Lessons I’ve Learned from Living Across the World from People I Love.

A couple of months after my 18th birthday, I spread my wings, and flew from the nest. Getting my own pad wasn’t a big enough change for me; I left the country, leaving behind a boyfriend, parents, sisters, brother and friends all for a goal I had had since I was 13: Taking a Gap year, living abroad, exploring the world, and finding myself.

All set to Board at Sydney Airport!



Surprisingly, I wasn’t sad standing at the airport, hugging my family goodbye. Even with a 10 month chasm standing on the other side of the customs entry point, the excitement out-weighed any sad feelings for me, even with the tears in my family’s eyes.

Arriving in England was one of the best feelings I have ever had. It had been my first International flight and it hadn’t been a pleasant one, so touching down after 22 hours of being in the air with horrible motion sickness was welcome, not to mention the realisation that despite the doubts people had had over the years, I had done it! I had made it across the world where, in my eyes, my life was just about to begin.

The first realisation I had when I arrived in Oxford was that for the first time in my life, I was somewhere where no one knew who I was. Even the family I was to be working for and living with had never met me in person. This could be seen as quite a lonely situation, I, however, saw it as an opportunity: I could be anyone. I could have any backstory, act in any way, take on any identity or personality and no one would be the wiser. There were no boxes or expectations I was supposed to fit, I was free. What to do with this freedom? Who to be? I chose for the first time, to truly and honestly just be me.

Beautiful View of Oxford From the Spire of St Mary’s Cathedral



This seems like a silly thing to say, but think about it. Going through adolescence you change a lot; growing up, you change a lot. You make mistakes, you change your friendship groups, you dip your toe in lots of different pools of water to find out which one feels right to plunge right in. You suffer from rumours, you probably even start some, and when you decide the person you are, or want to be, there’s a lot of history there with the people around you, which makes that very hard. Family and friends have ideas of you based on the past, and that can be very hard to escape, and that was something I very much wanted to do. I was never that popular in school, I felt like an outsider but often tried to windle my way inside, often leading to worse consequences.

I was a high achiever, but an active class participant, making me a teachers pet along with a nerd. I was athletic, which made me a tomboy, but had a few boyfriends through high-school, which obviously made me a slut. The story here is that kids can be mean, and have this need to stick labels on things. Even when they’re not true, it can be hard to rip these labels off. When they’re gone, people still associate you with them, making it hard to move on from a past version of you even if that’s not the real you, or at least that’s how I felt.

Being free of these labels was incredibly liberating. I still changed, I still made mistakes, I still dipped my toe into different pools of water, but I did all that with no one judging, or labelling me, telling me who I was or who I could or couldn’t be. I believe it’s because of that freedom, because of learning from those mistakes that I could finally make that plunge and find out who I wanted to be.

Exploring Seville, Spain. My First Time Travelling Solo


That year was an incredibly happy year for me. I travelled through multiple countries and cultures in groups and alone, I made some amazing friends from around the world who I’m still friends with today, and I met Marcus, who became my boyfriend who would move back to Australia with me and who I would follow once again back to England.

I didn’t get home sick that year. Sure, I missed my family, but I felt a lot closer to them on the other side of the world than if we were all under the same roof. We didn’t fight, or get angry at each other. When we talked it was about relevant and important things, and we would be honest and say the lovely things you wouldn’t be driven to say to someone you see every day.

Marcus and I on top of the Ridgeway, Oxfordshire.


Distance made me realise that the relationship I had left in Australia would not have worked out, a truth that we were blinded to at the time by the very fact that our time was limited. The memory of that relationship is wonderful, and won’t be tarnished by memories of a bitter breakup or fighting; simply a teenage romance destined to stay just that.

I realised how very few of my “friends” from high school made the effort to keep in touch, but that that was okay because it made me realise who my true friends were, and that it’s the quality of a friendship, not the quantity of them that matters.

I had a good friend and one of my sisters come and stay with me throughout the year, which made me realise that when it comes to people you love unconditionally, time is irrelevant, and with true friends, and family, seeing them after a year is like seeing them after yesterday.

I realised that home isn’t where you grow up and it’s not always where the people you love are. For me, home is where I feel I can be myself, and be loved and appreciated for that person. Oxford was home for me. Travelling Europe was home for me. Taking my solo trip to Spain was home for me. Meeting Marcus, and spending time with him, wherever that would be, would be home for me.

My Farewell in Oxford, 2011


Leaving Oxford was tough. I wasn’t excited to go back to my old life in Australia, in Newcastle. It was like a boomerang I had let go of and forgotten, only to be whacked in the head by its return. I was excited to see friends and family, was excited to ride my bike to the beach and run through the golden sand to the welcoming blue sea, but I was scared. I was scared that if I left England, I would lose everything I had achieved in those 10 months. I was almost right.

I touched down in Sydney with tears in my eyes. I felt empty, like a light inside of me had been switched off. I found my Mum and Stepdad at a café in the airport and, although so glad to see them, instantly felt like something was being taken from me. I sat in the car for the two hour journey home fighting tears only to get into bed at the end of it and break down. Mum thought I missed Marcus, she was wrong, I missed the last year of my life. I missed me.

