Three life lessons learned from living abroad

Every stage in life, ever chapter in our own journey’s book offers many opportunities to learn and grow. I think I’ve always embraced the power of knowledge, but it wasn’t until I lived abroad that I truly embraced the power of self awareness. When you live abroad you are forced to confront a wealth of insecurities that you probably didn’t even know you had. While creature comforts are ever changing as we move through life (new cars, new houses, new city, new school), nothing strips them away quite as suddenly and completely as moving across the world. I’ve learned many many things about my new country, my home country, the research world, etc, but some of the most valuable things I’ve discovered are just about myself and how I interact with my world. So here we go, three of the life lessons I’ve learned since living abroad.

  1. The way things are done at home isn’t THE way of the world. Adjust your perspective because it’s the only thing you can control.

This seems like a funny one, but hear me out. I spent my first 6 months in Australia comparing absolutely EVERYTHING to how things happen in North Carolina. It was as if my little state (and more specifically my 40 square miles of “home territory” within it) was the standard by which everything “should be done.” Because of this, I initially spent a lot of time being pretty frustrated. The pace is slower, the customer isn’t king, and pretty much every word can be shortened to something ending in “o” (ambo, servo, salvo, avo, etc). The things that week one are hilariously entertaining, quickly become infuriatingly frustrating when they constantly conflict with your expectations. So I adjusted. This is the reality. There’s no “should, would could,” it just is. And you know what? That mindset shift changed everything. All of a sudden I started seeing some of the things that were actually better here than home. That slower pace forced me to find more of a balance. Losing the “customer is king” policy forced me to find a patience with the service industry (that to this day I still battle with, but I’m working on it), and all the Aussie slang has just made for some hilarious moments.

 2. My identity isn’t entirely tied to being an American, and it’s not my job to defend it.

One of my biggest struggles when I moved was finding out how much I unconsciously identified with my country. So much so that I personally internalized any and all negatively charged comments toward Americans (and trust me, there were plenty being passed around). I felt that since I was a part of the stereotyped country, I was being branded with the judgments being cast on my nation. Because of this, I found myself in this constant frenzied state of defending my country. It was painful, emotional and soul crushing because I turned every discussion into something personal. It took probably a year (and a lot of self work with patient guidance and understanding from a friend) for me to break free. I don’t mean to say that I don’t identify as American. Far from it. I embrace it, body and soul because where I grew up and the culture that raised me has a profound impact on the way I think and how I first see the world. BUT, it does not entirely define my personhood. My country of origin isn’t the whole me and while the culture and stereotypes that envelop it it have passed through me, so have many other moments, memories and teachings. I am my own person. And I am American. Those things aren’t the same, but neither are they mutually exclusive.

 

3. Language can be one of the most powerful connectors. Learn it, use it, be thankful for it.

I never realized just how powerful a shared language was. A vast majority of my friends here in Australia are fellow expats, but mostly from non-english speaking countries. Literally the only reason we can communicate is because they decided to study a second language (English). How incredible is that? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved the idea of studying different languages. I continued my French studies all the way through college, but studying a language and living in that language are two entirely different things. One night I was out for dinner and drinks with four French girls. I remember having this intense feeling of guilt as we all sat around the table speaking English. All four of them would have had a much easier time speaking French, but they all went to their secondary language so that I could be included. It stands out in my mind as such a powerful moment of social inclusion and acceptance that resulted in this intense feeling of gratitude. I walked away determined to devote some more time to my second language (if you can call it that). Whilst I’ve studied it for years, without having a need for speaking it, my vocabulary has dropped to an infant level. I’m very self-conscious now that I’m trying to resurrect my lost language, but it’s a feeling I’m working to embrace. Language is an incredible tool and connector, and I want to have the ability to connect with another culture using the words they connect to innately. I’m headed to France to close out 2017, so the clock is ticking. 🙂

I plan to continue expanding upon these musings, but for now I think I’ve hit the highlights. Until next time…

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The enigma that is the PhD

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A PhD has always been in the cards for me.  I idolised it in college, denied it after my masters, and chased it after a few years in the workforce. It was something that, on some level, I think I always knew I wanted to take on. I think originally I sought the challenge. I wanted to see if I could really achieve that “highest” level of education, but beyond that, the more I learned in high school, college and graduate school, the more I wanted to learn MORE. I never wanted to leave this amazing “safe space” of exploration. Within the university walls, intellectual curiosity wasn’t just encouraged, it was expected.

