“When you get back after such an amazing experience, you’ll be an entirely different person!”
Study abroad is supposed to be a very enriching experience. The quote, not unknown to international students, shows how other people see it. Studying abroad challenges you to think and act outside of your comfort zone, you’ll be alone and further away from everyone and everything you know. The exception to this is of course MacDonald’s, because you can find that basically everywhere in the world. To such an extent that you can almost express the wealth of a county based on the amount of MacDonald’s in that country. At the end of your adventure abroad, you will have grown and be a totally different person. At least, that’s what people think, say and expect. I mean isn’t that the expectation for and reason to study abroad?
So now I’m here. I’m on the other side of the world without the comfort of my family, friends and everything I know. I’m still trying to understand and find my way in the Australian way of life, still figuring out which (food-) brands are tasty and which I have to avoid at all cost. I still formulate my thoughts in Dutch and translate it to English, before I express them. I’m not even going to enter at length into the Australian English again because it’s still a lot of hearing and less understanding. Basically I’m still waiting for the moment when I’ll make my magical transformation to a totally different person, I don’t really know how it works. Will the transition to this “fully changed woman” come overnight? As in *poof* now you’re totally different.
Despite the struggles, I’ve really found my niche. I absolutely love where I live. I have the best housemates that an international student can wish for. They give me, as not Australian, a place that I can call home with an Australian family. This includes inside jokes, family dinners and family quarrels (but hey, every family does that). Even in the upper class of Townsville, also known as the International JCU students-community, I’ve found my way. I’ve found other international students who are on the same wavelength as I am, international students that confirm their home country’s stereotypes, and international students who look and act a bit strange (but you can’t say this out loud, because you actually don’t know them). The people in the last category are the tricky ones to approach, because it could lead to two different scenarios.
Scenario one goes as followed; formal introductions, the discovery of the same interests after a shattered first impression, the person in question has a very nice and/or interesting character and eventually a friend request on Facebook as a promise for shared adventures of awesomeness. On the other hand there’s scenario two. It has the same formal introduction, but it leads to no shared interests, conformation of (negative) stereotypes, and ends with an awkward silence and the hard effort of both sides to avoid another conversation.
Since a lot of people (including yours truly) are curious to see my big transformation, I’m really eager to change. Now in search of factors that may stimulate my *poof*-moment, I’m trying to challenge myself as much as possible to get the maximum pleasure out of my stay here. I’ve climbed Australian mountains and conquered the Australian airways. My next battle is against the Australian sea and reef, from whom I’ll win again off course. With a mentality that can be expressed as “veni, vidi, vici” I’m setting off on wild, Australian adventures together with my international friends.
“Wow, now you may have to sit apart for the first time” was the comment that one of my fellow international students made when my friends and I couldn’t sit together. I waved the comment away laughing, but still the remark still lingered in my mind. All this time I’ve been thinking, “I’m on my own, solo adventure”, but in the end, do I still define myself in relationship to other people? It’s not that I’m trying to defend myself against the comment. It’s just that the comment in itself says, “you haven’t changed at all, you’re still taking the safe road”. Now thinking about it, my adventures weren’t that adventurous. My mountain climbing was through a trail, I flew through the sky with a friend and the last time I went exploring on my own was a month ago. But am I asking myself the right question? Am I really worried about that? Because actually the question is not if I have changed or not, the right question that I should be asking myself is; why is this transformation so important to me? Well, so I can avoid awkward conversations saying basically that I haven’t changed with people back home who will end up in disappointment.
So now I’m here. I’m on the other side of the world without the comforts of my family, friends and everything I know. I’m still trying to understand and find my way in every area of my Australian life and still struggling with the language barrier. But the worst thing of all? I’m still trying to satisfy the expectations that people on the other side of the world have set. Yes, I still need a lot of growing before I get my *poof*-moment. Having said this, maybe I’ll just stop worrying about that for today and try to fulfil my own expectations; just enjoying the day as it comes.