1. Hop on the plane to LAX. When you arrive, navigate your way through the airport until you find some strangers who look like they might be traveling to the same place you are. You’ll be nervous, but go introduce yourself. You’re obviously going to hit it off because you all chose to study abroad in the exact same place at the exact same time. So sit down with them and become instant friends.
2. Gather up your group of 30+ new “mates” and get ready to board a double-decker Qantas airplane (the biggest airplane you’ll ever see in your life). The air conditioning won’t be working for the first 20 minutes, but after the sweat dries you can settle into your comfy seat, listen to the Black Keys’ entire new album, and watch Silver Linings Playbook.
3. Stretch your legs and play cards. You’ll be in Cairns for orientation in a matter of hours, and you’ve got the window seat over the Great Barrier Reef, so try not to let the anticipation kill you before you get there. Chug your 7-dollar iced coffee and try your best to stay awake until you see it– which will remind you that yes, you are in fact in Australia.
4. Settle in, five to a room, into your new home for the next few days—Gilligan’s Backpacker Hostel/Nightclub in Cairns. The music from downstairs is so loud it rattles your bunk bed until 4 a.m., but you get free breakfast and sunscreen. You’re in Australia, so just embrace it.
5. Attend some orientation meetings hosted by the coolest Australian guy ever and get even more psyched about your upcoming adventure. Live the tourist life—learn the Aussie slang, hold a koala, pet a kangaroo, try some vegemite, throw a boomerang, and go on a safari through the rainforest. Take notes when they start talking about all the plants and animals in Australia that can injure or kill you.
6. Sit on the rooftop of a hotel in Cairns with your 30 new best mates. Laugh at everything/nothing, talk about how lucky you all are to have finally reached your dream destination, and make a toast to all your parents and families for sending you on such an amazing trip.
7. Sail along for two hours on a Catamaran out to the Great Barrier Reef, pull on a wetsuit and some sexy snorkel gear, and go out and find nemo and all his little friends. Try not to hyperventilate through your snorkel tube when you swim right next to the stuff you have only seen in animated movies. Yes, the “drop off” is a real thing, yes there are sharks out there, and yes it is scary, but just keep swimming. It’s the great barrier reef, man. A world wonder, and the largest living thing on the planet. While nearly tearing up, cross that off your mental bucket list with pride. Then brave the cold wind and stand outside on the front end of the boat for the sail back to shore and soak up every bit of Australia’s awesomeness.
8. Go try out your new favorite activity—white water rafting—at the Barron River Gorge with some rad Australians. Ask them about all their favorite places in Australia and add them all to the top of your already long list of things to do, because locals know best.
9. Say a bittersweet goodbye to orientation in Cairns and get on a flight to your new home for the upcoming semester. Take an hour and a half bus ride from the Brisbane airport to the Gold Coast, and smile uncontrollably when you finally see the sign for Bond University. The bus driver will dump you, all your mates, and all your luggage on the side of the road near campus, and drive off before you can ask him where to go from there. Pick up your heavy bag, hike around town for 20 minutes looking for your apartment, and try not to be overwhelmed by this first instance of “culture shock.”
“Adventure is when everything goes wrong—that’s when the adventure starts.” –180 Degrees South
To be continued…