Re-entry Reflections

The following are some reflections from Spring 2016 student Shaela Tyler, now a senior at William Jessup University.

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Anyone who has had a positive experience studying abroad knows that going home can be very painful. When I studied abroad in the Spring of 2016 in Brisbane, Australia, this was actually kind of my goal. I’m not a masochist by any means. When I left, I wanted it to hurt because that meant I had formed relationships that meant something. As we prepared to leave, I realized I had definitely met this goal. Leaving was painful. The gut wrenching sobbing as I climbed the bus to airport painful. I missed my host family, church, uni and fellow Americans in the program. On the return home I expected to hate America and all it represents. I expected my friends and family to not be interested in my stories. I knew that many wouldn’t be able to relate. Even if they tried to relate I thought they still wouldn’t “get it”. There is just something defining about going abroad. The people who stay back at home sometimes don’t grasp the gravity of what you’ve been through. I also didn’t know if I would be able to love or agree with my home university anymore. The Australian Studies Centre (ASC) program tried to prepare us as much as possible. I guess they did a pretty good job because I was never blindsided when I arrived home. None of what I feared came true.

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My fellow Americans

I don’t hate America. I recognize the United States as just another broken system. It is a country like others trying to create a “good” life. I may not agree with who they’re trying to create this life for—the rich and elite or the common people. I don’t agree with many of the ways that they go about trying to mold the good life—corruption in politics, consumerism, ect. I also disagree with many American’s definitions of “good”, “fair” and “right”. However, these situations give me cause to stand for what I believe is right. And that stand does not require hatred. Even coming home to the 2016 election I haven’t despised anyone involved. I hate the ideals and beliefs acted out. The violence and bigotry experienced since the election has brought some very dark parts of America to light. The reality is that we aren’t any more enlightened or blessed than many other countries in the world. Knowing this has softened the blow of the election results and underlines the importance of living a humble life dedicated to service.

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Is anyone interested?

Another unnecessary worry that I had was that people close to me wouldn’t want to hear about life in Australia. My family and friends were interested. They wanted to know all about the “exotic” place I had lived in. I had countless people ask about my semester. In my fear I had forgotten all about the caring community that I have been blessed with. One difficulty is that sometimes the stories that are important to me aren’t as interesting to others. This was something that I had to adjust to as I told people about the Great Barrier Reef (again). It was frustrating to a point but I came to realize that it’s okay. Not everyone needs to hear about everything that happened. I stick with telling my good friends the small details near and dear to my heart and talk openly with everyone about petting koalas and kangaroos. I still find the phrase, “When I was in Australia…” leaving my mouth far too often but I’m working on that.

Back to school

Going back to school was more difficult than I had thought but it definitely wasn’t something to fear. First of all, the Australian school system does not operate on testing the way that America does. I did not have a single test the semester I was with ASC. I was out of practice and bombed my first test back. On the upside, my critical analyses within essays has been markedly better (thanks, ASC!). The worst of the part of my transition back to school came pretty early. It was the very first Monday night of the semester and I decided to attend Monday night chapel. I sat in the back surrounded by people I didn’t know. That was the moment that I realized I was a stranger to all of the new students and had lost contact with many former friends. The feeling of being an outsider crashed down on me. Because I attend a small Christian Liberal Arts university, this feeling was completely foreign to me. I felt that I had been pushed to the fringes of a campus I had come to call home. I think that every senior preparing to graduate has this feeling at some point. In that situation, I had a choice to make. To connect or to just make it through the next year and graduate. It’s been difficult but the change that I experienced in Australia has allowed for a greater sense of purpose and self-assuredness. I make the effort to connect with and meet people which has eased this sense of loneliness. With intentionality and genuine care comes fruitful friendships that have helped reintegration to my home university.

Place and practice

Related to this sense of purpose and belonging, another result of the trip was finding more of my identity and place in the world. It seems as though the globe has become both larger and more compact simultaneously. My horizons have been broadened and I am aware of the world in a new way. Then sometimes I’m hit with the realization that I now have family on the opposite side of the earth and that makes it feel smaller and more accessible. I find it more automatic to think beyond myself as well. The practices of recycling and using fair trade and sustainable products have become more important and worth the effort. Being involved in politics and making an effort to connect with world news have become second nature. Intentionality with people and staying connected for the purpose of service have been convicting and so life-giving. I learned the importance of these efforts in Brisbane. However, they didn’t become real for me until I came home. They were just “things I did in Australia.” But now they are practices I believe we are called to as Christians. I am called to care for the earth. I am called to think we’ll and to love my neighbor. I am called to live in a way that represents the One who calls.

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Contentedness

Along with this call comes a responsibility to live in the now to the best of my ability. Living in a place with limited or expensive access to the Internet is very revealing. I was able to see the effect of social media on my contentedness. In Australia I could go and look at what my friends back at home were doing and feel left out. I could wallow in my homesickness. Now that I am back home I can look at what my Aussie friends are doing and wish to be back. I have the choice to live in the past or take what I’ve learned and move forward. Wherever we are we have that choice. This is what I’ve clung to since coming home. Just as the Emu represents ever advancing Australia, I am determined to never go backwards.

