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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Nous Restons Unis (United We Stand)

There I was standing in solidarity amongst my French friends as we gathered together to mourn a tragedy. For me, it was an attack on Paris and on humanity, but for them it had the added element of being an attack on home. We all felt a sense of loss, but the drive, the history and the emotion behind it varied. No one’s emotions are ever less than another’s, but they are, by nature, inherently different. I was standing in the crowd. It was an almost out of body experience. I was part of the moment but a bystander as well. I glanced around. Thousands had gathered. A sea of voices surrounded me, but they were speaking a language I only know pieces of. Sometimes when I spend time with my French friends, I jokingly remind them to speak in english (side note-very rarely is this necessary…they are all incredibly thoughtful in this way, always opting for their second language so I can speak my first). This day, however, was not a day for them to make adjustments for me. It was a day for me to just be. I could pick up words here and there, but only a few. Someone sang a beautiful rendition of the French national anthem. People sang with her.I didn’t know the tune or the words. But somehow that was ok. I was just being. Being a part of a moment that was far bigger than any individual. Bigger than any country. It was a moment where the world was coming together, I thought. Coming together in response to an attack that was meant to tear us apart.

A year ago I think that moment would have been very different for me. A year ago I did not personally know anyone from France. Today I do. I know amazing, incredible women who, like me, have left their homes on a grand adventure to Australia. What brought us to Australia may be different, and we each have unique personalities, histories and stories, but it is these very differences, and the celebration of them that brings such a richness to every shared moment between us. Today I know people from France. I have friends who spent the day contacting everyone they could to see if their friends and family had survived. I can’t even begin to imagine what that felt like.

When I found out about the attacks, I suddenly felt homesick. Overwhelmingly homesick. I just wanted to be back with my family. Then came a pang of guilt. I’m wishing to return home to the safety of my country and family and yet I think about how my friends here must feel. Their home is not a place of safety at the moment. A rush of emotion takes me back to the feeling I had after 9/11. You can never truly compare two tragedies. They were entirely different. But then again, in their most basic sense, they are entirely the same in that they both compromised peoples’ sense of security. There was an immediate loss of safety following 9/11. That day, no American felt truly safe. We fought off fear, we stayed strong, and we persevered, but in that moment, home was not safe. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but the feeling after November 13th is similar to me. The world was attacked, humanity was attacked, and for the French specifically, their home was attacked. Fear will be fought off, the people will stay strong, and they will persevere, but this day will never be forgotten- nor should it be.

While I say the moment would be different had I not known anyone from the country, I don’t think it would be any less impactful. I don’t think you have to be directly affected to experience the devastation of an event of this magnitude. This attack was coordinated. It was meticulously planned and expertly carried out. It was disastrous. And, sadly, it is not unique. Terrorism and terrorist attacks seem to be more and more commonplace. This attack was in Paris. There was another in Beirut. The attacks could be anywhere. It becomes less and less about the where, what and how and more about the who and why. No, not even who to blame…who are they attacking? And why?

Say what you will about the president of the United States, but this quote rang true to me:

“This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”

–Barack Obama

They aren’t just attacking France or Beirut, they are attacking the the values people hold most dear. The bombs and gunfire struck Paris, but the aftershock has hit the entire world. And the response from the world in the wake o this travesty was overwhelming. Around the globe, landmarks, buildings, media, and Facebook profiles lit up in support of France. In support of the people. In support of peace.

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So on Monday, November 16th, Melbourne organized a peaceful gathering for the French community and supporters. Federation square was set up, guards were in place (just in case) and the French community (as well as official representatives) came together to mourn for the lives lost, not just in France, but around the world. One by one speakers shared their thoughts on the tragedy. Some highlighted the loss of life, others detailed the events, but the all-encompassing message of the night was clear: We will not live our lives in fear. We are one world united.

 

After the speakers, John Lennon’s song “Imagine” played…and for a few minutes, we all just listened. For me, the lyrics rang truer than any other time I’ve heard them.

