What Am I Doing Here?

After a question in class “Why are you here?”, Maggie Hobson shares her thoughts and goals on why she is abroad studying at Curtin University in Perth, Australia on the Student Exchange Program, on her very first extensive experience outside of the U.S.

Me with a Kangaroo

Reading the title of this post might be a bit frightening at first.  It may seem like I am questioning my decision to travel alone to a foreign country for five months.  However, I have been “abroad” for exactly three weeks and at my host university for exactly 2 weeks and not once have I questioned my decision of coming here.  However, today was the second day of classes and my first time sitting in on my “Human Structure and Function” course, that I took as last resort to cover my natural science GE credit I still need at OSU.  I was thinking that this class would be another typical Earth Science or Chocolate Science course that I could check off in order to stay on track to graduate next spring.  I was far from wrong.  As a class, we went around the room announcing our majors.  “Nursing.” “Health Science.” “Physical Therapy.”  These were all the responses of each student.  I started to build a nervous sweat as the teacher pointed to me and I announced, “Accounting.”  The teacher continued to point to each of the students to hear their responses.  However, at the very end, she pointed back to me and asked “I just need to point out what we’re all thinking, why are you here?”

That got me thinking.  Why am I here?  I have lived in Columbus, Ohio my entire life, 21 years, and I will be living in Australia for five months.  That’s about 2% of my life that I am able to spend meeting all new people, experiencing a whole new culture, traveling and exploring a multitude of places and taking classes that I would never have stumbled upon back home.  I am here to learn and grow as an individual.  Ultimately, I want to come back with a new perspective on life and other cultures, in hopes that I can influence and relate to others in a more positive way.  So far in my time here, I have met people from, and not limited to, the Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden, Canada, Asia, New Zealand and all around the US.  It has been fascinating not only learning about the culture in which I am living but the cultures of these many other exchange students going through similar experiences to mine.

Throughout these past two weeks, I have already gained so much knowledge about myself and other cultures and classes only started yesterday.  For instance, I have learned that it is NEVER too late to learn.  Each of my classes here has someone who is about the age of my parents.  These people differ from the adults in my classes at OSU because they engage with everyone just as if they were our age.  They are enthralled by class discussions and they will join classmates in getting a bite to eat after class.  Additionally, some of my fellow exchange students are five or six years older than me.  It is so much more common in other cultures to take a gap year, or two or three and then return to school when you know what you want out of your education and you are able to fully value what you are learning.  Additionally, I have learned that I am more independent than I once thought.  Going into this time abroad, I truly believed I would regret my decision, be lost and wondering, not make friends and yearn for my friends and family back home.  Fortunately enough, none of this has come true.  I started meeting people on the first plane ride over, when I talked to the two people sitting next to me for the entirety of the four hour flight.  You are never fully alone when traveling  because there are always people to meet and learn from and I have taken advantage of the opportunity to do so.  Lastly, I am eager to see what I learn in these non-accounting classes.  It is awesome to have the opportunity to take elective classes without having the stress of focusing more heavily on the classes for my major.  This way, I am able to really experience each class I take here and gain knowledge on a whole new subject outside of my major.

It has been quite the adventure so far and I am looking forward to the rest of my time here!  Not only am I looking forward to my bigger trips like the ones to Ningaloo Reef, Cairns and Bali but I am looking forward to living my day to day life as a student: playing in my touch rugby league, engaging in my dorms free food nights and enjoying the gorgeous weather while walking through campus.  I’ll check back in with more of my experiences later on but for now, here are a few of my favorite pictures I have taken so far from traveling around Perth, Western Australia!

Looking at the sunset over the city of Perth
Fremantle, an area about 40 minutes from Curtin known for its history and shops
A quokka which is an animal that is part of the kangaroo family but only found on Rottnest Island!

Perth, Australia 1 Month Reflection

Six weeks ago, I left for my journey to study abroad. I spent two weeks in Southern China before traveling to Perth, Australia where I will study abroad during this autumn semester at Curtin University. Since that time, I can say that I have learned more in the last six weeks than I have at Ohio State in the previous three years. I have learned so much about culture, geography, language, business, people and most importantly, myself among countless other things. Having this experience firsthand is something I would not trade for anything in the world. Sitting in a classroom and reading a textbook will never provide the same thing, the same opportunity. Unfortunately, time is moving fast and I can’t believe I’ve been abroad for six weeks already, but it is important to reflect back on my journey so far and this blog post is the perfect way of doing so!

Quite honestly, after the first day of being in Australia, I couldn’t wait to go home. I couldn’t believe the situation I got myself into! My campus was far from the city center and everything was spread out unlike Columbus, Ohio. There are about 1,000 students living on campus and out of those 1,000, a good percentage of them are graduate students that are 35 years old or older! At Ohio State, there are about 10,000 students my own age living on campus and the other 50,000 at OSU live right around the campus in nearby off-campus housing. At Curtin, this wasn’t the case; everyone is spread out throughout the city and commutes to class maybe once or twice a week. You barely see them.

