‘The Wizard of Oz’ is the story of a farm girl named Dorothy who is whisked away by a cyclone to the land of Oz. Her journey is filled with adventures involving witches, magic slippers, flying monkeys and an Emerald City. Exactly like university exchange, right?
Unfortunately, metaphor only stretches so far into our university lives. Unlike Dorothy; we purposefully seek out new lands, our cyclone can be more than 24 hours of transport, and we are travelling away from Oz instead of towards it.
I followed my yellow brick road (provided by ANU Global Programs) and am currently living in my ‘Oz’ at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. It’s a land both different and similar to Australia, and while I haven’t seen any flying monkeys, I am still audibly excited whenever a squirrel or chipmunk scurries past.
Throughout her adventures in Oz, Dorothy makes three invaluable friends, each of whom are looking for something they’re missing; a lion looking for a little courage, a scarecrow in search of a brain and a tin man in need of a heart. And while on exchange, I’ve had the chance to find those three things in their own way.
The Lion looking for a little courage
We realised it was missing in the foyer of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. 30 minutes of waiting for the free entry, then 30 seconds inside and we were sitting on the ground with the contents of our backpacks scattered on the floor. Yep, my wallet was gone. Maybe left on the subway, stolen from my backpack while waiting, or during the hour walking in Central Park- neither of us were sure.
The evening had by no means lost its interest as we saw the inside a NYC police department, exchanged some banter with the officer and got their recommendation for a pizza place around the corner. And even though the wallet was never found, thankfully I still had my passport, so I wasn’t refused at the Canadian border the following morning.
Exchange often attracts similarly messy situations: transport won’t show up, items will be lost, sleep may be evasive and mistakes need to be sorted regardless of where fault lies. My disappearing wallet provided a chance to grow independence, admin skills, and bravery— and at the very least, a story to tell back home. Whether you’re facing a tiny hurdle or a colossal one, each student can take pride in overcoming obstacles with a touch of lion’s courage.
(Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry feat. bucket hat, NYC bagel, a flower in Central Park )
The Scarecrow in search of a brain
Saying you’ll ‘find’ your brain on exchange is a tad preposterous. Thankfully I’m not strung up in a field as the Scarecrow was, and I like to think that uni hasn’t driven me to lose my mind. However, exchange has still been an opportunity to grow, in both ordinary and unexpected ways.
Moving to the other side of the world has taken a solid amount of admin and budgeting, but overall it has been an incredible opportunity to experience a new city while having support from both McGill, ANU and the Aussie Government. Going to a different uni gives you the chance to strengthen your academic muscles, attend courses that are taught in new ways, take new subjects, and continue to be frustrated with the admin systems. I’ve also loved finding little cultural differences between the two academically similar universities, such as McGill’s fascination with samosas (YUM) and the mysterious ‘flood girl’ . So you see, much like the scarecrow, I’ve expanded my mind, growing through experiencing places and circumstances outside of my familiar field.
The Tin Man in need of a heart
It was raining. My luggage was a half hour walk away, my mattress a 20 minute drive, and I had a weekly budget of the cash in my wallet (very kindly taken out by my mate after the wallet saga). I was in a pickle similar to the rusted Tin Man, a bit stranded due to rain and needing help. Suddenly, out of the blue my landlord arrived to apologise for the current state of construction of the share house. He offered to help me collect my belongings, and together, my 70 year old Quebecois landlord and I dragged my mattress up to the apartment.
In my experience, the people I have met and the friendships I have grown are much more important than the places I go in life. Exchange has offered a multitude of opportunities to connect and make new friendships. In a city where I didn’t know anyone, I’ve found friends keen for spontaneous travelling and Halloween costumes, chocolate study dates and bagel hunting. People to have a cuppa with while talking through important life questions, and equally significant discussions on why I’m called a ‘ranga’ and why drop bears are truly terrifying. And while time has been moving quickly and it is difficult knowing that I won’t be here for very long, I know that my new friends are giving me all the more reason to come back and visit in the future.
A bit like the Tin Man as he was oiled and cared for, I’ve found a bit of my heart through those people surrounding me.
(Some Halloween shenanigans, repping Aus and ANU at the McGill abroad fair.)
There’s no place like home…
The colours of the Canadian countryside are vastly different from those of the Aussie bush, and a snowy December is looming. Maple syrup is in abundance, and maple trees are putting on a technicolour show for Autumn (Or Fall, as they say here). And while I still do call Australia home, it’s been such a joy to fall in love with Canada.
To those of you thinking about exchange: you never know where in the world your yellow brick road could lead you, and those first few steps can be the hardest. Maybe you could find ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ on university exchange by asking the same question as Dorothy did…
If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow.
Why, oh, why can’t I?