As I start to prepare to leave for home, i’ve really started reflecting on my time here in London. It’s such a big city with so much to offer and I feel as though i’ve only experienced a quarter of what it has to offer. England may be a small country, but there is so much more to it than meets the eye. Every part of this city is so different and beautiful in their very own way, and i’m going to miss the diversity once i’m back to the cozy and small little town of New Paltz.
I’ve seen so many beautiful parts of England that I don’t even know where to begin. Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus were the first parts of central London I delved into, before I knew all that this city had to offer. I thought everything was amazing then… if only I could go back and tell myself it only gets better from there. That was the first of my many trips to the Piccadilly Circus/Soho area. I think it was one of my favorites, not entirely because of what it had to offer, but because it reminded me of home. I’ll admit I was pretty homesick this trip, but aspects like this made me feel more comfortable. They call Piccadilly the Times Square of London – and it’s easy to see why! Plus, who knew there was also a Soho in London? Definitely not me, but i’m happy there is (even though Soho in NYC is significantly better IMHO). There’s also a China Town in that area too. This area just kept feeling more and more like home.
One of my favorite and last places I visited here was Notting Hill. Known for being the background of many movies, it was the most adorable little place i’ve ever seen. Walking down the residential streets and seeing the colorful houses made me want to return in the future (far future most likely, yah know, when i’m financially stable) and live there. Seriously, I was gushing over this place. Beautiful trees and flowers were everywhere in sight and my heart was very happy. If you want to smile, look up pictures of this place. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Outside of the city, England is filled with historical sights. For instance, the city of Bath. The small city is quite a way from central London, yet completely worth the visit. I literally bought a Jane Austen book after visiting here (mostly because I walked down the path she wrote about in her novel Persuasion). The Roman Baths possess such a rich history that you can’t find in the U.S., therefore I enjoyed every minute of my time there. There’s also a really good ice cream place.
Stonehenge is another historical mystery that intrigued me. If you don’t know about Stonehenge, I suggest you look up pictures and keep in mind the rocks were arranged that way circa 3000 BC. Yup, that’s right, BC. That means no technology, no machinery, zip. So how were the stones transported there and arranged like that? Maybe look up a conspiracy theory for an answer to that question, because nothing is known for sure.
I could go on and on about every place i’ve encountered here including the good and the bad. But I should stop before I start getting into every little detail like what the person next to me on the tube was wearing. Bottom line is that through the ups and down of being abroad, London has been so wonderful, so beautiful, and hold so much promise for the future.
Imagine the average bar of soap, with an area of roughly 46.2 cm (I did a lot of math to illustrate this). Convert that to meters, then multiply that by 187,826 or so, and you’ve got 8,460 m. In kilometers, this is an area of 8.46 km. Paint it red, put it in the barren desert, claim it as an Aboriginal holy land, and you’ve pretty much got Uluru. A giant oasis in the desert, this is the perfect chance for the government (and occasionally locals) to make money from tourists, who come daily in the hundreds and violate nearly every sacred rule set in place. It’s hot, full of flies, and there is NOTHING else around. So, is it really that appealing?
I didn’t actually know if I’d be able to make it to Uluru (also known as Ayer’s Rock) up until a week before I did. Getting a text in the middle of class from Lily and Julia, they tell me they found tickets to Uluru for only $200 roundtrip. The catch? It was only five days away, and I didn’t know if skipping class with such short notice was a good idea. I realized though, that opportunities like this don’t come every day, and if I didn’t go I’d definitely regret it. I would get to go camel riding in the Outback, as I’d promised close friends from my church, and get to see this giant rock that just screams Australia as much, if not more, than Sydney Opera House. So in a wonderful spirit of “screw class, I’m in Oz,” me, Julia, Lily, and Joseph, made plans to travel to what the Aussies call “the Back of Bourke,” i.e., “the middle of rural nowhere.”
Stepping out of the airport, you immediately get hit with an immense heat, and the first thing you notice is the redness of the soil beneath your feet. It’s truly Martian when you first see it, and it’s near impossible to get off your shoes or bare feet. The next thing that hits you is the flies, which will not leave you alone no matter how much bug spray you use or if you were dumb enough to buy a goofy looking fly net (no offense Joseph and Lily). Since it’s impossible to get anywhere without a car, renting one was on our first list of priorities. With that, we went into what somehow classifies as a town for lunch, and after that, to the rock. There really is no way to prepare for seeing Uluru in person. At a quick glance, it is just a big red boulder in the middle of nowhere. But once you see it even from a distance, it is truly awe inspiring. It’s much bigger than any picture can properly portray, and as you driver closer and closer toward it it becomes more and more magnificent. There’s also surprisingly more vegetation than you would expect: vibrant bushes, small trees, and loads of yellow grass.
Our first stop at the rock was at an Aboriginal Cultural Centre, dedicated to showing Aboriginal life, belief, stories, and most beautifully, art. Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take pictures of most of it, which while sad for the photographer I’ve become, is understandable. To have your way of life constantly intruded upon, even mocked, whilst trying to hold onto your identity amongst invasion of your sacred land, is a struggle I’ll never fully comprehend. If it means no pictures, so be it. This was my first hands on glance at a life completely foreign to me, dating back over 80,000 years. With more time, I would have loved to have seen more, but the schedule didn’t allow. And so we left there to embark on a bush walk around the rock itself, and as we pull up to the parking lot we spot a massive tour group climbing on said sacred rock. I want to punch every single one of them. If there’s one thing you don’t do on someone else’s holy land, it’s climb all over it, in doing so disrespecting everything about the owner’s beliefs, and claim it as your own victory. Don’t get me wrong, I want to take pictures, and I want to climb. But I was raised to respect other people’s wishes and their beliefs. To ignore that makes you seem not like a conquering adventurer scaling the top of the world, but an ignorant prick who really doesn’t care at all that this is someone else’s sacred land.
