by Jennifer Purks, C 2014
July 4 - December 14, 2012 will forever mark a memorable period in my life corresponding to my study abroad experience at University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. This was by far the longest time I’ve spent away from home or out of the country for that matter. But, living in Coogee, a small beach suburb of Sydney, with a balcony overlooking the beach and the ocean, I quickly made myself at home literally on the other side of the world. What I did not realize was how much these few short months would change not only my perspective, but also my motivations and priorities. This personal growth was partially due to the multitude of novel experiences I had during study abroad.
From seeing the sunrise at the most Eastern point in Australia at the Byron Bay light house and over Ayers Rock, sky diving from 14,000 ft. over the Great Barrier Reef in Mission Beach, taking salsa lessons in downtown Sydney, trapezing with a Australian friend at Sydney Olympic Park, and Bungee jumping 60 meters three times in Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand, to witnessing extensive wildlife firsthand, including dolphins and whales, penguins at Phillip Island near Melbourne (and feeding baby penguins at dusk), holding a koala, feeding kangaroos, riding camels in the Outback, getting attacked by a blood sucking leech, playing with Nemo on the Great Barrier Reef after becoming scuba certified, and swimming with giant sea turtles and near sharks, these experiences fostered adventure, exploration and independence.
However, my time abroad is more than the compilation of all these bucket-list experiences. It is the product of living in another country different from my own. Of getting to know a new city of 4 million people like the back of my hand so I could always find a bus route to return home safely. Of watching fireworks in Darling Harbor and missing the Fourth of July in the US. Of sampling the diverse cuisine including Asian, Italian, Brazilian BBQ, gelato, pavlova, Lamingtons, Tim Tams, meat pies, Max Brenner’s chocolate dishes and cooked kangaroo, emu and crocodile. Of attending a formal residential college gala with a fellow Australian classmate at the Sydney Opera House and having déjà vu moments of senior prom. Of volunteering at the Sydney Children’s Hospital in the Oncology Unit and helping return some normalcy to the lives of the adorable Australian children despite the daylong cancer treatments they received every week for months on end. Of enrolling in four classes at UNSW, including my favorite entitled On Drugs: Pharmaceuticals, Medicine and Culture that surprisingly focused not on Australia culture, but American culture, thus exposing me to what many Australians thought about the US.
Most importantly, my studying abroad experience is the product of befriending the locals. The people in a country make living abroad there and integrating into their culture most rewarding. As long as I made an effort, it was easy to befriend Australians in classes, through friends of friends, or at the Uni bar happy hour on Wednesdays – Australians are generally laid back and very friendly. The more time I spent with them, the more I noticed subtle differences besides their accent and I concluded we were in fact speaking different English. As someone who does not have extensive foreign language skills, but appreciates patterns, I began to seek out these various lexical differences and even adopt some. I used ‘How you going?’ instead of ‘How are you?’, ‘keen to go’ instead of ‘interested to go’, ‘ring up’ instead of ‘call’ and referred to the game ‘Scissors, Paper, Rock’ rather than ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ with the children in the Oncology Unit, just to name a few. Since I have returned to the US, I reverted back to the American way of saying these phrases. Yet, whenever I meet Australians here in the states or reconnect with Australian friends I met abroad over Skype and Facebook, I fondly observe these variations in lexicon and reminisce about the feelings of adventure, exploration and novelty that each day abroad held.
To say I experienced reverse culture shock when I finally arrived home in Boston Christmas morning (after visiting family for a couple days in Colorado) would be a gross understatement. Not a day passes that I do not miss my experience abroad or that I am not reminded of a specific moment there. Nevertheless, I returned over a year ago and while I enjoy living in the US and being with my friends and family here, something is missing. One Irish traveler I met describes it as if the colors in life are less bright than they used to be. I have realized now that to re-brighten the colors in life I must bring what I loved about my time in Australia back here to my life in the US - to live each day here no matter how routine savoring any exploration or adventure. I try to appreciate the small things more and make time if I am already out to spontaneously go for a short walk in a new area. Finding the new in the traditional is key and I know that Australia will certainly be stamped in my passport again.