Truthfully, I had little hesitation when choosing my study abroad location. I had always yearned to travel to Sydney, Australia, and when I set my mind to something there is absolutely no way of swaying me otherwise (a trait that, in this case, had worked in my favor and not so much for the 'rents, who had quickly discovered that Sydney was 16 hours ahead and the third most expensive city in the world... ah, details, details).
Thus, on Feb. 20, 2013 I took the 24-hour trek to the "Land Down Under" with all the essentials:
1. One passport containing a photograph that bears a slight resemblance to Danny DeVito. If only I were kidding.
2. Two (very) overweight suitcases in tow. Shall we start apologizing to Mom and Dad now or later?
3. A ridiculous grin on my face, which not only increased the size of my cheeks, but also horrified a six-year-old in the security line, who, after glancing my way, promptly latched onto her mother's thigh. Can't a girl be happy?
I then realized that the child's fears were prompted by my hair, which was channeling Albert Einstein, along with the trail of maroon blotches on my face -- Mother's residual lipstick kisses (attacks), of course.
Aussie boys, here I come!
I can easily mark my five months abroad in Sydney as one of the best experiences in my life. Needless to say, it was not always rainbows and butterflies. With that in mind, I encourage you to please take my advice before you embark upon your trip to Sydney, Australia.
1. Pack Accordingly
I can only assume that you associate Australia with a radiant sun and a crisp ocean breeze. Well, newsflash: The weather is not always warm -- the hard truth, which I fervently denied while packing (the day before I left for abroad).
Considering the size and cost of my suitcases, one would think I came prepared for the colder, autumn weather. Apparently, I found it vital to bring along 13 pairs of shorts and six pairs of heels (only to end up wearing my combat boots the entire time, but that's besides the point). Making room for a heavier coat or a cozy sweater was simply out of the question.
So, listen up, people: Sydney grows a bit cold and rainy in autumn.
And in rare instances, a mini tornado hits on your first night out on the town, forcing you and your friends to take refuge in a McDonald's.
Not even torrential downpour, hail, wind nor flying tree branches prevented us from having fun, even if it meant an occasional face-plant, a lost shoe, or an unglamorous entrance into the local bar as the sole, sopping wet Americans. How everyone else remained dry never ceases to amaze me.
Learn it. Love it. Slap it. Chug it. Throw it up the next morning.
What is this strange word, you inquire? Goon, my friends, is the classiest of all alcoholic beverages! At a mere $15, this one-gallon bagged wine encased in a cardboard box is filled with ingredients otherwise questionable if you were not desperately broke from your stay in Sydney. And if you've ever considered yourself the brave type, take a look at the label: "May contain fish parts and egg" is marked in fine print -- only to aid in the preservation of the wine, of course.
Ask any backpacker or Australian exchange student if he or she has ever tried Goon. The response will almost always begin with a shaking of the head or a sheepish grin, followed by, "Goon, goon, goon, where do I even begin..." or possibly, "Remember that one time when we drank goon..." Oh, wait -- no, you don't.
Ah, Goon nights: Hardly remembered, never (well, almost always) forgotten. A piece of advice? Steer clear from red -- your carpet will thank you later.
3. Live a Little...
...or a lot. But seriously, if I could take away one valuable life lesson that I learned abroad, it would be to stop giving a F***. Be fearless, try something new for once -- hey, skip a little (lot of) class and go surfing. Dive into the depths of the Great Barrier Reef and go find that damn Nemo. Meet a koala or two -- or, better yet, meet some Australians.
Go ahead and see what this fabulous girl Sydney has to offer. I sure did. I also know that I scared the crap out of my parents on more than one occasion -- like that time I broke it to them via Facebook that I had jumped out of a plane earlier that morning? Nah.
If you are going to spend money on anything, let it be on traveling. Whether you embark upon a sailing/scuba diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef, take a surfing lesson on Manly Beach, peruse the graffiti-filled alleys in Melbourne (try not to get kicked out of a hostel while you're there. I'll leave that story for another time), channel your inner hippy and attend a music festival in Byron Bay, hit up the Outback -- alright, I'll stop ranting.
Your journeys will be well spent and well remembered. And since Australia's location is, uh, on the opposite side of the world, you have the opportunity to travel to places you've only dreamed of visiting, such as Thailand, Bali, Vietnam, New Zealand and Fiji, to name a few. If I haven't sold you yet, I don't know what will.
5. Excite Your Palate.
Try a Tim Tam -- you most definitely won't regret it. This chocolate delight is oozing with love at first bite. But don't be so quick to fall -- eat too many and you may begin referring to good 'ole Tim as a two-timing slut.
No, your dryer isn't broken, nor have your clothes shrunk. Maybe it's time to call it quits and go for a run on Bondi Beach instead.
6. Make the Best of Friends
If there is anything I will forever cherish about my time in Sydney, it is the lifelong friendships I have formed in such a short amount of time. The memories I've made with these friends, both old and new, are ones I will never forget. Through the laughter, the tears, the anxiety (uh, hello, skydiving?), through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows -- we've been through it all, and I can't possibly think of better people to share these experiences with.
To my beautiful ladies I met, if you are reading this (which, let's be real, I know you are), I love you all so much. Thank you for making my life that much better.
So, if you are to take away anything from this article, no matter where you decide to study abroad, make the effort to meet new people. Open yourself up, even, to the possibility of love -- because you never know what, or who, you'll find in your journey abroad.
Even if this so-called "love" is directly referring to a Tim Tam.