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A case of mid-semester blues…

Time October 11th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Dear reader,
I am sorry for not having written anything new within the past three weeks but a lot has personally happened in the time span. I finally have been hit with the mid-semester blues; I have only two more weeks for classes to be officially over but that last part of finishing up classes is always hard for me. I have also been hit with pangs of homesickness. A lot has being going on with my family and I wish I could be there with them. On top of the that I have combated against little random annoyances that can easily frustrate you; my ac adapter fried, leaving me with a useless laptop for two days; I lost my credit card, which was my main source of money, only to be found in the shop where I made my last transaction and I have recovered from a strange beak of hives and ear infection. Although, these things have gotten me a little bit on the blue sides lately, strangely enough it is these little bumps that makes life wondrous and intriguing. Life imperfections is what ultimately shapes you uniquely. I wouldn’t take back any of these little annoying things, but I feel the time has come for me to desire to be home.
As far as major exciting events, I went to Binna Burra Lodge with the IFSA-Butler program which was a nice little getaway. Activities included “Flying Fox,” an activity which you are pretty much suspended by ropes the whole time, and numerous of hikes. One of the most fun evenings consisted of “bush dancing,” followed by marshmallow-eating over ea fire and story-telling. Over all it was a lovely experience, giving me plenty of room for meditation and reflection.
Aside from this weekend getaway, I have been mostly hanging out with my Aussie friends over the week and weekends. They have been an amazing emotional support system for me during my stay in Australia and although I still have about a month left in Australia, I can say with great firmness that the part I will miss the most about Australia will be them. I don’t want to think about it, but there is this bitter-sweetness in knowing these are friends you might never get to see again because they literally live on the opposite side of the world from you. IFSA-Butler made my stay in Australia accessible. Without IFSA-Butler, I don’t think it would have been possible for to have come to Australia and with that said, I really hope my Aussie friends meet up with me in America or elsewhere.
So for the most part, I am trying to get over an episode of apathy and mid-semester blues.

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Aboriginal Culture and Greater Australian Society

Time September 12th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Hello again! It is almost 9 pm on Thursday, Sept. 12 and I am writing from one of the libraries at the University of Queensland next to my buddy, Semret from the IFSA-Butler program. I’m in the middle of exams and I am not exactly overwhelmed but just really busy. My semester has composed mostly of extensive essay writing so I feel my hands and eyes are going to fall off. On the other hand, the extensive research I have done has allowed me to delve into Aboriginal culture and issues in Australian society. My research has been about looking deeper into the Hindmarsh Island bridge controversy in the mid-1990s and to verify if Aboriginal women had been able to successfully exert the rights in cultural and land claims.
To be honest with you reader, one of the things I have found most disappointing in Australia are the contentious and racist attitudes that pervade popular opinion and government policies. It has really amazed me to see how an Australian could have never interacted with an Aboriginal person in their life and have such a strong opinion of characterizing all of them as “alcoholics,” for example. It is no doubt that statistically in many Aboriginal communities there has been high incidences of alcoholism but one must understand the context underlying these negative behaviors. In my personal opinion (everyone is entitled to their own opinion), colonialism has dismantled Aboriginal culture and displaced the traditional roles that men and women (but especially men) have played throughout history. When one begins to understand how country is so tied to the Aboriginal perception of reality and life, land confiscation seems so tragic and sad. Granted, assimilation into Western society was inevitable and Aboriginal culture today is extremely complex and layered, so there is no one representation of an “Aboriginal person;” there are Aboriginal people of different descents living in cities and a few full-blooded Aboriginal people living in restricted areas such as Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. To me it is shocking that there are many tragic historical accounts related to Aboriginal people that have not been publicized openly in Queensland history. This fact was demonstrated by Fiona Foley, an Aboriginal artist and activist who has advocated public awareness of these hidden histories. It bothers me that an artist of her passion and resolve needs to be creating art in a very subversive manner because public contention would arise otherwise.
I can go on and on about different things I have learned regarding Abrorignal culture and issues in present society, but it irks me somewhat. I believe that any study abroad student that comes to Australia should strive to become aware of these issues either by taking a class or attending special lectures, but one cannot leave this country with a rose-coloured perception of perfection. I think Australia is an amazing and wonderful place to explore but one cannot be immune to the pain and suffering that has tinged this country. Awareness, the very least, is a step forward for social advancement.
On another note, I went scuba diving in Great Barrier Reef this past weekend! The scuba diving was last minute; initially I was just going to snorkel. The problem was that the waters were very choppy so visibility was very poor and I felt that the only way I can truly enjoy the reef was to scuba dive. Reader, I’ve never scuba dived before so I was slightly apprehensive but I was surprisingly calm throughout the whole experience. Scuba diving has been something I have always wanted to do in my life but have been terrified. This whole experience was one of overcoming fears and pursuing dreams. I feel in love with scuba diving and I am going to see if I can become certified sometime in the future in Miami. I feel that if students can go to the reef, they should defiantly try to go. However, I recommend avoiding the reef during the months of October-May for this is when the Irukandji/box jelly fish tend to be more prevalent in the waters (or I am not sure, it is best to do your own research).
I am very excited because the IFSA-Butler program has organized for us to go to Lammington Park this upcoming weekend so I am curious to see what that will be about. It will be a wonderful opportunity for everyone from orientation to get together and have a fun weekend. Well farewell for now!

