School: Banchory Academy, Aberdeenshire
How do you visualise your life? I like to think of mine as a twisted line on a simple (x,y) graph. Why? There are certain moments in life that change us; moments that form the vertices of the life line. These turning points take us in completely new and interesting directions. ‘Points on the curve’, as my grandfather calls them. In my few thirteen and a half years, I have had many life-changing points, but to my belief there has only ever been one point that has drastically changed the direction of my life. I can sum up this point in nine letters: Australia.
I remember how it all began; Dad arriving home from work one warm, summer evening and just blurting out, “So… Does anyone fancy living in Oz for a little while?” I was eleven at the time, my sister Katie, was nine, and living abroad was just about the most dazzling opportunity we could imagine. I’ll forever thank my Dad and whoever got promoted from Dad’s soon-to-be job in Perth, Western Australia, for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that they gave our family. After careful deliberation, Mum, Dad, Katie and I decided that it was an opportunity that we couldn’t deny. So, that was that! We lived in a small, beachside suburb near the city of Perth for one and a half years.
The change of scenery was immense, and certainly not the Australia I had imagined. The untamed jungles, red plains and pet kangaroos leaping around in my head were replaced by urban grey, dry citron green and glistening turquoise blue. Perth was not only extremely cosmopolitan, but also a beautifully modern and unique city. Nestled on the coastline with a vast, meandering river cutting through the landscape, the centre of town was a collection of glass-fronted skyscrapers, wide, cobbled pavements and European-style shop balconies. From the minute I arrived I felt that Perth was a city for everyone.
Living beside a vast stretch of white, sandy beaches was a luxury I will never forget. The feeling of cool sea breeze brushing against my face and the rays of golden sunshine warming and filling me with the sense of pure happiness; the tickle of fine sand between my toes and the sound of crashing waves, all experiences that I will cherish forever. Learning how to surf was one of the highlights of living in Australia. Early morning rises and catching waves at sunrise under pink skies was truly magical.
Speaking of skills, I really broadened my horizons when it came to sports in Australia. I learned how to play netball, football, Aussie League rugby and I participated in surf-lifesaving. I felt that many gender boundaries that we have on sports here in the U.K. were alleviated in Australia. There were no boys’ sports or girls’ sports, and everyone was encouraged to ‘give it a try’, and join in on whatever sport they, as an individual, fancied.
I can honestly say that I am a kinder, more friendly and open-minded person after living in Australia. The International School of Western Australia, or I.S.W.A. for short, was an oasis of cultural diversity. Eager and globally-minded students from around sixty different countries were all represented in at most three hundred individuals. Coming straight from a small Scottish village, I felt like a fish that’s lived its whole life in a small bowl and is suddenly flung into the Great Barrier Reef. I had to learn that not everyone shared the same values as I did, and that sharing our experiences and learning about each other’s cultures was so beneficial to all.
My friends included people from America, France, Germany, Vietnam, Malaysia and England, and some that had come from very similar backgrounds to myself. Numerous children of my age had lived in more than five different places already, so it was hard for them to tell me themselves where they were really from. The best thing about I.S.W.A. was that I valued them as extremely trustworthy friends, yet I only knew them for such a small fraction of my time. This is because I.S.W.A. was all about inclusivity. Everyone was immediately made to feel welcome, because all of us knew what it felt like to be the new kid. That is a social wisdom that I think many people at my own school in Aberdeenshire would benefit from knowing.
Australia was an amazing and unregrettable experience, however change is never easy. For the first six months, I had an extremely difficult time. I was very nostalgic and I found it very hard to embrace my new life and connect with the people around me. I had a really negative self-image, and I felt like I was never going to regain the same happiness and comfort that I had in Scotland. That was until I made one of the biggest decisions of my life; I tried to see things in a different, more positive way. It wasn’t instant, but slowly I felt myself move from being in the depths of despair to enjoying the vibrancy of every moment. It was astonishing how one simple change of mindset was revolutionary to my health and wellbeing.
I learned a lot about myself from the way I felt at the beginning. I’m not a fan of change, but I now have a huge capacity for resilience. The life line will change direction again, but each time I will be quicker and quicker to adapt, and there are always more good times waiting, if only you look at them the right way, upside-down seemingly in this case.