Hello, my name is Chloe McKenzie, I am almost 21 years old, and I have never set foot outside of these United States. Not even one lousy spring break in Cozumel. Wow, that looks a lot sadder written down than it did inside my head. I have always wanted to travel; when I was 12 I made a promise to myself that I would, one day, visit all 7 continents, yes, even Antarctica. Today, almost 9 years later, I am exactly zero steps closer to reaching my (admittedly lofty) goal. 7th grade me would be so disappointed in college me. Last year, when I was in the midst of my quarter-life crisis, I realized that life is too short to spend it in one country, and so I decided to go to Perth, Australia for a semester. Privately, I sort of never thought that the pipe dream I had when I was 12 could ever start to be a reality. It seemed more like a game, even as I filled out the application, applied for a passport, wrote my essays, and applied for scholarships. Now, however, with my departure date less than 3 months away, it is becoming more and more of a reality, and I could not be more ecstatic…or nervous. I have read the handbook, and seen the little graph on culture shock. I know all of the stages, and I am sure that I will go through them like anybody else.
But it can’t hurt to at least try to minimize the culture shock, right? And what better way to prepare oneself for an authentic Aussie experience than by subjecting oneself to an Australian-themed chain restaurant in Wisconsin whose claim-to-fame is the “bloomin’ onion”, an 800-calorie monstrosity? “G’day, mate” indeed. So, it is off to the Outback Steakhouse I go. I drag two of my closest friends along with me on this endeavor. And by close friends I mean my mom and dad. (Hey, they’re paying and I am certainly not complaining). As we enter into this mecca of Australian culture, a chipper young blond greets us with a hearty “G’day”, and I feel as though I am in Australia already. Plastic snakes and stuffed koalas sit on the rafters, staring at us with dead black eyes as we eat our bloomin’-onion, shrimp-on-the-barby and hamburgers with fries. Our dinner conversation covers such scintillating topics as the many poisonous spiders of Australia; whether or not I am “absolutely sure” I want to leave for 4 months; and the dubious wisdom of reaching out to strangers in Perth with the same last name as myself on the off-chance that they may be distant relatives. Yeah, my parents are crazy. As we leave the restaurant, which had been heated to a toasty (and very Australian) 82 degrees Fahrenheit, a bitter polar wind blasts into the very center of my very soul, and I begin to rethink the Antarctica plan. Wisconsin right now may be close enough, and making it to 6 continents is still impressive. As the cold forces my body into strange contortions vaguely reminiscent of Quasi Modo, it occurs to me that, if nothing else, at least my semester abroad will be warm. There is no better way to calm my nerves about going to a foreign country than to make physically painful to be outside where I live now. As my fingers and toes begin their 2nd stage of necrosis, I think to myself, “Australia, bring it!”