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Leaving Australia

Time January 5th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

My last days in Australia were very difficult because I had to work very hard for finals week.  Unlike most institutions, my university is not pass-fail, and the University of Sydney enforces curved grading, which was very hard to adjust to academically.  I think that my biggest regret while studying abroad was not taking it easy on myself by signing up for classes that were not for my major.  Instead, I was stuck with austere academic requirements and a workload that was disproportionate in difficulty to those of my fellow abroad students.

November is a beautiful month in Australia where temperatures rise into the 90s.  When I wasn’t studying, I went to Coogee beach by the University of New South Wales, or I would go to Victoria park which is right on the edge of the campus of University of Sydney.  Another popular place to go was Manly beach, just a ferry ride away from the Sydney CBD.  As I finished up my finals I tried to stay outside as much as possible because I knew I would be returning to cold Philadelphia weather too soon.  However, I booked a trip to visit my best friends from abroad in their hometown in Guatemala from December 13th to December 27th, so I knew the cold weather could not last too long.

A few days before my flight, my bosses from my internship at the Greek Consulate in Sydney took me to a wonderful lunch at the Westfield mall in a famous Greek restaurant.  The chef even came out to greet us between chopping up a freshly killed pig and opening his phyllo in the back room, and he told us about his career as a marathon swimmer.  Everybody in Sydney seems to have fascinating and hobbies, and I do not think you can find those types of people anywhere else in the world.  I was sad to say goodbye to my bosses at my internship, but they gave me information about visiting Greece and even gave me a t-shirt that advertised Greece on it.  I went to the Chinese markets for a final time, went out to Darling Harbor with my best friends for my last night, and then it was time to catch my flight.

Australia taught me so much both in the classroom at the University of Sydney and also outdoors all along the places I explored on the East Coast.  I hope that I can go back someday soon, but until then I can only hope that someone is inspired by this blog to go abroad there while I languish back home in the cold United States.

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Day 3 of the exclusive camper van

Time January 5th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

After a crazy night and morning in Gold Coast, the four of us loaded up our jucy van and drove one hour further–to Brisbane.  It had begun to feel strange when we would leave a place that we had spent so little time in and that we would probably never find time to return to because of the timelines imposed by our study abroad trips and also because of future obligations that will most likely prevent us from taking this type of trip again.  Still, we managed to appreciate as much as we could the lessons we learned by speeding through different cultures and learning everything that Australia’s Eastern coast had to offer us.

Once we arrived in Brisbane, we roamed the streets close to our backpacking resort which was located very close to a rainbow skyscraper, yet not quite in the CBD.  After exploring a few of the streets, we bought the ingredients for a huge Nacho dish and retired to our backpackers resort.  Here, we met up with a few of our friends from our apartment buildings back in Sydney–purely by coincidence!  Although we spent little time with them, it was good to know a few people at a hostel of mostly strangers.

We also explored the gorgeous botanical gardens right next to Brisbane’s harbour and avoided the dangerous lizards which stalked our group.  One man even told me that lizards have a bad habit of mistaking humans for trees, and they tend to jump up on humans to bite deep into their skin for protection that a tree would give them.  I have to admit that a lizard who would do that to me would receive less protection than a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay.  At the botanical gardens we also took a self-guided tour of the old Parliament House, where politicians gathered to eat and to inspire  jealousy within the aspiring fashionable tastes of Queensland’s elites.  There was little mention of actual government and political affairs at this mansion, so it seems that Obama would have a much higher potential for peaceful incumbency had he chosen to serve Americans from Australian parliament houses rather than from the White House.

In the city, we took a ferry to the 4X brewery, made famous in Queensland in Australia and a declicious beer to drink anywhere in the country.  The tour was quite long but very informational, and they supplied 4 free samplings at the conclusion.  Our drivers made sure to limit their consumption, but those of us not obligated to drive enjoyed much more leniency.  The ferry system is linked to the public transportation, so unlike in Sydney, a ticket for the Brisbane ferry is also good for a connection to a Brisbane bus for 2 hours.  The ferry moved at speeds comparable only to an airplane and my hair was almost cemented in a wild mane above my head by the time we had reached the end of our ride on this super-ferry.  I am both elated to have had such an experience and shocked at the damage the wind caused my hair.