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one”

As the official part of the program ended, one of the most poignant moments of the night began. The community joined hands forming a circle and slowly, one by one, people walked to the center and laid down tokens, flowers, candles, shirts and photos in remembrance of the lives lost.

image3Aside from the gentle music in the background, the only sound in the entirety of Federation Square (a city center spot normally abuzz with daily happenings) was the soft clapping as people laid down their offerings. For a moment, time stood still. It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever been a part of.

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By the reactions of those walking through the circle, you knew who had lost a loved one. There was one man in particular who broke down completely. I don’t know his story (he was interviewed so maybe at some point it will be released) but in that moment, the details of his story didn’t matter. We all knew. We all felt it. And it was heart breaking.

The emotional crescendo of the evening was when a man walked into the center of the circle and lifted high a shirt with #notafraid written on it. I can’t remember if the symbol above the words was the Eiffel tower or the French flag, but in that moment the words spoke louder than any image. The crowd erupted in cheers. It was the loudest moment of the night, and a beautiful end to the evening.

Overall, to me, it was an experience that was respectful to the community, mournful of the loss felt by all, and yet it was permeated by this sense of strength and unity. In that moment, we were one people. Race, religion and country were all secondary to the one thing we all share: a sense of humanity.

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** Disclaimer– The views expressed in this post are mine and mine alone. I don’t pretend to know or explain how this event impacts anyone but myself. All pictures were shared with permission from my lovely French friends.**

 

 

 

If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes

In Melbourne, it’s a well-accepted truth that the weather is unpredictable. I’ve heard the phrase “if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes” time and time again (and I haven’t even been here a month yet). The meteorologists claim it keeps them in jobs, the older people complain about it and everyone comes prepared. Always. Seriously, these Melbournians could all be boy scouts.

I, however, am an American. Nay, I am a North Carolinian. We may have 30s one day and 60s the next, but whatever weather is happening THAT day, will continue happening that day. If it’s raining, pull out your wellies because there will be flooding by day’s end. If it’s sunny, throw on some sunblock and grab your sunnies (hehe) because it’s gonna be a great day. And so on, and so forth.

I have adapted to many things in this city, but I have yet to get a handle on the weather. In the past two days I’ve been rained on TWICE. One was slightly predictable, but today’s was out of NOWHERE.

Yesterday I made my maiden daytime voyage into the beautiful city center for the annual Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. Since the main plot of this post is the weather, let me start by saying that when I first arrived in the CBD, it was a balmy high 70’s with overcast skies. Photographic Proof:

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Sandee (my adventurous companion for the day of tastings and drinks) and I had found an area on Southbank (across the Yarra river from the famous Flinder’s station, Fed Square, etc) that had a group of about 8 restaurants serving $15 tasting plates. Once you purchased one tasting plate, you got a free pass into the free (yes, free) wine tasting along the Yarra river (must have been 12-14 wineries represented).

Well, let’s just say we gained “free” entry into the wine tasting three times over as we managed to hit three different restaurants, enjoying a sampling of appetizers at each venue. Spoiler alert—they were all DELICIOUS.

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Waterfront Restaurant’s Cuisine

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Waterfront Restaurant’s Cuisine

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Bluetrain

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Bluetrain

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BearBrass

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BearBrass

Since arriving in Australia, I really haven’t eaten out too much. Partly because I’m still living off my own savings, as my stipend and teaching pay have yet to kick in, and partly because it’s almost overwhelming how many dining options they have here. I wouldn’t even know where to start. I do feel like yesterday I was finally able to check a few things off my culinary exploration list (and by check off I just mean I got to experience them finally, not that I won’t try them again because oh MAN will I be trying all those foods again). I had oyster, shrimp, crab, kangaroo!!!, tacos (pork, fish, chicken, beef, veg), some delicious caramel brownie, zucchini fritters, steak tartar, and likely other delicacies I’ve already forgotten. All this description without even mentioning the wine, apologies. The wine was delicious. Obviously I was more partial to some (*Cough*cabernets*cough*), but I was always taught to try everything once (thanks Mom and Dad!).I took pictures of all the ones I liked because with 12-14 vendors each carrying 4-6 wines, it’s easy to become confused.

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By now (a few hours after arrival) the clouds had mysteriously disappeared, leaving the sun free to light up the city with it’s beautiful (yet potently strong) rays. Obviously I took full advantage of the city sky line and lighting by snapping a few quick photos.

