By Annabel Jeffery, University of Technology Sydney
For many students, a semester or two spent abroad is the trip of a lifetime. It’s a chance to build their knowledge, refresh their study experience, and feel inspired by a new culture.
For New-York-based writer Carly Quellman, going on exchange to the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) was all of these things and more. Her time in the harbourside city gave her the opportunity to rediscover what she wanted out of life. In fact, it was so life-changing that she honoured the experience by getting a tattoo.
Originally from Southern California, Carly was studying interior design at a state university. Midway through her studies, however, she was having doubts about the path she’d chosen.
“I wasn’t in a good headspace about anything – that included my future career,” says Carly. “I knew deep down that design wasn’t my art form, but I felt an urgency to finish for the sake of a degree.”
She considered transferring courses, but didn’t want to throw away years of study. It was at this crossroads that she decided to study abroad.
“Study abroad was my backup. My friend and classmate always wanted to go. She had been researching Australia for months,” says Carly. “I couldn’t have told you five things about Australia, to be honest!”
Her advisors connected her to the Architecture course at UTS. She was accepted into the course and, although her friend was no longer able to join her on exchange, Carly took the opportunity knowing she needed the change of scenery.
“It was me, myself, and I – 9000 miles away. It was a very intense experience taking all major classes in another country that used a different numerical system,” she says. “What I didn’t realise about UTS is that they are known for their Architecture and Engineering programs. I was completely in over my head! However, the experiences I had while studying at UTS were life-changing. I have no regrets.”
Carly stayed in UTS’s Yura Mudang student accommodation for the duration of her trip. It was there that she made the most of Sydney’s social and cultural scenes.
“I met some of my best friends out there, specifically the one who inspired my move to New York,” she says. “I was definitely overstimulated – new sights, new friends, new feelings.”
Carly found herself a job and saved so she could travel outside of town. She also embraced new opportunities to socialise.
“UTS and Yura Mudang were very adamant on creating opportunities for everyone to meet and mingle, which helped me understand other cultures and their perspectives,” she says. “The group of girls I met at Orientation are my friends for life. We’re such a mix of everything. In the US, it’s exhausting when your racial background determines your worth in someone else’s eyes. Unlearning those assumed patterns and stigmas is the best part of travelling.
“I fully embraced every aspect of my life when I was living in Sydney. And, for the first time, I felt like my environment fully embraced me.”
Chartering a new path
With plenty of new things to discover and process, Carly set about documenting her experiences on paper. She spent the rest of her trip detailing every day in a journal, writing from her six-share apartment.
“It was both therapeutic and invigorating. I could physically feel myself growing, accepting and learning about myself.”
Keeping a diary also allowed Carly to rediscover an old hobby: writing.
“I started reflecting on my childhood and connecting moments together. I realised that I had been writing for my whole life,” she says. “I love to read and I’ve always had a spectacular vocabulary. It just makes sense. I knew that at that point I was destined to live a life revolving around words – some way, somehow.”
Once Carly returned to California, she began to charter a new path that focused on writing. First up, her university’s student site published a six-excerpt blog on her Sydney adventures. She also changed her major to journalism and doubled up on classes to keep her graduation date in 2018. For her, this change was overwhelming yet ultimately reassuring.
“It’s hard to explain, but the best decisions are also the hardest ones,” she says. “You know, the ones your gut leads and you can’t ignore.”
A creative memento
Tattoo by Ariel Wyu 2019
Carly planned her transition to New York over six months and worked hard to establish herself as a writer. “I can tell you first-hand that hard work pays off and anything worth having will be difficult to obtain. That’s why it’s always worth it.”
It makes sense, then, that the tattoo Carly obtained to remember her journey depicted the exact coordinates of room 1205A in Yura Mudang – the place where she realised her love of writing.
“Me and my friend – another foreign exchange student – were planning to get matching tattoos of Yura Mudang coordinates before we left,” says Carly. “Multiple places priced us out exorbitantly, though. I felt like there was a reason why it hadn’t worked out for me at that specific time.
“On my 22nd birthday, I promised myself that if I could obtain a writing job in New York by my 23rd, my ‘golden year’ would be in full effect. I didn’t obtain a full-time writing career until six months after my move, but I know that everything happened for a reason. This tattoo is a representation of everything I experienced prior.”
Fast-forward to today and Carly is a digital creative copywriter for a New York music company. She spends her time outside of work attending creative events, trying new restaurants, and freelancing for various New York publications, including Quoted Magazine.
“I’m an editorial writer at heart,” she says. “It’s definitely a lot more fun to freelance now that I’m working for bylines and not to pay rent!”
Advice for other students
For Carly, being unafraid to connect with people was the best way to make the most of studying abroad. She credits Sydney as the catalyst for being more extroverted.
“The most prominent piece of advice I can give anyone is to walk into every space and be true to yourself, but know that you are going to leave that place a different person,” she says. “That’s one-hundred-per cent OK and one-hundred-per cent necessary!
“UTS was one of the best experiences of my life and will always mean a lot to me. It’s sunny, the people are just as warm as the air, and it’s a great place to learn about yourself and grow up. Travelling is not scary unless you worry. So, what’s there to be scared of?”