Recently I thought, how will it feel to leave Australia? This isn’t the first time that I have reflected on the idea of going home, but I realized that in the past, I had always been focused on the returning rather than the leaving. I would think about seeing my family and friends who I haven’t been able to see for a couple of months and I would feel excited about the new stories they would have or the stories that I have to tell them. But it wasn’t until recently that I realized that returning home means leaving Australia. I heard stories before leaving the States about students who have tried to extend their stay in whatever country they had been studying in, and I had even heard a couple of stories in which students decided to transfer schools to complete their studies in this other country. I knew that wouldn’t be me, there’s too much back home that I would miss if I stayed but I also can appreciate the feelings of those other study abroad students a bit better now.
Upon first arriving to Australia I fell into the classic wanderlust of experiencing a new country for the first time where everything seemed new and exotic and interesting. This feeling was particularly strong during orientation when I was going on excursions and didn’t need to worry about food or classes or planning. But when I arrived in Sydney life did become more difficult. Suddenly I needed to cook and clean for myself, and although I can make mac & cheese with the best of them, my experience in both cooking and cleaning have been limited up until this point. I also had no sense of direction, I felt as though I was getting lost everywhere I went, and I felt far away from the city where most of the people in my program who attended different schools lived. There would be times where I felt a bit guilty writing blog posts or posting pictures on Instagram or Facebook because for every day that was filled with adventure and traveling, there were four or five other days which consisted of mostly cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, schoolwork and other mundane activities not typically associated with studying abroad.
This seems likely to be the second stage of traveling to a new country, when suddenly the new country doesn’t seem so perfect or amazing as it was when you first arrived but this felt different from the culture shock I was expecting. Typically when I thought of culture shock I actually projected my stereotypes instead of realizing that the shock arises from what’s unexpected. I thought the culture shock that I would deal with would mostly consist of trying to understand the slang or eating more seafood as I lived near the ocean but that isn’t what my life in Australia has been like at all. Instead, the shock was spurred by the fact that a good deal of what I imagined Sydney to be like wasn’t true. The strangest part about living in Australia I think has been that where I live now isn’t radically different from back home, but it’s just different enough so that I would notice these differences consistently. The food is in many ways similar to the States, but the brands are different, there are far fewer item options, and at times items that I am used to aren’t available such as breakfast sausage, biscuits, or Cool Ranch Doritos. I also perceived Australians as small differentiations of Steve Irwin or the surfer archetype but of course that isn’t true either. Occasionally I’ll come across an Aussie who may be similar to either of those descriptions but in the big city of Sydney, many Aussies don’t act like either of those stereotypes. I suppose that would be comparable to expecting to see people who look like the guys in the TV show Duck Dynasty while walking around New York City, it’s simply a different culture in the city. But these differences certainly haven’t been bad, in fact I feel as though I have learned a lot as a result of this shattering of my expectations.
While these changes at first felt strange and uncomfortable, slowly the differences started to feel natural. I know the names of different train stops and know certain areas of the city fairly well, I know how to use the bus and how to get off at the right stop properly, and even looking the correct directions when crossing the street has become second nature. Perhaps some of the most rewarding times are when I have been asked for help by Aussies themselves. When I returned to Sydney from New Zealand, I was getting on the train to go back home and an Aussie couple asked me how to get train tickets and how to get on the right train to get where they needed to go. It felt amazing to know the answer to their question and be able to help them out, suddenly Sydney was starting to feel more like home.
The feelings of missing Australia became even more pronounced when I remembered some of the problems that I will be returning to in the States. While studying abroad I’ve felt very, very far away from a variety of socio-political problems that the US faces and it is honestly difficult to think that I will be returning to these problems. This isn’t to say that Australia is without its own set of socio-political problems, while I have been studying there the Prime Minister changed for goodness sake, but by studying on exchange I didn’t feel the weight of those problems the way I sometimes do back home. I found it particularly funny when I would come across an Aussie student in one of my classes who would bash Australian politics or say that Australia had all sorts of problems because I personally didn’t see these problems nearly as much. I suppose that when you grow up in a country, you’re privy to all of the issues or concerns that country may have. Meanwhile when you travel to a new country for a short period of time, you tend to be blissfully ignorant for at least a little while.
So when I thought about what it will mean to leave Sydney, I considered all of this. I thought of how scared and out of place I felt when I first arrived, how awestruck I was by some of the differences such as the Opera House or kangaroos, and how much Sydney has started to feel a bit like home. It’s sad to think that I’m going to leave this place. I realized that at some point of studying abroad there’s a transition from being a tourist to being something else. I’m certainly not a native and there is plenty about Sydney that I don’t know, but I also feel as though I have played a role as an active member of Sydney rather than somebody who has just passed through the city. A popular caption on posts by bloggers is something along the lines of “this city will always have a piece of my heart,” and while that phrase is a bit of a cliché and it makes me roll my eyes, it’s a cliché because it speaks of a truth. I know that when I return home, I’ll be different. Not in any major dramatic way, but I have been influenced by living in a new city, a new culture, and a new country on the other end of the world. But I also would like to think that I changed Sydney a bit as well, once again not in any major way whatsoever, but to the friends I have made and classmates that I talked with, I have been able to share who I am with others as well.
It will be strange leaving Australia, particularly because I feel as though I have grown so much while I have been here but the end of my time is coming soon. I will leave knowing that I made the most of my time academically, socially, and adventurously but I will also know that there is so much of this country that I didn’t see and experience. I have also been reminded of just how much of the US I haven’t seen or experienced yet either, and I intend to see more of my home country when I return as well. This is such a big, beautiful, amazing world. And I cannot express how grateful I am that God has allowed me to experience this part of it.