What do you get when you mix a US citizen, Medical School, and the ‘Down Under’?

From the perspective of an African American student

Planning your move to Aussie-land

When packing for the big move, take a step back and look around your current life. You’re undoubtedly filled with excitement and eagerness. But trust me, all those endorphins will inevitably cause you to leave behind something of great value to you (DOH!). 

Here’s my advice for avoiding that pitfall…

The month before you start packing that suitcase, place a piece of paper and a pen in your bathroom. Every morning as you go through your routine, write down the things you use - your toothbrush, favorite hair products, face products, lotions, potions, etc. Do the same for your night routine and if you’re really keen… add in your favorite items of clothing. This will give you a shopping/packing list for when the time comes. 

Remember, you are moving to a different country where most of the population may or may not look like you. If you are African American, many of your personal hygiene creature comforts may not be available here (e.g. hair products), and the same can be said for Amazon AU (the Australia version of Amazon). Be sure to PACK SMART as shipping from the US is VERY expensive.  

Autumn on campus

The good news is, they have a lot of great shops here, so if you’re deciding between clothes and products that may not be available here, pack the products! Trust me, you will have no problem finding really cute threads to sport once you arrive. My one caveat to this is gym shoes. Buying a pair of tennies here will cost you a pretty penny, so definitely throw your favorites in with your favorite stick deodorant. 

My year in Australia

Brisbane fireworks

Brisbane festival

Living in Brisbane is like living in a postcard. The scenery is gorgeous and the city is very well kept. The weather is amazing 99 per cent of the time. In the “winter”, on the coldest days you can survive with a good hoodie/jacket combo. During the summer, be prepared to wear as little as possible. It definitely gets HOT and HUMID, but that just means every day is the perfect beach day.

Autumn next to ocean

The public transportation system is amazing. It is so easy to catch trains, buses, ferries and you have one fare card for all of it. But the icing to that cake is you get a student discount! With the concessions on your Go Card, you can hop a train to the Gold Coast for less than $5 AUD (2.5 USD). When I am not cruising on my bike, I take public transport everywhere. It’s “too easy” as they say here.

Med School 101

Let me start by saying, everything you think medical school will be, it won’t be, LOL. The things you are anxious about will end up being a breeze. The true difficulty of med school comes with figuring out what YOU need to be successful. You will hear LOTS of advice from other students, faculty staff, tutors, family back home… the list goes on and on. But no one can really give you the blueprint that will work for you. 

Autumn in tutorial

Autumn in scrubs

We all study differently. We all approach the course work differently. But one thing those of us who have made it this far will all tell you… it is completely manageable. You just have to find the secret sauce that works for you. 

For me, it was a steep learning curve in the beginning. Those first five weeks I was convinced I had left behind my life to be waterboarded with medical knowledge.  But I not only survived, I found a way to actually love the process.

Things to be prepared for

As I alluded to earlier, people here may or may not look like you. Additionally, you have to remember that US history is just that… so things that may not be politically correct to say in the US may be said here. Initially, it will set you back on your heels, BUT with that said, I have yet to run into any maliciousness. If you encounter situations that make you feel uncomfortable, it’s a GREAT opportunity to practice some “future physician” skills and use it as a teachable moment. In my experience, people here are so agreeable to learning. 

Making the most out of this adventure

I firmly believe in working hard and playing hard too. One thing I give the Aussies is, they TRULY know the meaning of quality of life. I encourage you to learn from the natives and take full advantage of this beautiful country. There are a million places to explore and you don’t have to go broke doing it. Take time out to see the whales migrate. Find time to snorkel/dive the ship wrecks at Tangalooma on Moreton Island, just a 75-minute catamaran cruise from Brisbane. Take a trip to the reef and the rainforest. If you’re like me and have never donned a surfboard… go get wiped out by a wave or two. Hands down, one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. 

Autumn on surfboard

Lastly… make friends with the Aussie natives and non-US international students. They will be the world’s best tour guides in Australia, as well as OTHER countries. But most importantly, be sure when you get on that plane to New Orleans in two years time… you smile all the way home, while thinking “that was the ride of my LIFE!”. I know I will, and I still have a year of memories left to make.

Last updated:
10 December 2019