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Graduation has snuck up on me. And if I don’t self-sabotage as a part of my quarter-life crisis, I should be graduating from Griffith University, in a mere three months. As I was looking at second-hand graduation robes on Gumtree (come on, who can afford them full-price?!), I started reflecting on my personal experience as an international student in Australia.
So, the story of how a Norwegian teenager (who was used to minus 20 on the mercury scale) ended up frolicking around the beaches of the Gold Coast is quite long. So I’ll give you a quick summary. I graduated high school, spontaneously went on a Working Holiday Visa to Australia, fell in love (to my mum’s great sorrow) with Australia and with an Australian boy. What was going to be a 6 month trip became a year, then three years. And now, on the brink of completing a Bachelors degree, I am left with four suitcases full of clothes, knowledge, experiences and memories!
As every teenager thinks, I thought I was the world champion of everything. I thought I knew everything and there was nothing left for me to learn. Oh how I was wrong!
Starting university in a foreign country, in a foreign language, by yourself, was much scarier than I thought it would be. On my first day on campus, I ended up spending almost an hour decoding my cryptic timetable and trying to find the right building, the right floor and right room for my first lecture. As I entered the lecture theatre, I found a spot at the very back. I was so relieved to have finally found it, that I didn’t realise for another thirty minutes in that I was sitting in a third-year Law and Contract lecture, and not in World History.
I didn’t know anybody on campus, didn’t have any books yet and had now missed my very first lecture. Great.
I cried in my ramen noodles the whole bus ride home that day.
After a week on campus, I also learned another thing: I was not alone! Sitting on a bench on campus eating lunch by myself, I felt like the biggest outcast ever. Watching other students walking about in groups of friends, laughing on their way to their lectures. I longed for a big comforting group of friends. But I couldn’t even find my own lecture! I thought to myself that there is no way these people found each other miraculously. They must have done something else.
So, I decided to get involved in uni life. I went to a handball practice for the university team, as I had already played European handball for years back in Norway. On the first day of practice, I met my current best friend. A tall, pretty, brown haired girl turned around to me and said: “do you know anybody here?”, and I replied embarrassingly: “eh…no… not really”. Luckily for me, she said: “me neither! I have never even played handball before in my life!” We both chuckled. We grabbed the bus home together after practice, and we’ve been thick as thieves ever since.
After that, the ball just kept rolling. Three years later I have a big group of friends who I now consider family and I’ve had the time of my life studying in Australia. For many international students, the first few weeks at uni can be both scary and lonely. But as I went along, found that most other freshers were in the exact same boat as I was. It was just that nobody wanted to say it out loud, afraid of being ridiculed. I wish someone had told me this before I started. Maybe then I would have said hi to the person behind me at the ramen noodle shop.
As I dug deeper into my degree, I learned another surprising thing about university that had been alien to me throughout my high school years. I learned that your grades, aka your GPA, is not everything. It’s not the ultimate key to a successful career. Not flunking is important. But doing extracurricular activities outside the classroom is also important. For some people this is where they excel. This can be volunteering at an event or social club, tutoring or doing an internship. I did an internship last semester at a radio station, and I learned so much by simply being there once a week. So if you’re struggling with an assignment, seek help, talk to your tutor or peers, and above all: don’t freak out. It’s not a matter of life and death.
I also learned this: you will have ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and you will see friends come and go. Sometimes you will feel homesick and call your mum and cry. Other times you will look upon your graduation date with horror. Not wanting to leave this beautiful country.
As an international student in this amazing country, the notion of home has become somewhat fluid for me. Even though Norway will always be my home, a huge part of who I am and who I want to be has been shaped by my experience here in Australia. It will be with me for forever. No matter where life takes me next.