Imagine waking up on your birthday and having to say goodbye to all of your friends and family before you leave the country for six months. That was me, heading to Australia to study abroad for one of my last semesters of college.
As excited as I was to be able to embark on this incredible journey, I was also scared out of my mind. The only expectations I had of Australia were based off of Aussie hair products, Finding Nemo, Steve Irwin and random travel books that I collected from Barnes & Noble. I figured everyone would greet others with a simple “G-day mate!”, cook shrimp on the barbie (an Aussie term for a barbecue) and ride kangaroos in the outback while throwing around some boomerangs.
After arriving in the Land Down Under, my expectations of Australia became completely different, and I learned three important life lessons.
The first lesson I learned: never assume anything. No one rides kangaroos, Aussies have never cooked shrimp on a Barbie and boomerangs were not common to throw around.
The first few weeks were really difficult to become accustomed to, even though I was speaking the same language as back home. Prior to coming here, I knew no one in my study abroad program, so I felt like a freshman all over again. I had to deal with the fear of meeting an entire group of people that I would be connected to for six months.
The college I attended was Macquarie University (uni for short). It is a pretty big school compared to UW-Whitewater, with over 40,000 students. Not seeing your friends or anyone you know when you walk to class is a bit intimidating.
Entering a classroom where most of the students are Australian and having them all stare at you was even more intimidating. Within three weeks of being in Australia, I was incredibly homesick and ready to go back to the States.
That’s when I learned my second lesson: meet anyone and everyone. Once I opened myself up to others in my program and local Aussies, everything seemed to fall into place. I was able to see a few familiar faces around campus, and my classmates became my good friends. I met so many diverse people from different parts of the world, such as Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Thailand.
It doesn’t matter where you are from or what your background is, being able to connect with another person is the greatest feeling in the world, especially when you are surrounded with unfamiliarity. Even after meeting all of these amazing people and getting used to Australia, it still felt like a part of me was missing. In the back of my mind, all I wanted was to be home.
My final lesson from this journey: you are stronger than you think. Coming into this, I expected myself not to be able to make it the whole way through. I was preparing to come home early and be reunited with everything I had been missing out on.
I truly thought that I could not handle being away from home for this long. I doubted myself. All I could think about was how I was missing my last homecoming at Whitewater, watching Green Bay Packers games with my friends and being able to drive back to Appleton to see my family.
About halfway through my time abroad, it hit me: I can do this. I have this strength I have never seen in me, I have this courage that everything will be okay and I have this amazing support back in the States and here in Australia that have helped me power through. Without the help of my family and friends, I never would have realized that I am a strong person and that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything.
Studying abroad is hard, plain and simple. It challenges you in so many ways that you would have never thought possible. Being away from everything back home is a really scary feeling, but being able to say that you went to another country and lived your life to the fullest is the most unbelievable feeling
I recommend that everyone study abroad, anywhere. It changed my life and it molded me into the person that I am today.
Looking back on it, I am so happy that I stayed in Australia. I have made lifelong friendships, and if I hadn’t gone, I would have missed out on seeing an opera at the Sydney Opera House, scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, holding a cuddly koala named Abby, laying around with some kangaroos and so much more.
If this Warhawk can do it, anyone can.