Writing for IFSA ‘s student blog as a First Generation Scholar has made my study abroad experience so unique and special. It has also made it a bit daunting. There are endless topics I could write about, well past 1000 words. There are also students out there just like me, first generation college kids with a dream to see the world. I know they’ll be reading this, along with family and friends of mine. Strangers, too. What’s more, the very blog I am writing for now is the reason I’m in Australia. This is not a responsibility I have taken lightly. So when the time came to decide what I would write about in my second post, I was lost. Until recently one night, a familiar scenario played out in front of my eyes and I realized what I needed to write about.
Now on any typical weeknight, this exact scene would play out as I sat in bed working on my class readings for Uni:
11:00 PM Sydney time, 9:00 AM back in Miami. My phone begins buzzing with dozens of notifications. Tweets, Facebook mentions, Instagram tags, texts, emails, etc. I’m reading of President Trump’s latest test to my patience, trending celebrity scandals, humorous family updates, even emails from college back home about joining clubs despite not being on campus. I try to fit every ounce of information in my head before heading to bed around 1:30 AM.
Except this particular week was different. The news of politics, fashion, television, music, friends and family all became too much. The DACA was the newest target of the current United States’ government administration, my friends were having trouble with returning back to school, and a hurricane twice the size of Andrew was headed straight for my hometown. There was nothing I could do. That week, it felt like I wasn’t in Sydney or even back in America. I was in limbo. I went to class, and went back to my apartment. I’d cook, check my phone, eat, check my phone, clean, and check my phone. I had to know everything the moment it was happening.
Generally, Australians would ask me about the current state of my country, what it was like living there, and of course the 2016 election. For example, I had to participate in a discussion in my anthropology tutorial about racism in the United States. Due to the fact I was the only American in the room, who also happened to be a woman of color, I was expected to answer for an entire nation. So that was one reason for my obsession with keeping updated. Most importantly though, it was having people I love and care for on the other side of the world. I didn’t just want to check in on them, I needed to.
But things in the United States change so quickly and I felt like I was always behind, despite being 14 hours ahead. And when hurricane Irma became the strongest storm in the Atlantic ever, devastating the Caribbean islands, I went into a full panic. I was overthinking, undersleeping, and definitely not studying. Falling behind on classes one week would normally mean playing catch-up the next, except that this week was midterms. There could be no do-overs or take backs, and one mistake could seriously hurt my grades in my classes.
Luckily, I had two roommates who kept me on track. They made sure I could balance my life at home and my life in Sydney. I had 25 tabs open on my laptop, half for a research paper about amnesia and the other half for weather channels to track hurricane Irma. Together, we studied and made sure to still find ways to have fun. In the end, after a week of stress and worry, Irma shifted west enough to barely hit the mainland of Florida. Even then, her category 4 winds and rain still uprooted my backyard fence and cracked the windshield of my dad’s car. But my family was safe, dry, and with electricity. I couldn’t ask for more.
I realized that I could seriously miss out on some of the greatest opportunities of my life here if I didn’t find a way to balance it all. I decided that every day, I would do something that made me happy. If that meant grabbing a specialty Australian coffee, getting a good workout in at the gym, or exploring a new part of Sydney, I would do it. Since then, I’ve taken dance classes, eaten really good desserts, seen incredible beaches, and excelled in my classes. My spring break is in full swing, and I can now say I’ve seen New Zealand, Fiji, and Tonga. Let me tell you, it’s better than the photos. I still make sure to set aside time in the morning or evening to update myself on what’s going on at home. By “home” I mean my friends back at school in Lancaster, PA, friends who are also studying abroad, as well as my family in Miami, FL. I have learned to understand that home is not a place, it is people who help you grow, who support you, and love you. I am grateful for the people I call home. Them, and Face Time.
There is something to be said about the strength it takes to be away from the ones you love the most, and live your life like you’d normally do. Before going abroad, I had no idea how trying times like that would be. I also didn’t know that I was capable of handling that, and still enjoying my time here. But I earned my right to experience studying in Australia, to explore the South Pacific, and learn about myself as much as possible. That is what keeps me focused and happy. It’s important to be aware of what’s going on far from you, but it’s vital to enjoy the experiences happening right in front of you.
Kristen Colon is a Biology major at Franklin & Marshall College and studied abroad with IFSA at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia in fall 2017. She is a First Generation Scholar for IFSA’s First Generation College Scholarship program.