 

Once we finished our day in Brisbane, we were ready for a much longer drive–to Emu park, in order to get to the Whitsunday Islands.  These are a chain of islands approximately 6 hours away from Cairns, towards the top of Australia.  On the way to our destination we stopped at fresh fruit stands that were on the side of the road and admired the scenery: untouched wilderness, wild roaming cattle, and barely anyone to be seen for the entire drive. In fact, I do not think any American can imagine a country almost identical in size with an east coast of such sparse population density.

The town of the Whitsundays, called Airlie Beach, was a quaint beach town which consisted primarily of spring break backpackers from my own university in Sydney.  It had about six bars and 20 restaurants scattered along the main road, with a Yacht club decorating the end and a welcoming Lagoon situated next to the rocky beach.  We spent one day relaxing in the town, and the second day the four of us took a snorkeling trip in the chilly but pristine turquoise ocean.  We embarked on a speed boat with about 30 fellow participants to a destination on an island designated a national park, and at this haven our instructor barbecued lunch for the group before giving us an hour to explore the beach.  He then sailed us towards another island where we strapped on our snorkeling gear and jumped into the water, levitated just inches above Fire Coral, which he warned would have been very painful to touch.  The colors of the coral were spectacular, and the blithe fish passed underneath us as casually as though they were taking an afternoon stroll in the cavernous and poisonous coral.  After about an hour, we boarded the boat yet again and returned to Airlie beach, only to leave for yet another 6 hour trip to our final destination: Cairns.

 

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Great Barrier Reef

Time January 5th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

We did not arrive in Cairns until about 3 in the morning, and we experienced our only instance of being lost when we were unable to find our hostel.  I blame the exhaustion we all incurred after the past nine days of our trip, but the hostel owners were kind enough to step outside and flag us down to help us arrive at the right location.  I was consistently impressed by Australian hospitality throughout this entire trip, and I can honestly say it is unlike any that I have experienced in other countries.

At 7 in the morning we rushed to the water and boarded a boat that would take us and a few other study abroad students, as well as about 100 other paying participants, on a snorkeling and scuba diving trip through a section of the Great Barrier Reef.  The ride to our designated spot took almost 2 hours, but it was absolutely worth the wait.  We were greeted by a dazzling view and fish that actually jumped out of the water and swam around our ankles as they dangled into the ocean.  The water was much warmer than in the Whitsundays, and we must have spent almost 3 or 4 hours altogether exploring both locations in our snorkeling masks and flippers.  There were fish of every color and coral in every imaginable shape, and even an orange octopus that raced across the ocean floor at one point.  We saw sting rays lurking towards the bottom, and some small harmless sharks drifted nonchalantly underneath of us.  I think the Great Barrier Reef was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had, and I feel so lucky to have been to one of the 7 wonders of the world at the age of just 20.  For the hours that it took to return to shore we laid on hammocks that were strung along the front of the ship and ate a huge lunch included in the tour.  Only one minor scare occurred during this trip: I was stung by some kind of microscopic oceanic organism while snorkeling, and the instructors told me that this was most likely from a piece of dead box jellyfish floating in the water.  They told me several times to go to a hospital if the stings got worse, because box jellyfish are lethal creatures, but by that night the pain had completely disappeared.  I was lucky to be in Cairns during the season when I did not need a wetsuit to protect from such jellyfish!

 

That night we went to one of the best hostels in Australia, called Gilligan’s.  Although it charged a $10 cover, it was a great venue and completely worth the price.  Cairns is very similar to Gold Coast in that they are both beach towns during the day and party cities at night, and during all hours of the day one can see congregations of young backpackers everywhere.

Early the next morning we attended our scheduled Bungy Jumping session with the money that we had not already spent in the past 10 days.  I was very nervous but also did not quite know what to expect, especially since I had really wanted to go skydiving and was in for a huge thrill.  First we had to sign away the liabilities for all types of injuries, and then we hiked up a giant hill in sight of the 50 meter tower from which we were about to plummet head-first.  Our guide looked as though he had just left the NBA to grace us with his presence.  He was an even-tempered, good-looking, beachy Australian who acted as though everything about jumping from high towers on a daily basis was completely normal, if not somewhat boring.  It would be logical to assume that he went skydiving later that day on a lunch break based on his laidback demeanor as we approached the bungy tower.  Another family had signed up for this activity with us, and the mother constantly covered her face with her hands as her teenage sons signed away their lives and strapped on their gear.  I, on the other hand, chose not to tell my mom before I went bungy jumping because I knew she would never have allowed it (but i made sure to tell my sister, in case anything bad happened to me).  The workers at the top of the tower blasted a relaxing playlist, and I watched my friend plunge to what looked like would be his death, and then I could only stare as his feet came closer and then farther away from me.  When it was my turn i shuffled up to the launch pad with towels strapped to my calves and ropes tied around them, and I hesitated before jumping.  The instructor gave me a small push and i jumped feet-first, only to be snapped into a head-first position once the slack flew out of the rope.  All that I can say is that the video of the ordeal makes me look like a dead animal swinging and bobbing up and down, but it was certainly a once in a lifetime experience!

