Exploring your host country is arguably the best aspect of studying abroad. Everywhere has something new, exciting, and different to experience and learn about. With that being said, i’m unsure if there is anything similar to this at other universities, but Kingston University has a class exclusively for study abroad students that I would definitely recommend. It’s called “British Life & Culture” (BLC) and consists of a weekly 3 hour lecture plus field trips! It did cost a bit extra in order to pay for transportation and tickets to places, but it was 100% worth it.
If it weren’t for my BLC class, I most likely wouldn’t have gotten around to seeing and experiencing some of the places we went. Even if I did, it would have been a complete different experience since we talked about the background of places we were visiting during lectures. For example, one lecture discussed the film industry in England, how it differed from the film industry in America, etc. before we took a trip to the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studios. Or learning about the cultural and religious backgrounds of UK citizens before visiting a Gurdwara.
What I got out of this class were some awesome experiences (and great pictures). Obviously all of the trips we took were fun, but going there for educational reasons also really helped me get a better grasp of British culture. One of my favorite places we went to was Parliament, and although i’m not a big political or history fan, I couldn’t stop holding onto every word the tour guide said. The UK government is run very differently from the US, and being able to walk through some of the chambers in which important meetings are held was so intriguing. We were shown where the Queen stands and waits before walking down a super long hallway and heard other cool stories.
Another place we visited was Bath, where we got to see and learn about the history of the city and the Roman Baths. We got a tour of some of the city’s historical landmarks and walked down the path Jane Austen writes about at the end of her novel Persuasion. Nothing about the city is modern, and it was a nice treat to see something so different from London. Very few things compare to the beauty of this small city, and it’s so out of the way from where I am I probably would never have visited on my own.
It’s sad to think about all the places I could’ve potentially missed out on seeing without this class. It also helped prevent a lot of culture shock considering our first class talked about English stereotypes and things we had noticed were different so far. Another thing that made it a great opportunity was that I knew who all the other abroad students were, so it opened the door for many to make new friends or at least see a familiar face on campus. We were just a bunch of foreigners in one big room.
The only con to this class was the workload. In my situation, this class isn’t transferring over as any other class for me. I took care of all my GE requirements freshman year. So it makes it quite annoying that I still had to put effort in so it wouldn’t negatively affect my GPA when it wasn’t going towards any class. I’m still unsure if it’s even gonna count for Liberal Arts credits because i switched into it after I got here, so I haven’t spoken to my advisor about it. I learned halfway through that I could’ve audited the course, meaning I would’ve been able to go on the trips but not worry about the work. So, if you’re thinking about coming to Kingston University, I highly suggest auditing this class if it won’t transfer over as a class you need. Definitely worth the 90 pounds.
(Writing from 28th Mar, 1 day until break and week 5 of classes)
I wake up to my roommate’s alarm at six in the morning. I pretend to stay asleep, indeed I wish I were asleep myself. Six is WAY too earlier to arise. He goes to get ready for his job distributing flyers, and leaves around 6:30 or so. I close my eyes to sleep once again, only to wake up to the alarm at 7:45. The Circle of Life blasts from my phone jumping me awake, as well as likely half of Footscray. I’m really not that heavy of a sleeper, but I need motivation to wake up. I don’t have it at quarter to eight on a Wednesday. Nevertheless, I have to get up, and by eight, I do. Opening my box of Froot Loops is a disappointment, they’re not as fun and colorful as they are back home and cost a hell of a lot more. The milkaholic I am, I chug down about half a liter of milk; telling myself I need to limit. It really has become a problem, not so much for my body but for my wallet.
It only takes ten minutes tops to actually get ready: wash my hair, put a shirt on, and brush. But like a blossom opening up in the sunlight, I need time to warm up. I listen to encouraging music, making me feel strong and ready for the day, and pray for my family back home, as well as the chance to brighten the world. By 8:50, I leave my room with my backpack for the dreaded class: Irish History. Not being Irish myself, I don’t exactly care much for the class, nor do I enjoy the long lectures. I still learn, today about emigration (seems the Irish didn’t care for Ireland either), and a good part of is somewhat interesting.
