There’s something so refreshing and exciting about removing yourself from your normal life and starting over in a completely new and unknown environment. Yes, it may be daunting moving entirely across the world, (the 22 hour flight from New York to Sydney invoked the most fear for me), but throughout my life, I’ve found that travel makes me a better version of myself, encouraging me to become more open-minded, spontaneous, and adventurous.
That being said, if someone had told me just a year or two ago that I would be spending the semester in Sydney, Australia, I would have had a hard time believing them. My name is Eliana, and I am a sophomore studying Journalism and Human Rights in Gallatin. Growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey, I always yearned to travel to more exciting places, and after I finished high school, I decided to take a gap year before NYU and move to Israel to volunteer in a foster home. Although I grew up and learned so many important lessons during that year, living in Israel was extremely challenging for me. Not only was I acclimating to an entirely foreign environment, I was also living in a rough neighborhood during a tension- filled time, and I became accustomed to hearing bomb sirens go off constantly and having to stay on lock-down. A month after arriving in Israel, I was diagnosed with a severe case of mono, and had to spend time alone in the hospital, but the final straw for me came when a boy I knew named Ezra, who was studying abroad nearby, was shot and killed by terrorists on his way to volunteer.
My experiences during my gap year invoked a sense of anxiety and fear in me. Suddenly travel, something I had always felt passionately about, was a lot less exciting to me. For years I had dreamed of becoming a photojournalist and traveling all over the world, but it took time for me to build up the courage to travel again, especially on my own. This year, however, I knew that I needed to go abroad again, no matter how uncertain or uneasy I felt about it, and so I spontaneously applied to Sydney right before the application deadline.
Despite some trepidation, arriving in Sydney, I instantly felt at home. Although I have a deep love for New York, the constant grind of the city can definitely get old. It’s easy to feel the pressure to achieve and network and in doing so, lose our sense of well-being. The past week I’ve spent in Sydney, I feel a new sense of lightness and peace. Although there is always anxiety in becoming accustomed to a new country and new people, the underlying vibe of Sydney is relaxed, and slower-paced which I love. The people I’ve met here so far are friendly and down to earth, and I’ve loved walking around and exploring the beautiful neighborhoods nearby, like Surrey Hills.
One of my favorite days I’ve spent here so far was my first Saturday here. My suitemates and I got up early and went to a yoga class at Bondi Beach, which was taught on a deck overlooking the beautiful sparkling water. After class, we went to get acai bowls at a cute cafe on the beach called Speedo’s, and then we spent the rest of the day on Bondi Beach, swimming deep out into the ocean, and jumping off the rocks into the water. On our way home, we passed a restaurant advertising $5 happy hour, and decided to stop in. As the sky turned golden and the sun set, we slowly walked home, and a deep feeling of gratitude and calm swept over me. We didn’t spend a lot of money that day, or plan anything ahead of time, but the perfection of the day lay in its simplicity.
For me, these next four months in Sydney feel like a beautiful gift that I want to take full advantage of. As Iyer remarked in “Why we Travel”, “For me the first great joy of traveling is simply the luxury of leaving all my beliefs and certainties at home, and seeing everything I thought I knew in a different light, and from a crooked angle.” During my time abroad, I want to build on this idea, by allowing myself to be entirely open to new people, experiences and ideas. I want to release that uncertainty I felt after my year in Israel, and work on testing my boundaries and doing things I would never normally do, whether that means sky diving, or striking up a conversation with someone new. My main goal for my time abroad is to be mindful and focus on the present, putting my phone away, and paying attention to everything going on around me. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I want to take advantage of every second I have here!