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The Best and Worst of Australia… :)

Time November 4th, 2008 in College Study Abroad | 2 Comments by

Halloween was fun here.  There is not as much emphasis on celebration, but there are plenty of house parties to go to.

We are now in our first week of final exams.  The semester has gone so quickly, but there is still much to be done.  Because of the unpredictable nature of exam material here, we must be ready for anything and everything.  We have plenty of time to study now; most don’t use it.  But it is a much more relaxed approach to studying, and maybe more effective than what I am used to.  As I plan to go to New Zealand for Christmas and live as a normal Aussie would for the summer, things are on the rise, and its been fun planning what I will do.  For most students in the study abroad Australia program, this is a sad time: exams aren’t quite over, there is pressure to travel, tight budget, and thoughts of leaving new found friends linger.  The truth is it will have been a fairly short stay (July 10 to Nov 15) for the single semester study abroad students.   It was recommended to me to stay here for a year; I would also recommend this to anyone who truly wants to experience the fullness of their study abroad country.  So far, I have mostly experienced life as a student and as a tourist, and I can’t wait to enjoy the freedom of summer.  I feel like I have just gotten used to the Aussie ways of life (still learning new words all the time), and I’m glad I am staying.  However, I will being seeing my family for Christmas in NZ, so that makes things much easier for me.  All this to say – consider staying for more than a semester if you choose the Australia study abroad program.  So many unknowable opportunities arise when people find out your staying for a year.   I wanted to end my semester of blogging with some useful information.  What are the best and worst things about life at the University of Queensland Australia?!

Best: Climate, Ocean, days at the Beach, Cleanliness, general appreciation for Nature, Friendly People, Relaxed and Calm Atmosphere, Numerous Activities and Entertainment, Personal Growth, Amazing Sites and ease in travel, Cool animals… everywhere, Fewer Restrictions (drinking age, swimming without a lifeguard, campus security is friendly), Public Transportation (River Boats, Buses, Trains), Great Location at UQ near Brisbane city, emphasis on fitness and health, Campus Life (each residential college is tight, almost like a fraternity, and has its own sports teams), Culture and Way of Life, Good Churches, UQ is the perfect place to study abroad!

Worst: $Prices (thankfully the exchange rate is great right now), being away from home-cooked meals and home life, difficulty in finding a decent job, lack of resources (most people bring more than two bags and a guitar when moving into college) –> dependency on money, style of teaching (homework and repetition is rare, exams are 40-60% of course grade, grading can be tough, learning a subject on your own isn’t as fun nor is it easy), some prejudice against Americans, being far from close friends or family (I will be missing my sisters graduation, Brothers birthday, trips and events with friends, etc.), American food (quality, variety, prices).

If your reading this blog because you are thinking or planning on coming to Australia in the near future and you have any specific questions, feel free to write me on the Butler site, find me on Facebook (David Counsell) or on AIM (WayneCounsell).  I will be in and around Brisbane until July ’09, so maybe I’ll even meet you!  Good luck to all and thanks for the read!

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Exams are Coming, University Becomes Madhouse

Time October 21st, 2008 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off by

I very much expected for the few weeks we have left here at Uni to be filled with frantic studying and.. well… not much else.  I was very wrong.  In fact, the University seemed to be more alive than ever.  Sure there was studying going on, but as temperatures rose and the end of the semester approaches, it seems as if everyone is either travelling, partying, or spending free time at the pool or beach.  The International students who study abroad in Australia realize they don’t have much time left to travel and experience Australia – spending every last penny.  And the Australians, given the week off before finals begin, plan big parties and trips to the beach or Nearby Island destinations.  As for me… Well, I’m going to be here for another 8 whole months, so I am in no hurry to go anywhere, and my classes are pretty difficult, so I find myself torn.  I have spent my fair share of free time at the college pool, playing Frisbee, and have attended a couple parties, but I really need to get down to business now.  Unsure of future college plans when I return to the United States, I just need to get the best marks I can.
Today we had a decent thunder storm come through.  As usual, before dinner time, I was out playing frisbee with one of my college friends, when it all came down on us.  There were also other groups of out on the cricket field, playing casual soccer or rugby.  When the rain came we all paused… looked around, and decided to just keep playing.  As the rain came down harder, and lightning came closer, we had even more fun.  Covering the middle of the cricket field was a massive tarp, and after it had collected rain, some students started sliding on it.  The trend grew and eventually we were all sliding  (easily 10-15 meters each) on this tarp, having a blast!  We started getting creative by diving for frisbee passes, playing several rounds of human bowling, and colliding in the middle as two people slid from each end.  This reminded me of home, and we all got to know each other really well.
It has been a very fun day, but I must get working now and keep on a schedule.  However, I am very relieved that we have so long to study in Australia before final exams.  The atmosphere here on campus, I reiterate, is very different than it would be in the states.
I strongly feel:
Encouraged – I believe I have found the practical help and resources I will need to pass each of my courses!
At Home – Going to the Butler Study Abroad Farewell Dinner, I (being the only student of the group staying for next semester) felt as if Australia was my own, like these friends I had made were just visiting.  I was proud of my new country and new home, and looked anxiously forward to having it become a greater part of who I am!  I didn’t need to worry about the culture shock of the return or if I will be able to handle the snow and cold – I’m Staying!

