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Leaving Home: My (disastrous) first week in Melbourne

DIANE Leow couldn’t wait to leave Singapore to begin her brand new life in Melbourne. But as she soon discovered, stepping out of your comfort zone is no walk in the park.

Photo: Wei Xiong Yap

The week before I left for my foundation year in Melbourne, I attended a pre-departure meeting held by my future college.

Previous students shared their experiences (always positive, of course), and college representatives were quick to quell parents’ fears.

When the event organiser asked how many of us there today were travelling alone to Melbourne, I was the only one who stood up.

“How embarrassing,” was my first thought. So I promptly grabbed a brochure to cover my face, which only ignited laughter from the audience.

Unlike many of my peers who were afraid of leaving home, I was very excited. I couldn’t wait to live alone, have my own room and experience all Australia had to offer.

In retrospect, I probably romanticised the “international student experience” a little too much, but I couldn’t have known that at the time.

When the plane touched down in Melbourne, it was a frightful 35 degrees. Stepping out of Tullamarine Airport, I truly thought I was in a giant oven that couldn’t be switched off.

The Australian heat was vastly different from the humidity I was used to at home. In Singapore, I could always run home, switch on the air conditioner and be in blissful denial about the weather. In Melbourne, I didn’t have an air conditioner.

After hauling three luggage-size bags up the stairs to my new home, I realised that my room actually trapped heat. I would have to get used to living in a sauna during the summer. Although in winter, it wasn’t so bad.

Thanks to my next door neighbour and his booming speakers, my nap was cut short and I headed off to get a bank account and mobile phone number. In the midst of all the forms I was filling in, it dawned upon me that leaving home was definitely not a walk in the park (pardon the pun).

And yet, nothing was as bad as my first day at my Melbourne college. The year before, I had attended the same college as a summer school student and one of the student leaders had enjoyed constantly teasing/torturing us, often saying playful insults and insensitive remarks.

While queuing to take photos for the new school year, that same student leader came up to me and said, “You’re back! Ha ha! Loser!”

Sure, his comment was probably made in jest, but after everything else I’d endured during that week, I just broke down.

I retreated to my room, defeated, homesick and slightly confused. Leaving home was supposed to be fun, but so far, it had been the opposite.

Perhaps my first week in Melbourne wasn’t as disastrous as I like to imagine, but as someone who was really looking forward to start afresh in another country, I wasn’t expecting things to be so hard.

I suppose the moment I stepped foot on that plane bound for Australia, I was saying, “Here goes nothing. It’s my life now.” So it was disappointing when the adventure didn’t quite go as planned.

But five and a half years, a foundation studies certificate and two degrees later, I’ve had a lot of fun in Australia.

I’ve ridden a horse in country Victoria. I’ve taken photos with my favourite Looney Tunes characters in the Gold Coast and eaten up a storm around Sydney. Melbourne, of course, has a special place in my heart. It has become my second home, with its amazing café culture and more.

So while my very first week as a student in Melbourne was not what I expected, I guess it set me up for the rest of my time here.

I’ve learned that life doesn’t always go according to plan. That “firsts” don’t define anything. That crappy “firsts” simply build strength, especially in the face of adversity. And that, well, sometimes things do have to get worse before they get better.

My time in Melbourne certainly got better after that first week.

So for those of you who are new here, I hope your time is fruitful and filled with awesome memories to come.

3 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Good read. :)

    I am currently on a business trip here in Melbourne, and I’ve found so far that it can get tough. Not unlike you, I came here expectant of adventure and opportunity to experience life as an independent.

    I’m only gonna be here a couple of months and luckily it’s that time of the year when it’s not extremely cold nor is it anything close to being hot.

    Just that, I’m having a bit of trouble going on so-called (mis)adventures and without any friends to hang out with. I typically just go to work then retreat back at the apartment and kill time. Hasn’t been how I wanted it to go but hopefully I can meet some new friends, as loserish as that sounds..

  2. Hi Angelo (previous commenter), I am here in Melbourne and do understand how you feel and no you are not loserish for being honest. Hope things will get better for you and you’ll get to enjoy yourself more while you are here.

    • Thanks Em! Yea it’s been more of the same. The environment can be paralysing in that as much as I wanna do something outside of the routine, I just couldn’t. I guess I ought to be more bold and just go out there but I know Melbourne isn’t that type of place. Not like Singapore where everything buzzing is but a few walks away and establishments close properly at later times. Well well.

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Meld Magazine was incorporated as an independent not-for-profit media outlet in September 2008 to reach out to international students in Melbourne, and provide students the opportunity to gain real work experience.

Many international students live in or around the city because of the proximity to their colleges and universities, and that was where we decided to focus our efforts first. Many of us live, work and study locally too. Our editorial team is made of both local and international students, and it has worked to our advantage in providing local content in every sense of the word.

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