I consider myself a well-travelled person. I was brought up in a family that had the opportinity to frequently travel. Going overseas were always an exciting new adventure with the family. So I did not really expect the weird jarred feeling when I first went abroad by myself.
It was during the final year of my studies in Australia. I took an 8-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne by myself. There were some other students as well on the same flight but we were pretty much scattered all around. The flight was long but uneventful. When we finally reached our destination we trundled along, groggy from jet-lag, and managed to scramble ourselves on the bus that was already waiting for us. The first thing I remembered when stepping out of the airport was the cold breeze in the air, a marked difference from the all year long warmth of Malaysia.
The bus made it’s way to the student village in Footscray. And after a little bit of scuffle of who gets what room, everyone went to their designated bunks. I was so tired that all I wanted to do was hit the sack.
The next morning, I could say was one of the worst feeling of my entire life. Waking up in an unfamiliar place. I never realized, up to that point, how important a parent’s role is during holidays or travelling. They give you a sense of purpose, a security, always knowing what to do next. I woke up, not even knowing in which direction to even put my foot down. I felt awful. I really felt that I took my parents for granted. Completely lost and disoriented! Bare in mind that at the time, there was no such thing as a smartphone or mobile data. Internet connectivity, on a phone, was virtually non-existent. No facebook, whatsapp, google map, foursquare, twitter and all the handy apps and gadgets that keeps the very fibres of your being together these days. Absolutely no way of knowing what to do next.
I spent the next 10 minutes trying to get my bearings. Looking out the window didn’t help either because you couldn’t recognize anything outside. After a while, I decided to step out of my room… and found myself face to face with yet another fellow student, mouth opening and closing like a goldfish. So, I was not the only one hyperventilating at least.
We quickly greeted each other, glad to see a familiar face. Hastily, trying to fight of the panic and homesickness building within. After both talking and reaffirming the fact that we had no idea where we are, we decided to ask for direction to the local town where the first thing we did was to buy an international calling card. Those days you need this card, which enabled you to make overseas call at a relatively cheap rate.
I called up my parents, while putting up a brave front. Told them everything was good and under control. I felt more optimistic after that call and so relieved! We spent the next few days walking around, learning how to take the bus, trams and trains, scouting out the location of our campus and the nearest mall. I guess the best way to familiarize yourself in a new place is just to start exploring.