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A riverboat cruise

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All in all it was a grand adventure in the city-one that we topped off with a quick visit to the Royal Casino.

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Having only been to one casino before (in Saint Louis, Missouri), this one was quite impressive to me. I don’t have much ground for comparison, but the size alone was shocking, never mind their ceiling décor.
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We signed up for their free loyalty program, and quickly spent our promotional $10 credit (plus a little).

By the time we decided it was time to head home, a torrential downpour awaited us outside.

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As I was wholly unprepared for this dramatic turn of events, Sandee lent me her umbrella for my trek to the tram (as she opted for a cab ride home). Well, it was useful and then not. As soon as I popped it open, the wind flipped it inside out and I was so quickly soaked that I folded the umbrella back up and walked to the tram The Casino was at a different part of the city so it took some friendly Aussie’s advice to get me back to my tram home. Every now and then I tried to pop the umbrella open, but the effort it took to hold it sideways (yes the rain was coming for me sideways), was more trouble than it was worth. I made it home safe, sound and soaked. What a night.

This morning I wanted to venture to the market and try out my brand new bike basket. Yes friends, I have a basket on my bike. I paid a pretty penny (well, not a penny, aussie’s don’t have money less than 5cents, odd right??) for a nice bike rack and easily detachable basket so I don’t always have to look ridiculous, but this basket is crucial to my poor back’s survival as a loaded down backpack ride 3 times a week was NOT working.

As I rode to the store I actually noted how pretty the skies were. I would definitely venture around my neighborhood to take some pictures of the houses and trees with this beautiful blue sky later today. I meandered through the mall and gathered my groceries only to return (not even 30 minutes later) to my poor water-logged bike. Well played, weather. Well played. I set a blistering pace back home, but arrived, once again, safe sound and soaked. I don’t like this trend I’ve started…

So I didn’t like the weather…what did I do? I waited ten minutes. Sure enough those clouds disappeared, taking the cold rain with them, and left me with a beautiful afternoon of photography.

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Moral of the story? Weather= 2 Mary= 0. Don’t get too comfortable Mr. Weather…I am planning a comeback.

My first weekend out and about in Melbourne

This past weekend was my first real weekend in Melbourne. Not to say that the weekend before to the sanctuary wasn’t incredible (it truly was something I will never forget), but this was my first weekend where I went out and about in the city and my suburb.

Friday night some colleagues at work invited me to come along for dinner and drinks in the Central Business District of Melbourne (I guess technically I’m not sure if they’d be colleagues since they are all staff and a bit older, but that’s what they called me and I’m going with it). So after work (school?) Friday we went straight from the Uni to the train station in Footscray. They had told me I was welcome to tag along on their journey in, or I could just meet them at the restaurant. Having absolutely no idea how to get around, I obviously opted for the former option. Everything was new and overwhelming. They walked through the town with ease, whilst I tried to keep up and turn the right way.

The trip was actually fairly easy from the train station as most of the lines take you right into the city center. I was able to snap one nighttime shot of the semi-well known Flinders Street Station, but other than that I just enjoyed being in the moment and kept my phone pocketed. My companions seemed to thoroughly enjoy my excitement and lead me on the more scenic tour of the CBD.

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I’ve never experienced anything like Melbourne. In the states restaurants are mostly self-contained entities that each provide their own atmosphere upon entering, but in Melbourne (much like some European countries) most of the restaurants had an outdoor component as well (seating, entertainment, etc). This changed the entire feel of the city as each unique dining experience was contributing to the overall buzz of the street life. As we wound through the alleys, I was just in awe of the sheer variety of shops, sweets and restaurants. You’d be walking down a fairly average unexciting alleyway only to turn right into a walkthrough indoor mall strip beautifully adorned with artwork on the walls and mosaic tiles on the floor. Needless to say I am already planning a return expedition into the city in order to truly get lost with my camera.

I was with a smaller group of four, but there were plans for a rendezvous with the larger group for birthday drinks at Myers Place bar. Since we had some time to kill we started the evening at this little outdoor diner for some drinks. Everyone had their favorite drink in mind almost instantly but I had to peruse the menu for a few minutes, not knowing ANY of the drinks listed. I found a word I recognized (lager) and ordered an O’Brien light lager as my first Aussie beer. I’m sure there will be many more to come, but this was a great, light pre-dinner drink. It was light on the alcoholic content and very refreshing.