But, leaving them be and secretly hoping karma will teach them a lesson while I’m on the other side of the rock, the four of us begin the long walk around the base. As I’d mentioned earlier, Uluru is huge. With a circumference of 9.4 km (5.8 mi), it’s bigger than Central Park, Hudson NY, or even my pleasant Footscray suburb. Everywhere there is something to see, each crack and crevasse a work of art and each outlying boulder beautifully placed. The sounds of the occasional breeze, buzzing insects, screeching hawks filling your ears, and the soft red sand beneath your bare feet (I had to know what it felt like without shoes). Nevertheless, we gravely underestimate how long this walk will take us. Surely, we’re just going to do a quick loop. After an hour, we begin to question how long the walk is. Debating whether we should turn back or not to make sure we have time to see the sunset, we decide to keep trekking, sure we’re more than halfway there. An hour and a half pass by, and we’re pretty sure we’re not far from the end. Just short of two hours in, we’re getting close, maybe. At two and half hours, we have to turn to look at the map. Only then do we realize that this is a FOUR HOUR hike. Much too late to turn back, we have to tough it out for another hour and a half.
In the great desert heat, having to refill on water many times, and constantly swipe away flies, we make it to the car exhausted. Determined to carry on to see the sunset from a vantage point a few kilos away, we drive and arrive having just missed the best part of the sunset. The flies are still insane, and the light isn’t good enough for pictures. But something greater is out there than a colorful rock. Driving to the hotel we begin to see the stars emerge in the Outback sky. First, one. Then two, or three. We check in, have dinner, and decide to head out again for some quick stargazing. I look up at the immensity of the heavens. In the Outback, there’s absolutely no light pollution. You can see everything, stars all around and light filling the night sky. The entire galaxy is before you, a sight impossible to capture with my camera (but I got some from a pro photographer) but instead enveloping your entire soul. This is the opening of the heavens. And there is nothing more beautiful than this.
The stars came into vision again very quickly: having slept only 5 or 6 hours, we had to wake up early in order to prepare for our sunrise camel ride. Stepping outside to wait for our pickup, the frigid morning air chills you with ease. Arriving at the camel farm, the staff give us a quick run down on what to expect, and then take us out to the camels themselves. Having ridden horses several times, I can tell you riding a camel is a whole different rodeo. To start, camels are much bigger than most horses, and must be mounted as the camel kneels, as opposed to climbing up into a stirrup. Once saddled the camel rises to the ground using its back legs first: failure to observe and prepare for this leaves one with a face full of red dirt. Camels also walk using one side of their legs at a time, going left, then right, then left, much like a ship. As with horses, naturally you want a camel that is well behaved, and even more so since an angry camel has the tendency to spit. When asked about our camel, Luci, we were told that he is “adventurous” and “strongminded.” Only once up and on our walk did they reveal his full name.
And so, Joseph and I are ridding Lucifer the Camel through the bush as the sun just comes up over the horizon. The stars slowly fade as warmth returns to the Outback. Lucifer is actually quite well behaved, making me think he’s just misunderstood and teased by the other camels. We get to Uluru once again, as the sun rises over the vast Australian bush and paints the rock in these beautiful reds and oranges. I’ve said this many times before, but the view is breathtaking in every way, and the whole experience blows you away. Never before would I have thought I’d make it to Australia, let alone riding camels in the open Outback. I’m currently doing something I doubt more than 3 other people I meet will have ever done (Joseph, Lily, and Julia). I get to witness something here completely beyond myself. The beauty of this sacred rock, having in a peaceful and respectful way conquered it by walking the entire circumference of it. The vastness of this great galaxy, each and every star and planet before me. The pleasure of sitting a top one hell of a camel (pun intended) while riding through the desert.
I cannot overstate how special it really is for me to be here, not just in this country, but this world, this life. There is so much to explore out there. A rock. A desert. A country. A galaxy. And it’s yours.
(Written from 6th May, almost 3 months since leaving)
So the Australian adventure is here, changing me in more ways than I ever could have imagined. Life has become so much bigger, so much more beautiful. I’ve proven to myself and the world that I, Jonathan David Kline, can take on the world, then thousand miles from home. The days of a small secluded life in rural nowhere have been behind for quite some time, and I find that the opportunities in Australia are far more than I ever had back home. I love it here. I really, genuinely do, and a giant part of me wants to stay here forever. So with the future ahead of me, my eyes set on Australia and all the adventures I’m experiencing in this great new world, what do I really miss from home?
To be honest, a lot less than I thought at first (I’m sorry to all the people back home reading this, especially my Dad, but bear with me). I even boast about it to all my friends. They talk occasionally about how much they miss this or that, whether it be the food, or New Paltz, or friends, or any other range of things. But honestly, I don’t miss home like I thought I would. In terms of food, I don’t really eat much to begin with, so whatever keeps me fed is enough (usually pizza, grilled toasties, and chicken parm). I’m not from the city, so I’m not attached to New York style pizza, grilled toasties are easy to make anywhere, and although initially I missed having chicken parm come with spaghetti, I kinda like that it comes with ham and chips (fries) here. As for New Paltz, I was only there for one semester before coming here. Though I loved that semester, I don’t have the same attachment to it as others. Going back will be nice, but not something I’m extremely looking forward to. That ties into friends as well: I only got to make so many friendships at New Paltz due to only being there for so long, and once I go back there’s only a few faces I’ll have actually missed. Outside of New Paltz, truth be told I don’t have more than two or three close friends, who I only see once or twice a year anyway.
