Final Thoughts and Reflections

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November 30th, 2014

Denver, Colorado

After living in Australia for over four months, there are many things I have learned. To start, there are a few areas where the Australian way of doing things seems more sensible than how we do it in the United States. Although both the US and Australia care about energy consumption, there are minor changes that Australians have done that the US can learn from. On the power outlets, there is an on/off switch. You can leave all your appliances plugged in and simply turn off the power flow when they’re not in use to save energy. There are also energy ratings on the appliances themselves that help consumers choose the most energy efficient unit. Along with energy, there are a few other areas where Australians demonstrate concern for the environment. In the Adelaide central business district, free bike rental is available to encourage people to use this alternate mode of transportation rather than drive. Limiting wasteful water use is also taken into consideration. All of the toilets have two flush options so that you don’t use more water than what’s needed.

While these environmental conservation practices are important, I especially appreciate the priorities that are commonly seen in the life of many Australians. In the US, I think that our population as a whole places too much emphasis on our paychecks.  On the other hand, in Australia there seems to be more emphasis on being able to enjoy life and have a good time than make a certain amount of money. For example, the atmosphere is more laid back compared to the high-stress environment of many US cities. Almost all the stores close at five and don’t even open on Sundays in order to allow employees to go home for dinner and spend more time with families. Little things such as outdoor public drinking fountains and good quality public transportation take some of the stress off of people’s daily lives. Even the higher education system is set up so participants can pay for university at an affordable price that won’t cause massive loans and debt. Also, if student loans are taken out, I’ve been told that you are not required to pay them until you start making a certain amount of money; once you reach that level, you begin making payments. This system seems like it would help prevent massive debt right out of college that’s caused by student loans, which is a widespread issue in the US.

Besides the different priorities, there are a few small, everyday things that I appreciate. For instance the food seems healthier overall. From my experience, there aren’t as many chemicals and additives in the food. This is most likely the result of different food regulations. Food prices are also easier to work with Down Under. Tax is included in all the prices, so when something is labeled four dollars, you actually pay four dollars at checkout. I have become very used to this system due to my time overseas, and I wish the US set prices the same way, where the tax is included in the shelf price. In some areas such as this, I prefer the Australian way of doing things.

Along with recognizing policies that our nation could learn from, I have also observed some of the ways in which my lifestyle and desires have evolved. For starters, I find myself more inclined to walk or bike to my destination. Walking was my main mode of transportation in Australia, aside from buses for longer journeys. I’ve come to appreciate the reflection time you give yourself by walking, and I have found that I can get along quite well without a car, especially for shorter trips. In addition to my transportation methods, my eating habits have also changed. While I have always enjoyed a wide variety of food from different cultures, potlucks with other international students have caused me to start cooking more foreign foods, or at least plan to cook them.

Aside from my everyday habits that have changed, my desire to travel has increased substantially as a result of my semester abroad. I have become friends with people from many different countries and backgrounds. These past four months have included some of the best experiences of my life, and many of the adventures were the result of spending time with people from other parts of the world who grew up in different cultural backgrounds. Meeting all of my friends and living in Australia has made me interested in the cultures and lifestyles of others across the globe. Now I have a long list of countries that I want to visit at some point in my life. Circumnavigating the globe as a result of my flights to and from Australia has made me realize how small the world is and how easy it can be to fly to other countries. This observation just increases my longing to see more of the world.

In addition to new long-term goals of visiting many other countries and seeing some of my international friends, my everyday habits and priorities have been affected. To start, I want to make a conscious effort to be more hospitable. When I visited Melbourne for the first time for the national parkour gathering, I stayed at the home of one of the locals with a few other people from Adelaide. While the parkour jams during the day were amazing, it was also heaps of fun hanging out with everyone back at the house after the day’s activities. I know that if I had been staying in a hostel or hotel, I would not have had as much fun as I did. Since I have experienced firsthand how much a friendly host can improve a trip, I want to extend that same generosity to others whenever I have people visit.

On top of being more hospitable, I want to be more laid back in my everyday life. In the US, it seems that many people are constantly stressed out, often over things they have no control over. Although I recognize that I need to take charge of my actions, I also know that mistakes happen and that it is often better to go with the flow and learn from your mistakes rather than stressing over the past. Life is too short to dwell on past mistakes or worry about the future. Instead, I find that it can be peaceful and satisfying to enjoy the ‘here’ and ‘now’. Along those lines, to help me enjoy the present, I want to be more adventurous and stay busy. I did so much in Australia such as scuba diving, surfing, shark diving, and rogaining. If I had told myself ‘I’ll do it some other time’, I know I would have regretted missing those opportunities. A main reason I enjoyed my exchange program so much was all these awesome activities I did while I was overseas. Now that I’m back in the States, I have no intention on letting up on the fun activities.

On the whole, I can tell that I have learned a lot and grown from my experience in Australia. I am grateful beyond words for all the amazing people I met there who made my trip some of the best months of my life. I will never forget this adventure and all that I have been through. It’s been one heck of a journey and I appreciate all of your support. Thanks for reading this blog, and I wish everyone the best.

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Signing out for good,

Michelle

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