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Home Is Where The Heart Is

Time January 4th, 2017 in 2016 Fall, Australia | No Comments by

As of today, I have officially been home from Australia for a month. And to be honest, I have some mixed feelings about being home for such a long period of time before going down to my home uni again in another week. I do love being home, especially because I was blessed to have a beautiful white Christmas with my family in my hometown with plenty of cheer (and not to mention, lots and lots of food). I still have friends that stuck around in Straya a few weeks after I did, and seeing their photos or videos online definitely makes my heart squeeze a little because I miss the sunshine and the Australian accent. I try to use the Aussie lingo sometimes just to keep it alive in my heart, but I have definitely been given a few odd looks after asking “hey, how ya goin’ today?” even in the most casual setting. I won’t let that stop me from throwing out “heaps” whenever I can, though!

Sometimes I feel like I forget that I even was gone in a foregin country for 5 months. Then, I’ll get a message from an Australian friend, or I’ll see a photo that I took on one of our adventures, and everything comes rushing back all at once how much I’ve learned and been lucky enough to see. Thankfully, I have plenty of reminders of my travels and really enjoyed creating a photo album with all of my photos, ticket stubs, postcards, and little things I collected along the way that remind me that nothing was a dream, but it makes it all still tangible to me no matter where I’ll be in the future. There are so many memories that I never want to forget, and I feel like the only way to make sure I never do is to solidify them in pictures and journals, so I can look back on them whenever I want to feel nostalgic. Australia will always have a very special place in my heart now, and I take every opportunity I can to tell people about my travels and how incredible the Aussies are. I’ve noticed many things that are very different in America vs Australia, as I knew I would notice when I came home, and some of them are very familiar and others make me question why we Americans are so different and how we can improve many things to be more efficient with our country in comparison.

Overall, I’ve adjusted to being back home very well because I’ve been around my family and two of my closest friends as much as possible, and been able to work at the job I have during the summer to earn back a little of the money I spent abroad (which, to be honest, was a lot). The strangest thing to get used to the first few days was not hearing the Aussie accent around me, but now I can hardly remember when that was all I heard (and I’m too horrible at accents to try and recreate it for others, sadly enough). I feel that I’m the same person I’ve always been, but I have so much more knowledge and confidence in my abilities overall now that I’ve survived on my own for months in a foreign country, making me feel worldly and traveled with a lot more cultural balance beneath my belt. I would never, ever trade my experiences in Australia for anything, and I feel like I studying abroad was the best decision I could have ever made for myself during my college experience, because I have learned more about people, myself, and the world than I ever could have in a classroom.

Cheers, for the last time,

Rachel

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From Skydiving to Scubadiving

Time December 1st, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Australia | No Comments by

These last few weeks have been some of my favorite of my entire trip – finals were finished and the weather made for perfect beach days, and I finally took a trip up to the Tropical North Queensland, to the city of Cairns and Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays.

Before I left Wollongong though, I decided to check out the best view of it I could get- by dropping out of a plane, at 14,000 ft high. It was quite an experience, to say the least. The nerves I had on the short plane ride up to altitude were really the worst part, but the amazing view of Wollongong was even a good distraction from that. Thankfully, I was the first one out of the plane, and the stomach drop feeling you get from roller coasters never really came, except you really feel like you’re just floating on a really windy day, with a much better view. The jerk of the parachute was a lot less intense than I thought, and floating down looking into the city was fun to point out where I went to Uni, to the beach, as well as my accomodation (plus I learned to steer a parachute!). I would HIGHLY recomend going skydiving someday- it’s over before you know it and the adrenaline rush is the best caffeine pump ever!

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Traveling to the Whitsundays was beautiful, since it’s a group of islands off of the coast of Queensland and everything is green, tropical, and basically like walking right into a romantic honeymoon getaway. The island has some notoriously cheeky cockatoos, and when you check in they tell you to always keep doors closed or your room will be demolished by the little guys, since they’re about as clever as a three year old kid. Hamilton Island only has golf carts as transportation, and it only takes about ten minutes from one beach to the other. We spent a day kayaking in the harbour, then another day taking a day trip out to the Whitehaven beach- where the sand is made up of all silica, and is known as some of the softest and whitest sand in the world. So, so, SO amazing!

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I spent a few days traveling through Cairns, visiting the Kuranda rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef, and a day trip through all of the waterfalls in the Atherton Tables of the rainforest (including one from an Herbal Essences commercial!). The first day we spent up in the Kuranda rainforest, taking a 100 year old scenic train up the mountain before exploring a butterfly sanctuary, trying kangaroo and crocodile for lunch, then getting to ride in a 75 year old Army Duck through the rainforest before feeding kangaroos and cuddling koalas in the wildlife park. The end of the day we took the Skyrail over the rainforest, and it was the most incredible views of the mountains and gorges with the background music of hundreds of tropical birds singing to us. All in all, an amazing day for a conservationist like myself.