Afterward, we lounged around our hostel at the pool and laid in the beds that were scattered around the common area before boarding our flight back to Sydney.

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Melbourne

Time January 5th, 2012 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

After spring break, I only had the funds and the time for one last excursion away from Sydney, and I chose to go to Melbourne for a week before finals began.

My friends and I took a Firefly bus from Central station, and we arrived in Melbourne 12 hours later, at 7 am.  Although Melbourne is supposed to be chillier than Sydney, it was quite warm all day while we explored the harbor and the CBD.  Melbourne offers a free tourist tram that stops at major sites, and we took advantage of this luxury which we had never before had in Australia.  We had come during the week of the Melbourne Cup, which is the largest meeting of any horse race in the world.  Somehow, we had managed to book a hostel that was right next to the Queen Victoria Market, a daily arrangement of items for sale ranging from fruit to food, tapestries to shoes and clothing, and even live chickens and other types of birds.  By this point in my trip I had become accustomed to every major site being named after a British monarch or a member of the royal family, with George and Victoria being the most popular street, building, and market names.  These first couple days we explored the graffiti galleries, the Central station, a new mall built to surround a historic building, and also did some shopping.  We wished that we had studied abroad in Melbourne because it is slightly more affordable, but its night life is not as exciting as it is in Sydney.  This city is very walkable and easy to navigate, and it has a strong culture evident in the behavior of its inhabitants and also in its architecture.

When more of our friends arrived in Melbourne, we were crammed into an 8-person room at our hostel, and we all escaped in a rented van which we drove to the Great Ocean Road.  This highway is famous for its scenery and also a sight called the 12 Apostles, however once we entered the route we realized there were several other beautiful sights along the way, situated right along the arctic water.  my favorite part of the trip was a beach at the end of a national park where we all took off our shoes and ran across the shoreline, through a channel when the water inside of it receded, and to a cave.  We all felt so free and euphoric after the long car ride, and we put our feet in the water, which was surprisingly warm for being situated right above Antarctica.  The trip was affordable and one of the most memorable of my time in Australia, but the pictures convey much more meaning than any words that I could type.

The last days we spent in Melbourne, we went to the World War 2 memorial.  We were there 2 weeks early; on November 11th of every year to celebrate the timing of the end of WWII, the sun shines in such a way that the writing on the sculpture which reads “Greater Love Hath No Man” is illuminated at 11: 11 in the morning.  Since it was only later October, we were not able to see this spectacle.

We also ventured to the top of the Eureka Tower, which is the highest tourist lookout in Australia (even higher than the Westfield Tower in Sydney).  While it was a steep price, it was still a fantastic view of Melbourne and a great way to end our trip.  The final day of the trip, we took a look at the exhibits in the Melbourne museum.  It was a great museum, and we ended our final day by meeting up with one of my friends from camp who was studying abroad in Melbourne.  I was sad to leave this amazing city, but I hope to be back there soon.

 

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The Adventures of the Jucy Campa Van: September 21 to October 2

Time November 29th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

Here is a long-awaited post about my spectacular 1,500 mile journey from Sydney, NSW, to Cairns, Queensland.  This trip began with some poses in front of our Jucy Campa van, which we had reserved for the next 10 days to serve as not only our beds, but also as our kitchen and living spaces!  Only the two boys in the group accepted the driving duty, which would amount to 30 hours, while the two girls relaxed in the back seat and kept keen watch over the goings-on in the front of the van.  From September 21st until October 2nd, everything I cared about was riding down Australian highways with me.

 

 

The first visit on our agenda was to drive over the Sydney Harbor bridge ourselves- it was the first time the four of us in our campervan realized we would be crossing this and many more bridges to a collection of foreign places during our roadtrip.

