It’s September of 2018, and I am officially a junior at Swat. I feel a little queasy just seeing that in writing honestly. Being a junior in college always seemed like that thing my friends who are now graduates would be (I met them as a freshman and they were juniors), a foreign title I would never be able to own. But here we are.
I suppose I always expected junior year to be very different. I always assumed that hey, I would be 20 and, having lived an entire two decades, I’d really have my life together. I thought I would have a boyfriend to whom I would essentially already be engaged, be a lowkey instagram model, and know what I wanted to do post-college. Unfortunately, those daydreams stayed that way — as dreams. Being a 20 year old in their junior year as a Swat student has turned out very differently. First off, I’m writing this piece from my apartment in Brisbane, where I have been studying since mid-July (I know, it’s been a minute). And second, I feel less like an adult than I ever have before. In writing this, I want others, as well as myself, to understand that everything has not been and continues to not be sunshine and rainbows, but rather hard work and lots of teeth-gritting. Often, I use writing to make something pretty out of something painful, but there’s no space for that right now — we need to evaluate this experience as clearly as possible, even if it includes some painful and hard to admit truths.
I always knew I would want to spend time abroad in college. I thought I would spend a year studying in Australia. So I guess I did nail at least one of my dreams. But the minute details are where I ended up slipping a bit. I saw myself studying in Cairns, the town right off the Great Barrier Reef, doing marine biology research and essentially living on the beach. However, things have not worked out that way. To begin with, I hate science. Actually, not hate. Just strongly dislike it, and I have been especially averse to it since my brilliant decision to take Bio 2 (don’t listen to STEM majors my fellow non-STEMs — it’s a hard class).
Clearly, I did not end up in the tiny coastal town of Cairns, where I probably would’ve bored myself to death by the lack of life around. I also (thankfully) am not doing biology research. Instead, I came to Brisbane, the capital of the state of Queensland, a ‘city’ by international standards (it’s so small, and hey, I’m used to New York City). I’m also trying to complete my Environmental Studies requirements, so I’ve been taking classes on the marine and terrestrial environments of Australia, thankfully with a healthy mix of ‘fake’ science (classes that have no labs and actually easy to handle after Bio 2) and political science.
I think I was expecting a lot. When I applied back in October of last year, I wanted the university experience, to meet a bunch of Australians, date one as an excuse to return, and become a well groomed surfer. I wanted a job, I wanted to travel extensively, and I wanted, most of all, to come back to Swat in January feeling like a brand new person (spoiler alert — I’m studying in Northern Ireland in the spring, so that can’t happen).
Sure, my expectations started shifting a bit as sophomore year kept going, with sophomore slump hitting me right where it hurt most. The problem is that as my life at Swat felt like it was falling apart, I started making Australia an unrealistic fantasy in an effort to find something better to look forward to.
As I lost myself and my closest friends, I started expecting to find a million Aussie friends to make up for it. As I watched my motivation fall apart for classes, I started expecting Australia to provide me with answers for what I really wanted from my studies. I expected to love each and every class and see my grades return to the levels they had been in high school.
I rarely shared these expectations, but people could read them when I told them about my upcoming semester. Most people just shrugged and wished me luck, but there was one boy who slightly stifled my excitement, thankfully. He told me about his experience, and how it wasn’t exactly everything he’d been hoping for. He tried to make me come back from the wild dreams I had, but I refused to listen. My fantasies were way better than the reality he had been trying to construct for me.
Now, I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, saying I regret my decision. I’m not even saying I hate the experience. I just want to say that honestly, the expectations and fantasies saved me my sophomore spring. They gave me something real to look forward to, something new and completely unrealistic — something that, perhaps, my stifled writer’s brain had been starving for.
Studying in Australia turned out to be very different. I haven’t made a million Aussie friends, mostly bumping into new acquaintances and friends-for-the-night kinda people at bars and clubs. I still don’t really know what I want from my studies, but I think maybe, ironically, getting back in touch with Swat from across the world has been more helpful. However, on the bright side, my grades are essentially back to high school levels — here, a Swat B- is actually a full A, which is really helping me out. Not sure how the culture shock will work upon my return, but that’s a senior-year-Giorgia problem.
Brisbane is good — no, Brisbane is great. It’s nothing like I thought it would be. In fact, it’s almost the exact opposite. But the completely unique and special moments I have been able to experience here are unparalleled, and I’m beyond grateful for them.
So Swatties, if I can leave you with anything, it’s that I hope you can have a hard look at your choices, your reason behind being at Swat (or not being at Swat right now) and see through the misery poker and the endless hours spent in Cornell, or even worse, McCabe. Find something real to help you through the worst of Swat, but even through the worst times, find some reason to grow and improve. We’re still so young and have so much life ahead of us and we forget that so easily, but one thing I’ve learned so far is that there’s no use in getting mired in our fear, but rather, we should be facing it head on.