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The next day was spent out in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef- scuba diving for the first time, and snorkeling above hundreds of tropical fish and who knows how many meters worth of coral. It was incredible to see all of the types of fish you see in pet stores roaming around through the coral in their natural habitat, and it really made me incredibly happy to see. Albeit the coral was a little less colorful than I had imagined, but I feel that I learned heaps about the biology and ecology of the area just by chatting with the local biologists they have as tour guides on board the vessels.

We drove on a day trip through the Atherton Table, a flat spot on top of the mountains surrounding Cairns. And let me tell you, we went into deep rainforest this day. I think we saw at least 6 different spiders that were the size of my palm, and there were definitely no glass walls to look at them through like there are in zoos. Exciting, but I well kept my space from them. We swam in four different pools, and the most famous of which are the Milaa Milaa falls which were used in the filming of an Herbal Essences commercial, therefore we all took photos doing hair flips beneath the picturesque falls (a lot harder than it looks, surprisingly). We also swam in a lake that had a local crocodile, and that was as stressful as you would expect whenever our toes hit a rock or plant below us (but hey, bragging rights?). Then spent the rest of the road trip jamming out to old songs and chatting with the other internationals on the bus together, spotting pythons, wallabies, and plenty of Lorikeet parrots.

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All in all, the trip up to Tropical North Queensland was probably one of my highlight trips in Australia, due to the fact that I’ve gotten to study the biodiversity from afar for so long and suddenly be enthralled between the rainforest leaves and see all of the insects, plants, and animals in total harmony was such an incredible experience for me that I’ll never forget, especially since much of the life is in danger of becoming extinct due to habitat loss and changing environments or predation.

And now, as I finally make the trek back home, I have a lot to be thankful for and long way to go to be situated back in my home culture, but I feel like I’ve grown so much and seen so many incredible places that I won’t know where to start when people ask: “How was Australia?”

Stay tuned to find out whether or not I figure out a simple answer to that question…

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Schooools Out (Kind Of)

Time November 7th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Australia | No Comments by

Heya!

The last few weeks have gone by so fast, and so many things have been happening! School has ended and we are currently on “Study” Vacation, where there is a lot more vacationing happening than studying. This includes going to the beach since the weather has finally been sunny and warm, watching heaps of movies in the red room where we push together couches to make couch boats for ideal movie cuddling, and going on various Macca’s runs basically on a nightly basis for some nugs and chips. Truly, it’s a time to bond with all of the people that we live with in the last few weeks before we all head back to the States, depressingly enough. But if I don’t think about leaving then it won’t happen, right? Isn’t that how time works?

Lately we’ve been getting ready for the two week exam period, but everyone gets a week off before known as “Study Vacation.” Surprisingly, everyone definitely pays more attention to the “study” part than “vacation,” but there is definitely a fair amount of visiting the beach happened this week. The weather has been beautiful and sunny, so obviously everyone can be convinced to take a mental break and go lay in the sand or play in the waves. I adore living so close to the beach, it only takes about a 15 minute walk to make it to North Gong Beach, and it’s always bound to be a good day where you come up with games to play or read a book in the sun, or accidentally get really burnt (like me, oops).

n-wollongong-beach Here’s me, soaking up some rays, pretending that finals aren’t a thing…

Since I live in a campus accomodation with about 200 other people, we had a Farewell Formal for the end of the semester. Everyone got really dressed up, and got on a bus that took us to this beautiful convention center on the beach. They gave us a delicious three course meal, the mentors made toasts about all the fun during the year, and there was a photographer roaming around who managed to capture hundreds of photos with everyone mixing and matching between groups to get fantastic photos. We all danced like doofuses because everyone is so close to each other that no amount of weird dancing is too weird. Everyone was in a fantastic mood, and we all continued the party afterwards by going to the R&B night at one of the local clubs that we frequent, continuing to dance like idiots all dressed up to the nines.

Halloween! My favorite holiday, spent in my favorite country. Australians definitely don’t take Halloween as seriously as Americans do, but everyone still got dressed up and had a fantastic night anyways. There is this cute little bar across the street from the ocean where they held a Halloween bash, where everyone dressed up as a zombie-esque characters with plenty of cheesy decorations scattered around the bar. The music was great and people were having a great time, but I was definitely missing the hometown fall, pumpkin patch, and Halloween spirits (very few scary movies were watched, since all of the Australians I live with are simply too scared to watch any movie scarier than the Nightmare Before Christmas).