My phone accidently goes off in class, which I quickly silence. Morning is the best time for reaching home, and my sister texts me either some joke she finds funny or some problem she needs my help with. Surprisingly, I miss a lot less from home than I thought I would. The food and cheap prices mostly, but most everything can be compromised by something else here. But if there’s one thing I do truly and genuinely miss, it’s my sister. We’re best friends, and it really does suck being so far away from someone you love so much. She finished up her senior acting troupe show over the weekend, White Christmas, which I desperately wish I could have seen. Of course, I also want to see her get her driver’s license, decide where to go to college, go to prom, and graduate high school in June. But in the same way this trip is making me more independent and ready to take on the world, I have to believe is happening to her as well. I love it here, but I cannot wait to see the woman she’s become in June, and be able to share all our stories and adventures once again.
With class FINALLY over at 10:00 (can an hour really pass so slowly?) I have two hours free. The room is open and empty, so I head there. I grab my laptop and start editing some pictures I took from Saturday. I went with some mates out to Ballarat Wildlife Sanctuary, a long trip away but one well worth it. They had a good enough amount of animals to go and view, something which I love to do, but the main attraction is the free ranging kangaroos that come up to people for food and attention. We spent hours upon hours with them, feeding, petting, and cuddling the roos like you would dogs (stay away from the koalas, I’m told they carry STD’s). On paper, it’s not something that sounds overly exciting or thrilling, but it really is quite the quintessential Aussie moment that I’ll definitely carry forever.
Lunch was next on the priority list, and I heated up some left-over Mac and Cheese from the night before. I’d cooked dinner for myself and the other mates, and although this was my first time cooking it, it turned out surprisingly well. Being here has taught me a lot about how much goes into making food: having to buy it, prepare it, clean it up, and constantly repeating the process. I’ve also learned quite a bit about cleaning, which is that things need to be cleaned, often. And while I had to clean at home as well, it was not nearly on the scale of a whole apartment room (which in these moments seem much bigger than upon first arrival). Though I’m not a neat freak, it’s clear that I took the relative cleanliness, or at least organization, of home for granted, and that here I have to be more consistent and dedicate some effort to the task. Unfortunately, while I received this ground breaking revelation, it has yet to hit my roommate.
Class was to start again at noon, and after cleaning up lunch I made my way back to campus. This class, The World Before 1700, is probably my favorite: I like the professor, the content, delivery, and time frame. We learn about the Romans, a point of history that always fascinated me. The lecture goes on for longer than Irish History does, but I don’t mind. After this class, I head down to the river, finding a nice spot on the grass to spend the hour long intermission I have. I have no agenda, no plans other than be back at three. It’s special to sit here along the river, listening to and watching all the strange Australian birds that I’ve come to love. They’re much different than the ones at home, parrots and magpies instead of robins and mourning doves. I sit here reflecting on how special it really is for me to be here, in Australia. There’s more to explore over the mid semester break, which for me starts tomorrow with the aquarium. I certainly still have a tourist mindset, but I genuinely love it here. I feel new and transformed, like I have a new and special life here. I don’t know that I want to leave.
Of course, I must at some point. I head to class again, a continuation of the last one as a tutorial rather than lecture. I sit next to Matt, one of the Americans I came to Australia with and a good friend. Class is decent, although the quiz he’s given us appears to require a bit more effort than I’d care for. Discovering it easier to do the quizzes after class, Matt and I team up and head back to his place to knock it out before break. His suite is much bigger than my room, though not as ‘clean’ (clean being extremely relative). The quiz takes about 20 minutes, and afterward I decide to hang around a little and watch some TV and eat some cake. I get to talk to some of his mates, who although I don’t know well are all good guys, if a little crazy, and with a good sense of humor. But, overtime the introvert in me calls, and I make my way back to my room for dinner. I try to avoid spending much time in my room, there’s not much to do there anyway and I can easily do that at home. The oven is in the kitchen in the common area, so I head there with a pizza to warm up. I run into Joseph, another close New Paltz mate, and briefly discuss our plans for the aquarium tomorrow and break overall. While other friends of ours are doing adventurous trips to Tasmania or Queensland for break, due to our regard for our budget we ended up stuck in Melbourne (being responsible sucks!). But, I cannot complain, as there’s still much to see and I’m sure to have a rip snorter (great time).
