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Leaving Home: My (disastrous) first week in Melbourne

Diane Leow

Thu Aug 16 2012

Diane Leow

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.

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.