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“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” -Dr. Seuss ~ Back Home in the USA!!! :)

Time December 10th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Leaving a place you are familiar with is never an easy thing to do. However, I have found that leaving the people that become your closest friends who have been apart of some of your greatest memories is possibly the hardest thing you will ever have to do. Just as I was sad and nervous to leave my friends and family at home before I left for Australia, I was once again overwhelmed with emotions at leaving my friends and newfound sense of home and family in Australia.

The last few weeks in Cairns weren’t exactly the easiest. We all found ourselves swamped with finals  and the omnipresent feeling that pretty soon we would have to leave the paradise we called home for five months. Our families were anxiously waiting for us hundreds of thousands of miles away, and, yet, we found ourselves emotionally torn between what we actually wanted. Our last week in Australia, we gave it our final hoorah. We studied hard for finals, spent as much time with our friends as possible, and even woke up at 5am on Wednesday, November 14th to bike to the beach and see the solar eclipse. Despite our effort to live up every last second in Australia, the things we did there never seemed to get old.

Our flights were scheduled for November 17th, and a taxi was to come pick nine of us up for the airport at 3:30am. It was almost like a dream. I couldn’t believe as I was taking down everything in my room that I was leaving a place in the world that I may never see in the same way again. I mean, lets be honest, I highly doubt that I will be living for an extended period of time in Australia at another point in my life. My home is completely stationed here in the US and I know that. I love Australia for everything it was and how much it has added to my life. But I know the US will always be my true home. Too many of my memories and all of my feelings of familiarity are here in the US, in addition to (more importantly) the people that make my life as special as it is.

Leaving that morning could be summed up in two words: emotional disaster. Of course, no one slept and we all had our luggage piled in the living rooms of our suites. My one friend said it in the best and worst way: ”It is almost like we’re waiting to die.” To some people, it seemed that way. For hours, I can say that I was in a room engulfed by twenty people reminiscing, crying, and completely dreading the thought of leaving. To some individuals, it really did seem like the end of the world in a sense. I guess I can say I kind of felt like I stuck out, since I was one of the few individuals from my immediate group of friends not crying. Sure, I thought that it was very sad that I would be leaving these incredible friends that I had established a life with and conquered the task of being abroad in a foreign country with. However, I could not lie and say that I wasn’t excited to go home. I treated Australia for what it was- a fabulous and wonderful once-in-a-lifetime experience that I am forever grateful to have and will never forget. At 3:30 am, we boarded the taxi, leaving about a group of 20 plus individuals behind crying outside the student lodge we had called home. Many of us questioned whether we would see some of these people again. I think that was one of the hardest facts we had to come to terms with. Once we got to the airport, however, I found that leaving Australia and getting back home to the US was going to be a lot harder than anticipated. But, getting home was the only positive thought that was going to get me through the amount of traveling I was going to have to embark on.

Literally, everything that could have went wrong to someone when they are traveling happened to me. And I really do wish I was exaggerating. My first flight was from Cairns to Brisbane. However, once I landed in Brisbane, a huge storm hit which delayed my flight from Brisbane to LA about 2 hours once all was said and done. This was very problematic for me, because my travel company booked my flights so I only had a little over an hour to make my connecting flight in LA (and I knew customs would take quite a bit of time). By the time I landed, I had to wait a extraneous amount of time for my luggage. Once I finally got my luggage to take through customs, I was already on the verge of missing my flight to Dallas. After sprinting to drop off my luggage and get to the correct terminal, I made it there just as the flight attendant was shutting the doors for final boarding and she refused to let me on. I wasn’t too worried, however, because my Dad told me if I missed my flight there would be plenty of other flights that I could take (to Chicago, Dallas, etc.) that could connect me to a final flight to my destination of Philadelphia. However, both of us simply forgot the fact that it was Thanksgiving travel weekend.

After waiting about 45 minutes to get someone at American Airlines in customer service to assist me, I was informed that the next available flight wasn’t until 11:50 PM. I was PANICKED. You have to be kidding me. It is currently 9 am and the next flight wasn’t until 11:50 PM. What the heck am I going to do in the LA airport for over 12 hours. I kept trying to explain my situation, and eventually they put me on standby for a flight that was to leave for Chicago a little after 10 am (I would then have a guaranteed flight to Philly that night from Chicago). Needless to say, I was stressing. There were two individuals ahead of me that were guaranteed seats on the flight, and then there was myself and eight other people after me on standby. American Airlines was offering travel money and guaranteed later flights to people who were willing to give up their seats. It simply wasn’t happening. They boarded the entire plane and I was starting to lose hope. Then, last second, someone gave up their seat. Thank. Goodness. I was ecstatic! And I gave that individual the best thanks I could give them (I was super tempted to give them a giant hug but I thought that might be a tad awkward haha). I hopped on that flight, went to the windy city, hopped onto another flight and BAM! I was in good old Philadelphia before I knew it! My family met me right away with a big welcome sign- I was beyond happy! It felt SO good to see them all again! Unfortunately, my luggage was lost in transit and didn’t arrive with me in Philadelphia. But, my family took me home and I ate the pumpkin pie which I had been waiting MONTHS for (which seemed to make everything better haha). Plus, they were able to locate my luggage and deliver it  to me only a few days later. So, it all worked out! Overall, from Cairns to arriving in my own house, I had completed over 30 plus hours of travel. It was more than time to be home!

I loved seeing my dogs and sleeping in my own bed. And, I even enjoyed seeing all of the squirrels everywhere after not seeing them for five months. I loved spending Thanksgiving with my family and eating all the yummy foods and having leftovers for a number of days after. Seeing the first snowfall of the season when I woke up one morning reminded me of one of the many reasons I loved being home during the winter season. And I can’t describe how amazing it felt to go up to Susquehanna University and see all of my friends and sisters. Literally, I have NEVER gotten so many bombardments and hugs in my entire life and it was WONDERFUL! It felt so good to be back! Especially at the holidays. I truly do feel right at home. As much as I miss Australia, I will always have the amazing memories and friendships that will last a lifetime! It truly was an incredible experience, and I have a LOT to smile about when I look back on it all. :) 

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“Where you invest your love, you invest your life.” –Mumford & Sons ~ Road Trip to Townsville!!

Time November 12th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

 

 Over four months ago, when a bunch of us (abroad students) met in Sydney during the IFSA-Butler orientation, one of my (now) friends (Andrew) mentioned that Mumford & Sons was touring Australia and he wanted to see them. The second I heard that, I wanted to see them as well (I could not believe that one of my favorite bands was touring right in Australia while I was abroad). Conveniently, they had stopovers in both the town my college was in and the town his college was in. Needless to say, a month later, my two roommates and I decided to road trip it from Cairns to Townsville in October to meet up with a few of our orientation friends and see Mumford & Sons. And, before we knew it, the weekend finally came!

We left on a Saturday morning to pick up our rental car in Cairns. It was a cozy little car- perfect for our first road trip! My one roommate Anna told us she would drive (it was on her bucket list of things to do in Australia). The idea of driving semi terrified me, but I was also nervous to actually ride in a car with someone who had only driven in the US before. But everything went super smoothly! The road to Townsville wasn’t bad (except for the numerous stops we had to make due to highway construction). But there were gorgeous sites, cute little towns, and even some really cool fruit stands along the way (with GIANT avocados)! The road trip was the perfect excuse to get away and enjoy pleasures as simple as riding in a car with the windows down, blasting music, and spending invaluable time with friends.

