Sometimes a map of the world will creep into my mind and my stomach will drop to my knees as if I am stuck in an elevator that just dropped 20 floors unexpectedly. An imaginary red-dotted line will slowly tick across my mental picture of the world, linking the Gold Coast of Australia with Lake Oswego, Oregon. I will be silently stunned by how far away from home I am.
But then I am either off to the white-sanded beach down the street from campus to willingly embarrass myself on the second-hand surfboard I impulsively bought last week or walking to lecture where under the pretense of writing notes I am secretly planning weekend Australian adventures. And thoughts of driving down South Shore catching quick glimpses of the lake, grocery shopping at Wizer's and of home are faded out of mind.
Nothing could have prepared me for my abroad experience thus far in the land of Oz - a place surprisingly larger than the United States but with less of a population than the entire state of California.
Colorful descriptions of the vast gorgeous space of this country could never do the real thing justice. Even though almost two months have passed since my arrival, I am still thrilled whenever passing a 'Kangaroo Crossing' sign on the street. I am also not sure if I will ever fully get over the reality that Australians really do like Vegemite on their toast and really are the friendly, happy, Victoria Bitter Beer enthusiasts as their global reputation suggests. And no amount of pictures could ever convey the feeling one gets when hiking in ancient rainforests darkened by the sheer density of trees and alive with the sounds of parrot chatter and the distant rush of prehistoric waterfalls.
I thought that perhaps the event of moving from Oregon to California to attend Santa Clara University nearly three ago and the emotions I felt during that transition would be similar to the experience of studying abroad. I figured I had already done the whole new faces, new bed, new environment thing. I was wrong.
Living in a foreign place, like Australia, where red bell peppers are called capsicums and the currency is waterproof, has made me incredibly proud of where I'm from and incredibly aware of the world outside of Lake Oswego and Santa Clara. Whenever in conversation with an Aussie, I always ask if they have ever visited the States, secretly hoping to hear Oregon.
This is rare, considering the average geographical understanding of non-Americans consists of California, New York, and, oddly, Florida. I was thrilled when making small talk with a New Zealander to discover that he had braved the cold waters of the Oregon coast on a recent surfing trip. He complimented me on the quality of surf, as if I was responsible for the currents due to the fact that I am from Oregon. I nodded along to his visual descriptions of the uniquely rugged landscape of the coastline to the point that my neck was sore. My conversation with this stranger left me with a smile and a small pang of homesickness.
The 'Uni,' as the Aussies lovingly abbreviate the word university as they do with most words, I am studying at is distinctive for a large majority of campus is international students. For instance, in one of my classes there are students from France, Germany, Sudan, Sweden, and Hong Kong. Being the minority in such a diverse setting is refreshing.
I went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant with a German classmate the other night. And as we laughed and compared stories from our home countries, I was struck by how fortunate I was to be sharing burritos with a German in Australia.
It will be a bittersweet goodbye to Australia come December, when it is back to life in the States. For in one breath I will be ecstatic to hug my mom, laugh with old friends and watch American television. Yet in the next breath I know I will miss Australian accents, driving on the 'wrong' side of the road and the nearness of the ocean.
Kara Taylor grew up in Lake Oswego, is a 2004 graduate of Lakeridge High School and a communication major at Santa Clara University. She currently is studying at Bond University on Australia's Gold Coast.