Pomona junior Nikki Redford is studying abroad in Melbourne, Australia.
Exactly ten days ago, I was given final
approval to stay abroad in Melbourne, Australia for an additional semester. I
could not help but smile with unrestricted happiness and promptly shared the
confirmation letter from Chris Bettera in the Office of Study Abroad with all
of my family. Once this exciting reality set in, I started to panic a little,
thinking, “What am I doing studying abroad during my senior year away from my
classmates, responsibilities and expectations that I should probably attend
to?” But then I realized that none of those reasons had to do with me. I never asked myself that very
question: What do you really want? Like
I constantly tell one of my good friends at Pomona, “live with no regrets;” not living my dream of living abroad by myself to grow into a more secure,
independent and happier person would be one of the biggest regrets of my life.
During my first week of being in Australia
(pronounced with three syllables not the four we Americans say), an Aussie man,
who I thought was joking but was actually dead serious though with a smile on
his face, said to us while we were sailing around the Mornington Peninsula
(pronounced: pe-nin-shu-la): “If you can think of any animal that can kill you,
eat you or cause you danger, Australia has them. Welcome to Australia.” I then
remembered how deathly afraid I am of sharks, snakes and large insects, and
wondered why I did not consider this when I applied to study abroad here.
my first month, though, I attended an outdoor orchestra concert with some
friends while sipping small bottles of wine, in addition to a book talk with an
Aboriginal woman named Anita Heiss (she just released a book titled Am I Black Enough For You?), went to a multicultural carnival that was reminiscent of one of the first scenes in The Notebook and also hiked for the
first time in my life at a national park called The Grampians. The hike was physically taxing for someone who considers
the concept of “roughing it” a stay at Halona. Though I thought I was going
to die after the hike, I later decided to put myself in a situation even closer
to death in which I abseiled (“down” + “rope”) down a cliff holding only a rope
and wearing gloves and a harness. I was so afraid I just laughed hysterically and
started to shake from adrenaline. That surely could have killed me going down
if I didn’t keep my cool.
On a serious note, one of the most
interesting lessons I have learned through my experiences here is to stop doubting
everything. Even as an anthropology major, in which culture is basically
the central focus of the field, I was unnecessarily concerned that, as a
person of color, the way I am sometimes stereotypically perceived in the States
would translate similarly in Australia. When
people ask me where I am from, and I say the States and/or Las Vegas (mention
Las Vegas and you become an instant favorite!), the two responses I get are
“Oh, I can tell” (because of the North American accent), or “That’s so cool!” You
may look different but, considering how diverse Australia is, so does everyone else.
That does not mean there are not
culture clashes or racial conflicts in Australia. Though I have put off
traveling until next semester (aside from going to Sydney in two weeks), I
have learned that the study abroad experience means something different to everyone.
It can mean to one person to travel everywhere possible, or to work and
experience a different labor force, or it can also mean that you experience multiple
epiphanies and realizations about the world during random experiences, from sitting on a tram to making your first dinner by yourself abroad. It is all what
you make of it, and that is what is truly important. Cheers!