By Macey McGovern, Foster Undergraduate who participated in an exchange with the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia.
When contemplating a study abroad adventure, you anticipate studying and you anticipate doing so abroad in a foreign country. Indeed, both are true, but the reality of it all doesn’t really hit you until you get there. The true challenge is in finding balance. On one hand, you are a student and unlike other exchange students on a pass/fail basis, you might have to work hard for good grades that satisfy degree requirements back home. But on the other hand, you’re in a brand new place and it would be awful to spend your time locked in the library when you have the opportunity to explore a whole new culture, climate, and region of the world. So, how did I do it in Sydney? Well first, I locked myself in the library and then completed my final exams. Second, I bought two plane tickets, one to Indonesia and one to New Zealand, and I said goodbye to Australia.
My first stop was for two weeks in Indonesia. Accompanied by a friend from home with relatives in Laos, I was comforted with her impressive knowledge of Southeast Asian cultures. For example, restaurants doubled as homes, so you would be sitting and eating lunch while watching your waitress welcome her child home from school. There’s also an abundance of temples in Indonesia, which were not only sacred to the local people but also built in beautiful locations. The ones that we were fortunate enough to enter obviously demonstrated the effort put in generations ago to create such an important place for people to practice their religions. Another shock was how pushy the locals were in selling their goods at street markets. However, the prices were incredibly low and if you ever need a new opportunity to practice negotiation techniques, this would be a great spot to go. It isn’t hard to live a luxurious lifestyle there for a week or two on no more than a couple hundred dollars.
The second stop was for three weeks in New Zealand. Here, I rented a car with the same friend and drove all over the South Island for two weeks. We then spent a few days up on the North Island before heading home for the holidays. Indonesia was the milestone for my first third world country travel experience, and New Zealand was now the country that captured my heart with its irreplaceable, majestic natural beauty. Driving from lake to lake, national park to national park, I couldn’t help but feel like I was journeying across the landscape of a postcard, attempting to get over the feeling of awe and soak in what I could, while I could. This country was a bittersweet conquest, as the mountain ranges, lakes, rivers, oceans, and glacier adventures made me quite nostalgic about home but also marked the end of an incredible time in my life.
Australia was a place I’ve wanted to visit since I was five years old and annoying everyone at school and home with my random outback facts. It’s always been my life goal on the back burner, but now it’s over and time to come up with a bigger and better dream. I never in a thousand million trillion bajillion years expected to learn so much about myself, the person I want to be, and the direction I want to go, but I think the same can be said by many of us who go on exchange. It’s so nice to form relationships with people from all over the world, and even bonding with those from the same place as you, but so much of what you do with your time is on your own. You just don’t realize, until you’re back at UW and starting classes again, how strong of a Dawg you have really become.