“Three…….Two……One,” I counted down to myself as I jumped off of the side of the boat and plunged into the cool water off the coast of Port Douglas, Australia.
“Breathe Ashley,” I reminded myself as I had my regulator in my mouth and felt my heart rate increase.
I had always wanted to scuba dive ever since I was little. My parents were certified scuba divers and scuba diving had always been something that fascinated me and made me anxious at the same time. I struggled a few months ago when vacationing with my family in Punta Cana where I went diving for the first time. I remember breathing heavily and anxiously clinging to the instructor as I refused to let go of his hand.
Now I was in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces all around me. I was about to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef. Somehow I didn’t have any trouble or anxiety. I calmly and easily breathed in and out, taking in all of the breathtaking sights around me as I began my descent to the ocean floor.
It was beautiful.
I saw stunning schools of fish swimming around me, colorful corals, giant clams, reef sharks, stingrays and fish of many different colors and sizes. I relaxed and energetically swam around while stopping to feel the calm rocking of the ocean current.
After almost an hour underwater, I climbed back to the surface and was filled with energy and excitement. I then went on to complete another dive. I spent as much time as I possibly could in the water, snorkeling and swimming around, so that I could see and experience as much as possible.
My day snorkeling and scuba-diving the Great Barrier Reef is a day that I will never forget. I felt so proud that I was able to overcome my anxiety. I had dreamed of seeing the Great Barrier Reef and here I was making my dream a reality.
While my Watson year so far has been an incredible journey where I have dove deep into the complicated world of child abuse and family violence in Australia, my journey has also been a personal journey where I have continued to learn about myself.
I have traveled alone to explore an area of the world that I havr always wanted the opportunity to explore. I have also tested my physical limits as I have conquered different walking and hiking trails.
I have completed a 10km hike through the bush and along the cliffs from Manly to the Spitt.
I have explored the local area at Cremorne Point and North Head.
I have experienced the beautiful scenery of the Bondi Beach to Coogee walk.
And I have walked along Cronulla’s beaches.
It is in these moments that I am reassured of my strength and my resilience. I am reaching new heights as a person, testing my boundaries, and learning that I am capable of more than I have ever acknowledged. As I get to know myself better with each day of this journey, I am proud of the person that I am becoming.
I have also met the most amazing people during my journey. I have experienced moments of friendship, love, generosity, and compassion from people who at first were strangers but who I now feel blessed to call my friends and family.
A group of women who identify as aboriginal have welcomed me every Friday at their support group where they tell me about their experiences as survivors of domestic violence. Even though I come from the other side of the world and even though my culture and heritage are very different than theirs, these women have really opened up to me, making me feel comfortable and accepting me for me. Many of them openly discuss really personal issues that they are struggling with as their children have been removed from their care. I even had the unforgettable opportunity to speak to an elder in the aboriginal community about her experiences with different child protection agencies. I very much appreciated her honesty as she told me about some of the most difficult parts of her life.
All of the Children’s Court staff have been incredibly supportive and friendly. They have taken the time to talk to me about the controversial issues in Children’s Court, their experiences working in the child protection system, and they have helped me make wonderful contacts during my stay in Australia.
I have seen how warm, generous, and compassionate many people are, as a friend from court invited me to spend a day with her twin children and then to meet her family for Australian Father’s Day brunch. She treated me to a day at the zoo where I had an amazing day feeding and petting kangaroos and many different animals. I also had the memorable opportunity of taking “selfies” with kangaroos, wallabies, birds, and dingo puppies alongside her children.
I have even received numerous random acts of kindness from complete strangers. On the two month mark of my Watson journey I was walking home from the train station and ran into some older Australians who were dressed in Sydney Swans gear. After stopping to casually talk to them about the game, they invited me to come along with them since they had an extra ticket. On the bus ride I shared travel stories with some incredibly adventurous older women who insisted that they treat me to dinner at the game and that I keep their Sydney Swans hat and scarf. I spent the rest of the night talking and learning about Australian rules football and eating scones as I watched the Swans win the game and move on to the grand final. The stadium had an incredible atmosphere of excitement and an energy that I will always remember.
I have also made a second family in Australia. I appreciate how my home stay family has opened their home and their lives to me, making me feel like a part of the family and like a big sister. Every day I am excited to get home from long days in court to be warmly greeted by my home stay mom. Every day I look forward to having dinner together and sharing little moments and stories as we talk about our days and watch “The Bachelor Australia” together.
I appreciate all of the little things that my “home stay mom” does to make me feel at home and to make me feel comfortable. I appreciate how she helped me combat my homesickness by taking me to the Hard Rock Café for an “America-style” cheeseburger. I could never thank her enough for helping me during my most vulnerable moments, driving me to the doctor, placing hot water bottles in my bed, bringing me tea, and making me delicious homemade pumpkin soup when I was really sick.
These moments are what help me to keep going even in the toughest times. For me it is these little gestures, the little conversations, and the little acts of kindness that have left a permanent imprint.