Wanderlust in the Outback

One USAC Melbourne student’s tale of traveling through Australia

By Brooke B., Cleveland State University, USAC Melbourne

“Nature did a great job,” I overheard one of the girls in my backpacker’s tour exclaim as we visited the Pinnacles in Western Australia. At first, personifying nature seemed a bit goofy, but this sentiment deeply resonated with me as I reflected on my time in Australia.

The Pinnacles, Western Australia

I traveled abroad as someone eager to witness the wild world, interact with wildlife, travel the landscapes, and embrace the challenge of navigating a new curriculum on my own. Yet, I have received so much more than that. Heck, I’ve been upside down for four months and my head is spinning from this experience!

Deakin University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

When I chose University Studies Abroad Consortium’s (USAC) Melbourne, Australia, program as my destination, I didn’t anticipate experiencing much culture shock. However, the moment I stepped into the melting pot of Melbourne, I quickly learned otherwise.

The hustle and bustle of the city, with people walking on both the right and left; the bewildering right-hand hook turns in the CBD traffic control; and the pervasive “just go with the flow” attitude quickly became part of my new norm.

I’ve encountered people from all over the world, and funny enough, I think I’ve met fewer Australians than any other nationality in Melbourne! When kangaroos on the roadside no longer diverted my attention, I knew I was truly settling in.

Wild ‘roos in the Grampians National Park.

Having dreamt this journey my entire life, I arrived with a utopic mental map, as if I already knew the landscape by heart. My years of uninformed excitement couldn’t have prepared me for what I found – an experience that surpassed my wildest dreams. The stereotypical “Aussie” landscapes weren’t always evident in the city, but revealed themselves in their full glory as I traveled the continent.

Melbourne’s lack of spiders (a relief, I assure you) reminded me that Australia isn’t just outback wilderness; it boasts skyscrapers and concrete jungles just like any other major city, though I was drawn to every inch of coastline and bush I could find. My eyes grew a few sizes as they witnessed an almost completely untouched earth in Western Australia.

Where the Bush meets the sea on the Australian coastline

After gaining my bearings, homesickness was a fleeting emotion. In a new place, your heightened awareness develops a whit, quickly making you more knowledgeable than the locals about navigating your surroundings. But I also learned to let my mind be delightfully naïve. That girl on my tour was right — nature has crafted a world of extraordinary beauty that we often take for granted when we set our expectations too high.

Have you ever traveled somewhere without Googling a photo of it beforehand? I bet your answer is no. But, imagine if you didn’t. What if we allowed ourselves to wander into breathtaking places and let our eyes witness their beauty firsthand, rather than through a screen? What if we learn to let these moments take our breath away as if it’s the first time we’re seeing them? This is how we embrace the wonder of naivety.

A few spots that really surprised me …

I know you’ve heard it before: “Studying abroad will be the greatest experience of your life.” I can now wholeheartedly attest to this truth. We learn so much about ourselves when we are left to our own devices in a new place. We develop problem-solving skills, enhance our communication abilities, and adopt a “say yes” approach that leads to ultimate self-fulfillment.

The experiences I’ve gained are irreplaceable, and I will always cherish this time as a reminder of how precious our time and hard work are.

On top of the world in Queenstown, New Zealand (An Easter break trip).

Saying goodbye to my home for the past four months will be incredibly tough. However, as I reflect on my journey, I realize that I’m bringing home something invaluable: experience. I’ve gained worldly knowledge, cultivated a calmness for the unknown, and mastered the art of packing a week’s worth of clothing into one tiny backpack.

Most of all, I will carry home the memories of the greatest adventure I’ve ever had, from snorkeling with whale sharks and exploring the Great Barrier Reef to embarking on breathtaking eight-hour hikes in New Zealand and marveling at Milford Sound, the honorary Eight Natural Wonder of the World. Not to mention making sincere friendships and travel buddies.

This trip has been beyond extraordinary, far surpassing my entire bucket list that read “Get to Australia before you die.”

Read about Brooke’s travels on her personal Substack blog.