My first days on the other side of the world
My name is Floria, I turned 16 years old here in Australia.
My anticipation for my year abroad was huge. Of course, one has doubts from time to time whether this is really the right decision or not, but for me the joy of new experiences and getting to know new people was irresistible. All preparations were made and I set off for the airport to experience a not so ordinary year abroad. My host family had written to me before and I had already looked at Google Maps to see what my new home and surroundings would look like.
My host family included my host mother Kate, my host father Kris and my two younger host sisters Jakinta and Charlotte. I was very happy that I would be living with siblings under the same roof again, as my siblings have already moved out in Germany a few years ago.
The other two family members were our dogs Cookie and Fudge, which I was looking forward to very much, because we can’t have a dog at home in Germany, but I have always wanted one.
So on my 24-hour flight via Dubai to Australia I was naturally excited about what was to come. The flight was quite long. I can only recommend to write down in advance what you can do in the plane when you are bored. Before I flew to Australia, I had my friends design a farewell book, which I looked at for the first time during the flight. The farewell book with the texts of my friends definitely dispelled the boredom a little and besides it is nice to have something so personal from your friends from home.
Arriving at the airport in Brisbane I couldn’t find my luggage, which luckily turned up in the oversized luggage area. Then I couldn’t find my driver and I couldn’t join anybody, because I was the only one of the group who came to the Whites Hill State College. When I finally found my driver I was very relieved and was driven by him to my new home.
Kate, Jakinta, Charlotte and the dogs were all there to welcome me. I was first given a house tour. My house here in Australia is very different from my house in Germany. We have a pool, which I find very good. Besides I live here in a single family house. We even have a small gym in the basement and a “playroom” for us kids. My room is very nice, I have a huge window and a lot of design freedom in my room.
On the first weekend I got to know the whole family directly. My host father’s father lives on the Gold Coast, about an hour away from Brisbane, and my host mother’s parents live in Brisbane. As my host father’s brother was visiting from America, there was a big family dinner at Kate’s parents’ house. It’s sometimes really hard to understand the Australian accent, but I think it will come.
It is very nice to be integrated into family life from the beginning, but unfortunately I was very tired due to my jet lag and could have fallen asleep all the time. The jet lag really got to me. I feel like I still haven’t really arrived in the time zone, but maybe I’m just so exhausted because I experience so many new things every day.
My first day at school was relatively unspectacular. My school has relatively few students for an Australian school and therefore not many Internationals. With two Italians, I am the only one who stays at school for a limited time. Alice, one of the two Italians, and I have chosen very similar timetables, which is why we do quite a lot together and also meet outside of school more often. My school is located in the suburb of Whites Hill, which is about ten minutes from Carindale, where there is also a large shopping centre. Unfortunately, it is quite far from the beach and difficult to reach by public transport.
The reason I go to this school in Brisbane is for my sport. I fence at a high level and I didn’t want to stop fencing completely during my time abroad. Because of my hobby, I was unsure for a long time whether I really wanted to do a year abroad. Fencing was also the reason why I chose Australia and not New Zealand. There are better possibilities to train here than in New Zealand. My choice of school was also because my fencing club “The Fencing Club” trains at this school. I also got my host family through the fencing club.
My guest sister Jakinta also fences and I go to training with her three times a week. My organisation and the school have put a lot of effort into making this all work so that I can continue my hobby in Australia. I am very grateful for that. Even though my hobby has given me a quite unusual stay abroad, I think I made the right decision and I would regret it very much if I were not in Australia now. My first few days were full of new and unfamiliar things, but slowly you settle in to your new everyday life.
The first three months have passed very quickly and now the spring holidays are coming up. In the first week I’m going to visit a friend on the Sunshine Coast and in the second week I’m going to visit friends of my brother in Sydney. So far I have seen a lot of great places. One of my favourite places here is North Stradbroke Island, which is an island off the coast of Brisbane. Unfortunately, it takes a bit time to get there, as it involves a very nice but long ferry ride. When Alice and I arrived there, we walked a little round trip along the coast and we were just amazed the whole time. We saw dolphins, turtles and even a whale.
