Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed about going to Australia. Why exactly I’m not sure, but I’ve always been fascinated with that gigantic island so far away from home. Now, I’m almost 20 and I’ll be spending four months there studying abroad. I knew college was going to open opportunities for me, but nothing like this.
So far I’ve traveled to Ghana and Puerto Rico with my New York University scholarship program. Some people were afraid for me and discouraged me from going when my parents and I announced the decision that I was going to Africa, but it was an opportunity to see a place that I’d never thought I’d travel to. Truth be told, I was pretty nervous even though I’ve been to several third-world and second-world countries before. I truly learned how lucky I was to be an American, and gained valuable perspective that I never would’ve had otherwise. Looking back, I would’ve made the same decision a million times over.
But now I’m going to Australia, a first-world country that speaks the same language as me (except for some of their crazy slang), and is a popular destination for travelers, vacationers, and ex-patriots from England, Canada and the United States. It’s going to be vastly different from anything I’ve experienced and lavish compared to not only the Ghana trip, but also my normal college experience (beach weather in winter and my own bedroom with an en suite? Unreal.)
The first question everyone asked me: “Why are you going so far away?” Literally, I couldn’t have picked a farther place from my home in New Jersey. Sydney is 14 hours ahead of the East Coast and two long flights away–Newark to LA, then LA to Sydney for a whopping total of 26 hours before the layover. I hemmed and hawed for a week and a half while I was on vacation. Can I do it? Should I not go? Will I regret it? Can I go later in life? What will I do if I want to quit halfway through? After several decisions, reconsiderations, doubts, more decisions and crying, I thought I had made my final decision on the plane ride home. Not going, can’t do it.
However, a little voice inside my head kept nagging me. If not now, when?
Less than 24 hours later, the decision was reverse and I decided to go, thanks to some reassurance from my parents and loved ones. It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my life (so far) and as studying abroad becomes increasingly recommended, popular, and (ironically) less expensive, the more young people are wondering if they can last 4 months without mom picking up after them. Here’s some of the tough questions I had to ask myself and that you can ask yourself to see if you can do it.
1. Have you ever been abroad before? If so, how long?
Depending on what your answer is, you may or may not be comfortable with being away for long periods of time. If you’ve never been away from your parents, think about how often you visit when you’re away at school (weeks at a time? months? days?) or how often you talk to your parents and friends.
2. Does your school provide socials for all the students?
When I was seeking advice, people who’ve studied abroad told me that their schools organized outings and socials for all the students in the program. This was a great way, they said, to mingle and get to know people. You feel a bond start to form and make life-long friends. After all, everyone’s in the same boat so you’ll make friends while you’re there.
3. Are you going with anyone you know?
If so, great! If not, oh well! Some people said that having friends there is great, but it’s also limiting. Make sure to branch out and meet new people both in the program and from the place you’re studying. Become a local (that’s what you’re there to do).
4. Will you be able to call home?
Calculate the time difference between home and where you’re planning to study. When my boyfriend was in Ireland, he was 5 hours ahead of me, so we always were able to chat when I woke up and when he went to bed. In Australia, it will probably world the same way because it’s almost exactly have a day difference.
5. Will anyone be able to visit?
I’m very lucky that my parents and boyfriend will be visiting me in October and one in November. The only months I’ll be “alone” are September and December until I come home. Try to see in advance where the spring/fall break will fall and price out a trip to see if someone will be able to visit. If your friends are in neighboring countries, see if you can meet in a central location!
6. What are the things you will miss the most?
I’m going to miss a lot of things: my mom’s cooking, the comfort of my home, NYC, friends, family etc. What can you pack with you that will help ease the homesickness. I’m bringing my stuffed animal, photos (on my computer of course), my favorite high school sweater, and recipes from my mom. Smells, tastes and certain textures will help you deal with being away.
7. Realistically, what will you do if you get homesick?
For real, I’m going to cry. A lot. More than I want to think about. But you have to deal with it. Some schools provide free counseling for students suffering from homesickness. I’m going to rely on the friends I make there, keeping myself busy and the wonderful magic of Skype.
8. What if you actually get sick?
Know before you go, especially when it comes to health insurance. Will you be able to self-medicate if you get the flu? Do you know if the school has a doctor on premises? Of course the best way to prevent this is sleeping enough, eating right, and exercising regularly.
9. Can you live on your own?
Do you know how to do laundry? Wash dishes? Clean the floor? Cook things other than cereal? Ask your parents to teach you–they’ll be happy to even if you feel humiliated. For the proud, watch Youtube videos.
10. Is this the opportunity of a lifetime?
This was my biggest question. Many have told me about the unbearable guilt they’ve felt all throughout their life because they didn’t seize an opportunity. After all, this is the time to do it. You’re young, you don’t have responsibilities or anything tying you down. When you’re older, your job isn’t just going to let you take off for four months to travel. Plus, studying abroad is super affordable because it costs almost the same as studying at your university’s home base.