I have 12 days left in this country.
I’m sure you’ll understand that I don’t want to spend them blogging. I still have a lot of posts that I want to write that I’ve been putting off all semester, and I certainly plan to gift you with those when I get home.
But for now, I’m working at my internship, spending as much time as possible with friends, eating Tim Tams, finishing up a few papers, and trying to avoid being overly conscious of every plane flying overhead. So I’m going to put the blog on hiatus for a few weeks.
But before I go, I just want to share something that’s been on my mind.
I wasn’t nervous about coming here at all. I slept fine the night before I left and had no trouble boarding that plane in St. Louis. When I got to Sydney, I felt confident. Excited, yes, but also calm.
Now, as I face the return journey, I’m petrified at the thought of going back home.
At first glance, this makes no sense. But upon further reflection, I think I’ve figured out why.
When I came here, I had no expectations. I knew everything would new and different. I was expecting an adventure, simple as that. I didn’t know what my room would look like or who my friends would be or what the next four months would hold, and that mystery was all part of the fun.
On the other hand, I know exactly what to expect going back home. I know the stretch of I-270 between the airport and my house. I know the voice of Mike Shannon on the radio and the taste of a Sacred Grounds mocha. I know what St. Boniface looks like on Sunday morning and the sounds of my family’s big and glorious get-togethers. I’m going back to the place I grew up in. The place that’s familiar, always the same.
Except here’s the problem: It won’t be the same.
My family and friends have grown up and experienced their own adventures. Edwardsville probably has some hideous new mural on Main Street, and there might be a new tree in my backyard. Sparky’s will have come up with some ridiculous new ice cream flavour. The place itself has changed.
But more importantly, I’ve changed.
I’m not going to pretend I’m some sophisticated world traveller because I lived in another country for a few months. I’m not. But this experience, this living 9,000 miles from home for a semester, meeting new people, seeing new things, and experiencing completely new perspectives, has changed me in some way. In what way? I don’t have a clue. But I know it has, and the uncertainty scares me.
Of course I’m excited to go home. Intellectually, I know that home is home, no matter what.
But I can’t help but feel nervous about what I’ll find when I get there. Sure, it’ll probably be positive. In a few months I’ll be talking about what a great, wonderful life-changing experience study abroad was.
But for now, I just know that when I arrive back home, it won’t be the same home I left. And I know that even though my study abroad experience will technically be over, I’ll still have a lot of growing to do as a result of it.
Does that make sense?
This is the first and probably the last time I’ll ever pay for WiFi, but I’m spending 8 hours in LAX. Even I can’t read for that long, and I’m saving the sleeping for my flight. So I figured it was worth the $8.
So far I’ve taken an anticlimatic (I like them that way) flight from St. Louis to L.A., found my way to the international terminal (which is MUCH more difficult than it really should be), exchanged some American dollars for Australian ones (they’re so pretty!), devoured a $10 value (?) meal from the airport McDonald’s, and survived a TSA screening (they’re really not that bad, guys).
So yeah…only five more hours to go…then a 15 hour flight…THEN I’ll be in Sydney!
It’s kind of like leaving for college all over again.
It’s my last night in America for four months. I’m packing like crazy, finishing up last minute everything, and having sentimental conversations with my family and friends about how fast we’re all growing up.
Maybe eventually I’ll go to sleep, because in the next few days, I’ll be spending a total of 29 hours in airports and on planes. Twenty nine hours. I have an iPod, my computer, a pillow, and a few carefully selected books. I hope I’m prepared.
When I tell people I’m studying abroad in Australia, they inevitably ask three things: “Will you bring me a kangaroo?” (sorry, but no), “Are you going to try vegemite?” (of course), and “Why Australia?” The truth is, Sydney is one of the least glamourous-sounding destinations in a list of choices that includes London, Brussels, Dublin, and Buenos Aires. But I’m not a particularly glamourous person, and for me it’s the best choice. Why?
First of all, the only language I speak is English. I know I could learn Spanish or Japanese or whatever if I really wanted to, but I knew this trip would yield enough new experiences for me without throwing a language barrier into the mix. So I narrowed the list to English-speaking areas: Melbourne, Sydney, Brussels (sort of?), London, Westminster, Edinburgh and Auckland.
Some of these programs offer a combination of classes and internships, while others just offer classes. I knew I wanted the internship experience, so that eliminated Westminster, Edinburgh, Auckland, and my second choice, Melbourne.
So what’s left? London, Brussels, and Sydney. From here, the choice was easy. I didn’t want to go to Europe, because, with all due respect to students who go to Europe, EVERYONE goes to Europe. I don’t have the statistics from the international programs office, but anecdotal evidence suggests London and Brussels are two of the most popular programs. This semester alone, I know at least three people studying in Brussels and one in London. The entire time I’ve been at Mizzou, I’ve known one person who studied in Australia. This semester, I’m one of six students going to Sydney. My hope is that Sydney will help me stand out in a journalism school where most everyone has a study abroad experience on their resume.
Another advantage of the Sydney program is its unique mix of study abroad and internship experiences. Students participating in the London and Brussels programs attend classes taught by Mizzou professors at a school specifically for study abroad students. In Sydney, I get to study at a local university with Australian professors and Australian classmates.
