By Andrew Walls, Undergraduate student in the School of Business Management , Ted Rogers School of Management
With a worried look on his face, my younger brother said to me “Don’t get eaten by spiders”. He was worried the Goliath Bird Eater spider he’d seen in a “Deadliest Things” YouTube video would chomp me.
This sentiment entirely reflected people’s opinion of Australia after I told them about my upcoming exchange at Curtin University. They couldn’t understand why someone would risk their life like that. It seemed daft. As they saw it, Australia was home to the deadliest most poisonous things on Earth.
This ran through my mind as I hugged my family goodbye at Pearson’s departure gate. What was Australia actually like? On the one hand; it was this haven of beaches, beauty and excitement, on the other articles like “The 30 deadliest animals in Australia” existed. Does Canada even have 10 deadly animals – let alone a ranking system for them?
But deadliest everything or not, I was headed there for a semester studying abroad. With feelings as mixed as the many drinks I would soon be having, I boarded my plane and so began one of the best periods of my entire life.
Being not smart on a boat
A 45 hour jaunt across the world later I was stepping off a jumbo jet into the brightest sunshine I’d ever seen in my life. This was Perth, the capital city of Western Australia and the most isolated major city in the world. It was also 45° out. Coming from a brutal -15° snowstorm which nearly derailed my travel plans, the heat was sizzling. I casually mentioned that to another disembarking traveller and he threw back “Mate, this is a cool one.” I thought: “What have I gotten myself into?”
Fast forward a month and I was living the life. My roommates and I got along famously. I’d found some drinking buddies and lifelong friends to mess around with. My classes were engaging, and there was always something to do; surfing lessons, scuba diving, trips to one of the many world-renowned beaches. I was having the time of my life. This was the Australia I’d dreamed about!
Scuba, Natural stuff
Along with all the fun stuff to do, there was still that feeling something was missing. It was the lifeline back home. That feeling of being grounded by friends and family. My mom was crucial in this fight against loneliness and I’m forever thankful for her being the amazing woman she is. Travelling alone is scary, and that every-few-days call home helped me to both develop a new appreciation for what I’d left behind and recenter myself in the incredible experience I was so lucky to be having.
This stability was absolutely necessary when I was accepted to work with Curtin Volunteers in the remote community of Laverton. I was to fly several hours into the red belt as part of a 5 person team to rendezvous with our program facilitator. We were working with a youth program for 5 days to engage local indigenous youth.
Wide shot of #selfies
Besides being one of the most challenging things I’ve done, this experience fundamentally changed me into a more compassionate, empathetic and kind person. For the rest of my life, I’ll have the memories of my wonderful teammates and young friends. It still makes me smile at a moments notice (like as I’m writing this).
A breathtaking trip to New Zealand and a bumbling 3000km road trip to the stunning Ningaloo reef later and I was heading home. Looking back on my experience I can’t understate how much happier I’ve become from having gone abroad. It wasn’t easy by any means, but it was beyond worthwhile.
Two NZ landscapes/the Wanaka tree
Before you go money doesn’t seem like it’ll make sense. The overload of destination choices makes narrowing the list down to one seem impossible and terrifying. But finding the courage to push through those obstacles and embrace the experience has permanently changed my life for the better. It was only by leaving everything behind that I could really see how incredible my life was, and how lucky I am to have so many wonderful people around me.
Thanks for having me Perth! I’ll miss you.
For more information on exchange opportunities at Ryerson, please visit: http://www.ryerson.ca/ri/
For tips and tricks on financial planning for exchange, click here.