I am a senior at Baldwin Wallace University spending my last semester of Undergraduate study at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Sippy Downs, Queensland, Australia. Follow along on all my adventures here!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Studying Abroad Ruined My Life

Yep, you heard me. Studying abroad ruined my life. The things that I experienced in the past 5 months will never allow me to go back to the life I had before I left, I haven't changed but I have learned so much and become more aware of myself and the world around me that my life prior to this was ruined, leaving me to jump into an even more amazing one.

When discussing studying abroad a lot of times you'll hear how great it is to learn about another country or how you can see some beautiful places and I was able to do those things, but I did oh so much more than that too.

I learned a lot about Australia; their politics, culture, history, way of life. But I honestly think I learned just as much about the United States as I did Australia. Little things like that fact that America is pretty much the only place you go out to eat and get ice water right away (actually, speaking of ice water, it's not typical to expect ice in general, my roomies were wondering why I insisted on buying an ice cube tray when I first moved in) and free bread before your meal and that tipping is not customary in all countries as it is here. I learned some bigger things too though, like how patriotic Americans are. When I went to the rugby game I was surprised by how lax things were during the national anthems and was informed that in general the only times they'll even do the Australian national anthem is before an international event. As someone who has grown up playing soccer and had the Star Spangled Banner played before every game since high school (and even at some tournaments prior to that), not even to mention the fact that no collegiate or professional sports game starts without it, that was strange to me. I brought it up and we discussed it on the way back and I realized truly how patriotic we are as Americans, and I love that.

I was also blessed enough to make a large number of other international friends from all over the world; Sweden, Germany, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Italy, Canada, and elsewhere in the United States. Quickly my experience became far more than learning about Australia and lead me to learn small amounts about a lot of places feeding my desire to travel to each and every one of them.

During my time I also learned a lot about myself. We were warned before we left to study abroad that when we got home it would seem that everything was different but that it really wasn't, that we were. I see where that statement comes from but I don't think it's entirely true. I honestly don't think I changed during the trip, I think I just became more aware. Not only of the world but also about myself. Living on my own 10,000 miles away from everything and everyone I had known previously made me really notice things about myself. I learned that although change and uncertainty makes me anxious that I am 100% capable of handling it. By the end of the trip I had actually been thrown into so many situations that didn't go according to plan that I was starting to enjoy the "figuring it out as we go" part of it. (This is definitely helping me as I move into the real world, but I'll talk about that later.) Going off of that I realized that I love being out of my comfort zone. It was definitely challenging to say the initial "yes" that would push me out of my comfort zone but once I did I had some of the best experiences of my trip and I hope that this is a habit that follows me home.

I think one of the biggest things that I will take away from this trip though is that places are great, they really are, but the people in them is what makes them special. I cried on and off for about a week before I left Australia. Once I said my first goodbye to a friend who was leaving the dam broke and it continued until the morning I left. I reflected on why I was sad. Part of it was that my big adventure was coming to an end and I wasn't ready for it to do so but the main part was that I was leaving behind the people that had become part of my family while I was over there. I absolutely fell in love with Australia as a place; Sydney is the most beautiful place I've ever been and I want to return one day, the Great Barrier Reef is breathtaking, the mountains near where I lived were stunning, seeing kangaroos every day was incredible. The people I got to befriend while I was there were what made the trip worth it all though. It's not possible to travel around constantly and spending five months with trying to only have those places and the spaced out trips make the entire semester what it was would have led to a much less fulfilling experience. Hanging out with a group of 20 people, from 5+ different countries, and feeling like a family was why I was so upset about leaving. Hearing the wheels of suitcases rolling through the apartment complex for a week leading up to my departure was why I was sad. Reading this quote and having it really hit home is why I was sad:

"You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place."

Saying "it's not goodbye, it's see you later" about 30 times in a week is why I was sad. Meaning it wholeheartedly every time it was said was why my experience was so amazing. 