This isn’t to say of course that I don’t miss SOME food, New Paltz, and friends back home. But in many ways, I’ve found more success here than I did back home. While I miss some restaurants (and especially cheaper food), I’ve found several places I like here that can substitute. Plus, I’ve become half decent at making my own food, and do so just about everyday (which doesn’t sound like a huge accomplishment until you’re out on your own without a meal plan like at New Paltz). I miss the small town feel of New Paltz, and even though Deyo was kinda crappy I miss my old suite, which had legroom, occasional crazy, and most importantly, free laundry. But I’ve come to appreciate Victoria University enough (it’s not the greatest school); classes are easier and students and professors friendly. I won’t say I like UniLodge (we’ve had to evacuate for a ‘fire’ every week), but I enjoy being able to cook my own meals, play games of pool, and hang out with friends. And friend-wise, I feel I’m much more comfortable and able to enjoy being with friends here more than I sometimes was at home. Now, I’ll actually seek to hang out with mates, watch movies, play games, and importantly for me, not be as afraid of women or parties/drinks as I used to be. The friendships I’ve developed are ones I never really had back home, and even though inevitably I won’t be able to keep them all once home, I feel like now I know how to make friends, how to be social, and once home how to keep friendships going.
But when it comes to friends, there’s one I truly miss with all my heart, and whenever I’m asked, “don’t you miss anything from home?” is my immediate response: my sister. Two years younger than I am, Shelby has been my best friend since day one. We had an incredible childhood full of memories and jokes we make to this day. After losing our mom, we toughed it out together, working to push through and build the other up (I needed a LOT of it). Always supportive, always there for the other, and at the same time always making fun of the other or making complete fools of ourselves. So when I first started looking at study abroad, the one thing that was holding me back above everything else was being so far from Shelby. At New Paltz, I was still close enough I could come visit when I wanted, and we still talked on the phone every single day. Now, I was going to be geographically further from her than ever before. Not to mention, this being her senior year of high school, I’m not there to help her through and experience such a huge part of her life. Performing her senior year acting troupe show, getting her driver’s license, going to prom, deciding where to go to college, walking down the stage at graduation… and I’m on the other side of the planet.
Yet even though I’m so far away from home, I still feel close to home, if not closer (if that makes sense). I’m still able to talk with my sister at least once a week but usually more. I don’t always enjoy the time difference, but we’ve come to manage and have worked out the best times to call each other (usually my late morning, which is NY’s late evening). I still get to be a part of my sister’s life, watching as she develops into a new woman. Just as this trip has changed me, it’s also changed her, making her more independent and ready to leave the nest, and as a brother I couldn’t be happier. I also try to talk to my parents at least once a week, who I also miss a lot. My dad is always excited to hear from me, brightening up his day whenever I call, and mine as well. I think even more than Shelby he wants me to come back soon, and I can’t blame him. As excited as my family is to hear all my interesting stories taking on sharks in the reef and crocodiles in the jungle (I may have borrowed those stories from Finding Nemo and Crocodile Dundee), I’m just as excited to hear stories back home about how the deck furniture is being replaced or my dad got his crown replaced. Because even though it’s not always interesting at a glance, it’s home.
Being so far away has made me greatly appreciate everything about home that I sometimes took for granted. I miss the dishwasher, free laundry, my computer, the deck swing and hammock my family is beginning to set up once again. One big thing I really miss having is my car; which is definitely one of the first things I’m using once I get back (hopefully on the right side of the road!). Not that I mind so much using public transportation or my feet for shorter distances, but there’s some days I just want to drive in the countryside, or not walk fifteen minutes to the grocery store. Although generally speaking the weather here is better, I miss the change of the seasons and the beauty of spring. I miss hanging out with my cousins after church on Sunday or being at my grandparents doing yard work. I miss baseball games and bike riding and building things. Home cooked meals my stepmom would go out her way to make for us, sitting at the couch watching Jeopardy while eating said meals, and then a walk to the falls after dinner as a family….
Despite everything here, there’s just some things back home that will always hold a special place in my heart. No matter where I go, or how far, or for how long, home is always home. Maybe one day Australia could be home. Maybe I won’t always stay in the same place I grew up. Maybe what I have at home isn’t meant to last forever. But there will always be something special about my life in upstate New York, that no matter what happens I will always treasure and cherish.
When I first arrived here back on February 12 I started with 144 days. After changing my return flight from July 6 to June 15th (Australia is EXPENSIVE)I suddenly have 31 days left! Time really does fly by. While I do miss home im not sure Im ready to leave. I wanted to come to Australia because it was so far away but now that I am leaving soon it makes me wonder if I will ever make it back out here. It has definitely been an incredible semester though and I managed to do practically everything on my list.
Also classes here are a JOKE! Now It doesn’t mean you should skip class but it is incredibly easy compared to classes back home. I am sure however that this differs from major to major. I am a bit worried about getting back home and having to readjust to classes and life at New Paltz. So much has changed back home with friends, family, and especially with work. Going back home will definitely be interesting.
I have done a number of trips with tour company REAL Australia. All of them have had some memorable moments but honestly none have lived up to the amazingness of the orientation trip. PLEASE if you end up studying at Victoria University DO the orientation trip. I cannot stress this enough. REAL Australia as a concept is cool because it is small group trips (8-15 people) led by real Australians! They do trips to Torquay, Healesville Sanctuary and the Mornington peninsula. While they all have some breathtaking sights if I could do it again I would skip Healesville and instead go to Ballarat Wildlife park.
