I Moved Across the Country at 17

Here’s what I learned

When I was seventeen, I moved across Australia. I left my hometown of Geraldton in regional Western Australia, and I uprooted myself to Sydney — The Big Smoke. 

Geraldton was all I had ever known. I’d lived in the same house my entire life, and the longest I had been away from home was two week stints for school camps and the like. 

I came to Sydney with two suitcases and a bike, and restarted my life interstate.

Initially, I’d moved with the intention to study medicine at the University of New South Wales. In the end, though, I never checked my offer, and enrolled instead in an advanced science degree with embedded honours, until I dropped out to a plain ol’ science degree, and then eventually switched into a double degree in science and arts — with an honours thesis on poetry to soon follow. 

I decided to defy expectation by doing what I actually wanted for once. And so the school dux became a med drop out before she had even started. 

Learning to live and study in the city, while also navigating a more adult life (I still suck at managing my utility bills), hasn’t been easy. At the time I left Geraldton, I could count on a single hand the number of people who had made similar interstate moves — and they were all much older than seventeen when they did it. 

But, in true ENID big sister spirit, here are some of the things that I learned from moving across the country.

Share-housing is hard. Like, really hard.

Sharing a space with strangers has taught me a lot about patience. It has also taught me a few things I would have preferred not to learn, like how to unclog a drain filled with other people’s hair, and the best way to retrieve your bond from a housemate who appointed themselves as your landlord illegally. 

…but moving house is harder.

Just the end-of-lease cleaning is enough to drive anyone nuts, never mind the hassle of trying to get your bond back. Maybe it’s my own personal strand of bad luck, but I always seem to get charged for ‘essential’ repairs to damage I didn’t even cause.

Financial independence isn’t easy.

But it is possible, and boy, is it the best feeling ever to finally be able to stop asking your parents for money.

In the beginning, it was really hard for me to find work. Having savings to fall back on was a huge help. I worked my butt off in the months between graduating high school and moving to the eastern states, and since I don’t qualify for government financial assistance, I had to live off those savings for a little while. 

My advice is to take advantage of whatever skills you have. I’ve always had an aptitude for maths, so when I first moved to Sydney my income mostly came from tutoring school students. 

Websites like Airtasker and Gumtree were also phenomenal when it came to supporting myself while I established tutoring clientele. Advertising yourself as free labour for odd jobs is surprisingly worthwhile!

If you can monetise your hobbies, do it. This way, you can make money from things you actually enjoy, with minimal effort. I opened an etsy store selling knitted creations when I was short on work, and it certainly helped to have that little extra bit of cash.

At the same time, keep up the job search! 

Making friends at university is not like making friends at school.

Remember when you saw the same group of people every day and became friends based on that fact, and that fact alone? Yeah, you can forget about that. You’re going to have to start putting some effort in. 

If you meet someone in a lecture or tutorial who you enjoy chatting to, make sure to grab their details — because chances are, if you don’t put in the effort to hang out, you may never see them again. 

Even if you cherish your alone time, you will grow lonely.

My first few months in Sydney were really, really difficult. I felt like an actual alien. Imagine me, this tiny five-foot-nothing girl from the middle of the west coast, with an accent as bogan as they come, trying to navigate the big city by herself.

I’ve spoken openly about my experiences of mental illness in other posts on ENID and elsewhere; before I found my feet in the city I was in a dark place. Reminding myself of the reasons why I left helped me to focus on the future, instead of a friendless present. The transition from high school to uni can feel strange, so if you experience loneliness, know that you are not alone in feeling that way! 

It might be the same country, but the school systems are very different.

In the NSW education system, high school students complete their High School Certificate (wow, surprise), but in Western Australia, we complete our West Australian Certificate of Education (double wow). 

Whilst ATARs are somewhat ubiquitous across Australia, don’t be shocked to learn that subjects in different states are completely dissimilar. Somehow, even though I studied Human Biology, and also Philosophy and Ethics — neither of which are offered in NSW for the HSC — I still received an ATAR which made me comparable to my NSW counterparts. Confused? So am I. Still.

Be prepared to find a silver lining to the subjects you studied in your home state, though. For me, I blitzed my way through first year chemistry at uni, as the content was essentially the same as what I learned for my WACE! Meanwhile, students local to NSW floundered — it was all new to them. 

Cut yourself off from your old life, if that’s what you need.

It sounds finite, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. There are very few people I went to high school with whom I still speak to. In fact, I can’t say that I am on speaking terms with anybody from my graduating class. We are more like estranged acquaintances now.

And that’s okay! It’s what I needed. I fled a lot of trauma when I left home, and cutting off my ties with my past felt right. 

Embrace yourself, and you’ll find your tribe soon enough.

‘Nuff said.

To sum up the last four years: I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I was lost when I left Western Australia. I was physically and mentally unwell, and I was searching for something I still haven’t found — escape. 

But I discovered so much more.

As corny as it sounds, I ‘found’ myself, and followed my calling by putting more energy into my passions — writing and performing poetry. 

I became more sure of myself; first dying my hair pink, then shaving most of it off, began to collect tattoos (at the time of writing, I have a total of 17… coincidence, much?) and wear clothes I actually feel comfortable in, and embraced my inner goth. I am still yet to master the smokey eye, but eyeliner is always on my early morning agenda. 

There are times when I miss Western Australia, deeply. I am not a city girl, and coastal country towns will always hold a special place in my heart. That being said, moving interstate was the right decision, and I don’t regret uprooting my life to do it.

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