BY Pierre Alexandre-Bigel

"There's no place like homesaid my Australian neighbour as the plane was braking on the runway. I was now 17000km away from what I used to call my home for nineteen years, heading to what I was supposed to call my new home for twelve months.

As part of my bachelor of politics, I get to spend a whole year abroad. This would be my first long-term experience overseas, and when I had to choose my destination, I was driven by daring and decided on going to one of the most remote countries in the world (from France ). I was resolute : Australia would be my destination. It is well-known that travel broadens the mind, and that we are all kind of citizens of the world. So what could possibly go wrong ?

Five months later, on July 14th – France’s national day, what a coincidence - I was crossing through the gates of Kingsford Smith Airport. Sydney, famous in Europe for its beaches and surfers, was surprisingly cold. That is how I discovered with amazement that winter also existed in the Southern hemisphere.

However, leaving Europe is also the opportunity to explore a brand new culture. For instance, to learn how to speak Ozzie, I first had to forget what I knew about the english language. I now know that I can have plenty of mates to play footy with in the arvo, or to have barbie with for brekkie, and also that Straya is filled with roos and bogans. I assume that my integration is in progress.

Nevertheless, if I want to have some Australian mates, I will apparently have to give up on my french state of mind. And for good reason : during the quick presentation of Australian culture we received on our first day at uni, I saw a slide where it was written that complaining about anything was the best way to not have any Australian friends. That is tough. Complaining is the cornerstone of Parisian way of life. Here, I cannot even complain about the weather : I haven’t seen a raindrop in three weeks. I feel like I have suddenly been deprived of an essential part of my culture.

The next three weeks have been a succession of discoveries and encounters. An alternating between the best and the worst, between Tim Tams and Vegemite. At the very beginning, the sensation to start a yearlong experience abroad is something that must be close to what you feel when you jump out of a plane.

It’s happening, but your brain can’t really believe it. Not only because it is unprecedented, but also because it seems nonsensical to move so far away from your comfort zone. Then, time flies and the uprooting becomes real.

It is now a fact that I live apart from my sweet France, dear land of my childhood , to quote the melodious lyrics of a famous french singer, Charles Trenet. How do I deal with that? My nostalgia for the homeland, is offset by the multitude of french crêperies in Sydney, by the french words that I hear from the mouths of tourists and students, and by the fact that after all, we are world champions and that is a wonderful excuse for some shameless Francophile proselytism. 

I guess that I’ll get used to it. Shifting from Paris to Sydney, from the dust of the métro to the light of the sun, from the wharfs to the beaches and from the traffic jams to the traffic jams also presents its benefits. In some ways, Australia seems to be a sort of lost paradise. If you’re not convinced yet, take a walk on Coogee Beach in the early morning. You gaze at the blue-green shades of the sea, you hear the constant music of the waves crashing on the sand, and whilst you realise that there’s no place like home, there’s also no place like here.

What will have I been become in a year ? A real citizen of the world that will annoy his friends with some inspiring talks and bizarre slang ? A lonesome traveller regularly struck by homesickness ? There might be a balance, and the main goal of the exchange student is to find it. That could take time. To be enlightened by an experience overseas, you first have to accept being lost in translation.

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