Unlike most students, the decision to go abroad was chosen for me; Susquehanna University is one of a handful of schools in the United States that require every student to have some sort of study away experience. I did, however, get to choose where and for how long, and figured I should get out of my comfort zone as much as possible. So why not choose to study at Murdoch University, all the way on the west coast of Australia, where no one goes?
Coincidentally though, one friend from Susquehanna also decided to study at Murdoch, too. And looking back, having someone I knew definitely helped with the transition—I had someone who understood my worries and could relate to things from back home. It’s also comforting to have her now, sending her silly articles about Australia, knowing what no one else would appreciate about American Targets or the Tim Tam Slam.
A Little Bit Like Home
Like moving into college as a first-year, there was definitely some stress moving into Murdoch University, even with a friend from home along for the ride. I was fortunate enough to have housing on campus at the Murdoch University Village, though I know other universities expect you to live in apartments nearby. I worked on my accommodations with The Village before actually getting to Australia. They were very accommodating and understanding; they made sure I could stay in a two-bedroom flat with my caregiver and that it would be accessible for my wheelchair.
Also, the Village provides a couple of packages, if you wish to purchase them: one with towels, sheets, and pillows, and one with basic kitchen supplies. With this, I didn’t have to stress out that first night about getting basic necessities. Finally, a Village Resident Assistant (RA) took anyone interested on a shopping trip the night we landed in Perth, so we were able to grab food and other essentials. Without the RA guiding the first expedition to the shopping center, I would have had no idea where to go or how to get back.
Take it from the Australians—don’t stress so hard. People are inherently good and you will find some you click with.
Having an RA in my housing area was a little bit of familiarity from the U.S. as I adjusted to living in Perth. My RA was another undergrad student who had already lived at the Village as a resident beforehand, and lived in the same complex as I did. All the RAs sat down with their new residents and laid everything out. This was greatly appreciated, considering the expectations here were so different from at home. At my home university, someone comes into my suite every week and cleans the common area, kitchen, and bathroom; in the Village, it’s a real flat, where you’re responsible for everything, from emptying the trash to buying toilet paper.
Getting Used to Moving Takes Time
A key difference between the Village and U.S. dorms is that it was mainly comprised of international students. Australians commute and don’t usually go to the other side of the country for university. Because of this, a lot of my friends ended up not being Australian, and instead were American, South African, Singaporean, Mexican, and Japanese, just to name a few.
Murdoch had an orientation week for its international students, involving info sessions and tours. Topics covered where we could see a doctor, how to get around on public transportation, and other general student information. It was comforting to have the necessary information and to know that I wasn’t the only clueless one. But even despite the comforting orientation, I ended up breaking down in my room that night because I couldn’t figure out how to get into my student account. These moments are to be expected with so much change and so much information coming at you. But I got it working, and that was one of the last hurdles I had that ended in tears.
Finding my New Community
The Village also hosted a number of events at the beginning of the semester as icebreakers. We were introduced to the new residents as well as returning students during silly games and mixers. While there were not nearly as many events at the Village or on campus as there are at my university in the U.S., they really tried to create a sense of community.
I come from a small school—just 2400 undergraduate students—so going to a school ten times that size was particularly daunting. However, this gave me the opportunity to meet people who aren’t necessarily in the same place in life as me. I became friends with graduate and PhD students, and I rarely knew how old anyone actually was. It didn’t really matter; we all moved to Australia for at least a semester and we were equal in that sense. Eventually I didn’t need Village events, and within the first week I met up with new friends to play Cards Against Humanity and pool, just like my freshman year of college.
Adjusting to a new school is hard, especially if it’s in a completely different country. Making friends is always hard. However, take it from the Australians—don’t stress so hard. People are inherently good and you will find some you click with. Learning what’s expected of you in your new living quarters might take some time, but this definitely gave me some insight as to what I’ll need to do when I graduate and start living on my own. Moving to a new place and finding new people is never going to get easier, but those couple weeks of stress will melt away with each new experience. Take each day at a time, and soon a routine will follow, which one day, you’ll never want to leave.
This is part 3 of Exploring the World From a Seated Position: Studying Abroad with a Physical Disability. For more insights into the study abroad experience for students with disabilities, read Part 2 and Part 4.