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What I’ve Learned from the Story Never Shared: Turning Trauma into Strength

Posted Jul 19 2012 11:58am

It was a tough decision to share my story ( part 1 and part 2 ), and I didn’t do it to evoke sympathy, but I wanted my readers to know where I’ve been and why I have decided to be so raw in my writing.  After years of having to hide this in the dark and be forced to be ashamed of it, it’s both terrifying and freeing to set this caged bird of a memory free and be able to sit here and say that I’m stronger because of it.

For the first few years after the whole Australia thing happened, I’d shudder whenever anyone mentioned the country’s name.  My mood would instantly drop and I’d tell people I lived there but didn’t want to get into the whole story.  The truth is, I did also have some crazy experiences during my brief few months there and despite my vow early on to never go back, I now want to return to do all the things I never got to do but desperately wanted to.  I have the strength now to say that my former exchange family can’t hurt me anymore, and I won’t let them ruin a place I really loved.

I also learned a lot of very valuable life lessons at a young age because of the whole fiasco.  I learned that trust has to be earned, secrets should not be shared easily, it’s not a matter of “if” gossip will get around, it’s a matter of “when,” and that even if the majority of people around you don’t know the truth, what matters is that you do and no one can take that away.

I thought I’d share a few pictures and stories of some of the good memories that I have from studying abroad in Australia.  It took me a few years before I went back and looked at some of these pictures, but while I was in school there, I had made a lot of friends and for a brief period of time experienced what it was like to be “popular”, or at least a novelty.

Fun Story: A lot of students knew I was an exchange student but didn’t know my name so they called me “America”

My first day in Australia: Camping at Pretty Beach (yeah, they’re really creative with names)

Fun Story: I bought a Nalgene Bottle with UPenn’s logo on it for a friend of mine in Oz and filled it with Jolly Ranchers for her.  I gave it to her at a party she had where I met her friends (she and I had spoken online a lot and went to school with my exchange student) and she let everyone have a “lollie” (what they call candy).  Everyone went ape sh*t over them and my parents sent me a 5 lb bag, which was gone in a few days.

Fun Story: I was told that I’d get sick of seeing Kangaroos very quickly.  They were EVERYWHERE at Pretty Beach where we camped my first week.  I thought I’d never get tired of seeing them…but I did.

Fun Story: Actually this one isn’t so fun but I got a second degree sunburn while I was there from sitting out on the beach in the afternoon, with no sunscreen because I was trying to get a tan.  Yeah, I don’t tan, I burn and I burn BADLY. Lesson learned.

I look happy in this picture but it was right before I left.  My exchange mom decided I could take a day off of school and go to Bondi Beach.  It was cloudy and time spent with a woman who tried to tell me how horrible I was actually wasn’t very fun.  However, I look back at this picture and think of how much strength I had at 17 and how well I tried to deal with a humiliating and shaming situation.

Fun Story: When you order fish ‘n chips in Oz, you will be asked if you want regular salt or chicken salt.  I wasn’t a vegetarian or vegan when I lived there…go for the chicken salt ;)

I got to climb the Harbor Bridge and it was a great experience.  I thought I’d be freaking out because of the height but it wasn’t that bad.  It’s really safe and you get amazing views.  I was told by the guide that almost a thousand marriage proposals had been made on the bridge and all of them said yes.  I said I wanted to be the first person to say no.  People didn’t understand that was a joke…sort of.

Fun Story: I saw A LOT of weird animals and my best friend always had a laugh at my expense when I got freaked out by bats and wombats and freaky lizards.

Can you see it?!

I really do hope to go back one day and get to have the experiences I’ve always dreamed of.  My dad and I spoke about this past weekend when he was here and he too thinks it’s a part of my healing to return on a positive note.  I hope to share that journey when the time comes!

Thank you to all of you who commented or sent emails about sharing my story.  I was nervous about sharing it but it was such a huge experience in my life that I felt it needed to be put out there.  You have made me feel very brave and I’m eternally grateful for the support of all my great readers.  You keep me going!

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