Semester Abroad Make it Happen and Let it Happen

August 21, 2018
By Katherine Putnam, Nursing '19

University of Queensland - Brisbane, Australia

Make it happen and let it happen… When my sister said those words to me before I flew to Australia, I did not realize how they would ring true until I was settled into Brisbane, where I would be studying and living for the next five and a half months. I’ll admit, the concept of going abroad during college is glamorized. So much so, that when young twenty-somethings finally fly out and land in their city that they will call home for the next however many months, often times they can become disappointed with the everyday life, the kind of life that you don’t see in wild Instagram posts.

I was one of those people. When I first landed, I thought of all the pictures on Facebook of people skydiving, pub crawling, bungee jumping, shark cage diving, and whatever else, you name it. I thought of all the blog posts I read and websites I searched to get advice on how to make my semester “down under” the best it could be in such a limited amount of time.

And then it hit me. My first weekend in Brisbane, I went for a night run in the city, which is centered around the winding Brisbane River. It was late enough at night that the bridges and waterfront skyline were all lit up, which I would find out with more and more night runs that each night had new colors and pattern in store. And then, as I continued along the river and up to the city’s biggest landmark called the Story Bridge, I realized the true meaning of ‘home away from home.'

When I was in middle school, I google searched “purple sunset city skyline” to find a new desktop background. I scrolled through the selection and chose a photo I thought was best. Little did I know that 8 years later, I would google search “Brisbane city skyline” and find that same picture of a purple sunset and the Brisbane city skyline set behind the Story Bridge. And now, having run many times around the city and over the bridge myself, I since replaced my desktop background with my own picture of the purple sunset on the Story Bridge.

To another person, running over a bridge would probably seem like a mundane event in the vast array of happenings that occurred during my time in Australia. But in the end, the little things turn out to be big things. It was then, when running over the Story Bridge the first weekend of being in Brisbane, that I realized that I was meant to be there in that city. That I was meant to be on my own, following a path that I had apparently set out for myself 8 years prior. That I was the only person that could make my experience the most it could be. 

And that’s where my sister’s words came into play. I “made it happen."I booked trips to the places that I wanted to go. I carved time out of my schedule around classes and clinical placement to go to all the attractions and sights of Brisbane that I wanted to see. I made lists and checked off boxes and dove head-first into everything that I wanted to accomplish.

And then something unexpected happened. I met someone who changed everything, someone who made me understand the second part of my sister’s advice: “let it happen." I became close with him, whose name was Joel, and friends that I met through him. I found myself going on adventures that I could never even dream of, like jet skiing along the eastern coast of Australia or jumping off of waterfalls found in “the bush” of Queensland.

The picture I included in the beginning of this blog post was taken by Joel off of Mooloolaba Esplanade beach on the Sunshine “Sunny” Coast, an hour’s drive outside of Brisbane. On this slippery rock on this gorgeous Australian beach, I laughed my most genuine laugh in a long, long time. It is this picture that I look back the most fondly, for it reminds me of a moment of pure bliss. As much as you can plan and make lists and check off boxes, the best things in life are the unplanned trips you take, the unexpected people you meet, and the unimaginable experiences that change you along the way.

And then, the end of the semester rolls around, and it became time for me to say goodbye. Goodbye to my study abroad university of the University of Queensland and my clinical placement, for it taught me so much about what it is to be a healthcare professional. Goodbye to the beautiful city of Brisbane and all its lights that lit up my nights and made me see not today and tomorrow but years down the line. And the hardest one, goodbye to the amazing people I met, for they made me realize that comfort comes from within and not familiarity around you.

But I think that’s the beauty of life, that it does end; because it teaches us to appreciate the moments we do get, the memories we get to keep and carry with us. Despite the fact that I’m now broke and now have one final year of college before I move onto the next chapter of my life, I know for a fact that I’ll always have those memories.

Brisbane at Night
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The Semester Abroad (SA) program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to study in a new global community through extended study for a semester or year. Penn Abroad partners with top institutions around the globe and collaborates with Penn’s undergraduate schools to offer programs for students across academic disciplines.

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