Once upon a time, or more specifically four months ago, there was a Texas girl shakin’ in her boots with fear, anxiety, and excitement about a pending adventure. As you might have guessed, that girl was me, and that adventure, my semester in Australia, might be the best and most transformational experience I’ve ever had.
It would be inaccurate to say I don’t remember who I was when I first arrived in Australia, but I also don’t relate to that girl very much anymore. I’ve changed, and I think its for the better. Over the past four months, I’ve developed some of the most genuine friendships I’ve ever known, experienced adventures I used to dream of, and discovered parts of myself I didn’t know existed. Basically, I’ve come a long way from being the girl who couldn’t figure out which button flushed the toilets, asked if the tap water was drinkable, and was inept at ordering coffee at the local cafes. Among other triumphs, today I know why there are two buttons on the toilet and that the water in Australia is sanitary; furthermore, you have to order an iced “latte” to avoid getting a scoop of ice cream with the coffee. These trivial obstacles I faced are humorous to reflect on, but they are just simple examples of the things I’ve learned over the semester.
I wrote in my first blog post that I was a lucky girl to have a life that made leaving so hard. Never did I imagine that I’d be feeling the exact same emotions upon leaving the “Land of Oz.” Before I left for Australia, my goal was to embody the quote “Bloom Where Planted.” I wanted to flourish in the new environment and fully embrace the new experience. Well, mission accomplished. For those of you who were unfortunate enough to witness my waterworks when I left for the airport, you can understand the emotional attachment that I’ve developed to this place. Fremantle, Port Lodge, and Australia in general have taken over a part of my heart. As I sit at the airport awaiting my homeward bound departure, my heart is slightly breaking. While I’ll carry the memories with me forever, I feel like I’m leaving a part of me in this land down unda.
Before this experience, I had a few goals for the semester. I didn’t accomplish every one of the specific tasks because I didn’t adequately account for the difficulty and expense of travel within Australia. However, my flexible goals and expectations were probably the best thing that could’ve happened to me. Every fabulous experience I had came as a pleasant surprise and completely surpassed any expectation I imagined. For a brief re-cap, this semester I have:
- “Learned” to surf
- Toured vineyards in Margaret River
- Pet kangaroos and koalas
- Cliff-jumped into the Swan River
- Spent a week camping in Broome learning about Aboriginal culture
- Biked through Bali (and visited Muslim temples)
- Ridden elephants
- Held monkeys
- Biked around Rottnest Island
- Snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef
- Took a horseback riding tour in the Cairn’s jungle
- Attended an Australian footy game
This isn’t an exhaustive list of the adventures I’ve had, but these are some of my favorites! Never in a million years did I think I’d have so many overwhelming experiences. I might even venture to say that these experiences, especially cliff-jumping, have turned me into an adrenaline-junkie.
Self-transformation is one of the better things that came out of this experience. I am more self-sufficient, independent, open-minded, and easy going than I’ve ever been in my life. As hard as it was at first to be so far away from all of the people and places I identified myself with, the isolation allowed God to define me as an individual. I know who I am, and I’m confident that I will survive whatever curve balls life throws my way.
More than anything, I think I understand, for the first time in my life, what it means to love myself. One of my best friends once defined loving yourself as a state of mind where you wouldn’t want to be anyone else. I may be a little dense or it could be due to my perfectionist inclinations, but it has taken me 21 years to figure out what this means. In the past four months, I have learned to accept myself and be proud of the person that I am, imperfections included. I now see my flaws as areas for improvement instead of a downfall of my character. Australia gave me a lot of lessons and experiences, but adventure, excitement, and perspective pale in comparison to learning to love myself.
Despite my initial hesitation about the people I was traveling with (I was totally wrong in all of my judgements by the way.) and fear that I would have no friends all semester, the final and most valuable gifts I left Australia with were the friendships and I made along the way. They are some of the best and most genuine friends I’ve ever had. In the group of kids that I lived and studied with, everyone was incredibly different, but that almost made us more compatible. We had kids from all over the continental U.S. with varied interests, hobbies, majors, and more. But as my mom says, variety is the spice of life. Since we were a world away from everything familiar, we depended heavily on each other for support. I left the land of Oz with friendships that will last a lifetime, and I couldn’t be more thankful for my misconstrued initial predictions.
Port Lodge Dorm Picture (minus Connor)
The most adequate way I can think of to end this blog and this semester is in gratitude. Thank you to the people and country of Australia for an experience that opened my eyes and changed my life. Thank you to the students I spent the past semester with for your unwavering, uplifting, and unconditional friendship. Thank you to my friends and family back home who supported and loved me from across the world; it meant so much to me to know that I was missed and thought about in my absence. And finally, thank you to my mom and dad. You two have educated, nurtured, and loved me through every phase of my life thus far, and you made my experience abroad possible. Even though you weren’t crazy about the distance, you encouraged me to make the most out of my time abroad and shared in my excitement and learning along the way. To all of you I left at home and all of you I met abroad, thank you. Its been one hell of a ride.
All my love today and always,