Sujata is an Architect with specialization in Landscape Architecture. She has lived away from home for 2 years in Australia.
I am from India and have lived here for most part of my life. I had a very monotonous kind of a lifestyle for my entire life until I decided to move to Australia in the year 2017.
I was offered a post-graduate position in Deakin University, Melbourne in Landscape Architecture and that is when my journey and life in a foreign country began. It was the first time ever I was flying abroad and that was an adventure itself.
It all started with getting my police clearance certificate to getting my visa to booking my flight tickets – it was all a lot to take in for a first timer. On top of that, dealing with border security forces and then understanding the Australian accent involved a lot of work every day.
But that was just the beginning. Over the course of 2 and half years that I was living in Australia there were numerous things that I discovered – not only in terms of academia but more so in terms of personal growth and development.
Here is a list of 10 most important learning experience and discoveries I had as an international student and the way they have impacted and improved my life enormously.
1. Time Management
Time management is one of the most essential things I learned having lived in Australia for more than 2 years. Australians are extremely particular about time. During our orientation itself we were told to be punctual and in case we were running late, we had to give a prior notice. I was tensed considering the fact that I have had a history of running late. But surprisingly, that just changed extensively overtime of me living there.
In the first trimester, when we were all new to the course, trying to understand the culture of a new country and introducing ourselves to a completely new education system, we had 21 assignments to be submitted in a span of just 3 months. All the assignments were of 100 marks and each assignment required equal amount of value.
To my surprise, I managed to submit all the assignments right on time and never needed an extension. I also scored well for starters in a new education system. And I did it all in addition to grocery shopping, cooking, and managing my university and social life hand in hand. I just realized and learnt how to segregate my day into different activities and accomplish it all without having to compromise anything and that was really a huge learning lesson. Since then, I am no longer scared to have a long “to-do list” because I know it can be achieved and completed.
Apart from that, the public transport played a huge role in making me punctual. Australian public transport is extremely punctual and missing one bus or train, especially in Geelong where I lived, meant waiting for another 35-45 minutes for the next commute to arrive. That made me value every minute on the clock. There have actually been times when I missed the bus for being exactly a minute late.
Time management, thus, has been one of the most valuable lessons I learnt from Australia and has, since then, been extremely beneficial for me.
2. Self – Dependency
As a child and even as a young adult, I had always been depended on my dad for every single thing, be it as small as getting a packet of noodle from the shop across the street. Carrying out major tasks like insurance and banking were just out of question. A far as I remember, probably I visited the bank only when I had to go open my bank account and that too only when I had to sign the papers. The paper works were all supervised by my dad.
But living alone in Australia did not give me that privilege. I had to manage all my chores and official works all by myself. Not only did I go grocery shopping all on my own, I also travelled alone in public transport as well. The biggest advantage was that it was extremely safe and secure to travel in public transport at any point in time.
I visited salons alone and went out to eat alone and that was liberating, to be confident enough to be on my own. In fact, I enjoyed treating myself to restaurants on many occasions.
I had never travelled solo even in my home country, but I started flying solo cross-country and I learnt that border security forces were not as scary as I thought. There was once when I was flying back to Australia from India, and I had carried some bamboo mementos for my friends from India. Australia does not allow any plant products from outside the country to protect their biodiversity. So, while filling up the entry form, I declared about the mementos.
On the exit gate one of the officials asked me what was that I wanted to declare. I said, to be exact, “I bought some mementos for my friends here and I am not sure what is it made of. I think it is made of bamboo. But since I do no know what it actually is, so I wanted to declare it”. I think he just sensed that I had no intention of taking it in if it is not allowed. And he just smiled and let me walk out. I would have been extremely scared earlier if I was questioned in a similar way. But overtime I gained enough confidence to just depend on myself and solve my problems myself,
Apart from that, I also managed to find myself a rented place after graduation on my own. Dealing with real estate agents to checking out properties taught me a lot not only about depending on myself for my needs but I also discovered how I preferred to live.
Self-dependency has been a huge learning lesson to take forward.
3. Managing Finances
Managing finances has been one of the toughest challenges I had and something that I am still struggling with.
I would usually have a monthly budget that I would want to maintain but would always end up going over my budget. It would usually take up to 3 months to understand and figure out, and then it would be time to visit home and I would go overboard again to shop for home. This continued on for the entire time I was doing my postgraduation.
There was a time when I travelled to Melbourne from Geelong with just AUD $40 on my card. Thank God, I had balance left on my Myki (card used for public transport travel in Victoria) and I could at least return back to Geelong.
It was only after I moved out of university residence that I gained a bit of control on my finances, could be because the university expenses decreased, socializing with friends reduced and since I had abundant time now, I spent more time cooking at home myself.
Financial management is still a struggle for me but living abroad definitely gave it a kickstart.
4. Choice of Travel Partner is Important
Having a great travel partner is a blessing. Throughout my stay in Australia, I have had the opportunity to visit a number of places – Sydney, Gold Coast, Hobart, Adelaide, Mount Buller to name a few. And some even twice. And I am not a solo traveler (as I mention below), so I always travelled with a friend or two. And it had been a true blessing to travel with people who have similar tastes when it comes to places you want to visit and the food you want to eat. Being a foodie myself, I loved the fact that my travel partners enjoyed food too. Of course, there can be some issues that might pop up. But overall, it had been great to be visiting places with likeminded people.
Later, after my graduation, I was travelling around Australia with my brother and that was an extremely smooth tour too. We have same ideas when it comes to travelling which made our choices of tours, food, and stay similar making the trip easy going and extremely convenient.
Therefore, I can clearly state now that in order to enjoy a trip it is paramount to have compatibility with your travel partner in terms of the choices.