Regardless Phillips Island was cool. I saw a pelican feeding which was pretty cool. There were about 15 pelicans all fighting for food. We also had lunch which was chicken parm or as it is said here chicken parma (the Australians shorten everything). In fact it is interesting to note that chicken parma here is not done with pasta but instead always with chips (American Fries). The penguin parade was honestly disappointing as it is dark and cold and no guarantee the penguins will go near your viewing area. You are also not allowed to take photos. While I do recommend going to Phillips island I think one might be better off skipping the parade. Either way Real Australia provides some pretty cool trips which are definitely worth checking out!
(Written from 25th April, just past halfway point in time in Oz)
You look around and see the great nothingness surrounding you. There is no land, only water. But despite what appears to be emptiness, below you is perhaps among the greatest flourishing of life this world has to offer. Thousands of miles of coral reef wrap around the northeast coast of Australia, the largest living organism on the planet, and unlike the Great Wall of China (unfortunately for the Chinese) can be seen from space orbit. With such diversity, this is the epitome of a strange and unfamiliar world, and unfortunately, a dying world. This must be the work of God himself: the reef, its abundance of life, the mere thought of you having travelled all the way out here to a sight few back home will ever see. You see the first of the snorkelers headed out into the waters. And here you are, about to do something no one back will ever experience. You realize once again how choppy the waves are and how terrible dinner was last night. You’re about to hurl into the Great Freaking Barrier Reef.
Planning this trip was one of the first things I wanted to do. Up there amongst the Serengeti plains and Amazon rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most iconic parts of nature, with such an incredible amount of life found in one spot. As I mentioned earlier, it can be seen from space. And as sad as it is, it may not last forever. If I don’t do this now, I may never get to see it. But combined with a turbulent flight the day before, a bad pizza that kept me up sick a good chunk of the night (shout out to the Domino’s in Cairns), I was really not feeling it when I woke up in the morning. I almost didn’t even go, but again, if I didn’t now, when would I? After some serious questioning and Joseph persuading me, I decided I really couldn’t miss out. And so, I got on the boat, embarking on the incredibly long and rough boat ride to one of the outer parts of the reef. You can’t see much from the surface, but there are occasional fish that come near enough to spot them, and even the occasional turtle if you have a keen eye. I was still feeling sick, so when everyone else went to scuba dive I stayed on board. If I was going to do this, I needed food first.
Lunch wasn’t much, but it was enough to get me going and ready for the afternoon. Though I didn’t get to snorkel, I decided instead I would try my hand at scuba diving. I’d never done it and it was something I’ve always wanted to do. There’s that moment of hesitation on the side of the boat holding you back. The oxygen tank is heavy, the flippers awkward, and you’ve never relied on a regulator for breathing. Not to mention that you’re in the middle of nowhere. No matter how good you think you may be at swimming (I’m not) it’s an incredibly daunting feeling. Then you go under… and it’s breathtaking. So much so that it really is hard to describe in words. You’re surrounded by fish of all kinds and colors, getting up close and personal with creatures you’d only ever dreamed of. There’s an indescribable feeling of awe and admiration that swallows your entire body. Every corner of your eye is capturing something incredible, each new sight more and more magnificent. I didn’t see anything big like a turtle, shark, or stingray (maybe that was for the better), but it was an experience that will literally be impossible to forget.
The next day was sort of secondary to the reef at first glance, merely an extra part of the travel package and something to fill up an extra day. I’m proud to say it was probably one of my favorite days in Australia so far, definitely top three or even top two. We spent the day touring the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest in the world, with a small group reminiscent of the Great Ocean Road I previously embarked on in Victoria. The driver, Wyllie, was easily the best part of the trip: the most true-blue Aussie I’ve met with an uncanny resemblance to Steve Irwin (he doesn’t really look or sound like him, it might just be the fact that I’m not from here). Very entertaining, friendly, funny, informative, and outgoing in every sense, this bloke easily was the best tour guide there could be. We hiked in the rainforest searching for cassowaries (not too much unlike Russel searching for a snipe in the movie UP), spent time exploring incredible beaches, went crocodile sightseeing, and even went swimming in a rainforest pool (not the same place as the crocs)! Just as much as being at the reef, being in a rainforest is absolutely different and unique from anything I’ve experienced back home. Moments like this make you realize just how special it really is to be in this new world.
We had one more day in Cairns (pronounced ‘cans’, hence the title), and with the city being so small we didn’t have much of any plans at first. After some research, we saw a ferry that could take us to Fitzroy Island, and decided we might as well see what was what. Presented with the opportunity to scuba dive once more on the reef (actually some combination of scuba and snorkeling- snuba, they call it), I jumped at the chance. After all, this time was cheaper and longer, and I wasn’t sick. I somehow managed to convince Joseph to go too, who could not swim at all, and upon arrival we quickly suited up. Once again, the experience was astonishing. I’d say it was better than the first time even, largely due to not being sick and actually getting my money’s worth this time. On shore again, Joseph and I made quick friends of the couple who’d snuba-ed with us, having lunch while taking about life. Then was a quick trip to the beach to try snorkeling, but because I was pretty terrible at it I didn’t stay long. I went instead on the hardest hike I’ve ever attempted (even harder than the Figure Eight Pools in Sydney). This mountain was only 375m high (1200 feet roughly) but had to be climbed at a 60 or 70 degree angle most of the time (fair dinkum). I’m great at hikes, but this was a challenge for me. So much so that I actually had to stop for a few minutes. Not for pictures of admiring the view. I had to catch my breath. Twice. If you know me, this is not something Jon Kline does.
