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A duluthian down under

The view from Allison's 22nd-floor apartment overlooking Broadbeach, a section of Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo submitted)1 / 3
Mackenzie Allison rides an elephant in Koh Phangan, Thailand. (Photo submitted)2 / 3
Mackenzie Allison3 / 3

When I first told my friends and family that I was studying in the Gold Coast, Australia at Griffith University for the semester, I got a lot of, "Oh my gosh, isn't that going to be too warm for you?" and "You're trading in the lake for the ocean!"

It is hot here. My apartment overlooks the ocean. As a 2013 graduate of East High School and member of the class of 2017 at Drake University (Des Moines, Iowa), I never thought I'd be living 8,000 miles away.

Still I always knew I wanted to study abroad. At first I was set on going to Europe; Spain or France sounded ideal. But when the advisor at Drake suggested I look into Australia and I found the program in Gold Coast, I fell in love with the idea of spending a semester there.

I've learned that the essential part of being abroad is balancing the "normal" days with the spontaneous trips and not forgetting to smile everyday I'm here, because really, when am I going to be living in Australia again?

Even though I am abroad, I still go to classes. I do actually have to do my homework. But yes, sometimes my roommates and I sit in our pajamas all day and watch odd Australian talk shows. I go to the beach every weekend. I see wild wallabies on my class field trips to wineries. I go to amusement parks instead of lectures sometimes. I have traveled up and down the east coast of the country. And I even went to Thailand for "spring" break.

Duluth feels so far away sometimes. With a 15-hour time difference I am barely ever on the same day as my friends and family. The ocean is beautiful and I love watching it from my balcony but sometimes, after accidentally taking in a gulp of salt water at the beach, I miss the fresh water of Lake Superior. However, the climate is nice as I watch pictures of fall and winter popping up on my Facebook timeline.

As much as I love Duluth, being able to travel is amazing. I've flown more in the last three months than I have in the last five years. Since being in Australia I've traveled to Sydney, Melbourne and the Whitsunday Islands just in Australia. For our spring break, my friends and I traveled to Thailand where we visited Bangkok, Khao Sok National Park, Koh Phangan and Phuket and spent a day in Singapore.

In Thailand we spent the days exploring temples, taking boat rides around islands, petting tigers and riding elephants. Everything we did was better than the last thing.

Traveling in and to a foreign country is fun, scary and nerve-racking all at once. I have had to learn to adjust quickly and take advantage of every deal. I stay in cheap hostels and sometimes have to share a dirty, dormitory-style room with strangers. Thankfully, I've almost always had enough friends traveling to fill our own room. I scout out the best dinner deals, hoping to find that one pub with the $10 burger, chips (fries) and beer deal. I sleep in permanently sandy beds and always have salt water dried in my hair. But so far, the trips have always been worth the cheap meals and constant feeling of being unclean.

I am not a spontaneous person. Getting on a plane in a foreign country and then flying to an even more foreign country freaked me out. Honestly, just buying plane tickets for the first time myself freaked me out. Studying abroad has made me have to grow up a lot more than I thought. Budgeting for food versus splurging on traveling has been difficult. But traveling has been one of the best things I've done since I came to Australia. Studying abroad is about balance: making sure you still do your schoolwork and have enough money to buy food but being open to spur of the moment trips and never forgetting to smile, because after all, I am in Australia.

Mackenzie Allison was a Budgeteer intern during the summer of 2012. She is the daughter of Garth and Karen Allison of Duluth.