But Brisbane also has are some of my favourite places. South Bank is an artificially created beach in the city with a view of the skyline. Also Kangaroo Point is nice, where you have mega views of Brisbane. Just getting there is beautiful. You have to take the ferry across the Brisbane River. I don’t just do things with my friends, I do great things with my host family as well. I go every Saturday morning to a big studio where you can get paint and canvas for free. Besides that, the owner – a millionaire who offers this to give people the opportunity to paint – is always going around and helping you.
Sometimes he also gives small art courses on the basics. I will miss these small art courses very much when I will be back in Germany. These Saturday mornings have become a really nice routine. I think that my time here makes me much more open to new things and new people.
Unfortunately, my girlfriend Alice is going back to Italy after the holidays, which is good on the one hand because I can probably make more contact with Australians then, but it’s also a pity. Alice and I have even made plans to meet when I am back in Germany. I think it’s great that you can not only keep in touch with Australia after your year abroad but also with international friends. For instance, I now have friends from Italy and Brazil.
Everything is good with fencing so far. I get along very well with my coach. Unfortunately my guest sister was injured, so I can’t train as often as I did at the beginning. But now I have more time for friends and also for school, which is more demanding than I expected. We have to write essays in a lot of subjects, which is hard when you are not used to write so much in English. But it’s good that my school is so small and you can always check with the teachers if you don’t understand or manage something.
The days in Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast with my girlfriend were very nice, it is something completely different to live so close to the beach – I think. But I would miss Brisbane a little bit too.
My week in Sydney was also nice. I just love to stroll through the streets with my camera and take pictures of everything possible. Sydney is again very different from Brisbane. Sydney has some older districts which are very beautiful. Unfortunately, Brisbane does not have that at all. One day I accidentally got on the wrong ferry and went to Watsons Bay. I thought the day would end completely stupid, but then I found this mega beautiful way along the coast to a lonely lighthouse. That really made my day.
Leaving my second home
I think my last two months have been unexpectedly difficult for me. Simply because I had the feeling of missing a lot in Germany, but at the same time I could not imagine leaving Australia so soon. I was really looking forward to seeing all my friends and family again when I got back. Of course, one is sad to have to leave one’s host family and friends in the host country.
And then, when I had finished packing everything, my whole family met one last time at the Leagues Club for dinner. My host mother gave me a few little things as a present, which I was very happy about. It was really hard and emotional to say goodbye to everyone, but also because I was very excited before my flight. It’s crazy to imagine that you won’t see the people you saw almost every day in the last months for such a long time now. My host family and I have even put up the Christmas tree in the last days. Unfortunately I am not there at Christmas anymore (but I got some very nice photos sent to me). That would have been an experience I would have loved to have had. Because of a fencing tournament in Germany I went home a little earlier than I should have done.
What I didn’t think about before I started my stay abroad was that time at home doesn’t stand still either and a lot can really change in the time you spend abroad. I think it’s important not to forget this, but also not to let yourself be pulled down by the fact that your friends and family are doing something and you can’t be there. But I gladly accepted this for the unforgettable time I had in Australia.
Things I would do differently if I were to do the stay abroad again and I wasn’t a fencer: In any case stay longer than five months and probably choose a school on the Sunshine Coast or Gold Coast – so for a more typical stay abroad in Australia on the beach.
In my case, after three months I had just about settled in and got out of that holiday feeling. In the months after that I started to make real contacts and to do something with people outside school.
My stay abroad was really one of the best experiences I will ever have. It is just great to have a second home on the other side of the world where you know you are always welcome. I hope to see Jakinta again soon at international tournaments and I hope that Charlotte arrives well at her new school. I also hope that I will keep in touch with everyone, especially my host mother, Kate, who has been a great help to me and with whom I have always had a good conversation. Above all, I am very grateful to my host family that I was able to talk to them so much and hopefully my English has improved a lot as a result. I will miss the best host family very much and I hope to see them again as soon as possible.
Floria was at Whites Hill State College in Brisbane from July to December 2019.