Luckily I had read enough to be prepared, but for those who don’t know, drinks here (and restaurants in general) are quite expensive. A beer will set you back (outside of some specials you can sometimes find) about $8-10 , wine can be a little less, but for the most part about the same and cocktails seemed to start around $13-15. The other odd aspect of dining out is that the restaurants do not split tabs. It’s just not something that is done. So when you go out, you always bring cash to cover whatever your portion of the meal is. Most places also have a $10minimum charge if you want to use a credit card as well, which also encourages the use of cash (though, you won’t find too much for less than $10 anyway).

One of the women picked up the tab at the first restaurant and refused to be paid back and throughout the night it seemed to me that they kind of work on the principle of I’ll get this one, you get next time, and sometimes they just genuinely want to buy you a drink. We had a quick meal at a little Mexican restaurant (can’t remember the name), and then we were off to the main event. It’s a good thing I rode with them as I don’t know how I’d ever have found the restaurant off some random alleyway.

It was a small but homey venue, and the birthday girl had packed out the place with people from the Uni. I mostly stuck with my group but met a few PhD students (finishing up their dissertation) from Vic Uni. I had some of the delicious Shiraz wine and just enjoyed chatting with the melting pot of friends I had made (one from Adelaide, one form the Netherlands, another native Aussie and a New Zealander. Between the lot of us we had great conversation.

I had my first “oh no” experience with a word that night (thankfully I was around the friends who, after correcting me and having a good laugh, shared their own “oopsie” moments with language). So I won’t go into the details of the reason why the conversation was had, as it would take too long and I can’t remember all the details, but somehow I used the word fanny (meaning it as a person’s backside). The Aussie immediately turned a shade of red and asked me to repeat what I had said and then laughed. He then explained that fanny here meant, um, hmm, a woman’s front side…and it’s apparently quite a dirty slang for it. OOPS. I immediately explained what I had meant and we all had a good laugh. Note to self—never discuss fanny packs.

On the whole the night was an amazing first venture into Melbourne. One of the women drove me home, so there was no stress of which train where and when.

Saturday morning I had made plans with a girl I’ll be doing research with through the hospital here to do a timed 5k along the river by my house. I woke up bright and early, but after a late night of drinking and socializing, I had to drag myself out of the house to make it to the start line on time. I shared hellos with the girl before the race, but then quickly expressed in the most sincere way that she NOT wait for me or try to pace with me during the race. I have not run since October, and even this little 5k kicked my tail. All that being said, the scenery was breathtaking. We ran along the river and saw many other joggers, dog walkers, families, rowers and stand up paddle-boarders along the path.

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I underestimated the sun’s strength even at 8 in the morning so by the end I was a bit overheated. Luckily Catherine (my new friend) and her husband took me out to a brunch to chat and recover. The lunch conversation deserves its own blog post entirely as it was my first real chance to compare life, politics, and economics in the US to Australia. Needless the say the conversation was enlightening for all and a true, honest exchange of culture.

I finished off the weekend with Jason and Sandee and kids at a festival in their neighborhood (it seems there are always festivals here!). I don’t know what I was expecting, but this festival was more akin to a city fair at home. There was live entertainment, free smoothies, face painting, kids activities, rides, food, etc.

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(me blending smoothies)

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(Sandee and I enjoying the spoils of my hard work)

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(goofing off)

It was an incredibly hot day (high 90s—or mid 30s in C), so we had to head home for a break and dinner midday. It was good timing as a small storm popped out of nowhere (as they all seem to do here). Thunderstorms tend to freak me out a bit, and this one was no exception, but as we were outrunning the storm I couldn’t help but look back at the beauty of it all. I’ve never seen rain that looked like that

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We returned to the festival for the fireworks show (which was INCREDIBLE). Seriously guys, the Australian sky is MADE for fireworks. They filled up the entire sky

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This weekend was an important one for me as it really helped me feel a bit more settled in my new home. I’ve got a lot to learn still about the transportation, language (whoops), and culture, but for now I have to say I am really loving every bit of this crazy adventure down under.