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Homey Country Life and Mid-Semester Break

Time October 6th, 2008 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off by

~Country Life Weekend

Planned and organized by the Butler Australia Study Abroad Programs, Country Life weekend exceeded all my expectations and brought me face to face with the Australian country.  On Friday the 19th of September, the Butler Students split ways and were taken into either Lamington National Park or Rosalie Plains, near Towoomba.  The 4000 acre Cattle Farm we stayed at in Rosalie Plains was beautiful and all but boring.  Each had their own warm quilted bed inside the vast farmhouse which was run by a lively couple, the Reynolds.  They cooked delicious country-sized meals for us, even Steak from the farm – I was in heaven!  Our first day there, we arrived later in the day, and after dinner, lied under the stars with the dogs Scruffy and Kingy.  The night sky was astounding; there were even more stars out than I had seen in the mountains of Colorado or the plains of Arizona.  You could see a galaxy mass covering a quarter of the sky, and shooting stars showed up regularly.  The next day, we went on a truck ride around the property.  We were riding in the truck bed while kangaroos sprinted alongside us – incredible ( I think we all used the words “like Jurassic Park!”).  Later we watched how they made cattle feed, and climbed giant stacks of hay bales with the dogs.  We also had plenty of free time to play tennis (they had a court – random) and relax.  On the final day, we visited the house that won the #1 Country Garden award which was quite amazing.  Australians have some pretty amazing potential for home gardens including pineapples, oranges, lemons, avocados!  We got to know the Reynolds well over that short time, and I hope to visit again before I go home.

me and Kingy

~Cairns

This past week during my study abroad in Australia was our Spring Break equivalent here at UQ.  This is the trip I had been waiting for: SCUBA diving in on of the Great Barrier Reef!  Just a short flight North of Brisbane, we found ourselves in the  surprisingly small city of Cairns.  Everything in the city had to do with tourism, diving, sky-diving, or the rain forest – an epicenter of adventure.  Our first day we went diving. We had absolutely perfect weather, and the clarity was amazing.  There was definitely something amazing and new about the great barrier reef.  There is simply more biodiversity there than I had ever seen.  Everywhere I turned I could find a new species that I had not yet seen.  We did two dives on that trip and our second was unforgettable.  We anchored near a tiny sand island – nothing but pure, clean sand.  Around this min-island were reef patches, some only a meter below the sea level.  The shallowness of these reefs really allowed you to see the intense colors of the creatures beneath without the color spectrum loss of deeper waters.  There was so much awe inspiring life under the water that it made the beautiful view above, seem borrish!  It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Great Barrier Reefmaroon clown in bubble-tip anemone

Tropical Rain Forest and Etty Bay

We also went on a private tour through the tropical rain forest near Cairns.  Our guide, Dave, was a genuine Croc-Hunter type of guy.  It is his life goal to film endangered species around the world.  He is also currently on the hunt for the worlds largest snake!  The rain forest was amazing, so many plants and insects that you don’t see at first glance.  Dave told us all about the trees and organisms that lived there and shared personal experiences with the organisms around us.  He pointed out to us the stinger tree, which stings with an extremely intense and lon-lasting pain, “like an electric shock,” he said.  We also went on a crocodile search on the river.  We couldn’t find any, however got close up with some Tawny Frogmouths, which are like strange owls, and a tree snake.  The hills around us were also picturesque to say the least.  We later took a swim in a safe rain forest stream and fed flies to a giant spider.  It was quite a day, and we had the perfect weather for it.

Next, we headed south, out of Cairns, toward Mission Beach were we stayed in a house by the beach.  This was just an ordinary beach to the Aussies, but was absolutely beautiful to us.  Aside from our time on the beach, pool, and playing with the owners dog, we went on yet another memorable day trip.  Etty Bay was recommended to us by Dave, our guide, and so we took a day trip their a couple of days later.  It was, once again, a beautiful spot, and there weren’t very many people there.  Expecting to have a normal day on the beach, we found ourselves face to face with an endangered Cassowary and its young.  Cassowaries are prehistoric-looking birds that can be around six feet tall.  They are beautifully colored, have a horn on their heads, and lay green eggs.  And if that isn’t wierd enough, they have a massive raptor-like claw on each foot.  Dave had told us about these birds, but finally watching one stroll the beach — we didn’t know what to do.  Our day at the beach was all but boring!