In the evening, I sit on the terrace on the fourth floor (really the fifth, Australians number their floors weird). With pizza in my belly and a day full of excitement, I find inspiration to write part of my book, something I had been able to do less of at New Paltz but have been trying to pick up again coming here. The tales of glory such as that of Rome, of adventurous trips across the world, of calm moments on the water and laughs with friends molding into a beautiful piece which I can only hope one day I manage to finish and publish. I look as the sun sets across the beautiful Australian sky. It’s beautiful so far, but I still believe in more. I may not yet know where it will take me, or where it will end, but I am assured that this will be a damn good story. And I’m glad to be living it, watching it unfold before my eyes one small piece at a time.
Australia has been amazing so far! From seeing Kangaroos, to crazy spiders, to exploring Melbourne my experience has been great. However, that does not mean there have not been down sides. During my time here I’ve noticed that many Americans who study abroad do so with tight budgets while many Europeans and people from other places spend money a lot more freely. I have often found my self jealous of my friends who are skydiving in New Zealand, or sailing the Whitsunday isles. Now you may or may not feel this way when you study abroad but if you do just remember it is a blessing to be abroad and you are one of very few students who take the opportunity to do so. Embrace it. Embrace your local area, embrace the culture, and honestly just take it all in.
Now heres how I did spring break on a budget. First I looked at all the stuff within Melbourne that I had wanted to do while I was here and then I crammed it into one week. I went to the Melbourne Sealife Aquarium and did a glass bottom boat tour from the top of the tank! I went to the shrine of remembrance (one of the best sites to see the sunset). I went to the Marvels Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N in anticipation of the new avengers movie! I checked out the royal botanical gardens where I heard some strange birds. I went to the National gallery of Victoria and the Bunjilka museum where I learned about aboriginal culture. I did a tour of the parliament building and got to sit in the seats within the lower chamber! To top it all off I saw my favorite artist in person got her autograph and she called me her love. Needless to say my life is complete. While I didn’t get to do anything necessarily exotic I still visited many things unique to Melbourne and actually managed to have a great week!
I started out this trip with 144 days worth of time in Australia. Suddenly I am down to 92. Time really does fly. Next thing I know I will be on a flight back home and I intend on making every second count until then.
(Written from 18 March, 1 month after arrival)
When I was a senior in high school, I remember stressing about leaving home to go to college. I wasn’t ready to leave home. I was still weak and hurting after only a year prior losing my mom to cancer. I couldn’t possibly do it, go out on my own and experience a new life, my life. I only barely found myself able to find the strength to leave high school for community college. I was still at home, still safe, still secure. Only, there were small things pushing me ever slowly toward independence and life in the adult world. Finding a job of my own free will rather than forced by my family. Slowly exploring the world around me with my new driver’s license and experiencing both the freedoms and chains that come with having a car. Spending time alone, even for an introvert like myself more than I would have liked, but discovering myself and the strength I had inside but until now never believed in.
Naturally, when 2 years of community college ended, I was a different man, changed and more able to take on the world. Of course, I still had my fear, my doubts of old when it came to truly be leaving home. But I had persevered then, why not at New Paltz? As it turned out, I was even more excited to spend the semester away and grow than I had thought. Not only was I ready for leaving the nest, I was flourishing in this new life. So it came as a shock, even to me, that I was now planning to take such a big risk as travelling to Australia. What I had at New Paltz I loved and was comfortable with. And now, for the first time since losing my mother, for the first time in years I had been genuinely happy and at peace, I was about to throw everything away for the unknown. This was too much, wasn’t it?