We arrived in Townsville early Saturday evening. Townsville was a lot different than I expected. It’s a huge army base, but for some reason I still expected it to have a small town feel to it. I was completely wrong. It was HUGE! There were malls and buildings everywhere (although a number of the smaller shops were closed down/ abandoned).  It was still very charming! However, the James Cook University at Townsville was A LOT different than the James Cook University in Cairns. The entire university was made up of a bunch of different schools (based on majors), and was completely and entirely different than James Cook University in Cairns. There were a variety of living situations (single rooms in suites, single rooms in dorms, shared rooms, etc.), campus was a bit more tricky to navigate and large (making it a long walk to go just about anywhere), the food was better (more variety was offered), it was not within any walking or biking distance of a beach (although a river was nearby to swim in), and there was definitely more of a university life (in terms of having a club on campus, more sports teams, etc.). JCU at Cairns is much smaller, way more remote, and does not have a large campus life. But, after visiting JCU in Townsville, I can honestly say that I made the right decision for myself to come to JCU in Cairns. I love smaller schools, the proximity to a lot of beaches, and I wouldn’t trade the close-knit family I have made at the Cairns Student Lodge for anything else.

On our first day in Townsville, we went into town and saw the strand. This is the main beach in Townsville, and has a lot of community life surrounding it. We participated in a full-moon drum circle, got some amazing Indian food and gelato, then took a drive up to see some of the planned burning that was going on in the mountains. We even spotted a kangaroo among the flames- which is very rare to see! And, they are A LOT larger than I expected to be in the wild. The next day was pretty relaxing as well- we celebrated a friend of a friend’s birthday by tubing on the river and then by eating a wonderful homemade dinner. 

Then it was Monday- Mumford and Sons concert time! We had be anticipating this concert for MONTHS and it was finally here! During the afternoon, we drove up to Castle Hill- which was INCREDIBLE! We hiked five tracks at the top, and we could see panoramic views of Townsville. It was a gorgeous day and we got some really amazing pictures. I am going to miss this bright blue Australian sky and beating sun like nothing else when I have to go home for the winter!

 

That evening, we headed into the convention center for the concert an hour before it was supposed to start. We were getting a little nervous, since we were expecting massive crowds and a ton of traffic (just like the US). However, we arrived there, and literally got a parking spot five steps away from the convention center. People were lounging around and having picnics on the grass- you wouldn’t even be able to tell that Mumford & Sons were about to perform in an hour. However, literally five minutes before the concert, people suddenly poured in. The general admission and seating areas were PACKED. The concert was INCREDIBLE (Mumford & Sons sounded so much better live than on their cd). We were all awe struck when we left- it was SO good! I am so grateful that I was able to see one of my favorite bands perform live while I was abroad- it was completely surreal. 

The next morning, we packed up to head home to Cairns. Unfortunately, we had finals to start studying for. It was weird saying goodbye to our friends, because we realized that this was actually a final goodbye in a sense. Like, we may never see these people again because we live in totally different states in the US. That’s when we started dreading the goodbyes we would have to make with our friends at the lodge in a few weeks. It is amazing how close you can become with people in such a short period of time. So, we came home to our beloved Cairns, and buried ourselves in hours upon hours of studying. My first exam is in a few days (thank goodness I only have two). But, a week from now, I will be headed home to the USA. I’m excited for everything to come, but I am nervous about all of the great things I am leaving behind. All of a sudden, I find myself searching for internships, registering for classes, looking at careers, filling out applications for positions in clubs at home- and I realize that I am going back to A LOT of work that I have temporarily been relieved of here. But, like always, I am pumped for the next step. Oh, and may I mention- I spent Halloween on the beach in 80 degree weather- I can assure you there is probably no other time in my life I will be able to do that! And, I got to dress up as a koala!  

 I have had the time of my life in Australia, and I feel so blessed that I was able to experience this great adventure at such a young age. I still remember as a little kid being glued to the TV during the Olympics in Sydney. That’s when I said to my Dad, “I want to go to Australia.” And that’s when he laughed and said, “Maybe when you’re older, you can take yourself there.” And I remember watching “Holiday in the Sun” with Mary Kate and Ashley and their trip to Australia. Then, when I was in 9th grade, I had a sketchbook assignment to draw my dream trip. I drew a picture of Australia. Never thought I would actually have the opportunity to come here in college. I’m only 20, and I feel like I already accomplished one of my biggest life goals. But, I know I’ll get back here some day. I have a ton of things I want to see and do that I haven’t had the opportunity to yet.

And this is where I would like to quote one of my favorite lines from the Mumford & Sons’ song  “Awake My Soul:” “Where you invest your love, you invest your life.” I think that statement is true with everything and anything one does in life- whether in be the relationships one has with others, the career one pursues, where one travels- when one does things one loves or has things one loves, one will invest one’s life into them. And that, in my opinion, is what makes one’s life worthwhile when one looks back on it. I have loved every moment of being abroad in Australia, and I can truly say that I have invested my whole life into this experience. And, I can wholeheartedly say that I have gotten the most out of the experience I have had while I was here. It’s invaluable and I will never forget it. It was truly life changing. 

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“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”- Henry Miller ~ Some helpful tips for being abroad!

Time October 30th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

 

I know that for all of my posts so far I have talked about traveling, minor mishaps, spontaneous adventures…you know, all the fun stuff you do when you are abroad. But yes, I do have classes. And I do have essays and tests, and now and then yes, yes I do get homesick. Even when I am surrounded by palm trees, sunny warm days and am a fifteen-minute bike ride from three different beaches, I still can’t help but miss the comforts of home. I’ve only been here close to 4 months, but I honestly feel like I have been here my entire life. A lot of Australia seems like a new home to me now.

Yes, classes are different here. And although there isn’t much work (at least, compared to the tremendous amount of work I tend to get at home), they have challenges in their own ways. One of the main suggestions I can tell you is take classes when you’re abroad that you normally wouldn’t take at home and are unique to the area you are studying in. You’re probably never going to have the opportunity to gain that type of knowledge again. I am a biology/pre-med major, and this semester I am only taking one biology course (Biodiversity of Tropical Australia) and the rest of my courses meet general liberal arts requirements at my home university (Ecology & Australian Indigenous Cultures, Anthropology, and Human Rights and Social Issues). At home, I am used to being able to check my grades every week and see where I am at and how I need to do on last minute assignments and exams. However, here, I only have one week left of the semester and I still have no clue as to what my combined grade is in any of the four classes I am taking. Plus, the finals I have to take are worth close to fifty percent of the overall grade…yikes!

Our IFSA advisor joked with us before we came to Cairns that everyone tended to run a little…late. That is, being prompt wasn’t really that important. So, throughout the course of the semester, I have seen this first hand. The buses hardly EVER run on time. Normally, they are about five to ten minutes late. That is, if they decide to show up. Classes never start on time. If the professors aren’t late, about more than half the class always is. At home, it is frowned upon to walk in late on a class. Here, people walk in late all the time. Or just don’t come to class at all. My one professor here didn’t have mandatory attendance, so we literally had maybe five people in class every week. She would always simply say “Oh, they must have that stomach flu that’s going around” or “They must be enjoying the lovely weather outside.” Completely non-chalant haha.