5. Made in China is not always Bad
To all the markets I have been to in Australia, and that includes street market to luxury brands, most of their products are Made in China. And that includes food items as well.
Any product that I would buy, whether it is stationery or a piece of cloth to any kitchen cutlery, everything would be Made in China. And when I checked the quality, they were all of premium quality.
When I compared the quality of the products with the products in India that were Made in China, there was a huge difference in quality. This brought the reality to surface that the goods sent to India from China are usually not the same quality as I saw in Australia.
6. Everyone cannot be a Friend
I met a lot of people while doing my postgraduation as my batchmates. But there were only a handful of them that became friends. A lot of them ended up saying I was too mysterious, or I was too selfish to help. Some called me arrogant, and some judged me.
I have an introverted personality because of which it takes me time to open up. Probably, that could be the reason why I might have come across as arrogant. But that had never happened earlier. I have changed 5 schools because of my dad’s transferable job, and in every school, everyone would be a friend. In fact, that was the case while doing my bachelors also. But it was different in Australia.
And that is when I grasped that probably it is a part of the growing up process – with different backgrounds that we came from, everyone cannot be a friend and that is perfectly fine.
7. Going out alone is fun but I am not a Solo Traveler
Geelong is a coastal city and I have sat on the beach alone for hours just staring at the waters. When I had morning classes, I would go a few hours early and sit on the bay alone for hours before my classes started listening to the sound of the waves. It has been one of the most soothing and relaxing experiences ever.
I have hopped around Geelong and Melbourne alone and it was fun. I did it for the first time after I shifted to Geelong, but it was nice to be going out to eat and shop all by myself. It gave me a sense of freedom and I enjoyed the fact that I could make take a call on whatever I wanted to do.
But I am not a Solo Traveler! What I do not enjoy is travelling alone. Going out alone in Geelong or Melbourne did not feel bad. These were the cities I was living in everyday and so moving around alone felt a lot better. But to travel to a new city alone is something I do not prefer. I like having my people around when it comes to traveling.
Firstly, for the reason of safety and security and secondly, I feel the memories would be so empty and there would be no one to share them with. And being an introverted personality, I do not have good story telling ability either. So I would never be able to share experiences of a new place.
I realized it while walking through Geelong alone. I encountered a lot of things, but I could never say it out clearly to anyone. And that is when I figured I would not want the similar pattern happening when I visit a new place. I would prefer having someone to share the experiences with.
As a kid and as a young adult, we are always very confused. We are never sure about how the future is going to be. We are bogged down by peer pressure and the rat race everyone else seems to be running.
What changed after moving abroad was I learned self-acceptance – acceptance of my personal goals, passion, and growth – and the idea that it is not about any rat race or competition with others, but it is more about self-improvement overtime.
In Australia, the whole idea of accepting each other as they are and accepting the fact that every individual is not a clone of each other is widely welcomed. And therefore, there is abundant scope of growth and learning at a pace that one is comfortable in. I learned to completely reject the rat race and concentrate on my own growth and development and that brought in immense mental peace to me.
9. I am a Workaholic, up to an extent
As I have mentioned earlier, we had a number of assignments to be completed in just a matter of 3 months. I had to keep working for most part of the day and if I was not doing assignments, I would have to complete my chores – cooking, laundry, grocery shopping and the likes.
However, as we progressed in the course, the number of units per trimester decreased and therefore, the number of assignments also decreased. This left me with some free time to myself and binge on shows and movies. But I realized I hated not having any work to do. I liked keeping myself busy with university assignments or with projects of my own. I came in terms with the fact that sitting idle is not my cup of tea, something I think I picked up from my dad. I always had to keep doing something, maybe some chore but I had to be doing something during my waking hours.
After graduation I moved out of university residence. I did not find a job until then. Except for cooking, doing laundry and grocery shopping, I had most of the day to myself. I liked the first week like that. But eventually frustration took up. I did continue with my personal projects, But I wanted more. Too much free time just wasn’t for me.
This wakeup call brought in a lot of clarity to me. The fact that I could be lazy, but I love work brought in a lot of transparency on how I want my future to be – a mix of lazy and busy I suppose.
10. Home is home, and our own people are our own
We had a trimester system in Deakin and with vacations every 3 months, I used to visit home every vacation, almost. There was only once when I did not come visit home. Otherwise, I spent every vacation at home.
In fact, me and my then housemate would start booking our tickets back home right after we reach back university from the holidays. Both of us were always home bound and she truly made me realize that I love being home. I had the tendency to think that I loved living alone away, but she made me meet myself and realize how much I loved being home.
There were other reasons too to make me want to head home. There was culture difference, the level of understanding of humor was different – could be because our worlds were different – but I just did not feel the sense of belonging there. I missed my own people.
Whenever I returned home, being among my own people and talking in my own language gave a different kind of a satisfaction altogether. I would have never realized this if I haven’t moved abroad – the concept of the sense of belonging. I would have never known the difference if I did not feel like an outsider in a foreign land.
The entire 2 and half years in Australia as a student and even as a graduate has been a wholesome learning experience. Academically, of course, there has been extensive learning. The most important aspect being the understanding of critical thinking and analyzing that we learnt as a part of our research units. That has helped me personally as well.
But, apart from that, there has been tremendous personal growth that I could have never imagined having had if I did not have to live alone, away from my family and from my own people. Living alone and having time to myself made me aware of a lot of things about myself, that would not have been possible otherwise.
No amount of book readings and google searching would have brought me closer to me than the experiences of living abroad alone and I hope to remember these learnings that I acquired over the period of 2 and half years of living abroad and continue adding more lessons to it.