When I first told my brother I was going abroad to Australia, he looked at me and replied, “That won’t look good on a resume.” I received similar feedback from professors and faculty I had confided in last year.
“Why don’t you go to somewhere more exotic?”
“What’s wrong with Europe?”
One rude parent even commented, “Do your parents know they’re paying for you to party on the beach all day?”
Their voices echoed in my head as I submitted my study abroad application for the University of Queensland in Brisbane. Sure, Australia is not the most culturally unique country in the world. It is not the home of the Mona Lisa, Machu Picchu, or the Great Pyramids. Nevertheless, when I received my acceptance, I boldly decided to explore Down Under.
During the next five months I completely forgot about the Australia stigma back home. Instead, I learned about its history and politics. I discovered the music, art, and spirituality of the Aboriginal population. I witnessed a demonstration for land rights and equality. I read about Parliament and the upcoming election. I saw Tony Abbott usurp Kevin Rudd’s position as Prime Minister. I took a class on Australia’s marine environment and studied the diversity fragility of the Great Barrier Reef. My professors preached environmental sustainability to protect the marine wildlife. I realized that the Boston College faculty was wrong about Australia-it has a unique culture unlike anywhere else in the world.
I left for my semester abroad in mid-July. The unusual timing made it particularly hard to say goodbye to my family and friends. Nevertheless, I embarked on a 24-hour plane ride and arrived on the other side of the world two days later. I moved into an apartment with five new roommates-none of whom were from BC or America. Disheveled, hungry, and jetlagged, I explored the streets of Southbank, my new neighborhood. To my disdain, I discovered that nothing was opened past 6 p.m. on a Sunday. I couldn’t buy shampoo for a shower or grab a snack at the corner store. My new roommates were of little help. I resorted to the vending machine only to realize I had no Australian coins. I begged the doorman to make change of my $50 bill and scarfed down a bag of honey soy chicken-flavored potato chips. They were disgusting, but I ate the whole bag.
The next day, I had to wake up at 9 for orientation. Luckily, it was 7 p.m. New York time, so I had no trouble getting out of bed. In fact, I had been up since 4! I took this opportunity to search for food. Again, everything was closed. A second round of honey soy chicken chips were calling my name. I succumbed to my hunger, then decided to go for a jog to loosen my joints after the seemingly never-ending plane ride. I rounded the corner of my apartment and found a street lined with swanky restaurants, most of which were out of my budget range. I turned down another block and saw a beautiful archway entwined with brilliant fuchsia flowers that extended for about a mile. I read a sign that labeled it the Southbank Parklands. The pathway ran adjacent to the Brisbane River. I decided it would be a nice shady spot to avoid the harsh “winter” sun during my morning exercise. I followed its trail and noticed palm trees littered with Rainbow Lorikeets, iconic Australian birds with brilliant colorful feathers. The smell of chlorine led me to a manmade beach that offered spectacular views of the city skyline. I must have stopped every 100 feet to take photos. It was a city unlike any I had ever seen before.
There were about three bridges in eyesight that connected Southbank to the central business district, and bright yellow ferries were transporting a few early morning commuters. The Brisbane River, from which the city gets its name, hugged the city’s twists and turns, offering a stunning reflection of the cloudless sky. I refused to stray too far from the path, wary of getting lost before my first day at Uni. I walked back toward my apartment and noticed some of the restaurants opening their doors for early morning customers. I had my first full Australian meal at a coffee shop called Saj Grill. I made friends with the barista, who was enthralled with my American accent. Every morning when I walked past the cafe, I would be greeted with, “Good morning, American girl!” I never learned his real name, but was comforted by his friendly demeanor.
Later, I was exposed to activities I never even considered while living in New York or Boston. I was able to dive in the Great Barrier Reef, go camping on Fraser Island, and see a play at the Sydney Opera House. I wandered the streets of Melbourne, took surfing lessons in Noosa, and sailed around the Whitsunday Islands. I went bungee jumping in Cairns and skydiving in Byron Bay. I tasted kangaroo, emu, and crocodile. I learned how to play the didjeridu and hugged a koala. I developed a soft spot for Summer Heights High, Nicole Kidman, and Empire of the Sun. Also, I studied at a university that ranks among the top 40 in the world. I stopped thinking about how I would validate my study abroad destination in an interview and embraced the fact that I was in a foreign country with a unique history and culture. It is time for professors, employers, and judgmental older brothers to stop writing it off as a study abroad destination for slackers and start appreciating all of the unique attractions Australia has to offer.
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.