Casowary and chicks - Etty Bay

Our vacation ended shortly after, with a drive back up to Cairns and a flight back to Brisbane.  I have one much needed day before classes start.  Its hard to simply go on as usual after such an amazing trip, but its time to get back to work.

I will leave with the feelings of:

Dizziness – all is so busy… extremely fun, and always new, but I’ve got to keep studying

Refreshed! – As much as the next month will be extremely demanding, I think I’m ready

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Its getting Warmer! and smells like Florida

Time September 17th, 2008 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off by

Today was the warmest day we’ve had during my study in Australia, but along with the heat came this wonderful familiar smell.  Talking with my running partner, we quickly decided that this was the smell of Florida, and all things fun in the sun – which happens to be a great representation of my past two weeks!
I went scuba diving for real this time, twice!  Once I found the right cure for sea sickness, I was loving life!  As I mentioned before, there are few things as peaceful as gliding weightless through a beautiful reef.  On Sunday I did three dives at Flinders reef which is just off nearby Morton Island.  The sea turtles, starfish, urchins, coral, a shark, and numerous reef fish that I recognized from years of infatuation with the reef ecosystem were surrounding me; I was in their environment, underwater, in awe.  I always wanted to study marine biology or reef ecology until I took a killer biochemistry coarse in High school.  Chemistry has never been my forte, and its again coming back to haunt me as I take my chemistry requirement for engineering.  There are a few subjects at UQ that have been fairly easy, but Chemistry is not one of them;  I’m in a course with around 250 first year students, yet feel way out of my league.
I also went back to Noosa, which is where our Butler orientation was.  I spent the day on the beach with my family and got rocked by a few massive waves while boogie boarding.  There are five major beaches in Noosa, and they are all unique and sometimes fairly empty; this is very different from the crowded public beaches in, say, Florida, where you’re sometimes lucky to find a spot to make base.  We had dinner at a local restaurant where we talked to a very friendly Australian who had moved here from the U.S., after marrying an Aussie.   I don’t think she stopped smiling the whole time we were talking to her!  This only heightened my interest in living here someday.
It seems as if I have been meeting more and more interesting people the longer I’m here.  I have made several good friends who also live in King’s College, and the casual chats, drinks, and fun we have here is very refreshing.  I have learned that the more you stay on campus, as most of the Aussies do, on weekends and free days, the more you are welcomed.  Most of the Americans, including myself, have been travelling almost every weekend; understandably, this is sometimes a harsh trade for being a part of the college community and dorm life.  There are some really great people here that can have plenty of fun just hanging out on campus.  It’s a very different atmosphere than in the states. I like it.  No pressure, no worries mate.
Normalcy – I am fitting in nicely here and it feels natural, yet always exciting.  It’s getting easier yet!
Adventure – there are so many doors I have yet to open… what will happen next? How should I plan summer?

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My eyes have been opened!: AFL and SCUBA

Time September 2nd, 2008 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

Its hard to believe that interesting things are happening every two weeks of my life; when has that ever occurred?  The truth is that my study abroad schooling has been full of new experiences and challenges – one for each weekend in fact.  Last weekend, I was very inspired through our trip to an AFL game (Australian Football) that Butler took us to.  At first, appearing to be unorganized and primitive on television, Australian rules football grew on me more and more, as I saw the level of fitness and athleticism that these men had.  Once I understood all the jumping around, kicking, and pummeling, I gained a high level respect for the game.  It would be a disaster if I tried to explain  how the sport works, but being a big fan of contact sports I feel it is my duty to tell American readers that there are a few great sports out there that we as a country don’t participate in.  Competition is probably one of the most universal qualities of mankind, and is perhaps our healthiest attribute, but It is always interesting to see the differences in how other culture’s pursue their own traditions of athletics and challenge (the Beijing opening ceremony comes to mind, with its beautiful display of tradition, power, and strength).