This realization doesn't only focus on Australia. These thoughts lead me to realize that staying in Australia, with all of the same people, wouldn't make me feel completely at home either. I missed my family and my friends from home too, just as I now miss those I left behind in Oz. I cried at the airport when I was reunited with my mom and dad and got to hug them again after 5 months. I cried when I got up this morning and realized I would be reunited with my best friend today. I can't wait to go see one of my other best friends from home tomorrow night. Another one of my closest friends just moved about 4 hours away for work and I just talked to her about when I can come see her. I am currently talking to an American friend I made in Australia about a trip to NYC to reunite with her. Yeah, I've never been to New York City and I've always wanted to and it would be amazing to go but I'm itching to go now because I want to see her. 

Places are great. I still want to travel the world and see all the amazing things it has to offer, I will always remember the unbelievable places and things I was able to experience in Australia, but my desire to do all of these is now backed by wanted to go and see people. Traveling to Stockholm, Munich, Brisbane, New York, and so many other places will now have so much more meaning to me and I am so grateful for that. 

So yeah, studying abroad ruined my life. It allowed me to learn about my own country, others around the world, myself, and life in general. It allowed me to shift from being scared about being a college graduate without any clue what I'm doing with my life to being ecstatic that I can literally do anything I want now. Yes, I need a job, I need to pay off my student loans, but I can do anything with my life to do that. If I want to go to med school I can, if I want to get a Master's or Ph.D. I can, if I want to be done with school forever I can. There are so many paths open to me now and I am looking forward to seeing where the wind takes me rather than worried that I don't have a solid enough plan mapped out. I am confident that there will be more travels in my future although I'm not sure when or where exactly yet. The past five months have been absolutely amazing and I wouldn't trade them for the world, which is exactly what they opened up for me.

I'm going to close this final post out with thank yous. Thank you to my family without whose support I never would have had the courage to take this trip. My parents and grandfather were so encouraging and supportive and talking to them regularly kept my going when I started to get scared or too homesick. My grandmothers looking down on me provided me with a lot of faith and courage when I started becoming unsure if I should even make the trip at all. My aunt was a rock throughout the trip and reassured me that I would walk away from the experience with more than I could ever imagine, even when I was struggling most with being so far away in somewhere so different. Thank you to my friends who worked to stay in touch with me over the 14 hour time difference even though it often meant really late nights for one of us. Thank you to the mentors I had at BW who pushed me out of my comfort zone in a familiar place so that I could be more able to in an unfamiliar one. And thank you to everyone who made my experience what it was. As a wise Dutch friend told me right before I left (yeah Kim, if you're reading this that's you <3), no one will every be able to take this experience and these memories away from me, it's something that will always be mine and hold a special place in my heart.

So with that I end my final blog entry of Low Down Under. That adventure has come to a close but I know there will be plenty more to follow.

G'day mates.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


After getting back from Kondalilla Falls (see previous blog post) Jillian and I set off for our last trip in Australia! My roommate Ayesha and our friend Jenna drove us to the airport to say goodbye, Ayesha was leaving to visit America and Jenna was leaving to go home to Minnesota before I would be returning. My first round of goodbyes was rough but we made it through it and were off to the gate.

The trip there went smoothly and a few hours later we found ourselves on the ground in Melbourne and checked into our hostel. Even though it was already past 8 we headed back into the city to accomplish at least one thing that night - the Eureka Skydeck. We took the extremely fast elevator up to the 88th floor of the tallest building in the city and got quite the view.

Once we were done taking in the view we grabbed dinner and headed back to get a good nights sleep before our first full day in Melbourne. The "good nights sleep" didn't go so well as we had a couple very rude roommates.... you can meet a lot of cool people in hostels when traveling and our one roommate was - he was from Canada and had been traveling in Australia for the last 10 months and had a lot of really cool stories - the other two, however, were not so cool. They felt the need to come back at 3:30am after a night out and have multiple people in and out of the room talking quite loudly and making a lot of noise until after 5am. A bit frustrating. We made it through the night though and the next morning we set off to explore the city. Our first stop ended up being the Shrine of Remembrance. The Shrine of Remembrance is a monument built to honor all Australian men and women who have served in war. Walking around reading plaques I learned a lot about Australian involvement in World War I and beyond.