So here I am, chasing that dream of having two simple letters placed before my name. I’d be the 4th Dr. Woessner in my family, and the only one earning that title on foreign soil. Every day I’m thankful to be going through this process (ok, well, maybe every other day or so…we all have our “off” moments) and though I remain just as driven to achieve that final outcome, I think somewhere in the last two years while I kept the “what do I want,” I’ve changed my “why.”

I always thought a PhD was that big thesis you write at the end. So my why was always, to prove that I can finish a thesis. For my non-academia centred friends, the thesis is that giant book of a document you construct to illustrate to the “world” (not really the world, the only people who likely every read your thesis are your supervisors, external reviewers, and maybe an extremely overly supportive parent) what you wanted to learn, what you actually learned, and why it mattered. For the longest time I thought this document was the PhD. Writing it, after all, marks the “finish line”… so it makes sense that you define the process by the product right?

Wrong.

While most people know the end product of the PhD, the actual process of GETTING it is shrouded in mystery. It’s like a secret society. A process best described by the following quote: “From the outside looking in, you can never understand it, from the inside looking out, you can never explain it.”

The PhD is not just a document. It’s a cult.  It’s a life. It’s a world all in its own. The further down the “rabbit hole” you go, the harder it is to poke your head back out and breathe. The only people who truly understand the extremes are the ones living through it beside you. There’s this instant state of camaraderie with any of fellow candidates. There’s an unspoken agreement to avoid “how far along are you” and “how’s your writing,” but then, even WE can’t help but to ask the questions now and then. Because we know. We get it….and let’s be honest, we are kind of curious about your progress so that we can adequately gauge our own.

But even though we innately “get” the journey we are cumulatively on, each individual is still walking their own walk. You can have research teams, groups and programs, and you can even be in the same college or university, but at the end of the day, you are the only one going through your journey. Because of this, it can be a very lonely road…if you let it.

This is the other side of the PhD, that no one really wants to talk about. The part where you spend long hours questioning every aspect of your project and all the decisions that you made, whilst simultaneously running through the countdown clock in your head. 4 years until I don’t have a scholarship, 3 years…2….1….

I guess what I’m trying to say is, the PhD is far more than the finish line. I know from the outside looking in, “when will you finish” is the only question some of my friends and family know to ask, but from the inside looking out, sometimes that’s the last thing we want to here….partly because there’s no easy answer to that. We are in a race against time are really our only hope for when we finish is that WE finish before our scholarship finishes.

I’m in the middle of my venture. I’m past the new and shiny phase of the project, but not quite to the complete disillusioned state. I still love my project. I still love the world and life I’ve created here, but it’s hard. My days, to a certain extent, will be on replay for the next 14 months or so as collecting data for my clinical trial is slow going. I’m doing other things, of course. Like almost every PhD student I know, I too am teaching, writing, and finding any  unique ways to improve my resume. I’ve also taken on a role at the university where I am helping to develop course content for several masters and undergraduate classes, and blending them into online videos and content. It has been such a steep learning curve, but something I’m sure will really help me when I am out job hunting one day.

It’s not all tough going….during your PhD you have some of the greatest “job” flexibility of your life– depending on the project you’ve set up. Mine, for instance, is an ongoing clinical trial. I am constantly enrolling new heart failure patients, and each patient undergoes about 9 testing visits over the course of 8 weeks, whilst also consuming the correct colour and dose of beetroot juice (my intervention of choice). This means that, for all intents and purposes, my project is always running, making it very hard to ever just “take a holiday.” Sure, I can work from home, and maybe take off early now and then, but if I want my project to ever be finished, I (and any holidays I want to take) am my own biggest obstacle.