This past weekend during my Australia study abroad experience, I had the joy of learning to SCUBA dive.  It has been a life long dream of mine to SCUBA in the Great Barrier Reef, and the closer I get, the more the excitement takes over.  The 8 hours spent on SCUBA Theory in a class room, and another 8 in the pool were well worth the time, effort, and money spent.  The class reminded me a bit of my Driver’s Ed course back in High school, but this time there were no insurance fees or long lines at the BMV (though the ever-worried mother part is still the same). SCUBA diving is an incredible sport, and I feel extremely lucky.  The greatest difference between SCUBA and other sports is that it is quiet and peaceful, all underwater communication is done with signing, and if your doing things correctly, you find yourself in a buoyantly neutral state, like an astronaut in space.  I never thought it could be so relaxing. Next weekend is my chance to apply what I have learned through several dives near the Morton and Stradbroke islands, and I can’t wait!

I must get back to studying, but will leave with the feelings of:

Satisfaction: all the past months work has led me to a proper student visa, Scuba classes, and a job (this    week, I will start working with an Aussie friend of mine, as an “event staff” employee and server).

Joy: trudging through the struggles of the past few weeks has only brought reward.  I will never stop wishing I could enjoy time with my friends back home, or searching for the familiarities and conveniences of life in the U.S., but as things start to come together, I begin to see the bigger, brighter picture, and I can see what I have overcome.

I thank God for the strength He provides

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Stradbroke Island and Mixed Emotions

Time August 18th, 2008 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

August has been a fairly trying month so far.  I am currently on an exchange visa and its going to take a while before I can get a student visa, and therefore a job, and therefore some financial stability and more weekend trips.  Even though my exchange visa was free, I should have come with a student visa, so I would have the option to work.  But enough complaining, I got do some some very interesting things through the Australia study abroad programs.  After all, the weather here is gorgeous and Brisbane is still the best place I’ve ever lived.

Stradbroke Island has to be the coolest place I’ve visited so far: waves pounding on massive rocks, miles of surfing beaches, and a laid back community.  Coming from Indiana, I felt like I was in the country again.  Some friends and I went to a bar (probably the only one) on the island, and were welcomed by a live band, who played some American rock music in our honor, and many friendly locals!  They had the Olympics on, and we had a great time.  The first time I went to Straddie, I was part of a Marine Biology field trip, and we did research and toured the island.  We analyzed mangrove environments, did some saine-netting, and examined the coast and tidal pools.  I even got to help transport a huge sea turtle (dead and smelly) that got hit by a boat, and hold a wild python (not recommended or legal as we found out).  However, feeling like too much of a tourist during that stay, I decided to return on the mid-week holiday (Ekka)  to relax and catch some waves with the boogie board.  It was a good trip, however I should have stayed a couple of days to make it worth the 3hrs  and $20 in transport.

School is still flying by… I feel like my classes are either very difficult, or extremely elementary.  The combination of my waning cold and easy classes (that sometimes can be viewed online) has called for some very short school days.  There has been very little homework though, even in the hard classes.  Its very different than what I am used to, and it makes it even harder to sit down and study when work must be done.  I am beginning to meet more of the people in my classes though, so that’s a plus.  The field trip with Marine Biology really helped with that.  I would highly recommend field trips for any student in the Australia study abroad program.  It helped me meet a lot of new people, experience some new things, and get to do some travelling.

So here’s the section where I leave you with some feelings…  It has been interesting to observe myself following the exact emotional trend outlined in out orientation.  The first month is like vacation: new and exiting, and the second month you wonder why your even here.  As I reach my second month, I have definitely had some down days, days of missing home and wanting to talk to people that actually know me, and days of wondering why I committed to stay here for a whole year.  I have found that minimizing my stress can be a worthy antidote for this time.  If I don’t stay on top of my classes, my schedule, and my budget, I tend to get really frustrated – and that’s when I miss home.  Its a very strange feeling, being in such a  beautiful, lively city, yet wanting to be somewhere else.

GO USA OLYMPIC TEAM!!!

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Surfer’s, Soccer, and School

Time August 2nd, 2008 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

The last two weeks:

Surfer’s Paradise has made for a couple of great day trips! Its very cheap to get there and back, and the beaches and waves are well worth it. One night in Surfer’s was spent in a hostel, my first; It was very convenient, and they took us too a local club for a free drink. The hostile was in easy walking distance to the beach too, so we could come and go, and shop in the town whenever we liked. However, it felt a little strange walking around with a group of a dozen Americans from study abroad Australia programs (not recommended), as we clearly did not fit in quite yet (see picture: “Seppos stuck on median”).

Recently I joined our college’s soccer team, and have had a lot of fun with that so far. Its been a great way for me to get to know some Aussies and to earn a little respect at my dorm college. Our dorms are called colleges if anyone is confused; I live at King’s College, one of the three all male residences, and study at University of Queensland. Speaking of – life is pretty good here! I have made friends with my Australian suitemate, David, and some of the faculty also; they have been very helpful. David gave me a job lead, and the cleaning ladies will gladly get me anything I need. It is also a very active dorm, and its easy to find others that have similar interests, especially since they’re all guys. Getting to know the people around me has really helped me out and taken a lot of weight off my back.