At home, I’m used to having classes with everyone being around my age. Here, I have classes with people ranging from teenagers to people in their sixties. Also, people don’t wear shoes here. And it’s completely acceptable haha! But, in general, the people here that I have had class with have been extremely nice and helpful. The professors aren’t always as helpful. They grade really strict here. The grading system generally goes as follows: HD (high distinction), D (distinction), C (credit), P (pass) and F (fail). Hahaha way more different than the grading system I am used to at home! In most of my classes, the only tests I have are finals (and I have yet to find out how hard those actually are). But, I have had a lot of essays. And I have found that in some classes, it is very, very hard to get an HD. Australian writing is more simplistic than American writing (at least in the class setting here), so if you are used to using complex sentences then you need to be careful. Otherwise, if you work hard and put the time, effort, and research into all of your papers, you will be successful. However, you may feel you deserve a higher grade than you receive. I have observed that professors here have a tendency to not explain what they want you to do and expect something on an assignment that you wouldn’t have even thought of (which is very frustrating). It will be interesting at the end of the semester to see how Australian grades transfer to American grades.

So. Lets talk about homesickness. Yes, it does happen. And depending on the person, you’re going to have different levels of it. For me, I actually didn’t get severely homesick during the course of the trip. Sure, I have missed a lot of things. I miss my family and friends at home. I miss my dogs. I miss the fall weather that I love every year. I miss homecoming at my school, my sorority, and all the clubs I participate in. I miss familiar places. And driving. But….more importantly…FOOD. GOOD food. Because, in all reality, the dining hall is a hit or miss here. And I am kind of getting sick of supplementing my meals with ramen every night. I can’t tell you how ecstatic I am that I will be home for Thanksgiving! However, homesickness is very, very manageable. For me, it was very easy to get rid of. Sometimes, I would just go and workout for a few hours, or phone or skype a friend or family member for a bit. I think my biggest coping method was writing postcards to friends and family back home. Don’t get sucked into things that can spike homesickness though- spending hours on facebook seeing what everyone at home is up to is not the best thing to do, in addition to skyping people for hours on end during the day. You’re only abroad once, so make sure to live up every second of it!

Also, while we’re at it, let’s talk about good things to pack/bring with you. Looking back on it, I packed WAY too many nice clothes and not enough workout clothes. I am in workout clothes the majority of the time here. I only have classes three times a week, and besides that and going out, I literally am in shorts and t-shirts 24/7. Bring a long Ethernet cord if you’re used to doing homework in bed and don’t want to deal with the wifi going on and off every 5 minutes. Hats are a GREAT thing to bring- it gets super hot and chances are your scalp will get sunburnt if you are at the beach or pool all day. If you like to run or hike a lot, I would suggest bringing a head lamp. I know it sounds ridiculous, but a number of my friends have them here and we use them all the time. Plus, it gets ridiculously hot during the day, so running in the evening may be your best option. Pack a really nice water bottle and a great backpack because you will have those items with you the majority of the time. I basically live out of my backpack. A waterproof/shockproof camera is a good idea- I destroyed my camera within the first month of being here because it got a little wet on a trip. Also- don’t forget extra memory cards because you will be taking tons of pictures. I know my school told me not to bring my iphone abroad- if they tell you that don’t listen to it. I just shut off the data and use the wifi so I can text me friends and family, which is a lifesaver! If you have certain medicines or toiletries from home that you love- bring them! More than likely you can find them here, but they will be way more expensive. Plus, pack some things that remind you of home to put in your room. I packed a lot of pictures that I put on my wall, in addition to a pillow, blanket, and a huge stuffed dog from home. Some of the little things like that will mean the most to you in times you just want something from home. 

Lets also talk about the change in environment. Yes, it is gorgeous. Beaches, palm trees- it’s literally out of a magazine! But, there are also scorching hot days, torrential rain showers, and bugs…bugs everywhere! Sunscreen and bug spray will be two of your best friends. You will never be able to thank yourself enough for packing a great rain jacket and umbrella. Also, extra pairs of good flip flops is always a great thing because they tend to wear out fast. And just remember- never EVER leave food sitting around your room. Unless you want to be subjected to hundreds of fruit flies swarming around. Some of my friends have learned that the hard way.

Being abroad for a long period of time is a really great experience! You just have to recognize that it’s not going to be all smooth sailing, and you will have some stressful times. However, I am convinced that this has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. And you just have to remember that if you ever get stuck with something, you have a lot of people in your life who can help you.

Also! The highlights of this past week included:

My last biodiversity class consisted of a field trip into Cairns to the Red Ochre Grill. There, we sampled a bunch of different bush foods. My favorites were the kangaroo and crocodile meat, in addition to the pavlova dessert. 

We also had our farewell dinner with our IFSA advisor. We ate at the Cock n’ Bull, which gives HUGE portions of really amazing food! It’s crazy to think I only have 18 days left here. I will be posting soon on the roadtrip I took to Townsville this past weekend! Cheers :)

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“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” – Paul Theroux ~ Spring Break in September!

Time October 12th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

From being abroad for the past three and a half months, I’ve learned that what I love more than anything is to be more of a traveler than a tourist. I really like just going somewhere and discovering things to do, instead of having a scheduled itinerary and being stuck in one of those horrible buses having facts screamed at you that you’re never going to remember. But, when you travel, you get to do what you want, when you want, and how you want. To me, that’s so much more rewarding.

So, 4 am rolls around Thursday morning (the 20th of September), and myself and 3 of my friends grab a taxi to the Cairns Airport for our 6 am flight to Brisbane. And this is the beginning of spring break… in September haha! So, of course, our airport experience had to be stressful in some way (never runs smoothly, does it?). First, one of my friends couldn’t get his boarding pass to print, so he had to go to the counter. And, naturally, they wanted to weigh his bags. For the next 9 days, we decided to live out of a backpack and small carry on (which we packed to the brims and both items were WAY over the weight limit). So, the lady working at the counter wouldn’t give him his ticket until his bags weighed in at the right amount. So, we hid behind a ticket kiosk and just started unpacking all of his stuff and hiding it. Eventually, we made it through. However, once it was time to board the plane, my carry on became the item of concern. This is because it JUST met the measurement requirements. Before I boarded, I got pulled aside to place my bag in once of those pre-measured metal boxes. I literally forced my bag to fit (which it did), but the wheels were hanging out. The one airport attendant was like nope this is not acceptable, but the manager was like that’s fine just go through. So, for the rest of the flight, I was on this attendant’s bad side and he called me out two more times for having my phone out (the flight attendants didn’t even announce to put them away yet) and because my seat was slightly reclined (which I didn’t even notice haha). But, the rest of the flight was uneventful and we arrived in the Brisbane Airport at 8am. Then, we caught a taxi and headed to our hostel (Chill Backpackers). 

Chill backpackers was a decent place. The rooms were a little crammed and it was on the way outskirts of the city- but we managed. The first day we just explored Brisbane and at night went to the Brisbane Festival. Brisbane is a unique city, but there wasn’t too much to see or do in the area (which we soon found out from a travel company we talked to in town haha). But, the next day, five more of our friends flew in to Brisbane. So, we explored and decided that we wanted to go rollerblading. Rollerblading was awesome! It was years since any one of us had done it last, so we felt like we were little kids again. Later that afternoon, we had a brewery tour at XXXX Brewery (which we had to take a boat, a train, and a bus to get to haha). Then, that night, we were at the Brisbane Festival again enjoying the music and nightlife. The next day, we did some shopping in the city, grabbed dinner out, and packed up for the bus we had to take the next morning.

