I wanted to take a moment to write to you before you go, before you get on your 30-hour flight to Australia, where you will spend your next six months.
This big adventure awaits, this world-shaking thing, and I want to share some thoughts before you embark.
Starting off with the fact it won’t be easy. None of it will be easy.
The saying goodbye to friends and family will be filled with the knowledge that you will not return to anyone who is the same as how you leave them now. This is scary. No one you are leaving will be exactly the same when you get back, but then also, neither will you.
As a warning, your visa may give you some trouble when you get to the airport. Take heed, this is your first real lesson: Patience will be necessary on this journey. When an airport worker tells you that you have no visa to go abroad and you can’t get on your flight, don’t freak out like I did. It is electronic, and all will be OK. Of course, patience with strangers is important, but more importantly, patience with yourself. You will make mistakes, you will get lost, you will speak funny and forget things. This is OK.
That long flight from L.A. to Sydney will help you conquer any fears about traveling alone, and who knows whom you will meet on the journey. They may become people you visit when you travel again. Like Miss Rose, your seatmate who lives in Sydney. You will see her again when she visits Melbourne. Take note of her and stay in contact! This is lesson No. 2: Always notice who is around you; they could become your best friends or a shoulder and stability when the going gets rough.
Talk to strangers when you land—after all, everyone in this country is a stranger to you. Make the best of it, and don’t be shy. Go on road trips with people you barely know, and talk about life with fellow travelers you just met. After all, their advice could shake your life. If you are offered a spontaneous road trip with the three Italians you have never met, take it! You will see the beautiful Australian countryside this way, learn lessons in Italian and driving on the left hand side of the road, and see the world through others’ eyes. Give yourself an opportunity to learn from strangers always.
Take Q-tips. You are taking more stuff than you need and haven’t thought properly about what you will truly miss. Q-tips is on that list of things you will miss; just pack them. You never know when you will need to clean your keyboard, when you will want them after a shower or when the nail polish you painted on your nails three months ago actually needs to come off.
Leave all your fears and preconceived notions at home. Yes, Aussies will talk differently and, yes, everything in Australia will be beautiful; however, come in with a blank slate. It makes life easier and a heck of a lot more fun.
In that same vein, embrace the culture. Every single little silly tradition and saying. It will make this journey that much more adventurous and complete. Pick an Australian Football League team to “go for,” find the time to “get around” everything, make great mates, go to every turn, learn the silly chants, and be keen for anything life throws your way.
Which brings me to this point: Life will throw things your way. Remember what I was telling you before about the people back home? Things will happen back home you wish you could be there for, you wish you could help with and you wish weren’t happening. You will be 12,000 miles across the world; the sooner you realize you can’t truly do anything but pray, the better.
Now the biggest and most crucial lesson I want to share with you is about change.
You will change.
In seemingly every single way, you will change. Like how you will learn to process internally and how to rely on Christ more. Every thought you have from here on out will be different. This is beautiful, this is necessary, this is part of growing up.
Be independent. Schedule those Skype dates with mom and dad, email your friends, but don’t let that come first. Let you come first. You will begin to embrace the things you never thought you could though you had tried for years, like understanding true beauty and that your body is perfect the way it is. You will feel emotions differently, your eyes will see things differently, you will talk differently, laugh differently and cry differently.
Most of all, remember to have fun. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Your eyes will be opened to beauty you never thought possible, ideologies you never have considered and joy that is boundless. Go jump out of airplanes and conquer your fears under the sea, make great friends and be OK with being alone.
Enjoy Australia, enjoy Melbourne and enjoy abroad. Remember this: You will be a foreigner in a new land. Now for the challenge: Go make it your home. I can’t wait to hear the stories and see the pictures when you return.
An older, different, and adventurous Melanie Smith
Melanie Smith is a junior in Wharton from Bedford, Va. She is a rural Virginia native yet a Philadelphian for the next few years, with a magical stint in Melbourne.