A few days ago I discovered one more advantage of Sydney. I was reading the blog of a friend in Europe (Spain, to be precise). She wrote about the number of trips she had planned for the semester, to places like Brussels, Paris, Dublin, and London. She seemed somewhat stressed about having only four months to cram everything in. People who appreciate Europe perhaps more than I do would say it’s a good thing: Because the cities are only a few hours apart, it’s relatively easy to visit a different one every weekend. You can see a lot of Europe in four months: Two days in Paris, two days in Brussels, and by the end you’re exhausted and probably can’t even remember which country was which. On the other hand, once I get to Sydney, I’ll be stuck in Sydney for a while. There are no major cities within easy driving (or riding) distance. Besides New Zealand, the nearest country, Papua New Guinea, is a four-hour flight away (and who wants to go there anyway?). During spring break, I’ll definitely be taking the opportunity to explore the rest of Australia and possibly New Zealand. For the rest of the semester, though, I’m perfectly content to stay in one place. Unlike the people dashing from city to city, I’ll have the opportunity to really get to know my temporary hometown. I’ll get to explore Sydney in depth and take advantage of everything it has to offer. And I absolutely cannot wait.
There. Does that answer your questions?
Finally, it’s February.
Approximately four months ago, I had a minor heart attack when I realized “Four months from now, I’ll be halfway around the world.” At the time, I was busy with classes, work, more classes, and more work. It seemed too soon to be true.
Then finals week and the holidays came and went. I realized I had an entire month-and-a-few-days to fill before my flight. I occupied myself by taking an online class, applying for scholarships, spending time with my friends in Edwardsville (who gradually left to begin their own semesters and internships), and visiting my friends in CoMo for a weekend (wherein I received some very good and also some very questionable travel advice). January stretched on and on and on.
Now, finally, January is over. It’s 10 days until I leave, and for the first time in a month, I actually have plans for those days. I need to get a haircut, finish up my class, buy a few last-minute essentials, and figure out how to fit an entire semester into a couple suitcases.
Meanwhile, the Midwest is sending me off in very dramatic fashion. In case you haven’t heard (ha), the St. Louis area is predicted to get 8 to 12 inches of snow, along with a formidable amount of ice, between now and Wednesday evening. Schools (even Mizzou!) and non-essential businesses are closed. Blizzard warnings have been issued. Flights to and from Lambert Airport are grounded. Power outages are imminent. It’s certainly exciting, but honestly I’d like my boring January back. Because if this mess isn’t cleared out (or worse, comes back) in the next 10 days, well, I’m screwed. Once I get out of St. Louis, I should be fine. My only stop before Sydney is in L.A., which doesn’t have a history of severe winter weather in February (or ever, for that matter). But if my flight from STL is canceled, I’ll miss my connection in L.A., thus missing my flight to Sydney. Catching the next one would get me to Sydney between one and several days late, meaning I miss some orientation activities and also have to hassle with the airline to get my flight switched with minimum financial trauma.
I’m sure I’ll be checking the weather forecast somewhat obsessively, but there’s not much I can do about it. So for now, I’m just wrapping up last-minute tasks and praying for no snow on February 11. Oh yeah, and if our power could stay on for the next few days, that’d be awesome too.
My itinerary is great except for one thing: I have an 8-hour layover in Los Angeles. What the heck am I supposed to do for eight hours in LAX? Enlighten me, please.
Also, due to a combination of a wicked time change and an incredibly long flight, I’ll be arriving in Sydney two days after I leave St. Louis. (In other words, my February 12 will pretty much be lost in a void somewhere.) So…any advice on combating jet lag would be greatly appreciated. :)
I haven’t actually gotten my plane ticket yet. I guess I’ve been busy with school and Christmas and generally unprepared to make the $1600 investment. (One that my parents have very generously offered to pay for, I should add. I’m not sure if it’s because they want me to get as far away from them as possible, or because they want to make sure I come home at the end of the semester. Either way, thanks, mom and dad.)
My study abroad advisor recommended booking tickets through a travel agent who could arrange a flexible return date in case I, you know, decide to hang around for a few more days or years. So sometime this week (or maybe next week), I plan to visit my friendly local AAA office with my mom and her credit card and get this matter taken care of. I’ve never used a travel agent, and I’ve certainly never booked a $1000+ plane ticket, so even purchasing the flight will be a new experience for me.
I don’t know exactly when I’m leaving yet, but here’s what I do know so far:
— My housing contract begins February 13, so I’ll want to arrive in Sydney on that day. Which, by my calculations, means I’ll leave STL on February 11. No, really.
— I don’t want to visit a bunch of different airports. STL –> LAX –> SYD would be ideal. Considering I’ve only flown once in my life, I’d like to keep this process as simple as possible.
— On my way back to STL in June, I want to spend a day with my friend Alex in L.A. I’ve been to 34 states, but California is not one of them, and I want to change that.
— As noted above, I want a flexible return date. But not too flexible, because my friend is getting married June 17. Since I’m a bridesmaid, I should probably be there.
— I don’t really care what airline gets me across America, but I want to fly Qantas from L.A. to Sydney. I’ve heard nothing but good things about them. Well, except for the whole airplane explosion thing.
So here’s where you come in. Do you have any advice on working with travel agents, getting the best deals, the worst airlines to use, or any important factors I’m missing?
Discuss! Enlighten me!
(I’m sure I’ll be asking for advice on killing time during long layovers and dealing with jet lag in a later post.)