(Writing from 1st March, 2 weeks since arrival)
I’m walking on a wooden path when a sign warning me about venomous snakes appears. I amusingly laugh and take pictures before I head on my way. It’s a relatively short walk, but as I walk I reflect about this weekend. Over this one weekend I’ve seen wild kangaroos, gone surfing, played AFL, partied with newly made friends, and even came across a giant spider. Finally, I make my way to the Twelve Apostles, certainly a tourist trap but one that turns out to be well worth the visit. I gaze upon the sandstone rocks as my heart sinks to my stomach and my heart stops pumping for half a second. It’s not a fear of heights, I could care less about the hundred or so feet (meters?) between me and the ocean. But it’s a feeling unlike any other, that stops you dead in your tracks and makes you gasp in awe. It was this moment I realized I was in a whole new world, ten thousand miles from everything I ever knew. And I was in love.
Signing up for the Orientation Trip was one of the first things I knew I wanted to do right away, even before I left. As soon as I saw the email about it, I signed up. “Jon, this is the first trip you’ve heard about, you can’t just spend money on everything that appeals to you,” my family cautioned me. Perhaps they were right, I knew I would have to budget myself and my excursions, especially if I wanted to make it Sydney or Uluru someday. But, budgeting was a concern for later (NOT an ideal attitude while studying abroad, or going through life in general for that matter), and I signed up, eager to make friends and get out to see the more remote parts of Australia.
At first, I was a little anxious or even reluctant to go. I had to wake up early and was still pretty tired from jet-lag, and the weather for the weekend didn’t look too ideal going into it. It was a two hour drive to our accommodation in Anglesea, and I was still nervous about meeting new people. As it turns out, I made friends quickly, even though at times it was hard to remember everyone’s names and where they were from. I realized fairly quickly that despite not being a huge group (well, it was still big to me, around 50) there were LOTS of other people, all coming from different parts of the world I’ve only ever imagined. Friendly Canadians, Brits, Germans, Mexicans, Dutch… the list goes on. Seeing all these people shows you just how big the world is, and watching everyone interact with each other is really a life changing experience. Hearing everyone ask about where each other is from and what they do for fun and what brought them to Australia makes you realize that despite the geographical difference, there’s so much you can have in common with people from thousands of miles away. Really, we’re not all that different.
Going into the trip itself, first thing first was a trip surfing. Unfortunately, because our group was large, we had to split some of our group to go with another (meaning me, and one other guy). I’d never gone surfing, and was pretty certain I’d fail at it. But despite my somewhat low expectations, I was eager to try, and as I slipped on a waterproof suit and boarded up my confidence slowly grew. In the water, I lay on my board, experimenting and playing around with what worked and what didn’t. Most of it didn’t. But, I was determined to do it, and due to my persistence (and thanks to the help of the instructors) I tried, and tried, and tried, each time getting closer. Finally, I found myself on top of the board, riding a wave with the proudest smile on my face. It didn’t last long before I lost balance and fell into the water, but you know what? I did it!
Afterward, I walked along the beach while the rest of group took their turn at surfing. As I mentioned earlier, it was relatively easy to talk to people, even despite my shy personality. I made several friends throughout the day, spending a good portion of the night playing games and telling stories. In the morning, I ended up exploring the town a little with friends before joining altogether for an AFL game (Australian Rules Football, big in Victoria). Again, I knew I would be terrible at this sport, seeing as I’m not very athletically inclined or coordinated, but had an absolute blast. Shortly after that, a hike in the Australian bush. This was one of the things I was looking forward to most: seeing the natural landscape, watching kangaroos bounce about, witnessing the great beauty of a world yet to discover. But it was even more than I had expected it to be. I was astonished at how different the plants and birds looked and sounded, marveled at the views of the distant rainforest and waterways. But even more than that, it gave me the chance to connect with others, and I was overcome the entire way by this great feeling of happiness.
That leads me to the moment at the Twelve Apostles I mentioned earlier. I stood there, gazing across the turbulent Pacific Ocean waves crashing against these beautiful limestone rocks. I was here. I made it. I was in a world unlike any other, and it was no where near how I imagined it. It was so much more. This feeling, which I can only describe as both terribly anxious and satisfying, is a feeling like none other. To know that you, who two years prior would never have expected anything as great as this moment to happen in your life, were now at the top of the world. It’s the feeling of discovering a long sought treasure chest, of marrying the love of your life after years of loneliness, of triumphantly gazing across a kingdom as newly crowned. The feeling of discovering that there is so much out there in this world than you ever realized, and it’s even more beautiful than you imagined.
Just watch out for the snakes on the way out. This is Australia, after all.
(Writing from 1st March, 2 weeks since arrival)