Hi all! My name is Lydia, I’m a junior, and I’m spending this semester in Sydney. I’m from New Jersey but call Long Island home. Over the years my concentration has evolved into a study of how public health, the environment, and development—more specifically development in African countries—intersect. I don’t know what job this will lead me to but for now I’m going with the flow.
This is my second time participating in this course: I spent last spring in Accra, Ghana, and I found solace in the blog when studying abroad wasn’t all I thought it would be. I developed a negative outlook on life in Ghana because it was so different from anything I had ever known and I struggled to deal with day-to-day frustrations. I never truly appreciated everything Ghana had to offer until I returned to the United States. Now I look back on those four months as a truly life-changing experience and I would return to West Africa in a heartbeat (and I will in May for a travel course to Senegal!).
Because of my experience in Ghana I am nervous for what this semester in Australia has in store for me. I’m interested to compare the two sites and the educational, social, and professional opportunities they provide—for example, taking public health courses in a country with a developing healthcare infrastructure exposed me to ways of thinking that aren’t present in our modernized systems, so what will I learn from a public health course in Sydney, a country with a highly sophisticated system similar to ours? I’m also curious as to how group dynamics will work, since there were only twelve students in Accra and there are over 140 students here in Sydney.
I’m also eager to learn from the mistakes I made in Ghana that prevented me from completely enjoying and absorbing my time there. Alain de Botton comments on how easy it is to forget that, despite how beautiful a foreign place is in pictures and daydreams, our thoughts and feelings can ruin its appeal once we’ve arrived (19). I was so wrapped up in the fascination of traveling to Africa that I forgot I had no idea what to expect and as a result no idea of how I would react to what I saw. I did not pick up on this last year; only after reading this piece again have I noticed that I encountered the same dilemmas surrounding the give and take of travel. In Sydney I’m not only vowing to experience as much as possible, but also to focus more on my emotions and how I interact with the city. I cannot separate my feelings from my experiences because this is what clouded my time in Ghana. Travel isn’t about crossing destinations off a list, but about learning more about my role as a citizen in an increasingly globalized society.
So far my time here has been a blur of orientation week activities and shopping for miscellaneous apartment necessities. Just getting here was a task in itself: constantly checking Delta’s website to make sure my flight out of JFK wasn’t canceled (it wasn’t by some miracle), shoveling my way out of nearly thirty inches of snow, and enduring twenty-four hours of travel was stressful and exhausting. Now that orientation is coming to a close and I have time to breathe, I find my nerves have calmed and I can see myself easily feeling at home in Sydney.