Indiana University Overseas Study

Sarah Whaley

Finally I’ve wrapped up the ‘study’ part of my study abroad. With my final essay submitted for assessment, I now have time to assess my experience so far. For all the good that has come out of the past four months in this beautiful country, I’ve also had to learn some hard lessons. Thankfully, the hard lessons have all ended in soft landings.

Hard Lesson #1: Australia is not always hot.

It is nearly winter here on the opposite side of the world. And with the exception of the past couple days, it’s been cold. I’d say freezing, but that would be a misstatement. It has yet to drop below freezing, but my new Aussie experience of the world means a little chilly feels a lot colder than it would back home.

I arrived to high 90 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, and the change from then to now (low 40 degree Fahrenheit temperatures) is biting. Perhaps the change wouldn’t be so bad, except I was overly optimistic with my packing. Lots of short sleeves and tank tops and very few sweaters.

Soft Landing #1: Staying warm is cheaper here than at home.

Luckily, K-mart in Australia is alive and well and $10 sweaters aren’t hard to come by. I’ve been able to fill out my wardrobe with warmer pieces of clothing and now have practical souvenirs to bring home. I was also able to find an inexpensive electric heater and an $18 blanket to make falling asleep easier. I love the blanket so much I might even pay extra for it to be shipped home.

Preparing to Kayak

International friends and I bundled up for a chilly day of kayaking with dolphins.

Hard Lesson #2: When they say don’t procrastinate on your Uni assignments, they mean it.

The booklet given to me before I left home clearly laid out the ways in which study in Australia is different than study in the U.S. Mainly it warned about slacking off because there are less assignments throughout the semester. Though there are less assignments, the ones you are given are worth more.

For the first half of the semester, I did a good job of working ahead on assignments and turning them in sometimes a week ahead of time. I felt more relaxed than I’ve ever felt throughout my Uni career. Then mid-semester break ended and the assignments started piling up.

Instead of being worth 10 to 20 percent of my grade, the assignments were worth 25 to 40 percent. I had a major exam and two major research essays due in a span of two days. Perhaps I wouldn’t have reached the level of anxiety I did if I had worked further ahead instead of procrastinating and binge-watching How I Met Your Mother.

Soft Landing #2: I survived Uni.

Though the past week was stressful trying to finalize my Uni assignments, they are now complete. I almost don’t know what to do with myself going from being overwhelmingly busy to completely free. My classes ended earlier than many of my friends’ and while they’re studying I’m seeking out my next victim to distract with a game of cards or a walk around the city. I’m looking forward to a month of holidays before returning home.

Kaurna smoking ceremony

A Kaurna smoking ceremony wrapped up a semester of Indigenous studies courses.

Hard Lesson #3: Your problems remain your problems 10,000 air miles away.

Before I left the U.S., one of my best friends told me he envied me. I was going to be able to leave my problems on ice for half a year while he dealt continuously with his at home. I reassured him he’d be alright, but I believed him that I was escaping. That turned out not to be the case.

The thing about your problems is that they’re yours and they’re bound to follow you wherever you go. I’ve dealt with many of the same emotional struggles I’ve had at home here. I’ve also dealt with new ones, like homesickness and being frustratingly far away from the people you trust the most to be there for you when your day doesn’t go the way you planned. And now that I’m facing going home in a month, I’m feeling torn in a similar way I felt torn before leaving home for here.

Soft Landing #3: Old problems have new solutions 10,000 air miles away.

Though your problems remain much the same when you travel, traveling provides a new perspective on them than the one you’ve been trapped in back home. You also are surrounded by new friends with new stories, new advice and new solutions. Instead of going for a therapeutic run, you can go for a therapeutic surf. And with the understanding that you’re going home in a month, you can take the days that don’t go as planned less seriously.

Though these three lessons and others I’ve dealt with here in Australia have been hard, the landings have all been soft. After all, it’s difficult to feel down for long when you’re a short drive from an ocean sunset and in a country whose national motto may as well be “No worries, mate.”

ocean sunset

A breathtaking ocean sunset just when I needed it most.

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