An abrupt end

It has taken me some time to get my words and thoughts together to write this post.

Due to COVID-19, about three weeks ago, I found myself spending a fortune on a one way flight home that left 5 days later. I never thought I would have to finish my time abroad 3 months before I planned to. Saying goodbye to the family I had made in Australia was heart breaking and having to travel back to the U.S with such high infection rates so close to home was scary.

This transition from having the time of my life living and studying in Australia to coming home to New York being quarantined in my house has been difficult to say the least. In addition, I have had to transition to remote learning through my host institution which has not been the easiest.

On a brighter note, even though my study abroad experience was cut short, I did have the opportunity to experience what it was like living and studying in Australia for about a month and a half. I have made friendships with people all over the world and made memories that I will forever cherish.

My last few days in Australia were probably some of the best. I overall spent some quality time with my friends over the entire weekend. We went to St. Kilda and spent some time on the beach. We spent the day at the Moonlit Sanctuary where I had the opportunity to pet a Koala and feed some kangaroos (which happens to be my favorite animal so I was excited to say the least). We visited the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne. I has my last dollar donut from my favorite Vietnamese bakery and rode the metro for the last time. My final night in Australia, my roommate (who I was leaving with the following morning) and I had some friends over, cooked all of the food we had and had a huge family dinner. All of these memories as well as so many others will stay with me for the rest of my life.

While it has been hard to deal with not experiencing as much of Australia as I had planned to during my time studying abroad, I know that I will be back. As I am writing this post, my mom is actually supposed to be in Australia with me. We had booked various tours and activities and had so much to do for the week she was supposed to come visit. We are both heartbroken that we are not able t be together over there right now. This all being said, visiting Australia is something that has been on her bucket list for years, and she assured me that we will make it back there. Whether it is for a few weeks on vacation, on a work visa, or completing Graduate school abroad, I know I will make it a priority to back in the land down under one day. Until then, I am trying to make my few packs of Tim Tams last as long as possible and I have so many photos to look back on to remind me of the place I love so much.

Australia, this is not a goodbye forever, just a goodbye for now.

Return Home and Remote Learning

I am currently writing this post from my home in New York. Due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, many study abroad programs including my own were cut short and canceled. My 5-month exchange abroad was transformed into 6 weeks abroad, with one course completed. It has been a hard adjustment to transition to remote learning for a university that is in a different time zone, especially 14 hours ahead.

To say this transition was difficult is an understatement but I have always enjoyed a good challenge. Being able to be with my family during this tough time is what is keeping my spirits up, also knowing I am still able to continue to earn credits toward my degree, even though my program was canceled.

The school I attend works with a block model schedule. This means you take one class for one month, so a total of four classes per semester. The goal behind this type of learning is to focus your attention on one subject at a time and allow your full focus to ensure the greatest work. I am not used to having only one class to focus on so transitioning into this block model learning was tricky at first. However, after completing my first block I felt very conformable with this way of learning, I almost prefer it to taking 4-6 classes at a time over the course of a semester. The workload seems very similar to what I am used to at SUNY New Paltz for a 300-level class.

Remote learning seemed a transition I would be prepared for. I have taken an online class before, so I am used to submitting work and not having the constant face to face interaction. However, I am struggling with maintaining the same communication I am used to with my professors at home, specifically in my studio art courses. Australian professors, from those I have had, are much more relaxed and provide the students with a lot of freedom in and out of the classroom. The structure is limited, and this can lead to a lack of or limited clarification on assessments. I am sure I am running into similar if not the same issues as my fellow classmates back at New Paltz who are also doing remote learning.

As I continue my abroad studies from home, I am sad to know I will not be able to experience all that Australia uni life and Australia, in general, had to offer. Australia stole my heart from the minute I stepped off the plane. I am disappointed I was unable to have the experience I had always dreamed about, but I am hoping I will be able to return to the country in the near future. Overall, I am grateful for the time did have to spend meeting friends that will last a lifetime and placing that will forever hold a special place in my heart. I am thankful for my safe and healthy return to the states. I wish, those of you who are reading this, a safe and healthy future. Know you are not alone in your crazy self-iso. Keep in contact with loved ones and professors and make the most out of an otherwise hard situation! Take it from me whose classes at 14 hours ahead of her home time!

