12 February 2015

The Big Red Button

Doris Xu is an undergraduate student at the University of Sydney Business School. She is currently in the United States as part of the Washington DC Placement Program, offered by the Business School in partnership with the United States Studies Centre.  

I used to get really drunk on jealousy when I scrolled down Facebook and saw my friends posting holiday photos in different parts of the world. I used to think- well, lucky them; I am just stuck at home being bored out of my skull.

Recently, as the uni holidays started to draw to an end, photos from Singapore theme park, a Canadian ski trip and Chinese festivals piled up in my newsfeed. I looked through them and caught myself thinking, ‘geez, that looks fun - better add them to my list’.

I remarked to a friend the other day that my world felt so much bigger now. I could hardly remember the person I was, falling into the routine of uni-work-study-society, and hanging out with the same group of people; too scared and too comfortable to reach out.

But the Industry Placement Program (IPP) has forced me to reach out, to break through my comfortable routine and to meet other people outside of those I already know.

It was horrible.

The loneliness of not knowing any of the people in my apartment, in my classes; not having the best friends on call when I felt down; not having the ready-cooked meal when I arrived back home; or the familiarity of transport and environment.

I had the biggest homesickness for days, and my extroversion took a huge hit.

But when you are on the edge of a cliff you have to take chances. I chose to not stand there and decided to simply jump into the unknown. I decided to get to know my roommate better by sitting next to her during her binge of ‘Jane the Virgin’. When Jane eventually shared a kiss with the dashing Rafael, and we cheered spontaneously - a knowing glance told me that we would be best buddies soon.

And I was right. What followed was girls nights in, shouting at each other while playing catchphrase and monopoly with new friends, sharing cooking tips, a trip to Philly and lots of late night shopping.

Then there was the corridor encounter; a friend of a friend opening a door and the smell of chicken curry escaping their apartment. We invited ourselves in, and spent the night playing cards against humanity and trash talking the other teams. It would soon become our Friday traditions that go into the late nights/early mornings.

It was moments like this, the beginning of something new and magical, that became really precious to me.

When I learnt the rules of American football on the night of the Superbowl. When I winced at the loss of the home team at my first Ice Hockey game. When I managed to work a laundry machine and befriended a girl who came to pick up her clothes. When I met Erin Gurwell, the teacher behind the Freedom Writers.

There is something magical about watching a game with a room full of people.

My classes made me forget how tedious studying used to be. Foresight made me choose two arts subjects - Arts in Our Capitol, and DC film and Theatre - and the subject choices were amongst the best decisions I have made in this program. I spent my night classes discussing museums and artworks, and how music is produced and experienced. I toured the largest library in the world and watched world-class concerts in the first row. I attended a play about President Lincoln’s widow, Mary, at the Ford Theatre where he was assassinated. I learnt about the film history of the depictions of Washington DC.

Front row seats at the Library of Congress Performance!

At the East-West Centre in Washington where I intern, I wrote articles on US-Asia Pacific relations; on topics of trade, politics and cultural exchanges. I worked on my project on the Centre’s connections with Australia and social network marketing strategies. Sometimes I attended events around DC, and listened to top experts talk about the region. The latest talk I attended was by Jang Jin-Sung, a North-Korean defector who was once the country’s top propagandist.

I missed home terribly for two weeks, and now I don’t anymore. I used to think it’s because I am having such a blast here- which is true, but now I know.

It’s because DC is home now. Like a typical DC-er, I complain when we are only getting 1 inch of snow when we are expecting 5. I consider 4 degrees beach weather. I think going to museums on weekends is extremely cool and free entries are a must.

Sometimes, it really does take one thing, one program, one experience, to open your eyes up and see the world differently for the first time. And I guess that is why I no longer feel jealous seeing other people’s travels, because I know now that they can be my adventures too.

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