After ten hours, we arrived at our Hostel in Byron Bay which was a beautiful 5$ per night backpackers resort located right next to the beach.  After sleeping overnight here, we took a tour of Nimbin, which is considered a “hangover from an arts festival” which occurred a few decades ago.  Nevertheless, we boarded a bus which transported us through dazzling mountain and farm scenes while enjoying an eclectic mix tape.  Nimbin is the perfect hippie town of Australia, and although we could only stay for 2 hours we managed to a few good pictures.

In addition, our bus-guide barbecued for us and gave us a tour of a beautiful and secluded waterfall in the woods, complete with lilypads and other natural beauty.

 

All in all our first day was a complete success and we learned a lot about the landscape of Byron Bay.  Besides our sidetrip away from Byron, we were able to climb to the eastern-most point of Australia on the beach in Byron Bay.  From here we could see whales and also one of the most powerful lighthouses in Australia (since Australia is geographically further from just about all other landmasses, it requires strong light houses to help those who are able to find Australia’s shores reach land) and was an absolutely gorgeous place from where we were able to watch whales lazily flailing in the ocean water down below.  While we received many offers for hanggliding, we saved our small fortunes for the next 9 days of our trip.

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Campervan Adventures: day 2

Time November 29th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

After exploring Byron Bay, we felt that we were ready to leave by September 24rd.  At this point we realized that we would finally enter Queensland, our second state we planned to  visit outside of NSW (New South Wales). During the journey my friend and I chopped up salads in the back of the van and prepared lunch for everyone in this way, topped with our favorite sriracha hot sauce.  Our first stop in this journey was Gold Coast, where we entered a wildlife sanctuary to watch a bird show, observe a man stand on a diving board and provoke the crocodile below him to snatch the meat off of his hand, and, of course, the four of us got to hold koalas as a group!  The crocodile act was terrifying, and definitely an act that any tourist should witness in order to grasp the horror behind the method through which Australia’s crocodiles, known to be the largest in the world, get their food.  And as far as koalas go, I was happy to be able to touch its soft pelt, but the animal was going to the bathroom while our picture was being taken.  Thankfully, I will not include that picture in this post.

After our experience at the nature center, we searched for a backpacker lodge but it was a challenge because it was already late afternoon on a saturday.  However, we were able to find the perfect living accommodation walking distance from the center of town, and after we unpacked the four of us ate a delicious chinese meal with red wine while we prepared to explore Gold Coast on a Saturday night.

The town reminded me of a state college town, because people were out on the streets at 4 in the morning and they seemed to have no intention of going home any time relatively soon.  Despite witnessing a few fights in bars (in which none of us took part), we felt quite safe and had a great time experiencing Gold Coast’s downtown.  We were able to run right onto the beach, located across from all the main bars, and back onto the pavement barefoot to continue exploring the beachfront bars.  This made the atmosphere relaxed yet high-energy/thrilling all at once, especially being surrounded by so many Australians who were under the influence.

It was not until the following day that we saw the town in daylight, and it was even more beautiful.  My friends and I went shopping for souvenirs and each bought matching sun hats!

Gold Coast’s outdoor mall consists of designer outlets like Coach and also many other expensive clothing brands which I could have purchased cheaper in the United States.  There were also a few Australian brands being sold at this mall and many delicious smoothies to enjoy in the heat for discounted prices!  It is important to note that the culture encourages shoeless tourists to explore this outdoor mall and all the restaurants around it, and it is quite normal to observe children and adults alike shedding their shoes to feel the warm cobblestones next to the beach.  Without shoes on it is easy to hear the “squeaking” of the sand, a noise characteristic of Gold Coast and most beautiful beaches that stretch along Australia’s Northern East Coasts.  Some say that this is because the sand is so clean, and others insist that this happens to sand that is made of glass or crystal particles rather than those of decomposing shells.  Regardless, the squeaking provided a wonderful background music track while we ran to and from the ocean!

After a full day of body-surfing through the waves, we were tanned and exhausted from our time in Gold Coast and ready to move on to Brisbane, our next destination.