As far as school goes, classes have either been very easy, or very difficult. Because of the teaching styles and curriculum for each class, it is difficult to find classes that fit my level. It has also been a bit confusing recently as classes are still being rearranged or relocated on short notice. However, the more difficult of my four classes both require a tutorial, which is basically an organized small group of classmates for the purpose of homework help and tutoring. These have been very useful, and are also a great way to make friends.

It has been slow few weeks, trudging through the logistics of living and studying. If it weren’t for the warm sunny days, I might be a little stressed out by now. Many people I know, including me, have gotten sick recently, which is never fun. However, It really helps you to realize what you have placed your trust and joy in, when your feeling weak and worthless. I would have to say that I miss home a little. Frequent email is just not going to cut it after a while.

some advice:

Organization has always been a struggle for me. However, I am learning that it is an essential when it comes traveling and studying in a foreign place. It is always important to have both cash and credit with you at all times, and you can save heaps of money by purchasing things like 10 trip bus tickets and sports passes. Ideally you could spend around seven hundred dollars your first week abroad, and then live off your small investments for a while.

I will sign out with the feelings of:

struggle – being responsible and making every hour of the day count.

peace – things happen, just gotta keep a good perspective and free yourself of the negative!

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Orientation and Orienting

Time July 16th, 2008 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off by

After a few traveling complications, I arrived in Brisbane, and met by a Butler leader. The next few days of orientation for the Australia study abroad program were exactly what I needed. They strategically planned events later in the day in order to catch up with the Aussie time change. My California stay really helped with the time change, and I would recommend it for anyone traveling this way. Another recommendation would be to plan on living out of your carry-on luggage. I took Butler’s advice, and had enough clothing to carry me through my 3-4 days without my lost luggage!

Orientation was literally a breath of fresh air – very relaxing, and “jet lag” did not really exist for me. In just a few days, we spent two days on beaches, danced with aboriginals, held some very unique animals, and toured the areas nature parks. Coming from the landlocked state of Indiana, I never really believed that I would get to surf, it seemed to good to be true! It was amazing, and I hope to go again this weekend, in a possible trip to nearby Surfer’s Paradise.

Moving in has been a slight complication, but the excitement is overwhelming! When we arrived, our RAs greeted us with a welcome dinner and drinks. There are about 15 guys living here in King’s residential College, 3 from my IFSA Australia study abroad program, and the others are from Europe and the US. Its been a long haul registering for classes, banking, and supplying our rooms, but there is always time enough for exercise and hanging out with all our new friends. The dorms here trump anything I’ve seen in the US! Our residential hall alone has a gym, Harry-Potter-style dining hall (amazing food), a Rec. room with surround sound, pool and pingpong, and room enough for plenty of friends. Free time is spent watching Aussie rules football and Rugby on the projection screen. My room also has a porch where we like to hang out. I love UQ so far.

I will close with the feelings of:

Shock – everything is so very expensive!

Awe – I wish I was born into this amazing culture!

Anticipation – Everything is so great so far, I wonder what is to come with classes next week…

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Predeparture (July 3, 2008)

Time July 16th, 2008 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off by

Eager to leave, I wonder if I’m ready. I try to visualize myself getting off the biggest plane I’ve ever been on, and plunging into a country and culture of pure unfamiliarity. All in all, I would have to say that I am not worried, yet doubts creep up every once in a while as I try to imagine what my Australia study abroad experience will be like.

So far there have not been very few complications. My flight is no longer direct; however, the travel agent is taking good care of us.

The only thing I have to worry about for now is packing. I plan to study in Australia for a year. How much can I or should I bring? My first year of college, at the University of Hartford, I was able to bring a whole SUV full of whatever I needed, and I ended up taking too much. This is very different. When it comes to school, there is a certain comfort found in having all the resources you will need at your fingertips. I will have to learn to succeed with less. This could be a good challenge for me: try not to let expediency of materials effect my performance; rather, planning and organization. I must now fit all I will need into a single bag and a carry-on item; Mōna (my guitar) will have to count as my second luggage, unfortunately.

Let’s just hope that the excitement brought on by the imminent change and challenge will outweigh any negative surprises coming my way.

I will be staying with a college friend in California for three days before I fly out of LA for Brisbane. I’m hoping that the three hour gain will help me begin to adjust to the final 14 hour time change between Indianapolis and Brisbane.

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