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Happy medium

Time August 26th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | 1 Comment by

Busy, busy, busy and happy. My time in Australia has been slipping through my fingers, my days passing by in the most unreal pace. On the other hand, my fleeting time can be described as one of great wonder and joy. At this point, I am very settled in my surroundings and in my university courses. Although I have been hit with some pangs of homesickness, I have made some of the most amazing friends that have been a great emotional support system for me. I am going to narrate the past couple of weeks’ events.

No longer am I completely confused in my surroundings. I described in my first blogs how frustrating it was for me to get oriented with such a simple task as locating the building where my class was (I have no sense of spatial direction). Now I’m at this point where I know where important basic things are for me like bus routes, supermarkets and buildings for class yet, I still maintain a level of excitement in exploring new cool places. My courses have been finalized and I have already turned in a few assignments that haven’t been too difficult yet. My courses are as following: Anthropology of Aboriginal Australia, Aboriginal Women, Australian Art and Archaeology of Pacific Islands. Some of the things I have learned has completely opened my mind in evaluating perspectives I have never considered before; however, I will save that for my next blog.

I feel I have jumped the hurdle of culture shock. One month settled in Australia so far and I have not felt unease at any point. Australian cities parallel those of American cities in many ways, although there are some cultural differences significant enough where one would feel as being away from the States. Yet, I have felt some pang of homesickness. I miss my family and some of my very closest friends, and I will not deny the fact that I cannot wait until I see them again. However, I have become very close to a few local Aussies of mutual religious faith and they have been some of the most wonderful, hospitable and warm people I have ever met. Lately my schedules consist of: attending class; periodically going to work (I am a casual worker at Origin Kebab at the University of Queensland food court); weekend escapades and going over to my closest Aussie friend, Mikala, for dinner at her house almost every night. Thanks to Mikala, I have learned many necessary life skills that make me human such as cooking food! I feel she is the sister I never had and I feel very grateful to have her in my life.

Last night, I was over at Mikala’s house (as usual) and we organized a “Spanish Night.” Having grown up in a predominantly Cuban community near Miami, I have been used to hearing Spanish spoken everywhere. When I moved to Rhode Island to attend university, I did not hear Spanish spoken with the prevalence it was spoken in South Florida but there is a pretty large Hispanic population. However, here in Brisbane, hearing Spanish is a complete rarity. This was a fact that I informed my friend about, so on our “Spanish Night,” she organized some friends to come over for dinner at her place that were of Spanish descent. One of the friends was from El Salvador and it seemed really strange to me to meet anyone of Spanish descent here in Australia. In my mind, it’s almost an anachronism (yet, look at eccentric me). Having this Spanish friend over allowed me to have a very tiny taste of home in just hearing the Spanish language spoken.

Last weekend, friends went together to Montville – a very mountainous, scenic area up the Sunshine Coast from Brisbane. It was absolutely stunning to see wild turkeys roaming about and horses galloping downhill in this majestic beauty. The weather was gorgeous, sunny and breezy. My friends and I had some Chai lattes in a cute little café (I have been disappointed with coffee over here a little bit, but these lattes have been amazing). Our disappointment for the day was to see that the Montville winery had harvested its grapes, leaving us viewers with naked, shameless vines. Aside from that subtle annoyance, we had a lovely day.