Purpose

To anyone who has studied abroad, is studying abroad in the future, or if you just feel stuck in life hear this: Christ has a purpose for where we are now. The challenge is to not waste that time, that minimum wage job or “pointless” class. Let’s live to find meaning in every person and situation. I’ve found His promises to be true. He promises to be there in the pain, the joy and the mundane and He is enough. All in all, the transition home has been smoother than expected. The moments of pain have definitely been worth the growth, experience, memories and love. I will be forever thankful for my time in Queensland; thinking differently, loving effectively and learning about how to live well wherever I am.

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So Long, Farewell

Excerpt from Hannah Matthew’s personal blog “Mainer Gone Aussie”.  Hannah is a Fall 2016 ASC student from Gordon College. Reproduced with permission.

That’s right folks, I am officially out of Australia. To end the amazing (almost) four months of living Down Under, the wonderful ASC staff took us to Sydney! Three days there was short yet packed with memories that’ll last a lifetime.

Day 1:

Arrive at CHC at 5:30am to say goodbye to all host families. It was difficult for some, not so difficult for the emotionless (or those who keep emotions inside). We eventually got to the airport with the usual security and luggage hassles and after our short two hour-ish flight we made it to Sydney! We stayed at the YHA in the ‘Rocks’ and we discovered the most amazing view from the rooftop terrace AKA the floor our rooms were on!

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First thing was first, a walking tour around said “rocks” with our first stop at a church. It was a really cool church with big things going on to meet the likes of the larger metropolitan millennial generation of Sydney. We then walked through this super cute historical neighbourhood with all kinds of shops, museums and cafés to end up at the harbour! I was blown away by seeing the bride and opera house so close!

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The night ended by going to an outer neighbourhood Newtown where we went to help Newtown Missions. We heard from a very smart and wise economist names Trevor first. While many were drowsy from the busy day and not intrigued by the dull content of economics, my attention was grasped. In case you don’t know, I’m a nerd. I love to learn and I love business. Trevor spoke about how to invest our money for the greater good of the world in the smallest of ways to the largest of ways. I could go on forever about how much I loved hearing this but I won’t dwell on it.😉

We then led a chapel service. I got the opportunity to stand among some great musicians among our ASC group and sing. This service was very laid back with some worship and sharing of the congregation and some prayer and communion. The congregation was full of people of all ages, on all walks of lives, some first timers and some regulars. It was so cool to hear these people’s stories as most of them were homeless and have had many life events that completely pulled a 360º on their lives.

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I got to talk with this guy. I don’t know his name, he didn’t know his name but I do know that he was around 17 when he ran away from home (New Zealand) to Australia and hasn’t left sense.

Newtown Mission offers a meal afterwards and we got to fellowship some more with these people over their meals. There was a good issue of running out of food for the volunteers (us) we ended up getting pies. I know I say pie and you think desserts but no. Meat pies. They’re an aussie classic and this pie place was SO good. Anyways, I’ll miss those meat pies.

Day 2:

Woke up early to head to the Art Gallery of New South Whales. We met an Aboriginal lady, Jen, who took us around to see some art that was by Aboriginal artists or that had aboriginal people in their art. It was a wicked  cool gallery and I was glad to see some art. It was also a very long morning.

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piece titles ‘head hunter’

That afternoon/night was free time for us. A friend and I started it by walking through the Botanic Gardens. We stopped at a cafe to get coffee and then sat under a tree by the water for a solid hour or so and just got to hang out. So much reflection has been going on for most of us and it’s always good to process it with someone who went through the same thing. Anyways, we continued through the gardens and ended up at the Sydney Opera House!

 

After our lovely walk, we walked back to the YHA, hung out and enjoyed the view and then headed to dinner. In Chinatown there was a dumpling place recommended to us by ASC staff which is great dumplings for a great cost. My type of eating out. I’ve never had them before, so we got a little of it all. IMG_7809.JPG

This is the most embarrassing picture that sums up me, I guess.🙂 I learned how to use chopsticks while there… well kind of. Needless to say, they were some good dumplings.

The night consisted of a long walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge! It was absolutely gorgeous! On the other end of the bridge was Luna Park. An iconic park within Sydney and we had to check it out. You can get into the park with no charges, yet you cannot go on any rides without purchasing tickets. So we went in and fooled around a bit.

Day 3:

I was suppose to wake up and see the sunrise but I slept through that. I did however go on a tour of the Opera House! It wasn’t as extravagant as I expected but the backstage tour was way more than I was willing to pay. I did go into the theatres and learn about the history of the building and all that good stuff!

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This is what the shells look like from underneath! 

That afternoon I walked around the local markets with some lovely people and then met up with the rest of the ASC group for our final activity in Australia. We took the ferry over to Manly and walked the outlook and enjoyed a night in each other’s company.

 

Up early again the next day, and we all went our separate ways. I don’t know what time it is in AU, or in Maine, but I know I have been up for I think over 20 hours now and on 3 hours of sleep. So close to being back in Boston! I also don’t think I will be flying again for a LONG time !🙂 Now, to ‘relax’ in LAX until the final 6hr flight.