A Smooth Transition: My first few weeks

Throughout the first few weeks adjusting to the culture, the accents even the traffic patterns, I felt as though this country could really be my second home. Settling into this city came so naturally to me. The people were so friendly, the street style was inspiring, and the food was fantastic! I never felt like an outsider or a tourist when living in Melbourne.

I was able to go shopping and see brands similar to stores I was used to back home in New York. The CBD or center city became such a fun exploring destination for my friends and me. We were able to interact with the locals by taking public transportation, like trams and trains, around to the local suburbs and just observe and take part of the everyday life of a Melbourne uni student as class began to pick up.

The food reminded me a lot of food you would find in a larger city back home such as parts of Manhattan or Philadelphia. As I am from a very small town in upstate New York, variety isn’t really an option. But in Melbourne, they have a saying, “if you cannot find what you are looking for it, either doesn’t exist or your just not hungry.” I am a vegetarian and I never felt as though I was “settling” for the non-meat option because there were so many options to choose from.

Every individual I met young or old within the first few weeks of my stay in Australia I felt so comfortable and welcomed. They were so curious about where I was from and many were willing to provide some of the more authentic Australian spots to check out while exploring the city. It was such a simple and smooth transition into daily Australian life as soon as the first week was under my belt. I knew I had chosen correctly for my study abroad experience when everything from going to get groceries to complimenting the person next to me on the train without fear of judgment, came so naturally to me.

One month in Australia- I’m practically a local now.

Today marks one month since I arrived in my new home away from home which is absolutely crazy! Part of me feels like I have been here for so much longer, but the other part feels like it has only been 2 weeks.

Within my time here, I have met so many people from all over the world. Most of my roommates are from North America, so I do not see too much diversity within my apartment, however as soon as I step into the hallway, everyone around me is from all over. My peers are from Germany, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Australia, and so many other countries. It is so cool that I am being exposed to Australian slang as well as slang from various other countries.

When it comes to food, there is a little of everything within the towns from Footscray into the city of Melbourne. Footscray has a wide variety of Vietnamese places to eat which I have unfortunately not checked out yet (I am a very picky eater, BUT I have gotten better since I’ve arrived). Within Footscray there are also burger and pizza places. We went to a burger joint called Burgertory and it was AMAZING. My burger had chicken, bacon, cheese, and a sriracha mayo inside of a waffle with maple syrup. The burgers may be good, but sadly, the pizza here does not compare to the New York pizza I am used to. There are also a lot of vegan options. I went to a vegan cafe and had pancakes with ice cream and fairy floss. I was very impressed.
There is also a Vietnamese bakery that sells donuts for a dollar and I think they are my favorite thing about Footscray.

Grocery shopping isn’t too different for the most part, however, the cereal and snack isle is not as exciting as the ones at home. I miss my American cereals and snacks so much already. I am accepting care packages full of general mills cereals and any type of snacks:)

When it comes to style, I was definitely worried that I was going to stand out. Fortunately, everyone dresses so differently from one another, especially in the city of Melbourne. Some people are walking around in suits which others are passing by in active wear. The only way that I feel as if I am sometimes standing out is by wearing a tank top when it is not necessarily tank top weather. I packed for very warm summer weather, however, I really should have packed more short sleeves and long sleeves instead of a million tank tops. Thankfully, my mom is coming out to visit in about a month so I will be able to switch out some of my tank tops for sweaters.

Within this last month I have adjusted pretty easily. Homesickness finally set in a little bit due to a few personal things going on, however I have worked through it and am so thankful to be here in Australia.
My burger from Burgertory
Dollar donuts right outside of Flinders Station
Salted caramel ice cream is one of my favorites, especially when its homemade!