Maybe for some people getting a PhD really could just be about conducting a study and writing a paper, but I think by taking that approach you would miss an incredible opportunities for self growth. Every day I learn something new about my project, my field of study, and most importantly about myself. So sometimes I think it’s good to sit back and be thankful for where I am. My what hasn’t changed. I am still doing a PhD. But my why is no longer just to face the intellectual challenge of completing a thesis. My why is because I want to challenge myself. I want to challenge my way of thinking, my determination, and the person I want to become.

This PhD isn’t about developing a project. It’s about developing myself.

What a life.

What an opportunity.

What a privilege.

Not just the highlights

Living in Australia is no longer a “new” thing. I think it’s finally hitting home just how far from home, yet at home I feel here. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

When people ask me how long I’ve been here, I now have to pause and think. I realized I’m no longer counting up my days, weeks and months. When I first arrived, I treated my time here like young parents treat their newborn’s age, celebrating every month as a milestone. Even one year became 12 months, as somehow that felt more significant. But now I have to think. It’s over a year. No, not two. Definitely not two…How long has it been?

It’s funny how normal things feel, and yet I still “learn” new things every day. I’m still enjoying everything as an adventure, but simultaneously appreciating the comfort of the known. When I think about the US, I fondly remember my car and driving wherever whenever, but for some reason taking a tram or train doesn’t phase me anymore. I’ve almost become spoiled having instant access to a city constantly full of life. Every weekend entails some sort of brunch and yet I’ve only been to the same place twice (some places are just TOO good to stick with the one brunch per venue rule).

Home life is better than anything I could have hoped for. I’m in a beautiful neighborhood with so much character and a breathtaking garden that I walk through every morning I need to head to the hospital. I live with my best friend who is fits all the typical roles of “psychiatrist, cheerleader, adventurer, partner in crime” as well as the atypical wombat to my panda (you have to throw in some crazy). I have two other housemates that I’m forever grateful for. We have our separate lives and yet we’ve always found time to merge them altogether for a family meal or outing. I’m lucky enough to have tricked a British bloke into sticking with me for nearly half a year now (or should I count by months?? Or weeks?), and thank goodness for that as I’ve found someone who can match me in sarcasm and well surpass me in puns. A lovely accent to adoringly mock doesn’t hurt either.

All in all, I’d say this adventure is pretty swell. I could end there, but then I’d only be sharing the highlight reel of the story. Like when you cross paths with an acquaintance and you answer their inevitable ‘how are you’ with the cookie cutter ‘Great and you?’ response. It’s hard to share the other half. But when you don’t, it’s easy for everyone outside of your immediate world to have this false impression that your entire world is sunshine and rainbows. Well folks, even in Australia, even in Melbourne (the most livable city in the world) it is not perfect.

The work is hard. I’ve spent the last few months in almost a dazed state. It’s mostly self-induced. I have a knack for over-committing to tasks. I also like the challenge of ensuring all my tasks are completely and entirely unrelated to each other. I hope that the diversity of my experiences will assist me in my next phase, but for now I know they are making me stronger in the here and now. I’m teaching Masters students and being paid to redevelop all the content for that same unit into a digital format. I sit on the leadership team of my research institute with all the program leaders and director as the student representative and also lead a highly driven and passionate group of PhD students on our own committee. I’m planning an end of year conference for the research institute. I helped supervise a master’s student research project, and will be carrying on the data collection for it now that she has finished. My supervisor and I are working on two publications to hopefully get out by years end, and my other supervisor has tapped me to assist with another. I competed in a three-minute thesis competition at my university to improve my presentation skills, and through much support from friends, colleagues and supervisors, I ended up winning and will now present at the finals is Brisbane. All this said, and no mention of my actual PhD research, which is knock on wood going great.

