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First Impressions: When living in a new country holds a mirror up to your own

Jessica in in Glencoe, in the magical Scottish Highlands

I’d lugged my suitcase up 4 flights of stairs, wielded it through the heavy fire doors, and managed to unlock my room with 2 very full hands. I’d collapsed onto the bare bed- no sheets, doona or pillow and stared at the completely empty room around me. All I can remember thinking, was what have I got myself into?

My semester at the University of Glasgow began in early September. It was a surreal experience to arrive in a foreign country, not knowing anyone, thinking that you’re perfectly capable of understanding the language- I mean, they speak English in Scotland right!? It was only a matter of moments before I realised that Scotts are indeed a little harder to understand than anticipated, but the knowledge that I had a clean slate to meet a whole new group of friends, learn on the opposite side of the world and get to know a people with a fascinating history and some of the greatest national pride I’ve come across, meant I was more excited than terrified about what was to come.

What I didn’t anticipate coming on exchange, was the way it made me reflect on life back home in Australia. Of my eleven flatmates, two are fellow Aussies, one is Kiwi, one if from Azerbaijan, one is French Canadian, and the other six are from various parts of the United States. With this as a head start, before even meeting my new Scottish friends from uni classes, I was able to find out about the different worlds that these people had come from. Once my classmates were added to the mix, we moved from merely trying to understand each other amongst different accents, languages, and slang, to intellectual discussions about our countries’ politics, flaws, merits and achievements.

Conversing and associating with this wide range of people has made me appreciate what living in Australia has offered me, yet also shown me that Australian is not an idyllic utopia either. I’ve come to appreciate that we have a common law system instead of a civil one, I’m glad of the fact that we have universal healthcare and that education is, for the most part, affordable. I’ve enjoyed noticing the similarities in humour between the Glaswegians and the Aussies- with the wild Haggis seemingly equivalent to our Drop Bears (shhh). I’m thankful that voting is compulsory, and that Christmas is a national holiday. Thankfully, cheese and apple is not a regular food combination, ‘biscuits’ are sweet and don’t look like scones, and our national foods don’t include animals innards (though in all honesty haggis really isn’t that bad). Mostly, I am proud that when people find out I’m Australian, the overwhelming response is positive. We are known as genuine, laid back, friendly and chatty people. But amid this stereotype, I have also had to hear that the Australian people are misogynistic and racist.

Seeing your country through the perspective of another’s can joltingly point out the flaws of your own.

I am in no way meaning to suggest that these are uniquely Australian problems, nor that all Australian’s are racist or misogynistic. It is merely a comment that globally, individuals recognise Australia as having these issues embedded in our society. In fact, speaking with my new friends and flatmates has prompted conversations about what each country, and more broadly, what our world can do to eliminate issues alike misogyny and racism. I would like to be associated with an accepting country, free from discrimination; one that the world can admire and aspire to imitate.

As the next generation of global leaders, it our duty, right and mission to try and change our world for the better. To try and remove the oppression and inequality that misogyny and racism cause. And more closely to home, to create a country that we are proud to represent- even more than we already are.

Loch Ness, sadly without Nessie.

Loch Ness, sadly without Nessie.

**Disclaimer: This blog post was written before COVID-19

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