A grilled cheese with mac and cheese from a food truck at a festival!

I am not a big coffee person, but it is definitely great over here!
Pink waffles! And they’re VEGAN!

Through the alleyways…

What I love about where I live, is that there are so many secret passageways that only a true Londoner would be able to point out. Every day on my way to class I pass through a long twisted alleyway that is covered with ivy and slate stone. If you look up you see a lonesome window that unfortunately does not have much of a view. You have to walk fast because all of the locals on their way to work use this passage to cut through the street just as I do!

There were definitely a lot of things I wasn’t aware of when I came to London. I honestly didn’t think it would be that different from New York City… and in a few ways I wasn’t wrong. In London, everyone uses contactless cards. That means rather than MetroCards you can just tap your cards or phone against the reader and it will automatically go through. There isn’t that pesky chip card that you have to insert everywhere you go. You also aren’t really supposed to tip in London, a kind tip is maybe one or two pounds as opposed to the standard 15-20% that we leave in New York. The waiter brings the credit card reader to you when you are ready to pay for the check, rather than you giving them your card and they do it for you. So cool! Everything is so much easier here and already thought out. There is no wait, no underdevelopment. It is as if everything is just made for the people. The humor here is also different. I went to see Matilda on Broadway and it was so interesting, there were certain jokes that were made that everyone else in the audience laughed at, while I was sitting there so confused… Another thing about London is that the cars never stop for pedestrians, that’s just not “the norm” there. I’m being serious when I say that they will literally run you over if you’re not careful. People also are pretty aggressive when walking on the street and not mindful of others. Everyone is just going so fast all the time. 

People immediately flock to the pubs after work and they are usually crowded from around 6-11 which is when almost every establishment shuts down for the night. Almost all bars or pubs close at 11 and when they are closing they ring a bell. I’ve never seen that done in America! Drinks are pretty expensive but also, everything is really expensive. It’s hard to find good deals because everything is just expensive wherever you go which has definitely taken a toll on my bank account. I really like grocery shopping and they have all these cool deals at the local grocery stores such as “Tesco”, “Sainsbury” and “Waitrose”. I really like grocery shopping for myself here and I’ve cooked up some really great meals. 

Footscray: My Home away from Home

After over 24 hours of world travel and experiencing everything that could have possibly gone wrong in a day I came through so much stronger. My first days being in Melbourne, or rather the suburb Footscray, was rocky. I left the airport with only a backpack with a few snacks and a change of clothes as my luggage had gotten miss placed on my transfer flight. I didn’t feel fully settled in until around day 4 of being in Aussie. I got my luggage met all my 5 flatmates and was ready to call Footscray my home away from home.

The first week was filled with meal planning, meeting the other residents in my apartment building, grocery shopping and lots of long nights and early mornings due to jetlag. The culture shock for me happened when I first crossed the street and looked the wrong way. Australians drive on the opposite side of the street and car as we do so it took a minute to get used to.

Overall, the first week was a roller-coaster ride but I can finally see Footscray as my home away from home. It has only been a week, but I have this feeling that I have been here for months. It seems like I have always lived here which is such a reassuring feeling. I am now preparing to start class and settle into my new routine as an Aussie college student.

When it comes to academics, Victoria University uses a block scheduling system, meaning you have class 1 class or unit 3 days a week for 3 hours each for 4 weeks. After those 4 weeks, I will be switching to a new class. This method allows students to focus their energy on a single subject at a time.

I am excited to plan trips to see all that Melbourne and Australia have to offer. I have just returned home from a trip to Anglesea and the Great Ocean Road with other international students at my university. It was such a great experience. Australia is such a beautiful country with amazing activities such as surfing, Australian football, spotting wild kangaroos and koalas and so much sightseeing. I can’t wait to see what is in store for me next.

Starting to feel like home

Today marks a week and a day since I flew into Melbourne and it honestly feels like it has been so much longer.