I list them not as a pat on the back of accomplishments, but rather to highlight just how split my mind is through the day. Sure, I’ve enjoyed every task I’ve set myself up with, and yet, I’ve had many very taxing days because of this load. I push myself, and I can very easily find myself in a position of over-extension. Just last week I was forced into some rest and relaxation when out of nowhere my back gave way. I spent an afternoon in a doctor’s office getting x-rays to find out what I really need is to just stop. I need to just pause.

While the back situation is a more extreme example, I have had many nights in the last 3 months where I found myself questioning everything. In those moments, I’m even more thankful for my support system here. And the one back home. But the one back home remains a challenge. Not because it isn’t there, but rather because of me. I find it very hard in the few text exchanges I can have with people to share in any depth what is REALLY happening. So I give the highlight reel. I check the boxes off of all the “big” things that happened. Without proper time to go into a “problem” I’ve faced, I find it easier to gloss over it, to minimize its impact to some extent. In most exchanges I quickly change the topic back to the other person or at least onto happier news. It’s just easier. Why burden someone else with some of my harsh realities.

But then…why NOT? They are my friends. They are my family. It’s like I’m trying to protect this precious Australia bubble of perfection. How dare I be the one to “pop” that illusion? But I should. Because this isn’t a dream. It’s real. It’s not a holiday, it’s my life. And it’s perfectly messy. I never thought about just how hard it would be to not have ALL the people in my life that I forever took for granted back home. In the US I had friends that I’d known for decades. Friends from every single stage of life. Different friends. Different groups. I happily bounced house to house and city to city. Here I have one city. Granted, I know many internationals so one could argue I have a few countries now as well, but let’s set that aside for a moment.

It’s hard. It’s much easier for friends or family back home to “make an effort” for 3 months whilst you travel abroad. When there’s a known end date to the adventure, it’s just simpler. But my friends just know that I’m here. I have no return flight booked. I will be here at least 2 more years and then…who knows? I don’t even know. So people choosing a friendship with me right now are choosing a long distance friendship that is guaranteed to be a lot more work. I cannot at this point be a friend of convenience for anyone back home. In almost every aspect actually I’m a friend of Inconvenience. It’s work. There are only a precious few hours each day where my awake times coincide with those back home, and sadly those are my morning hours which are inevitably the busiest. It’s work.

What it shows me, however, is that the people that are still trying really care. The people that text me when I don’t respond to the first and get lost in my world are ok with inconvenience. I’m forever thankful for them. And I probably need to be better about telling them that.

It’s not yet a new year, but my current resolution is to stop playing the Australia highlight reel. Sure, I’ll still share the excitement and fun, but if you ask, I’ll share the whole story, because in the end, my life has ups and downs like anyone else’s. I’m no more immune to the moments of darkness than anyone else. Luckily, however, here in Australia Spring has sprung, and the bitter cold winter is coming to a close. The warm weather brings flowers and green and most importantly sunlight past 4:30pm. There’s your highlight reel. The other side of it? I promise I’ll bitterly complain when true summer hits and its 40degrees C (over 100F) and I’ve got no air conditioning in the house.

 

 

Three Minute Thesis

The idea of condensing your entire thesis project down into three minutes is almost laughable. Seriously. I’m just about a year and a half in, and already my project seems SO BIG that there’s no way I’ll ever be able to write enough words to do the study “justice.” So when I saw this competition advertised, I was truly intrigued. How on EARTH could people do this?

I remember going to the three-minute thesis competition last year. I rocked up to the lecture room somewhere around halfway through the presentations. There were maybe 15-20 people competing in the heats, and I made sure to catch the ones of people from my College. I was a spectator preparing to be entertained.

And boy was I. The talks were so good. Sure some presenters struggled a bit more than others. Some lost their place during the talk, or had a few too many “technical” terms, but overall, everyone in the audience could walk away generally having some idea about a myriad of drastically unique studies occurring at the University.

I found myself thinking about what words I would use if I were to present some day. Between presenters I distinctly remember musing to my friends about my silly “beet” puns and how I would give it a go sometime. And that was the last I thought about the competition.

