It’s been two weeks since I arrived in Wellington, New Zealand. Wow.. time is flying by!
I am slowly starting to get used to my environment and know which spots have the best price for things like groceries, clothes, nails and bars. You know.. the necessities. 😉
I find myself spending a lot of money because I am just so excited of all the new things I am seeing but I need to slow it down. The US dollar is worth more here so that is also why I am spending a lot because I feel like everything is “on sale.”
School.. or shall I say.. Uni has started last week. The Kiwis over here call the classes/courses, “papers.” That awkward moment when someone asked me if I enjoyed my papers and I looked at them all puzzled because I thought they meant actual papers, as in assignments. Welp.. something to get used to.
I have not been able to explore as much as I would like to but I have been to one place that I had beautiful views! Thankfully, my hall organized a trip to go to the Matui/Somes Island.
It took about 30 minutes to get there on a ferry. I have been on ferries before such as the Staten Island ferry and Ellis Island ferry but the views are incomparable. I could have just taken a ferry there and back and I would have been satisfied.
Here are some pictures from the actual island:
But wait.. there’s more!
Did I mention there are more sheep here than people? Crazy.. isn’t it?
I am very grateful to be here and I can’t wait to explore more!
It’s two weeks before I head out to New Zealand an I can feel the little girl in me bursting with excitement.
I always described my anxiety as a little girl stuck in my chest doing jumping jacks. At first, I thought she was a afraid. I realized that she is just excited for what’s to come.
After shifting my perspective from believing that I was anxious to excited, it has become much easier to get through my days. I’m not going to lie though, sometimes I randomly cry.. but I’m fine, I promise!
I guess it’s just the thought that I am about to be across the world… in a new country… by myself…..
Like….. who told me this was a good idea? Who said I was capable of living on my own for four months in a new environment?
At last, I’ve made it through this long journey to make my way back home. Months of agonising have led to this point: return to the states, return to home, return to family and friends and the great wonders I once took for granted here. As the one chapter of my life has drawn to an end, it has shifted and made way for the beginning of another. Of course, I was extremely anxious about it all at first, when I only had several weeks in Australia left. But as I mentioned before, a certain calm came over me in my final days that everything would be fine, a heavenly reassurance that I could do this. Months of change had made me a new person, but how would that person adjust to a sudden return to “normal”?
All in all, I adjusted a lot quicker than I thought I would. Some things just didn’t seem right at first: cars driving on the right side, adding tip at the diner, and the surprising lack of accents I now deeply miss, all hitting me within about an hour of landing in New York. But overtime, I settled back into normality, and only made the mistake of driving on the left side of the road once or twice. The big things that define life here came back pretty quickly, but there’s definitely small parts of me that are still tuned to living in Melbourne. A month ago I could find myself taking a random trip into the city (Melbourne) within half an hour. Now, if I want to go the city (New York), it takes three hours (I could just drive a half hour to Albany, but Albany isn’t much compared to either Melbourne or NYC). I still find myself using slang and lingo that my family and friends don’t quite understand (“Macca’s” should be self-explanatory, but it just isn’t I guess). Living at home, oddly enough, has been the hardest thing to deal with. Having spent so much time on my own, instinct tells me to make food when I’m hungry, or that I need to clean up after my dirty roommate. But now, I don’t have to make, plan, or buy my meals, and I don’t have to worry about running the place all by myself. I wouldn’t say I miss buying groceries, cleaning toilets, and doing the dishes, but it just doesn’t feel quite right to not be doing it anymore.
