Nicholas Wong arrives in Perth

It’s 6:00 am in San Francisco as I pass through SFO International Airport security–leaving my family behind in California for the next two months. I honestly never expected that I was going to be an emotional wreck while waiting at the gate by myself. I sat on the plane for the next sixteen hours sleeping and contemplating what my exchange experience was going to be like in Perth, Australia. When I arrived in Singapore, my flight to Perth wasn’t leaving for another five hours so I decided to explore the Singapore airport, which basically resembled a colossal shopping mall. Exploring this new airport by myself was an exhilarating experience.

Arriving in Perth, I met my exchange family for the first time. Living with a whole new family was a daunting idea—but they were super friendly and amiable, which helped me with the transition into Australian culture. I found that Perth actually wasn’t that culturally different from the Bay Area.

Three days after arriving, I was back at the airport at 4:00 am with 13 other Scotch boys on an expedition to the Karijini National Park. This trip was a seven-day backpacking trip through the various gorges (canyons) of Karijini, which is about 800 miles north from Perth. The geographical layout of Karijini is basically a mountainous desert that’s covered with slippery red rocks the size of your fist. The first day of the Karijini trip was a culture shock for me.  It was a challenge meeting all these new people in a dusty new environment with the added physical hurdle of a backpack that weighed more than half my weight. That’s when I realized that this backpacking trip was not going to be American glamping, as the Australians called it. I honestly didn’t think that I could get through the next eight miles on the third day with a bad fitting 65-pound backpack rubbing on my hips each time I took a step. One of the reasons that I did not have a mental and physical breakdown was because of the support from the other boys on the trip. The first few days on the expedition I was pretty quiet, but a lot of the boys engaged me with questions about our president and Burger King. On this expedition, I found that I was actually an okay camp cook. Even with the physical challenges of the trip, the scenery was amazing. These gorges were encased in rectangular rock formations with water running through the bottom like a canyon. We rock climbed and “abseiled” (rock climbing down) the gorges. Another once-in-a-lifetime experience was the opportunity to swim in the gorges. The gorges had almost freezing water with the temperature of 4˚C or 40˚F. This was icy cold, especially since my school-issued wetsuit had a hole in it. It was all worth it because we were able to see areas that no other group has seen within Karijini. Overall, my Karijini experience was amazing and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to go there.

My first day of school at Scotch College in Perth was an exhilarating experience. I did not have a uniform yet so I really stood out. One of the biggest differences from Athenian was that the two thousand students were all boys. Another difference was their community atmosphere based on respect, such as calling teachers by “Sir” or “Miss.” You could definitely see that the instructors had a lot more power over the students compared with Athenian’s democratic approach. Adjusting to this new school was not as much of a challenge as I thought it was going to be. I think speaking the same language has also made the adjustment a lot easier as well. My host, Will, introduced me to his friends.  Luckily I had a lot in common with them and they have been very friendly to me. Something that usually isn’t mentioned about exchange is that it is really hard leaving your family behind and being thrust into a new culture. When I was on my Karijini expedition I sometimes really wanted to be home. My whole body wanted to flop and sleep on the ground, but I knew that I had to keep going in order for it to be over.

So far, my exchange experience has been great. Tomorrow I will be trying out Australian-rule football (basically rugby) for the first time in PE, which hopefully will go well.