From here we headed over to Cook's Cottage. Captain James Cook was the first Englishman to bring people to Australia. They moved his cottage from Europe to Melbourne to preserve it.

From here we headed over to the Old Melbourne Gaol. It reminded me quite a bit of Mansfield Reformatory actually. We walked around there for a while, reading the news stories and prison information on the various displays in the cells.

From here we went next door to the old watch house where they arrested us and put us in a cell as part of the tour. The sergeant gave us all cards that told us who we were and what we were being arrested for then showed us around the watch house and told us how it worked when it was functioning as part of the justice system. They would hold prisoners there while they waited to go on trial but it wasn't a good system because if you were arrested for something non-violent such as a parking fine you would be held in the same cell as someone who was arrested for something violent such as murder. Not exactly the safest environment, which is why they modified the system and don't use that watch house anymore.

 From here we headed back into the main part of the city and did a bit of shopping - Jillian was in need of a new suitcase and we found an outlet mall to wander around for a bit. I came across a bookshop and found two books by an author I really like for $10, which I was really grateful for later in the trip. From there we grabbed a quick dinner and went back to the hostel to finish planning our next day and book the tour we were planning on going on. We called and booked the day tour, set our alarms for 6:30, and talked with our Canadian roommate a bit more before calling it a night.

The next day started early - before the sun had risen - and we were off to the Dandenong ranges! A bus ride out of the city took us up into the mountains and into the rainforest where we had our first stop for the day. Here we got to feed wild cockatoos and enjoy a quick hike in the woods. We saw Mountain Ash trees which are a type of eucalyptus and second in size only to the Giant Redwoods in the Western US. Unfortunately they used to log in these ranges so many of the trees are younger and not yet to their full size.

From here we headed over to the historic train line that is home to Puffing Billy, a steam locomotive that took us through the next leg of our journey through the mountains.

Once the train dropped us off at the next station we climbed back onto the bus to head to our last stop of the morning. We got to spend about half an hour exploring one of the small towns on the mountain before the tour took us back into the city where the next bus was waiting to take us on the second half of our day tour. This bus would be taking us down to Phillip Island.

Our first stop on Phillip Island was Churchill Island (which isn't really it's own island I don't think). Here there is a historical farm and we saw a lot of different animals and got a pretty view of the bay.

 After exploring for a bit the group got back on the bus and went to the Koala Conservation Center on Phillip Island.

We visited with the cuddly koalas for a bit then headed off to the main attraction of the day - the Penguin Parade!

We weren't able to take pictures of the penguins as they came out of the water because the flashes cause damage to their vision but, especially with penguins being my favorite animal, it was an amazing experience. You stand on a viewing platform and watch them come out of the water and onto the beach, waddle up over the sand dune, and follow a path to their burrows. The walkway that you take to get to the viewing platform is along the path that the penguins followed so we went back and forth from watching them come out of the water to watching them make their ways down the path. It was such a cool experience! There were over 1000 penguins that night.

The next day it was time to head to the airport and leave Melbourne behind. Our flight was delayed about 4 hours so after sitting in the airport for over 5 we were finally in the air and headed back to Brisbane. Our time in the airport terminal was when I was truly grateful for my book purchase as I read one of the two I had gotten. It was a long day and a long evening of figuring out different timetables for trains to get back to the Sunshine Coast but in the long run we made it back (with the help of a friend who picked us up from the train station). It was a great trip and we got to see a lot in our short time there.

Started going through stuff in my room and throwing things away/getting ready to pack yesterday. I'll do a run-through today and tomorrow to weigh my bags and make sure they're not too heavy. Only a few more days until I head back to the US! Very bittersweet as I can't wait to be home and see my family and friends but at the same time don't want to say goodbye to my friends here and bring this adventure to a close. The last five and a half months have been incredible and I have done some pretty amazing things. This will probably be my last blog post until my final post about leaving/saying goodbye....

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Kondalilla Falls

G'day mates! The countdown has started, I come home on Monday... very mixed feelings but I am definitely excited to come home. I have a lot to blog about from this past weekend and know that the next few days will also be full of a few more adventures.

