In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Study Abroad.”
The question today’s prompt asked is where I would choose to go for a year if I had the chance to study abroad. Coincidentally I am currently on a study abroad program in Australia, while already being an international student in the US.
The why question is one I got a lot recently and the easiest one I can answer probably. Why not?
I am young, only 20, I am free, not bound to any job or place and when else would I get the chance to explore a new culture, meet, live and study with people my age but raised differently and simply travel some more.
My initial choice of studying in the US came easy. It was far away from my parents and my own country that I had grown disappointed in, I got a chance to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, enjoy a world-renowned education and experience a permanent summer. UCLA meant all those for me.
Leaving now for Australia was an even easier decision.
I needed a new change, a new adventure. It was again one of the furthest points I could find on a map. LA-Canberra time difference is 18 hours. It was the best choice for a school in my field. ANU is ranked number 7 in the world for political science. I got to add number 34 to my ever growing list of countries visited and I had always had a fascination for the unknown land down under. The fact that is was actually cheaper to study here than in LA as an international student came as a bonus.
Now one month in my newest adventure I must admit I have mixed feelings. I came in overly confident that I had basically no need to adjust whatsoever. I had already been an international freshman and had done quite well. I had already moved to an English speaking country and hadn’t had any problems. I had traveled the world and never felt lonely. But I was surprised at how many challenges I encountered.
Nobody cared about me. The freshmen wanted to make friends with others who would be here as long as they were. The uperclassmen already had tightly knit groups of friends. Semesters run quite differently than the fast-paced quarter system I was used to and doing research by myself without being constantly tested requires all my determination. Tennis training proved to be a huge issue since Melbourne is the tennis capital of Australia and not Canberra. Slang use is wide-spread and I often find myself nodding and smiling and having no idea what the other person is saying. Even traffic being on the other side of the road requires daily reminders to look right before crossing. And on top of that, to my impression, Australians are so laid back and content with their country my international background and capabilities make no impression. Oh, you speak five languages, cool, let me grab another drink.
However, by all means, I do not and will not regret the decision to come here. Worse case scenario if my situation doesn’t improve I will have cut off a country from the list I mentally keep with possible ones to live in after I graduate. In any other possible course of events I emerge more mature, more confident, more open-minded, more cultured, more knowledgeable than before I left. How could someone regret that?
School here is amazing, with smaller classes and professors who insist on practicality (policy briefs instead of essays is just one example). ANU and Camberra are truly international spaces where I’ve met people from around the world. And I haven’t even begun to explore the rest of the country or the other major cities.
It’s true. I’ve had some tough days when I missed my already established routines and friends at UCLA. But I also enjoy the challenge of making it here as well. To consider myself an international citizen or part of the globalised youth I should be able to have a positive experience here. And even while eating lunch alone ( a feat I am definitely not used to ) I am certain I will find my way around. And if not, one can live through anything 6 months right?
Airplanes, skype, facetime, whatsapp, viber, and all the technology we have nowadays at our disposal has enabled us to cut travel times, transcend time-zones, remain connected even when we are the furthest away we’ve ever been. Having been to more than 30 countries, going to school on a different continent and simply living to travel, I had always been grateful to the available technology to keep in touch with whomever I meet on my journeys and leave behind when I move on.
Truthfully, I was never a sentimentalist, never crying at the airports and hating to say good-bye, never worried about leaving family, friends, boyfriends, relationships of any kind behind. People told me I am cold-hearted, but I felt I am too young to be tied down and there was so much more ahead of me than anything I could possibly leave behind. I always managed to maintain a distance with respect to the people surrounding me, as I knew I would soon leave. Still, the internet helped me create a sense of an international community that I am part of, having friends all over the globe and knowing I have someone to visit or crash at in all these different places. I always used it more for simply checking in, stalking what people have been up to, making sure I maintain enough of a presence so that people don’t forget me rather than actually maintaining any significant contacts. I only skype my parents when they forgot to refill my card or I miss seeing my dog and probably have two life-long friends that I talk to once every couple of months to make sure we’re seeing each other when we find ourselves in the same country.
And now I get to my story, of how the unexpected happened, and how despite me carefully not forming any lasting emotional attachment in person, I ended up being totally messed up by one formed on the internet.
