Student exchange Study Travel USA

Finding Independence in San Jose

Kelly – San Jose State University – USA

Semester 2, 2022

Bachelor of Fine Arts (Creative Writing)

A suitcase, a backpack, and a plane ticket. That was all I had when I left Australia seven months ago. Excitement was bubbling in my chest and butterflies were abundant in my stomach. After months of saving, planning, filling out applications, studying, attending meetings, and sorting out a visa that arrive merely weeks before I left, I was finally one my way. The US awaited.

I’ve travelled several times in my life, but this exchange was my first time travelling solo. And for someone who had been craving independence, while being absolutely terrified of it, this was a big step. The first two days were the hardest. Downtown LA is an unnerving place to navigate as solo female traveller. Thankfully, Universal Studios and a hike to the Hollywood sign came in clutch. And by the third day, the nerves had disappeared, and the real excitement had begun.

For years I had heard people talk about Contiki, a travel company that organised social tours for young travellers all around the world. It was a no-brainer to sign myself up for one. Not only was it a way to kill time and do some sightseeing before the semester started, but it was a more exciting way to make my way from Southern California up to San Francisco. Although this technically wasn’t a part of my semester exchange, it was a completely invaluable experience. Never have I come so quickly out of my shell and be willing to mingle with a bunch of strangers. I was able to cover a bunch of different sites, tick off a few items on the bucket list and even met someone special. It was the perfect ice breaker for the beginning of this crazy adventure, and before I knew it, it was over as quickly as it started.

For the entire time I had been at university, I had been commuting between cities, often had to take online classes, and had minimal spare time between university and work. So living on campus, where my 8am Japanese class was only a short two minute walk away, was a new luxury. But that wasn’t the only brilliant thing about living on campus. Originally, I had been wary about having to share an apartment with six other girls, but the roommate Gods had been smiling fondly upon us, for these six girls became more like sisters over the next six months. From football games and movie nights, to bowling and K-pop concerts in the living room, the memories I share with my roommates are some of my most precious and they are truly one of the biggest reasons that made this experience so incredible.

One of the most liberating parts of my semester exchange was how I was responsible for the entire experience. I had to pay for it, organise it and the quality of the experience all came down to how much I was willing to go outside of my comfort zone. Surprisingly the hardest part about the experience wasn’t participating in class discussions, managing my time, or budgeting my living costs, it was forcing myself to socialise. Knowing I only had six months in San Jose, I didn’t want to return home with little memories or friendships, I wanted to make the most of the experience. At first, forcing myself to go to events like speed friending or building up the courage to ask people I barely knew if I could tag along for an outing was nerve wracking. But as time went on, and the more I did it, the easier it got. Within less than a few weeks of my exchange asking someone to hang out after class was as easy as tying my shoelaces, only it was far more rewarding. A simple conversation or question led me to all sorts of encounters and experiences, ones that I will cherish for a very long time.

When I left Australia seven months ago, I had a suitcase, a backpack, and a plane ticket. But by the time I had touched down on Australia soil again I had come back with so much more. I had new friends, a new level of independence, better studying and time management habits, and maybe an extra suitcase filled with items bought on multiple shopping sprees. But most of all I had developed something I had been running after for years: a taste of self-confidence.

Find out how you can apply for exchange via the QUT Student Exchange website.

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