My name is Ellie, and I am a junior at UR studying journalism but am currently studying abroad in Sydney, Australia for the fall semester. Welcome to my blog! Here I hope to offer some insights into studying abroad, my life in Australia and maybe just some general life tips I have picked up while living in another country.

I arrived in Sydney two months ago, so I really have no idea where to start off with this blog. There are a million different things I could discuss with you, but today I am going to introduce my blog, explain my rationale for choosing Sydney, and hopefully spew some of the life lessons I have learned since leaving the United States. Hopefully, you can get something out of it.

I received a great deal of criticism when I decided I wanted to study abroad in Australia. There were family members who could not believe I would pass up an opportunity to study in Europe, professors who told me I would not have a true cultural experience in Australia and friends who joked about how much drinking I would be doing instead of going to class. In all honesty, however, I had dreamed about going to Australia since sixth grade. The high number of study abroad programs was actually one of the key reasons I chose Richmond in the first place. Richmond partners with four universities in Australia, and I knew I wanted to attend one.

So the next question should be, why Sydney? I will not lie to you, I did not do as much research as I could have and should have in regards to choosing my university, but I knew one thing for certain: I wanted an environment entirely different from UR. Do not get me wrong, I love Richmond, and I love my home university, but I decided that in order to really maximize my time abroad I would need a large university in a large city. University of Sydney is a school of 50,000 students centrally located in a city of about five million people, so I imagine that is about as drastic of a change as it gets.

Now, obviously, English is the primary language spoken in Australia. I barely made it through my required two years of language at Richmond, so I knew an English-speaking country would be the best choice for me. Even so, I hear numerous languages every day. This week I worked on a PowerPoint presentation with a wonderful woman from Norway who broke into Norwegian every once in a while without realizing it. I have met numerous people from Brazil and often hear conversations in Portuguese on my way to class. I walk to the grocery store and hear several different Asian languages. Australia is a melting pot much like the U.S., except I encounter these different cultures much more regularly because I go to such a diverse university in such a diverse city. If you are thinking about studying abroad in Australia, do not let other people tell you that you will not be immersed in different cultures. Studying abroad is entirely what you make of it. Be sure to go out on a limb and speak to the guy with the bizarre accent or go to a predominantly Asian part of town and explore. The worst thing you can do while studying abroad is stay in your comfort zone.

I love Australia. I love the relaxed atmosphere, the accents and the country as a whole. Most importantly, I love what I have gained from my brief time here. I am currently taking a class called Learning in Outdoor Education, which emphasizes the importance of nature on our physical and mental health. We went on a day trip to the Royal National Park and hiked along the coast earlier in the semester, and then we took a three-day hiking trip to the Blue Mountains — a mountainous area west of Sydney. Not only were the views the most fantastic things I have ever witnessed, but I came to several grand realizations that were especially pertinent to my life.

My professor, Ian, had our class spend several minutes sitting alone in a scenic area, which was referred to as ‘soling.’ This gave the class the opportunity to really take in the beauty of their surroundings and to think about anything they pleased. My flatmate attended the trip as well and discussed how small she felt in comparison to the mighty cliffs we sat atop and the vast ocean before us. I felt entirely different. I realized how much of my time was consumed with worrying. I worry about school, I worry about exams, I worry about internships and I constantly worry that I will never find a job that I love and that pays the bills. But sitting on top of that rock really changed my entire outlook on life. My generation has been trained to think in a very one-track manner: work hard in high school, get into a reputable college or find a program that best fits your desired specialty, load up your resume if you have the slightest hopes of getting your dream job, attain an unpaid internship upon graduation and ultimately hope you start making money before you are thirty and still sleeping in your childhood bedroom. Needless to say, there is an increasing amount of pressure and competition among students my age and many, myself most certainly included, find themselves tied up in this narrow-minded way of thinking.

So there I was, sitting on a cliff on the edge of a different continent, and all I could think about was how much I hated this system. Here was this incredible ocean before me, and I realized how much bigger the world was. I do not mean only spatially, but metaphorically as well. I realized how easy it would be to give away all my belongings, pack a backpack and go off on a great adventure. Of course I recognize that these stressors are important to my overall success in life, but I realized how little they contributed to my overall happiness. I realized what a shame it would be to spend the entirety of my golden years stressed out, sharing a menial apartment while slaving away for someone who would never learn my name. I want to travel. I want to see the world. I want to figure out what the meaning of life is to me, and I want to do it while I still am free of most constraining responsibilities. Ultimately, I realized how lucky I was to be sitting on a cliff in Australia. I realized that my horizon could be as great as the one before me.

Studying abroad makes you think of the greater picture. Yes, you will travel, yes, you may party a bit, but I personally believe it is what you learn, not necessarily in the classroom but about life itself, that is most important to your experience. For those of you who have studied abroad, I hope we share some common findings. For those of you who are abroad, I hope you come to your own inspiring revelations. For those of you who are considering going abroad, I hope you take advantage of every opportunity before you. I hope my adventures provide more than petty entertainment, but rather enlighten a few of you to think bigger than what our society encourages.

Contact blogger Ellie Potter at elizabeth.potter@richmond.edu