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an overview of the past 2 months…

Time October 24th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Yesterday while taking a trip to the beach I realized that I had not touched my blog in almost an entire month!  There are a few reasons I have not been able to stay inside long enough to write my blog entries.  First, the weather has finally warmed up enough to uphold Sydney’s reputation as a sunburned country.  In fact, when I walked to the Botanical Gardens a few weeks ago an entire flock of cockatoos joined my friends and I.  Most Australians consider them pests, but we were able to approach a few of these birds.  One Australian woman even took a picture of me and asked for my email address so that she could send it to me; this is a testament to my excitement at finally being able to experience the sun and all the Australian animals that are fabled to be in constant abundance in Sydney.

 

While Australians are not so crazy about cockatoos or cheap food, they are immersed in a culture that is certainly a reliable oasis of wine expertise.  I took a trip with about 10 other kids to the Hunter Valley where exchange students flock by the dozens to take the famous wine tours.  It does not matter how acclimated I have become to Australian accents, because when our seasoned tour-guide held up his wine glass in the most sophisticated manner and explained the inner workings of the vintage barrels his vernacular was overwhelmingly convincing.  I would have believed him if he said my crystal glass was filled with horse urine.  This driver chauffeured our group to three different vineyards and supplemented the car rides with his own poetry and easygoing humor.  For only $55 it was an awesome way to spend a Friday afternoon!

IFSA-Butler also managed to take a few willing participants to the Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves. We stopped first at the “Australian Grand Canyon” where we stood at a tourist lookout that displayed the Three Sisters (three big rocks that australians are crazy about), and then the bus took us to a terrifying cliff.  The bus felt like it was about to roll off the edges and straight into this gaping black hole in Australia’s landscape, and I could not see how some people could get a thrill out of such an experience.  I was only happy to survive in time to walk into an enchanting array of rocks which they called a cave.  Our original plan was to drink wine and watch dolphins in addition to this trip, so many of us were disappointed that 2/3 of our “adventure” had been misplanned.  Still, the caves were beautiful and we even got to witness a light show in some majestic corridor deep within the cave.  As soon as we emerged into the daylight, our tourguide informed us that the 8th best cave in the world was just a few meters away and that it had been featured on the Planet Earth documentary.  After traveling for 3 hours I would not have minded seeing a cave with such a reputation, but I still have to admit that our low-key unknown cave was not such a bad experience.

 

 

Outside of organized trips, I have also gotten to pretend to participate in organized marathons!   By this I mean that one of my best friends ran a half marathon in late September for a charity and I was thoroughly exhausted just by watching her.  Her marathon finish line, which was located right in front of the Opera House, was parallel to that of another marathon for children, and a few meters away bikers in a simultaneous marathon for yet another charity whizzed by the harbor bridge.  That day it seemed that the Sydney Harbor was made of the sweat of the thousands of participants in all these races, and for the rest of the day I found it difficult to walk by someone on the street who was not sporting their race number pinned to their shirt.

All of these activities kept me busy while I prepared for Spring Break in late september.  In Australia, intra-semester schoolwork is rare and awkwardly strewn among the weeks before Spring Break.  As a political science major I had very few midterms, and they occurred only in the form of scattered paper assignments which I was reluctant to do while I tried exploring Australia.  It is hard to be one of the few students whose grades actually count, because most of my friends are here on a pass/fail basis.  Since the average grade in Australia is a 50%, it is much easier for them to navigate the assignments than for me!  With schoolwork and spending money being my only complaints, in today’s world I think I am still coming out ahead!

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Winter Wonderland

Time September 12th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Australia is home not only to many of the most poisonous animals im the world, but also to similar strains of infectious diseases. My third and fourth weeks in Sydney I spent in bed battling a horrible flu-like illness.  Unfortunately this coincided with my parents’ 3 day visit to Sydney, but at least they were able to bring me food and medicine!  Perhaps I caught the germs for this virus on the bike tour sponsored by IFSA-Butler which took us to many nooks and crannies throughout the city a few days before I was glued to my bed.  A car impaled by a large boulder is parked next to the finger wharves and serves as modern art which used to rival the allure of the Opera House; in fact, the two used to be placed right next to each other.  I suppose its change of location was implemented because the two strange-looking structures right next to each other would surely overwhelm the public, and the city could not find a crane large enough to lift the Opera House.  We rang the bells lodged on the front of our bikes as we pummeled through innocent tourists attending the Aroma Festival, which had many local shops advertising their coffees, teas, and chocolates.  Latin singers and orchestral performances decorated Circular Quay and it felt like the entire city had come out to play.  The tour ended at the observatorium which is lodged next to the Harbor Bridge and overlooks the Harbor as well as the city.  I must admit that riding my bike across the bridge provided a similar view of Sydney- its height is certainly deceptive in photographs and from far away, but when you are on the bridge you feel like you are on top of the world (or at least as much “on top of the world” as you can be when you are actually at the bottom of the Earth).

