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This week was much less eventful than the first three, but I did have an experience that makes it perfectly okay. A few other exchange students and I went hiking at Mount Ngungun, part of the Glasshouse Mountains in Queensland. I mistakenly did absolutely no research on the trail we had chosen, so when we arrived and started “hiking” along stone steps, I was a little surprised and disappointed. Someone had mentioned it was an hour to the summit, but we made it in 30 minutes. Despite this, when we reached the summit, it took my breath away. It felt like I was on an island in the middle of nowhere, and it felt like I was alone. In a good way. To the left was a small path with a steep drop on either side, which led to another tiny island of rocks and boulders. Every corner on the way up had signs saying “WARNING! FALLING ROCKS,” and now it made sense as to why. I wasn’t even thinking about that. I wasn’t thinking about much at all. I was just in awe. Everyone wanted to go out on the tiny peninsula at the other side of the path. I would never have done this before this very moment, but for some reason, I just joined. I didn’t think about it– I just went. My hands were shaking the whole time and my heart was racing, and I was happy. It wasn’t a difficult hike, and I wasn’t very tired, but something about being at the top of this mountain just really got to me. I felt different, better, and I felt proud. I was doing something I never would’ve done before, and it was beautiful. I was speechless, and I still am. I don’t think I have the words to describe just how I felt at the summit of that mountain. I sat on the furthest rock overlooking Queensland, and I stayed there for a while trying to take everything in. When I finally joined the group again, we stayed at the top for a long time, talking and eating, satisfied with what we had accomplished. I think I was feeling a lot more than everyone else was. By the time we left the mountain and went to get food, I was finally starting to get tired. We realized at one point that the train was almost there, and we had to rush getting our food into boxes before running to the station. Sitting on the train, it seemed like I was feeling an entirely new emotion. I felt different, better, and I was happy about it to say the least. It took me a few days to fully digest the experience. I still haven’t. But I know I loved it, and I’m still surprised that a single moment could’ve affected me so much.
Classes started this Monday– I’m only taking three, and one is chemistry, so there’s not much excitement there. But I have been surprised by a lot of different things in the past few days. I’ve met a lot of people who are already beginning to have an impression on me, not because they’re these incredible firecrackers, but because they’ve forced me to reflect on myself a little bit more than I normally would. Hayley, who is just an adrenaline junkie. She always looks bored unless she’s jumping out of a plane or off a bridge. Nicco and Nigel who can never be serious. Mal, who worries too much and laughs way too hard. Flynn loves to make a scene. And Ella, who is always looking for new ways to have fun. Living freely, every minute of every day. In a lot of ways I hope I make others feel the way they make me feel. I never cared what people think of me or the things I do, but now I’m wondering if you can not care too much. These people care about their impact, their interactions. But it’s not interrupting their lives, just making them more valuable as friends. It’s easy for me to brush things off and stay in my own head, despite anything anyone else thinks about me. But these people are caring and thoughtful, easy to be comfortable around, and it feels like something that comes from caring. This is what I’ve been thinking about when I go to the park with Mal or get in the Uber with Hayley. This is what I think about when Ella takes my hand to break through the crowd of people at the club, and what I think about when I see her at lunch the next day after she’s just rolled out of bed. What makes these people so special to me despite knowing them for such a short amount of time? I have found people who make me laugh until I can cry, and people I can talk to about anything, and it’s only been two weeks at university. Changing everything and forcing myself into something entirely unfamiliar has already started to make me grow, if just a little bit. It hasn’t been entirely easy, not by a long shot, but if I can change so much about my life and still find these people, that’s something beautiful. I can be myself, genuinely, and whether at Rutgers or in Australia, I can find people who inspire me. Each in their own way, they’ve begun to help me grow, without even trying to. I’ve been told that I’m not “the type of person” who can spend a semester abroad. These people have helped me feel like I’m doing exactly what I should be doing.
Week 1 is complete! I have spent the week with my parents in Brisbane, and they left this morning to fly home. It took them leaving for everything to hit, and it hit all at once. We did have a wonderful week, taking the ferry to different locations throughout the city and exploring more natural areas nearby. We went to the Australia Zoo, my mom’s personal favorite, which was fun, but also a little bit eye-opening. I fully realized and understood, for the first time in my life, that there is so much to see outside of the little bubble I live in between Monmouth and Middlesex counties in New Jersey. We also went to the glow worm caves of Tamborine Mountain, where there was also a small town, which I have been thinking about since. We visited overlooks, a small beach, and lots of restaurants. Throughout all of this, the biggest thing that stood out to me was just how much life exists all around, even in the cities. We were surrounded by birds and bugs everywhere we went. The city is decorated with shrubs and trees. At dusk hoards of bats fly along the river, and three nights in a row, in the middle of the night, I was woken up by a bird singing. Life is all over the place in this city. I know it’s cliche and probably a little bit annoying, but this week has mostly made me realize just how small I am, and just how big the world is. A 20 hour flight, lots of driving, and LOTS of learning. Being flooded with new sights, new words, an entirely new culture. It all has made me feel so tiny, but not in a bad way. In a curious way. I know because of this that, despite the homesickness, I need this experience. My parents left this morning and I already miss them way too much for words, but I am starting to understand that I am such a minuscule piece of this world, and that that’s a beautiful thing.
On the ferry the other day was a mother and her two young daughters, both toddlers. They seemed restless and itching to play. One of them was staring at me while running around the boat, which I didn’t mind– she’s a child, how could she know better? But before I knew it she was hiding behind seats, waiting for me to try and see her. She hopped on the seat two in front of me and started playing peek-a-boo through the back of the chair, and I joined right in using the chair in front of me, my bag, my hands. I forgot that my parents were leaving and I’d be alone on the other side of the earth. I forgot that my friends were 15 hours behind me. I forgot that I’m starting at a new school knowing no one else, not a single person. I forgot that I can’t see my dog until late June. Before I got off the ferry, she ran up behind me and poked me in the back. She sat on the chair behind me and when I turned to look at her, I could see the joy radiating from her face. It was comforting to know that while so much has changed for me in the past week, so much is also the same, no matter where on the planet I am.
I’ll be leaving for Australia on Sunday, and I’m feeling so many different emotions about it! I’m getting more and more excited as my departure gets closer, and most of my worries have left by now. My parents will be coming with me for the first week because the semester doesn’t start until late February, so I think this will really help me to get settled in as smoothly as possible. I’ve never been outside of the country, or even on a plane for that matter, but that makes me all the more excited for this experience!
I certainly have my reservations and concerns, but I’ve been trying to think about a conversation I had with a friend (who is also going abroad to New Zealand) a couple of months ago. He asked me if I really wanted to leave Rutgers and the U.S., and I hesitantly said no; he followed by asking me if I was scared of leaving for the semester. Of course, I said yes, and he said “That’s why you need to go.” I’ve been trying to keep this in mind as the days get closer, and I can already tell it will be a transformative experience for me. As of right now, I’m mostly feeling like a child trying to sleep on Christmas Eve. I’m looking forward to the adventures I’ll have, and I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity to study abroad!