All week there have been movies and bonding in the red room with everyone, and we’ve also recently picked up the game Clued0 (American Clue), and never in my life have I been so good at figuring out if it was Mustard in the bathroom with the lead pipe or if it was Scarlet in the kitchen with the dagger. Great bonding moments with the other residents happen when there isn’t much going on, especially during the StuVac where everyone is free and the staff will cook us all pancakes every night for a “study snack.” We got to explore the spring food markets near the lighthouse with little booths from local vendors, then explored the lighthouse grounds and beach face. We saw tide pools (including a little crab friend, not pictured, but was very concerned about our presence) and got to watch the sun set over the mountains behind us. Lovely beach, lovely company, and a perfect way to spend a week of “studying” vacation in my favorite place.

woll-beach-n North Wollongong Lighthouse at sunset
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Mel(burn)

Time October 18th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Australia | No Comments by

G’day Loves!

This weekend was yet another trip outside of Wollongong, this time a venture to Melbourne, Victoria! We took another hour and a half flight out of Sydney and got to Melbourne late on a Thursday, stayed in a quaint AirBnB (so nice to actually have someone who knew the city to give us the best go-to tips) and took our time exploring the city and surrounds over three whole days. Since we had a total group of eight people we split up in two groups and drove a rental car (wonderful freedom, yet driving on the left is STILL bizarre even three months later).

The first whole day we spent driving south down the Great Ocean Road to the 12 Apostles — fun fact, there are only 8 total rocks, maybe they just sound better as 12? — with pit stops at lookouts, beaches, and cafes along the gorgeous stretch of windy roads on the south coast of Australia. We saw the Apostles then hopped around to the London Bridge, the Arch, then chased the sunset back to watch it set over the Apostles again on the water (which is very rare to see on the East coast). Read More »

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Extreme Adventures with the Kiwis

Time October 4th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Australia | No Comments by

G’day mates!

After spending ten whole days experiencing the South Island of New Zealand (or N Zed, as it’s nicknamed) I can finally say I’ve had the experience of a lifetime. A friend and I flew over to Christchurch together, managed to make it through customs by the hair of our teeth, and start our journey with a group of about 50 other students and one Kiwi tour guide attempting to corral us on a daily basis. We toured in a charter bus together for ten days, driving south as far as Milford Sound and Te Anau, seeing everything from cheeky endangered Kea birds, Fiordland penguins, glaciers, filming places for Lord of the Rings, and permanently snow covered mountains surrounding us on either side, plus so much more. We spent a few days driving along the coast to make it to Queenstown, NZ, the largest city on the south island, and also lovingly the “adventure capitol of the world.” And believe me, we did plenty of adventurous things.

Our first day in Queenstown we spent in the Shotover River, riding Shotover jetboats and pulling 360 spins within inches of the canyon walls. Then we got suited up for white water rafting, and took a helicopter ride (SO incredible, 100% would recommend it for the amazing views and excitement), then spent the afternoon floating through the icy river rapids and bonding with our Kiwi tour guide.

Day 2, we rode up the Skyline gondolas up to the lodge and saw the most beautiful views of Lake Wakatipu (literally translated in Maori to “sleeping giant,” as it looks like a giant asleep in a fetal position and is the longest lake in NZ). We played on the luge rides and rode down the hill on the scenic track, then decided to bungee jump off a ledge only attached to a big rubber band, essentially. The adrenaline rush was wild, as well as was the view while being hoisted back up and staring down into the city of Queenstown. That night we had a pub crawl as a group and went to the Ice Bar, one of the few in the world, where everything — including the glass you drink out of! — is made from pure ice.

Day 3 a friend and I decided we weren’t done with the adrenaline, and went out to be dropped into a canyon by metal strings on the Nevis Swing, the world’s largest swing! Much, much higher up than the bungee jump was, and therefore much scarier to me, yet it was fantastic bonding with my new friend; the employees also love to mess around with you while they gear you up, like pretending to push you or making jokes that they haven’t hooked you in correctly. Abso-posi-lutely terrifying, but great fun.

For the rest of the days on our trip, we spent touring glow worm caves, visiting farms and seeing sheep shearing, eating fish and chips in pubs, stopping to view gorgeous scenery — which is essentially the ENTIRETY of NZ, because everywhere you look is a new snow capped mountain range to gawk at — and chatting it up with our wonderful Kiwi tour guide, who taught us a lot about Kiwi humor all throughout the week. There is not one second of the trip that I didn’t love, and there are so many amazing places we saw and things we did that were once in a lifetime experiences with people that I will remember forever. None of the pictures do the beauty of New Zealand any justice, but the only advice I can give is to make it a bucket list requirement in life. The country has “Pure New Zealand” written on every locally made product, store, restaurant, water bottle, etc., and I can guarantee that everything definitely fits into that ideal, and will stay close to my heart forever.