 

The harbor is also quite scenic at a closer distance: IFSA-Butler connected us with a Harbor Cruise for a good price which lasted for 3 hours and even provided dinner.  At nighttime, from the water, Sydney looks like a city bathed in soft gold, purple, and blue hues.  We sailed straight underneath the Harbor Bridge where we could see birds that looked gold from the lights circling, and they almost looked like the southern hemisphere constellations which glowed brightly that night.  Even the Opera House was glowing from all the colors reflecting from the urban areas.  I signed up for that cruise again, but my train broke down on the way to Sydney and I had to miss my second showing of the scenery!

I had been skeptical about the structural appeal of the opera house until I stepped foot inside the building to see an opera with my parents.  Not only are there restaurants on several floors, but also an affordable bar and absolutely spectacular views which rival only those seen from the harbor cruise.  The windows are pure glass which makes you feel like you are actually outside on the water, away from the bustling city.  We saw a rendition of “Of Mice and Men” which was a unique opera because it used video footage in addition to live acting.

My parents were also impressed by the winter festival which lasted for about 2 weeks in the CBD next to Hyde Park.  Fake snow billowed from hefty machines outside the old army barracks while the temperature sailed to 75 degrees and everybody was in the streets jovially celebrating the winter weather.  Now I am only waiting for “winter” to finally end so that I can have more adventures at the beach!

 

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Come Wind and High Water…

Time July 25th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Today marks my first full week in sydney and the first day I’ve seen the sun since I got here.  Actually, it peeked out briefly while I was sorting out my classes on campus, and I was so thrilled that I changed into a short-sleeved shirt and retrieved sunglasses from my room, but by the time I returned to the University it was pouring freezing rain and has not stopped–until today.

There are not many ways I can describe the moving-in experience textually, but if I had planted a camera on the road leading to my apartment village for those 48 hours, right by the steep hill which marks the beginning of all routes, there are many things it would capture.  First, there would be many groups of three or four walking excitedly, taking pictures of their new surroundings, chattering noisily the whole way to our main shopping center, called Broadway.  They would not even notice how difficult the hill is through their energy from finally moving in.  Fast-forward the video a few hours, and you would see the same groups with much less energy, pushing giant red shopping carts full of food and linens and every other heavy necessity in the rain, and you would probably have a bird’s eye view of these students losing control of their carts on that hill, filled with all their new goods.  And later that night, you would see an oversized group of 25 of us, Americans on our first night out together and wanting everybody to know it, scrambling back and forth on the street trying to find our way to King Street.  The next day, you would probably see attendants summoned from the supermarket angrily dragging the carts back to Broadway where they belong.

My friends and I, on the other hand, took a cab home from Broadway and bypassed part of the chaos.  However, I realized later that night as I lay in my bed that I had only bought a duvet cover and not the actual warm comforter that goes inside this thin sheet, so I slept little in my apartment because I was so cold and my room has no heating unit.  The next morning, to my dismay, as soon as I turned my lights on they all exploded from a short-circuit.  Twice I waited for a half hour in my room for the maintenance man so that he could tell me twice that he could not fix my lights, so my second day and night were spent in darkness.  Most days this week I woke up around 7 am because the wind was blowing so hard outside my window!

At orientation this second day we attended orientation in the Great Hall, the oldest building on campus and certainly the most dignified, and then we listened to the University of Sydney bells: the largest instrument in the world.  Small gargoyle-like fixtures and statues line the walls, and stain-glass windows cast a wonderfully divine aura all around the building’s worn brick and sloping arched ceiling.  We were introduced to an Aboriginal dance group who were actually siblings of the same family and they did dances that reflected the profound thoughts of this ancient civilization.  One movement of this classic piece was a charade of a kangaroo in a field who spots a dingo.  I’ll have to spoil the ending by saying absolutely nothing happens after the kangaroo encounters the dingo except that he shimmied his shoulders a bit and his sister blew loudly on her horn several times.  It made me wonder if my professor for my class about Aboriginals will also smear white paint on his face!

