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Breaking down comfort zones, reaching new heights

By Kristiana Chloe Palacios

They say that university life would be one of the best years of your life. As I neared my final year of high school, talk about what happens in university had not stopped. I found myself binge-watching university vlogs on YouTube, talking on hours-end with my friends about what we wanted to do, all waiting for my turn to experience what everyone else was talking so much about.

With one unexpected turn of events, all those dreams and hopes had been put on hold. I found myself experiencing university on my laptop from my own home, 6,263 kilometers and oceans away.

"How's university life in Sydney?" My friends would ask me, only to have me answer, "Oh, it's fine, nothing much, still online." It hurt not being able to have anything to say. What was there to say? Everyone seemed to be having the same experience, there was nothing we could do, those dreams of experiencing university life to the fullest, just like how those before us had told us it would be, slipped through the window in as fast as a snap of your two fingers.

After the first couple of conversations I had with my friends, I decided I wasn't going to let being at home and online stop me from trying to experience university life. When my O-Week came around in July, I told myself I wasn't going to hold anything back. I was going to do everything I could to make the most of this experience, even if it wasn't the most ideal situation to do so. I signed up to different societies, applied for the Global Leadership Program (GLP), attended every opportunity I could, and made friends everywhere I went.

It was difficult for the first part. It was difficult to make friends, to strike a conversation, to approach anyone. I may see my classmates through the Zoom screen, but while it felt like we were in the same room, something still seemed to be missing. With one click of the chat button, I took the first step and reached out.

After my first semester of online university, I had made a couple of friends, I became active in my cultural society, the Filipino Students Society of Macquarie University (FSS MQU), and I continued participating in the opportunities given to us by the GLP. But, I didn't want to stop there. I wanted to meet more people, reach new heights and break farther from my comfort zone. I was just at home anyways, I had nothing to lose.

I found out about and applied for the International Students Leaders and Ambassadors Program (ISLA) under the City of Sydney after finding out about them in one of the conferences I had joined thanks to the GLP - the Youth Leadership Conference 2020 and the Networking 101 Conference. After a long application process, I will never forget how ecstatic I felt when I received the email of congratulations.

Through ISLA, not only was I able to meet other international students from different universities across Sydney, but I was also able to test my own abilities and skills. I learned more about myself than I had ever been able to in such a short period of time. What I had been able to learn through the conferences I attended, I was now able to give back and help other international students similar to my position just as they had helped me once upon a time.

For those reading this, if you're offshore in your own home countries, or even if you're onshore but unable to go to campus, coming from someone who's never even been to Sydney or Australia, let me tell you that being online is not as big as a barrier you think it is in letting you experience that university life you had been dreaming. It's different, it's new, but it's not impossible.

What I had once thought was a barrier was now an opportunity, from the comfort of my own home, I can attend class in Sydney, participate in conferences hosted by other universities without having to worry about travel and other expenses. There are more benefits to the online environment than you realize. You can still have that dream and ideal university experience, you just need to take the first step.

I won't deny I still wish I was on campus and onshore. However, I know that if I had gone on campus from the very beginning, I wouldn't be where I am today, I wouldn't have known about ISLA, I wouldn't have been as active as I am now.

After a year of being in Macquarie, there is one thing I realized. The university life everyone was talking about was not just about walking around campus or hanging out with friends every weekend. University life is whatever you make it to be, you have the power to make your university life the best one yet, even if it might be through a computer screen. The only thing stopping you from taking that chance is you. So take that chance, and don't look back.

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