 

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BrisVegas, Steve Irwin, and the Boundary Line

Time September 14th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Australia | No Comments by

Hello again from a land down unda,

This past weekend I took a trip up north on the East Coast to Queensland, flying from Sydney to Brisbane and touring the city, visiting the Australia Zoo (RIP Steve Irwin) and traveling down the Gold Coast to Coolangatta!

brisb-flight-in Flying into the BNE airport!

For my first “big” travel while abroad, I would say it went quite smoothly, and everything we saw and did made any little bumps in the road worthwhile. There’s a certain confidence that comes with traveling abroad: you understand what you want to do and where you want to go, and you know you have to trust yourself that you’ll be able to make it from point A to B because you realize that there isn’t much of an option to mess it up. Especially while living in Australia without my normal access to a car I’ve had to figure out how to utilize public transportation, which means that I no longer can be independent in traveling but have to adapt to different systems that don’t wait for people who dawdle around and take their time. Truly, it has made me much more aware of the importance of being on time if not early, because it’s much more annoying to get somewhere half an hour late than to be 5 minutes early. Read More »

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Settled In & Chowing Down

Time August 26th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Australia | No Comments by

G’day mate, How ya goin’?

Yes, they actually say that. Yes, it cracks me up every time. Yes, it is still surreal to realize again and again that I’m currently living in Australia — and I have loved every minute of my time here! The people are amazing (I’m living with a mix of international students, everywhere from Norway, Ireland, Pakistan, Vietnam, and a good number from the States, as well as a bunch of Aussies) and I’ve been gorging myself on Schnitzels, chicken sausages, plus various cultural delicacies like curry and lasagna and all the food I could possibly want to eat through my accommodations. I’ve also tried a kebab for the first time (quite delish),  loaded chips (McDonald’s will put guac and chili sauce on fries — surprisingly good, but 99% different than American guac/salsa chips), sticky fig pudding (with caramel sauce. 12/10 would recommend), pavlova (essentially baked whipped cream), and lots of other unique foods that I didn’t know existed but now am very excited that I do. Read More »

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Not in Kansas Anymore

Time July 29th, 2016 in 2016 Spring, Australia, College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Has it really only been two weeks since I left home?

It seems like I’ve already lived through another lifetime, and needless to say I’ve learned so much in the last two weeks that my brain hurts. After meeting so many people from so many different places, I truly feel as if I’ve already grown to be more worldly– never have I met so many people with these utterly unique accents and slang words, but I’ve also met people that are similar to me in so many ways that we could be twins. In two weeks I have traveled thousands of miles, dealt with cancelled flight plans and survived, explored beneath the Sydney Harbour and the downtown of Wollongong, and met both talking Aussies (the human ones) as well as some fuzzy ones (including koalas and kangaroos, OMG). Read More »

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The Beginning

Time July 11th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hey there!

I’m Rachel, a girl who grew up in a tight-knit town in Oregon, USA, and moved to go to college in sunny Southern California. Now I’ll be traveling halfway across the globe to Wollongong, Australia, to study at the University of Wollongong just south of Sydney! Needless to say I’m excited beyond belief, but maybe I really have no idea what I’ll be getting myself into here by flying over 15 hours away from my home, but I think that’s most of the appeal of studying abroad. It’s the same as the day you walked into kindergarten, then high school, and especially into college: you have no idea who you’ll meet, what types of new situations you’ll end up in, and how much you will inevitably change in the end. Personally, I’m most excited about learning how to understand Australian slang and how their culture differs from America’s, as well as enjoying the beauty of the Australian coast and (hopefully!) exploring with some fellow students to as many cities as I can possibly fit into four months!

At my home University I study Environmental Business which is a balance of Environmental Science and Business Management, and am hoping to learn more about Australia’s laws about environmental responsibility on local, regional, and national scales while abroad! Also very, very interested in learning where the best bars are and what the best food is, so stay tuned to see some adventures involving my taste buds as well as my suit cases. Speaking of suitcases, packing is an adventure all in itself. I’m planning to travel as lightly as I can (HA), and can’t even count how many Pins I’ve saved about packing strategies, capsule wardrobes, and travel hacks. In the end, I know I’m not walking into the middle of the bush and can buy anything I forget once I arrive, and it’s a much better plan of action to pack less and save space for the souvenirs and items I’ll no doubt acquire while gone.

Am I excited? Undoubtedly. Am I nervous? Oh yeah. But I also realize that leaving on this trip will be an incredible step forward in my life that many people don’t have the opportunity to take, and I plan on appreciating every second that I’m abroad and soaking up the culture, friendships, and definitely the delicious foods I am lucky enough to experience (priorities on the food though, amiright?). As I prepare myself to leave, I feel like I’m saying “sayonara” to a small part of myself that still prioritizes staying in my comfort zone, and welcoming in some extra confidence to keep my head up and my heart open to whatever and whoever walks into my path.  Wish me luck as I finish up my packing and make the long trek out to Sydney, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to share next time!

Cheers!

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