Until 2.5 months ago. We received an email about the competition and something about it just struck me. I didn’t know how I could do it (after all, I’ve just BARELY started my study and last year the winner was already DONE), but I wanted to try.

The rules were fairly simple. Each presenter has 3 minutes (strictly 3 minutes—they had a countdown clock and everything), to present their research. Judges mark the performances based on content, delivery and engagement. You are allowed one static slide, no props, no costumes, and your speech must be in blank verse (no fancy rhyming or singing). Easy. No problem. I can speak for 3 minutes on MY research area.

So I signed up and got to work. Draft one. What was I thinking? Why on earth am I doing this? It’s not at all easy.

Woodrow Wilson (I think it was him) said “If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”

And man. That quote has never rung so true. It seemed my first draft of my speech just got longer and longer and every time I tried to “edit” it down, I faced an internal battle of debating how important that one sentence, that one WORD was to the entirety of my project.

I finally got the timing about where I wanted and it was time to run my words by a test audience. Thank goodness for having some guinea pigs (I mean, housemates) nearby.

Never before have I realized just how “technical” some of the words I use in my field are. Here I was thinking I had simplified my topic too much, when in reality, my entire 180 seconds were littered with scientific jargon.

Exercise Capacity. Well yes, we can maybe guess what you mean, but what does it REALLY mean? 

Peripheral and central factors? Peripheral to what? What are you trying to say?

Beyond just the individual words, I had unknowingly written the entire talk in the format of a formal research presentation. Fantastic for a conference. Terrible for engagement of a lay person audience.

Draft two….ok they understand it now. Fix the words.

Draft three…. The university hosts a training. I realize that mine is way too long. What do I REALLY want to say?

Draft four….Supervisor. Help.

Draft five….ok. I think this works.

Unfortunately, draft five was finished precisely a day and a half before the competition date. I spent the next 36 hours in a state of pure panic as I paced the halls, office and bus stops talking to myself in a variety of tones and pitches with fairly energetic hand motions.

The day of the competition I’m in full panic mode. I am the very last presenter of the day so naturally, I have NO idea what anyone before me said as I used each of their countdown clocks to practice and time my own silent rehearsals. The presentation itself was overwhelming. I stumbled through a few parts, but other than that have next to no recollection of those 180 seconds.

We had 18 people presenting. One individual from each college (there were 5) would be chosen as the college winner to go onto the finals. Additionally, the overall winner and overall runner up would move forward as well as the people’s choice (who the audience voted for). I had next to no confidence going into the announcement, but somehow walked away with People’s Choice award, and a spot in the finals in 4 weeks time. Oh man. Now I have to go again….

I spent the next four weeks really trying to fine tune my talk. We received “feedback” from the judges. I use “” because the feedback I got was “great presentation” and “include more methods.” Cool. The university held another training day for the 8 finalists, and between that and many more practices at home with the housemates, numerous late nights of whining to the best friend, and countless train rides spent muttering to myself, I was finally ready for the Victoria University finals.

I spent the morning in a panic (fairly typical for me pre-presentation). By the time the competition was kicking off, my nerves were calming and my excitement was rising. My biggest fear is forgetting my words (and when you have 490 of them to say in less than 180 seconds, I think that’s a reasonable fear). I knew my words though. I had them memorized by heart. I just needed to get out of my way and stop thinking. Just tell your story. You know your story. Be you. Stop thinking about the words and think about the story. It was the best advice I got (thanks Aurèlie). I got out of my head. I stopped rehearsing. I was in the moment. I handed over my phone so I had no distractions. I had no one to panic to. I was just there. Waiting to go. I was second.

The stakes were high. The winner from this round, we were told, would go on to represent the University at the Asia Pacific Finals in Brisbane, Australia at the end of September (in addition to a nice cash prize). Runner up would receive a cash prize and people’s choice would win a pretty hefty gift card to the campus store. Beyond the prize though, all the presenters shared the same motivation of just not wanting to MESS UP in front of a video camera, live audience, and our supervisors.