It now occurs to me that in a mere four weeks I have accomplished more than in four years of grief. Not to say I haven’t made great strides then: four jobs, a driver’s license, a high school and then associate’s degree. Even half a book written (one day, look for my name on the best seller’s list!) But I have proven to myself over these years, and especially over this single month, that I can accomplish so much more than I once thought I could. Here, I’ve discovered a new world and have learned how to craft it into something personal. Things as simple as learning what foods I do and don’t like, or how make a train ride or the walk home more enjoyable. I’ve found my favorite spots to write my book, times and routes to walk and explore, things to do with new found friends. I’ve learned that I not only can I survive away from home, ten thousand miles away from everything I knew, but that I can, in a way, make this a home.
In a month, I took my first commercial flight (to the other side of the world, mind you), and ended up in an undiscovered world but making my own. I found out I’m actually a decent cook (too bad I don’t eat more!) and learned how to budget and prioritize my money reasonably well along the way. Through trial and error I mastered how to navigate the city and public transportation, and on several trips realized why you can never be too safe on the Australian beach (jellies, rip tides, sunburn… ‘thankfully’ I’ve only experienced the latter). I’ve surfed, hiked in the bush, booked trips to Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef for April, survived being lost in the city at night, gone to horse races, made dinner for friends… All things that may not seem like much, but all things I never thought I could do before, until this trip.
And I continue to grow, as my mom would wish, discovering what it means to be Jon Kline and how my future lies ahead of me. I can only imagine, if the success I’ve had in this amount of time is so great, what more is to come from this? Maybe nothing. But I have to believe that my destiny lies ahead, and that slowly, I may be finally discovering it and unleashing my true potential.
(Written 9 March, 2 weeks into class and 3 weeks since arrival)
There’s a dreadful moment in every student’s life when they realize that break is over, and class is soon to become a defining factor in their schedule for the next several months. It’s a fear that intensifies with age and progress throughout the years in school: while first graders might not mind so much, middle schoolers are disheartened, and high schoolers generally appalled. But, despite negative connotations, the structure of school has benefits to organization and preparation for life in the future, as well as other unexpected perks, or so I’ve been told. This moment of realization happened shortly after my triumph at the Twelve Apostles, on the way back from a wonderful orientation weekend, and knowing that the next day, I’d have to settle into a new structure in which school once again dominates all aspects. Further, I wasn’t certain if staying in touch with everyone was as certain as I’d assured myself, and that perhaps the ‘friendships’ I formed were only temporary.
My first class started at 4:00 on Monday afternoon, leaving me plenty of time to sulk and complain before heading to campus. The campus is actually very pretty, despite the fact that good chunks of it, and the area surrounding UniLodge, are always under construction (not too different from upstate NY in that regard, especially Albany). It’s not too difficult to find your way around, with every building and class clearly labeled, so I ended up making it to my first lecture about 15 minutes early. I walked in the door to a big theatre style room, which would soon become dotted with about 40 students. Scanning the room you could see no one was dressed sloppily, which was somewhat (much) different from New Paltz, and a wide range of students from different backgrounds and ages. The professor soon entered, set up her presentation, and began. And by began, I mean, began. There was, of course, and introduction to the course, but within half an hour we were on to class material and learning. Another strange concept, being used to at least a week if not more of basic orientation.
