(Written from 19th June, final week)
Unlike my other posts, this is going to be more of a list of the biggest 5 things I learned while studying abroad, followed by an explanation. They’re in no particular order.
1. Expectation- Everything while I’m abroad is going to be exactly the way I want it to be, and it’s going to feel like an extended, worry-free vacation. Australia is going to be the problem free resort I had hoped it would be.
Reality- Not everything is going to be the way I want it and it’s not going to be 100% peachy keen. Although a different life, life in Australia comes with its worries, struggles, sadness, and down right annoying moments just like it does in America.
I think I learned rather quickly that despite everything, my ‘plans’ don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. Even as I situated into my room, I realised maybe this wasn’t how I expected it with my small and dirty room. Homework, as easy as it is compared to home, is still a nuisance, especially when it piles up all at once. The train gets crowded at times and it’s hard to find a spot to sit when you really want one. Your friends make plans to go out and you don’t always make the cut. Your roommate stays up until 2 in the morning talking to his father on the phone while you’re trying to sleep. It rains when you run out money on your myki and have to walk home instead of taking the bus. And then, sometimes, even in paradise, life just gives a bad day. There’s never going to be a truly ‘worry free’ world wherever you go. But you roll with the punches, make the best of everything, and in the end it turns out alright. All in all, the good stuff far outweighs the bad.
2. Expectation- The big trips I do and big accomplishments while here are going to make this trip great. I’ll do tons of life changing things that few back home will ever experience, and these extraordinary feats will shape me into a giant.
Reality- The big stuff is nice and all, but in reality, it’s the small, everyday things, that will make me remember Australia the most. The ordinary, mundane things are what really shapes this world as something unique and special.
It’s not an understatement to say I’ve done a lot of big things here that few people get to experience. I went scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, saw the stars in the Outback, cuddled kangaroos, and sailed across Sydney and Tasmania. But while those memories will last forever, I think the little things are what has made this trip stand out to me. The sounds of the ravens, parakeets, and magpies that are still so unfamiliar to me. Long walks along the river taking it all in. Cooking dinner with friends and a game of pool afterward. Walks to get milk from Coles, or getting ice cream from Flinders Street station. Weird plants in the gardens, beautiful buildings in the city, the trams running through the city day and night… it doesn’t all sound like a lot, at least, not just one of these things. But all together, it makes this place special, and I’m truly going to miss (almost) every bit of it.
3. Expectation- My family is going to miss me while I’m gone, but our relationship will change for the better as I’m gone. Still, my family will grow and prosper as it always has without me in the picture, and they’ll adjust as I become further from home.
Reality- My family REALLY misses me, and while our relationships have changed for the better, they need me. Our closeness can’t be changed and despite everything, family always comes first.
My family was certainly hesitant as I told them I was thinking about studying abroad, in Australia at that, for the first time. I’d only just gotten away from home at New Paltz, and now I was going from an hour’s drive to the other side of the globe. We’ve always been close, and although so much was pushing me to go, my closeness to my family was the major thing holding me back. I’d be leaving at a critical moment for my sister: her last semester of high school, and I’d miss her birthday, prom, and graduation, among many other adventures. I’d miss my step mom’s birthday, Father’s Day, and their anniversary. And although we’ve adjusted and are doing well, we still need each other. A lot. I’d call my dad at midnight because I was having an emotional night and needed someone to talk to. My sister would confide in me about her friends and high school drama as always. I’d ask my step mom how to make a certain dish or accept my student loans next semester (uggghh…). Some days are hard without family by your side. Maybe I don’t know where my future will take me. But if it’s five minutes from home, or the other side of the world, my family is always going to be there no matter what, and no distance or time will ever change that.
4. Expectation- I’ll make a lot of close and lasting friendships here, maybe even find a girlfriend, and they will be the beginning of a new social life I always wanted. My connections with my friends (and girlfriend) will make me happier and better off than I would be alone.
Reality- Despite having built friendships here, I’ve learned how to be happy on my own. I don’t need dozens of friends, I don’t need a girlfriend, because I’ve learned how to make my life meaningful to me.
This may sound like a cheap excuse for why I’m not bringing back a beautiful Aussie sheila back with me like a lot of people (including myself) were expecting. Believe me, I wanted to. But one thing I definitely realized while here was that happiness doesn’t come from anyone or anything but yourself. Don’t get me wrong, being with cool people in an exotic place having fun adventures is great. But I don’t need any of that to make me happy, I need to make myself happy by choosing to be happy myself. I made great friends during this trip, and I’ve become close with many of them. But many I won’t see again after this, and there’s some who have already left. The places I’ve been are fantastic and beautiful and something straight out of my imagination. But again, the likelihood of seeing some of these places again, at least in the same way, are slim. So all in all, it really comes down to me. What I make of this life, and how I chose to live it. People and places change, and as sad as it is to say they don’t always last forever. Only you last as long as you do. Your memories, your character, your happiness.
5. Expectation- I’m going to find out what my purpose is in Australia and be fully ready to take it from here onward. It will be an eye-opening experience on my way to discovering how my life will unfold.
Reality- Being in Australia has made me question even more what my goal is in life or where I’ll end up. I have even less idea what my plan is, if I have one, and I’m seriously questioning absolutely everything, including myself, going forward.
This was indeed the biggest expectation I had for Australia. That I would find answers to the many questions I’d begun to ask myself while here. What do I do after school? Would I find a partner, a home, a career? Would I discover who I really am, find my true purpose in life? The short answer is, no. At least, not yet.
While being in Australia has truly been a life changing experience, it seems I now have more questions than answers when it comes to figuring out ‘life’. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s better to have unanswered questions than wrong answers. But if there’s one thing I learned here, it’s that this world is so much bigger than I imagined it to be. There used to be one path that I thought I would follow, and it didn’t take me out of my comfort zone or very far from home. Then I started looking at path A and path B, path B being more of a dream than a plausible direction. Now I see there’s thousands of paths, and no single path is the ‘right’ one. There is no right answer, and it kind of scares of me because with only one year before graduating I need to figure things out soon.
Maybe, you never do. Maybe we all just drift around through life, hoping for answers to pop up along the way. In time I guess all things work out exactly the way they’re supposed to. They did when I came to Australia. They did when I chose to go to New Paltz. They even did when I lost my mother to cancer four and a half years ago. So, I guess I’ll just have to trust that it’ll all work out one day exactly the way it’s supposed to. I’ll find what I want to do after school. I’ll find a girl and a home and a career. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find out what my purpose is along the way.