Author: Sarah Tubbs
Location: Newcastle, Australia
Today marks the start of the last week I am here studying abroad, and truly I never thought this time would go by so quickly. I remember everyone saying at the beginning of the semester how study abroad flies by and to be prepared for that. But no matter how prepared I was mentally for the fast motion of studying abroad, I never thought it would have gone by as quickly as it did. As my time here studying abroad in Australia comes to an end, the conversations I have with people start to shift. Rather than talking about upcoming adventures and events, we all end up chatting about how it will feel re-assimilating back into the United States and the sadness we feel leaving all of the people we got so close with these past few months.
So here I am, writing my ‘goodbye’ to study abroad and the experience that it was for me. This past semester I have had my highest highs and my lowest lows. I’ve done things I never expected to do, went places I’ve only dreamed about, and most importantly, I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would. I’ve tried to narrow it down to the five main things I’ve learned while studying abroad, but truly there are so many more than the ones I will mention below. But here are some of the biggest realizations I’ve had these past five months while studying abroad that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my life…
I was put on this earth to love and be kind
And yes, it’s really that simple. There are so many things in the world that seem extremely daunting and intense. We as a human species put such an inordinate amount of pressure on ourselves to be perfect, have everything figured out, and know our next steps. But in the reality that not many seem to talk about, this isn’t always true. We can expect certain things to happen in the future, but we will never 100% know what’s coming. Things are always changing and evolving, and to be creatures that can adapt to this change is becoming even more important as the world around us drastically changes everyday.
While I’ve been abroad, this fact of an ever changing and unpredictable world has been a continual lesson I’m experiencing and learning. When you never know what will happen next, you focus in more to the present and those that surround you everyday. I found myself doing this more often that ever since I had limited time in Australia, there were so many moments I didn’t want to forget. When I started actively focusing more on the present moments in my life, I discovered some simple facts. These included being there for people, being kind and open hearted to those you meet, and loving all beings in the world in any way you can. In the end, this is what matters. It’s not how much money you have or how fashionable your clothing is, it’s how you loved and were compassionate towards those who surround you in life. It’s these moments that will bring you endless happiness and contentment, if you are keen enough to push yourself to see the world in this perspective. And it can be challenging… especially in a world that has become so geared towards advertising and pushing things you “need” or want. But overall, studying abroad has made me realize to a deeper degree how important finding connections and loving people is in the world.
Sadness never needs to be justified
While you’re studying abroad, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. And I believe that not many people expect it to be that way. For me, being so far away from home and also being the only one from my home university to be in Australia, there were moments when I was very sad or lonely and couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was making me feel that way. Throughout my time being abroad, I realized more and more that I don’t need justification for the way I feel and what’s going on with me emotionally. If I needed to stay in and be with myself, I didn’t let others make me feel bad for doing what I needed to do for me. This may or may not happen to you when you are abroad, but no matter where you are in life, your sadness doesn’t need to be justified.
When you challenge yourself, you learn more more than you will ever know (Don’t ever doubt your strength)
Growing up as a woman, I was always told to always be aware of my surroundings. To never walk alone in the dark. To never travel alone because of the horror stories of single women traveling to foreign places. To not wear certain things because I would get unwanted attention. I carry pepper spray with me and my heart is never not racing whenever I’m walking alone in the middle of the night… or even when it’s just dark outside. This is how many women were raised. This is how I was raised, and yes I do need to always be aware of my surroundings and be smart when I’m alone. But being a woman should NEVER be a deciding factor for certain decisions I make in my life.
Studying abroad has taught me this in such a profound way, because there were a lot of things I had to do by myself. But sometimes being a woman came with an inordinate amount of precautions before I went anywhere alone. This was shown to me when I went to Cronulla Beach in South Sydney for a weekend. None of my friends could come with me, so I decided to go alone. But before I went, I had so many people telling me to be extremely safe… to watch out for my surroundings… to never be alone in the dark… etc. Which I understand, these need to be talked about. Being smart and safe is something everyone should be aware of. But one thing that all of these precautions made me question was my own strength. I became more nervous because everyone was making me feel like if I went anywhere alone something wrong would occur.
This IS NOT the case!! There were so many trips and adventures I decided to do solo and it was the best thing I could have ever done for myself. So DO NOT limit yourself when abroad, you have a lot more strength within you than the world makes people believe.
Reading books can change your life
When I was a younger kid, you would have never seen me without a book in my hand. I remember being made fun of in eighth grade because I would read a book at lunch rather than go outside and play basketball. From teen romance, to fantasy, to mystery, and so many more, my world was one that included solving mysteries with Nancy Drew, sailing on the Pequod with Ishmael, and fighting in the Hunger Games with Katniss.
But things changed when I entered high school. Life got busier, I had more homework and activities to do, and I found myself not having the time to read as much as I used to. Time management became even harder as I entered college and had so many more things swarming my mind than my mind wants to read.
Before I went abroad, I wanted to change this. I made the decision to bring books other than school books for reading. And once I started reading again, it made me realize what I had been missing these past few years of not reading!! Reading is such a positive thing for the human mind since it helps with mental stimulation, stress reduction, vocabulary improvement, and so much more. There have been so many studies showing the benefits of reading everyday and not having our heads smashed in our phone screens, and I believe this to be very true. If you aren’t a big reader or simply don’t enjoy it, I challenge you to try for one week. Everyday for one week sit down and try to read a book, even if it’s a short article or a magazine. Sit down and read something and open your mind to different perspectives the world offers.
Knowing myself and loving her so much
I don’t know if this is from studying abroad, for simply growing up, or just where I am in my life at this moment, but after studying abroad this semester I feel I know myself in such a deeper way than I have before. The challenges I have faced here are things I would have never went through while staying at university in the states. And that’s truly the beauty of studying abroad. You push yourself to do these things you could have never expected to be experiencing, and you feel this internal growth in such a profound way that is hard to explain in words.
I remember when I first was looking into studying abroad. Not knowing exactly what would happen while abroad was a nerve-racking thing to experience. I thought about studying abroad all of the time. Thinking about the adventures I would have wherever I was, the people I would meet, how I would feel being by myself so far away from home, and so much more.
And in my last week of studying abroad, I get teary eyed thinking about what this time in my life has been for me. Studying abroad in Australia was a time I will never forget. And all that I learned while I was here will forever be with me for the rest of my life. The adventure is never really over… it’s truly all just beginning…