That was over at 5, and I was quickly on my way to my next class: a tutorial. Each unit, in general, consists of both a lecture and a tutorial, with the lectures being used mainly to cover content as a big group, and the tutorial to apply it in a more personalized manner. So this class, serving as one of the tutorials for the previous lecture, was only half the size of the previous, with the professor more personal and giving us time to introduce both ourselves and the concepts of the class. Within the hour, we were done, and I was on my way back to the lodge. Two classes down, six to go. Tuesday’s and Thursday’s being my free days, my next day of class of Wednesday, at 9:00 in the morning, and naturally, it was the class I already knew I didn’t really want to take but had to because of a lack of alternatives. After the dreary lecture, a long but somewhat well split up day letting me go home whenever I didn’t have class for an hour or two, and ending altogether at 4:00. Friday would follow a similar schedule, with minor differences but still a 9-4 day.
Overall, classes seem easier than at New Paltz, but there’s a lot less that goes into the grade itself. Whereas at NP, the grades are split between several different factors, here there are only three or four, which means you have to focus heavily on those parts (usually a final exam, essay, presentation, and something else). In general, I find the lectures are more informative but more boring, and the tutorials more entertaining but somehow less useful personally. Taking mostly history classes, the style is very easy to get used to across the board, and the way the classes are designed means that you only need to focus on one section at a time, which works well. My favorite class is probably either The World Before 1700, a history class spanning most of earlier history, and Impossible Worlds, my one elective in creative writing and something I really want to get in to more. Least favorite is definitely Irish History: I didn’t really want to take the class, and I’m not at all Irish or connected to the Irish (that said, I’m learning a lot and some parts are somewhat interesting).
Although a certain amount of effort has to be put toward school, I still find plenty of opportunities to do things, and with my schedule now well divided it’s easier to prioritize and plan what do when. Instead of just wandering the streets of Melbourne aimlessly (which don’t get me wrong, is definitely something to do), I now actually have to plan where to go and when, giving the overall experience more structure. Last Saturday I went with a few friends through the school to a wildlife sanctuary, and loved seeing all the cute Australian animals (as well as some scarier ones!) Another ‘welcome to Australia’ moment, seeing all the local wildlife is something I certainly enjoyed, and the koalas are even cuter in person! I’m still able to go into the city on non-class days if I like, or even after class, and one thing I especially enjoy is heading down to the river as a nice respite from a long day of classes. Tomorrow, I’m planning on going to the horse races for the day, and after that, who knows?
Unfortunately, as I had anticipated, some of the bonds I made over orientation trip were indeed temporary. While there are many I’d like to keep in touch with and hang out with, due to both a result of smaller more exclusive groups being formed as well as different schedules and plans for the semester (and also a good part due to me not being overly outgoing), the vast number of new acquaintances turned out to be just that. That said, everyone I met is still a friendly face, and as it turns out, I began to fall into my own smaller group of friends as well. Each of them I’ve gotten to know more and more, and we actively try to spend time with each other and do things. It really is strange: one month ago I hadn’t met most of these people, and suddenly we’ve become close friends. But, that’s part of the weird transformation you go through when you study abroad. And honestly, if I come home having made just one or two friendships that’s close and meaningful and lasts post-Australia, I’m happy.
(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.
Australia has been incredible so far. I still have not fully grasped that I am here! That being said there have been some adjustments I’ve had to make. One of the biggest adjustments is getting used to living with five people. Back at New Paltz I have had the same Roomate for almost two years so this is definitely different.
I thought Australians speak English this will be easy! I was wrong. While day to day conversations flow fine there are always a few words I don’t know or I misunderstand. For example, my first day I was given a tour of the residence hall (Unilodge@VU) and was told over there is the ‘lift room’. Now I know that some people call elevators lifts but when I heard lift and room I assumed it was a gym. I was like “wow you guys have a gym?!” In return I received a confused and concerned look. It was the first mistake of many but it is all part of the experience!
