Week one down- time to reflect. What am I learning? What was it like to anxiously spend my first week in Australia? Fair warning: this is a bit of a stream of consciousness.
Everything is eerily similar to American life but just different, too. The outlets look like sad versions of the screaming faces I’m used to, everyone works four days a week instead of five because they actually care about their quality of life (whaaaat?) and 50-degree weather is enough to justify setting up an ice rink at the beach. Every conversation I’ve had with another person in this program has included some kind of a “can you believe this minor difference exists in their lives?? So crazy!” I will be learning over the next two months how to be an outsider.
I am learning that people experience studying abroad differently according to their personality types. All of the ex-program students tell us not to watch Netflix- that we’ll look back and think that every second we stared at a screen we could’ve been exploring the city. There is truth in this, but it still makes me mad. You aren’t me. Yes, we paid for this program to explore another country’s culture. Yes, I do want to make the most of this trip. But also- I am introverted and being around a group of more than two other people, let alone an entire city, drains me. Don’t get me wrong, our program-provided walking tour, dim sum lunch, hike, and dinner cruise during orientation were all amazing and I enjoyed them immensely. It was, after all, my decision to throw myself into this experience. It’s just, I can’t spend every second doing amazing things. If I do, will they still be amazing? Wouldn’t I get tired of Sydney just a little bit faster? I just need some me-time to recharge, and that is not a crime. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. I am learning to explore the city and culture by pushing my boundaries of safety in my own way that helps me progress in existence with my anxiety, rather than fighting it.
I am learning that I need to make the unfamiliar feel familiar. One way to do this is to find the similarities in my way of life and an average Australian college student. I attempted this by exploring the University of Sydney’s campus, where I am interning. I spent the afternoon familiarizing myself with its ins and outs, finding the little shops and cafes that I find a homey connection to. It took me the hour-long commute on a crowded train on my first day of my internship to realize this. It started becoming overwhelming when I couldn’t stop thinking about how little time I had to get there, the potential of getting lost, and the pain of blisters forming on my heels from my new shoes (hot take tip: walk around for at least an hour in new shoes before investing in bringing them on a trip abroad). I realized that I tend to throw myself into new situations saying things like, “oh well, we’ll see how it goes,” and “I’ll adjust.” But I should know myself better. I should know that my anxiety is worse in new environments. After a tearful call with my mom the next morning, I realized my mistake in not having mentally prepared myself for the anxiety of figuring out an entirely unknown internship by myself and navigating new professional relationships and responsibilities.
None of this I’ve truly learned and integrated into my behavior. I use “learning” loosely to imply recognizing patterns in my behavior to help internalize my experiences and become one small step closer to finding a way to live my life effectively. There is no end goal in this learning, I only wish to continually improve myself. I am learning to stop trying to put a positive spin on everything and that it’s okay to take the time to mentally reset through reviewing and recharging when I get overwhelmed. Processing what happens with words helps. But mostly it is my extremely strong network of family and friends that helps me push past the cheery to really deal with my anxious experiences instead of burying them, which often gets me into trouble. For that, I will always be grateful.
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