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COLUMN: Sydney in Sydney



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Junior Sydney Tomlinson sits on a rock Jan. 3 outside Sydney Harbour. Tomlinson is studying in Sydney, Australia, this spring. Courtesy Photo

I was sobbing at the Indianapolis International Airport exactly three weeks ago. Hard, publicly, unbearably. Checking my bags. Hugging my parents goodbye. Walking through security. Boarding the plane. Ordering a complimentary vodka Sprite — hey, we do what we have to do, okay?

I have always dreamed of studying abroad. For as long as I can remember, the part of college I was excited about wasn’t living on my own or choosing my major or making new friends. It was studying abroad. Don’t ask me why an elementary-school girl was already thinking about spending a semester in Paris or Rome.

Fast forward a decade or so and here I was, embarking on the journey I’d always dreamed of. Except instead of feeling the profound excitement I’d expected — and it seemed everyone else expected of me, too — I was more terrified than I’d ever been. I felt my whole body shake as I zipped my two obscenely large suitcases full of sandals and swimsuits ready for sunny Sydney, Australia.

All I could think was, “What have I gotten myself into?”

When I landed in Sydney many, many hours later, I felt too exhausted to be scared. But when I walked into my apartment at the University of New South Wales for the first time, the shaking and sobbing started right back up again. Words I’m probably not allowed to write here filled my mind as I dissolved into full-body panic about the months that lay ahead.

“How will I ever stay here?” I thought.

As with most long-distance travel, the first few days were a blur. With my study abroad program, I visited the harbor, the zoo, the beach, the mall, and still all I felt was a strong sense of dread. I felt incredibly far from home and the 16-hour time difference certainly didn’t help. 

Five or so days in, which felt more like a lifetime, a switch flipped. I almost didn’t notice it happen because the change was so sudden and sharp, but I turned a corner and suddenly everything was good. The fear I felt so strongly seems like a distant memory now, even a dream. The inspirational quotes I’d been repeating — such as “feel the fear and do it anyway," felt cheesy again. I look around and wonder how I was ever unhappy here.

Right now I’m sitting in a cafe, drinking an Australian coffee that really is as good as they say, looking out at the sea, and all I can think is, “What have I gotten myself into?”

“How will I ever leave?”

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