At 7:45am the next morning, we took a 6 hour bus ride to Hervey Bay. The bus wasn’t too bad, since we all got our own seat and basically slept the entire ride. Our hostel in Hervey Bay was perfect though! We got two cabins with beds, a kitchen area, and a bathroom. The hostel was located in a really residential area, but we were able to walk to the beach and the pier. The next day, we booked a day tour for Fraser Island -the largest sand island in the world! It was quite a trip to say the least and totally not what I expected. I’m not a big tour person (I hate being stuck in vans driving around all day and having like 5 minutes to see sites), but a tour was virtually the only way we would get to see the island. The roads were CRAZY- all sand, bumpy, and tricky. The huge tour buses were fine since they were equipped with the wheels and power engines to take on the sand. However, a lot of cars were stuck at points. Fraser Island was amazing though! The beaches were stunning, and we got to see a lot of gorgeous places on the island and even a few wild dingoes! 

The next morning, we were off on a whopping ten-hour bus ride to the Gold Coast (yes, we really didn’t plan this trip well haha). The amount of traveling we did was insane- but we loved every single moment of it. This was a long ride- but before we knew it we were in the Gold Coast at Aquarius Hostel! The next day, six of us decided we wanted to go deep sea fishing.  We are notorious for screwing up directions- so we ended up on the opposite side of the bay we were supposed to meet the boat. So, the boat came and picked us up so we could start the day on time. On the boat ride out, we caught smaller fish for bait and saw a few dolphins and a sea turtle. Then, for the entirety of the afternoon, we were out in the middle of the ocean fishing. We caught a ton of huge tuna from poles that were hanging off the back of the boat. I caught a bonita fish on my line, and another friend of mine caught a flathead. We were really pleased, since apparently the group that went fishing that very morning caught nothing. Also, on the ride back, we saw whales jumping out of the water. It was one of the coolest things I have ever witnessed and I can’t believe we saw it- simply incredible.

 

 When we got back to coast, we had to take the fish we caught with us (which the guys on the boat were nice enough to gut). However, we now had six huge tuna, a bonita fish, and a flathead fish in our possession, and our hostel didn’t have the knives we needed to filet. Therefore, I walked into a seafood shop and was wondering if I could make a deal with the people that if they filleted our fish for us we would give them some of our fish (market value of the tuna we caught was approximately $200-$300 a fish, and the flathead fish is valued at $70 per kilogram). Therefore, we had over a grand worth of freshly caught fish in our possession. I had the one lady who worked there convinced that it was a good deal, but then the manager came over and shot the idea down, saying he’d charge us per kilo to fillet the fish (which was way too expensive). So, we left the seafood shop, and a lady came out and told us to go to the camper van park and that there was more than likely someone there who had knives we could use. The camper van park was quite a trek (especially carrying 6 huge tuna), but we made it!  We were able to borrow two fillet knives and use their fish cleaning station. Our group became quite a spectacle haha- six girls filleting these HUGE fish. But, we did it! We took the filets home, marinated them, grilled them, and ate them- super delicious! That experience was probably one of the best and oddest things I have ever done haha. 

The next morning, we had surf lessons on the beach. Well, one of the many beaches (it was kind of on the outskirts of the Gold Coast). It was a great day for surfing- bright blue skies and awesome waves! Surfing wasn’t as hard as I expected, but that is probably because I have snowboarded and skateboarded before. However, it was completely exhausting and you got beat up a lot from the waves and what not. The rest of the day we spent on the gorgeous beach, which wasn’t too crowded and had a ton of adorable dogs running around on it. The following day we spent at the beach in Surfer’s Paradise, did some shopping, and ate out at a Chinese restaurant. 

The next day, we took a flight home to Cairns. And we were COMPLETELY exhausted. It was quite the adventure! And it’s something we will always cherish, with all of the crazy mishaps and what not. But, it is always good to be home. Living in crammed hostels for so long was kind of wearing on me. But, we made it, and we got to see a lot of different places in Australia. And, I am pleased to say, we were definitely travelers more than tourists (which makes me INCREDIBLY happy). Here’s to one month left in Australia!

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“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien ~ Exciting Explorations and Minor Mishaps Abroad!

Time September 19th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

A lifetime can be defined as the time that the life of someone or something continues. I feel like I am living a lifetime in Australia. I believe that the person I am here will in a sense always remain here in a perfect stitch of time. And, yet, I know I will go back to the US a completely changed person (all grown up in a sense).

The weekends leading up to spring break, my friends and I have decided to wander and explore. A lot. And get out there and see things. The first weekend of September, we found ourselves on a kayaking tour at Palm Cove out to Scout (Haycock) Island and Double Island. It was an absolutely gorgeous day. The waters were electrifyingly blue. We set off on our adventure a little past eight in the morning and made our way out to Haycock Island. It was a long, long paddle stretch. But, we made it! It was a small island, but the view of the coast was incredible. Plus, the island had purely dead coral beaches, which was really awesome to see.

Next, we set off to Double Island. We saw a few turtles skimming the surface on the way, and then once we were on one of the beaches, we spotted a few stingrays in the water among the mangroves. We went to one beach on the front of the island, and then paddled to the back of the island to another beach where we had some food and rested. Our guide also had us lick green ants, which tasted sour haha (kind of like Sour Patch Kids). Then, we started to go around the island. During this part of the trip, we got a chance to paddle in and out of a cave in the island, which was a little tricky but really cool to see! After that, we saw the resort on the island, which costs $33,000 a night to stay on. Also, the movie Fool’s Gold was filmed on Double Island, which os pretty neat. From this point, we started to paddle back to shore, which took an incredibly long amount of time because the water was really rough. But, eventually, we did it! After a 5 hour kayaking tour, the whole group was exhausted. After eating at a local restarant, we ended up crashing on the beach for about an hour. We must have been a sight, especially since we ended up being uncomfortably close to a wedding that was occurring on the beach when we woke up. Pretty sure we’re in the background of a lot of the pictures haha.

School started to pick up the next week. My friends and I found ourselves busy with essays, projects, presentations, and quizzes. It’s funny, because all of the work here doesn’t really pick up until the second half of the semester, so you really have to brace yourself. It’s not that the work here is impossible by any means, it’s just a lot of it takes research and can be very time consuming that way. And, lets be honest, it’s very difficult to get a lot of work done when you’re living in a kind of paradise.

The next weekend, a few friends and I went on a day tour to the Atherton Tablelands. JCU Cairns can book awesome walk about tours for you to go on. Tony (the guy who does the tours) operates his own tours by himself and he does a superb job! We were up early in the morning, and took an hour and a half ride from Cairns up to the Tablelands. During the ride, we had to drive up a mountain that had 97 turns, which was kind of crazy. During the day, we stopped at Lake Eacham National Park, the Curtain Fig Tree (which was inspiration for the movie Avatar), Malanda Pub (for lunch), Hypipamee Volcanic Crater, Dinner Falls, Millaa Millaa Lookout, Millaa Millaa Waterfall (where they shoot the Herbal Essence commercials), and, finally, Josephine Falls (which had an AWESOME natural rock waterslide). Overall, the Atherton Tablelands were absolutely gorgeous, and the rolling hills, large amounts of open land, and farms all reminded me of home. I am still so amazed how in Australia driving such a short distance can bring you to an entirely different landscape.

