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Study Abroad in Perth, Western Australia: Reflections and Tips

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So, I may have started writing this post back in January. You know, when I actually returned from my study abroad trip. But then I got buried under a pile of biochemistry and genetics, and have just now dug myself out to enjoy the last breaths of spring, before North Carolina whacks me in the face with summer in all of its 243% humidity glory.

So that’s where I’m at right now. But now that it’s summer, I have a little more free time. I was considering what to do with this free time, and I thought “by golly, I think I’ll write a blog post!” (Yes, I actually thought ‘by golly.’ Welcome to my internal monologue.)

Do you want to know how many times I Google searched “study abroad in Australia” (and numerous other permutations of that phrase) while I was planning my trip? Too. Dang. Many. So in case you obsessively responsibly plan everything like I do and you found this post by performing a similar Google search, here is what I’d like to tell you about studying abroad in Australia.

1. Do it

This one doesn’t need much elaboration. Just do it. Even if you don’t study abroad in Australia (which I highly recommend), study abroad somewhere. People aren’t lying when they say study abroad is the best experience of their life. All of the clichés are true. You will grow as a person. You will learn things about yourself, and about what you want out of life. You will get to see and do amazing things. And you’ll make lifelong friends.

 

2. Pack clothes that you normally wear at home

This might be different if you aren’t going to Australia, but in Australia, people pretty much wear whatever they want, so take clothes you’re comfortable in. If you bring clothes you never wear at home, you probably won’t wear them when you’re abroad. And then you’ll regret using up precious luggage space for those clothes you never wear.

On a related note – pack light. Everybody says this, but seriously. You will thank yourself later. If you’re like me, you’ll probably end up wearing the same 5 items of clothing all the time anyway, so you may as well just leave the rest at home.

 

3. Take videos

If you only remember one piece of advice, remember this one. Now that I’m home and missing Australia terribly, the few videos I took while I was there have become some of my most treasured digital possessions. Pictures are great, and you should take lots of them, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a thousand pictures. One of my friends started making videos with all her Australian friends, which I think is a great idea. You’ll want to remember the people you meet over there.

And I promise that even if your friends get annoyed with you for videoing them all the time, they will thank you later when they can look back on those memories, too.

 

4. Don’t be an obsessive planner all the time

I plan things. It’s what I do. And that tendency came in very handy last year, because studying abroad requires quite a lot of planning. That said, sometimes it’s better to just go with the flow and see what happens. Banking? Money? Figure that out before you leave. Flights? Definitely want to be on top of those. But planning exactly where you’re going to travel on each of your long weekends or study breaks? Maybe not.

It’s definitely a good idea to be aware of the places you’d like to visit, tours you might like to book, and how far in advance you’d need to buy plane tickets, but other people you meet abroad will be wanting to travel too, and if you book all your stuff ahead of time, you might miss out on opportunities to travel with your new friends. So leave some flexibility in your plans, and don’t worry about nailing everything down before you leave.

For me, going to Bali with all my new study abroad friends was a very last-minute decision, and one I did absolutely no planning for. But some of my best memories are from that trip, and it was actually really nice letting someone else do the planning for a change! If I were you, I’d pick one or two places you absolutely want to visit, and book those ahead of time. Then leave everything else open so you can plan with your new friends!

 

5. Take advantage of organized trips and social events

I studied at Murdoch University, and if there’s one thing they’re good at, it’s providing amazing opportunities for study abroad students. My absolute favorite trip while I was in Australia was the Northwest Trip, which was a 10-day camping trip sponsored by the university specifically for study abroad students.

Picture yourself and around 25 of your closest friends packed onto two buses driving up the beautiful west coast of Australia and setting up camp at a different idyllic campsite every night. Add in some breathtaking hikes through gorges, a snorkeling trip, beautiful sunsets, lots of goon, and more stars than you’ve ever seen in your life, and you might begin to understand how incredible this trip was.

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I also went on two university-sponsored day trips (to the Pinnacles and through the Swan Valley wine region), and was surprised by how much fun I had in just a single day. Moral of the story? Take advantage of any trips or events your university offers! Even if it’s just a community barbecue (and if you’re in Australia, there will be barbecues), this is how you will meet other study abroad students.

 

6. Consider your priorities carefully

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I didn’t go abroad to enrich my academic studies. (Don’t tell my study abroad advisor!) UNC has one of the best undergraduate nutrition programs in the country; Murdoch doesn’t even have a nutrition program. If my goals were academic, I wouldn’t have left UNC.

I made a point to sign up for easy classes that would still fulfill some gen-ed requirements, and because only the credits would transfer, it didn’t matter how well I did in them (as long as I passed). As someone who had been prioritizing school all her life, this felt a little weird at first, but as you can imagine, I adapted pretty quickly. There were definitely many *ahem* a few times I skipped class to go to the beach or travel, and I don’t regret it one bit.

But – and this is important – this may not be you! You, like many of my friends I met at Murdoch, may be studying abroad specifically for the academic offerings at your new uni. You may even be in a special program that gets you credit for your major, or you may be working on research. In this case, academics should be a priority, because that will help you get the most out of the place you’re visiting.

All I’m saying is to consider your priorities before you leave, and don’t unnecessarily burden yourself with difficult classes. Are you thinking of trying to get physics or some other tough requirement out of the way while you’re abroad? Don’t. You can take physics anywhere. Take it over the summer if you have to. Don’t take it abroad. But that conservation biology class that is only offered in Australia? Go for it.

One last tip about priorities: I might be in the minority here, but don’t prioritize travel over spending time with your friends. If you can travel with your friends – great! Win-win! But there are a couple trips I went on by myself that I kind of wish I hadn’t, or at least not for so long. Don’t get me wrong, traveling alone was an amazing experience and I’m glad I did it, but I wish I hadn’t done it so much. Because what I didn’t realize until I left is that all the places I visited will still be there whenever I decide to go back. But I will never live in the same place as all of my study abroad friends again.

 

7. Go out on a limb.

Apply YOLO liberally while you’re abroad. Are you normally shy and self conscious, and you’re teetering on the edge of asking someone to hang out, or inviting yourself to a group gathering? Just do it! Worst case, you never see these people again after 6 months, and any embarrassing moments or bad impressions will die quickly. Best case, you make amazing memories you never would have had if you hadn’t stepped out of your comfort zone.

 

8. It may (read: probably will) suck at first. And that’s okay.

You might have a panic attack on the airplane. You might have a breakdown because your new room looks like a prison cell. You might start crying in the grocery store because they don’t have your favorite brand of ice cream. You might feel like everyone hates you and you’ll never make any friends. You might even wish you never left home.

I’ve been there. You’ll get through it. You just gotta trust me (and thousands of other students who have been through it) on this one.

 

9. It almost definitely will suck when you leave. And that’s okay too.

I’m pretty sure I took leaving much harder than most people. I don’t like change, and I also didn’t go straight home, so I didn’t have my family and friends to cushion the blow. But no matter who you are, it will suck to leave. I don’t think there’s anything you can do to prepare for it, so just keep it in mind while you’re there as a reminder to take advantage of the short time you do have.

Seriously, if you’re sitting in your room not doing anything, stop. Find something to do. Find someone to hang out with, and if you can’t, do something by yourself. You can watch Netflix when you get home.

 

Alright, I think this has been suitably long-winded. (Is it bothering you that I only went up to nine instead of ten? Don’t worry. It’s bothering me too.) I hope you’ve found something helpful here, and if you have any additional tips (or questions!), feel free to leave a comment! I could seriously talk about Australia all day, so if you’re going there and want to pick my brain, hit me up.

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