These last two weeks have consisted of me settling in to my new home away from home, meeting and becoming friends with locals as well as other international students, getting to know my way around, and of course exploring this beautiful country.

Settling in has most definitely taken longer than I expected. To begin with, when I arrived, my luggage did not arrive with me. For my first 2 days in this unknown place, all I had was my book bag that I carried on the plane. Having very few of my personal belongings made me feel very homesick. That being said, I strongly recommend keeping at least one item that reminds you of home in your carry on. I had printed out photos a ton of my favorite photos of my friends and family and packed them in my carry on. I immediately was able to tape those photos on my wall. They instantly made my room feel a little less empty and made it feel more like home.

All of the locals I have met have been so welcoming to my international roommates and I. They have invited us to social events and helped us get to know our way around the town. I also went on a trip this last weekend that was for international students. I met and talked to other students from all around the world that are in the same position as I am. I have already interacted with so many people within these 2 weeks which has really helped me adjust. I was definitely nervous about going abroad and making friends in a different country. I am a very social person and I was nervous that I was going to feel very isolated and lonely. Many of the friend I have made have come naturally, like my roommates for example. We thankfully all get along so well and are currently trying to plan some trips together.

Getting to know my way around has been surprisingly easy. As I have been settling in and getting everything I need to live here for the next few months, I have taken multiple trips to K Mart, the local grocery store, and the bank. Within the first week, I was able to walk to all of these places without a GPS. It’s definitely weird not having a car but I love walking around as I do my errands. That is until I have 3 heavy grocery bags I have to carry home. I still don’t know exactly how to use all the modes of public transportation which would be very helpful in that situation. Learning how to use the bus and tram are next on my to-do list

My classes did not start until yesterday, February 24th and I arrived here on February 10th which gave me a lot of time to do some sight seeing. I have been to Brighton beach to tan and see the famous bathing boxes, visited the Queen Victoria Market, walked around and shopped in Melbourne, and went for a weekend trip to Anglesea in which I learned how to surf, play Footie (Australian Football), drove along The Great Ocean Road and saw The Twelve Apostles.

There are so many alleys full of graffiti all throughout Footscray and Melbourne

These pancakes at Queen Victoria Market were AMAZING!!

Brighton Beach Bathing Boxes

The beginning of the Great Ocean Road

The Twelve Apostles

Week 1…Still no British Accent!

Initially, when I got here I thought it was going to be cute hats, sweet accents, and utter politeness. What I discovered was that London was in so many ways, just like New York City. Which I loved, the savvy vibe that I was greeted with was so forward that it didn’t really take me by surprise. I just jumped right into it. When I got off the plane, my chaperone (who had an accent so thick I really couldn’t understand him) took me from the airport to my dorm and suggested we take “The Tube”, which is the British equivalent of the MTA/ NYC subway system. I was totally down for it. I lugged my heavy suitcases half a mile and we jumped on the Picadilly line. This was completely normal for people to take the tube after flights. I felt really bad though because my huge two suitcases and backpack took up a lot of room on the already fairly crowded train car. The tube took around an hour which was great because I was able to check out the entire train and what it was like for a regular commuter, something I was going to be soon enough! 

The way the Tube works is that there are six zones that you are able to travel through. Zone 1 being the center of the city and Zone 6 being the outermost zone. Traveling through zones requires an Oyster card or a contactless credit/debit card which you swipe in with. The more zones you travel through the more your fair increases. I wasn’t a huge fan of that because I was so used to the flat fair of $2.75 USD. While here initial fair starts at around 2.30 GDP, which is more than 2.75 USD! The tube is super fast and efficient and they come a lot more often and are way more reliable than NYC transportation. There are so many different lines you are able to take in order to travel on the tube. The lines I take the most are the Circle Line, the Picadilly Line, and the Metropolitan Line. Those get me the closest from my home station which is called Farringdon. The neighborhood I am situated in is absolutely adorable and reminds me of my home borough Brooklyn, it was super comforting to have this familiar feel and really made me appreciate the neighborhood much more. My dorm is set up in a suite-style so I have 4 other suitemates and we each have our own room and share two bathrooms and a kitchen/ common area. Having my own room here is awesome and I have a decent amount of space for all of my belongings. 