My family was the one thing that I didn’t need much getting used to again. I’d been in pretty close contact with my parents and sister, and occasionally reach out to my grandparents or cousins, so for the most part I didn’t have to go telling everyone every little detail of my adventures. Of course, everyone wanted to see all the pictures I took, and there’s still the occasional story to tell, but overall it didn’t take much time to ‘catch up’. That’s the wonderful thing about family, I think: five months apart and you come back and you pick up the same conversation you had five months ago. That’s not to say things haven’t changed; they certainly have, and in more ways than I expected. My grandparents’ kitchen has new floor tiles, my one cousin’s voice has gotten deeper with hitting puberty, and my youngest cousin now looks more like an actual person than like a baby squish (to quote my sister). My sister’s graduated high school and is kind of an adult and I’m still not sure what to think of that. But all the same, we’re family and best friends, and that feeling of reuniting with her and my parents was so insanely heartwarming I can’t stop smiling when I think about it.
I’ve done quite a bit since being back: I’ve gone to car races on the Fourth of July weekend, gone camping, watched a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, and went to Massachusetts, among other things. Slowly but surely, I’ve been adjusting and returning to normality. Like I’ve said though, there really is no true return to ‘normal’. There can’t be. There’s a lot I miss about Australia. I miss friends, and random outings either with them or just by myself. I miss seeing the library and walking along the river. I miss the birds and the food and the locals. Getting off at Flinders Street, a milk run at Coles, grabbing some chips of ‘Lord of the Fries’. The independence, and no worries attitude. The ability to explore something new and unseen. But I guess, every day is a new day, with something unseen on the horizon. It’s all a matter of perspective. Maybe I’ll make it back to Australia. Maybe there’s more planned for me here. But whatever is on that horizon will be a beauty. And I can’t wait to see where it’ll take me.
Well, I suppose this is it. I sit here now, with only an hour to go until I board flight AC038 to Vancouver. It’s a 15-hour flight, followed by a 5-and-a-half-hour flight to Toronto, and finally 54 minutes to La Guardia. I found the gate. I made it past security. I made it to the airport, and out of UniLodge. I have overcome every obstacle, every barrier preventing me from coming here and shaping me into a new and better person. I have climbed mountains to get to where I am today, and now, after many months of living a new life, I return to my life of old.
Australia has changed me in more ways than I can even imagine. I expected something big, finding the key to a grand treasure chest or the filling of a slot I’ve yearned to be truly full again. But instead, I think I’ve changed in many, little ways; ways that may not seem all that significant on their own but together have made me a new person. Amongst the great and many adventures and life changing events, there’s one calm moment that I believe shaped me the most. May 8th, around 9:30 at night, I stepped out of the rental car we took to the Outback. We’d come to see the Outback at night, watching the stars in a world without man’s interference. I knew the sight would be incredible, but I never expected it to be so full of light. God, you could see the entire galaxy out there. One star still pointed out to me, one brighter than all the others.
It wasn’t just the Outback, though it was easily most visible there. Walking through Salamanca Place in Hobart, or Circular Quay in Sydney, if you looked hard enough. The first night in Cairns, right after the rain had cleared. Philip Island, as penguins swam ashore, and on the beach along the Great Ocean Road after a semi-successful surfing lesson. On the walk back to UniLodge from the city, or laying in the grass on the Maribyrnong River. That one guiding light, always with me. I have to believe wholeheartedly that the same light that guided me through Australia will also guide me once I come home. It always has. Why wouldn’t it now?
The experiences I’ve had here may have been short, but their impact on me will last forever. I like to think that my time in Australia has made me a better person, that who I am leaving is a stronger, more confident person than the one who arrived. That the same light that guided me here will follow me home, and that I’ll continue to do everything possible to keep shining the light. I may not know the future, but I know my potential to make it the best it can possibly be. In truth, I’ve been fearful of return to normal ever since I first landed. But I guess, when you think about it, there is no return to my old life. Life doesn’t move you backwards; it moves you forward. Maybe I don’t know what’s beyond this airport. Maybe I do. But whatever happens next will help build an even newer life, a new chapter even greater than this where finally, I find out who I really am and what I’m meant to be.
(Written from 19th June, final week)
Unlike my other posts, this is going to be more of a list of the biggest 5 things I learned while studying abroad, followed by an explanation. They’re in no particular order.
