Flying Halfway Around the World with Strangers

When I accepted my place in my university’s study abroad program, I only had one thought rushing through my head: Australia. I would be traveling to the other side of the world in ten months to explore a city I had only dreamed to see with my own eyes. I had visions of petting a koala, feeding a kangaroo and taking my picture in front of the Sydney Opera House: I was ready to embrace all of the most stereotypical Australian experiences.

It only took five minutes before my excitement vanished and the reality of the situation hit. I would be traveling to my dream city with complete strangers. I would be suck with seventeen other people that I knew nothing about. I looked at the list of names in front of me and felt a wave of anxiety rush over me. It was every teenager’s biggest fear playing out in front of me.

I’ve always been someone who relies on my friends in unfamiliar situations. Knowing that I have someone there who will look out for me brings me comfort. I’ve rarely allowed myself to step outside of this security shield and experience new things on my own.

But after only two brief orientation meetings a month before my flight, I was packing my bags and flying halfway around the world; a trip that would take 22 hours and a lot of willpower. Touching down in Australia was a feeling I will carry with me for the rest of my life. For a brief moment, all of the fear I carried with me on the plane disappeared as I stared out at the Melbourne skyline and felt the summer heat hit my skin. The monstrous Pacific Ocean separated me from the safety of familiarity. There was no going back now.

I kept replaying the last words my mom said to me before we separated at the security line: “Everyone is in the same position. They all want to make friends too.” Even with those words playing on repeat, it was impossible to shake the feeling that I would be alone in this big city. That everyone would find their best friends and I would be the girl they included because they had to.

You know how everyone says that moms are always right—well turns out that they are. Over the last five weeks, I have met seventeen people that have become some of my best friends. Sure, the first few days we were all trying to get our footing and maneuver our way through a new city with strangers, but for the past five weeks, I have never laughed so hard and went through so many amazing experiences.

I did every stereotypical Australian experience. I pet a koala, fed a kangaroo and took my picture in front of the Sydney Opera House. I sat in the stands of a cricket game with a KFC bucket on my head and cheered for both teams. I swam at every city we went to including Hobart, Phillip Island, St. Kilda, Bondi Beach and Loch Ard Gorge. I rode the tram in 100-degree weather just to explore the city. And even after all of those once in a lifetime experiences, some of my favorite moments were sitting in our common room at 1 a.m., too unable to stop laughing with seventeen of my best friends.

Leaving the safety of familiarity is never easy, but if given the chance, always say yes to traveling halfway across the world with strangers.