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If you think leaving home was hard, leaving Melbourne might be harder…

Samantha Toh

Wed Nov 27 2013


WHICH is harder? Leaving home for an education overseas, or leaving the country you’ve made your second home now that you’ve graduated? Singapore-bound, Samantha Toh looks back at her time in Melbourne and what she’s taken away from it. 

UPDATE: Since this story went viral, one of our readers Jan Lim has written her piece in response, on ‘Why leaving Melbourne can be one of the best decisions in your life’.

life after graduation

While moving to Melbourne might be easy enough, leaving would appear to be a whole different story.

Like most international students, I moved here for university. Having spent the last two years in Singapore, I felt at home right away, admittedly because of the large Asian student population in the CBD (where I, and what would seem like a sizeable population of international students live). The food was great, the weather seemed glorious (I moved over in the beginning of the year during summer – how wrong I was…), the trains and trams were easy enough to navigate, but most of all it was the liberating experience of being away from home and the watchful eyes of parents that was the most exciting and refreshing of all.

After 17 years living with my parents, my newfound freedom coupled with the mobility of living in the city seemed almost criminal. I could do whatever, wherever, whenever I pleased. That translated into: lots of late night/early morning Hungry Jacks and McDonald runs, living in as messy a state as my laziness afforded, meeting up with friends for meals and drinks (so grown up!) and cooking whatever I wanted, nutritional value aside. The latter grew old surprisingly quickly, but being amongst friends who were similarly getting their first taste of freedom was beyond electrifying. At times it almost all felt like one big party, like we were playing grown ups away from our parents and reality, with only brief interludes in this fantasy world being winter and summer holidays back home.

We immersed ourselves in all things Melbournian – grabbing brunch in cool tucked away alleyways, weekend grocery trips to Queen Victoria Market, dingy hipster bars, drinking real, proper coffee, attending all kinds of street markets (markets in Asia are totally different), Melbourne’s little Italy on Lygon Street, music festivals, the Moomba festival, trips to the ski slopes, jetting off to the Gold Coast or Sydney during breaks.

…perhaps the most important lesson of all has been the importance of savouring and loving life. And while I may leave Melbourne in a month for good, that’s a lesson worth learning and carrying with me wherever I find myself.”

The culture here is something so unique, I don’t think you could find it anywhere else in Australia. Certainly not in Perth where I grew up, and dare I say even in Sydney can you find the sheer number of fashionistas/hipsters/hourly protests so common in Melbourne. And it’s this uniquely Melburnian culture that I will sorely miss when I move back to Singapore. No more feverish protests about anything and everything (no more protests at all actually…), no more Hare Krishnas dancing along the street, no more (sometimes contrived) hipster population of two hundred thousand, no more casual brunch catch-ups in obscure little lanes and back alleys, no more meeting fellow students from all over the world.

I suppose with graduation looming and the inevitable return home for most international students, it’s all crashing down now – the reality that is moving away from Melbourne and back to the hustle and bustle of life in Asia. Granted, I love Singapore and all of Asia in general, but having had a taste of the unique lifestyle here in Melbourne, it’s definitely going to be difficult to adjust, initially at least.

A friend who left Melbourne a couple of years ago told me recently the first few months back home are the worst. He found himself longing for Melbourne, missing his laidback, carefree student life and struggling to get used to the frantic, fast-paced life in Asia. Not only did he leave the relaxed lifestyle and attitudes of Melbourne, he left it for frenetic Singapore and the working world, the latter of which is a huge adjustment in itself. But as with all things, time has a way of making everything okay. Eventually, having been “swallowed up by the hustle and bustle” (comforting…) he readjusted to life back home, looking back on his time in Melbourne appreciatively.

No doubt that will be the same for most of us returning home – we will sooner or later adapt and get back into the swing of things, but Melbourne will always hold a special place in our hearts. For it is here that we got our first brush of adulthood and freedom, that we learned it’s okay to go against the grain and dress however you please, be open minded and opinionated (F*** Tony Abbott protests, anyone?) and just appreciate the simple things in life.

If anything, I’d say of all the things I’ve learnt in Melbourne – university degree aside – perhaps the most important lesson of all has been the importance of savouring and loving life. And while I may leave Melbourne in a month for good, that’s a lesson worth learning and carrying with me wherever I find myself.