Author: Jessica Hanson
Location: Newcastle, Australia
This is me checking in from my last full day in Wisconsin before I jump on a plane and start my journey studying abroad 9,000 miles away. Even though I knew I only had two months of summer from ending my sophomore year at Valparaiso University, IN, and leaving for my semester abroad, I can’t believe how fast it disappeared! Between working full-time hours at Kwik Trip, going on a 9-day vacation with my family to The Rocky Mountains & Yellowstone National Park, and figuring out flights, classes, packing, layovers, and all the other countless details and information about my new home for the next four months, I still can’t believe it’s already here.
To fill everyone in, I will be studying at the University of Newcastle (UoN) in Callaghan, New South Wales, Australia (!), about two hours north of Sydney by bus. Luckily, Newcastle is the seventh largest city in Australia and only a half hour from the beach, so I should be able to find plenty to keep me busy! This “Uni,” as they call it Aussie-style, has an enrollment of 26,000 on my campus, quite a big difference from the 6,000 total enrollment I know from Valpo. I will be a “Wombat” for the semester, although the school symbol is a horse head, and the coat of arms features an odd-looking horse/seahorse hybrid….Nonetheless, the school motto of “I look ahead” represents exactly the experience I hope studying abroad will provide – answering many questions about what I want to do after Valpo and looking forward into a career!
The past few weeks getting ready for this trip has been such a roller coaster of emotions for me. The hardest part for me is saying “see you later!” (NOT goodbye) to all my loved ones. As my brother and my best friend can attest (Sup Zach. Hey Jennifer!), I get super sentimental knowing that this is the last time that I will get to see my family and friends for four months. Sure, four months isn’t any different than being away from my Valpo friends for a whole summer, but knowing that I’m a whole world away and completely on my own in a foreign country makes it all the more difficult.
Aside from my sentimentality and excess of hugs as I leave my friends and family at the door, I have gone back and forth between being extremely excited or utterly terrified. Right now, knowing that I will be in a new country less than 72 hours from now, is exciting (well, to be honest, rather terrifying too.) It is also terrifying that I will have to figure out the airports all by myself- I’ve traveled before, but when you’re following a herd of 300 people during group travel, navigating the airport seems to be a breeze! I am terrified that I will be living in a studio apartment all by myself and have to learn how to cook and fend for myself (I know, real adulting, I guess I should probably get used to that by now!). I am terrified that I have to figure out a different classroom learning style and culture all at the same time.
But I am excited to explore Los Angeles for the very first time during my 10-hour layover. I am excited to meet new people and learn, and try new things (Vegemite, anyone?). I am excited that I am going to a country that is a lot more environmentally conscientious than the United States (on the whole) and that I have the opportunity to learn all about it and live this new culture. I am excited to see koalas and kangaroos, go snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, and learn how to surf. I am excited to be fully immersed in a new culture for four months. And I am excited to see how this experience changes me and inspires me to do great things.
I have a lot of personal goals and ideas for what I hope my study abroad semester will turn out to be- but I also know that I shouldn’t go in with too many expectations. And I know the biggest asset I can have is an open mind- and an open heart. However, my biggest goal is simply that I don’t let myself be afraid to try new things. I would hate to miss out on experiences because I’m scared, or nervous, or tired. I want to explore and take risks (safe ones, of course). I want to be intentional about the experiences I have and the limited time I will be abroad. I want my trip to matter, whether that simply means having the time of my life or it means finding tools and connections to change the world. I hope this trip brings me insight and knowledge and curiosity and courage and love. And above all else, I am looking forward to growing as a student, as a person, as a traveler, as a woman, and most importantly, as a world citizen- in whichever direction the Australian wind blows.
So farewell, my friends, or as the Aussies say, “Cheerio!” I will write again in a few weeks!