All in all Queensland was a life changing experience, and something I will always remember. I did so many new and cool things that I’d once only dreamed of: exploring a rainforest, scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, stopping a hike due to exhaustion… the list goes on. It also opened my eye up to how precious life on this planet really is. I’ve always loved nature, and always been an advocate for preserving it as best possible, but being there in person gives you a whole new eye. Hearing about the destruction of the oceans, the chopping down of the Daintree rainforest, seeing in person bleached coral reefs, is heartbreaking. When the Great Barrier Reef has a shorter life expectancy than you do, it’s a sad day for nature. I may be the only one back home to ever come here, to experience this kind of natural beauty such as the reef or rainforest. But I don’t want to know that I’ll ever be the only one. That my kids may not have the same chance as me to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef or hike in the oldest rainforest this world has to offer.
So, what can I do? In a sense, nothing. But in another, everything.
It doesn’t exist. Yep. I’m disappointed too. It wasn’t like the whole reason I CAME to Australia was to find P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way. But while the legendary dentist’s office from Finding Nemo may not exist, there’s so much more in Sydney to experience than I could imagine, and it almost makes up for the fact that Pixar lied to me. I knew from the get go Sydney was THE city to go to in Australia. As a fact, I originally wanted to go to Sydney over Melbourne (don’t worry, the cost of Sydney soon made me realize I made the right choice). There was of course the Opera House, the famous Harbor Bridge, the beach, the Opera House, the actual harbor, the Opera House… maybe a cool restaurant… the Opera House… Yeah, I didn’t really know how much there was until I got there.
Sydney is slightly more populated than Melbourne, with about 4.5 million residents and a decent amount of tourists every year (I didn’t look up exact numbers), but is a lot more spread out overall. Size wise, everything is bigger: the trains are double deck, the city is massive, there’s that huge bridge, and of course, the giant Opera House. I arrived with Joseph and Lily around 9:30 at night, meeting up with Julia who got here earlier and decided to explore a bit on her own. The suburb we stayed in was fairly close to the main city; you could easily get to the train station or even walk, and the town was certainly active for a Friday night. Despite that, we didn’t go out (except myself to get milk), and our holiday officially started the next morning with a trip to Bondi Beach. Taking a train early in the morning we made it to the breakfast by 11, and I spent a whopping $6 on a single slice of toast. This was my first inclination that eating out in Sydney was a bad idea.
The beach, when we got to it, was fairly busy, but because the main season was over it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Plopping our stuff onto the sand, we eventually headed out into the water, which was a little chilly due to the season but not nearly as bad as I’m used to in the freezing waters in Maine. The water was wavy, a lot more so than expected, but it was perfect for surfers further down the beach. After some time, we went back and laid on the sand. But, the kid I am, I got bored pretty quick and decided to take a walk. Craving ice cream and something more substantial for my stomach than the toast, I spotted a cart and prepared to order. But before I did, I noticed very cleverly the trick they used to make tourists pay. The $1 ice cream I thought I would order was actually SEVEN. I was smart enough to turn the other way and find another venue, which was only four dollars but tasted absolutely terrible.
We all met off the beach again around 2:30 to grab pizza, which my stomach loved and much needed but my wallet frowned upon. At the apartment, we all changed, showered, and prepared to head to Circular Quay, the home of the Opera House and the Bridge, the most iconic tourist spot in Australia alongside Uluru. Me being casual and slow paced Jon, I ended up taking a lot longer than anticipated, and by the time I was ready everyone was anxious that we wouldn’t make it in time for the sunset. Having made it at just the right time, I stood in awe of the great Opera House. Then I realized, it not just one building. There’s a few, actually, and you really only notice in person that they aren’t connected. Again, I was lied to, by Google Images this time. Time for a photo shoot, we all ended up taking pictures of ourselves and the house. Determined to get the best picture I could, I ended up jogging all the way to the other end of the harbor, exhausting and stranding myself. I think it was worth it, but it took a good half hour to meet the others again, and by then it was dark.
We wandered around until we found a bar to hang out at (I’m of age here?) and claimed a table. Still starving, there was only one thing on the menu that could cure my hunger: chicken parmesan. And it was TWENTY-THREE DOLLARS! Whoever is reading this, if you by any chance happen to go to Sydney and plan on eating, you’re gonna need a substantial amount of money, or a lot of snacks. We had fun, talking about life and making jokes and just enjoying being in a bar in Sydney (only two of us actually drank anything alcoholic, and one was by accident). Getting back late at night, we realized we needed to plan out a trip for tomorrow before going to bed, so we all mutually agreed to stay up and work to figure something out. Well, the other three did at least. It took much persuasion to convince me to contribute, and by midnight we had a plan to go to the Figure Eight Pools.
The Figure Eight Pool hike can be summarized as such: a treacherous hike down steep cliffs, across a long beach, over many unstable rocks, to reach a pool that, surrounded by a very rough and raging sea, is only accessible at low tide. Getting there was the first issue: we had take a train to the nearest town, then an Uber to the isolated car park where the 3km hike officially starts in a deep, downhill forest. Throughout the hike I there were many times I stayed far back to take pictures and ended up separated from the group. In case you haven’t realized by now, I am TERRIBLE to travel with. I really am a bloody child and I am seriously glad my friends decided not to kill me (I’m not entirely convinced they didn’t want to at least a little). The forest cleared way to a beautiful lookout over the beach and mountain, but the pools were still not in sight. We had to make our way down the mountain, then across the beach to get the rocks. I love rock climbing, and naturally now I’m far AHEAD of my colleagues. Finally we get there, and I see it: a tiny pool or two surrounded by hundred of tourists, with winds literally strong enough to blow you back to land. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the hike, but it felt like an otherwise great movie with a horrible ending that pretty much ruined it. And now, with the tide eventually to close in on us, we had to do the entire 3km again… but in reverse. I don’t even want to talk about how long it took to get an Uber to find us.
