If you had an opportunity for the experience of a lifetime, would you go alone? In my journey to go abroad, there were a few things I had to take into consideration: I had to find a great business school, I wanted to be able to compete a full swim season before I left, and I wanted it to be somewhere warm. I was looking at programs both through my school and through partner schools when I came across the program through IFSA at the University of Sydney, or USYD. USYD had a top ranked business program which started the day after my swim season ended, and it was in sunny Australia – could it really get any better than that?? I really couldn’t find anything wrong with this program, it had everything I was looking for, it was affordable for me, I could still graduate on time… so I applied to the program and accepted my offer minutes after getting into the program. It wasn’t until Thanksgiving time when I was with family that I realized there was one thing this program didn’t have – anyone I knew.
What did I just get myself into?
I’ve always been somewhat independent, and I love being with people, but I’m ok to try new things by myself every now and then. But this was a big step and I had just found out I was the only person from my school doing it. I was excited looking forward, knowing I was going to meet so many new people and get to live in a new country for five months. I finished my swim season on February 18th, and on the 19that 3 am, I was on my way to MSP airport to start my next adventure. Getting to the airport, I was nothing but excited. It was tough for me to say goodbye to my parents and brother, but I was so excited for my journey ahead that I wasn’t sad to leave. Four and a half hours later I arrived at LAX for my thirteen-hour layover before I’d get on the plane for fifteen hours to Sydney. When I first got there, I was still pretty excited, in a little over a day I would be in Australia! But I reached about hour five of my layover and a mix of being tired and some realization hit me and I thought “what did I just get myself into?”
I didn’t know a single person I was going to spend the next five months with, new country, new school, new everything. I was terrified. Luckily, I was able to meet a couple people on my flight before we took off and I had some idea of who to find and stick with once we landed. Upon arriving, a couple of us that met in LA stuck together to get through customs and find our program advisors, Tom and Fiona – or as they referred to themselves, our Cool Aussie Dad and Cool Aussie Mom. Tom and Fiona made the process so smooth; they had events set up for us, excursions, day plans, meals, they really had it all. I was fortunate to go through a program that had so many great excursions because this was how I was able to meet so many new people.
A light at the end of the tunnel
Everyone was nervous our first couple of days so we knew we were all in the same boat trying to meet new people and make good impressions. As the first few days went by, we all were getting to know each other and becoming closer. Once we got into our routines we started finding times to go out and go shopping and doing fun things together. I’m not saying there was never a time where I didn’t want to have a friendly face around though. When a few friends and I traveled for our semester break, we went to the airport for the first time since we landed 2 months prior. For me, this was the hardest part of my entire trip. This vacation was only the half way point of our time abroad and I was incredibly homesick. At this point, all I wanted was to have a friendly face that I could go to and even just talk about home, but I wasn’t able to do that. Fortunately for me I had three friends from Minnesota coming to visit me a few weeks after our break, so that was my light at the end of the tunnel as I was going through my homesickness phase.
Not knowing anybody was scary at first, but there were so many opportunities that I had by going in alone. Sure it was scary not knowing a single person, but I was so open to trying new things and going places because if someone in my program said hey we’re going out to eator we’re going to a movie tonight, want to come?I was so open to going because I didn’t have one or two people I was stuck to and tried to revolve my choices around. At the time, I really didn’t realize I was doing this, but as the weeks quickly turned into months, there were a couple people in my program that came from the same school and they wouldn’t do anything unless all of them did it together. There were a few times where it would’ve been nice to know someone, and it may have helped when I felt a little homesick. But I met so many new people and made so many new friends because I wasn’t worried about making sure I didn’t do anything without a friend. Looking back, it was scary and a little crazy, but I wouldn’t take back a second of it. I had an amazing group of people in my program, a lot of whom were in the same position as me so we were all able to cope together and create new experiences together. And even though I went by myself, I was never alone.
Bailey Serum is a student at the University of St. Thomas and studied abroad with IFSA at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia in spring 2017.