When I stood up, I took a deep breath. It felt like 30 seconds (I’m told it was more like 5-10). I smile, and just went for it. Line by line, the next words just kept coming. I focused on the audience. I found smiling, nodding faces and spoke right to them. I got in a rhythm and forgot I was even nervous. Wait, what’s the time. Am I on time? I glanced at the clock. Ahead of time. Slow down. I did. I got to my final line and brought it home. Relief flooded through my entire body. I wanted to collapse in my chair. I did. I felt good. At that point, the outcome didn’t matter because I knew that was the best I could have done.

Over the next 45 minutes we got through the other presentations. One by one we all started smiling. It’s over. It’s done. We were dismissed for food while the judges deliberated. I was immediately engulfed in hugs and congratulations. Guys, we don’t even know how I DID yet. The best friend was literally more excited than I was. She had sent me a flurry of texts right after my presentation (that I didn’t get until after because I didn’t have my phone….SHE had my phone). I had a picture from the boyfriend that was a selfie of him with my supervisor as they somehow ended up sitting beside each other. There was so much support from my friends and colleagues and supervisors. And there was food. And so we waited.

And waited. And waited.

Finally the judges came out. After the necessary thank you’s and congratulations, they announced that the decision was so difficult that they actually selected TWO presenters for the runner-up award. But first, they called people’s choice.

Mary Woessner

What. Wait. Me? 

 I went up, accepted my prize and couldn’t stop smiling. They then announced the two runner up places. Neither were me. At this point, I’m in a state of nervous, confused, perplexed wonder. Either I wasn’t even close to the top…or….no…surely not. I hadn’t even won my college heat in the last round. I wasn’t the winner or runner up either. No…surely not.

And the student who will be flying to Brisbane next month to represent Victoria University at the Asia-Pacific Finals is….Mary Woessner.

No freaking way.

They called me up. They called my supervisor up. There were photos and smiles and all the fanfare you would expect. It was unreal. All my friends had stuck around to congratulate me and all I could think was uh oh…now I have to do this again!

It was an awesome experience. The competition pushed me to my limit. It took so much longer than I thought. It took so much more energy than I thought, but in the end, I’m really proud of where my speech got to. I have no idea what the next month’s training will be like (I’ve been warned it is intensive), but no matter what happens, this was been one heck of a ride. And I’m so thankful for everyone who has supported me on this journey so far.

(Pictures from the day from top left to right: The supervisor and boyfriend selfie they were so pleased about, the acceptance of the award with my supervisor, the overall winner certificate. From bottom left to right: the people’s choice winner certificate, a random photo from the ice hockey match we watched later that night, chosen because it pictures my biggest cheerleader throughout the entire competition–told you you should have smiled for the photo).

 

 

 

Home

Home

Such a simple word. Yet it evokes an immediate feeling. From anyone. From everyone.

Home.

When you are younger, it’s a fairly simple concept for most. It’s where you live. You go to school and then you go

Home.

As you grow, so does its meaning. The parents move. You move. It’s not just  a geographical location…but one tied with emotion.

Home.

The place where I feel comfort. At ease. But that’s not always true either is it? There are plenty of people who don’t feel comfort at all and they still call that place

Home.

Maybe it’s where I feel the most me. Or maybe it’s where I can go back to feel like the me I used to be. Which is comforting. Sometimes.

Home.

It’s becoming more complicated. Is it less about the feeling and more about the people?

Home.

Where family is. But family isn’t always where I am…and yet I can still feel at

Home.

Friends. Friend who feel like family. Or just feel safe. That’s it. Safety. Maybe safety is

Home.

But then it’s not a place at all. It’s back to a feeling. A sense. A sense of what? How do you describe a “sense of”

Home.

To me it meant one thing before and an entirely new thing now.

Home.

It’s not just the country. The state. The city. The house. The people. Those change. They always change. So what is the part that stays. Is there anything consistent about

Home.

