Making the Most of Study Abroad: Adventures from Melbourne, New Zealand, Cambodia and Vietnam

By Allison Viverette, originally posted on the LaunchSquad Tumblr

A new friend at a market on the Mekong Delta, showing me his favorite coconuts.

A new friend at a market on the Mekong Delta, showing me his favorite coconuts.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel for 6 months straight? If so, I’m here to answer your questions!

Last year, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad at the University of Melbourne in, you guessed it, Melbourne, Australia, a mere 10,000+ miles from my home of Pittsburgh. Although most Mondays through Thursdays were devoted to classes, I took advantage of the long weekends and several holiday breaks to explore the other side of the world.

I learned quickly that in order to make somewhere so far away feel like home, you have to be willing to go for long adventures, sometimes even by yourself. I also learned that in order to have the most rewarding experience, you have to take risks, constantly go out of your comfort zone, be open to a variety of friendships, and ALWAYS carry a camera (wouldn’t want to forget all the cool things you do, right?).

So, with my handy camera in tow, I set out and started to explore what is now my favorite city in the world, my beautiful home base of Melbourne. And, although I always seemed to end up somewhere different than I intended, I constantly stumbled upon some seriously amazing sights!

On the rare sunny days, my friends and I would head out of the CBD to one of the many nearby beaches. The first sand my toes touched in all of Australia was (the semi-underwhelming) Brighton Beach. Although the water wasn’t crystal clear, the sand wasn’t as smooth as powder, and the waves weren’t existent, there were some hidden gems. The small beach is littered with a variety of colorful surf shacks, where local families store beach items and hang out.

Aside from just lounging on local beaches and exploring the city streets, my friends and I took several day trips to surrounding areas.  Like I mentioned earlier, it is important to be open to unconventional friendships throughout all your travels…

We still keep in touch. Kangaroo on Phillip’s Island

We still keep in touch. Kangaroo on Phillip’s Island

… to always carry a camera because you really can never be sure about what could be in the tree above your picnic…

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… And to take risks, like surfing (do you KNOW how many sharks and poisonous sea creatures are in Australia!?!).

It wasn’t my calling.

It wasn’t my calling.

Outside of Melbourne and it’s surrounding areas, I was lucky enough to travel all over the east coast, as well as to Tasmania. My takeaway: the world is breathtakingly beautiful and will repeatedly leave you speechless; get out there and see some of it!

Phillips Island – a.k.a. the home of Liam and Chris Hemsworth

Phillips Island – a.k.a. the home of Liam and Chris Hemsworth

Sunset on fire at Byron Bay.

Sunset on fire at Byron Bay.

The serene bay in Hobart, Tasmania with Mount Wellington in the background.

The serene bay in Hobart, Tasmania with Mount Wellington in the background.

As a 10-day trip, I drove around the nearby South Island of New Zealand in a bright lime green and purple camper-van. Yes… that is where 3 friends and I cooked, slept, and generally lived for 10 days. Interested in seeing my humble abode?

Spacious, huh?

Spacious, huh?

Although space was tight, it allowed us to REALLY get to know one another. The lack of wifi and contact with other people lead us to have some of those life-changing conversations and discuss how lucky we were to be seeing and experiencing all of these different places. We lived life like we are all supposed to, waking up at dawn, and falling asleep shortly after the sun set.

Sunrise reflecting in the water near Wanaka.

Sunrise reflecting in the water near Wanaka.

New Zealand was a spectacular place, and if anyone has the opportunity, I can’t stress enough that you take a visit. Every day provided me with a new astounding landscape, with incomparable diversity from town to town. Just one day after sitting on the beach watching waves in Dunedin, I was kayaking through the deep blue, green-cliff-engulfed Milford Sound, and two days after that, I was climbing up Rob Roy Glacier in Wanaka. If you’re looking for an outdoor sport, New Zealand has it, from surfing to skiing and all the way to horseback riding.

Sitting on a boulder beneath Rob Roy Glacier.

Sitting on a boulder beneath Rob Roy Glacier.

Mt.Cook in the distance.

Mt.Cook in the distance.

Last but not least, before heading home, my friend and I made the semi-spontaneous decision to travel to Cambodia and Vietnam for two weeks. Now, I’m the first person to admit that I had an extremely difficult time adjusting to the cultures in both Cambodia and Vietnam. When I landed at the single-gate, half-outdoor airport in Siem Reap, I was absolutely shocked at the lack of organization and consistency. As I traveled via tuk-tuk (a padded wagon attached to a motorbike) to my hostel, I was taken aback by the expansive poverty and uncleanliness that surrounded me. Seeing the tears stream down a man’s face as I handed him a one dollar bill left me speechless.

Even though I was experiencing so many emotions at the time, I look back and only have truly fond memories of Siem Reap. Despite the heat (it was so smart to go during monsoon season… not), visiting the enormous temples at Angkor Wat and dancing down colorful and noisy Pub Street are experiences I will never forget. Phnom Penh, on the other hand, showed me how truly blessed I am. After learning about the Cambodian Genocide and visiting the “killing fields”, I reflected on how lucky I am to have been born where I was born, when I was born, and to whom I was born.

Temple of Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world.

Temple of Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world.

Following Cambodia, I headed over to Vietnam. Growing up, my dad would tell me stories of his college years and the anti-war attitude across the US. He would tell me about his draft card, #101, and the general lack of ambition that most of his classmates felt, thinking they would end up like several of their friends and family members who had gone to fight in the war. I never fully understood these tales until I visited Ho Chi Minh City and the surrounding towns. Although I had a wonderful time in HCMC and would go back in a heartbeat, stories of the past and historical museums informed me that war-era Vietnam is unrecognizable in comparison to modern day Vietnam. Despite the country’s rough past, the local people that I met were astonishingly friendly and hospitable, curious and charming, always encouraging me to sit and chat with them about my culture.

A new friend at a market on the Mekong Delta, showing me his favorite coconuts.

A new friend at a market on the Mekong Delta, showing me his favorite coconuts.

Out of all of my travels last year, I can’t say that I enjoyed one over another. I can say, however, that I held the same principles and goals across every country and city that I visited; continue to take risks, constantly go out of your comfort zone, be open to a variety of friendships, and ALWAYS carry a camera. Because I stayed true to these objectives, I learned a lifetime full of lessons and had the most rewarding experience I could have ever imagined. So, my one request to all of you LS readers, is to go out there and see more of our super cool world.

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