1. Expectation- Everything while I’m abroad is going to be exactly the way I want it to be, and it’s going to feel like an extended, worry-free vacation. Australia is going to be the problem free resort I had hoped it would be.
Reality- Not everything is going to be the way I want it and it’s not going to be 100% peachy keen. Although a different life, life in Australia comes with its worries, struggles, sadness, and down right annoying moments just like it does in America.
I think I learned rather quickly that despite everything, my ‘plans’ don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. Even as I situated into my room, I realised maybe this wasn’t how I expected it with my small and dirty room. Homework, as easy as it is compared to home, is still a nuisance, especially when it piles up all at once. The train gets crowded at times and it’s hard to find a spot to sit when you really want one. Your friends make plans to go out and you don’t always make the cut. Your roommate stays up until 2 in the morning talking to his father on the phone while you’re trying to sleep. It rains when you run out money on your myki and have to walk home instead of taking the bus. And then, sometimes, even in paradise, life just gives a bad day. There’s never going to be a truly ‘worry free’ world wherever you go. But you roll with the punches, make the best of everything, and in the end it turns out alright. All in all, the good stuff far outweighs the bad.
2. Expectation- The big trips I do and big accomplishments while here are going to make this trip great. I’ll do tons of life changing things that few back home will ever experience, and these extraordinary feats will shape me into a giant.
Reality- The big stuff is nice and all, but in reality, it’s the small, everyday things, that will make me remember Australia the most. The ordinary, mundane things are what really shapes this world as something unique and special.
It’s not an understatement to say I’ve done a lot of big things here that few people get to experience. I went scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, saw the stars in the Outback, cuddled kangaroos, and sailed across Sydney and Tasmania. But while those memories will last forever, I think the little things are what has made this trip stand out to me. The sounds of the ravens, parakeets, and magpies that are still so unfamiliar to me. Long walks along the river taking it all in. Cooking dinner with friends and a game of pool afterward. Walks to get milk from Coles, or getting ice cream from Flinders Street station. Weird plants in the gardens, beautiful buildings in the city, the trams running through the city day and night… it doesn’t all sound like a lot, at least, not just one of these things. But all together, it makes this place special, and I’m truly going to miss (almost) every bit of it.
3. Expectation- My family is going to miss me while I’m gone, but our relationship will change for the better as I’m gone. Still, my family will grow and prosper as it always has without me in the picture, and they’ll adjust as I become further from home.
Reality- My family REALLY misses me, and while our relationships have changed for the better, they need me. Our closeness can’t be changed and despite everything, family always comes first.
My family was certainly hesitant as I told them I was thinking about studying abroad, in Australia at that, for the first time. I’d only just gotten away from home at New Paltz, and now I was going from an hour’s drive to the other side of the globe. We’ve always been close, and although so much was pushing me to go, my closeness to my family was the major thing holding me back. I’d be leaving at a critical moment for my sister: her last semester of high school, and I’d miss her birthday, prom, and graduation, among many other adventures. I’d miss my step mom’s birthday, Father’s Day, and their anniversary. And although we’ve adjusted and are doing well, we still need each other. A lot. I’d call my dad at midnight because I was having an emotional night and needed someone to talk to. My sister would confide in me about her friends and high school drama as always. I’d ask my step mom how to make a certain dish or accept my student loans next semester (uggghh…). Some days are hard without family by your side. Maybe I don’t know where my future will take me. But if it’s five minutes from home, or the other side of the world, my family is always going to be there no matter what, and no distance or time will ever change that.
4. Expectation- I’ll make a lot of close and lasting friendships here, maybe even find a girlfriend, and they will be the beginning of a new social life I always wanted. My connections with my friends (and girlfriend) will make me happier and better off than I would be alone.