That night my friends and I walked around King street and discovered that Dominos pizza is way too close to my apartment.  To my disappointment pasta bread bowls are over $10 (and that’s Australian dollars), so I will have to remain a cautious patriot by staying loyal to the American Dominos.

On Tuesday, I signed up for a tour of Manly Beach while it was still just overcast and not yet raining.  Of course, as we boarded the bus a torrential downpour began and lasted our entire stay at the beach.  Despite the weather it was shocking that people were scattered throughout the ocean: canoeing, boogie-boarding, and just swimming.  I can’t say that the actual beachtown of Manly is as impressive as the ferry ride to this destination: we got an excellent view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge again, and that night we were able to see these same sights glowing in the darkness.

This same night I discovered that although Sydney is an english-speaking country, there is certainly a barrier in relaying information.  When we asked a receptionist which bus we should take back to our apartments and where the stop would be, he gave us clear directions that took us about half a mile from this bus station, which was actually half a block from our starting point.  When we boarded the bus recommended by the receptionist, the driver barked that this was the wrong vehicle and directed us to yet another wrong bus whose driver had never heard of our suburb.  By the end of the night my clothes were so thoroughly soaked that I had to hang them up to dry.

On Friday I saw Harry Potter in theaters for almost double the cost of a movie ticket in the United states, but the Broadway theater reserved seats and offered a drink bar inside the cinema.  And Saturday the sun finally peaked out and unveiled a deceptively warm and perfect day for exploring the city.  My friends and I took this opportunity to venture to Hyde Park, which features an exotic and gorgeous landscape in the middle of the business district of Sydney, and luckily we brought umbrellas for the surprise rainstorm that began as soon as we exited the bus.  Next to it is the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, where the English convicts were housed and which later was a housing site for “unaccompanied female migrants,” particularly the Irish who came during a famine.  The gift shop displayed a pet rat in a glass case which was meant to pay  homage to the rats that preserved everyday items of the inhabitants by making underground nests out of them.  We also looked around St. Mary’s church, which resides on the site of the first Catholic church built in Australia.  Finally, we attended the “Winter Festival” where you could pay to ice-skate and not pay to get samples of chai lattes and Austrian tea made from red wine.  From here on out the weather should be perfect and it will only get warmer for more exploration!

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Farewell to summer…

Time July 20th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Before leaving for Sydney, I spent most days outdoors teaching tennis and soaking up the heat of the sun which I would miss greatly while in the winter of the Southern Hemisphere.  I anticipated that the weather would be a balmy 65 degrees everyday, and was not deterred by my mother’s warnings that I would surely freeze if I packed only summer clothes.

In my last few weeks home, I encountered many different reactions to my upcoming abroad experience during family events.  Many are under the impression that because Sydney is at the edge of the earth it must be quite remote and distanced from meaningful civilization.  I could see some frown inwardly as they questioned me about Australian culture, asking with carefully selected diction what else is important to Ozzies other than drinking, partying, and laying out on their beautiful beaches.  More importantly, they projected jealousy at what appeared to be my five month vacation.

My friends understood the importance of studying abroad in a different light: they were sure that my experience would initiate meaningful changes in my attitudes towards school, culture, and most importantly life.

In reality, my expectations and feelings are the only ones of value to this blog.  As a political science major I am fascinated by the continent quite similar in vastness to the United States which boasts a penal colony as its origin.  As for the culture, I was excited to interact and, if all goes well, integrate into a population in which about 20% of the people have a convicted criminal for an ancestor; if only the American tax dollar paid for prisons that start thriving metropolises like the English did!  The University of Sydney has an enrollment of 50,000 students –45,000 more students than Emory, my home university–with clubs and other fantastic amenities to support such a population.  It is one of the top three universities in Australia, and certainly a desirable place to expand my academic horizons.  I was excited to be treated like an adult, something I cannot experience fully in America until the age of 21.

My journey down under kicked off at noon on July 13 on a flight to Chicago.  I don’t think I could truly appreciate how much I would miss my mom until she waved goodbye to me at the Philadelphia airport, and suddenly I felt very scared and vulnerable.  Three hours later, at the Chicago airport, I experienced my first time change: a one hour setback both on my watch and my flight to Las Angeles.  When we were finally permitted to board the delayed plane, I quickly noticed that the girl sitting next to me had a backpack, a carry-on, and an excited expression.  We spent the entire flight referencing Bill Bryson’s book, A Sunburned Country, and would have remained chattering in our pre-abroad bliss had not the elderly passenger next to us overheard our conversations and tried to convince us that his son-in-law is the chief Rabbi of Australia (if only that title exists).  He told both of us that he was positive we are both Methodists and Baptists (which we are not), socialists (possibly because of our conversation skills), and finally settled on insisting that we are communists.  Our flight ended shortly after he introduced us to the middle-aged man sitting next to him, named “my unmarried son.”