Earlier during the week, Ekka day was being celebrated. I honestly do not know what the holiday is about and neither could my Aussie friends explain it to me very clearly. Ekka day which was on Wednesday, August 14th this year gave us students a free day from school. The actual Ekka day event involves horse racing and a showcase of livestock. However, I cannot really tell you more about the holiday itself because I was away from Brisbane for the day. My friends and I drove up the Gold Coast to see the Surfer’s Paradise in the very in vain and futile attempts to tan (it was frigid that day). A lot of the architecture of buildings in Surfer’s Paradise reminded me of Malibu (if the reader remembers, I toured L.A. the weekend prior to flying to Australia). The ambiance, however, resembled Miami in different ways. Ultimately, I was not too fond of Surfer’s Paradise but at least I felt very happy I got to see it at some point in my stay here.

Other than these major little day trips, I have been pursuing different activities and exploring. Sometimes when I go over to Mikala’s house, we work on some craft project (she knits, I scrapbook about my travels), drink some tea and watch cute little Jane Austen movies. If it’s not hanging out with friends, I have been trying out different foods (much to my disgrace, I have gained six pounds or as Aussies would say, about three kilos). As far as restaurants, I have been to Ahmet’s, a Turkish food restaurant. I do not remember what I had, but the rich herbs and spices have been some of the most delicious I have ever tried. I have eaten at the fast food chain, “Hungry Jack’s,” which would be the American equivalent of Burger King. Surprisingly I have enjoyed Hungry Jack’s more than I have enjoyed Burger King in the states. Reader, my greatest pitfall has been falling slave to the evil, yet sweet, grasps of Cadbury Chocolate’ Marvelous Creations. It has been the most amazing chocolate I have ever had. Mikala, who has backpacked through Europe and has had Cadbury Chocolate in London states it does not compare to Australia’s Cadbury Chocolate. Whether there is bias there or not, I cannot ascertain but I concur with her statements (for now).

Well readers, I will conclude for now my adventures. Hopefully I will continue to keep having the nice experiences I have been having. So far I have not felt out of place at any point. I have fallen in love with Australia. As I mentioned in my first blog, there is no such thing as a utopia and I am certain that there will be facets of Australia that might irk me possibly in the future. However, at least in the present moment, my personality has meshed well with those of Australians. Until next blog!

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The first two weeks

Time July 25th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Whoa! Two weeks of a whirlwind of madness, joy and confusion has elapsed. Today was my official day of class and even that pushed me in a wide spectrum of emotions. The University of Queensland is a huge campus (compared to my small liberal arts Brown University) where turkey-like birds roam wild and free and public maps leave you more disoriented than before. Putting the eccentricities aside, it is definitely a lovely school with a wide range of students hailing from all around the world and across the Brisbane River. I missed about thirty minutes of my early morning class, “BIOL2001: Australia’s Terrestrial Environment,” because 1) I didn’t have a map this morning 2) I lost the second map that was given to me 3)I cannot read maps well and 4) I perceive distances to be so extremely large on campus. In essence my first day of class mirrors that of a first day for first semester freshmen. Fortunately the professor was understanding and informed me of what I missed. I am very excited because this particular class has fieldtrips integrated to the curriculum where you get to visit places such as the Brisbane Forest Park; Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island and Australia Zoo, where Steve Irwin once worked. Later I got some bubble tea (when you have had a stressful day there is nothing like boba to make the world a happier place) and was off to my next class “ABST 2010: Aboriginal Women,” a course that analyzes the misconceptions socially construed historically and in contemporary society regarding Aboriginal women. I have no previous knowledge on this subject matter so I am excited to see what parallels I can draw to my previous life experiences. After that I was done for the day!

I attach negative connotations to the expression “culture shock.” In my time here I have yet to experience any dysfunctional negative emotions to my new home, although things are very different and sort of bewildering. I am not sure if I will experience that in the near future because up to this point Brisbane has been a very “international” city encompassing so many ethnicities. Aside from extreme caution exerted when crossing the road (you get heavily fined here for not using the crosswalk and American driving rules are no longer relevant); initial bewilderment to wall outlets and initial instant fascination with the local accent, there hasn’t been too many things I would characterize as culturally frustrating.