 

P.S. I hit a new personal record in steps saturday and accordingly haven’t moved at all today

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Living in the Sun Globe

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(View of Melbourne from the Train Station)

I think the weirdest part of my first few days living in Australia has been how NOT weird it has been. Don’t’ get me wrong, this is different, it’s a challenge, and I am definitely NOT in Kansas (the US) anymore…but it still isn’t quite the extreme I expected.

I guess it goes back to Americans’ expectations of what Australia is. We think outback, snakes, spiders, crocodiles—ok,ok, so we mostly only think of everything that can kill you, but isn’t that what Australia IS? Well, no.

So far Australia seems like some weird cross between England, Miami and California. It reminds me of England because they speak English, but not really (more on that later). Miami comes to mind due to the landscape and plants (built for hot weather!), and the cool wind even in the bright sun reminds me of my trips to California. The truth is, it still doesn’t FEEL like Australia, or at least the Australia I thought I was jumping into. I haven’t seen a spider, snake or shark, well, unless you count this big guy.

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(Giant shark slide the kids were loving)

So to all my American friends–Australia (at least in the cities) isn’t as scary as we all picture it to be. I haven’t even checked my shoes for spiders, though I do still look for snakes EVERYWHERE, but that could be due to my past run of bad luck with poisonous critters.

Now for what you REALLY want to hear about…all the weird things I’ve seen thus far! Let’s see, the new words I’ve learned thus far are:

Tasty cheese—seems to be some sort of cheap cheddar like cheese that I believe can pass for “American cheese”…I opted for swiss cheese that day as it looked questionable.

“Give way” signs—these are in place of “yield” signs….Made me smile

Sunnies– I overheard someone say to a friend “I really like your sunnies” and quickly figured out that they were referring to sunglasses. I like this abbreviation and will be adopting that one immediately.

Fairy Floss– Cotton candy’s cuter name…I love it. It reminds me of in france where it is referred to as something that translates to “Papa’s beard.” Personally, I prefer fairy floss….

I’m sure there are many more words I’ve forgotten, but those are the ones that have stood out to me.

Today was my first day out and about in the CBD (central business district of Melbourne) as we went to a Festival at Saint Kilda Beach. Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the festival and though the morning was overcast (and a bit chilly with the wind blowing off the bay), the sun came out early afternoon and I saw the city in its natural light. It was beautiful. It is much like any other city with it’s large skyscrapers, graffiti marked alleys, and lots of trees. Melbourne has the added benefit of a river cutting through it and a bay up against it. To call it scenic is an understatement.

On the way to the city there are plenty of smaller suburbs (some of which are picturesque and some one would deem “sketchy” to travel through at night). There are also plenty of open patches of land with the wildlife look I expected from Australia. Flat lands with small rolling hills, dried grass next to plants that have seen way too much sun and are too little rain and very small trees. I loved that part of the train trip because it made me feel like I was truly down under.

No matter where I’ve been these last three days, one thing has stood out to me above all else and that is just how BIG the sky is. I feel like the only pictures I have been taking here are while utilizing the panorama setting on my camera because the normal photo simply can’t do the sky justice.

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(Saint Kilda Beach)

I truly feel like I am in a sun globe. I look up at the sky and think that surely this is exactly what someone in a snow globe would be seeing if their snow globe had sun. The sky truly feels like an immersive Imax experience and I simply cannot get enough of it. And the sunsets…oh my those sunsets…

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(Sunset from Jason and Sandee’s House in Caroline Springs)

Tomorrow will be a busy day as I finally get to see my University (I need to get used to calling it the Uni), and I will move into my new townhome, closer to school and closer to the CBD). It has been such a blessing to have this pitstop with my Adviser and his family, as being around friends made the transition much easier…still, I am very excited to finally unpack all of my suitcases (as I’ve been living out of them not wanting to unleash the chaos until I am in my own room).

Wish me luck as I continue this venture, friends. I am sure I will have trying times ahead, but so far I am adjusting well to my new life living in the sun globe.

