By: Allyson Schweitzer
To get lost abroad does not necessarily mean that you have physically lost your way – though it did for me. The lessons I learned from this experience I truly value.
When choosing my exchange courses, at the University of Newcastle Australia, I was strategic. I chose courses offered Monday-Wednesday, to allow for four-day weekends (perfect for traveling and exploring!). I knew my courses abroad would go towards my electives, giving me the freedom to choose what I wanted. Although my Tuesdays were packed full with courses, having Thursday-Sunday off was totally worth it!
Fast-Forward to Mid-Semester
I had been in school for a couple weeks, was settling in comfortably, and had just bought a car (if you thought Hamilton public transportation was bad…). Mid-semester, a week came along where fate begged me to take a road trip. With a lucky series of events, I had an entire week off; Anzac Day (an Australian public holiday) fell on a Tuesday, my Monday courses were canceled, my Wednesday course was podcasted (you know what that means), and I didn’t work until Friday! I had an entire week off! Although my friends weren’t so lucky, I wasn’t going to let an entire week go to waste…
I did some research, packed my car and Monday evening I headed for Nelson’s Bay to camp for the night and hike to the peak of Mt. Yacaba.
It wasn’t until I hit a dead end, on a dirt road, that I realized my GPS hadn’t taken me where I needed to go. I should have realized I was on the wrong track when I turned down a road so bumpy I had to drive less than 20km/h. Regardless, I didn’t know where I was, had no signal to load new directions, and the sun was setting faster than I liked.
I started to become anxious given the situation and being completely alone. But, from my previous experiences, I knew that if I took a moment to breathe I would find a solution.
I was pretty sure I remembered the route back to the main road, and I figured if I could get myself back to the highway I would have a signal for new directions. I headed back down the dirt road and made a few turns until I was driving down a (much less terrifying) road with farm fields and rolling hills – it was gorgeous – the sun was setting over the hills in a pink and purple sky.
Distracted by the gorgeous scenery, I nearly swerved off the road when a little joey jumped in front of me! I was ecstatic – my first wild kangaroo! Quickly I pulled over and snapped a picture.
Since I was pulled over, I decided to get out of my car and enjoy the sunset. You wouldn’t believe my excitement when, across the road, there was an entire field of kangaroos! It was surreal to see these creatures in real life (and not through a cage).
After snapping some pictures, I headed back to the main road, found a GPS signal and looked up a new camping spot. My anxiety quickly turned into joy and excitement; the campsite was stunning, situated right on a river. The best part? It was free (or at least for me)!
I had the feeling that becoming lost was meant to be! I had seen some beautiful scenery, my first (and only) wild kangaroos, and (now the cheesy stuff) I learned even more about myself.
Travelling on my own helped strengthened my belief in my abilities to problem solve. It taught me to stay calm, as getting upset in situations you have no control over won’t do any good – although common knowledge, the application can be challenging. This also made me realize just how important it is to stop and smell the roses. If I hadn’t decided to get out of my car – to enjoy the sunset – I probably would have driven by the field of kangaroos without a second glance.
It’s OK to get lost, even if you don’t know what you’re doing. So next time you get lost (literally or figuratively), ask yourself: is it worth the fuss, or can I make this situation spectacular?
Allyson Scheweitzer is a Kinesiology student, Faculty of Science at McMaster University. She studied abroad for a single term at the University of Newcastle, Australia.