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.