Study Melbourne partnered with Melbourne Writers Festival 2017 to host a storytelling competition for international students. ‘Ancora Imparo’ by Joel Jebamani Murugiah from Malaysia was shortlisted in the University category and also won the Peoples Choice award.
To me, Melbourne is the place where I have always been learning, more so than anywhere else in my life, and the irony that I study at a university that arms itself with the motto of ‘I am still learning’ is not lost on me either. As an international student, one would assume that this would go without saying. After all, I left Malaysia to study here, and one invariably tends to learn more than just course content when leaving home for the first time. However, one of the many things I have learned is that Melbourne provides a very engaging and stimulating backdrop for one to learn and reflect about life, the universe and everything; and that everyone has their own backdrop within this city. Mine is a combination of things, places and experiences that would not generally qualify as a stereotypically ‘Melbourne’ mix, but they each mean a lot to me and have played a very significant part in my journey of transitioning from boy to man.
For one thing, I’m not a coffee person, which probably means that I will never be accepted as a true Melburnian. I personally prefer a warm, rich cup of hot chocolate, I genuinely find that it soothes the soul. Preferences aside, the ‘very-Melbourne’ practice of sitting down over a hot beverage for a chat will always mean a lot to me because of the memories I made with the people I’ve had the pleasure to share a hot drink with. I’ve talked about building a cafe with bouncy walls and plush toys, discussed the complexities of love, planned a Great Ocean Road trip and even enjoyed a game of UNO – all over a hot chocolate. As ordinary as it may sound for a Victorian experience, it will be something I will always cherish because it allowed me to understand and be inspired by people I sometimes can hardly believe am lucky enough to call close friends. I grew a lot closer to the people I shared a zen-inducing hot chocolate with, and it became a big part of assuring me that I had made friends for the rest of my life.
My ability to enjoy the ordinary, little things in life also developed in Melbourne, specifically during my first semester in the late winter of 2014. In the middle of adjusting to my new environment, I wanted to find and create an experience for myself that I knew I could always fall back on as a bastion of serendipity and contentment. After finishing an assignment one day, I celebrated my accomplishment by taking a walk on the bank of the Yarra River, specifically the stretch winding down towards the sporting precinct from Federation Square. In that peaceful state of fulfilment and satisfaction, I began to notice how beautiful the sky looked that evening, how calmly the water flowed in the river and how fresh and cool the air was. Although I had been privileged to have several instances in my life of being able to savour the moment before then, I don’t think I can remember any of them as vividly as that early September evening by the Yarra. Since then, it has become a sporadic ritual for me to reward myself on a beautiful day with a walk along the Yarra with a cup of vanilla ice-cream. Sometimes, I stop and sit on one of the benches by the river with my ice-cream watching the canoers and the ducks and enjoy the simple pleasure of a sweet treat on a lovely day. During periods of transition and uncertainty that are so characteristic of late teens and early adulthood, I’ve often found myself worrying and being anxious about the future, or questioning my purpose and direction in life, which impairs my ability to live in the here and now. However, my strolls down the Yarra River have taught me that I have plenty to be thankful for, and helped me accept my place and position in my life at present.
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about this city gets me in a very introspective and reflective mood at times. I am aware that I am no isolated case by any means, as I’ve found Melbourne to be home to many such people who each have their own safe havens for thoughtful solitude. The Yarra riverbank may be my personal spot to slow down and live for the moment, but in the past year I’ve found that I do my deepest, most reflective thinking in the company of the possums and my music library after dark at Flagstaff Gardens. It was the scene of what I believe to be my biggest breakthrough in life so far, where, by the playground almost directly opposite the Queen Victoria Market, I fully realised and understood that I had the power within myself to overcome the dissatisfaction and unhappiness that I had been struggling with for the past year or so by doing and pursuing the things that I wanted to do for myself. As obvious as it may seem, that epiphany hit me like a bolt of lightning, and served as the fuel that helped me write this piece. Never in all my life had I lived through a more life-changing experience, and I would like to believe it has helped me to continue learning to become the version of myself that I aspire to be one day.
These Melbourne experiences, despite being largely ordinary in nature, have served as the most informative and educational personal field trip I have had in my life so far. I am grateful for the very existence of hot chocolate, the bank of the Yarra and Flagstaff Gardens. I am grateful for all that I have learnt from my experiences with them. However, I do also wonder whether I may have misunderstood the lessons I’ve learnt up until this point. For now, though, I do not know, for I am still learning.