Patrick Cousineau is an International Ambassador for the International Degree and Education Abroad office. He studied abroad at Deakin University in Australia through the OUS program for winter and spring term of 2012. Patrick is a Senior, studying Natural Resources at Oregon State.
Imagine if you were the only person on this planet. What an uncanny feeling that would be. On one hand you observe the peaceful tranquility and uninterrupted natural life around you, but on the other hand lurks an eerie feeling of emptiness. Although just a hypothetical scenario, there are still places left to this day that are so desolate and isolated that you truly start to feel alone.
I studied abroad in a small town in south eastern Australia, situated right on the Southern Ocean. It’s not what first comes to people’s mind when they think of Australia, but the Southern Ocean is the coldest, windiest and most unforgiving ocean on this planet. Gail force winds from the Antarctic send monstrous waves to the southern coast, creating some of the most spectacular and intimidating sites imaginable. For obvious reasons, the Southern Ocean is one of the least explored regions left on this planet. It is no wonder why it can seem so lonely.
Every once in a while the conditions would cooperate just enough to be able to go surfing. My Aussie roommate and I would set out at around 5 am to avoid the wind that generally picked up later in the morning. We would drive sometimes for hours, looking for the perfect spot and wave to surf. The surf spots couldn’t have been more inaccessible, with strenuous hiking, traversing, and climbing required just getting to the waves. For that very reason, and the fact that most ordinary people would rather be in bed than jumping into 45 degree water at 5 am, there was never another person in sight. I could look for tens of miles in every direction and see no signs of civilization. In all my years of surfing, I have never felt so small, vulnerable, and alone than I did while surfing in Australia’s Southern Ocean.
Looking back, I am so fortunate to have had an experience like this. It has made me realize that we are just small components to a greater and more powerful world. A world that can at any time unexpectedly change our lives in ways we had once thought to be beyond the bounds of possibility. Studying abroad in Australia has given me a new perception on life. It has made me realize that your personality is a function of the experiences that have accumulated throughout your life. The more you immerse yourself in new, uncomfortable situations, the more you learn about yourself and ultimately grow as a person.