To make it worse, everything closes at 5pm and the WiFi was terrible! It was quiet, far from the beach or any form of shopping area and it was much colder than I expected. I was alone, 11,600 miles away from home, and the worst part…everything was so expensive! I had no idea how I would afford to be here. What was I thinking? I knew I could survive, but I didn’t know if I wanted to. I told myself that I have to stick with it, and it is what you make of it. I knew I was tough, but this would be a true test.
It took some adjusting, but within a week of being in Australia, I had a new bank account, a new phone number, new friends, a new home, but still something was missing.

First, let me tell you what wasn’t missing. It wasn’t a way of getting around. I’m way too independent to have to rely on Perth’s terrible public transportation or their expensive taxi’s. Instead I successfully figured a different form of transportation on my own.

It also wasn’t money. Within a few days of being here, Curtin offered me a $2,500 grant that I didn’t even apply for! They apparently looked at all of the incoming international students previous semester grades and gave scholarships to those who did well beforehand. This included myself. I wasn’t about to screw up the opportunity to go abroad and got a 3.7 GPA last semester, much higher than usual. Sure enough, it paid off, literally! The extra $2,500 was just what I needed to get by, and very conveniently, i’d say Australia is 25% more expensive. So that should give you an idea of what I’m spending to come here.

Here’s what was missing. True friendship. True relationships with people who cared about you. I knew that if I was going to survive here, I needed these true relationships. I was making a lot of new friends from all over the world, but I really wasn’t close with anyone yet. I experienced a similar thing when going to Ohio State the first year and being the emotionally outgoing and sociable guy that I am, it was hard. I knew it would take time, you don’t develop true friendships overnight, but when everyone else is 18,670 kilometers away (Yes another thing I learned was the conversions), you need someone to rely on.

First off, let me tell you that it is very obvious that there are groups around campus depending on each person’s cultural background. I also want to point out that the international students here all seem significantly more educated and enlightened than the typical people I am used to interacting with. Therefore, most of these people were bigger fish, they had more talent, more social skills and brighter futures. They like me, were also tough for being here on their own. We all share the same bond with the same love of travel. That’s why we’re all here. Based on this premise, I wanted to bring everyone together.

I initially made friends with all of the Brazilians, they were very friendly and very genuine. I felt very included, whenever I’d enter the conversation, they would stop speaking Portuguese and speak English to include me. None the less, I didn’t come here to just meet Brazilians, I came here to network with people from all over the world. I forced myself to go to another group. I then proceeded to start hanging out with the Swedes. They are also very great people. After that, I hung out with a group of mostly Europeans and after one night that I spent time with them, I was invited to join a Facebook group that they had. I felt loved and got a great vibe from them.

Finally, I chose to meet the Americans, most of whom all knew each other beforehand because they are on the same study abroad program. However, for myself, this wasn’t the case as I am on exchange. I made some American friends sure. It would have been easiest to develop those friendships sure, but quite honestly, I found I did not have things in common with this group  to connect. The interactions with the Brazilians were different. They looked you in the face and spoke with you. It was nice for a change because that’s who I am.

Here we are, a month later. I have met and made friends with people from the following countries in no particular order: Brazil, Belgium, Venezuela, Germany, Holland, England, Sweden, Lithuania, France, Russia, Switzerland, Scotland, the United States, Canada, Turkey, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Malaysia, Albania, Thailand, South Korea, Brunei, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, India, Iran, places that I never even heard of like East Timor and Martinique, and last but definitely not least Australia! I’m probably forgetting a few, but you get the point.

Of course, I won’t be close with everyone, but now that I feel like I know almost everyone on campus, I can start developing these closer relationships with the people who matter to me, the genuinely good people. The people who I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life. And without even realizing, these people did start coming together just like I wanted. Over the weekend, I celebrated a Kraftskiva (a crayfish party) which is a Swedish tradition. Sure enough a handful of Brazilians and Europeans joined as well.

Now, a month later, I fear the day when I have to return home to the USA because I know how much I’ll miss it here. I’ve grown to love it in Australia and it is already turning into one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve found my way around and learned to love the same things the Aussies do. Not only the people matter, but I’ve adjusted to everything shutting down early and found the places that don’t. I’ve grown to love the always nice weather, the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to, eating Kangaroo, and especially the laid back attitude which mirrors my personality.

Next week, I will head to the east coast to see Sydney and Melbourne. Yet, I am not nervous. I am excited for the opportunity to meet plenty of other people as I am staying at the best youth hostel in Australia which is also top 10 in the world. Traveling to Australia has already proven to be one of the most difficult things I have ever overcome as well as one of the best decisions of my life. It has forever strengthened my desire to keep traveling. I have decided that upon graduating from Ohio State in the spring of 2015, I will look to pursue my masters degree in Europe. I cannot wait to see what is in store over these remaining next three months as well as continue to develop the friendships I have made. I will cherish every moment of it!