Words & Images by Rosie Fea
Vincent Van Gogh once famously said, "If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." I guess his advice would be taken literally, but I like to view it as more of a calling to take valuable risks, even if you aren’t supported….and slap fear and doubt right in the slimy, life-robbing face.
In August last year I took the leap to make my first big overseas trip to do a four month University exchange in Southern California to further my studies in a fresh, new, and exciting place. Leaving with a lightly packed suitcase, pasty winter skin longing for some sunshine, and an open mind, I was ready to gratefully embrace the opportunities it would bring, and the lessons that would be revealed as I embarked on my adventure. What never crossed my mind was that what I was about to do was not so typical.
The process of applying for the exchange was no picnic… Submitting countless forms, a costly trip from one end of the Country to the other to attain a Visa, being interviewed by University’s, and the constant fret about whether or not I would run out of money – having no knowledge of foreign currencies and a very impulsive eye for new, exciting things (aka: food) that I had only ever heard mentioned on the movies…In those few months leading up to the date I was to leave, I was so wrapped up in the idea, and anticipation of the unknown that it wasn’t until about two hours before the plane landed on US soil that the thoughts “what am I actually doing?” and “this is actually happening” swished through my mind. However, I have since learned and heard from many others who have done the same, these feelings of free fall and independence are half the fun – and where most of the learning about travelling the big wide world is actually attained.
As my sister, who had also set off on her world travels a few months before me (much to mums empty nested sorrow!) simply put it, “You jet set off with this amazing vision, and nerves replace experience to give you the necessary confidence to walk through that boarding gate - clearly blocking the pathway where your brain and common sense meet, and before you know it there you are.”
"...and before you know it there you are."
The first two weeks in California were a blissful blur - packed full of incredible provision and exploration, spending five days in San Francisco and the surrounding Marin County before setting off down the coast with an old friend. Staying in our own private 'guest wing' of her aunt and uncle's ocean front mansion in Paradise Cove, Malibu, we enjoyed the solace of slower pace, sea air, and lazy beach days. It was at dinner one of those evenings her uncle got to telling us about the days of his youth in California, when the home was just a little surf shack on the hill - the way he spoke about his youthful days road tripping and chasing waves all day with his friends eluded to the simple life I was so hungry to get over the next few months. It was also sweet to see people living among the rich and famous who were just so humble and grateful to be where they were without snobbery and coveting. I informed everyone of my University plans, and the move into my ‘dorm room’ being just one week away. Still completely oblivious to things that lay ahead and what to expect of the American ‘College’ life, led the uncle to impart on me some important aspirations for my travels that now mean so much more to me, and have been fulfilled in ways that far outstretch the original intention. They were three incredibly simple goals to seek out during my time - have some new experiences, meet some new people, and learn something.
Although I never ended up setting these goals in action within the original ‘College’ context, what came next on my journey made sure they were of far greater value then I could’ve expected. Proving that travels and trips, no matter how greatly mapped or planned, are just that. What followed next was a humble realisation that we are only human, our plans are fallible, and what we set out to accomplish or envisage doing with our time might in fact come about in a very colourful and unexpected way!