It's usually around one's birthday or the holidays when they decide to inform their loved ones that they're going to study abroad. We're asked what we want for our birthday, and we respond--almost automatically-- MONEY! "I'm studying abroad!" Now everyone is in an ecstatic state of excitement, firing off one hundred and one questions: where are you going?; how long?; are you going with anyone?; where else are you visiting?; how excited are you? Needless to say, this initial moment and the moment you return to share all your stories are the two times people will be the most interested. But the thing about studying abroad is, when it comes time to share your experiences, it's almost frustrating because you simply cannot find words powerful enough to describe how much fun you really had, and the pictures all of a sudden don't showcase how beautiful the beach was. But that doesn't matter. When you study abroad, you have the experiences, you preserve the memories, you make the friends, and you will treasure that morsel of absolute satisfaction for the rest of your life.
I boarded my plane February 11, 2012, and while saying goodbye to family and friends was the hardest thing I've had to do, knowing what the next four months would bring, it was invigorating! Some people will study abroad and have fun, enjoy a new culture and take pictures but others like myself will come back a changed person. I stepped out of my small, farm town comfort zone and met the most incredible friends of a lifetime and exposed myself to a completely new culture and environment; and for those opportunities I am forever grateful. Living abroad in a beautiful country alongside people who are nothing but fun, thoughtful, loving, and encouraging, brought out a new confidence I didn't even know I had. Not to sound cheesy but I really did find a new Aussie Ashley deep inside. Australia certainly was a whole new book to my life, but I'd rather think of it as a spruced up second edition, but this copy won't be on shelves for a limited time only!
The most memorable of my experiences wasn't the opportunity to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef, or the chance to snuggle a koala bear--although they were both amazing chances-- but it was the chance to live, day in and day out, with a group of Australians. We were housed in the dormitory together and were each others' neighbors. They showed me how a normal Australian my age lives. I made friends with my corridor mates who took me to the beach on a Tuesday afternoon, took me shopping on Saturday, made me Vegemite on crackers, introduced me to the Tim Tam Slam and most importantly, they were genuinely interested in my lifestyle and culture! These moments with my new mates are the intimate, treasured times I reminisce on a daily basis.
And these friends were the ones who made my hardships more bearable. When you travel to the other side of the world, getting homesick, sad or emotional is inevitable. Your life at home continues despite your adventures abroad. I had to deal with family issues, missing family functions, and pure moments when I just needed a hug from my mom. I am eternally grateful for my corridor mates who stopped by my room with chocolate when I was missing my family, or joined me in Skyping home for my sister's first prom that I had to miss out on. And these same friends were there for other issues, too. You develop another family when you study abroad; the only bad thing is, you have to eventually give that dreaded goodbye hug.
But despite all the fun I was having, I knew June 9 was approaching, and my time would come to an end; and in a way, I was ready to go home. I don't know how to describe it, but those who have studied abroad know exactly what I'm talking about. I wasn't ready to leave Australia, but I was so ready to see my family, friends, house, and get back to my regular lifestyle. I just wish I could pick all those things up and take them back to Australia with me!
February 11, 2012 and June 9, 2012 are both two significant days I will never, ever forget, and each and every one of those 120 days in between are just as memorable. Those four months will be forever in my heart. Studying abroad is a journey everyone should take. Sure it's a resume builder, employers like to see it, and it may get you a better job one day, but most importantly, it brings you confidence, experience, fun, true friends, and memories that will last forever. So Australia, it's not goodbye but see ya later, mate! I will be back with HEAPS of places I want to see, friends I want to visit, and more memories to be made.