August 5: Australian Anniversary

Overlooking Byron Bay - celebrating two years in Australia! | Kimberly Hetherington

Two years ago today, with two overpacked suitcases, I moved to Australia.

I left Beijing on a smoggy summer day. My Dad and our maid Jinhua stood with me outside our apartment as I anxiously waited for the taxi. When the taxi finally arrived, my Dad gave me his typically awkward hug and wished me luck. “Remember, Vancouver is waiting for you if things don’t work out, you are never stuck.” I slid into the cab and waved goodbye. On the way to the airport, I looked out the window at the passing scenery and felt completely unfazed by leaving what was my home for over two years.

I had a layover in the Philippines before my flight to Sydney. Once we landed in the Philippines I made my way through the airport and heard a flight attendant yelling out “Sydney transfer this way!” My stomach sank at the reality of the situation. I tried my best to hold back the well of tears that were coming in. Those few hours waiting for my flight were spent nervously pacing up and down the waiting area with the deepest sense of anxiety I’ve ever experienced. It was unbelievable, it was actually almost an out of body experience.

When we finally landed in Sydney I felt almost delusional. My brain was exhausted from imagining every worst-case scenario possible and my tear ducts had dried up. I felt like an empty, emotionless zombie. As our plane slowly made its way through the tarmac, I looked out the window and squinted from the blazing sun in a clear blue sky. I felt knots in my stomach so I closed my eyes and began taking slow, deep breaths to calm myself down. I heard a woman a few seats behind me doing the same, I followed her breathing rhythm and wondered if she was in the same situation as me. Maybe she too had just moved here alone, maybe we could become friends? It made me feel calmer to think I had someone with me, I wasn’t alone. But her breathing got louder and faster and turned into short breathless screams. People started turning their heads to look back at her, I tried straining my neck to see her through the rows of seats. Then the plane stopped and minutes later 3 paramedics hopped on. Turns out the woman was having a panic attack. Oddly enough, seeing her get carried out on a stretcher relieved my own anxiety (thank you, random woman!)

After picking up my luggage, I took a transfer bus to the footstep of my hostel. I struggled up the stairs with my two massive suitcases while other lazy backpackers leaned against the wall casually smoking their cigarettes. No, I don’t need help, thank you. Don’t mind me! I checked in and was given a key and a wrapped up towel, “bring your sheets when you check out.” I found my room, fumbled with the key and beeped open to a 10 person dorm room. There were people everywhere. Music was playing and suitcases were splayed open with clothes scattered on the floor alongside empty sacks of goon. Everyone appeared to be 19 years old, and by the sound of their accents, they were mostly German. I stood there trying to figure out which bed was empty so I could drop my things and immediately run and hide. A few of them wordlessly sat up to reveal an empty bed. I smiled and muttered “thanks” before dropping my bags and darting off to the only place that offered privacy: the toilet. It reminded me of the scene in Mean Girls when Lindsay Lohan has lunch alone in a toilet stall, magnifying her sense of loneliness. I wrote about my first few days here.

Reading that post now and reflecting on that time feels like I’ve reached the top of a very large metaphorical mountain. One that I trekked tirelessly through, alone and scared. The view from up here is spectacular, the air is crisp and clean (literally, compared to Beijing). My metaphorical blisters have healed and I can run my fingers along my calloused feet. I have a perfect aerial view of the route I took two years ago; from up here, I can pinpoint the exact moments where I wanted to give up.

Leaving Beijing behind felt like pulling the plug on a life of disconnection and desolation. I can’t help but associate the city of Beijing with memories of my sister’s death. My brain has permanently fused the city of Beijing with pain and grief. The days that slipped by after her death were spent as a desperate plea for love and connection. It was a terrible time of my life, but I suppose anywhere in the world would have been painful considering the circumstances.

Sydney, on the other hand, feels like being in a relationship with someone who is healthy and stable. It’s like being with the kind of guy who makes me feel like I can finally be myself; like the person I am is enough. Beijing was like that toxic, idiot boyfriend who was clearly terrible for me yet I waited around hoping that maybe one day he’d change.

In Sydney, I found the best group of like-minded friends I could ask for. They are supportive and encouraging and have stood by me through everything. I have also fallen madly in love with the most incredible guy. I have never felt a love so real before, I really didn’t think it was possible.

And to top it all off – I found out that I’m getting sponsored as the SEO and Content Manager at Torrens University. It’s been an absolute dream of mine to work for a University, let alone as a manager in digital marketing and content creation. This also means I get another two years in this country!

It was worth every bit of struggle to get here, it showed me what I’m capable of. I don’t mean to sound like a cliché finishing this off with a tagline like “your dreams really can come true!” But…. it’s kinda true. It’s also true that dreams are also never-ending and evolving. There is no end point where you throw your boots off and go wow! Awesome! *high fives* now we’re done and can finally relax from here on out! There will always be more metaphorical mountains to climb because life will continue to throw all sorts of horrible and amazing stuff our way. But the more realise we can stand up and walk out on anything that we no longer want, the better life will be. We are not here forever, there is no point in allowing our lives to get swallowed by comfortable misery. Go after what you want – only you can make that happen.

No matter what life throws at us, we always have the power to change route. Whether it’s something as drastic as losing a loved one or feeling uninspired by the current state of our lives – we are the ones who determine where our story goes. We are the captains of our own ship!

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, you can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”






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