What meditation taught me about being an international student
It all started with that seagull on top of my head. Literally — it was about to set foot on top of my head.
I remember sitting outside the State Library, playing around with the presets on my camera. The sun was bright and the sky was a beaming shade of blue. I was mesmerised by nature’s beauty that day when suddenly, I could feel the environment around me change. I heard my heartbeat. I heard the birds and also the sky, as though it was talking to me. Then, without paying much attention, I felt it. Yes, a seagull had landed on top of my head.
Realising what had happened, I shoo’d the bird off so that it could find a nest somewhere else. And while I normally would be a bit annoyed, my attitude that day was a lot different. I was somehow happier, despite having to fight this bird off. The sky was still that gorgeous shade of blue with not a cloud in sight. A peaceful calm came over me and that was when I realised that this was it: this was what it was like to experience the first virtue of meditation.
Let’s turn back time a little bit. When I was in high school in Vietnam, I was the product of Asia’s regimented education system. I was taught to value marks and high scores. But when I came to Australia and entered Monash College’s Foundation Year, I discovered a different means of learning — one that was more interactive and ‘liberal’ one might say. In a sense, this new approach towards learning brought me both joy and hardship.
I enjoyed studying but couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to achieve greatly and attain high marks. It was sometimes difficult trying to simply enjoy a subject for the value it could give me over the need to succeed. And it placed a bit of stress on me to say the least.
That’s when meditation came into my life, and at the best possible moment.
I enjoyed studying but couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to achieve greatly and attain high marks.
I reached out to a friend of mine who was already practicing it and wanted to ask him about it. I had no intention of telling him what I had been through but he was happy to assist and was willing to teach me how to meditate and how to be mentally healthy.
He asked me to do nothing except to become wary of my breathing and to do so for as long as I could and turn it into a habit. It was a fun little challenge at first, to keep you mentally aware for ten minutes every day. But did I notice any significant changes in my mental wellbeing? Not yet.
I continued to do so out of habit, not knowing where it would take me or even how it would improve my state of mind.
Then, one day, things clicked.
The first, and most important thing, that meditation, taught me was awareness.
I became more aware that I was overthinking and over-stressing myself. It made me aware of my first mistakes in entering a new mode of education and that there was area for improvement.
Once I was made aware of these negatives, I begun to understand the problem at its core. I started channeling myself into a more rational being and feel that stepping back and having a better look at my problems improved my mental resilience.
I became more aware that I was overthinking and over-stressing myself.
Which takes me back to the seagull. Where I would have been annoyed by its presence that day, I instead felt like as though I could begin to understand myself better than I used to. I don’t have to have all the answers in life and I don’t expect anyone else to either. But what I do know is that I’m more capable of adapting to change than I think and that everything I am currently undergoing is in pursuit of a new sense of self.
I still meditate now and feel that becoming an overseas student has brought me closer to my sense of spirituality. Melbourne is a great place to practice meditation too with a plethora of resources and support groups that are there to help others get started.
So for that I’m thankful. Not every international student’s journey will be the same as mine but I think what’s most important for all students is to try new things. Exposing yourself to a new way of thinking will no doubt help your overseas education in the long run.
For me, however, I hope to continue adapting and learning more about the nuances of my spiritual side in order to reach a longer and bigger goal beyond my degree.
This story was produced by Foundation Year students at Monash College as part of Meld’s community newsroom collaboration. Education institutions, student clubs/societies and community groups interested in being involved can get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org.