December 12, 2009

Living and Learning Down Under

Marie Garofalo ’10 writes about her semester studying in Sydney, Australia

Marie Garofalo ’10 (Randolph, N.J.), a double major in English and policy studies, spent the spring 2009 semester studying in Sydney, Australia, through a program run by Boston University. The following essay appeared in the fall edition of the university’s Sydney Shout! publication.

Sydney, Australia

For a ‘Jersey Girl’ and Lafayette College junior, this adventure was not simply going to be a short excursion to another city. Rather, I was about to embark on a trip to the other side of the world for a semester abroad. While I am a very independent person, I had never traveled by myself before, and other than a few Caribbean islands and a trip to Canada, I’d never been out of the United States. I knew that the personal journey I was about to take was not going to just be a four month “vacation.” Instead, it was going to be a complete removal from my comfort zone and adjustment to life without the help of any family or friends. As I boarded my first flight on my way to Australia, I knew I would never set foot in New Jersey as quite the same person again.

A Surprise Upon Arrival

After three flights, hours and hours of traveling, and utter confusion about what day and time it was, I landed in Sydney on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009. Still wearing my sweatpants and sweatshirt to protect myself from the freezing New Jersey winter, I quickly realized that January in Australia is full of scorching summer days. Battling exhaustion and the heat, I stood at the baggage claim in the airport, anxiously hoping that none of my bags were lost crossing the Pacific. My first suitcase came out onto the turnstile and as I waited for my second, I started to get a feeling that something was not right.

It was taking a long time to come out, and a sudden feeling of nerves came over me as I realized that if anything did happen, I would be truly on my own to fix any problem that came my way. Sure enough, at that moment, I saw my other bag. But, I also saw my Spice Girls reunion concert T-shirt hanging out the side of it. Then, I saw my beach towel. And there’s another shirt.

My suitcase was torn open at the seam and all of my belongings were hanging out the sides. Luckily, a girl next to me (who was also in the program and became one of my friends) had a large luggage strap and gave it to me to secure my bag until I got to our living destination. This will be the first memory I have about Australia. My broken suitcase.

However, my second memory will certainly be the kindness and helpful nature of the people around me. One of the program directors took me and my broken suitcase to the baggage counter, and I was able to get a receipt for a free new suitcase (which I picked up a few weeks later–it is much sturdier than my old one, and since I am writing this from home back in New Jersey, I can tell you that it made the journey home without tearing open). In addition, when I moved into UniLodge and opened the suitcase to do inventory and see what items I had lost, the only thing missing from the entire bag was a few pairs of contact lenses. Australia was my good luck charm!

Trying to be the Coolest Version of Yourself

Living in a city where I knew no one, I was excited for the welcoming activities that the Boston University program was hosting. However, I do not think I was prepared for the meeting and greeting with the other students.

I did not “click” with anyone right away. I found that many people in the program were trying really hard to look “cool.” As I heard one girl at the opening reception say, “Nobody here really knows you, so everyone is trying to be the coolest version of themselves.”

I have a fun, supportive group of friends back home, and especially after joining Delta Delta Delta sorority at Lafayette College, I have learned a thing or two about handling petty drama. In a house of 75 sisters, I have become very aware of finding the amazing, genuine people, but also looking out for the fake and hurtful ones.

One thing I definitely learned about myself in this program is that I never felt pressured to do anything I was not comfortable with, I never put myself in compromising situations, and I never did anything to harm my reputation. I learned so much about myself in the past four months, especially when looking at some of the other people I studied abroad with.

I am in no way saying that I am “better” than anyone, but for my own personal growth, I know I have made myself proud and learned a lot even just by watching the actions of others. On my spring break trip, I encountered one of the rudest and most hurtful people I have ever met in my entire life. Needless to say, I did not realize her personality flaws until we were already on our trip (as traveling can bring out a different side to anybody).

But, after she threw some very harsh words in my direction, I knew that people like her will never be able to bring me down. Although we will never speak again (even though she apologized to me afterwards, it was certainly not sincere), I did make some very nice friends throughout the semester. I learned that in the end, you can only count on yourself to make you happy. No amount of “cool” friends will be able to make you the person you are destined to become.

Becoming an Australian “Television Star”

One of the many perks of the Boston University Sydney Program is the seven-week internship opportunity they offer. After telling my internship adviser that I was interested in the television industry, I was placed at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and helped as a research coordinator for The New Inventors. Little did I know how much experience I would gain over the course of the seven weeks. This internship was one of the best parts of my time abroad in Sydney.

After just a couple of weeks, I appeared as an extra in two segments for the show, and I did a voiceover piece because, according to one of the producers, I have “the perfect American accent.” Getting to work in the control room on recording days, I helped the director’s assistant with anything she needed.

I developed great relationships with my coworkers, and we have been e-mailing each other constantly since I have returned to America. I even went to one of my coworkers’ houses for a traditional Australian roast dinner (it was delicious!). After getting a fabulous going-away party and receiving more presents than I knew what to do with, I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity. I researched, I learned, and as an added bonus, I got to see myself on Australian TV!

Home Safe and Sound

Having returned to New Jersey after the four most amazing months of my life, I cannot believe that the experience is already over. I did things I never could have imagined doing, from scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef to walking around the base of Uluru in the Outback and more!

If I had to describe the way I have been feeling in the past week since arriving home, it would be “peaceful.” I feel at peace with myself, my life, my family, my friends, and every other aspect of my existence. I journeyed to the other side of the world by myself, and I never did anything to compromise my dedication to living a good life. I have been through a lot of personal struggle in the past two years, and by leaving it all behind and starting fresh, I was able to see that life goes on and no matter where I am in the world, I am still my own person and my most loyal companion.

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