THIS is exactly why I came to the UK. To escape the isolation of home, and plant myself in this epicentre of language, culture and history.
There is something about being away from home that opens your eyes, your mind and your view of the world.
Mostly, it’s subconscious. It’s a culmination of the things you see, the people you meet, the situations you find yourself in, all coming together to help inform your opinions of this amazing planet of ours and the cultures that inhabit it.
But sometimes it’s conscious too – you can almost feel yourself changing as you watch events unfold in front of you.
I was cruising through the canals of Amsterdam recently, watching people pack the streets, clambering out of three storey townhouses jammed in alongside each other and I couldn’t help but think of the contrast to home. I left a community up in arms over the approval of medium density housing in their suburban streets, furious that it might obscure a view – or even more horrifying, throw an afternoon shadow onto their clothesline.
Here, such notion seems absurd. The more houses, the bigger the community. Or, at the very least, the bigger the party.
On a national stage, debate is still raging in Australia about which of our political parties can devise an immigration policy that most efficiently washes its hands of the world’s most vulnerable citizens. Meanwhile, I’ve been walking around the streets of Europe’s biggest cities, surrounded by a veritable explosion of language and culture, where the traditional heritage of these cities has not only been protected, but it’s thrived. Europe’s buzzing alleyways and city centres are living and breathing examples of why we should embrace an agenda of diversity and integration, not fear it.
Even as I walked the grounds of Edinburgh Castle, a place that had countless wars crash against its walls centuries before Australia had even been discovered, I was reminded of how young we are. Australia’s comparative youth makes us fortunate enough to be one of the last remaining countries that can still create an identity for itself.
I don’t want to suggest that we don’t have one now. Surfing, sunshine and an abundance of dangerous animals seem to be reason enough for people across the globe to love Aussies, and that’s perfectly fine.
But if we really wanted to, Australia could continue forging its identity in full view of the world. And if we ever did, it would be my hope that our foundation is built on the experiences each of us has had overseas.
Every nation has its flaws, but everyone should take any opportunity to explore the four corners of our amazing planet and bring back with them its best parts as a building block for an even better Australia.
We have a chance to be a country where cyclists are supported, and bikes embraced as a legitimate form of transport. Where public transport is so frequent we don’t need a timetable. Where politicians are brave enough to cooperatively support a progressive agenda that looks beyond the next election. And a place where its traditional inhabitants are respected and treated as equals.
There is so much to learn by being overseas. I think I’m going to start with a second language. French or Italian. Or maybe even Dutch or Spanish? Who knows, maybe I’ll try all of them.