And then, it was a week full of school again. Only this week, our awesome IFSA advisor Lalena was up on Thursday and Friday to see us! Also, this was the week of the Moonlight Gorge Gallop at Barron Gorge. Basically, jam-packed. School flew by, and Thursday night we were scheduled to lawn bowl with our advisor. Well, it didn’t work out very well, because someone from our group said he knew where we were to lawn bowl and it was near Palm Cove. The bus driver looked super confused as to where he had to drop us off. We were dropped off in the middle of a highway haha. Eventually, we went down a few hills and found a lawn bowling place. We felt pretty accomplished since we were right on time. The people there didn’t know anything about lawn bowling reservation made by IFSA-Butler, but we just figured that we had to wait for our advisor to get there to get everything squared away. While we were looking at the wallabies in a field, we got a call from our advisor asking where we were because she was in the parking lot. We tell her that we’re looking at the wallabies and she just goes “What? Wallabies? There’s no wallabies here.” That’s when we discovered that there were, in fact, many many different lawn bowling places in Cairns. Whoops. We went in the total opposite direction- a full hour away where we were supposed to be. We called the maxi taxi company at least three times, and finally were able to secure a taxi after over an hour of waiting (I mean we were kind of in the middle of nowhere). So, two hours later, we were finally at the correct lawn bowling place for lawn bowling and dinner. An embarrassing mishap on our part, but definitely a funny night to look back on.

So, basically this wasn’t our week. And it was about to get slightly more complicated. We had dinner with our advisor in town (which had to be shifted since a number of us were running a race that night) and then caught a bus into the Tablelands and toward Barron Gorge. We are literally riding the bus forever and are convinced that we missed our stop. We kept asking the driver to tell us when to get off, and he never actually did. Eventually, we were the only group of people left on the bus. We went to ask the driver and third time and he semi freaked out and said that he didn’t want to deal with this because he’s been up since three am and he doesn’t care and wants us to get off here. So, here we are in the middle of nowhere and the bus drives away. The race starts at 7pm (it’s already getting dark) and it is currently 6:45pm. Thank goodness someone had internet on their phone and we were able to look at a map. After some time, we made it to the race route but couldn’t find the start of the race. It wasn’t until 7:20pm that we actually found the start of the race. The people that organized the race were awesome though and waited for us to arrive. We all got suited up with glow sticks, and the race began! It was amazing- the sky was so clear and dark you could actually clearly see the Milky Way. At the end of the race, we got pizza and then sprinted (literally) to catch our bus. Overall, it was a great night!

The next day, myself and three other friends were up bright and early to go camping on Fitzroy Island! It was an absolutely gorgeous day and the water was incredibly blue and spectacular! The island wasn’t what I expected. I half expected it to be super touristy (like Green Island), but it really wasn’t packed at all. We got off the boat and checked in at the resort campground, then started putting up the tent. Thank goodness I knew how to set up a tent because no one else really new how (funny thing is, I didn’t learn until this past summer and I didn’t dream it would come in handy here). After setting up camp, we headed to the beach! The beach was COVERED in dead coral (not the best place to hang out for the day) so we ended up sunbathing on a large rock (which was kind of cool). We could even see parts of the reef right in the water (barely three feet from shore). After a full day at the beach, we played some ping pong, ate dinner at the resort, and headed to bed. Bed (the tent, a few very unsupportive foam pads, and sleeping bags) was not comfortable in the slightest. And, to top it all off, the bats would not stop shrieking all night and the bush turkeys kept coming super closer to our tent and rustling around in the leaves. Then, in the middle of the night, it got super windy and started raining. Naturally, we had the tent with broken zippers, so we kind of got slightly rained on for a good 20 minutes or so. Lets just say it really wasn’t the most restful night hahaha.

The next day, we all decided to hike! On our first trek, we found Nudey Beach (which we were convinced we were at the previous day haha, but the island was slightly larger than we made it out to be). The beach was stunning! Then, we decided to hike to the summit in Fitzroy Island National Park. First, we hiked to the lighthouse, which really reminded me of the lighthouse in the movie Shutter Island and it was super creepy. Also, the land around the summit was completely burned from the planned burning that was occurring on the island. It kind of reminded all of us of the elephant graveyard in the Lion King (I know, too many movie references hahaha). Next, we started hiking up the summit, which was a pretty good trek. We went a little higher than the marked summit and climbed up onto some rocks, so we got amazing panoramic views of the entire island.

After hiking, we spent some time at the resort pool….well, until it started torrentially down pouring. It was about 3ish when we decided that the rain wasn’t going to stop and we had to go pack up a soaking wet tent. Joy. Unfortunately, the tent filled slightly with water and some of our things were pretty soaked. But, eventually, we got everything packed up and were ready to catch our 4:30 ferry back to Cairns.

The beginning of the following week was jam-packed with homework and spring break planning. We had booked our flights weeks ago, but had neglected to find hostels to accommodate all nine of us. We lucked out in the fact that we were able to find nice places to stay (but I would strongly suggest to anyone else to really do their research and plan in advance because it was a bit of a hassle). But, we did it! Tomorrow morning at 4am, I am off the Brisbane, then Hervey Bay, then Fraser Island, and finally the Gold Coast! We are going to be doing A LOT of traveling over the next 10 days, including one ten hour bus ride (that should be reallllyyyyy interesting). Spring break here we come!!!! :)

 

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“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” -Confucius ~ Daily Life and Adventures Abroad!

Time August 27th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

 

It’s hard to believe that it is almost September. In a way, I feel like I have been in Australia forever. Everything in the Smithfield/Cairns area is starting to become highly familiar to me. I know the paths to bike to the beaches. I have my class schedule down. I know how to navigate confidently through the malls and grocery stores. Basically, I’m beginning to discover what really works and what truly doesn’t in my newfound lifestyle.

Just because I am becoming familiar with everything doesn’t mean that I still don’t miss aspects of home. I haven’t gotten incredibly home sick since I’ve been here, but there have been days when I wish that I could be with family and friends that are thousands of miles away, or just go back to my home school for a weekend. But then, there are days here where I’m sitting on the beach surrounded by palm trees and bright blue oceans that I remember- there is never going to be a time in my life again where I will get to do this. Have this time all to myself. And I know, inevitably, I am going to miss this experience when I return to the US.

These past weeks have been great. We’ve all settled in to a sort of schedule trying to get adjusted to schoolwork and what not. We are hoping this weekend to plan spring break (we are flying out to Brisbane) and other trips, like scuba diving, deep sea fishing, and skydiving.

Two weekends ago, we went on our IFSA-Butler Adventure Weekend, which was so much fun! The weekend was exactly what was needed- a chance to get away from our rooms and explore Cairns. We (my entire IFSA-Butler Group) left early Saturday morning on a taxi that was sent to pick us up at the Cairns Student Lodge. My IFSA-Butler group then headed to the Kuranda Skyrail, where we met up with our awesome SSC  (Student Services Coordinator) Lalena. We then boarded the Kuranda Skyrail, which gave us spectacular views of Cairns and the many buildings, fields, and oceans in the distance. We got off of the skrail on two different occasions before reaching Kuranda, which allowed us to hike around in the rainforest and also see Barron Gorge, which was spectacular.

In about 45 minutes, we found ourselves in the village of Kuranda, a cute little town tucked away in the rainforest, filled with people, shops, eateries and a bunch of different little zoos. Our first stop was Birdworld, which was a pretty cool place because the birds actually landed on you and you could feed them and interact with them. Needless, to say, I was pretty excited. We were warned to take off all jewelry because the birds were super curious. My friend Sarah and I came across a very friendly green parrot that liked to sit on our shoulders and climb up and down our arms, and also knew a few select words. However, when we went to put the parrot down because we had to leave, it proceeded to bite both of us and latch on to my backpack until a lady who worked there came over and took the parrot off me. Her only response was “yeah, he doesn’t like goodbyes.” The parrot only gave me a bruise, but he actually drew blood on Sarah’s hand. So, needless to say, I’m not too too fond of parrots anymore.

