This time last week, my plane was somewhere in the air between Sydney and Los Angeles.
In the weeks approaching that flight, I really thought I’d be ready. One semester was enough time away.
But despite missing my family, American iced coffee and real bagels, I was devastated to leave my new home.
Now, with my jet lag still lingering, I can’t say my feelings have drastically changed.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about my terrible goodbye skills. Even then, I realized that leaving behind the life I lived in Australia would be difficult. I anticipated the series of goodbyes I would have to say — to my colleagues, to my friends and to all my favorite pieces of Sydney.
But what I didn’t anticipate, which turned out to be the most difficult part of this journey home, was the goodbye I’d have to say to my Australian self.
Now, before you roll your eyes, don’t get me wrong — I don’t have some thwarted idea that I’ve become a true-blue Australian after living in the country for just 3 1/2 months. I understand that the road to actual Australian citizenship would be much more challenging, and creating a permanent life for myself there would be extremely different.
That being said, as soon as I stepped off the plane in California, I knew a piece of myself had been left behind. It was the Australian piece, and it was a piece I loved.
Back on American land, my study abroad experience forced me to see everything through a new lens.
I found myself rolling my eyes at Starbucks’ flat whites, knowing they lacked the true authenticity of Shoebox, the hole-in-the-wall coffee shop around the corner from the Boston University Sydney Program. I discovered that phrases like “How you goin’?” and “Take away, please” had become a normal part of my vernacular. And two days after getting home, I made it halfway to Maryland before realizing I didn’t have a cent of American currency on me, only my waterproof Australian bills.
Our academic advisors had warned us in the beginning of our trip that the assimilation period we experience at the start of study abroad would re-occur when we return back home.
I didn’t believe them.
But now I get it.
Living in another country, especially one so far away, gives you a new appreciation for how large this world really is.
I spent my entire educational life never having learned about Australian history. Ever. We learned about the big European and Asian powers, the ones who we fought with or against in wars, the ones who we compete against for power and wealth today.
But Americans don’t learn about the Land Down Under. Chances are, if you’re reading this article from the United States, you don’t even know the name of Australia’s prime minister. To put it bluntly, Australia is too far away, and as Americans, we just don’t care.
But what I’ve learned from studying abroad is that our worlds are only as far apart as we allow them to be.
In finding my own way to assimilate back to American life, I initially decided to treat my trip home from Australia like a break-up. You can love the memories and you can treasure the lessons, but unless you plan to make it your permanent life, you have to eventually let it go. In this spirit, I considered coming home from Australia and un-liking the Australian newspapers on Facebook, un-following the Australian journalists on Twitter and un-bookmarking the Australian websites from my web browser. It would the most cut-and-dry way to stop thinking about Australia 24/7.
But then I was sitting on Twitter Wednesday when Ohio Governor John Kasich suspended his campaign for the 2016 presidential race.
My Twitter feed was filled with pictures of Donald Trump, and I was about ready to shut my whole computer off when I noticed a few tweets about Australia’s new federal budget. On the other side of the world, where it was already Thursday morning, the budget was the leading story, not Trump (though I’m sure he wasn’t far behind).
It made me pause for a moment. If I go through with my plan and delete Australia from my digital life, I can pretend as though I didn’t leave any piece of myself in Australia. I can keep my eyes and ears out of Australian news headlines, and I can return to the American ignorance I had for 21 years, an ignorance that grew out of a lack of education and interest.
Or maybe I could be one of the Americans who shows that some of us do care.
I may not have the power to change school curriculums or American popular opinion. I can’t force people to read more global news or convince an entire country that Australia is more than just kangaroos and koalas.
But what I can do is treat the Australian piece of myself as an important, relevant part of my life, not only now, but forever. Physically, I may have left that girl behind. Over the next few weeks, I’ll stop saying “How you goin’?” and I may even suck it up and get a flat white at Starbucks. But there’s a large part of that curious, open-minded, Australia-loving girl who came back to the United States with me.
And I hope she never leaves.