Homesickness? No, not me!

Tara Fontana

Exchange to St John’s University, Semester 2, 2017

Upon choosing my course 3 years ago, I knew part of my course requirement was to go on exchange for a semester. You could say I was somewhat prepared early on in first year to leave in a mere two years time, however that time came around really, really quickly.

Fast forward to a week before leaving for exchange and I completely doubted everything. Up until this point, I was so mentally prepared, and beyond excited to leave for New York, a place I absolutely love that and had visited several times before that I had been rigorously counting down since the moment I found out I got into St. Johns in February. But a week out from leaving I had a complete change in mind. I guess you could call this ‘pre departure homesickness’ (if that is even a thing?). Looking back at that now, I see how it is completely normal to have those feelings of doubt, especially so soon to leaving. Essentially, you are leaving everything that is familiar to you, and your norm to be thrown into an environment where no one knows you and you are thousands of kilometres away from home. After my mini pre-departure meltdown, I was so prepared for the amazing adventure that lay ahead of me. Or so, I thought…

I had somewhat helped friends in my dorm at night, where homesickness would seem to kick in at the best and had this mentality “no, I won’t experience this ‘homesickness’, I’ve been prepared for this experience for months”. However, I was so wrong. Come week 10, I experienced my first feelings of truly missing home. Looking back at photos of friends, family and my beloved pup really triggered something inside me. I will admit, homesickness is not the greatest feeling in the world (insert sarcasm here) but you do get over it, you do find a way to love this incredible journey you’re on and learn to appreciate it again. And, it’s completely normal to feel that way. I think the best thing that helped me overcome it was talking to the friends that surrounded me, not the ones back home (even though, I love them dearly). Exchange is really only a small fraction of your life and whilst the end is so close at times, it’s so far away. After my mini ‘breakdown’ I learnt to really be in the moment and came to the realisation that I’ll never again the opportunity in life to experience this again. And I was in New York!!!!!! An absolute dream come true.

Homesickness is normal, completely normal. In all fairness, it’d be a little odd not to miss home, even the smallest aspects of life back home but so many people would absolutely kill to be in your position on the other side of the world, not only growing as a person but gaining so many amazing stories to tell in years to come. And not to mention the friendships gained.

I was incredibly fortunate enough to be placed at St John’s University in New York with another ACU student. However, she was from the North Sydney campus. I hail from Melbourne so our first official meeting day was the day we moved into the dorms. A daunting day all over, but we both look back at it now, a short 14 weeks later and laugh at how awkward we were towards each other. To say that I’ve made a lifelong friend is an incredible understatement. Of course, I’ve made some really close friendships with other people in my dorm who come from all over the world and I’m SOO excited to finally one day convince them to come down under, I am so incredibly fortunate to have made a lifelong friend who is only an hour flight from Melbourne. We often have the good old debate about what capital city is better- Melbourne or Sydney, we often agree to disagree (even though Melbourne triumphs over Sydney).

Not only did this friendship help with the occasional feelings of homesickness, coming from both sides of the friendship but, we educated many Americans about the lucky country down under and have been informally labelled as “those two aussies”. I think we are the only two Australians out of 50,000 students at SJU, so whenever we open our mouths and they hear our accents we stand out like sore thumbs. Together, we searched all around Manhattan for jars of Vegemite and Tim Tams, taught our fellow American friends all about aussie slang and our abbreviations for everything (the stand out being ‘maccas’) and dismissed claims that we ride kangaroos as a form of transport.

Fast forward to my last two weeks and it really is bitter sweet to already be missing a moment whilst still living it. Whilst I am so excited to go home and be reunited with family and friends, I am truly going to miss the experiences and the lifestyle I have adapted to over here. To know that I’m never going to have this experience again, I’m really trying to lap it up in the last few weeks. Go hard or go home they say. Well I’m not ready to go yet, not right now anyway.

To anyone reading this long blog post (where I’ve rambled for far too long), and are considering exchange, honestly JUST GO FOR IT. Don’t think too much about it. Any doubts or issues you have about it that are holding you back, you’ll make it work, or at the very least with assistance from the amazing exchange department at ACU, together, you’ll make it work.

The list is way too long to dwell on the reasons why you should go on exchange and what I’ve gained from 6 months living in New York but I think the 3 points that stand out the most for me are:

1. You become an amazing storyteller, both whilst on exchange and when you’re home.

2. To say you learn to be independent is such an understatement (but don’t let that be a factor to deter you from going on exchange!!l You learn essential life skills).

3. You make incredible bonds and friendships from people all over the world, and what’s cooler than having friends all over the world?