When home is not home anymore and How playing a 10k in Italy decided my future
After travelling for 21 hours straight, crossing an ocean and having two lay-overs, I would have expected to drop dead of tiredness not have an epiphany. Yet, as I found myself over Los Angeles, looking through the little window of the plane, I felt a shiver down my spine and a warm feeling inside of me: “I’m coming home” was all I could be thinking.
This past week, I was technically closer to home than anytime before in the past 8 months: in Europe, with my parents. However, that is not my home anymore. In my parents’ house, where I’ve lived for 12 years, stands my empty room and that is a place I’ve been wanting to leave for at least 10 out of those. Seeing my parents for the first time in such a long time, I expected to be at least content. I wasn’t. I was annoyed at their joy of seeing me, at their smiles, at their hugs. I couldn’t stand their poor English and their insistent question and thirst of hearing and seeing me. I didn’t want it to be that way. I certainly felt bad pretending, smiling and telling stories, in order for them to indulge my every wish, which they did, without even thinking, just because they finally had their daughter back.
I don’t know yet if Los Angeles is my home. I haven’t exactly lived in the city for on campus, in a shielded bubble. However, I know for sure that it is not where my parents are anymore. Flying to Italy, I was excited: I would play tennis at a tournament again, I would hear a foreign language, I would eat delicious food and I would admire good-looking Italian men. It was the excitement of discovery. Flying back to the US, I was excited: I would be back, start anew, ready to take on a new quarter, change my life, motivated. It was the excitement of coming home, recharged, with grand plans. 8 months ago, I remember being on the same flight to LA, but having the exact opposite sentiment, the first one I described: the shiver of experiencing something new. I was a bright-eyed little girl going on an adventure, leaving home behind. Now, I come back here, almost an adult, content to have explored something new, but happy to be home.
But now, a little about Italy.
I am a strong, independent young lady that has never lost sight of her goals. Of course, I have had detours, of course there were times when I had doubts or felt disappointed. But, in my heart, I always knew what I wanted, how much I need to work for it, what I need to sacrifice in order to achieve it, and I always were able to make that choice. I walked through hell and back for my dream.
Romance especially, has never been able to make me stray from my path. Then, why now, why does this ordinary guy have this influence on me? And for so long. Why have I allowed my mind to drift away from my work, strayed away from my goal, become insecure, clingy, and awkward?
This is not a rant about my latest crush. This is me, reclaiming my life. Acknowledging the problem is always the first step towards solving it. I realise that this has gotten out of my control and I give myself until next Sunday to solve it. Either something comes out of it, or I will push this issue out of my life.
For the past 7 months I have had to deal with a wide arrange of new issues. Packing my life, moving to the other side of the world was not supposed to be easy. But, I probably should not be surprised that the real problems I encountered were not the stereotypical ones, not the ones I was warned of.
I, personally had to deal with defeat. I didn’t walk on to the women’s tennis team as I had planned on. I was not able to call myself a tennis player anymore. I lost my identity. Not having a coach and not affording to pay a physical trainer, I allowed myself to become ordinary. I put on 10 kilograms, and those were not the freshman 15. Since I moved to college and until my supposed “try-outs” I had actually lost weight. I was ready, prepared, fit. It was the disappointment, the loss of a goal and the entire situation with this guy that made me go back to sweets, to chocolate, to avoiding the running track, to avoiding the gym.
Today, I decided I cannot give up. Even if I have to take another path, I am a tennis player. I will train by myself and I will work harder than the others and I can and will still get there. And this starts today, with the first 25 days left until my first major competition in almost a year. A lot depends on it, but more depends on how I prepare for it, and how I change back to who I am supposed to be when entering such a competition.
This however, will turn into a long-term goal. As long as I am not on the team here at UCLA, it means that I am a full-time student, working towards my academic future and my career. Yes, my dream is to become a professional tennis player. But even if that becomes a reality, which I promise I will do anything in my power to make it such, I will still have my career to go to. I will be someone important. I will work at the highest level in government, nationally and internationally. I see myself as a politician, as a delegate to the UN, as foreign minister, as a diplomat. I belong there, and again, I will do everything it takes to take my rightful spot.
I will make the right choices and I will follow my plan. Becoming involved, having those positions on the board of the tennis club, the MUN club, the Romanian club, my sorority will lead me there. Doing the research projects for my Poli-Sci 199, my quarter in Washington will get me there. Getting a job will help me on my way. Interning during the quarter in Washington and during the summer will do its part. Being trained in public speaking, in making friends and acquaintances, in putting myself out there will become the foundation of my highway towards those upper levels.