Then we went to a zoo with a few koalas and wallabies, and had lunch and just explored around Kuranda for the afternoon. We came across some cool places, including a homemade candy and ice cream shop. We also found an opal jeweler who gave us some pretty awesome deals on our purchases and also went in to a twenty-minute conversation on different kinds of opal and what makes certain opal more expensive than others.

Next, we met up with our SSC and walked to our driver’s house (he was going to take us to our next destination- the campground where we were staying for the night). The driver had just gotten a new puppy (Lucy) that he had us meet before we departed. We were all thrilled and insisted that she come in the van with us. So, before we knew it, all twelve of us (and Lucy) were piled into the van and headed for the campground. We made a quick stop at the grocery store on the way and picked up food and supplies for breakfast and lunch the next day.

When we arrived at the campground, we were housed in Kookaburra Lodge. That evening, we went out to dinner at a local restaurant. Of course, we were all completely ecstatic that we could have real food. On the downside, Kuranda was FREEZING. According to our driver, who had lived in Kuranda for most of his life, it was the coldest night he had ever personally experienced. And do you think any of us packed appropriately? Nope. Haha. And, naturally, the restaurant we ate at was half indoors/outdoors so we froze. When we got back to the lodge, we made a campfire and then settled in for a very cold night.

But, like anything, it was an experience. The next morning we woke up and ate breakfast, made our lunches, and set off on a van ride to hike to a swimming hole. The water was freezing, but four of us (including myself) decided that we needed to jump in. ICE COLD. Haha but totally worth it! I also cliff jumped for the first time….probably something I won’t do again because hitting the water hurt like crazy but I’m completely glad I tried it out.

Next, we were off on our rafting tour- suited up in bulky life vests and helmets! We had the craziest tour guide- literally two minutes after we got in the raft he started swaying back and forth to flip it, then proceeded to take us down the first mini waterfall “his way” (not the safe way apparently), which was sideways. We almost flipped- again. Then, at one point, he made us all get out of the raft and float through rapids in the river. There was one part of the river that was almost like a whirlwind under the water and it sucked us in as we floated down. It was kind of scary haha- and we were floating fairly fast. But so much fun! Overall, rafting was one of my favorite activities I have done so far in Cairns. It was very fast-paced at points, and we also got spectacular views.

After rafting was over, we said goodbye to our SSC and headed back to the Cairns Student Lodge to start another week of classes. That Tuesday one of my roommate’s friends from home came to visit for a week and a half, which was awesome! It was a pretty chill week- classes, work, some rain, a few nice beach days, and also my first dinner out at a really nice Brazilian steak house in the city of Cairns. I’ve found that it’s hard for me to realize that I’m actually living here and that I have to do homework and laundry and clean my room. I am almost in constant vacation mode where I think I need to be doing something adventurous every second of the day. But, slowly, I’m getting used to the concept that I’m here for awhile. It’s kind of crazy I’ve almost been here two months- time is truly flying by! It’s incredibly surreal- just looking around and remembering oh….I’m in Australia.

And each day, I tend to remember the quote : “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” –Confucius. I mean, you really do need to commit your whole heart going abroad so you can get the most out of your experience. It’s hard, because you’ll find you’ll have days where your heart just doesn’t feel that into it and you find yourself being torn between the comforts and familiarity of home and the new and unique opportunities of being abroad. I think the moments here, in Australia, when I feel that I am being abroad with all my heart is when I’m out there doing something- whether it be hiking, going to the beach or any sort of activity or trip, and I feel like I am totally immersed in the experience and truly living it up to the fullest. That’s when I feel like I “go” with all my heart. Those moments when I feel like I never want to leave my new home and the temporary lifestyle I have here.

 

 

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“When faced with a challenge, look for a way, not a way out.” – David Weatherford ~ Every day abroad has its challenges

Time August 6th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Last Saturday, we went on a trip to Green Island as a part of our orientation at JCU. The trip started out with a little over an hour boat ride to the island. The ride was BRUTAL even though it was a pretty large boat. But the island was awesome! The high amounts of tourism were a bit of a negative for me, because I am really not into doing things that are “too touristy” per say and swamped with tons and tons of people taking pictures every second on end. Then again, I say this, and just my luck I went to take a picture of the ocean and dropped my camera into a puddle. That being said, the LCD screen is shot. However, it still takes pictures. So here’s to being surprised every time I upload my photos haha. Despite that minor mishap, I got to go on a glass bottom boat tour, snorkel in parts of the Great Barrier Reef and see awesome neon fish, and simply explore the island and that was incredibly enjoyable. So, overall, it was a worthwhile trip and the colors of the ocean were stunning.

Last Sunday we visited the Cairns Farmers’ Market. It was fabulous! So many stands with various fruits, vegetables, baked goods- basically anything and everything you could want or think of. My favorite purchase- HUMMUS. Best hummus I have ever had! It was delicious! The guy who ran the stand even gave a few of my friends and I a free container and free bread (haha sometimes just mentioning you’re a college student has its benefits). The Monday after, a few of my friends and I decided to go on a jungle hike in Smithfield Conservation Park. The hike wasn’t too challenging (except for the first initial incline up). We were immerged in the jungle for a little over two hours. We saw a few birds, ancient looking trees, and cool Tarzan like vines. I’ve never had the opportunity to hike through this type of biota before, so it was really awesome to follow the footpaths through the palms and massive ferns.

And then it hit- BAM! Class time. Tuesday I had my first class: Ecology and Australian Indigenous Cultures, and then Wednesday I had Human Rights and Social Issues, Cultural Anthropology and Biodiversity of Tropical Australia. And the first week is never that bad. I got my syllabuses and a few assignments.Through the rest of the week, we made a few trips to the beach (one of those trips we met a  dog that was exactly like Air Bud and played soccer with us haha), the city of Cairns, the night markets, and Smithfield Mall. We even had a bus ride home from Cairns where the bus window caved in (apparently kids like to throw rocks at buses here), and we had to wait for a connecting bus. But hey, the more you get out, the more random stuff you see haha.

On Friday we visited Palm Cove Beach. Absolutely stunning. The beach has virtually no waves. The water is a surreal blend of teal and turquoise colored waters, with palm trees lining the beach and two private island lingering on the horizon. The beach is very popular, and it reminds of beaches at home because the general area is filled with resorts and unique restaurants and eclectic shops.

And then it was Saturday, when we decided to hike Mount Whitfield. The hike was a little over two hours in length (the estimated time on the signs was five hours). All I can say is STEPS. Everywhere. Up the mountain. Never ending. To say the least, going uphill was a challenge. But the view was completely worth it. The airport and highways looked so cool below us. Plus, you could see the ocean from the height we were at as well. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Challenge is great. Plus there were bush turkeys…..EVERYWHERE.

And Sunday, it all caught up to me. I was completely exhausted. A day of rest is never a bad thing. And then the next week was filled with more beach days, class, biking, and studying. Highlights included a Domino’s pizza dinner (I caved, we caved- it was grand), going to Gilligan’s in the city of Cairns for the first time, volunteering at YAPS (a local no kill animal shelter) and playing with puppies all morning, and seeing the beach at night. Each day is jam-packed. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve almost been here a month and the time has truly flown by. But it really has been the time of my life and I know I am never going to get this time back. Therefore, I am living up every single second of it.

And yes, there still are the everyday struggles:

1)   Sun Bus has no reliable timing chart. And some days they just all decide to be out of service or something. The forty minute ride to Cairns can get strenuous. Public transportation is a joy haha.

2)   I must have a REALLY strong American accent. Sometimes people from around here can’t understand me. At all. And honestly sometimes I can’t understand them. But I’m working on it haha. Maybe I’ll even pick up a slight Australian accent.

