May 22, 2020
By Megan Spitzer
My name is Megan. I am a fourth-year majoring in Politics. I studied abroad during the Spring semester of my third year at UCEAP’s University of Queensland (UQ) program in Brisbane, Australia. Studying abroad as a female, mixed race, queer American was challenging, not necessarily due to my identities, but the way my identities shape my values. For the first time, I felt as if my values were being constantly confronted and I was repeatedly coming to the realization that I was making my choices independently.
Before studying abroad, I felt as if my path was lined up for me and I had to follow it to ensure my success. At the time, success meant doing well in high school, getting into a UC, doing well in college, studying for the LSATs, getting into a top law school, and becoming financially secure. Even though I had this master plan, I always felt a little uneasy. Studying abroad in a place I always dreamed to go was my escape. My adventure. Just for a little while.
My very structured plan always meant that education was the priority. All my actions and choices were made to be in service for my future. When I thought of being a girl or being queer, I never really considered it to be important. If anything, I was raised to believe these identities really didn’t matter. If I wanted to go to law school, it wasn’t a question of “despite being female” or “despite being Asian”. I was supposed to just go for it. When I was studying abroad, it became more obvious to me that my physical identity was the first identifier that shaped people’s opinions of me. My identities mattered. They still do. I’m beginning to realize that it’s not really about my identities completely shaping the choices I make, but how they factor into the way in which the world perceives me.
Australia honestly has a very different pace of life. I tend to be quite time-oriented, a little rigid work-wise, and quite serious about my education. Australia forced me to slow down. This was especially true of the close friends I made. UQ had a large international body and I ended up creating lifelong friendships and sisterhood with the amazing people I met at my host university. However, I was not aware that Americans view study abroad a little differently than Europeans. While I was focused more on the study part, all my friends were focused on the away part. I found myself time and time again having to choose between making memories and writing papers: taking a weekend trip or working on a research proposal, dancing all night long or waking up in time for my 8 a.m. lecture.
Since studying abroad was going to be a once in a lifetime experience, I had a really hard time being my usual studious self. For one of the first times in my life, I was fully independent and had to take responsibility for my own actions, however, it became harder when no one around me really thought like me or understood the pressure I placed on myself, and my family was too far away to understand. More and more, I decided that it was not my grades, but my happiness, that took precedence during this experience. I know it seems obvious to most people to prioritize happiness, but for me it was hard because my family takes so much pride in my success. Neither of my parents went to college, so I feel a lot of pressure to be successful.
After studying abroad, I realized that for the first time in my life, I have no idea what I want to do. I still haven’t fully decided what master’s program I want to be in. I don’t know what type of job I want. I don’t have a clear picture of where I see myself in 5 years. Before studying abroad, this would scare me to no end. But now, it’s quite exciting! Yes, I am still a dreadful planner and do put work over fun a lot, but memories are so important. I am so grateful for all the memories I have from my time abroad.
While in Australia, I decided to go to a welcome dance and met this lively Norwegian girl in a leopard shirt dancing in the middle of the floor. We then went scuba diving, saw manta rays, and met an equally dynamic Dutch girl who got an ear infection after one dive. The following four months were filled with adventure after adventure from taking train rides to little beach towns to sitting on the balcony watching random Youtube videos and teaching people about Asian candy. I made all those decisions. And I will continue to make my own decisions for the rest of my life. I hope those decisions involve a lot more traveling, a lot more friends, and a lot more trust that I have everything in my capabilities to have a successful life.