Monday we decided to split up and go different ways. At least, I decided to. The others wanted to go to Bondi again, but I’d already been and seen everything. I might only be here once, so I might as well do stuff I hadn’t done and experienced things I really wanted to. I made my own plan to explore the city’s landmarks, which I’d now become familiar with. First was a stop to Queen Victoria’s Market for breakfast and to admire the old architecture and the great shopping center. Then to the Darling Harbor, a nice little walk to see all the boats and people gathered around for a morning jog, bike ride, walk with friends… It’s weird to think, and something I never thought about before… you’re one of near a thousand people that crosses this bridge while I was there, one of five million in Sydney, and you’re doing something completely different from everyone else, with a different reason for being here and a different view from everyone else. At the same time it’s eye-opening to how big it is in this world and how personal it is to you.
After wandering through some of the older style parts of the city, I make my way back to Circular Quay, planning to take a ferry to my next destination. The ferry is short, only about 15 minutes, but being on the water is something I almost always enjoy. Landing, I make my way to the gate of Taronga Zoo. I’ve always loved the zoo, and I’m told this is one of the best in the world. With so much to see, it certainly didn’t let me down, and although I could’ve gone to a zoo anywhere, there’s nothing quite like seeing giraffes with the Sydney Harbor Bridge in the background. I spend the day watching elephants, penguins, chimps, and all kinds of creature. By sunset, I meet back with my friends at Circular Quay, taking a ferry back to my original side (why couldn’t I just stay on my side and you come to me?) for the chance of a lifetime: to walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge. It’s dark, but the view is incredible. Everything is so beautiful. The view of Sydney at night, the miles upon miles of wilderness experienced on that crazy hike, the baby elephant snuggling up to its mother. The sand at Bondi and the sails on the harbor.
But it’s not just Sydney. It’s life. And when you realize just how beautiful life is, you experience it like never before.
Ahhh break. Ten magnificent days out of school, with no worries whatsoever. I have the chance to see so much more of the world, so much more of this great country. Heading to explore the next great cities of Australia: Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, every site and building more magnificent than the last. Trekking west into the desert, admiring the great stars of the Outback at night, with a campfire to warm me and bush tucker to keep my stomach filled. Or perhaps north, to Queensland, exploring remote islands, at the merging point of the oldest rainforest in the world and the only natural site you can see from space. Tasmania to the south also appeals: I have several friends going already, and while I’m at it, might as well go to New Zealand. It’s right over there.
It sounds magnificent, doesn’t it? Having money? Now my position is not as precarious as it could be; I have money, and it should be more than enough to get me through the rest of my time in Oz, and then some. But there’s a difference between having money and being able to spend it freely, and spending money on expensive flights during break when I still have a fair amount of time here I decided was against my best interest. I’ll have nearly a month of free time at the end of my travels, and if I play my cards right I may still be able to make some of these big trips. I already do have two trips planned: one in Sydney for a long weekend, and another in Cairns right afterward. But in the meantime, I’m stuck in Melbourne, trying to do Spring Break on a budget.
The first thing to do in planning a break is planning who to spend it with. Seeing as two out three members of my immediate family don’t even have passports (cough cough Dad and Shelby), there’s no chance of spending my break with them as I usually would. Luckily (though maybe not so much for him), my mate Joseph was in a similar position as mine, so we decided we’d try and do what we could over the week together, seeing parts of Melbourne yet to be seen. On a budget, we wanted as many as possible of our excursions to be cheap, and surprisingly there’s a lot to do in Melbourne that is either cheap or offers student discounts.
That started with a trip to the Melbourne Aquarium, one of the few places we ended up going that came with a price tag. I’ve been to the aquarium in Boston several times, as well as the one in Mystic, Connecticut, and in Baltimore, so I had an idea of what to expect and thought it would be very similar. I mean, fish are fish, and even if I love going to the zoo and aquarium, well, fish are fish. Fortunately, the aquarium didn’t disappoint. Starting off by going on a glass bottom boat tour was lots of fun, if not slightly terrifying seeing reef sharks, sawfish, and giant stingrays (two meters long!!) up close. After disembarking to walk through more of the aquarium, I got to see a wide variety of fish, turtles, and even penguins I’d never seen before. I’ve loved this sort of thing since I was a kid, and I was as thrilled to watch the marine life swim about in the waters as my five year old self would be.
The next days were used to explore various sights around Melbourne we hadn’t yet seen (although many of which, I had and just decided to go again. It’s free so why not). The Shrine of Remembrance, a relatively easy trip from the Melbourne CBD was a beautiful sight, modeled after great Greco-Roman architecture which is something I very much love. Commemorating the soldiers who fought and died for Australia, the building really is larger than life, and somehow we managed to spend several hours out there taking pictures and watching as the sun set over Melbourne. Building off of my love for history and cool looking buildings was a trip to Parliament, exploring the building which only two weeks earlier I stumbled into on accident, somehow breaching security and causing a LOT of apprehension (maybe you should try locking the gate and making your directional signs a little clearer). On a welcomed visit, however, the building was nice, and I gained a slight insight into how Australian politics works (extremely slight, mind you. I don’t think they know what they’re doing, much less a foreigner). The Old Treasury Building was another neat sight, though I was disappointed in the lack of real gold on display, though probably for good reason.
