Hello from Down Under!
Hello, mates! I am sitting in my 8 person flat looking out to the pouring rain (but I really can’t complain since I have been to the beach a lot over the past week and a half). I had intended on sitting on my building’s gorgeous rooftop to fill you in but I suppose I have many more oppurtunities to do that in the next few months! So, let’s rewind back to last Monday where my journey began.
I really don’t have much moaning and groaning to do in regards to the 15 hour flight from LAX to Sydney. Luckily for me, I can basically fall asleep anywhere and at any time, which of course I did for most of the flight. I did however get to enjoy the company of Nancy and Tom, the elderly couple that sat next to me. They were going on a vacation to Australia with friends of theirs (cutest old people ever). Nancy told me of Tom’s limited mobility in his old age and how generous the airport had been in providing him with a wheelchair. Tom overheard and said, “Hey, ya know what? It gets me from A to B!” We all laughed and I sank deeper into my seat content with my plane neighbors and their company. Nancy told me about their kids and their grandkids and how they have always lived so far from their family. She told me she was sad that she has never really got to know her grandkids given the distance. I have to say, that made me sad too. I wished I had the phone numbers of Brendan and Sue (her grandkids—I learned a lot about their family on this flight) and could tell them to fly to Toledo. It would be worth it for them to truly know and appreciate their grandparents. I offered Nancy and Tom a piece of gum as we were landing and Nancy said “Oh, just one for me. Tom has never liked gum.” I said, “I’m sure you know these things by now.” She looked at me, whispered “63 years” and placed her tired, wrinkled hands on top of Tom’s. Of course, I couldn’t take my eyes off of them since I’m pretty positive that my heart was melting. Tom squeezed her hand gently and they didn’t let go. I knew this was a positive start to my trip right from the beginning..
Once I arrived in Sydney, myself and about 25 other students were greeted by IFSA-Butler staff. The time difference was hitting us all by this point but we were shuffled onto a bus and taken to the Sydney Harbour YHA Hostel.
My baggage made it-phew. Some people weren’t so lucky. Soon after having lunch and checking out the beautiful rooftop view of the Sydney Opera House at the hostel,we were off to a 3 hour walking tour of Sydney. It was very informative, not too draining, and beautiful to say the very least. I admit that I hadn’t done heaps (what Australians say for lots or tons) of research on Australian history or culture before arriving here, but I walked away from the tour with much more knowledge. For example, this link represents the strong friendship bond as they call it between Great Britain and Australia.
There are a few art museums in downtown Sydney and a strong artistic presence in Australian culture. Along a narrow street hangs dozens of bird cages of different shapes and sizes. This is one of the forms of art Australians take pride in. After seeing a lot of downtown Sydney and getting to know each other, we walked through the botannical garden. I remember thinking, “This is right in these people’s backyard. I wonder if they appreciate it.” I hope that they do because it was truly stunning and the most peaceful place I have visited since being here.
The next day, myself and the other IFSA-Butler students were off to the Blue Mountains, which was about a 2 hour drive from Sydney. On the way, we stopped at Featherdale Wildlife Park where we were greeted by a guy whose job is literally to stand with a bag that has a baby kangaroo in it. Cool, right?
After ooh’ing and aww’ing over the baby “joey”, we explored more of the park where kangaroos were allowed to just wander, walk right up to you, and hop wherever they pleased. In general, from what I’ve observed so far at least, Australians are much more relaxed and worry-free than Americans are.
The following afternoon, we were given some free time to explore the city and sightsee. A few other girls and I decided to take the ferry to Manly Island (about a 25 minute ferry ride). The island itself was beautiful, but I personally love the ride over there much more.
Fiona, my site coordinator, is an Australian who works for IFSA-Butler. Basically, her job is to make sure I have a smooth transition to my new school and new environment. She is down to earth, hilarious, kind and someone I know is on my side. Fiona is in charge of a few schools, but mine was the only one at the orientation last week. So, we were able to get a lot of one on one time to talk about my worries and she gave me words of encouragement and advice. If Fiona hadn’t been there to make sure I was adjusting well, I’m not sure that this week would have been the same for me. She is there whenever I have a dumb question like how to get home when I’m lost on the public bus (note to self—Bus 373 does in fact NOT go to central station) or when I need someone to tell me that my decision to come to UTS was a courageous one. It is not often that we take adventures almost completely on our own. And to do so and feel optimistic and confident in that decision lets me know that I am coming into my own every single day.
I was nervous all week to leave these people I had just grown comfortable with only to enter a school as the only IFSA-Butler student, but I reminded myself that in situations like these, I will have to be brave. I said goodbye to the people I met who were off to different schools—some just a bus or train ride away, but others, like my roommates in the hostel, were catching flights to Brisbane. We all exchanged contact information and parted ways. Orientation kept us all busy enough not to think of home but let us explore the city on our own. It was the perfect introduction to this city that I know I will not want to leave come June 29th..
Now that I’ve refreshed my memory with the last week’s events, I’ll wrap up this novel blog entry with little things I’ve picked up on and learned while being here.
1.) Driving on the left side of the road also means that people walk on the left side of sidewalks. This is something I have to get used to!
2.) They are much more environmentally friendly—encouraging you to bring your own bags to grocery stores, take shorter showers, etc.
3.) Australians are incredibly friendly. I will be so sad the day I come across a rude Australian that shatters the generalization I’ve made about them all being nice.
4.) Crosswalks are very, very noisy. They beep loud and fast when it’s OK to cross.
5.) Grocery stores are located inside shopping malls. They are nestled in what would be a Macy’s or Sear’s size store right in the mall.
6.) Thai food is EVERYWHERE! Tried it for the first time the other day and really, really liked it.
7.) “Sunday Sesh” is when people go out to a bar on a Sunday around 4:00. No resting on Sundays for these Australians!
8.) There is a huge amount of respect for the aboriginal culture here.
9.) School kids look exactly how you would expect them to look. Knee socks, long shorts, dress shoes. For some reason, they just look so Australian to me and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve had that picture of what Australians look and dress like ever since the Mary Kate and Ashley movie “Our Lips are Sealed”.
10.) Another note to self: Don’t reference the Mary Kate and Ashley movie within your first hour of meeting new people.
11.) Vegemite, a traditional Australian toast topping, is the most foul smelling thing I have ever smelled. I have almost been convinced to try it but I really can’t get past the smell.
12.) Water at restaurants is usually served at room temperature.
13.) No tipping!! Ever!!!
14.) It takes 20 million dollars every year to keep the Sydney Opera House looking the way it does.
15.) The original architect of the Opera House got caught up in some scandal (need to research this more) and didn’t get any credit for his design.
I hope you enjoyed reading and feel free to comment with any questions! I will post again soon!