If you’ve been following my blog the past few months, you’ll know that for the past five months I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. I arrived back home a week ago and now that the jet lag has worn off, my suitcases have been unpacked, and I’ve had time to process the whole experience, I decided that it was finally a good time to sit down and put all my thoughts into words.
I’m going to do my best to cover everything about my time abroad, the good and the bad, so I apologize if this post gets a little lengthy. But I wanted to provide a solid conclusion for those who have been following along with my journey, and offer advice and first-hand accounts of my experiences for anyone else who is considering to study abroad during while in college.
So get comfortable, grab a snack, and enjoy!
Choosing my Program
There were essentially three key criteria that I considered: location, courses offered, and cost, in that order. Location was obviously the biggest factor, as I wanted to love the place I’d be if I was going to live there for 5 months. By focusing on that factor alone I narrowed my program option down to two places: Australia (because I’ve always wanted to go there), and Argentina (so I could improve my Spanish). Then I proceeded to research the courses, as well as the tuition and costs of living at either school, and make a pro and con list about studying in either country. Having chosen such differing places, I would have vastly different experiences based on where I went, so I spent a lot of time deciding which experience I felt would be right for me at this time. Ultimately, after lots of prayer and consulting with my friends, family, and advisor, I decided that living in Australia was going to be best.
After applying and being accepted into the program, I spent a long time researching things about Brisbane, such as the culture and weather, and then wrote & rewrote one long comprehensive packing list. It’s certainly a process to prepare to live in another country for half a year, and requires lots of thinking ahead to ensure you have enough supply of daily things like prescriptions, contacts, etc. Calling my banks and phone company was also a big step, to transfer money, authorize using my card abroad, and suspend my phone plan. Then I had to acquire a visa and make copies of important personal documents to leave in separate places in case one bag got lost. It was all about accounting for the little details to make sure there were no hiccups. It may seem tedious, but spending months preparing for arrival was absolutely key in having a smooth transition overseas.
I can say whole-heartedly that studying abroad has innumerable benefits that you won’t get at any other time in your life. One of the biggest benefits is the new level of independence you gain. You essentially begin a new life in that other country, where you have to do everything for yourself and you don’t have the luxury of being close to home for help. You learn to become more self-sufficient and confident in your abilities, because even if you don’t always know what you’re doing, you know enough to pretend like you do ;).
Getting to live in a new place and experience their culture is another advantageous opportunity that you can’t get anywhere else. I haven’t met many adults who have dropped their lives and moved to another country for 6 months, so I wanted to take advantage of the fact that through studying abroad, I could. It’s a chance to get outside of your comfort zone and try new experiences and gain a different perspective on the world that you wouldn’t get back home. It’s a completely unique, one-of-a-kind experience, and the beauty of it is that it’s completely different for everyone. Your time abroad will be as rich and engaging as you make it.
Of course there are bound to be some bumps to living in a new country on your own. Homesickness is a big one that everyone will face at some point during their trip. For me, I kept myself very busy, taking trips every weekend for the first two months so I didn’t have time to feel homesick right away. But later in the semester it hit me hard and I found myself making a few extra Skype calls home during that time. And depending on where you chose to go abroad, the culture shock can be a rough transition as well. It took me a bit to get used to all the spiders in Australia (especially since I was terrified of them) but eventually I even adapted to that. Overcoming a language barrier might also be a problem, depending where you go, but everyone comes out happily on the other side so I wouldn’t let the idea struggling deter you from going.
My Favorite Moments
Of course it’d be impossible for me to pick just one favorite moment I had, because there were far too many incredible experiences to narrow them down. So I thought I would just share a few of the memories that stick out the most to me. My first trip in Australia to Byron Bay was definitely memorable, particularly because I had some many new friends to spend my time with. The paint party that weekend at Cheeky Monkeys was possibly the best part, because there was good music, great company, and I even ran into a few old friends while I was there! The next most memorable trip was Melbourne, as it was the first time I got up close and personal with kangaroos (and hand-fed them!) and I completely fell in love. It was also when I toured the Great Ocean Road and witnessed some of the most beautiful landmarks in the country. And speaking of beautiful scenery, White Haven beach in the Whitsunday Islands was an absolutely breathtaking location. The swirls of vibrant ocean color quite literally looked out of this world. And of course I’ll never be able to forget sky-diving over the Great Barrier Reef and landing on the beach.
But some of my truly favorite memories weren’t big trips or crazy activities, they were times I spent make new friends, and connecting with people around the world. I was lucky enough to call my housemate my best friend and enjoy all the little things that studying abroad had to offer; late-night ice cream runs, and movie nights, and deep chats about life. I’m grateful for all the small moments that added up and filled in the time between traveling so that Australia actually felt like home for me. And that’s what I love most from studying abroad, is the knowledge that I now have two places I can call my home.