer some advice, or point us in the right direction so nothing’s been alarmingly difficult,” Hannah said.

Imani’s best friend, Natasha Meynink, also emphasizes how Imani knows how to go with the flow and not let challenges get the better of her.

“At first, Imani was a bit sad as she had to tell all the people close to her the news. But, I noticed as she grew to the idea of starting fresh somewhere new, I think she began to see it as an exciting adventure,” Meynink wrote in an email. “Imani has always been a very positive person and although it was really hard for her to say goodbye to everyone, she always saw the best in things.”

Transitioning to a new grade and new school across the world is not a simple task. However, instead of focusing on the negatives, Imani saw it as an opportunity to explore things she had never encountered before.

“You guys have no idea how much like the movies [West High] is. It is insane,” Imani said. “When I told people that we were moving they were like, ‘Oh, you’re gonna get a locker. Like a big tall locker. You’re gonna have individual desks at school and there’s gonna be the trophy cabinet when you walk in.’ And we came here on orientation day and I’m like, ‘Whoa’.”

Imani explains that the school buildings back in Australia, especially in her town, tend to be single-storied and spread out across a spacious plot of land. She would walk outside between classes and during her breaks without having to encounter any stairs.

“[I miss] the longer lessons and [having] less periods — only four a day. I miss that because you could really knuckle down and get stuff done. But I also miss being outside, like having two breaks, sitting down with friends, really getting to know people,” Imani said.

To get more involved at West High, Imani decided to explore the club fair and sign up for multiple clubs including mock trial, a writing club called Light Feather and speech and debate. Going from a school of just 700 students, including kindergarten through 12th grade, to a high school with double that amount of students was a bit overwhelming for Imani. Joining clubs in a school as large as West has been helpful for Imani in the friendship-making process.

When school is off on the weekends, both in Australia and Iowa, Imani enjoys a balance of relaxation and productivity.

“On a Saturday, I like to sleep in,” Imani said. “We might watch a bit of telly, like TV, and do some chores around the house. [Then, we] go down to the supermarket, get your groceries, go to Woolies or Kohl’s — different shops here as well. And then just go home [and] do any homework. I tended to have a lot of homework at school.”

The differences in daily life between Australia and Iowa continue to make themselves present to Imani as the COVID-19 situation in Australia is unlike the circumstances in Iowa.

“Back home, they don’t really have any tolerance for COVID. It’s sort of just like: get six cases, lock the whole state down, and get another five, extend the lockdown. So they’re in their seventh lockdown at the moment,” said Imani. “We were very lucky to get out.”

Only two weeks after the Hedts had left Australia, the entire country was already back in lockdown.

This move is definitely not final for Imani. Although she’s had a positive experience in Iowa so far, she misses the ability to walk and get fresh fruit at the local shops and the happiness she gets from the landscape of Australia and her longtime friends.

“When we moved here, we were thinking sort of three to five years that we would stay or leave,” Imani said. “I don’t know, I kind of feel like I might go home for uni or maybe have a gap year or travel a little bit. It’d be nice to see a bit of Australia.”

Looking back at her experiences with the Iowa community so far, Imani is a true believer in the “Iowa nice” concept.

“Everyone’s been so nice, like all my teachers [have] been asking me stuff about Australia and [are] really engaging so that’s been really nice,” Imani said. “I’ve really enjoyed coming here.”