Yes, I now have another set goal, the devised plan to get there and the motivation to embark on another journey. Until I graduate or make the team, I will still have my personal side quest, tennis, that I am all in for. I am in no way giving up on that there or not even putting it on hold. I am officially making it a well guarded secret so I can work on it without pressure or distractions. The goal is to maintain and slowly raise my level of consistency, confidence and experience until I will allow myself to fully dedicate my time to it. Even if this means the next 2 years and a half. I have the patience and the determination to pursue something like this. Becomes it will make me feel special and it will provide me with the incentive necessary to put in the hours that I will have to put in. And those are long hours that await me. Hitting with people, running in the mornings and going to the gym, all as side-notes to doing homework, preparing my lessons, doing the research and becoming as involved in extracurriculars such as a job, a club and my sorority.
I realise it is a lot, but this is exactly what I need. Give me a free day ahead, I will accomplish nothing for all those 24 hours and feel disappointed. Provide me with an impossibly challenging schedule for the day that awaits me, I will get everything done and feel empowered. This is me, and I embrace it. I rejoice in being so.
I am taking a stance.
I am back.
And this time, I am neither stopping nor slowing down.
I know this shows that i posted twice 2 today, but it’s just because i changed the time zone of my blog. I’m still going through the challenge of posting every day this month.
This is probably one of the most approached topics when being questioned about my experience at UCLA as an international student. How difficult is the school work? Is language a problem?
And, as vague or as cliché this may sound, what I have learned over the past 3 months in the US is that college is indeed what you make of it.
To begin with, in a short answer that I know many are looking for: No. College coursework is not this incredibly difficult, unachievable task. And I’m not even talking about barely passing; I am talking about getting good grades. On the other hand, it is definitely not an easy endeavour and you can always chose how hard or easy you want it to be, which is probably the appeal of a us college in which there is no fix curricula.
What do I mean by this possibility of making it as difficult or as easy as you want?
There are several aspects to it.
Firstly, and probably the most striking difference to the university system back in Europe, is the fact that you can and sometimes even must take courses from across different fields. Some of you may not know, but European universities are specialised, meaning you apply directly after highschool to medschool, to law school, to architecture school, to engineering school, to political science university, to psychology university, etc. You usually have an exam related to the subject and the coursework you will have to do in order to graduate is fixed. Should you decide to switch your career after a year you usually have to start all over at a different university compared to simply switching a major in the US. This liberty that the US college system gives you is empowering and liberating as you can explore different fields without pressure to pursue them and even get a minor in a secondary passion of yours. On the other hand it is definitely tempting and easy to choose only the easy classes, especially for the General Education requirements most colleges have. This is the first aspect in which college education is what you make of it. Challenge yourself and choose your classes based on your interests and passions or go with the flow, and choose the ones that are known to have indulgent teachers, nice TA’s and easy finals.
It’s November 1st! Time to get your NaBloPoMo on! Oh, the excitement.
For some, November is that time of the year when they finally get the motivation to write their big novel, or even commit to simply write more.
I, personally have always wondered about this obsession with writing more. Does an increased quantity of words bring anything to your style, your posts or your audience? Perhaps I was just too lazy to accept the challenge and was just finding excuses. After all, as an athlete, I should know that practice makes perfect and even if perhaps reaching a quota of words per day or month will not automatically transform you in a better writer, there is no way it can hurt you.
I did experiment with writing everyday for a while last year and it worked fine as long as I felt inspired. I quit when it got though, when I actually had to find a subject to write on and not just pour my soul out. I also experienced a negativity and self-doubt when asking myself why n earth would anyone want to hear my opinion on everything.
But here I am, November 1st, ready to accept this challenge once more, as I again came back to my conviction that Writing is more for yourself than a desired audience. I have also not written in a long time, and perhaps the transformation that I’m inevitably going through needs to have a documented proof. And I miss writing. There, I admitted it.
So, short update on where I am now. 6565.42 miles or 10565.74 km away from home. Foreign continent. North America. Foreign city. Los Angeles. Alone. Or actually, this is a more accurate description of how my journey started exactly 3 months ago. I know it’s early, but I feel I could easily call this home and I’m pretty sure there was not a single day in which I felt alone after arriving to UCLA.