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Student stories: Why I can never call Melbourne home (but that’s okay)

Yulia Sotnikova

Wed Aug 17 2016


IT’s easy to fall in love with a new life abroad but for some students home will always be where the heart is. Yulia Sotnikova shares her experience as an international student in Melbourne.

I was born in Siberia, Russia, the land where it’s always -47°C, bears play guitars on bus stations, and all those other fairy tales you hear about this winter wonderland.

When I was 18, I left the always snowy kingdom and moved to a place that couldn’t make up its mind about its weather: Melbourne. I flew here for 30 hours, in economy, next to a very large person who kept biting his nails and spitting them out. But I was so excited that I didn’t care. My parents wanted me to get the best education possible and I wanted to explore new places. I was looking forward to university, to my new apartment and my new life.

When I finally landed, I hailed a taxi from the airport and struck up a conversation with the driver. “Melbourne is a good city for survival,” he told me. And I was about to experience that first hand.

“Life is so simple here: people don’t worry about anything.”

Melbourne, the most liveable city in the world, turned out to also be the strangest city for me. Life is so simple here: people don’t worry about anything. I study full-time and spend ten hours a week at university, I have six out of twelve months off, and I have no exams. Now I think that’s pretty chilled.

Melbourne is a good city for survival because you don’t have to do anything to survive. Free time and many more things are simply given to you, especially if you are a local.

But I wasn’t used to this kind of atmosphere. I was taught to start work a minute after waking up and finish a minute before going to sleep. My background and mentality was the complete opposite of the locals.

That’s why I couldn’t get along with anyone at first and felt like I was performing a one–man show. For a while, I thought I didn’t need company and assumed four hour Skype sessions with friends from back home would do, but I was wrong. I had to have someone around, simply to feel more materialistic. But I couldn’t find my person, not one. Actually, I shouldn’t say I couldn’t. What I should say is that I didn’t try to adjust.

With so much free time to myself, time I never had while living back in Russia, I had no idea what to do with it. I was alone all the time, and I was not the kind of person to go and explore places all by myself.

I started looking for distractions, things to keep myself busy with. First was running which was hilarious because I began to see red spots after just two minutes of exercising! Then came painting. That I loved and was pretty good at. Music came after and that calmed me down. I even sang sometimes (poor Mr Thompson next door).

“…I thought a lot about whether it was a good idea to leave home in the first place.”

Then there were attempts to learn how to meditate too. I went to one workshop but couldn’t do more after that. You would sit on the floor, close your eyes and for seven minutes say, “I am not this body”, when inhaling and “I am not even this mind”, when exhaling.

Seven. Bloody. Minutes.

After 30 seconds I wanted to get up and punch someone in the face.

All that surely helped a little. And yet, my brain was still hanging upside down. At that point, I thought a lot about whether it was a good idea to leave home in the first place.

Traveler silhouettes at airport,Beijing

It’s been almost three years since I moved to Melbourne now. And with time, I became more open-minded and started reaching out to people, trying to understand them and adjust. Now I have a few good friends and, in general, am quite happy with my life. Things started falling into place once I found people I was comfortable with; people who I cared about and who cared about me.

And when I couldn’t get used to the amount of free time I had, I ended up finding two jobs to fill in the gaps instead.

It’s been an amazing journey, one that has taught me more about life, love, patience and fear than any education or self-help book ever could. But I miss my family and my friends and I miss speaking Russian.

“But I miss my family and my friends and I miss speaking Russian.”

Even though I am now happy with the people who surround me here, and don’t have that much time to sit around and think about those things, I feel like I’ll never fit in here 100 per cent. Sometimes I feel like I am second-class, and I’m not the only one: this is what a lot of internationals in Australia feel.

So, I think, once I finish my studies I’ll turn my sights towards home again and try to pursue my career there. At the end of the day, someone must have put me there in the first place for a reason, right?