At first, it was a tad isolating just because I didn’t know anyone and I wasn’t sure what exactly to do with myself. There was just so much waiting out there I couldn’t fathom how I was going to do it all. After I unpacked I took a walk by myself just to feel out the neighborhood. It was Saturday so I expected to be greeted with a fair amount of kids on the street and of course, I was right. A block or two away is an amazing night club which happens to be one of the best in London. I saw a huge line of kids waiting to get in and everyone looked so cool. Style and fashion was the number one thing I noticed when I got here. Everyone had it! I was so excited to be immersed in it I could hardly wait until classes began. I was ready to dive in and become one of the British locals, I just didn’t know how! 

Before the hop across the pond…

The moment I realized I was about to truly live in another country for roughly six months happened sitting in JFK Airport completely alone. I was on my phone texting my parents, (even though they had dropped me off 30 minutes prior) and I looked up to see my plane arriving nearby to an open gate. It really hit me that I was going to be an individual with an infinite amount of paths in front of me the second I stepped onto that plane. It really did not feel real then and it still doesn’t feel real now.

Packing was the hardest thing to do for me. Living in another country for five months should require a lot of clothing, and for a fashion fanatic like me, it was impossible for me to fit my entire wardrobe in only two suitcases! I managed to pack a ridiculous amount of clothing and around six pairs of shoes which I definitely did not need. There were so many little things I didn’t realize I was going to need until I needed to do them. Simple things like a pair of scissors, a comb but not a brush and an essential being a pair of tweezers; were all necessities I didn’t realize were so crucial in my everyday life.

I also was not sitting around waiting to take off and get completely adjusted while still at home. The weeks leading up to me leaving, I was constantly going out with my friends, shopping and hanging with family rather than making lists and organizing myself. I wasn’t sure if I was in denial that I was leaving or rather that I just didn’t realize how much time had passed over winter break until suddenly I was waking up in a flat in London. I think that it is important to speak to yourself and remind yourself how much time you have left until you leave but to not let any anxieties or stress build up while you are waiting. In order for me to fully appreciate my time left at home, I had to do things that made it feel like I wasn’t leaving. Doing my regular shenanigans was totally my way of adjusting to another country/ the leaving period of the home. I knew I was going to miss my family and New Paltz, but I didn’t feel it was crucial for me to make a big deal of me leaving for so long. I didn’t want it to be a big deal because that would create some type of artificial pressure. I wanted to live my life here like any trip or experience. I said goodbye to my friends and family in a way that wasn’t passive but wasn’t over the top and I think that was one of the best things I could have done for myself in terms of adjusting or having any feelings of homesickness. 

Week 1: Preparation

As I think about the next 5 months ahead, in an unfamiliar country, with people I have not met yet, I became both excited and anxious. I have been waiting almost a year to take this journey to Melbourne, Australia to study at Victoria University. The endless paperwork and packing were finally all about to line up for the real thing, my great adventure in Aussie.

The moments leading up to that 25-hour trip across the world were exciting; ensuring all the paperwork was filled out, my bags were packed with just enough to comfort my homesickness but also room for all the new clothes and keepsakes I’d be collecting along the way. I began slowly saying goodbye to friends and family in my final week at home and taking off work to make sure everything was complete before stepping onto that plane.

I was a resident at New Paltz for my first year and a half, so saying goodbye (or see you soon rather) was not an unfamiliar concept for me. My hometown was four hours from the New Paltz campus, so I was a little more prepared than most to travel such a far distance for school. One thing that helped settle me was knowing I could video chat and text/call my friends and family whenever I was feeling low. Or just wanted to see a familiar face.

Taking this next step and finally traveling to Melbourne after I had dreamed of it for so long was so liberating. I was ready to leave the cold, snowy winters of New York and enter the sunny, warm summers of Australia.