Saturday morning Karolina, Lovisa, Kieran and I got up early and headed up to Eumundi to visit the outdoor markets before we continued on to Kondalilla State Park to hike and visit Kondalilla Falls. The hike was beautiful and the falls were even more so.

Once we got to the falls I couldn't get a good angle from the path so I climbed across some rocks and was able to get some cool shots. 

We finished the loop of the path and came across the rock pools where the falls all start from. 

It was a great hike and afterwards we headed back so I could finish getting ready for Melbourne! A blog and lots of pictures from that trip to follow! :)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mount Coolum

Yesterday was pretty cool, I climbed a mountain....

Lovisa, Carolina and I planned out the bus route, grabbed our cameras, and headed toward Mt. Coolum. We got off at the bus stop that the online journey planner told us to then proceeded to have to walk an hour down the road, past 3 other bus stops, to get to the base of the mountain. Whoops. We decided that we would just call that our warm up walk. We stopped at an IGA nearby to grab a couple snacks and some Powerade since it was just past lunch time and we were a bit hungry and wanted to make sure we stayed hydrated. After that it was time to start hiking!

Carolina & Lovisa ready to start up the mountain
The climb was pretty intense, steep stairs almost all the way up to the 208m (682ft) peak. I took a few pictures as we climbed up:

It was a rough ascent but the view from the top was amazing. We could see the little IGA we had stopped at, the city on the coast that we go to on a regular basis for the beach & shopping center, and even all the way (we think) to Brisbane! It was a clear day so we could see on and on for quite a distance in all directions.

We sat and hung out at the top for a little bit before we decided to head down. The mosquitoes were getting quite bad and we wanted to start moving again to keep them at bay.

The climb was quite intense but it was a great workout and a really cool view. I've tried to go a couple other times and had issues with getting the timing to work out so I'm very glad this time we got there (eventually).

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hervey Bay & The World Cup

Sorry I haven't blogged for a while, the past week or so has been a bit crazy! I've been studying pretty consistently since getting back from Byron Bay and finally took my big Systemic Physiology final exam yesterday. I still have Politics on Thursday but feel much more confident for that.

So an update on what I've been up to the past week!

After studying so much early in the week I decided to take a few hours off (of studying and sleep) Friday morning to get up and watch the opening ceremony and first match of the World Cup.

It was really cool to watch the game with other international students! The enthusiasm from the 3 Brasilians in the group was incredible.

After getting back from that I worked on my design project for a bit then packed up for an impromptu trip up to Hervey Bay with Lovisa and Keiran. We were just going up for the day and one night to go relax and have fun. Lovisa and I were able to get some cool pictures of the sunset on the beach Friday evening even though it was quite cloudy again.

The next day on our way back to USC we stopped in the town next to Hervey Bay, Maryborough. I didn't know this before but our "tour guide" Kieran told Lovisa and I that the writer of Mary Poppins was originally from Maryborough before she moved to England. Even though it was raining we made sure to get photos with the Mary Poppins statue in the main street area of town.

Once we got back Saturday I spent the next day and half studying then took my exam yesterday! Final exams are done very differently here than I'm used to at home... They set up their large indoor sports stadium with rows and rows of tables and chairs, check you in, and sit you in a random seat. The exams are strictly timed and if you finish early you have to be checked out by one of the test supervisors. There were 4 different classes taking exams in the stadium yesterday, I think around 800 or so people. It was a bit nerve wracking being in such a large room with so many people and the supervisors walking around and checking over your shoulders constantly.

This morning I got up to watch the Germany vs. Portugal game and after a quick nap the USA vs. Ghana game. Watching Germany play with a large group of Germans decked out from head to toe in jerseys and scarves and flags was another really cool experience. I was the only one in my apartment watching the US game and had to try to keep quiet for most of the first half until the rest of my roommates were awake. Tomorrow morning I am planning on watching the Brasil vs. Mexico game with a few of my Brasilian friends, should be good!!

Later today Lovisa, Carolina and I are heading up to Mount Coolum to hike, I should have some good pictures from that to post later today or tomorrow. Then Saturday I leave and have 4 days in Melbourne before returning to USC to pack and get ready to head home. I can't believe how soon it is!