Before I moved half way around the world, I would have liked to tell myself a few things. There are interesting tidbits that I wish I had known before I traveled over 16,000 kilometers from home.
The number one most important thing you learn while abroad is the ability to take care of yourself. I encourage anyone about to embark on this journey to do so with no prior friends. It may be scary to move so far by yourself, but it will help you grow immensely as a person. When I left Australia, I was already having a difficult day, but as I boarded my flight home I realized I didn’t have some of the proper paperwork to cross the border in my transiting country. I had just said goodbye to my friends and was already crying. Thats when the woman at the check in desk told me I didn’t have what I needed to board my flight. It’s everyone’s worst nightmare right? You spend thousands of dollars on this flight and with no time left to cancel it for a refund, you end up stranded. I walked outside, cried my eyes out for five minutes, and then pulled myself up by the boot straps. I was the only one who was going to get myself out of this situation. I called my travel agent who helped me pull some strings, and with 20 minutes to spare I was running to the gate with my bag. I made it. Was it stressful? Yes. However, the adrenaline rush that I felt when I sat in my seat on the plane made me feel like a god. I did that. I saved myself. I am capable. I am powerful. As much as people like to remind college students that we are “still kids,” I am an adult.
That brings me to my second important tidbit; too much paperwork is better than not enough. Always print out everything. Get every paper you think you need and then have copies just in case. For example, have two copies of visas just in case they take one at the border. Always keep copies of your passport in your suitcases in case your bag gets lost or you lose your suit case. Pictures of documents are important too. I store a copy of my important documents on Google Photos because I can access the photos from any device with an internet connection, anywhere in the world.
Accents and Slang
On a lighter note, one of the interesting things you learn while abroad are the little accent differences in countries. During my first time abroad I went to Ireland with my home college. By the time I left I was able to differentiate the regional Irish accents quite well. Australia doesn’t have regional accents to the same degree as Ireland, but they do have many slang words which were fun to learn. Some favorites of mine were “bogan,” “cossie,” “bottle-o,” and “the Gong.” Any guesses what they mean? Even in countries where the language is English, you will still be learning a different dialect. Don’t expect to understand everything!
Write it Down
If you go home thinking “Why do monks wear orange?”, “What was that bird called again?”, or “When was the Great Emu War?” then you are not doing it right. Ask as many questions as you possibly can. You never know what may have an interesting answer. Personally I have journaled every day of my time abroad, inserting clippings and tickets from the things I’ve done. In 20 years, I’ll be able to look back and remember every day of my journey here. It will also be interesting to see what tickets to the Sydney Opera House looked like 20 years before. You’ll want to have these things and the answers to the questions you have forgotten and so will your kids. The journaling also gives you forced down time to reflect and relax when your schedule is getting crazy. It was very therapeutic for me.
The best thing you can do abroad is try to leave with no regrets. If you see something you want to do, do it. Bring enough money and allocate enough time to be spontaneous. You will only get to have this experience once. Don’t leave thinking “I wish I had bought that didgeridoo” or “I wish I had time to see the Sydney Tower Eye” or “I wish I had asked that man how to hold a cockatoo.” Arrive abroad with a list of pre-researched activities and start ticking them off the list as soon as you arrive. They can be great bonding activities with new friends, or a way to explore a new city. Your time abroad will be short, so don’t waste the beginning sitting around. If you need a break, maybe find a relaxing activity like a day at Bondi Beach to fulfill both your wants and needs. Take care of yourself, but don’t squander this amazing experience that you have put so much time, effort, and money into.
The most important advice that I would give anyone going abroad is to take every opportunity that comes to you. If you see a new path, say yes to it. Do not stick to your usual life and routine. Be open to anything and everything new. You will find that outside your comfort zone will be where the most exciting experiences are. Most importantly, try to learn as much about this new culture as you can. Just because their way of life is different from yours, does not mean that it is incorrect. Gratitude for every moment will take you far.
Kayla Bailey, Champlain College, is studying abroad in Australia with TEAN.