Reality- Despite having built friendships here, I’ve learned how to be happy on my own. I don’t need dozens of friends, I don’t need a girlfriend, because I’ve learned how to make my life meaningful to me.
This may sound like a cheap excuse for why I’m not bringing back a beautiful Aussie sheila back with me like a lot of people (including myself) were expecting. Believe me, I wanted to. But one thing I definitely realized while here was that happiness doesn’t come from anyone or anything but yourself. Don’t get me wrong, being with cool people in an exotic place having fun adventures is great. But I don’t need any of that to make me happy, I need to make myself happy by choosing to be happy myself. I made great friends during this trip, and I’ve become close with many of them. But many I won’t see again after this, and there’s some who have already left. The places I’ve been are fantastic and beautiful and something straight out of my imagination. But again, the likelihood of seeing some of these places again, at least in the same way, are slim. So all in all, it really comes down to me. What I make of this life, and how I chose to live it. People and places change, and as sad as it is to say they don’t always last forever. Only you last as long as you do. Your memories, your character, your happiness.
5. Expectation- I’m going to find out what my purpose is in Australia and be fully ready to take it from here onward. It will be an eye-opening experience on my way to discovering how my life will unfold.
Reality- Being in Australia has made me question even more what my goal is in life or where I’ll end up. I have even less idea what my plan is, if I have one, and I’m seriously questioning absolutely everything, including myself, going forward.
This was indeed the biggest expectation I had for Australia. That I would find answers to the many questions I’d begun to ask myself while here. What do I do after school? Would I find a partner, a home, a career? Would I discover who I really am, find my true purpose in life? The short answer is, no. At least, not yet.
While being in Australia has truly been a life changing experience, it seems I now have more questions than answers when it comes to figuring out ‘life’. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s better to have unanswered questions than wrong answers. But if there’s one thing I learned here, it’s that this world is so much bigger than I imagined it to be. There used to be one path that I thought I would follow, and it didn’t take me out of my comfort zone or very far from home. Then I started looking at path A and path B, path B being more of a dream than a plausible direction. Now I see there’s thousands of paths, and no single path is the ‘right’ one. There is no right answer, and it kind of scares of me because with only one year before graduating I need to figure things out soon.
Maybe, you never do. Maybe we all just drift around through life, hoping for answers to pop up along the way. In time I guess all things work out exactly the way they’re supposed to. They did when I came to Australia. They did when I chose to go to New Paltz. They even did when I lost my mother to cancer four and a half years ago. So, I guess I’ll just have to trust that it’ll all work out one day exactly the way it’s supposed to. I’ll find what I want to do after school. I’ll find a girl and a home and a career. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find out what my purpose is along the way.
Like a good book, my time in Australia has seen its beginning as something intriguing, new, and fascinating. It has seen its rise: becoming accustomed to life in Melbourne, as a city, as independent, as a new world. The climax, of course, the giant adventures across this massive continent, taking me into fantastic and incredible new worlds and having an absolute blast doing so. But now, of course, we approach the denouement, the beginning of the end of this great adventure called Australia. Finals are done, classes over, and I now find I have about two weeks left here with no plans whatsoever. A good number of friends are already packing their bags, and soon enough I shall follow suit. 4 months in this world are seemingly slipping away as the reality of my life at home returns each day. But as any good story, there is always that plot-twist that keeps things interesting.
To be honest, a great part of me doesn’t want to go home. Some of me even resents it. Of course, I want to see my family again, I want to see them above everything else. I want to taste home-cooked food, drive my car, and take a walk to the falls with my family. But the other things I miss, I’ll have become used to again in two weeks. In two weeks, everything I idolise about home now will be ‘normal’ again. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe a little normal is what I need after so much time away, to get my head back in the game and on top of my world. But my question now is, what game am I playing? What does life back home mean for my future? What is ‘home’? What is the future?
