The Unexpected Lessons I Learned On My Post-Grad Solo Trip To Australia

Courtesy Of Erika Vichi Lee
Welcome to the inaugural class of '29. We've selected 29 graduating college seniors, entering the "real" world in 2018, to write about the state of their lives. What are their hopes, dreams, fears, stressors, failures, and successes as they leave school behind? We will be releasing new entries on a daily basis. If you would like yours to be considered, please email classof29@refinery29.com.
Two weeks after graduation, I spontaneously left Los Angeles to go on a solo trip to Sydney, Australia. The goal was simple: have fun, rest, and visit some friends. At the time, I felt like I hadn’t relaxed for four long years. I envisioned myself meditating by Bondi Beach, eating Insta-worthy brunches al fresco and petting kangaroos under the Aussie sun.
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It didn’t turn out quite the way I planned. When I booked the flight, I forgot it was winter in Australia. Instead of soaking up rays of sunshine, I was shivering thanks to the chilly temps and near-daily rainstorms. There wasn’t much to do except eat and shop. And eat more.
I felt aimless and lonely. I was frustrated at myself for flying across the world with no agenda, only to still have no agenda. I didn’t expect some life-changing Eat, Pray, Love epiphany out of this trip, but I certainly didn’t expect this. I tried to make the most of my time, forcing myself to be joyful in order to not disappoint the friends who were taking the time to host me.
But one (rainy) day, as I was eating pancakes with my friend Lily, that changed. Something about the conversation made me open up and share more about my life than I ever had before. I told her about the job rejections I’d received, past tensions with friends and family and the mental health issues I struggled with throughout college. We laughed and teared up through the waves of joy and vulnerability. After we were done, Lily said something that’s stuck with me ever since: opening up allowed her to finally understand me as a person and a friend.
Illustrated by Paola DeLucca
“It was hard for me to get to know you at first,” she revealed. “I felt like you were acting happy on the outside, but the words you were saying didn’t match how you really seemed.”
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As a recent graduate of one of the best (and most expensive) journalism schools in the country, I had high expectations for myself. Watching all of my classmates score the most incredible jobs while facing unemployment, made me feel even worse. While I was truly happy for my friends, there was a dissonance between the frustration I felt within myself and the joy I felt for others.
Surprised at her confession, I thought about what Lily said. She was right. I wanted to be happy, but I wasn’t. I faked joy, but she saw through it. I had told myself that this vacation was a break from the job applications, a chance to just have some fun. But really, I was just trying to escape how unhappy I felt about not securing a job after graduation. I was afraid of being a downer to others, but I realized I should be open about my feelings no matter what.
Growing up doesn’t make things any less challenging. But, as Lily taught me, at the end of the day, the best way to find authentic and lasting happiness is to let yourself accept the way things are, and the way you are. It’s embracing the uncertainty, the turbulence of the journey and doing the best with what we have. Going to an unfamiliar place helped me to come to terms with my feelings. I decided to finally allowed myself to lean into these feelings of uncertainty.
It’s been over a month since my trip ended, and I’m ecstatic to be back in Los Angeles. There are no kangaroos, but I do have an abundance of sunshine and friends. I’m still unemployed, but applying for jobs every day. Some days are rougher than others and and I still feel stressed. But, I am allowing myself to accept that those feelings are okay and part of process. I don’t know where the future will take me, and that, I’ve finally realized, is okay.
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Erika Vichi Lee graduated with a degree in Journalism at University of Southern California. After graduation, she plans to work in news or anything creative. You can follow her on Twitter at @erikavichilee and Instagram @helloerika.

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