The next two months were the toughest I think I have ever had. I felt like I had changed so much in the last year, and that nothing had changed with me. I didn’t feel like I fit in with the people I used to, I constantly felt on the outside, and only felt like people understood me when I could get time to spend with good friends one on one. I filled my days with work at my old job, coffee dates to catch up with people I hadn’t yet seen, visiting and spending time with family, and getting some alone time riding my bike to the beach.

I felt sick a lot, I looked in the mirror and couldn’t recognise who I saw, I was tired at 8pm and wanted to go to bed, and would then cry myself to sleep. I had days where I enjoyed myself and the company I was with, but most of the time I felt like I was in the wrong place, I felt absolutely lost.

Christmas morning visit to Granny K’s


Christmas was a welcome change. I used to spend Christmas juggling between various family obligations, but this year I decided to wake up at Dad’s, quickly visit Grandma, and be back at Mum’s in time to make everyone breakfast and enjoy the rest of the day. My sister and her boyfriend were down from Brisbane, and my Aunt was staying with us too. Some of Mum’s friends came around and the day was filled with laughter, good food and drink, presents and fun. For that one day everything was perfect.

Christmas Day


In the middle of January, Marcus arrived to Sydney. I surprised him at the airport with his Aunt and Uncle. The feeling of having him back was indescribable. I couldn’t help the tears as we lay there that night. I guess I didn’t believe everything could be okay again until he got there, at which point I had someone who wasn’t from my past, but from my present and my future to remind me that everything I had done was real, and that it could be again.

In front of Sydney Opera House


Marcus found the next month quite tough. He was seeing me in a way he hadn’t expected, a person very different to the girl he had met in England. Luckily, moving down to Melbourne was the fresh slate I needed to find that girl again. Once again I was somewhere where no one knew me. I was with Marcus, and had a whole city to explore, people to meet, and life to create. Once again, I found myself happy. I found incredible people to call my friends, excelled in University, was offered fantastic opportunities from my Professors, took a trip with Marcus to Fiji, and was accepted into a Student Exchange program meaning I could follow Marcus back to England the following year. I did just that.

Snorkelling in Fiji


I left Melbourne in early December, after a last fleeting trip to Newcastle for a friend’s wedding which enabled me to say goodbye to family while I was there. I said goodbye to my family house, which was sold and the last time I would go home to it before my Mum and Stepdad moved down to Tasmania. I managed to quickly see a few close friends in Newcastle and then left back for Melbourne where a few weeks later two good friends took me to the Airport, and once again I was London bound.

I’ve been back in the UK for eight months now. When I landed, I felt euphoric. Marcus was waiting with his Dad at the gate and I soon felt, as in Newcastle, as if I’d never left. However this time, it was in the best way possible.

I view Marcus’ family like my own, and I feel like they view me the same, which means so much to me. My first Winter Christmas was spent with them, and it couldn’t have been better. Catching up with my Oxford friends and the family I had lived with 2 years earlier reminded me of how proud of myself I am to have created this opportunity to create this life, and how happy I am to be living it.

Christmas with Marcus’ Family, 2012


Marcus and I moved down to Brighton where I would be studying, and I have continued to excel in studies and have secured a fantastic job in the industry I’m studying, working with great people.

Learning the lesson about friendship has made me more selective of the friends I make, and less worried about how many of them there are. All the friends I made in Melbourne last year I still consider some of my best friends in the world, and last semester I met some amazing girls who were on the program with me from America. Unfortunately, they left a few months ago so I am very much looking forward to starting Uni again in October to meet some more great people.

My Housemates and some of my amazing Melbourne Pals


A lot of the time I feel lonely here, especially after being surrounded by such amazing people in Melbourne, but we’ll be back in Melbourne next year and I know it will feel like no time has passed when I see them all again.
I have learnt that being away from the people you love doesn’t change the love you have for them. It makes you realise who is important, and makes you cherish that person. I’ve spent months away from Marcus, I’ve spent longer away from friends, and even longer away from my parents and family. Despite the miles, they’re all still there for me, I’m still here for them, and nothing beats the air-tight squeeze hug and the excited smile at seeing one of them for the first time in a long time.

My best friend visiting us in Brighton



Marcus and I realised early in our relationship that distance is a great reminder of what you have, and I am constantly reminded of my amazing Mother, Father, Stepdad and Stepmum who have shown nothing but love and support for me, and who I all miss dearly. I am reminded of my sisters and brother, who are themselves located around various points of Australia and the World, and who I still talk with as often as when I was in Melbourne and am super excited to catch up with as soon as I can. I am reminded of my friends, from Newcastle, Melbourne, Oxford and all around the world, some of whom have or are planning on visiting, and all of whom are always there to catch up, talk or listen if I need a friend. I am reminded of how lucky I am, to have all these amazing people, on all four corners of the globe, who love me, for me, making almost everywhere in the world, my home.