Coming here has made me realise a lot. I’ve learned how wonderful life is, from the little things that make it comfortable (or not) to the big adventures you embark on and those you go on those adventures with. I’ve learned to take opportunities when they come to you, and to not hold back from things out of fear or uncertainty. I’ve seen that I am capable of living in a new world and conquering it, making it my own. In a great sense, this is home. And what I worry is, what if what I had here is it? The opportunities I’ve had, friends I’ve made, things I’ve done and places I’ve been have been surreal to me, like a great dream come true. But what if it is just a dream? I don’t want to lose that adventurous spirit that has compelled me to explore and see the world. I don’t want to lose the friendships I’ve made here and them all simply fade away over time. I don’t want to lose the opportunities I’ve had here, to change the world.
Australia wasn’t at all what I expected it to be. But I think, maybe it was better. Maybe this is what I needed it to be, from dumpy Footscray to the great friends I’ve shared many journeys and laughs with. But soon enough, all that will disappear and I’ll be back to ‘normal’. How do I take what I’ve learned here, and apply it back home? I guess that’s something only time will tell. Going back home means uncertainty, and that’s something I’ve been scared of since losing my mother 4 ½ years ago. But then again, so was Australia. So my hope, is that once home I’ll be able to make new opportunities, become closer with my family and true friends, and continue to explore my world. And it may take some time to truly conquer it like I did Australia. I have some serious questions to ask myself about my future and my life. But undoubtedly, I will rise back to the top again, wherever my future ends up taking me. I want to keep the lessons I’ve learned here, the confidence I’ve gained and spirit I’ve shined and apply it back where it really matters most. I may not be one hundred percent excited to go back, but whatever happens, Australia will help me build the best me I can be.
There is a lot that I already miss about Australia. The kangaroos, the accents, the metro, however being home is somewhat refreshing. I readjusted to home faster than anticipated and did not experience reverse culture shock the way many people told me I would. I guess it is just very different for everyone.
My time abroad in Australia was amazing. So much planning went into it but with the help of Samantha it was made possible. I am a bit sad to be home since if I am being honest I have no idea if or when I will make it back to that end of the world. I saw amazing things from the Great ocean road to the Great Barrier reef. I realized really just how little of the world I have truly seen. Even in the U.S I have only been to a handful of states and now I am more inspired than ever to travel and explore!
Being home has been a little underwhelming but I am grateful for all the experiences and people I met while abroad. I look forward to hopefully visiting Australia again in the near future. While my big adventure has ended I am looking forward to next one!
After having spend a good amount of time in Australia, it’s become very clear to me that each suburb, city, state, and territory is in a very intense but friendly rivalry with one another. Sydney and Melbourne both claim to be the greatest city in Australia (if not the world), Queenslanders tease Victorians about the cold weather (and vice-versa with hot weather), and South Australia yucks up the fact that it was the only colony to have never accepted convicts. Sports matches between cities are rooted in deep loyalty to the home team, and every city or state has its claim to fame that supposedly makes it unique. But through all of it, Tasmania always gets the short stick. Not part of the mainland, cold, and bogan, Tas has heard it all. But after having been there, I think that Tasmania certainly makes the others run for their money.
Originally, I didn’t care all that much about seeing Tasmania. I knew it was seen as lesser by the rest of Australia, a lot colder than mainland, and I didn’t actually think there was that much to do. Flash forward to midsemester break, and I’m watching a good number of my friends having an absolute blast in Tasmania, climbing mountains, driving in the bush, even doing an aerial tour. Now I wish I’d tried to go with them and blown a few hundred over break instead of being smart and saving it, and I tell myself if I get the opportunity, I have to go myself. Later in April, I look up flight sales and see a $100 round trip ticket to Hobart for two days. After taking a hostel, food, transport, and activities into consideration, I realise I can make my own trip for less than $300 US. Although I wanted some of my friends to come, I realise that instead I can make this my own special trip, and prove to myself that I can do a single trip all by myself to such a remote area as Tasmania.