It’s unbound. It can be anywhere. It can mean anything. Actually, when I really stop to think about it, the only consistency is

Me.

It’s me. I’m home. Where I am. Who I am. What I am. I’m home.

My life unfiltered

After travelling home for a conference and some personal leave, I’m just now settling back into my life here in Melbourne. I’ve realised that since I’ve been here I really haven’t shared a post about my every day. I think Facebook and instagram photos can be amazing snapshots into the highlights of our lives, but sometimes it’s just nice to see what everyday life is like. So here we go…Let me walk you through a day in the life 🙂

So wake up is anytime between 5:30am and 7 depending on whether I have to head to the hospital for testing or just go into Uni. This is my bedroom, somewhat straightened up  (because otherwise you wouldn’t see the furniture).

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After a quick breakfast (yogurt and muesli), I head out front. There is a bus stop about 10 meters from my door so if I’m going to uni, I wait outside there.IMG_3271

This little card is my pass for any public transport in melbourne (bus, train or tram). It’s not cheap to ride the transport but it sure is convenient. It works out to be about $7.50 a day if you ride twice (typical commute).IMG_3022

The buses aren’t too bad, but melbourne winter + early morning buses still means its necessary to “rug up” (bundle up)!IMG_3031

The end point of the bus route is Footscray station. Relatively modernist in style for a train/bus stop, but the footscray area itself is still said to be “up and coming”…IMG_3032

This is on my walk to uni from the train. Always makes me laugh “real australians say welcome” IMG_3035

Pass by a lot of old style houses with this beautiful fencing. Most of the units will be torn down as buyers are purchasing for the land and not the leftover bricks sitting on top.IMG_3044

After a short stroll, I come up to my Uni. Not the prettiest from the outside, but not too shabby either.IMG_3049

The main street in front of campusIMG_3210

The centre yard of campusIMG_3051

The back end looks out on a horse racing course, which is quite lovely.IMG_3053

A better shot of the centre courtyard (deserted thanks to end of semester and winter break)IMG_3054

My office…I picked a window desk just to feel a little less like I’m in a box.  You can’t tell from this angle but I’ve got my double screen up as I can’t imagine having just one computer screen anymore. One of the guys has set up a goal area behind me…I’ve yet to have any success in my putt putt game…IMG_3055

I’ve not been in the lab as much at the moment with all the testing of actual patients I’ve been doing, but when I do have to run some blood samples, this is my setup in biochem.

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So now I will backtrack back to the morning time. If I have patient testing, then I have to head out to the hospital in the western suburbs. For this I pop over to the train station near home (about a 10 minute walk).IMG_3118

This is the hospital where all my actual testing takes place. Amazing facility.IMG_3240

My little corner room for testing 🙂IMG_3241

So many windows make winter seem a little less coldIMG_3242

So after a long day at uni or the hospital, I head home usually by about 5-6, though if I’m teaching I won’t leave until 8:30pm. This is the last part of the walk home 🙂IMG_2892

The flatmates and I have just purchased new pillows and blankets to make the house just a bit more comfy 🙂IMG_3291

So there you have it…my typical weekday. Sometimes things can be a bit more exciting, but I guess in a lot of ways my days are like they would be anywhere else in the world. My weekends will sometimes have a bit more flare, like when I did a 3 day trip to Queensland…

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Or when we did a day trip to the great ocean road…

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But most weekends are a bit calmer….I wake up with a morning coffee

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Venture out past the gardens

IMG_0803To go have a brunch at some new spot (seriously, I’ve been to at least 2-3 brunches a month since I’ve been here and still have so many left to try!).IMG_0811

Sometimes the afternoons/evenings include some shakespeare in the parkIMG_0253

And sometimes it’s a lunch on the deckIMG_1765

Having the gardens nearby makes marking exams a bit more fun (in spring, not so much in winter)IMG_0681I always play a key role in cooking up some dinner (a supervisory one obviously)IMG_2953

