I’ve been back home in the United States for about a month and a half now, and the experience has been good, but difficult. Wonderful, but sometimes uncomfortable.
I was prepared to come back home, see family & friends, and visit my favorite local places. However, I wasn’t prepared for the full extent of conflicting emotions that began as soon as I stepped off the plane.
Being on the other side of the world for 4 months does something to you as a person. I adjusted to life in Australia, I became accustomed to catching the bus, living with my host family, going into the city with my friends, and even Australian slang like “She’ll be right!” or “Good on ya!” (but I never got used to Vegemite haha). The little things built upon each other – I created an “Australian life” for myself.
People ask me, “How was Australia?”, and I feel like I’m about to burst. Incredible. Challenging. Amazing. Eye-opening. Transformative.
When I say “burst” I mean burst in the sense of talking endlessly about sights I saw, memories I created (They are pretty much all “you had to be there” moments, which is hard for people to imagine when you were on the other side of the world), and the many inside jokes shared with my American friends.
After those initial thoughts, I am flooded with questions (and even confusion) on how to comprehend the breadth of my experiences:
How do I explain a life-changing experience? How do I express the memories I made there? How do I comprehend the beauty of Aboriginal culture, how I was welcomed into their community, and how they are working towards educating society on their past, present, and future (how their culture belongs in Australian society)? How do I describe the nuances of Australian culture that have grown on me and have left an imprint?
Yes I did pet a koala and a kangaroo, and that was pretty great. No, I didn’t encounter any deadly animals people would tell me about (thank the Lord for that). I snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef. I surfed on the Sunshine Coast. I still can’t believe I did those things, and yet I talk about it so casually. They made for great memories, and I am so grateful for them, but they did not make the experience. The experience was much more than the animals & sights I saw. I think the “life-changing” part of study abroad goes beyond the surface-level tourist moments.
It is interesting being on the other side of culture shock now. Before, I was trying to navigate Australian culture. Now, I am trying to navigate American culture through a lens (or “worldview”) that is slightly changed.
I think it is more difficult now because I experienced so much growth in Australia. I wouldn’t say I’ve completely changed as a person, but I began to see qualities in myself that I didn’t see before. All of a sudden I was more passionate about things I cared about. I became concerned about world issues, people groups, community, and my place in it all.
Study abroad allowed me to have an “experience of a lifetime”, but it revealed as much about the world as it did about myself (or at least that was my experience). It made me a more independent, empathetic, and passionate person. It is amazing what spending time in another country can show you about your identity in Christ, and slightly change your perspective on the world (for the better). It may not be obvious to others, but I feel the change in me.