I have now been in Australia for over a week, and it has been nothing like I expected. For the first few days in particular, we were in a very touristy area of the country and thus many of the people around us also had American accents. I had to keep reminding myself that I was in Australia and not in some tropical, palm-tree laden city in the United States. Now, as I have begun to settle in to my home for the next few months, I think it is finally hitting me that I am certainly not in Hamden anymore. I still am not quite sure where I am mentally, as I am certainly still in liminality but slowly headed toward making this place my home.
The separation process was relatively easy considering there are so many things here in Aussie that are the same back home (stores, restaurants, language, etc.). However, it did not go as I imagined it would. Having said goodbye to many friends who were headed to another country for a semester, I thought the experience would be similar. I guess I forgot that when a friend goes abroad, its one goodbye. When I left, it was over a dozen difficult last hugs. I certainly wasn’t mentally prepared for how that felt.
My communitas has been the one thing that has made this separation much easier. As we discussed in the workshop, one’s communitas is comprised of other individuals who are also undergoing the same right of passage. Thus, my fellow study abroad students (all 95 of them), have aided in keeping me sane. We have been very busy the past week with one orientation activity after another, leaving us no time to look back. I have scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef, held a koala, and pet a Kangaroo. I haven’t even had time to think about how far away I am from home. Once that sets in, I think I will finally be able to leave the liminal stage.
Slimbach describes communitas as “double edged” because “continual retreat into a foreigner bubble runs the risk of reinforcing a sense of ‘being in control’ apart from having to adjust ourselves to native expectations” (160). As humans, we like to be in control. In throwing ourselves into a new country and a new culture, we lose this comfort of control. So if we only interact with our communitas, we fail to put ourselves into the uncomfortable position that will allow us to grow as a person from this experience. Having been in orientation activities so often, it has been a little difficult to socialize outside the communitas. I am hoping that when we start classes on Monday I will be able to interact with more of the locals and international students from places other than the US. Reaching out to new people is not something I consider a personal strength, but I believe that my perseverance will ensure I can meet this goal. I have noticed that many other students have remained in the security blanket of their communitas friends as well, but I am sure that most will branch out as the semester progresses.
Many challenges have presented themselves in the short time since I have been in Australia. The biggest has been coming on this journey knowing no one. Many of the other students came with friends from home or very quickly made a group of friends here. This is difficult because in reality we do not know each other all that well and do not know how any of this will play out over the next few months. I have learned that I am not very good at this whole “not knowing” thing, but I am certainly working on being comfortable with uncertainty. I plan to work on this using many of the suggestions offered on page 171 of Becoming World Wise, including joining a local club on campus and in the community. My flatmates and I have set a goal to know the name of each concierge in our building (hoping that some may remember our names by December). Additionally, I have begun to explore the community independently, wandering into shops and cafes and sparking conversations with the workers. Uber drivers and baristas have provided me with many valuable pieces of advice for living in the Gold Coast, and I hope to continue to seek these tips throughout the semester.
This picture is one of the best to describe my journey to date: Australia and New Zealand are popular destinations for adrenaline junkies, so I have set out to find every rush I can—starting with canyoning. The three hours we spent in the cascades were representative of my feelings throughout the trip, with many “highs”, “lows” and “uh-ohs”. Climbing down that first stretch of waterfall was certainly scary and uncomfortable, but I got the hang of it just like I know I will with this semester. Some things have been simple, like sliding down a small stretch of falls. Others were more difficult, like stepping off that 10meter ledge into the freezing cold water. Yet all events have played a valuable role in my overall experience, which has been better than I ever could have imagined.