“A lot of things in your life will be a jumbled mess from here on out and things you thought would happen will go completely opposite at times, and you’ll start to feel like you’re losing it. But be encouraged and know that none of this world is how we think it should or could be. It’s all part of the process. Remember to give yourself grace throughout this season of change.”
These were the words of encouragement sent to me from my wise cousin on a challenging day.
Fear and discomfort are part of the adventure, and I had my fair share just two weeks ago. I found myself in tears on the sidewalk on a humid and rainy New Years Day wondering why the hell I chose to live in Australia, a land full of giant spiders and poisonous snakes - two things I fear. Backing up a few months, I made a life changing decision to quit my “big girl” job and begin a personal sabbatical of traveling the world by moving to Sydney, Australia for a year. I have now been living with and working for a wonderful family as an Au Pair that I was matched with by GeoVisions before arriving.
While my host family was out of town on holiday, I discovered my worst nightmare - a spider infestation (dozens of freshly hatched creepy crawlies that would grow into huntsman spiders. Google them if you aren’t familiar with what these guys look like!) Being a girl from Orange County that had never seen a spider bigger than my fingernail, I was not mentally prepared in the slightest to deal with a situation that, for Sydney locals might be routine. As overdramatic as some might describe me in this situation, I felt overwhelmed and missed the familiar in that moment. Everyone remembers a time they can point to as their emotional low on long-term travel journeys… and that was mine.
I didn’t miss home necessarily, but I missed the comfort of home and familiarity.
The unfamiliar, though, can also be the most amazing part of the adventure. It's been 72 days into my journey and while I’ve already lost things, broken things, made my way out of a few scary situations, and publicly made a fool out of myself, I have also checked incredible things off my bucket list and discovered places that have been remarkable beyond expectation.
With challenges come renewed strength and joy. It is because of the “bad days” that I’ve been able to see the magic in the ordinary.
I’ve spent many recent yesterdays sipping on fresh coconuts basking in the (incredibly strong) Australian sunshine, moseying along jagged coastlines and dipping into famous salt water beaches. Nothing is more refreshing for the body and the soul than enjoying an afternoon eating gelato from Messina and watching the sun set over stunning landmarks such as the Harbor Bridge alongside the Sydney Opera House. I have been so blessed to do all this, and meeting new people along the way. I experienced a New Year’s Eve celebration as the Sydneysiders do, and drove down the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne. I’ve met kangaroos, koalas, and made new friends from literally every continent of the world. To say that the past few months have been eventful would be an understatement.
I’ve also been able to appreciate living like a local here as I have trained my brain to drive on the wrong side of the road from the wrong side of the car as I help out with school pick ups and drop offs. I've changing some of my language to ask for the rubbish bin instead of the trash can or ordering for take-away and not to-go, and familiarizing myself with public transport routes with a “topped up” Opal card (something I had never used back home). I learned by trial and error the differences between an American iced coffee and an Australian iced coffee, along with all the iced coffee counterparts listed on the menus. Jumping into life as a Sydneysider opposed to simply being a tourist has been marvelous.
I seek experiences because I’ve found that it is the best method of learning. I’ve found that doing familiar things in unfamiliar places awakens part of the brain that is otherwise dormant.
This must be the part of the brain that evokes the “childlike wonder” that is commonly talked about by travel enthusiasts. Don’t get me wrong; studying from a textbook has its benefits and I have respect for and wish more power to those who prefer to learn in the traditional classroom setting. For me though, experiences are what are both exciting and educational. Travel on!