Once at the airport, we boarded a shuttle which took us to the gate of Qantas, the second oldest airline in the world which compensates for its inferior age with superior service (and prices) to any other airline I have ever travelled in economy class.  We were advised to buy alcohol in the duty-free shop because prices would double once we entered a liquor store in Sydney, and what ensued was a mad rush for the precious tonic comparable only to Black Friday in Times Square.  The plane proved to be spacious and both my neighbors were enrolled on my abroad trip, and we all quickly scarfed down the wine provided by the airline and then fell deeply asleep.

Upon waking up on the plane I was confronted by a beautiful view of the sunrise from the camera on the outside of the plane.

As we landed in Sydney, a man was rushed out on an ambulance for complications during the impossibly long 15-hours of flight.  Once the ambulance and quarantine team had left and we were permitted to exit the plane the pilot announced that another unlucky passenger had turned five on the 14th; with the 14 hour time difference it was now July 15th and the child had lost this day.  I cannot omit in this blog how painful it was to exchange my hard earned money at the counter outside customs in return for much less money in Australian dollars.

IFSA-Butler transported the group to the Sydney Academy of Sport where we were greeted by terrible cold, rain, chocolate muffins, and a wild cockatoo sitting nonchalantly in a tree (this bird sells for well over $1000 in the US).  All of us had three roommates, but we had little time to spend in the room because we went on a lengthy “bush walk”: I thought this would be a leisurely stroll among the native flora and fauna, but it proved to be a hike through feet of mud and scaling soaking wet flat rocks at 90 degree angles in order to see Aboriginal “art” etched on top of a mountain.  At one point a rainbow appeared through the heavy rain, making the whole affair feel to me like the story of Noah’s Ark, except instead of symbolizing a wonderful covenant with god it made us realize that our tour guide had lost almost the entire group on the desolate mountain.  It was an interesting way to start our trip abroad, but this eliminated any thought of Australia being an easy vacation as many people back home imagined it.

That night my roommates and I struggled to stay awake until 9 pm Australian time, then once we finally allowed ourselves to sleep we all woke simultaneously at 4 am or similar hours.  We could hear the strange sounds which were blasted from the beaks of strange birds on the national park campground where we would stay for this 4-day orientation.  As one of my roommates read a book in her bed waiting for the sun to rise enough for breakfast, she discovered a large red cockroach-looking creature crawling toward her pillow.  I learned during this orientation that bugs in Australia are either enormous  or small with lethal venom.

This second day in Australia we attended a morning tour of the Taronga Zoo where we saw a few interesting birds, including a very friendly emu which looks like an ostrich.  We were able to pet fluffy kangaroos and watch them prance around with wallabees.  Finally, they guided us through the Tasmanian Devil exhibit which is special because it features an animal that is becoming endangered due to a rapidly spreading facial tumor disease, transmitted when they show friendship by biting each other on the face with the same pressure as an alligator’s jaw (I hope I never make friends like that here in Sydney!).

We took a beautiful ferry ride to Circular Quay, where we were able to get our first views of the famous Sydney Opera House and the great Sydney Harbour Bridge.

 

Once ashore we explored the markets at the Quay which had amazing food and interesting tourist souvenirs, then we split up and my group ventured to Darling Harbour and Chinatown as well as the cheaper mall in the asian quarters.  By the end of the day my feet ached but I mustered up just enough energy to learn Aborigine dancing with the rest of my group back at the campground.  On Sunday, after hours of tedious orientation they instructed us to pack our bags for the University of Sydney.  All of us were extremely excited to move into our permanent lodgings and of course to get internet.  I don’t think I have been without internet this way in years!  I miss having my 3g network on my iphone.

 

I was very excited when I moved into my studio apartment which has its own bathroom, a minifridge, the biggest bed I’ve ever had, and no heat.  I’ve never had any of these things in my 2 years living at Emory!  Now the rain is pouring, a reminder that I have no raincoat, and Sydney’s freezing winter wind is inviting me to explore the city more!

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