Immediately, things don’t go to plan. I have to spend time focusing on my finals and summer class the week before Tas, and before I know it it’s 11:00 the night before my flight and I still have no plans. Nor do I actually have my homework done. I have to finish my homework in the morning before my flight, and tell myself that I’m not leaving Hobart Airport until it’s submitted. And of course, just not having the time at Melbourne Airport, the first thing I do on Tasmanian soil, is submit my thesis on Robinson Crusoe. After that, I step out into the brisk air of Tasmania. And let me tell you, it was COLD (those of you who know me know I’ll wear shorts up until the first snowfall at home, so if I’m actually cold, it’s cold). I make my way to the hostel, which is relatively freezing once away from the main fireplace and up in my room. I don’t have the ability to drive out on my own, seeing as I can’t rent a car, and with Hobart being such a small city, my attempts to construct a plan are rather difficult (not to mention many of the tours I looked at were for different days or seasons than I was here for).
With not a whole lot else going on, I wander into the city of Hobart, my only real aim being lunch. I almost feel cheated: having come at such a cold, dead time of year, and not really being able to do much of anything. I slowly start to discover, however, that maybe Hobart is exactly what I want in my first me-trip. The city is very small, with only about two hundred thousand residents, and I can navigate everything using a very simple paper map. Also, maybe because of the size and homeliness, almost everyone you meet is extremely friendly and helpful. I’ve said before that I find Australians are much friendlier overall than people back home, but in Tasmania this seems especially true. People help me find my way, things to do, and places to eat. This takes me to Salamanca Place, an older historic type area filled with cafes, shops, and a museum or two. I love the architecture, and the pizza I have hits home as I take a very short walk to the harbour. I look around at the boats, something I could probably do for hours on end, and sign up for a short harbour cruise (which wasn’t really worth it). Afterwards, I scout out the town some more, before making my way back to hostel around dinner time before it gets too cold. I spend most of the rest of the night there, talking to other travellers and telling each other our great life stories.
The morning I wake up earlier, both to check out and prepare for a bus trip to Mount Wellington, the defining landmark of Hobart and from what I’m told an incredible lookout point. Generally, the weather is warmer and less cloudy, but on the mountain gets close to freezing. We only stay out for 15 minutes or so, but the view is completely phenomenal. You can see the slight imprint of a city amongst the bay of the river, and for miles upon miles see various mountains, forests, and the ocean. After returning from that around 12, I head back into the city to more sights, before another cruise at 2:30. The lighthouse cruise was probably my favorite part of the trip, and easily one of my favorite side-trips in Australia. We got to explore the beautiful coastline, see Australia’s oldest lighthouse, and I even got to drive the boat! (Study Abroad Team and the Australian Government said I couldn’t drive a car in Australia. Didn’t say anything about boats). It’s a good two and a half hours on the ocean, something I absolutely love doing, and if I had more money to blow I’d buy my own boat for the fun of it. With it being dark, and there not being a huge nightlife in Hobart, I go back to Salamanca Place for dinner, before planning a walk around the night harbour (it’s much nicer out than yesterday). That is, before I check my phone for a text message.
And just like that, my flight back home is cancelled (note to self: JetStar is cheap for a reason). I frantic for a little bit, seeing as I’m by myself on island with a final to attend in two days that I need to be back for. But after calming down, the first thing to do is march back to the hostel and see is they have any open rooms. Luckily, they do, and now I’m on to planning my replacement flight. With the option for an early flight back in the morning, or late at night again, I decide to plan my stay for another full day. It was easily the right decision, and I scrambled next to find a trip for that day. I found a small tour group exploring Port Arthur, one of Australia’s oldest and most notorious convict sites, something a history buff like me would be fascinated by. The next day, I check out again, and board the bus for my trip, with a whopping 4 other people. We stop at a puny village called Richmond for breakfast and a comfortable start to the day, and I fall absolutely in love with the village. We then head to Port Arthur, where, being Tasmania, the weather changes against us, but I feel the cloudiness and occasional rain adds to the ambience of being a notorious run-down prison. I can see how it’s not for everyone, but I certainly enjoyed myself immensely.