Updates on Oz

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Following countless questions in regards to my plans to trot across the globe, I thought it best to provide some more details on my venture to the outback.

I have purchased a flight and officially depart the U.S.A on February 3rd, 2015. Yes, I know, it’s still months away, but since I found out in April and it is now mid October, I’m convinced time is flying past me, and I have already woken up once thinking my plane had left without me. Even harder than that transition of continents will be my departure from the great state of North Carolina- my adopted home state (in spite of despising sweet tea-sorrynotsorry) for the last 17 years. My family has since moved back to the Midwest (still planning to return to the east coast someday), but my “home” has always been here. I know this state, I know these people, and I love the life I have. So on December 15th (approximately) when I pile all my worldly possessions into my little hyundai hatchback (flashback to college when I did that for the first time), I will still feel like I’m leaving part of me here.

Anyway, back to updates. The application process for my planned graduate school in Australia was, to say the least, arduous. Due to changes in their system, a few glitches in the application (and maybe in small part due to the Aussie’s ‘no worries’ laid back lifestyle), it took over two months to get my full application in. Before the questions abound, yes I have a flight before I have a school, kind of. My situation is quite unique in that my boss from Duke (who now works in Oz) has a couple PhD spots available to offer at his discretion. So while I still need to go through the hullabaloo (wonder if the Aussie’s know that word!) of applying for both admission and a scholarship, I really just need to meet their minimums. Obviously meeting minimums has never been a mantra of mine,  so I put a fair amount of work into the application hoping to earn admission and scholarship off my own merits (but it’s nice to know that either way I have a place).

In any event, I won’t hear back about admission for a few weeks-months still and scholarships aren’t even considered til mid-December. Now you see why it’s pretty necessary to commit to a flight over early on, as if I waited for the actual news, my already pricey flight would’ve shot up like a rocket. My mom and I have previously joked about how selling my car was just so I could pay for the flight over (thankfully not true, but not terribly far off either).

Through a series of very FORTUNATE events, I’ve also been in contact with a potential roommate in Melbourne. The whole thing is a bit crazy, but I’ll save the story for when everything is set in stone, and I feel sure enough to type it without jinxing it’s perfection.

Contrary to popular belief, this is not a short-term move for me. For some reason, a vast majority of the people I’ve spoken to are under the impression that a doctoral degree takes only 1-2 years. Boy, I wish. Even with my Masters, and even with the course load abroad being less cumbersome (as the focus in international schools is research, while U.S. schools require 1-2 years of classes and then research), this adventure will last 3-4 years. It seems like a long time, and it is. This isn’t a semester abroad or a year of “toughing it out,” and it’s also not an Australian vacation. It’s an opportunity to advance myself in a field I love. I’ve had a lot of jobs throughout my life, but this is my big break to set myself up for a career (read more about my aussie adventure opportunity here: https://time2begin.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/defining-moment ).

I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from friends and family regarding this move and so much support. It still kind of surprises me, however, that the most common response is something along the lines of “you’re so brave.” Really? I don’t feel brave. I feel like anyone in my position would have made the same choice I did. Now maybe from your position (you might have a family, significant other, budding career, etc) it seems an impossible choice, but from my viewpoint, going seemed like not only the best choice, but the right one as well. Don’t get me wrong, when I first heard the opportunity was real, there were definitely tears, and I honestly can’t tell you whether they were happy or sad. Can you cry both at the same time? I feel it was both. I’m leaving everything I know for an opportunity to earn what I want in the unknown. So maybe it could be described as brave…I guess I can see traversing into the unknown in that light. To me, however, I’m simply reaching. I’m reaching past the limits I once set for myself. I’m reaching past the limits of where I thought my life would lead, and though it is a bit scary, it’s also incredibly exhilarating.

Everyone’s life won’t lead them to a new country or doctoral program, but we all have things we’d like to reach for but don’t because we see limits. True, sometimes in life there are indeed realistic limits to what we can do, but oftentimes the limits we see are self imposed. Stop setting limits. Stop throwing up walls because you think you can’t or think you shouldn’t. Reach high. I can’t say you’ll always touch the stars, but I promise if you don’t try, you’ll never even come close. Your future is unlimited…who are you to say otherwise?