I landed in Australia on the 21st of August. Today is the 11th of November, nearly three months after my Virgin Australia international flight touched down in Brisbane International Airport. Everyday has been a new experience. On one day, I am riding my bike precariously close to cars driving on high speed lanes, and another day I am studying in a cubicle at one of three libraries I regularly go to on the University of Queensland (UQ) campus, taking part in an act that tens of thousands of students here at UQ participate in.
Life in Brisbane comes by in a blur. Waiting for the bus at one of the central transit centers is a hair-raising experience. The process is like this:
1) Look up on the timetable and remember when your bus is coming.
2) Look up at the electronic arrivals board and see if your bus is on time or late (which is often enough).
3) Concentrate on recognizing that your bus with the correct number is coming into the station.
4) Flag the bus down to stop at the station immediately. If you have not done so, then you missed your bus already because it has already driven off.
I have missed my bus twice. Once during rush hour when I was not paying attention and it sped off towards the next station. And another when my bus went past me and I caught up to it as it waited in the bus queue, but the door closed on me just as I ran up to it. The bus driver was not keen on opening that door.
At my homestay, I struggle to come home early because much of my time is spent at a UQ library doing homework on a library computer as a result of a my personal laptop suffering from water damage. I have to cope with being without technology since I have broken my iPhone and Macbook laptop, and I miss the ease of carrying these around to stay connected to others through the Internet. Additionally, my back-up Razor flip-phone has recently lost its ability to project my voice to callers on the other side. Loss of a majority of technology? That was modern culture shock.
Living with a host family has been a departure from my two years living in college dorm housing at my home university in the U.S.. My host family really helped with my process of adjusting to Australia by providing a physical home with people I consider my extended family now. I have not had any bad bouts of homesickness, but I did experience a bit of depression from forfeiting control that I possess in my own country when arriving in Australia. Here, I am a guest, and sometimes the only way to learn my way around is by making mistakes, which requires more patience than I’m used to. When I look back at my study abroad experience in Australia, I will see it as a time when I made the most mistakes I have ever made and have taken the most risks ever!
On the 9th of November, the day after we returned from a class excursion to Heron Island, our lecture in class was not on any of the subjects that we have studied this semester, but it was about culture shock and reverse culture shock! Amazing and coincidental that it was exactly what I was going to write about for this blog post!
From the time I decided I was going to do this unknown and alien thing called study abroad, I was already preparing myself in many ways: Figuring out international cell phone plans, travel plans, “what are you going to bring there” plans, and most importantly, my plane ticket plan. It was a LOT of preparation going in. I had numerous documents for my study abroad program to sign and complete by strict deadlines, all while I was still taking classes at college. But now that all of that prep work is finished, I can focus on the question: How am I going to remember this? And how am I going to go back to the United States after spending a quarter of a year in a foreign country– 1.2% of my current life?
The lecturer warned us that people and things will have moved on without us, whether we like it or not. People back home have started moving in a direction where they have either completely forgotten about you or replaced you with new friends. After all, study abroad makes it hard to stay in touch with everyone you know back home.
Another thing the lecturer shared is that our peers might shrug us off if we start getting too yappy about what a great time we had studying abroad. This is because everyone I talk to about my experience will not be as emotionally invested in my experience as I am, and they might even be a bit annoyed listening to me babble on about what a great time I had. This lesson from the lecture really perked my ears. I imagined myself back on my home campus, speaking with a friend at a football game, sharing about what a great time I had at the Great Barrier Reef on Heron Island. The person will likely not be interested in this story, because they have most likely never been to Australia or to the Great Barrier Reef themselves, or spent as much time and energy studying the ecosystem and culture as I have this semester. Australia is a distant place for most of my American peers. There is no string of experiences that allows them to connect to my story and say “Yeah, I can relate to that.”
I imagine the adjustment of returning home will be similar to adjusting to my first year of college, but on a grander scale of adjusting from the Australian culture that I have grown so used to. I am even imagining how much the playground across the street from my home in New York has changed since I’ve been gone. Last fall semester of my sophomore year, the park was completely torn down and in shambles, but by the following summer the playground equipment was just being put up. And by the time I return, the park will be complete with no more orange construction fences, and perhaps snow will cover the playground where the kids will play in the spring. To understand and talk about what it is to study abroad and return home is one of the most interesting challenges that I have encountered in my life. Despite the personal challenges that I faced, I can confidently say that this experience as a whole has changed me for the better.