It’s funny to think back to past me doubting whether or not study abroad was the right choice for me- because it totally was the right move! I’m pretty sure I was so nervous that I submitted my application within hours of the deadline. But I’m here today to help convey how three experiences in Australia have impacted my attitude and life’s direction, and share how you can make that first move towards your own vision.
Eight friends and I decided to go on a road trip to Jervis Bay for the weekend. Please allow me to decode all that is contained in the previous sentence. Jervis Bay is an iconic travel destination 2.5 hours south of Sydney known for Australia’s whitest beach, it’s picturesque coastal hikes, and friendly beach kangaroos. Planning car rentals, accommodations, and splitting meal costs between vegans/non-vegans required some teamwork, flexibility, and positive attitudes in decision making in the weeks leading up to our departure. And let’s not forget that Australians drive on the left side of the road!
But yes, we made it to our Airbnb in one piece (it actually wasn’t that scary). Just a weekend getaway and yet, this has easily been one of my favorite memories of studying abroad because I got to experience it with friends I wanted to be there with. I’d only met them 7 weeks prior at surf camp but I know I’ve found some new lifelong friends. I’m not sure we would have met the way we met without our shared Australian study abroad experience. I’m so thankful that we followed through with our plans at Jervis Bay and as a result grew closer to each other.
Blue Mountains National Park
A favorite course I took at USyd has definitely been Learning in Outdoor Education- a class full of experiential learning, outdoor field trips, and campfire talks. This photograph of me in the valley of the Blue Mountains does little to convey the reminiscent sounds I experienced on my individual walk alongside the trickling creek.
While down there I decided to listen to some piano solos with nature’s sounds still audible in the backdrop. However, I was surprised how this combination of sounds suddenly took me back to one of my favorite memories with my grandparents when we would play this computerized Mahjong game with similar instrumental/nature background music. Away from the busy city I found that my thoughts and feelings were less constrained in direction and took on a life of their own. Soon my thoughts left the Mahjong memory and drifted to my family and all that they’ve done for me, and I experienced gratitude like never before. Something I will take with me out of that valley is the realization that it’s so important to make time available for free thinking and that every day can be like Thanksgiving.
Camping in the wilderness without cellular reception is good and all, but what happens when we go back to the city and our normal schedules? Put another way, study abroad is great for the soul and all, but what happens when we come back home? Will I learn anything worthwhile? How will I apply my experiences to my future endeavours? These are all great questions, but they focus on a future version of yourself. What I learned in my next experience illuminated how focusing on the now and your experience within the present is just as important as who you plan to be. The key is balance.
Coogee to Bondi Coastal Walk
One morning at 4 am I was summoned from my slumber to take a phone call (time zones will do that to you). But being a morning person I didn’t get upset and concluded I should finally go watch the sunrise along the western coast of ‘Stralia. It took me a while to find the path to the rocks at Giles Bath to watch the sunrise, so I wandered around for a bit there. During that time, I was quite surprised to see so many people awake: marathon trainers, swimmers practicing oceanic crosscurrent laps, casual kickboxers, people walking their dogs, people at yoga sessions by the beach, surfers, fishermen, front porch sitters, coffee shop squatters, and people on their way to work in the city. And I thought to myself, “Dang, there are so my people.” The task itself was simple; watch the sun go up and get back to the city for your 11am class. I wasn’t burdened with thinking about other things or having to multitask during those few hours. I could allow myself to see where the morning took me.
I continued to walk the 6 km track to Bondi as the sun rose, closer and closer to established roles and responsibilities. The best way I can translate an unstructured, simple experience like this is freedom. What I took from this morning was a reassuring sense that there are others like me out there; people temporarily breaking away from their daily roles to be completely involved in the task at hand.
I believe that a large part of our identity formation occurs during these moments of specialized interest and that there’s a whole other network of people doing just the same thing.
If I could give advice to past me it would be to just do it. The friends you will make along the way, the new perspectives you will surround yourself with, and the time to focus on who you are will be something you can never forget. If you think that any of these benefits are worthwhile (just to name a few), then study abroad is for you. You can expect to come back changed, just as you can expect to have a greater understanding about yourself and life.
This post was contributed by Emily Thrower, a 2019 Global Ambassador and a K-6 Generalist Education major currently studying at the University of Sydney.
Don’t get left behind. Read more about Emily’s experience in Australia>>