I love beginnings. I love taking off in big jet planes, leaving the tarmac runway and nearly touching the sky. With risk of sounding idealistic, this always means the start of a new adventure in a world of the grand unknown. Yet rather than an excitement over a specific destination, it is the anticipation of travel that captivates me. My voluntary self-displacement has reached a peak in recent years; I can’t name a time I’ve been in the same place for more than two months since high school. Sevilla, Paris, Cuba, Hawaii, London, New York, Provence, Madrid, Dublin, Berlin, Los Angeles… now, Sydney. I’ve been privileged enough to feed this addiction under the facade of educational programs, but wanderlust doesn’t follow a curriculum.
I chose Sydney, Australia as an escape from the chaos and stress of New York City. I was anxious, unable to find immediate motivation for my daily responsibilities while simultaneously overwhelmed by the accumulation of these unaccomplished tasks. Feeling trapped, I responded with my go-to remedy: simply leave. I applied to study abroad in the one place I figured most opposite of New York City: a beachy, relaxed city 10,000 miles away.
For months, I glamorized the idea of living in Australia. I was convinced I would metamorphose into a tropical, sun-kissed surfer with no cares in the world. In chasing this reality, I found myself on the verge of tears in the basement food court of the Westfield supermall eating a melting, tasteless acai bowl. Even better, the lackluster smoothie bar was situated directly next to America’s crown jewel, Kentucky Fried Chicken. The next day, I overpaid for a surf lesson and braved the miniscule waves while wearing the least attractive version of a wetsuit known to man (a “summer suit” with cut off bottoms and half-sleeves to suit warm waters) and an equally-repulsive men’s XXL sunshirt that ballooned with air every time I moved. I could not be further from the vision of health and beauty that I had imagined my Australian self to be.
However, I had spent the afternoon aggressively pursuing the mediocre acai bowl with my roommates, who turned out to be a group of chill, hilarious, amazing girls. Our delirious attempt to find this over-hyped smoothie led to hysterical laughter and a shared bonding experience that brought us together. Likewise, while surfing was not my prettiest moment, it was a difficult test that ultimately boosted my overall confidence. Since none of my friends wanted to join, I navigated myself to the beach independently. While waiting for the lesson to begin, I stood awkwardly alone until I pushed aside my insecurity and decided to make friends with the locals in the surf shop. It’s funny how easily zinc, sunburns, and fear of sharks can bring strangers together. Still, on the most basic level I was terrified of surfing for two hours with absolutely no prior experience. Luckily, I pushed through these fears and challenged myself to go through with the lesson. Two hours later, I emerged from the water beaming––I had stood up on the board nearly every go and made friends with Ricky the cute Australian instructor, all while being cleansed by the salty waves.
Sydney is certainly not the paradise that I had pictured in my mind: our residence is far from most desirable activities/places, and the city closer resembles the New York chaos than an island oasis. However, it is a place to grow. I’m excited to explore the prided attractions of Australia while also finding the beauty in less obvious experiences. Who knows, perhaps by May I’ll even get that natural surfer’s glow.