I’m going to go ahead and make an ass out of you and me and assume that you (yes, you) have studied abroad or know of at least one person that has. These days, I swear it’s about as common as a California girl. I’m sure your BFF has sent you photos of her kissing some random French guy under the Eiffel Tower or cruising through the canals of Venice in a gondola. And when they come back home I’m sure they have no problem bragging about every night out and every skipped class. They will tell you they were living the life, which they probably were. But you know what they don’t tell you? They don’t tell you how you’re supposed to go back to reality after experiencing the closest thing this world has to magic.
So you come home after spending five months in a foreign country and the first and only question you get from friends and family is the infamous “How was (Australia)?!” But the real question is how the hell do you answer that question without telling them to pull up a chair and grab a glass of wine because it may be a while. How do I fit the best five months of my life into a one sentence answer? “It was amazing.” “I loved it.” “Let’s just say I didn’t want to come back.” Even “it was the best five months of my life” doesn’t suffice.
In the short lived time of being an Aussie, I experienced and adventured more than I ever have in my life. I travelled to more places and met more people than I can count. Not just any places or any people either– the most mythical places and the most beautiful people. Places that make your mouth drop and people that make your heart warm. I saw the most amazing stars of my life. The kind where you look up and there seems to be more than ever before. The kind that burn so bright and shine so long that they never vanish into periphery when you turn your head. As if they came out just to remind us that if we never had the patience to wait, we never would have seen them there, that night, like that. I met the most genuine human beings, ones I know I didn’t just meet by accident. People that skipped hey, what’s up? hello! and went straight to asking me about my dreams, aspiring life goals, the meaning of life, what keeps me up at night, my insecurities and my fears. People with depth, who speak with emotion from a world more twisted than yours. My absolute favorite part of these conversations was unraveling the reasons behind what pushed them to travel to the opposite end of Earth, knowing nothing and no one, leaving their comfort zone behind, for what? The experience? The education? It’s never that simple. There’s always a greater good. There’s always that one moment, that one day, that one last straw that makes you think “get me the hell out of here.” And that moment might be one of your lowest lows, but how are you supposed to get high without ever being low?
These are the places and the people that become your home away from home. The home you are forced to leave after five months. And that is the epitome of bitter sweet. Because nothing’s more bitter than a goodbye you know is forever. And nothing is sweeter than coming home to your little brother that was convinced you were never coming back.
They make it seem like getting up and going is the hardest part, but really it’s the coming back. You come back to the same life you were living and nothing has changed– except you. Everything about you. You walk into your room as if it belongs to a stranger. Picking up pictures and remembering that exact moment when you smiled despite all the pain. And then you see all the books you used to read at night to keep your mind from running. Like clues to piece a life together, but it’s really your own. And it hits you all at once. It’s like when your favorite song comes on and nothing or no one else in the room matters. And you just lose control. And then you fall back onto your bed, in slow motion–like in one of those cliche movies, and your white duvet puffs up like clouds, and you feel as if that’s the closest you’ll ever get to heaven. Watching the fan spin about as fast as your thoughts. You’ve seen this day in your dreams. The day you can say “I am happy” without that little devil on your left shoulder shaking his head. But in your dreams, you never saw it like this. You never imagined (Australia) was your key to happiness. But that’s life– finding things in places you never thought to look.
(Australia) taught me so much about myself. Who I am, what I want, where I need to be. It was the last drop I needed to turn my glass from being half empty to half full. I learned life is one never ending roller coaster ride and it’s easy to stay at the bottom, but then you’ll never know what you’re missing out on up top. I learned how to live care-free and in today, not tomorrow. I learned it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. But, the most important thing I learned is it is okay to want your own happiness. It’s okay to care about yourself the most. You are not obligated to sit there and smile and swallow every bit of shit everyone throws at you. They say putting others before yourself is an admirable trait, but I think it’s way harder to put yourself before others. You are your own best advocate. In the end, you’re on your own and what if you wake up one day, and you’re 75, and you were so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to live that big juicy creative life you always wanted? What then? The purpose of this glorious life is not to simply endure it, but to soar, stumble, and flourish as you learn to fall in love with it. We were born to live, not to merely exist.