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!
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.
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.
A grilled cheese with mac and cheese from a food truck at a festival!
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
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.
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!!
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
FINALLY the time has come where I will soon be leaving for my study abroad program. I have been anticipating my departure for the last few months, and especially throughout these last few weeks. I have had a bit of an extension on my winter break since my University begins later than my home institution. With this extension on my break, I have had way too much free time to say the least.
As I prepare to leave in about a week for my study abroad program, it is slowly beginning to feel real. I have my two luggages and my carry on book bag that I have started to pack some of my life into. I have read many articles that say Melbourne, my destination can experience all 4 seasons in 1 day which makes it a little tricky to decide on what clothing I should pack out of my very large wardrobe. I have been watching Youtube videos of other students that have studied in Melbourne which has definitely helped the packing process.
I have also started saying goodbye to my friends and family members which of course is hard. I know that I am going to have the time of my life while abroad, but I am of course scared about getting homesick. As a commuter student, I have never really been too far from home other than a week long vacation. To help the homesickness that may arise, I am currently thinking of things I should pack that remind me of home. So far I have printed out some of my favorite photos with my loved ones off of my phone.
The rest of this week, I will continue packing, seeing friends and family, and making sure I have everything I need to fly to the land down under.
As a person who absolutely loves the warm weather, I am so excited to leave the cold, snowy New York weather for the hot sun in Australia.
At last, I’ve made it through this long journey to make my way back home. Months of agonising have led to this point: return to the states, return to home, return to family and friends and the great wonders I once took for granted here. As the one chapter of my life has drawn to an end, it has shifted and made way for the beginning of another. Of course, I was extremely anxious about it all at first, when I only had several weeks in Australia left. But as I mentioned before, a certain calm came over me in my final days that everything would be fine, a heavenly reassurance that I could do this. Months of change had made me a new person, but how would that person adjust to a sudden return to “normal”?
All in all, I adjusted a lot quicker than I thought I would. Some things just didn’t seem right at first: cars driving on the right side, adding tip at the diner, and the surprising lack of accents I now deeply miss, all hitting me within about an hour of landing in New York. But overtime, I settled back into normality, and only made the mistake of driving on the left side of the road once or twice. The big things that define life here came back pretty quickly, but there’s definitely small parts of me that are still tuned to living in Melbourne. A month ago I could find myself taking a random trip into the city (Melbourne) within half an hour. Now, if I want to go the city (New York), it takes three hours (I could just drive a half hour to Albany, but Albany isn’t much compared to either Melbourne or NYC). I still find myself using slang and lingo that my family and friends don’t quite understand (“Macca’s” should be self-explanatory, but it just isn’t I guess). Living at home, oddly enough, has been the hardest thing to deal with. Having spent so much time on my own, instinct tells me to make food when I’m hungry, or that I need to clean up after my dirty roommate. But now, I don’t have to make, plan, or buy my meals, and I don’t have to worry about running the place all by myself. I wouldn’t say I miss buying groceries, cleaning toilets, and doing the dishes, but it just doesn’t feel quite right to not be doing it anymore.
My family was the one thing that I didn’t need much getting used to again. I’d been in pretty close contact with my parents and sister, and occasionally reach out to my grandparents or cousins, so for the most part I didn’t have to go telling everyone every little detail of my adventures. Of course, everyone wanted to see all the pictures I took, and there’s still the occasional story to tell, but overall it didn’t take much time to ‘catch up’. That’s the wonderful thing about family, I think: five months apart and you come back and you pick up the same conversation you had five months ago. That’s not to say things haven’t changed; they certainly have, and in more ways than I expected. My grandparents’ kitchen has new floor tiles, my one cousin’s voice has gotten deeper with hitting puberty, and my youngest cousin now looks more like an actual person than like a baby squish (to quote my sister). My sister’s graduated high school and is kind of an adult and I’m still not sure what to think of that. But all the same, we’re family and best friends, and that feeling of reuniting with her and my parents was so insanely heartwarming I can’t stop smiling when I think about it.
I’ve done quite a bit since being back: I’ve gone to car races on the Fourth of July weekend, gone camping, watched a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, and went to Massachusetts, among other things. Slowly but surely, I’ve been adjusting and returning to normality. Like I’ve said though, there really is no true return to ‘normal’. There can’t be. There’s a lot I miss about Australia. I miss friends, and random outings either with them or just by myself. I miss seeing the library and walking along the river. I miss the birds and the food and the locals. Getting off at Flinders Street, a milk run at Coles, grabbing some chips of ‘Lord of the Fries’. The independence, and no worries attitude. The ability to explore something new and unseen. But I guess, every day is a new day, with something unseen on the horizon. It’s all a matter of perspective. Maybe I’ll make it back to Australia. Maybe there’s more planned for me here. But whatever is on that horizon will be a beauty. And I can’t wait to see where it’ll take me.
Well, I suppose this is it. I sit here now, with only an hour to go until I board flight AC038 to Vancouver. It’s a 15-hour flight, followed by a 5-and-a-half-hour flight to Toronto, and finally 54 minutes to La Guardia. I found the gate. I made it past security. I made it to the airport, and out of UniLodge. I have overcome every obstacle, every barrier preventing me from coming here and shaping me into a new and better person. I have climbed mountains to get to where I am today, and now, after many months of living a new life, I return to my life of old.
Australia has changed me in more ways than I can even imagine. I expected something big, finding the key to a grand treasure chest or the filling of a slot I’ve yearned to be truly full again. But instead, I think I’ve changed in many, little ways; ways that may not seem all that significant on their own but together have made me a new person. Amongst the great and many adventures and life changing events, there’s one calm moment that I believe shaped me the most. May 8th, around 9:30 at night, I stepped out of the rental car we took to the Outback. We’d come to see the Outback at night, watching the stars in a world without man’s interference. I knew the sight would be incredible, but I never expected it to be so full of light. God, you could see the entire galaxy out there. One star still pointed out to me, one brighter than all the others.
It wasn’t just the Outback, though it was easily most visible there. Walking through Salamanca Place in Hobart, or Circular Quay in Sydney, if you looked hard enough. The first night in Cairns, right after the rain had cleared. Philip Island, as penguins swam ashore, and on the beach along the Great Ocean Road after a semi-successful surfing lesson. On the walk back to UniLodge from the city, or laying in the grass on the Maribyrnong River. That one guiding light, always with me. I have to believe wholeheartedly that the same light that guided me through Australia will also guide me once I come home. It always has. Why wouldn’t it now?
The experiences I’ve had here may have been short, but their impact on me will last forever. I like to think that my time in Australia has made me a better person, that who I am leaving is a stronger, more confident person than the one who arrived. That the same light that guided me here will follow me home, and that I’ll continue to do everything possible to keep shining the light. I may not know the future, but I know my potential to make it the best it can possibly be. In truth, I’ve been fearful of return to normal ever since I first landed. But I guess, when you think about it, there is no return to my old life. Life doesn’t move you backwards; it moves you forward. Maybe I don’t know what’s beyond this airport. Maybe I do. But whatever happens next will help build an even newer life, a new chapter even greater than this where finally, I find out who I really am and what I’m meant to be.
(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.