I saw various museums and exhibits foreign to me, and there was a lot of eye candy all around. The Melbourne Museum was arguably the best, with massive sections divided into science, Australian history, fashion, the human body, and even Aboriginal culture and art. The latter was perhaps the most intriguing, being genuinely foreign to me and knowing next to nothing about it (though fashion is a close second, at least in a personal sense). Of course, in general I spent much less time staring at paintings than I did staring at cool dinosaur skeletons, but I mean, someone is always painting something, and dinosaurs aren’t likely to make a comeback anytime soon. Still, I really was overwhelmed by how much there was to see no matter where I went: always something to discover, learn about, enjoy.
One of the last days of break was a trip down to Williamstown Beach, by far the best beach I’ve ever been to. The town is small and beautiful, and contains one of the best gelato shops I’ve ever experienced. Sitting on the grass by the harbor I reflected on how four years I was in a very similar situation with my friends in Salem for senior trip. For years I always wanted to go back to those days in high school, but for the first time in my life, I’m actually content where I am. I realize that while the memories were great, I can still make more now. Soon after I head towards the main beach, only to make a wrong turn. I’m at the water, but there’s rocks across the ground presenting a maze toward the ocean. Naturally, instead of turning right toward the beach I climb the rocks instead, like any five-year-old. Managing to get into the water to take a dip, I leave for the actual beach. There, I walk across the shoreline with the warm Pacific water against my feet and met with the softest sand I’ve ever set foot upon.
I may not be in Tasmania, or the Outback, or on some other grandiose adventure across the continent. But as I said, there’s always something more to discover, to learn about and enjoy. Something greater always around the corner no matter where you are. You just have to look in the right places, and you’ll find there’s so much more to life than you ever thought. Already I’m doing something most of my friends back home, family, or indeed most of the people I’ll meet have done or ever will do. In fact, no one will ever live their life exactly like mine. No one will ever see what I see or feel what I feel. Best to make it count.
Exploring your host country is arguably the best aspect of studying abroad. Everywhere has something new, exciting, and different to experience and learn about. With that being said, i’m unsure if there is anything similar to this at other universities, but Kingston University has a class exclusively for study abroad students that I would definitely recommend. It’s called “British Life & Culture” (BLC) and consists of a weekly 3 hour lecture plus field trips! It did cost a bit extra in order to pay for transportation and tickets to places, but it was 100% worth it.
If it weren’t for my BLC class, I most likely wouldn’t have gotten around to seeing and experiencing some of the places we went. Even if I did, it would have been a complete different experience since we talked about the background of places we were visiting during lectures. For example, one lecture discussed the film industry in England, how it differed from the film industry in America, etc. before we took a trip to the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studios. Or learning about the cultural and religious backgrounds of UK citizens before visiting a Gurdwara.
What I got out of this class were some awesome experiences (and great pictures). Obviously all of the trips we took were fun, but going there for educational reasons also really helped me get a better grasp of British culture. One of my favorite places we went to was Parliament, and although i’m not a big political or history fan, I couldn’t stop holding onto every word the tour guide said. The UK government is run very differently from the US, and being able to walk through some of the chambers in which important meetings are held was so intriguing. We were shown where the Queen stands and waits before walking down a super long hallway and heard other cool stories.
Another place we visited was Bath, where we got to see and learn about the history of the city and the Roman Baths. We got a tour of some of the city’s historical landmarks and walked down the path Jane Austen writes about at the end of her novel Persuasion. Nothing about the city is modern, and it was a nice treat to see something so different from London. Very few things compare to the beauty of this small city, and it’s so out of the way from where I am I probably would never have visited on my own.
It’s sad to think about all the places I could’ve potentially missed out on seeing without this class. It also helped prevent a lot of culture shock considering our first class talked about English stereotypes and things we had noticed were different so far. Another thing that made it a great opportunity was that I knew who all the other abroad students were, so it opened the door for many to make new friends or at least see a familiar face on campus. We were just a bunch of foreigners in one big room.
The only con to this class was the workload. In my situation, this class isn’t transferring over as any other class for me. I took care of all my GE requirements freshman year. So it makes it quite annoying that I still had to put effort in so it wouldn’t negatively affect my GPA when it wasn’t going towards any class. I’m still unsure if it’s even gonna count for Liberal Arts credits because i switched into it after I got here, so I haven’t spoken to my advisor about it. I learned halfway through that I could’ve audited the course, meaning I would’ve been able to go on the trips but not worry about the work. So, if you’re thinking about coming to Kingston University, I highly suggest auditing this class if it won’t transfer over as a class you need. Definitely worth the 90 pounds.
(Writing from 28th Mar, 1 day until break and week 5 of classes)
I wake up to my roommate’s alarm at six in the morning. I pretend to stay asleep, indeed I wish I were asleep myself. Six is WAY too earlier to arise. He goes to get ready for his job distributing flyers, and leaves around 6:30 or so. I close my eyes to sleep once again, only to wake up to the alarm at 7:45. The Circle of Life blasts from my phone jumping me awake, as well as likely half of Footscray. I’m really not that heavy of a sleeper, but I need motivation to wake up. I don’t have it at quarter to eight on a Wednesday. Nevertheless, I have to get up, and by eight, I do. Opening my box of Froot Loops is a disappointment, they’re not as fun and colorful as they are back home and cost a hell of a lot more. The milkaholic I am, I chug down about half a liter of milk; telling myself I need to limit. It really has become a problem, not so much for my body but for my wallet.