Now onto one of the most difficult things I’ve had to adjust to. Food. Don’t get me wrong Melbourne is known as the food capital of Australia and has many great offerings. However, bacon is not one of them. Their bacon is literally ham and it is disgraceful(just kidding). All jokes aside it has been rough trying to find bacon. Also it took me two weeks before I learned how to order pizza. I went to a pizzeria which sold pizza by the slice (which is rare here) and I asked for “a plain slice”. The guy looked at me perplexed. I then asked for a cheese slice. Once again he was confused. Then I said just a pizza with tomato sauce and cheese, finally he responded “we don’t make that here”. I left upset I couldn’t get pizza and thinking what kind of pizzeria doesn’t have a regular slice. Well long story short after talking to my classmates I learned I needed to ask for a margarita slice. I have however discovered that I love Indian food and that there is lots of it here in Melbourne.
It is strange being in a new country. After 20 years in New York City I can maneuver my way around the city, the culture, and the lingo extremely easily. Yet over here it is a whole new experience and that is exactly I was hoping for. People are extremely nice and often go out of their way to help you. One big difference I noticed when it comes to culture/dress is that people don’t go to class in sweats and a t-shirt the way we often do back at New Paltz. So it has been interesting actually putting on clothes for class everyday.
(Writing from 22nd Feb, 7 days since arrival)
Imagine the trip of a life time, landing into the beautiful new place to discover and instantly feeling at home. Imagine entering your new kingdom as a celebrity enters the Oscars, arms open wide to your arrival. Everything has worked out exactly the way you planned it, everything you’ve worked toward for several months, perhaps even a life time, has lead up to this special moment where you discover your destiny ahead of you.
Now take all of what I said, and scratch that under the rug. Then take the rug outside and beat it a couple times, uncovering the hard-wooden floor of reality. And that, is what it feels like once you first land. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that what I was embarking on was going to different. But mostly, I still had romantic hopes as I saw the sun rise over the Pacific on my long flight to Sydney. I thought that all my hopes and dreams had come true as I landed in Sydney, the great beauty of Australia, with the Opera House and Harbor welcoming me. Then I realized I was almost about to miss my flight to Melbourne, the poor man’s Sydney, and where’d I actually be spending my five months abroad. No matter, I knew Melbourne would be just as fantastic and full of adventure.
Getting off the plane there, I met my ride and set off to my accommodation. As the city slowly faded, I wondered exactly where my dorm was. Pulling up to the building, I realized that it was kind of in the middle of a dump, and not near what I had expected. After signing contracts and finding my room, much smaller than anticipated and without the shop pack I ordered in advance with my house supplies, I began to settle in. Because I got there after my roommate, he claimed most of the space in the room already, and I was stuck in the top bunk of the bed, using the highest shelves and the tops of cabinets and wardrobes to store everything (thankfully I’m tall). Then I met the man himself: my roommate, who although seemed nice enough, didn’t exactly seem like someone I’d form a friendship and actually enjoy rooming with (I admit, part of that was my hope to be with a real true-blue Aussie). We went out to get some basic supplies: milk, cheese, toilet paper, and what not, and ended up getting lost. By the time I made it back to the lodge, I decided enough was enough, and I needed to wander around on my own for a while.
This wasn’t at all what I anticipated. I was in a dumpy suburb, neither in the bush nor the city, without anything in my room in terms of supplies (no toilet paper, pillows, blankets, etc.) and stuck with a roommate who still struggled with English. I was exhausted, from nearly two days without sleep and near thirty hours of flights and layovers (note to self: if you go to Australia again, spend a day or two in Hawaii first, even if just to sleep. You’ll thank yourself later). On top of that, my phone, despite my efforts, didn’t work at all, and I had no way of getting in touch with my family to let them know I was alright.
What I ended up finding is, even though it wasn’t what I planned, it worked out exactly the way it was supposed to. Eventually, I did get my supplies (THREE days later), and I’ve adjusted to my arboreal life in the top bunk. I discovered I was actually kind of glad to be in the suburban area I was, with most everything I need local enough to walk to, as well as top-notch public transport system that can take you into and around Melbourne with ease (it’s especially nice that the campus is across the street, and the grocery store and train station going into the city are only 15 minutes away). The campus itself looks nice and not too difficult to navigate, and although I’m not excited for classes next week am sure it’ll be alright and I’ll adjust well. The thing I’m finding though, is that wherever you go in the world there’s always good people out there, and so far, there’s a lot of them in Australia. The security guard at Sydney Airport that helped me catch my flight, the staff at the lodge patient and understanding as I try to adjust, people on the street showing me the ropes with public transport and finding my way around, and even friendly blokes at the bar willing to help me figure out how to call home and let my family know I made it safely.
