With my passport in one hand and my GoPro in the other, I walked on the plane with the mindset that four months abroad would be the best time of my 20-year-old life. I had never been out of the country before, so why not begin with being 10,000 miles away from my comfort zone? After years of dreaming, months of packing, and weeks stressing, I finally embarked on my journey across the world to Sydney, Australia with my best friend by my side.
First impressions are crucial, and to be frank, my first impression of Sydney was awful. Not because of the scenery or the culture, but because adjusting to living in a new country and the fourteen-hour time difference was a form of torture that I never knew existed. Homesickness formed like a cloud over my head and rained on me everywhere I went. To say I felt like an outcast was an understatement. While everyone went out to explore our new home, I was on the phone with my mom making arrangements to go back to my home. My family supported my feelings and said I could back, but coaxed me to give it a “real” try. Meanwhile, I had already decided that I was heading back to America as soon as humanly possible.
I contacted Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Director Colleen Johnson, who is also my advisor, rationalizing on why I wanted—needed— to come back so badly. She told me, “You are in Australia – learning a new culture, seeing new sights, growing as a person. Think about it and be thankful.” She was the one person who was stern with me and really pushed me to stay. Looking back, I didn’t know how badly I needed that push.
I gradually brushed myself off and became more comfortable in my environment a little more as the days went on. My first day of class, the “tutor” (or as Americans say, “professor”) instructed each student to say their name and a fact about themselves. “My name is Nicole,” I said aloud, “and I’m an exchange student from America.”
In a matter of seconds every set of eyes in the class were focused on me. Then, in the midst of silence the girl aside me announced, “That is SO cool!” In that moment, I realized that I needed to take this opportunity by the horns and embrace the journey.
I have been here almost two months now and it is apparent that I have grown as an individual already. When I look back to the beginning of my trip, I cringe at the mental picture of me crying all alone in my room. Since then, I’ve seen the Sydney Opera House, explored Manly and Bondi Beach, hiked up the Blue Mountains, hopped around with wild kangaroos, and I even got a job. I am really looking forward to next week’s trip to the Gold Coast where I plan to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and relax on Surfers Paradise beach. When I asked Raquel Rudofsky, a junior health studies student, what her favorite experience in Australia has been, she laughed and answered, “Definitely running around with the kangaroos. It was literally a huge field and they don’t mind being touched.”
Being an American living in Australia can be confusing at times, but I found that Australians are surprisingly similar to us; however, if you want to know the main difference between Americans and Australians, Cooper Donaldson, a born and raised Aussie and a senior business student, has the best answer.
Trying not to laugh, he explained, “Americans are bloody loud.”
Thus far, I learned that traveling abroad isn’t as perfect as it looks on Instagram, and there is nothing wrong with that. Social media plays a huge role in what defines success and happiness, and a majority of those ideals are traveling the world and getting lost in adventures.I got trapped in those ideals. If you’re going to travel, do it to learn things about yourself. I thought I was coming here to amp up my Instagram page and Facebook timeline, but what I found was that it’s not easy to turn your weaknesses into strengths, but it’s doable.
My struggle is a part of my story and more importantly, it is now an admirable part of who I am.
It is odd to think that what separates me from coming home is another just two months, so excuse me while I finish crossing off my bucket list!
PHOTOS COURTESY of Nicole Ingraffia