I spent last week writing what ended up being an extremely long winded post on reasons to move to Australia that I hoped would convey at least some of the seemingly infinite reasons why I love this country, but I also realised in the process that I’ve never taken the time to write anything about the personal reasons which actually led me to make the big move myself. This is a fair departure from my usual posts on moving to Australia, which have focused on the more informative or instructional side of moving overseas and settling in to a new country, but hopefully it will resonate with someone who is feeling exactly what I was feeling back in 2012. Which was underwhelmed and ready for a big change.

Back in Seattle

To set the scene, I had just moved into campus housing at Seattle University, was still in the first quarter of studying biology, and, due to a slew of personal reasons (not the least of which was having another ankle surgery for an utterly mysterious issue that left me on crutches for the better part of my time in the city), I was not really enjoying myself as much as I ought to have been. It took me a while to put my finger on the problem, but I did finally come to the conclusion that my ambivalence towards this new collegiate life was really because I was too busy thinking about all the things I was missing out on. I was envious to the point of nausea anytime I met someone who had travelled extensively or lived in a new and exciting city, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had wasted my only opportunity to do the same thing by choosing a school just 20 minutes from where I grew up.

This was still nothing more than me wallowing in self pity, though, until I had lunch with a friend and found that she was feeling the exact same thing. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me sooner, but finally I realised, over the course of this conversation, that I could actually change my situation and make my own life into the exact thing I seemed to envy so much.

Why Australia?

People always ask me why I chose to go to Australia, and actually the thought process wasn’t very involved (deciding to stay in Australia is a much more interesting story, but perhaps another day). Basically, I knew I wanted to apply to another university as an international student and keep studying, so I only considered English-speaking countries with well-respected schools, which left Canada (far too close to home), England (the same depressing grey weather I’d spent my whole life dealing with), and Australia (which seemed exotic and entirely different in all the right ways).

Making the move

I hardly even remember the application process, it was such a blur. In a matter of weeks, I managed to complete all the applications and send off transcripts and test scores to five universities in Australia. Even though it was mid-year in the US, I was just in time to apply for the start of the year in Australia, so I heard back surprisingly quickly and then planned a very last minute solo trip to go visit these 5 schools in person and pick where I’d be spending the next few years.

This trip was another big moment for me, as it was my first experience travelling overseas alone and I absolutely loved every second of it, so it really proved to me that I’d be able to manage even the more challenging aspects of moving to a new country without knowing a single person. In the end, I settled on Wollongong Uni, for its lush campus, proximity to the beach, amazing anatomy program, and their rather generous scholarship offer. I returned home for a couple of weeks to pack, and then, before I knew it, I was getting off the plane in Sydney again, this time to spend 3 years in my new home. It only took me about a month to decide that I never wanted to leave.

A new life in Australia

I felt instantly at home in Australia, but I think, looking back, that the real significance of this move was pushing myself to live the life I’d been so vividly imagining and not being afraid to change directions, even if it seemed too late. Of course, sometimes I wish that I’d had this epiphany before spending a sizeable amount of my college savings on tuition at Seattle University.. but it was still an important step in that big revelation, so I can never truly regret the time I spent there. Or the people I met— that friend in Seattle who was also aching to move somewhere more exciting ended up going to the UK to study and is still living there now!

Ultimately, I am so much happier having taken a leap outside my comfort zone. Instead of envying people with stories of living abroad, I went and made my own story. I can’t say that I don’t still squirm with envy when I read other blogs about amazing cities or even when I see my peers achieve some sort of academic or professional success, but I now have a much greater appreciation for my role in my own happiness. I can always visit that beautiful spot instead of feeling jealous that someone else has, I can always work harder to achieve things in my own career, and I can always chase the things I want rather than thinking of my life as a finished story.

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.”

— Henry David Thoreau

Maybe you’ve found this post to be alarmingly uninformative (I did warn you), but hopefully it has resonated with a few people who have found themselves similarly lost along their well-charted paths. While big changes will always be challenging, they are also always rewarding, regardless of the eventual outcome. If I’ve learned anything from my PhD (and that’s a big if, some days), even a negative finding can be significant— maybe I would have hated Australia, or I would have struggled being so far from home, or a million other things could have gone wrong, but at least I would have gotten just one step closer to figuring out what would make me happy. And that is always worth the risk.