Image courtesy of Evan Leeson

The key to Humanity, It’s all in the heart

I just finished reading a novel written by Immaculee Ilibagza, a Rwandan woman who had hidden, had been hunted, and survived the Rwandan genocide of the 1990’s.



Despite the absolute atrocities, of which this book leaves out very few details, the book is not a devastating one. It is not a horrible story. It is a story about love, about hope, about faith, and at its absolute core, about forgiveness.

 

Immaculee herself had seen and heard terrible things during the months she was kept in hiding. Squished into a tiny, hidden bathroom of a Pastor’s house with almost 10 other women they lived on tiny morsels of food scraps and remained seated on the cold, hard floor, without space to move, for weeks on end. She heard stories of her parents’ merciless slaughter and of the torment and shame her brother was put to before he was also killed. She went through absolute hell, seeing the mountains of bodies and being hunted herself; not by strangers, but by neighbours and old friends, all because of a history of racial tension between 2 tribes of Rwanda. It didn’t take much propaganda to convince the Hutu majority that Tutsis were to be killed. That no man, woman or child Tutsi was to be left alive and any Hutu who refused to accept the Government delivered guns and machetes were to be labelled as “moderate” and killed as well. Media propaganda and lies were all it took to turn a previously peaceful nation into a war zone, and friends and neighbours into blood-thirsty killers.

In the time Immaculee, a Tutsi, spent in hiding, and then in the French refugee camps set up in Rwanda, she handed herself over to God; to prayer, and realised that she could not live with the surging hatred and a will for blood and vengeance in her heart. Whether she lived through the war or not, she learnt she could not survive unless she learnt to forgive.

Reading Immaculee’s story made me think very deeply about human nature. Never having considered myself religious, I still completely understood this book. It holds such a core theme surrounding God and Catholicism yet I never once felt sceptical, or distanced from Immaculee’s belief. Wherever Imaculee talks about God and about prayer, I found it natural to substitute her belief of God for my belief in humanity, of positivity and the power we all have to achieve our dreams and goals. She says in the novel:

“I was living proof of the power of prayer and positive thinking, which really are almost the same thing. God is the source of all positive energy, and prayer is the best way to tap into His power.”

Now while I don’t necessarily believe in God, I do believe in the power of positive thinking; not in the visualise a parking space and there you shall find it kind of way a lot of self help books preach us which many take the mickey out of, but in the aspirational sense; In the positive nature of love and hope; In the power of dreaming, and the fact that anyone can achieve great things, if they have the dream and the belief they can achieve it. So, whenever Imaculee was talking about God, and about prayer, my mind naturally converted her belief in God to my belief in humanity, and in the power we all have to achieve our dreams and goals. Like Imaculee says in the quote above, at the heart of it I honestly believe they are essentially the same message and belief, simply wrapped up in different packaging.

Immaculee achieved great things. Not only did she survive against impossible odds, but she saved those with her as well. She taught herself English whilst trapped in that bathroom, she got her dream job at the United Nations in Rwanda following the war, she returned to her village to mourn for her lost parents and brothers, burying them and grieving with her remaining relatives and friends, she met the man of her dreams, and she eventually escaped Rwanda to America, where she became a mother to two beautiful children. Imaculee thanks God for providing her with her strength and faith, and for setting her on the right path, but she also believes it was her responsibility to walk that path. Religious or not, we all have hopes and dreams, and we all have the ability to achieve them. Horrible things happen, and we have to acknowledge our situations. We all long to love and feel happiness, often we will (and should) feel sadness, and occasionally we will feel anger, but we always have the choice to melt the anger away. It’s not easy, but this is the one thing Imaculee achieved which surpasses all others, and which I honestly believe is what would rid the world of the troubles it faces everyday.Forgiveness.

Anger and vengeance is a never ending cycle. It traps those caught in it and never lets them go. It consumes them, and infiltrates their minds and their hearts. The only way to end the cycle, is to forgive. To forgive others for what they have done, and to hope that they realise their wrongs and find a better path. I don’t believe this means befriending everyone who has wronged you again, far from it; but you can forgive them. Rid yourself of your bitterness towards them and you can truly let them go, and let yourself free in the process. Think of Jesus, think of Ghandi, think of Mother Theresa. These leaders and many others which go down in the history of different faiths and cultures, all believed in stopping the cycle of hatred, with forgiveness and with love.

I believe in the power of humanity. I believe at heart we are all good. Sometimes people just lose their track and need someone to show them the right path. For one person that role could belong to their God, to another, it could be a stranger, or a friend who points them in the right direction, and for others, it could be nature, a book, or simply the mysterious workings of the universe. Whatever you believe, believe in hope, believe in the good in others and learn to forgive.

Imaculee’s closing words touched me more than any others in the book, so I decided I will close with them as well…

The love of a single heart can make a world of difference. I believe we can heal our world by healing one heart at a time.
I hope my story helped.


Image courtesy of Antonis Kyrou