By Madison Voss
Can't believe my semester in Australia has come to an end, but I couldn't be more thankful for the incredible people I've met, and the amazing places I've seen throughout this experience.
The day I left Newcastle, Australia after 5 life-changing months, was truly one I will never forget. I had dreaded that day since the moment I stepped foot on campus in mid-February. While packing up all of my clothes and stuffing them back into the one suitcase I brought was definitely not enjoyable, and it was going through the souvenirs I had accumulated over the past few months that hit me the hardest. From my first train stub to Sydney, to that one-of-a-kind sea shell I found on the Gold Coast, they reminded me of all the little moments that in the end amounted to the best experience of my life thus far.
As I took what would now be my very last train from Newcastle to Sydney, I reminisced on those very moments, and began to prepare myself for what lay ahead… reuniting with my family in Sydney!
I had not seen my family for 5 months (not including the weekly FaceTime call where at the very least, 10 minutes was spent “reconnecting”), so I was elated! I have always been very close with my family, and because of our shared love of traveling, I knew this would be the family trip of a lifetime. If you are a future study abroad student reading this, and your family has the opportunity to visit you in your chosen country, I would highly recommend them coming at the end as mine did. Despite being extremely nostalgic about leaving Newcastle, the anticipation of seeing my family after so long was able to distract me from all of the changes.
After lots of hugs and catching up in the lobby of our hotel, it hit me that I would actually be staying in a hotel. I am not exaggerating when I say it felt like I was staying in a palace. While staying in hostels in my previous travels was the epitome of the young, backpacker experience, I was at this point ready for a little more comfort and luxury. Before I could relax for too long, I was quickly reminded of my dad’s motto for traveling- see absolutely as much as you can, in as little time as you can. But I couldn’t blame him, because after all, we were only going to be together in this beautiful country for about a week and a half.
With my parents at Manly Wharf
Our first few days were packed full of shopping, eating, and generally exploring Sydney. Although infamous attractions such as The Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge were amazing for my family to see for the first time, it was the little things that, as a surprise to me, gave them the most enjoyment. Conversing with locals while taking in their striking accents and hearing some of the different slang words they use were at the top of their list. Even a simple trip to the nearby Woolworths (Australia’s largest super market chain) had them roaming through aisles of different Australian snacks like little kids in a candy store. Seeing them so happy, made what was once a foreign country, feel even more like home.
Great Barrier Reef snorkeling!
The next leg of the journey took us way up north to Cairns, home of the Great Barrier Reef. I had already snorkeled in the reef during my spring break trip earlier on in my semester, and now I had the opportunity to enjoy its indescribable beauty AGAIN with my family! (I mean who gets to go to the Great Barrier Reef twice not only in a lifetime, but by age 21?!).
Needless to say, it was just as breathtaking my second time around. Since my dad booked our snorkeling through a different company than I had my first time, I even got to see three more completely different areas of the reef. I will forever remember my dad coming on to the boat after our first stop. My tree-hugging, adventure seeking, animal loving, dad was completely in awe, and it was just as priceless to see as it sounds.
When my mom, dad, brother and sister-in-law and I all went to Texas during the summer of 2014, we thought it might be one of the last vacations with all of us together. The next year I would be out of college, and hopefully have moved on within the next couple of years to some magical city far away to start my life. My brother and his wife would begin grad school, and likely starting a family of their own soon after that. Naturally, we could have never imagined that just one year later, we would all be together journeying through Australia.
The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized just how quickly the time goes by. And as many young people like myself forget, your loved ones are growing older as well. That is just one of the many reasons I feel so fortunate to have experienced this epic family vacation. Having become busy with our individual pursuits and lives, and no longer living under one roof, it is memories together like these that are truly priceless and unforgettable.
*Madison Voss is a 2015 junior from Ankeny, Iowa, majoring in communication studies with an entrepreneurial certificate at the University of Iowa. She studied abroad for the spring 2015 semester on the Regents Exchange Program in Newcastle, Australia.