It only takes ten minutes tops to actually get ready: wash my hair, put a shirt on, and brush. But like a blossom opening up in the sunlight, I need time to warm up. I listen to encouraging music, making me feel strong and ready for the day, and pray for my family back home, as well as the chance to brighten the world. By 8:50, I leave my room with my backpack for the dreaded class: Irish History. Not being Irish myself, I don’t exactly care much for the class, nor do I enjoy the long lectures. I still learn, today about emigration (seems the Irish didn’t care for Ireland either), and a good part of is somewhat interesting.
My phone accidently goes off in class, which I quickly silence. Morning is the best time for reaching home, and my sister texts me either some joke she finds funny or some problem she needs my help with. Surprisingly, I miss a lot less from home than I thought I would. The food and cheap prices mostly, but most everything can be compromised by something else here. But if there’s one thing I do truly and genuinely miss, it’s my sister. We’re best friends, and it really does suck being so far away from someone you love so much. She finished up her senior acting troupe show over the weekend, White Christmas, which I desperately wish I could have seen. Of course, I also want to see her get her driver’s license, decide where to go to college, go to prom, and graduate high school in June. But in the same way this trip is making me more independent and ready to take on the world, I have to believe is happening to her as well. I love it here, but I cannot wait to see the woman she’s become in June, and be able to share all our stories and adventures once again.
With class FINALLY over at 10:00 (can an hour really pass so slowly?) I have two hours free. The room is open and empty, so I head there. I grab my laptop and start editing some pictures I took from Saturday. I went with some mates out to Ballarat Wildlife Sanctuary, a long trip away but one well worth it. They had a good enough amount of animals to go and view, something which I love to do, but the main attraction is the free ranging kangaroos that come up to people for food and attention. We spent hours upon hours with them, feeding, petting, and cuddling the roos like you would dogs (stay away from the koalas, I’m told they carry STD’s). On paper, it’s not something that sounds overly exciting or thrilling, but it really is quite the quintessential Aussie moment that I’ll definitely carry forever.
Lunch was next on the priority list, and I heated up some left-over Mac and Cheese from the night before. I’d cooked dinner for myself and the other mates, and although this was my first time cooking it, it turned out surprisingly well. Being here has taught me a lot about how much goes into making food: having to buy it, prepare it, clean it up, and constantly repeating the process. I’ve also learned quite a bit about cleaning, which is that things need to be cleaned, often. And while I had to clean at home as well, it was not nearly on the scale of a whole apartment room (which in these moments seem much bigger than upon first arrival). Though I’m not a neat freak, it’s clear that I took the relative cleanliness, or at least organization, of home for granted, and that here I have to be more consistent and dedicate some effort to the task. Unfortunately, while I received this ground breaking revelation, it has yet to hit my roommate.
Class was to start again at noon, and after cleaning up lunch I made my way back to campus. This class, The World Before 1700, is probably my favorite: I like the professor, the content, delivery, and time frame. We learn about the Romans, a point of history that always fascinated me. The lecture goes on for longer than Irish History does, but I don’t mind. After this class, I head down to the river, finding a nice spot on the grass to spend the hour long intermission I have. I have no agenda, no plans other than be back at three. It’s special to sit here along the river, listening to and watching all the strange Australian birds that I’ve come to love. They’re much different than the ones at home, parrots and magpies instead of robins and mourning doves. I sit here reflecting on how special it really is for me to be here, in Australia. There’s more to explore over the mid semester break, which for me starts tomorrow with the aquarium. I certainly still have a tourist mindset, but I genuinely love it here. I feel new and transformed, like I have a new and special life here. I don’t know that I want to leave.
Of course, I must at some point. I head to class again, a continuation of the last one as a tutorial rather than lecture. I sit next to Matt, one of the Americans I came to Australia with and a good friend. Class is decent, although the quiz he’s given us appears to require a bit more effort than I’d care for. Discovering it easier to do the quizzes after class, Matt and I team up and head back to his place to knock it out before break. His suite is much bigger than my room, though not as ‘clean’ (clean being extremely relative). The quiz takes about 20 minutes, and afterward I decide to hang around a little and watch some TV and eat some cake. I get to talk to some of his mates, who although I don’t know well are all good guys, if a little crazy, and with a good sense of humor. But, overtime the introvert in me calls, and I make my way back to my room for dinner. I try to avoid spending much time in my room, there’s not much to do there anyway and I can easily do that at home. The oven is in the kitchen in the common area, so I head there with a pizza to warm up. I run into Joseph, another close New Paltz mate, and briefly discuss our plans for the aquarium tomorrow and break overall. While other friends of ours are doing adventurous trips to Tasmania or Queensland for break, due to our regard for our budget we ended up stuck in Melbourne (being responsible sucks!). But, I cannot complain, as there’s still much to see and I’m sure to have a rip snorter (great time).
In the evening, I sit on the terrace on the fourth floor (really the fifth, Australians number their floors weird). With pizza in my belly and a day full of excitement, I find inspiration to write part of my book, something I had been able to do less of at New Paltz but have been trying to pick up again coming here. The tales of glory such as that of Rome, of adventurous trips across the world, of calm moments on the water and laughs with friends molding into a beautiful piece which I can only hope one day I manage to finish and publish. I look as the sun sets across the beautiful Australian sky. It’s beautiful so far, but I still believe in more. I may not yet know where it will take me, or where it will end, but I am assured that this will be a damn good story. And I’m glad to be living it, watching it unfold before my eyes one small piece at a time.