Life Lessons from a Semester Abroad

This past summer was a little different for me because the Australian semester runs into the what we call summer here in Boone. I ended session one of uni at the end of May, and by then, it was winter in New South Wales. The Australian winter is very mild in comparison to that of Boone. The temperatures are probably similar to winter in Florida. I spent my time from late-May to early-July traveling around Australia, and then in Indonesia. Most of this traveling was with friends or family. I experienced so much in so little time that it is almost overwhelming to think back on it. I made new friends, got frustrated with logistics, argued with my mother, said a lot of goodbyes, tried new things, had many amazing meals, and saw amazing sights, the beauty of which cannot even begin to be captured by pictures. Because my daily journal from this adventure is a whole 22 pages long, here are just a few of the lessons I learned from each aspect of my journey.


  • Even if the turbulence on a flight is so horrible that a flight attendant falls over and passengers are screaming, everything will be okay.

  • Seeing the Great Barrier Reef in person is a breathtaking experience.

  • Travelling together is an amazing bonding experience for existing friends, but it’s even more fun when you make new friends from all around the world and go adventuring with them (applies to Cairns, Adelaide, and Christchurch).

  • There are also many strange laws regarding aboriginal people that treat them as different types of citizens than other Australians.

  • Crocodile tastes like chicken.


  • Sometimes sleeping for half of your vacation is worth it because you are refreshed, healthier, more-carefree, and less-irritable.

  • There is great food in Adelaide. We went to a food truck festival, markets, and restaurants—all delicious!

  • My trip with my Canadian best friend made me realize how close two people can become over the course of four months.


  • I love colorful lights, especially at the Vivid Lights Festival. We went to the Taronga Zoo to see animal sculptures made of colorful lights. We also took a night cruise on the Sydney Harbour to see the city (including the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge) all lit up.

  • Big cities are where I belong.

  • It is okay for an Australian to take off a day of work to drive around and go sightseeing.  


  • My birth city of Brisbane ties with Sydney for my favorite city in Australia. I have considered moving back to Australia after college.

  • Seeing where my parents lived when I was born, the hospital I was born in, and where my dad received his PhD is surreal.

  • Uber drivers can be very insightful on topics of racism and islamophobia in Australia.


  • It’s cold in June.

  • The Great Ocean Road is full of beautiful beaches, cliffs, geographic formations, and good ice cream.

  • Travelling with my mom is very different than travelling with friends.


  • Bali is a tourist trap, but is filled with local Hindu culture.

  • Traffic is horrendous.


  • My mother’s family descends from royalty in a line of sultans and founders of cities.

  • Celebrating the end of Ramadan takes a full week and many visits with relatives to cemeteries.

Travelling Alone:

  • Talk to the person next to you on plane rides. Who knows? They may have played basketball at Elon University, even though you are both traveling to Cairns from Brisbane.

  • I really prefer traveling with others.

  • I did not travel alone much at all, but I learned to talk to strangers and to be vigilant of my surroundings.

Planes, Trains, Buses, Rental Cars, Becak, and Other Forms of Transportation:

  • Being the navigator is difficult, but  it builds essential life skills such as how to operate Google Maps.

  • Walking is the healthy, free, and most time consuming mode of transportation.

  • You have to book buses ahead of time online in Australia. The bus drivers are always very kind and seem to like their jobs.

  • EVERYONE in Australia makes a living wage. A two-mile taxi ride might cost $30, but at least you can survive if you have a job.

  • The first time an American drives on the left side of the road is not bad.

  • Despite all of the hassles myself and my friends have been through in airports, I love flying.

  • In Indonesia, you can take a tour of the city in a becak (pedicab) for 30 minutes for less than $5.

For the remainder of the summer, I took two summer classes and worked part-time at College Access Partnerships at Appalachian. It was great to catch up with friends and have a transitionary period between my travels and school starting again. I lived with Sope Kahn and visited my hometown of Asheville several times in July. I also made some new friends and kept busy. I am looking forward to the upcoming semester, especially working with the new Honors College dean for Appalachian Honors Association and participating in Walker Fellows, along all of the other clubs I am involved in.

Of course, none of these summer adventures would be possible without the Wilson Scholars Program, my parents, and all my friends who support and follow me in my adventures. The Walker College of Business also deserves a shout out for all of the support, scholarships, and advice it has provided me with. I am so fortunate, privileged, and cared for. I have had experiences of a lifetime this past summer, and I am so thankful.

Written by: Alia Dahlan

alia in australia

alia in australia

alia in australia

alia in australia

alia in australia
Published: Nov 10, 2017 12:00pm