And sometimes I even venture into the cityIMG_5377

For drinks out with some crazy girls IMG_5380

So there you have it….My every day world in Australia. See, not quite as glamorous as you may have thought when you take off the social media filter. But this is my world, and I am loving it. CheersIMG_8790.jpg

It was never JUST about Australia

All the challenges and obstacles I once envisioned with regards to this international adventure were originally based around me finding a way to settle into this brave new world. I naively imagined that my accomplishments and self-satisfaction would peak when I finally hit that moment of feeling “at home” in Australia…but the funny thing is, I’ve recently come to realise that  this move was never really about adapting to a new country. It wasn’t about Australia,or some grand adventure to travel to the farthest ends of the earth (no, Mom. The intention was never to be so far away from home)…In this past year I’ve truly come to realise that the most significantly meaningful part of this experience has been learning how to define, embrace, improve and accept myself in a place where emotionally and geographically I have no one BUT myself to fall back on.

Throughout life I can pinpoint certain moments, days and events that have had a significant impact on my life course. Each one has in some way shaped me either professionally and personally. There was the time I got my acceptance letter into college,my first puppy, my first “big girl” job, my first time living alone, my first loss of a loved one etc etc. Up until now these moments have been just that–a moment. A singular point in time that had an impact. This past year, however, is completely different because it has been 365 days of these moments. Never before have I been able to look back at an entire year and so clearly see a dramatic difference between my current life perspective and my old one. I’ve grown. I’ve changed. In some really big ways, but also in a thousand little ones.
I’m the same person I’ve always been, but more confident. I’m self assured but self-reflective. I’m imperfect in a hundred ways but I’m embracing the flaws, highlighting the strengths, and working towards more. I find myself embracing the unexpected more readily. The adventurous spirit that used to be buried deep under a layer of social self-consciousness now shines brighter than ever before. My critical rational self is slowly learning to express thoughts and emotions more readily. I still pride my loyalty and friendships above all else, but I’m learning where and who to invest my time and energy in. I’m taking care of others but not at my own expense.
There are challenges. Oh my are there challenges. Instagram and Facebook tell a story of adventure, but the pictures only tell one side. I’m not trying to misrepresent my time here. Overall it really is so much better than I ever could have imagined, but time is flying and when you only have minutes to spare to share a story, you want to share the happy one. You want to post the photo of the fun. You post it for the loved ones back home to see you are doing ok (because really, even in the chaos, things are OK), but you also post it for yourself. Sometimes a quick photo with a thoughtful caption can be the reminder you need that the day to day is fairly frivolous, but within this frivolity is life. And taking a moment to smile at the big picture, or even the small picture, can be just what you need to keep chugging along.
I never thought this move would be easy. I knew it wouldn’t be. I used to pride myself on being independent, but I now realise how superficial and materialistic my definition of independence was. I lived far away from my family–INDEPENDENT (they had moved and I stayed within 30miles of where I’d always lived). I lived on my own–INDEPENDENT (I was too unorganised to find a roommate and so I became more hermit like). I went to movies by myself –INDEPENDENT(ok, I think this is still a good thing to do now and then, but really? that shouldn’t count as independence). I still pride myself on independence, but in a different way. I’m thinking for myself without being constrained by what other people may think. I’m not bound to any past history here because no one has known me for longer than a year. When you move, the nicknames, stories and character analysis is limited to the last 12 months, which frees you up to refine and redefine any aspect that you like. It’s freeing. It’s automatic independence from the expectations people had of you before as well as the expectations you had for yourself. I think my thoughts and share my opinions free of the labels that I let define me when I first arrived– American, english speaker, foreigner, athlete, PhD, homeschooler, etc. I’m independent of the both the societal and individual constraints I once let consume me. I’m not perfect, and I definitely still have my moments, but overall I truly think I’m becoming the best version of myself.
Australia was never just about kangaroos and koalas. It was never just going to be a study abroad experience. I think I always knew this trip would be life changing….I just never expected it to be so ME changing.
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Magnetic Island, Queensland Australia (photo credit-frombat)