Michaela Bohunicky is a student in the Faculty of Human Ecology who attended Deakin University as an international exchange student. Here are her initial reflections on her academic term abroad and her life-changing walk-about:
During the summer leading-up to my third year at U of M, and in an attempt to maximize my university experience (my previous two years had been focused primarily on academics), I simultaneously applied for both the World WISE Ambassador Program and the Winter 2014 Exchange. After four months of gratifying involvement with the International Centre for Students and one semester later, I am proud to call Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, my new home.
Many students seek internationally-focused co-curricular involvement after their exchange experience, however, I’m glad that I gained this kind of experience beforehand. I arrived in Australia with a predisposition and appreciation for cultural diversity, which was fitting because the house I shared with 11 residents came from 8 different countries! Building on the intercultural awareness I gained from being involved in the Ambassador program was great because it helped to reduce the culture shock I had from being across the globe. The instinct to constantly compare my new surroundings to “home” was quickly overcome with an stronger intuition to simply appreciate my observations.
I left UM with an inability to comfortably define what being Canadian meant to me. But becoming integrated in an international setting has spurred the development my cultural identity. I’m quickly learning more about myself with each tiny victory and loss. I struggled with unrealistic expectations for a few weeks before realizing that spontaneity isn’t something that can be actively pursued, but something that is redeemed with patience and openness. Being away from home and settling-in to a spanking new and fulfilling life comes with the bittersweet longing to share your joys with your loved ones back home, but in a way that Skype, Facebook or Instagram cannot provide. The constant internal dilemmas faced each day from being suddenly independent and unbound come down to resisting others’ expectations of you and finding a balance that is all your own.
My exchange experience thus far has planted sturdy roots that are too quick to expand upon and explain. Sometimes I can’t help but look ahead and see that it will end so shortly after it has begun. Melbourne will always be here, but my time on exchange is non-replicable and will only exist as a moment in time, but oh, what a moment it is!