Michael Salako is in Tasmania

I originally never wanted to go on exchange. It was my mom who persisted and basically ended up making me go. I always thought it was way too much work and a waste of time. To make things worse, in December I found out that I didn’t even get my first choice, which was Latin America. I opened my email to see that I would be on my way to Tasmania in July, to Scotch Oakburn College. At that point I didn’t even have the energy to be disappointed anymore. I was being forced to go to school across the world.

Fast forwarding to the day I left, there were somewhat negative thoughts running through my head. All I could think was “Let me just get this over with.” Although I hate plane rides, the 13-hour flight to Melbourne wasn’t bad. Once the plane landed I checked in, got my suitcases and wandered around the airport since I had an eight-hour layover until my next flight. Once I was on the next flight and we were nearly in Launceston, the city I would be staying in, I couldn’t stop staring out the window. I saw miles of flatland, animals almost everywhere you looked, and beautiful water surrounding the island of Tasmania. The plane touched down, I got my bags, met my exchange, Dean, and his mom, who made up my host family, and we made our way to the car. I had my first shock as we got in. I was confused as I saw her walking over to the right side of the car, I got a little nervous because I thought she wanted me to drive. I got in and saw that there was no steering wheel on the left, and I stared in amazement to see it on the opposite side.

We got to the small house meant for two people, I unpacked my stuff and then immediately pulled up a calendar to count the days until I was back in the US. I found myself doing this for the first few weeks, but I slowly started to stop as time went on. It took me a while, but as I went to bed I realized that I was there, in Australia, over 9,000 miles away from home. I thought to myself that it was going to be a long and tiring six weeks.

I arrived on Friday afternoon and there was no school on Monday, so I had three days until the start of the school term. On Saturday, Dean and I went to Cataract Gorge, one of Tasmania’s oldest tourist attractions. I saw some amazing scenery and animals I had never seen before. The next day Dean took me on a tour of Launceston.  We walked all around the small city, home to only 67,000 people, and we went to all the main landmarks of the city.

On Monday, we went to Scotch Oakburn College to get my uniform. I got to see the school I’d be attending for the next six weeks. There was a slow buildup of anxiety as the day went on. I wasn’t really worried about classes or about making friends. I was worried about the stares. During the school year before summer, people were constantly telling me about how there was pretty intense racism mainly towards black people in Australia. I let this influence how I viewed people early on, and I thought that this would just make school life even harder.

The first day of school rolled around and I could feel the stares as soon as I stepped on campus. I wasn’t sure if they were staring because of my skin or because I was an unfamiliar student, so I kept the judging to a minimum. Little did I know that those were just stares of curiosity, and that those same people would show me an endless amount of kindness over the next six weeks.

Dean and I made it to our first class of the day, Japanese. He introduced me to everyone, and the hour-and-40-minute class period began. It was weird because I didn’t understand a lot of what they were saying although they spoke in English from time to time, so I basically just sat there spaced out until it was over. Next we had a 20-minute break in which Dean introduced me to a couple of his friends, and we talked until the next class started. Not much happened in the class

After the class ended, we made our way over to assembly, which is just like morning meeting. They went through some announcements, a couple of people gave speeches, and eventually the exchange director called all the exchanges to the front to be introduced to the whole school. I went up with Dean and I was excited to see the other people who would be going on this experience with me. When I got up to the front I looked to my left and saw just one other girl, who wasn’t even an exchange. Her exchange was having problems getting to Tasmania and didn’t show up throughout all the time that I was here. So I was Scotch Oakburn’s only exchange for the next six weeks.

Lunch was right after. Towards the end of it a huge group of guys came up to me. They immediately started launching questions left and right. “Do you play basketball? Do you watch the NBA? Who’s your favorite team,” and other questions like that. Someone even asked me if I was related to Michael Jordan, and I’m pretty sure he was serious. To be honest, I was relieved to know that they love basketball over here. The next day at around the same time, I saw the same guys playing basketball outside. As I saw them, somebody came up to me and asked if me if I wanted to join. I said yeah and went out to play. While we were in the middle of a game, some of the guys asked me if I could dunk. I told him I could. It took me a couple of attempts, but I got one to go down and all the guys went crazy. They started yelling and running around and all I could do was laugh. As I was on my way to the last class of the day, people started walking up to me and asking me if I could really dunk and some other basketball questions. Although it wasn’t how I planned to do it, I was already making new friends and connections. I didn’t realize it at that moment, but that was the first time I had fun since leaving the US.

The school days that followed were fun and full of surprises. I met new people, learned a lot of new things, and participated in some really cool school events, like their peace festival and singing carnival. Classes took some getting used to. A lot of them are full of disruptive and loud kids who don’t really seem to care about their grades, but there are some responsible kids who do. On the weekends my host family took me to places all over Launceston. We watched an AFL game, toured Sydney, and I even got to play in the basketball tournament that Scotch Oakburn was participating in.

My time in Australia has been amazing. I’ve gotten to do and see things that I probably never would have if I hadn’t gone on exchange. When I look back on it, it’s hard to believe that I didn’t want to go on exchange. If not for my mom, who made me go, or for the fact that I wasn’t sent to South America, I would not have had as amazing of an experience as I’ve had here in Tasmania. To anyone who’s hesitating to go on exchange, or if you don’t feel like going on exchange at all, I strongly encourage you to give it a chance. I used to want nothing to do with exchange at all, but I ended up loving every single day of it. I leave in two days, and while I’m sad to go, I’m also a little happy to be returning home. I’ve seen and experienced a lot of what Tasmania has to offer, and I’m hoping that one day I’ll be back to see it all again.

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