April 14, 2010

An Australian Salute!

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Australia is the land of love, adventure, dreams and happiness. It is number one on almost every American’s bucket list. When I was preparing for my travels abroad, I admit that I had the impression I was heading off to a place where pencils never run out of lead, the air smells like Apple Spice & Delight Febreeze, the birds wake you up with sweet melodies reminiscent of a Disney movie and the weekdays no longer exist.

Though thought I would be landing in the most pleasant of utopias, I instead found myself in a place that brought on a feeling similar to falling off the face of the earth. After over 30 hours of traveling, up to 60 dollars lost to thieving LAX currency exchange stations, more than eight movies watched on a screen positioned three feet from my face and close to 120 pounds of luggage pulled on only three working wheels, I began my study abroad. In place of all the amazing scenarios I anticipated upon my arrival in Australia, my bloodshot eyes looked out on a world eerily similar to one I knew but at the same time, one that left me with no feelings of familiarity.

My first day in Australia consisted of shopping for necessities and unpacking, however these two tasks — normally simple activities — became six of the most athletically straining and life-threatening hours of my life. I eventually found my driver at the airport — who failed to hold up a Deakin sign — and found students (based on the lost-glazed eyes) and was then dropped off at my accommodations for the next four months.

After lugging my baggage up two flights of stairs, I realized that I had no bedding, food, dishware, silverware or internet. So off I went into my foreign world, somehow finding the tram and realizing not too quickly that I was heading in the wrong direction for Kmart. Eventually I reached my destination, and I bought as much as I overestimated my body could carry.

We pedestrians in Ithaca are used to walking into the street whenever and wherever we please, so I was devastated to find out that Australians don’t have “crosswalk” in their vocabulary. I don’t think someone can say they have truly accomplished something difficult until they dead sprint across an eight-way intersection with one hundred pounds of grocery bags in order to make it in time for the tram.

My first two and a half weeks in Australia were by no means a dream. They consisted of adjustments I neither anticipated nor planned. Some of these adjustments were small, such as coming to terms with the fact that I may continuously sweat through the night no matter what speed my fan is on or that I would just have to adjust to drinking tap water that tasted like pool water. I had to learn a new type of cost-benefit evaluation; for instance, do I really need the brand-name Ritz crackers that are three times as expensive or will the ones that disintegrate when you open the package suffice?

However, my point isn’t that sometimes you have to eat a salad with a knife instead of a fork or that you have to time your phone calls and then do a math equation afterwards. Rather, it is that you are tested in ways you never imagined. Habits and routines that you originally did on autopilot are taken away, and you are taken back to baby steps.

Looking back on the start of my exchange, however, the hardest adjustments weren’t the eating habits or the sleeping patterns, it was the sheer distance that separated me from the people I love. Location has never been a determinant of my happiness but rather it was based on who I have to share my experiences with. In the beginning I didn’t meet people that I automatically clicked with, so instead of sticking around with the people that I did meet for convenience, I went down the loner’s path for a bit before eventually finding other people worth sharing my exchange experience with.

For some people I have talked to, their adjustment period was as short as one week or as long as two months. Truthfully, the key to adjusting is finding people who re-spark your life and make you forget about all of the inconsequential trivialities in your new baby-step life. I have learned that the whole point of going abroad is to throw yourself outside of your safety zone and experience something completely on your own.

So for anyone who is planning to go abroad in the future, don’t go with pre-made assumptions as I did, but instead go with the expectation that everything may not work out the way you planned. Everyone has different abroad experiences, but the whole point is that you were able to have that experience. It may be a nightmare in the beginning, but always remember that there will come a day when it all turns around.

Australia is just another land that holds hopes and devastations, just like any other place in the world. Weekdays actually don’t usually exist in the minds of most Australian students, but the birds’ wake-up calls are far from anything Cinderella has encountered. The thing that every exchange student has to learn is to look past is all the minor details. One scratchy bed sheet set: $45. One cheaper brand of laundry detergent that actually smells like a man: $15. Ten two-hour tram passes: $50. External hard-drive required for class: $270. Coming to realize that you have the ability to make your own adventure into whatever you want: Priceless.  RLD

Original Author: Catherine Lyman