The first two weeks
Whoa! Two weeks of a whirlwind of madness, joy and confusion has elapsed. Today was my official day of class and even that pushed me in a wide spectrum of emotions. The University of Queensland is a huge campus (compared to my small liberal arts Brown University) where turkey-like birds roam wild and free and public maps leave you more disoriented than before. Putting the eccentricities aside, it is definitely a lovely school with a wide range of students hailing from all around the world and across the Brisbane River. I missed about thirty minutes of my early morning class, “BIOL2001: Australia’s Terrestrial Environment,” because 1) I didn’t have a map this morning 2) I lost the second map that was given to me 3)I cannot read maps well and 4) I perceive distances to be so extremely large on campus. In essence my first day of class mirrors that of a first day for first semester freshmen. Fortunately the professor was understanding and informed me of what I missed. I am very excited because this particular class has fieldtrips integrated to the curriculum where you get to visit places such as the Brisbane Forest Park; Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island and Australia Zoo, where Steve Irwin once worked. Later I got some bubble tea (when you have had a stressful day there is nothing like boba to make the world a happier place) and was off to my next class “ABST 2010: Aboriginal Women,” a course that analyzes the misconceptions socially construed historically and in contemporary society regarding Aboriginal women. I have no previous knowledge on this subject matter so I am excited to see what parallels I can draw to my previous life experiences. After that I was done for the day!
I attach negative connotations to the expression “culture shock.” In my time here I have yet to experience any dysfunctional negative emotions to my new home, although things are very different and sort of bewildering. I am not sure if I will experience that in the near future because up to this point Brisbane has been a very “international” city encompassing so many ethnicities. Aside from extreme caution exerted when crossing the road (you get heavily fined here for not using the crosswalk and American driving rules are no longer relevant); initial bewilderment to wall outlets and initial instant fascination with the local accent, there hasn’t been too many things I would characterize as culturally frustrating.
In Brisbane I am living in Urbanest, student apartments that are perhaps in the most enviable location from a local perspective. It is located among many restaurants and cafes, the art museum and where many cultural festivals take place. South Bank seems to always be teeming with life and joy because there is always something going on and it’s definitely not a place where I will find it hard to be bored. Through all this process the IFSA-Butler team has been phenomenal, and one of our coordinators, Lindsay Simoncavage was so wonderful as to organize a kayaking event for the IFSA-Butler students living here in Brisbane among the Brisbane River (this happened last week, I am going to be narrating back in time from this point on). We all had such a lovely afternoon together and I really appreciate the balance with which the IFS-Butler attempts to integrate its students among the local community while simultaneously retaining an element of connectedness between the students with these enjoyable activities.
Speaking of the local community, I have had an amazing time meeting local Oz’s and Kiwi’s through our mutual religious faith and I would characterize them all as loving people. So far I feel I have been able to gain an authentic experience interacting with locals and accepting kind invitations for lunch, dinner, etc. I hope to continue spending time with them and hopefully get to meet even more locals in the future, forming solid friendships.
My emotions arriving into Australia can be described as exciting and surreal. After flying for what seemed in an eternity of time; skipping a complete day of my life, I arrived to Sydney on Wednesday, July 10th, 2013. I was worried about making friends with the other IFSA-Butler students, but everyone was in the same boat, nervous about making friends so we all bonded quite nicely. We stayed in a hostel (I believe the YHA) overlooking the Sydney opera house, considered to be one of the buildings with the nicest views in all of Sydney (next to some five-star hotel). Orientation was smooth and once more the IFSA-Butler team proved to be an amazing emotional support team in easing our transition. Our days were packed with useful information about living and thriving in Australia along with many exciting trips. On one of the days we went to the Featherdale Wildlife Center and the Blue Mountains where we took a hike through this Australian “bush.” After we hiked, we got to paint our own boomerangs and interacted with Aboriginal people for the first time. At Featherdale, I got to take my picture next to a koala and was able to “be-friend” a kangaroo (I hand-fed it in order to take a picture with it). I am narrating all of this retrospect, and so far, this has been one of the most incredible life experiences I have ever had.