A year ago, I wrote this piece that encapsulated my journey in Melbourne as an international student.
It was initially published in Meld Magazine, and gained viral attention.
Here it is republished in full.
YOUR time in Melbourne must eventually come to an end, and it can be a difficult reality to accept. In ways many past and graduating international students can truly identify with, Faridah Wu offers a poignant reflection of her time in Melbourne and what it means to return to the “old life” as a markedly changed version of your former self.
I’m watching it.
It’s counting down the time I have left.
Time constantly slips by. I’ve spent so much of it rushing through these walls of the Old Arts building. But I never realised the voices of the students who used to walk through these very corridors. The voices of those who have graduated and have gone on to succeed, whether in the fields of their study or otherwise. They may be long gone but the stories of their time spent in school continue to linger, their memories fully preserved.
In one year’s time, these walls will start to tell my story too. My voice will join the cacophony of memories that roam these hallways. New students will hear my story of how I crossed oceans to reach Melbourne and struggled with the next phase of my life alone.
The initial stage was terrifying. I had to adapt to a new territory, to a new country that didn’t feel like my own at all, and to everyone who seemed a whole lot more adjusted than I was. Students far younger than I seemed to settle easily into their surroundings. But for me, the first few months saw me wondering if I had made the right decision to leave all that was comfortable behind.
And yet under the surface we all had our own troubles. As a person who came from an English-speaking country, I watched as others around me struggled in expressing themselves in what was perhaps their second, or even third or fourth language. I couldn’t imagine being in their shoes. I still can’t.
But we all got through our individual struggles. Melbourne will always represent a stage in our lives where we lived far away from our homes, some of us for the first time in our lives. We navigated through the awkwardness of making new friends, juggling school and work, and building a life in a country of new and unfamiliar customs.
It was not all struggle though. We forged friendships that defied geographical boundaries, we joined clubs that helped us further our interests, some of us took up leadership positions.
And for some of us, this was where we found our unique voice.
We are fortunate. In one way or another, we’ve been given the opportunity to pursue our studies in Melbourne. The opportunity to broaden our minds not just through theoretical knowledge but by the practice of immersing ourselves in a culture different from our own.
In this multicultural city, we learn not just the Australian culture but the cultures of many others. We discover the religion and traditions of others, and how that has shaped their way of life.
And it’s only when we’re away from home do we recognise the culture we left behind and what we took for granted.
Returning home for good however, may prove to be even harder than finding my feet in my own country. That’s because returning home to the familiar often turns out to be more unfamiliar than I thought.
Visits back home to Singapore between semesters made me realise I couldn’t quite go back to the “old life” as I knew it. Time away from home had changed me in ways I had never thought were possible but the people back home expected me to slip back into the mould their minds remembered of me when I first left.
In those moments, I was confronted by the temptation to simply give in, revert and conform to old expectations. But I realised that my struggle was also the beginning of a process of growing up, of breaking out of the bubble that I once enclosed myself in.
Studying abroad helps us become more aware of the events that go on around us, both the local and the global. It has allowed me to love Melbourne for what it offers and at the same time appreciate what I have back home. Being embedded in a new land, learning to adopt the ways of a different country, can open our minds in a way that travel never can.
Now that graduation is near, there’s a sense of urgency now. I started out leaving the comforts of home behind. Now, the comforts are right here. I’ve enjoyed my time in Australia so far, and I’m going to enjoy it even more as I realise that with every beginning comes an ending.
The problem is, the path hasn’t been mapped out from here. It spans a hundred different directions, and two continents.
As the clock ticks, seconds turn into minutes, and hours into precious days. It’s like a dream that’s fading, and I’m beginning to wake up. I know that the time to leave might be soon.
I just don’t know how soon.
I’ve taken away a wealth of experience from this journey so far, and with that experience comes the knowledge to appreciate the time I have left.
But my memories of Melbourne will remain. My ghost will continue to wander around my study spots, my favourite coffee haunts, and the corridors I spent my time in. My ghost will help me to remember that Melbourne was the place I made my home, even if only for a while.
If you enjoyed this piece, you might be interested in Why graduation is more than just getting a piece of paper.