What it's like as an international student

Felicia PohFelicia Poh

The truth about being an international student for the first time, and doing it a second time over.

"Because in a sense, it's the coming back, the return, which gives meaning to the going forth. We really don't know where we've been until we've come back to where we were. Only, where we were may not be as it was because of who we've become. Which is, after all, why we left." -Northern Exposure

There's a certain sadness that comes with the realisation that the people sitting on the same table opposite you today, won't be so easily within reach in a years' time. For me I find that awfully tragic... Even though I'm so conscious of the fact that everything changes and that you can't ever really have anything constant in this world. This topic hits close to home because I've been thinking about what it's like when my closest international friends leave Sydney.


So this got me thinking a little more about what it's like as an international student and all of the things I've become so accustomed to after 5 years of living in Sydney.

I've moved several times now - at least enough for me to be able to tell you the sure-fire way to pack like a boss. I did my undergrad in Sydney, went back to Singapore to work for half a year, and decided to move back again to Sydney to pursue further study and more opportunities here (let's just say I'm so glad that I did, because I've now landed a kick ass role in this travel start-up!) Funny how life changes, huh?


Thinking back to when it all first began... I still remember some of the things that first hit me most acutely. My best friend asked me to write about the culture shock - all the things I felt when I first moved to Sydney. Truthfully, I don't remember all too much now. But one of the highlights was definitely the "Oh my god! Your English is so good!" I've simply lost count of the number of times I've had people tell me this, and it never fails to crack me up. It's funny that people assume that because of my background that I won't be as conversant in English. This is something I find really amusing, and something that I've grown to laugh about rather than take as an insult.

Something else I've also had to get used to was the local lingo. It baffled me that "arvo" was another way of saying "afternoon". And the first time a friend of mine said he'd "shout" me something, I just looked at him like he was crazy - did he want to shout at me? I later found out it meant that he wanted to buy me lunch and we laughed about it for ages. But these are the small things about living in Australia that I've really come to appreciate and more readily identify with.

Living by myself is also something else I've really enjoyed about my whole experience studying abroad - from start to end. There's something about living by yourself that gives you a truckload of freedom and autonomy to do anything you want. You also become so used to the fact that you're pretty much the only one in the house now, and that means you do everything - the washing, the cooking, the housekeeping. If your place looks like a pig sty, it's your fault and solely your fault. It's also something that has taught me ridiculous amounts of 'how to human 101' and gives you a newfound mindfulness about who you are as a person.

Becoming global

I still remember stumbling into the Sydney International Airport for the first time at 17, blurry-eyed, completely lost - not a clue where to go.
The second time around I'm at the Sydney International Airport again, at 21, with a lot more certainty about where I want to go and what I came here for.
Studying overseas means that you're faced with so many different experiences and people, that you really learn what it means to adopt a global mindset and being open-minded about experiences. If you know anything about me, you'll know that I treasure my friendships. Studying overseas has meant opening up a new friends circle and, whilst keeping touch with my friends back home, I've now grown a close circle of friends in Sydney - ones that I can call my very closest.

One of the biggest prices (rewards) you pay (gain) as an international student, is probably the fact that you know have a network of friends from all over the world. You pay to be able to see the world, to be able to venture out of your comfort zone, to meet new faces and hear their stories and be fascinated by their cultures and ways of doing things. But you also pay the very price of having a time limit on the people you meet, on the people you're with on a day-to-day basis - people that have become such integral parts of your everyday life that suddenly when all of that disappears... You're not quite sure what kind of life you're living anymore. Some people will certainly say "you asked for it, you went overseas", while others will empathise and tell you that it's "unfair", but that's the price you pay as an international - including all the experiences that come with it.

friends sunset

I've always been the sentimentalist in this aspect, and a fervent believer in the wealth of knowledge and mindfulness you gain from being able to explore the world. But with the richness of knowing people all around the world, there also comes a certain disconnect between not being able to have them by your side always, and permanently dividing yourself between two (or more) places. Is it worth it? Surely it is. But no one else will probably understand the way you feel about leaving the place as well as you do.

My best piece of advice is definitely to enjoy the journey. At the end of the day there's really nothing you'll regret more than not simply having given it your best shot and knowing that you've invested your time well. Wherever you are, be fully there. Be present.

And I'll leave you with one of my favourite quotes:

"I hope you live a life you're proud of, and if you're not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again." -F. Scott Fitzgerald

Find ways to make your everyday extraordinary by exploring activities to do around you. And if you're about to move abroad, read this blog on how to kick the nerves of moving overseas!

Felicia Poh
Thanks for reading guys!

Felicia Poh

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