3)   Sometimes you just miss things from home. Even little things. I miss Goldfish of all things. And most of all the people. For me, it’s never the location that matters. It’s the people- they’re the ones that help me feel familiarized and at home.

And the best parts yet:

1)   My friends here are awesome and we have made so many memories together here already. It’s cool how you can bring people together from all over the world and they all connect in a sense. I almost feel like I’m starting freshmen year of college again.

2)   Each day is an adventure. And every day it kind of hits me and I realize, oh wow- I’m actually living in Australia. This is pretty awesome.

3)   I’m challenging myself. Academically, socially, physically- you name it. The classes are different and the material is like nothing I have ever dealt with/ seen before (all brand new knowledge). I am meeting all new people and also people that are from a different culture then I am (and, ye,s they have many different words that I have to get use to. Like they call flip-flops “thongs” here haha). And I have to bike and walk to get everywhere in addition to working out.

In the end, the challenges are great. Because, once I accomplish them, it’s a reward all its own. The challenges here are unique because a lot of them I can’t avoid. I have to face them head on or they won’t get done. Like if I want to go to the beach. Biking it. I don’t want to pay the bus fare all the time. So, anymore for me, it is truly a thought process of “how do I make this work?” versus a “how can I avoid this completely and take the easy way out?” All positive things and all influencing me each and every day while I’m here. I’m quickly understanding why people say that studying abroad makes you grow up and change- it’s all beneficial in the long run and makes you a stronger person overall.

 

So, to all the challenges to come…. bring it on! haha :)

 

 

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“Everyday, you should do something that scares you. It reminds you you’re still alive.” ~ So. Winter in Cairns…

Time July 20th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

After departing Sydney, JCU students boarded a flight for Cairns! Everyone dreaded getting on another plane. However, we were very excited to go to a place that had warmer weather. The flight was a quick 4 hours and soon we found ourselves in Cairns!

Our luggage was loaded into a pick up trailer (haha kinda funny) to head to the Cairns Student Lodge. 15 minutes later, we were at the lodge getting our rooms and then dinner. Let me just say- our Sydney Orientation SPOILED us in terms of amazing food! It’s not that the lodge food is bad by any means or there isn’t a variety- it’s just different. For instance, they put bbq sauce next to their hot dogs. I was SO excited because I thought it was ketchup. Well- I was COMPLETELY wrong. Ketchup was nowhere in sight. Plus, I expected to have lot of fresh fruit and vegetables- but that really wasn’t the case. Instead, there was like six different types of pasta dishes. But hey, as our advisor, would say: “food is food, so just eat it.” So, like any cafe food, we have our good days and bad days haha.

So. You’d think that moving into our apartment and everything would allow everyone to settle down and what not. Nope. The next day, my two roommates and I went to find the Smithfield Shopping Center. Unfortunately, we went in the completely wrong direction and instead hiked an hour up the coast. We missed two buses on the way back (one passed us because we weren’t on the right side of the road and the second we barely missed). Finally, we caught the third bus to Smithfield Shopping Center. The mall was way bigger then I expected, with a variety of stores and lots of people. We found a Kmart in the mall and, while we were shopping, we came across an aisle with bikes. That’s when we decided that we were going to buy bikes and, yes, assemble them in the middle of the mall. We didn’t’ really think it through- because we then had to carry all of our stuff back to the lodge while riding our bikes. Now that was tricky. But, we made it! (even in time for dinner). Longest six hour adventure ever, but it’s something we’ll always remember! Sometimes when things go wrong when you’re abroad you just have to laugh it off and keep moving forward.

Our next big adventure was a trip to Trinity Beach! We knew that we could bike it- I had NO idea how long the distance would be. It was about a combined 8 miles round trip (an awesome workout haha) but it was completely worth it! The beach was GORGEOUS with bright blue water and tons of palm trees! I’m sure I’ll be making a lot of trips back to hang out with friends and study (beats the library!).

 

My time in Cairns is filled with sunny days, cold nights, beach volleyball, biking and tons of beaches. Then- BAM! Reality hits and I remember oh- I actually came here because I’m going to school here. That’s right. And then began…orientation! Yes- it was JUST as awkward as orientation freshmen year. I had no idea where on earth I was going and papers and information was just consistently thrown at me. But I mean it all worked out (it always seems to). During orientation week, a bunch of my friends and I decided to check out Aj Hackett Bungy Jumping. We can literally walk to the place from where we’re staying, and many of us were interested in jumping. The jump is 50 meters (164 feet) and looks SCARY, TERRIFYING – basically any word you can think of. As we were walking up the path to the bungee jump, we kept hearing terrified screams coming from jumpers. The second we got up there, a number of my friends started signing the forms and getting ready. Initially, I decided to wait and see how they faired before signing up. All of them RAVED about it and before I knew it I was signed up and headed up the staircase to the bungee tower.

The funny thing is- I really wasn’t nervous anymore, I wanted to do this and overcome my fear of heights. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. And I did! I was strapped up and ready to go and I jumped. The two-second free fall was probably one of the scariest experiences I have ever had in my life. One second I was on the ledge and the next I was flying toward the pond centered in the middle of the jungle while my friends cheered me on below. But I survived! And actually- I think I would do it again! It was an awesome experience and one of the most memorable things I have ever done in my life. I say this because I was able to overcome my fear of heights, and it’s a great feeling to know that you’re brave enough to be able to overcome your fears and just simply live and experience new things.

As part of our JCU orientation week, we went on a bus tour of Cairns later in the week. And yes, they did in fact rent out the party bus, which was really cool to sit on top of, and so many people were waving and honking their car horns (pretty funny). During our tour, we got to see different parts of the city of Cairns (like the Cairn Esplanade), Crystal Cascades (which was absolutely stunning!), and Palm Grove Beach.

 

And yes- it is winter here. The only bummer is that it gets dark pretty early (like around 6:30/7ish). The bright side is that the weather is gorgeous and that a bunch of the deadly animals (like the boxed jellyfish and crocodiles) are not as active (but they’re still around haha). So I’m loving it! And each day has its struggles. On and off I find I get homesick and start comparing things to the U.S. and my university at home. Also, there are HUGE spiders here which I am not a big fan of. But, also, with each day, there are numerous rewards. It all balances itself out and I am finding that I am adjusting to life here a lot better then I initially expected. I know that it takes time and I am excited for the next four months here. I’ve already had a lot of great experiences and have met some really interesting and friendly people- I can’t imagine all the fun times to come!

And, with each day, I keep this quote in mind: “Everyday, you should do something that scares you. It reminds you you’re still alive.”

 

 

 

 

 

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“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey.” –Fitzhugh Mullan

Time July 13th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | 2 Comments by

 Life Down Under! ~ Australia is PARADISE!!

So- after the 20+ hours of flying. ridiculously long airport lines, and hauling my suitcases around the Sydney airport, I have found myself in PARADISE! And I completely love every second of it! Australia has lived up to and also exceeded my expectations in so many ways. I am really looking forward to the next four months and all of the adventures and enjoyment to come. I can’t believe that I am finally here…

But the journey didn’t begin this well. Saying my goodbyes to my family at the airport was rougher than I expected. I left Harrisburg on this little rickety plane and was just trying to mentally brace myself for the additional two plane rides I was going to have to make. However, on my second flight from Chicago to LA, I sat next to an Australian racecar driver. The guy was awesome! He was so excited that I was going to Australia and he told me that I was going to love it (in addition to telling me his obsession with kettle corn from the US haha). He also led me to the international section of the LA airport (which was a LIFESAVER considering that I got kind of lost in the Chicago airport hahaha). Once in LA, I met up with the other members from the group flight and we were off to Sydney! The flight wasn’t too too bad. The food was decent and I slept most of the time.

