I’m back, everyone! You may or may not remember me, but I finished up my marketing internship at Winterline in December as I prepared for my semester abroad in Sydney, Australia. Now I’m back again and able to reflect on how my thoughts and fears, goals and aspirations have changed.
After a long, long flight, I arrived in Sydney, where my program managers picked us up from the airport. My program was organized really well. There were about 150 students there, the majority being other students from my school. We lived in an apartment-style dormitory owned by Boston University and took classes in the adjoining building. This meant we were never really on our own or too far away from people we knew and trusted.
I had mixed feelings about this style. On one hand, I felt safe and supported. On the other, I never felt truly immersed in Australian life because I was constantly surrounded by other Americans. There are pros and cons to traveling through different types of programs. While this was my best choice, be sure to explore all options to find the perfect-fit program: one whose goals, expectations, and attitudes align with yours.
There were a few things that helped to me combat that feeling of not belonging. For one, my program sets up every student with an eight week internship in Sydney. Four days a week, I worked 9 to 5 as a marketing intern at a non-profit. I was around Australians, but I only had a handful of coworkers and none were in my age range, so I found it a bit hard to connect. That said, they really gave me insight as to the culture and society in the country.
Another great way to connect with locals is individual travel. Some friends and I spent a weekend in a small town called Newcastle where we used a home-sharing site. We ended up staying with a family: a mom, a dad, and two pre-teen daughters, who became our personal tour guides. Staying with the family was wonderful. They offered to drive us to a few of our destinations, gave us tips and recommendations for food and shopping, and offered us a glimpse into what it’s like to live in Australia. We learned about their schooling, politics, and overall lifestyle, and in turn, they asked all kinds of questions about ours. This was such a great way to interact with locals, but you can strike up a conversation in so many places. Random people would ask where we were from, leading into conversations anywhere from a restaurant, to public transportation, to a museum.
Making the Most of Your Time
Something that I grappled with while abroad was feeling like I was wasting time. Any time I slept in late or watched a show on Netflix, I felt like I was missing out on the opportunity to do something in Australia that I couldn’t do at home. And this bothered me. I got down on myself a lot until I finally was able to put it into perspective. By keeping a journal and sending weekly emails home about my experiences, I realized just how much I was truly doing and how many incredible experiences I was having. The list below is just a sample of some of the amazing activities I participated in:
- Visited historical and cultural landmarks like the Hyde Park, State Library of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Museum of Contemporary Art, and Royal Botanical Garden
- Explored nature by hiking in the Blue Mountains and Royal National Park, visiting gorgeous beaches, seeing koalas and kangaroos, snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, cliff jumping, and going to a surf camp
- Traveled to Bali, where I visited a monkey forest, the active volcano Mt. Batur, a rice patty, a coffee plantation, and the spectacular Tirta Empul temple
- Learned about Australian media by going on a tour of ABC channel, which is the equivalent to our PBS, being featured in a segment on the most popular radio channel Triple J, and sitting in the audience of a political debate show called Q & A
- Said goodbye to Sydney by climbing on the famous Harbour Bridge overlooking the city at night before spending an evening at the Opera House
I definitely recommend keeping track of all the awesome stuff you do, whether you journal, blog, email home, or post photos on Facebook. This way you won’t forget the fun details or anecdotes. You’ll also get to keep your friends and family updated, which will make them happy. Even better, it’ll prevent you from having to retell your entire journey every time you see someone new!
You Should Go Abroad, Too!
I won’t lie to you and say that every moment of abroad was smiles and rainbows and sunshine. As my plans solidified and my flight approached, I was excited, but I was also really, really scared. I’ll admit it: I cried when I left. It’s ok to have fear; in fact, it’s good to be. It means you’re pushing yourself and stepping outside of your comfort zone. I was scared that something bad would happen at home while I was away, or to me while I was on my own.
Bad things do happen. My childhood dog/best friend passed away while I was gone, and my grandmother got sick. I already told you that I got in my own head about how I was using my time. Sometimes I felt left out. I worried about any number of things going wrong. But you can’t let fear stop you from living your life. You have to balance your worries with the plain fact that sometimes there’s nothing you can do. You just have to remember that you’ll be ok, and the experiences you do have will outweigh the bad possibilities.
My study abroad experience is just that: mine. I have good memories and not so good memories. But when I tell other people about my trip, and one day when I look back on it, I’m going to remember all of those once-in-a-lifetime activities I got to participate in. I’m going to remember the friends I made, and the work experience I had; what it felt like to be across the world from my family and how it made me braver; the things that I learned about myself, what I’m capable of, how adaptable I can be. I can’t know what your abroad experience will be like, but I can tell you that if you take the leap and stay open, you’ll be glad that you did.