In Brisbane I am living in Urbanest, student apartments that are perhaps in the most enviable location from a local perspective. It is located among many restaurants and cafes, the art museum and where many cultural festivals take place. South Bank seems to always be teeming with life and joy because there is always something going on and it’s definitely not a place where I will find it hard to be bored. Through all this process the IFSA-Butler team has been phenomenal, and one of our coordinators, Lindsay Simoncavage was so wonderful as to organize a kayaking event for the IFSA-Butler students living here in Brisbane among the Brisbane River (this happened last week, I am going to be narrating back in time from this point on). We all had such a lovely afternoon together and I really appreciate the balance with which the IFS-Butler attempts to integrate its students among the local community while simultaneously retaining an element of connectedness between the students with these enjoyable activities.

Speaking of the local community, I have had an amazing time meeting local Oz’s and Kiwi’s through our mutual religious faith and I would characterize them all as loving people. So far I feel I have been able to gain an authentic experience interacting with locals and accepting kind invitations for lunch, dinner, etc. I hope to continue spending time with them and hopefully get to meet even more locals in the future, forming solid friendships.

My emotions arriving into Australia can be described as exciting and surreal. After flying for what seemed in an eternity of time; skipping a complete day of my life, I arrived to Sydney on Wednesday, July 10th, 2013.  I was worried about making friends with the other IFSA-Butler students, but everyone was in the same boat, nervous about making friends so we all bonded quite nicely. We stayed in a hostel (I believe the YHA) overlooking the Sydney opera house, considered to be one of the buildings with the nicest views in all of Sydney (next to some five-star hotel). Orientation was smooth and once more the IFSA-Butler team proved to be an amazing emotional support team in easing our transition. Our days were packed with useful information about living and thriving in Australia along with many exciting trips. On one of the days we went to the Featherdale Wildlife Center and the Blue Mountains where we took a hike through this Australian “bush.” After we hiked, we got to paint our own boomerangs and interacted with Aboriginal people for the first time. At Featherdale, I got to take my picture next to a koala and was able to “be-friend” a kangaroo (I hand-fed it in order to take a picture with it). I am narrating all of this retrospect, and so far, this has been one of the most incredible life experiences I have ever had.

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Pre-Departure!

Time July 9th, 2013 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Greetings from Los Angeles! It’s my first time seeing the U.S. Western Coast and my weekend before leaving for Australia has consisted of a lot of sight-seeing and making new friends with the locals. This past week was completely insane in preparing for my mega trip. Usually when I pack for my semester at Brown in Rhode Island, I have my efficient method of doing things and I am finished in a couple of hours. However, this was a whole different story that went beyond just packing. My mom and I were trying to figure out how we are going to keep in contact with one another without using cell phone technology. My mom doesn’t really use the internet a lot so teaching her how to use Skype was quite a challenge. We shall see how well we fare dropping our a-few-times-a-day calling to a maybe once-every-two-days Skype session.

Aside from the potential communication problems, my family has been very supportive in my decision to study abroad.  I’m the one who personally feels a little intimidated about “starting from scratch;” similar to doing a whole freshmen first semester over again, except this time I am more aware of not forming idealistic expectations. It’s sometimes an inevitable part of going to a new place; the excitement is what allows you to face and conquer the unknown. However, I learned very fast first semester of freshmen year to not create a fantasy world of different places. Having been born and living my whole life in Hialeah prior to attending Brown, I wanted something new – a place that will make up for all the deficiencies I believed Hialeah to have. Rhode Island did indeed have many wonderful aspects that Hialeah did not have; yet it also had negative aspects I did not like. My ultimate lesson was to not form idealistic visions of places you have not yet firsthand experienced. That is what I plan to do with Australia. I am aware that this is the opportunity of a lifetime but I am mentally prepared for possible setbacks and obstacles. Hopefully with this mentality, I will be able to get more out of my experience.

But I am excited. I am coming into Australia with a complete open mind. I hope to make amazing new friends and have the opportunity to explore my new home for the next four months. To me it’s an extremely liberating feeling to not have my cell phone for awhile, and not have unlimited internet access. This will allow me to significantly reduce the distractions in my life and genuinely live wholeheartedly in the present moment abroad. Until next time! I feel a little stressed out flying for such a long time (I am terrified, terrified of heights), so my big concern now is surviving this flight!

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