Orientation in Sydney was INCREDIBLE!!! IFSA did such an amazing job arranging everything from airport pick-up and accommodation to amazing food and great sight seeing. I completely felt at home and comfortable right away (which I really wasn’t expecting). I was so nervous about leaving my friends and family, but I found that with the busy and fun filled schedules that I was completely distracted from any feelings of homesickness I may have felt. Plus, I was really fortunate to make a lot of awesome friends instantly. Here are some of the highlights from orientation:

Pictures taken on the awesome walking tour of Sydney! The tour was three hours in length but we literally saw EVERYTHING. Sydney is the nicest city I have ever seen! It is clean, quiet, and laid back. I’d go back in a heartbeat! It was a little chilly however (thank god I packed the North Face haha). Australian winter can actually get a bit cold.

Featherdale Wildlife Park- oh my god. It was literally heaven for me- I FINALLY got to meet a koala (and yes they are SO FREAKING ADORABLE!). The zoo is so nice and well kept, plus you can interact with a number of the animals. I was thrilled!

Pictures taken on a hike in the Blue Mountains in Katoomba. The views were BREATHTAKING (seriously the picture doesn’t do it justice). Literally everything from the waterfalls to the palm trees and the rocks to the vast mountains was simply spectacular. Nature at its best!

After our Blue Mountain hike, we went to an aboriginal center where we learned about the aborigines and saw traditional dances, artwork, and even painted our own boomerang. The music was awesome and the people were so friendly and informative.

Later that night we had dinner in Sydney at Pancakes on the Rocks. BEST. PANCAKES. I. HAVE. EVERRRRRR. HAD. (And it’s not just because I am in Australia- they were THAT good!).

The next day we had a free afternoon and me and a bunch of my friends went to Cockatoo Island. Our advisor told us a free art exhibit was going on over there so we checked it out. All I can say is….WOW. I am a HUGE art buff and the island was covered in warehouses FILLED with modern art (the warehouses used to be prison cells/work areas). Literally one of the best displays I have every seen. It was gorgeous!!

That night was our “farewell to Sydney” night. We had a gorgeous dinner cruise on the harbor. The night was bittersweet. Half my closest friends were going to JCU in Townsville and the other half of my closest friends were going to JCU in Cairns. But, the towns are only four hours apart, so some visits will definitely be in order.

Then, the next morning, I packed all my things up in the hostel we were staying in and I boarded another flight- to Cairns! There, many more adventures await me. I was lucky enough to get an apartment with my two closest friends from the trip (thanks to our IFSA advisor for making a last minute phone call haha). I literally can’t wait for all the fun times to come!

But, so far, here is what I’ve learned:

1)   Vegemite is disgusting (but you have to try it anyways because I mean c’mon you’re in Australia).

2)   Kangaroo is actually pretty good. Kind of like steak haha. It’s especially great on pizza!

3)   Tim Tams are AWESOME and would probably make me gain an extensive amount of weight if I ate them as much as I wanted to.

4)   Yes, Australia is different. Ketchup is scarce. Sometimes people have difficulty understanding my American accent. And the whole driving on the opposite side of the road thing still scares the crap out of me. But, you just have to embrace it.

5)   Koalas and wallabies are the cutest animals I have ever met. Like really. They are so friendly and fluffy. Coolest marsupials ever.

6)   Don’t have expectations when you go abroad. Live it up. Be yourself. And, in the end, you’ll find that’s enough to keep you incredibly happy.

 

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey.” –Fitzhugh Mullan

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“Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” -Dr. Seuss —– Oh yes, yes indeed.

Time June 27th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

“Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!”-Dr. Seuss

Packing…oh my god I need to pack. I swear I don’t have any clothes…KOALAS! OH MY GOD!!! I GET TO MEET A KOALA!!! Oh crap…14 hour plane ride. IlovethebeachIlovethebeachIlovethebeach. 4 and a half months…that’s a realllyyyy long time to be away from home…and my friends…and my family…I GET TO BE IN AUSTRALIA TIL’ NOVEMBER!!!! Kangaroo burgers… Spiders….HUGE spiders…I won’t survive….

Exhilarating excitement. Consuming anticipation. Constant nervousness. Overwhelming anxiety. And my mind continues to race.

 Hi! My name is Alysha. I’m a junior at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania and I am studying biology. I’m a lover of science, the great outdoors, abstract art, traveling, mountain hiking, beach bumming, learning, discovering, great conversations and of course spending time with my family and friends. As I’m preparing for my semester abroad at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, I couldn’t help but parallel a number of my pre-departure feelings to the very popular and beloved “Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Suess. The man was truly genius.

“You’re on your own.  And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” –Dr. Seuss

It didn’t seem real. Having the opportunity to go abroad through Susquehanna University’s GO Program…filling out the applications last fall….getting accepted into the program…and finding I had approximately 60 days of summer at home before leaving for Australia at the conclusion of my spring semester sophomore year. In a little less than 2 weeks, I will find myself for the very first time in my life boarding a plane in Harrisburg, PA and heading off on an adventure….alone. No parents to guide me through the airports. No friends to joke with for the duration of trip. All of a sudden the trip of my dreams is starting to become the source of all my anxieties. Yes, I am, in fact, slightly terrified. I am on my own. This is the adult world at it’s very best.

“I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true and Hang-ups can happen to you.”-Dr. Seuss

I didn’t know exactly how I’d feel right before leaving. I talked to a bunch of friends a few months ago who had been abroad, and they all had different experiences. Some felt homesick right when they arrived, others it took a couple months. And yet, they all agreed that at times you would in fact be completely miserable adjusting to your new environment. Yet, in the end, they said the entire abroad experience was entirely life-changing and they’d go back in a heart-beat.

I think one of my friends said it best. He told me that studying abroad would be some of the best times of my life and also some of the worst times of my life. However, in the end, you would find out who you really are. In my mind, that’s truly invaluable. So, with this being said, I hold on to this idea as these weeks progress and I start having feelings of dread of being away from home and sadness in saying goodbye to my friends and family. I know, however, that being away from all the influences and normality will allow me to grow as an individual and find out more about my passions in life.

“All Alone! Whether you like it or not, Alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot.” –Dr. Suess

I was so excited. For everything. Leaving. Being on my own. Being in AUSTRALIA. Finding out who I am. And then I remembered…. I’m leaving the only place I’ve ever really known. I won’t have the conveniences I’m used to having. And, most of all, the distance is cutting me off from the friends and family I know and love-well, except for the phone calls, Skype and emails (but we all really know it isn’t the same as being with the people you love). And this is where I start to panic. I have already begun to say my goodbyes to some of my closest friends and family. And as much as everyone tells me I will be able to make friends and not have any issues, I can’t help but think that at times I will feel completely alone in what I am going through.

“Do you dare to stay out?  Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?” –Dr. Seuss 

And yet, I know I have to do this. I’ve always wanted to do this. I have so much to look forward to and see and do. I mean, how many people get to say they were able to go abroad for a full semester and actually live in a new country for over four months? I know that I will have the time of my life. It’s truly just a matter of having confidence in myself to be on my own and to recognize that I am only temporarily leaving the life I’ve ever known to create new memories for myself. I truly feel like I can only gain positive things in my life from embarking on this trip. Australia, here I come!

“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!” –Dr. Seuss

 

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