I’ve met the others here from New Paltz and other SUNY schools and they were all thrilled to meet me, and I was to meet them too. We’ve only known each other about a week, but we all get along and already have great and big adventures planned in the coming months. It’s relatively easy to befriend people and talk to them, even for me, and even if I don’t go out to great parties and events to mingle with people, so far I’m okay with that because I can already tell I’m making friends with this small group (still, it’d be great to meet some locals as well who can give tips and tricks on life in Melbourne).
Maybe this wasn’t exactly the way I planned it out to be. It rarely is, I think. But in my opinion, I’m fairly glad it turned out this way. Maybe there’s more to it than what I could have imagined. And I can’t wait to find out.
(Writing from Feb 11th, 2 days before flight). I’m sitting by the television, eating dinner with my family, I turn my head to look at the window. It’s beginning to snow, just a little bit though, not enough to cover much of anything. The weather, though cold, is supposed to be fine for the next few days. Even though the heat is on my step-mom is still freezing, and my sister is cuddled with her set of blankets. This is the life I’m used to. Aside from just ONE semester at New Paltz, this is all I really know.
And that’s the moment it hits: in two days, everything I know is going to change. Instead of cold winter weather, I’ll be hit with the hot Australian summer. In place of Jeopardy with my old-fashioned family, I’ll be watching the sun rise over the Pacific from 30,000 feet. I already said goodbye to my extended family at church today and my friends at New Paltz a week ago, and soon enough I’ll have to leave my sister, father, and step mother too. Cars will drive on the other side of the road, the birds will sing different songs, even the night stars will be different then back home. Heck, for all I know, people will talk backwards and everything will look upside-down.
I’m nervous, of course. I only left home a few months ago to go to college, and now I’m going to have to learn total independence. I’ve never been to a foreign country (save for one rainy and rather dreary experience in Montreal in 8th grade, ending with me getting lost in the Notre Dame), never even been outside of the northeast US. I hardly know anything about my life here, and suddenly I’m about to plunge into a new world ten thousand miles away. The only place I could go further from home is further in Australia (which I intend to do, if I can). I ask myself what my ‘plan’ is after school, as if I have any idea anymore. I ask who I am and who I want to be. I question my future and my part in this world. In part due to my faith, part because of my great support from family and friends, and part perhaps simple hope, I believe that there’s more out there I can comprehend, somewhere a role for me in changing this world into a better place. There’s more than I can possibly know out there for me, if only I can reach out and take it. But how? Where does that journey begin?
Perhaps, this is where that great chapter of my life begins. Going to Australia has been my dream for years, and now I’m actually able to make it happen. I’ve always been fascinated with the culture, the history, landscape, and environment, which is largely unknown in America (unfortunately, P Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney does not actually exist) and want to explore it as much as I can. I even started writing about going to Australia in a novel I’ve been working on for some time. From the looks of it, it’s a beautiful country and I’m eager to see what I can (on a limited budget). Also, looking at home, I realize more and more that even though it’s nice enough where I am, I don’t know that I want to stay. I need to explore the world, see things and grow. And on this trip, I plan on trying to do all of that: learn about other people and the world, become more independent, stretch way out of my comfort zone, grow as a person, and do everything I can to shine light into the world.
I don’t know exactly what will come from all of this. You never do, but I guess that’s how faith works. But I’m certain that, whatever road is planned for me, it’ll lead to a great new perspective on life and shape me more and more into the person I strive to be.