On the way back, the sun popped out again and we stopped at various other lookouts. Tasmania has a feel, in some ways, like it does back home, with autumn-like New England weather, and much of the general architecture reminds me of small colonial towns I’ve seen back home. But in other ways it’s very much Australian, and it may very well be the best mix I’ve seen between the two worlds while still feeling unique. The lookouts, needless to say, are beautiful, and I wander across ancient caverns, magnificent forests, and quaint fishing spots. The trip ends at around 5, but while the guide (who was fantastic, as any fellow “Jon” is) offers to drop me at the airport, I still have five hours before my flight. I decide to get off at the city centre, which while dead brings me to the mall for a quick snack, and, seeing as I have nothing else in mind, to the movies for the latest Star Wars (also great).
Overall, I learned quite a bit from this trip. First off, plan more. It really can go a long way. Also, don’t be afraid to jump at the opportunity to do something fun when presented, and worry about money when you’re dead. Experiences are worth far more anyway. But also be open to change, and feel free to go with the flow every now and then. Most of the time, it’ll still work out, and everything that happens does so for a reason. Hobart was the perfect first self-guided trip for me, teaching me a lot of valuable lessons while also being heaps of fun. Its small size was perfect for me, and I even despite ‘proper’ planning I got to do more than I could imagine in such a beautiful and remote part of the world. All in all, it might be my favourite trip I’ve taken in Australia, and that says a lot when the first day is cold as hell, the second your return flight is cancelled on short notice, and the third you spend in prison.
(Written from 26 May, final week of classes and exactly one month remaining in Australia)
There’s no such release as the feeling of finally being done with classes. The time of worry is over! Exams are done, papers submitted, and school a distant memory. You now have the rest of the summer (or in my case, some winter first, and then summer) free to do whatever you want. Spend time with friends, go out and explore new wonders, all in all stress free. Right?
Sadly, I’m not done yet. Two of my major essays are due within one week, Creative Writing next Friday and World History as soon as I can pump it out. Needless to say, I’m no where near started, but I can’t take the same “do it the day before” attitude I had back home and apply it here. It gets worse though; not only that, but for these two classes I’m earning over 50% of my grade WITHIN ONE WEEK. The Creative Writing short story, complete with commentary, making up 70% of my grade, and the World History presentation I gave Wednesday, combined with the essay on said presentation, and the final next Wednesday making up 80%. I did a great job on the presentation, and I don’t doubt I can turn out a decent short story with a little planning, or that the other essay or final will be all that difficult for a history buff like myself. But still, the fact that there is so much to do in such a short amount of time is slightly overwhelming.
My other two classes have exams in early June, at the horse race showgrounds for some baffling reason. I’m not stressed about them too much; I only need 6 points in European Rev and 4 points in Irish History to get High Distinction (their version of A+ I guess). My classes here, at Victoria University, are done, but sadly I can’t truly say all my classes are over. Thanks to the Excelsior Scholarship back home, I need 30 credits this year to keep the money, or else I have a giant loan to pay back. As I only have 27, I needed to take a summer class, and what better than Introduction to British Literature? From what I can tell, it’s not the kind of class one can just slide through easily (though I will try) and requires a certain amount of dedication that’s going to clog up my time a little while I’m still here. It’s is more of an inconvenience than a worry, but the class is certainly keeping me on my toes with its weekly discussions, multiple readings, TWO essays, and midterm and final.
The past few weeks have been busy, to say the least, so much so that time has really flown and I now find that I only have one month left here. Realising my time is short, I need to do whatever is left on my bucket list here before I’m no longer able to, as it may be some time before I get to come back. Melbourne is a decently sized city, but as a tourist I find that I’ve already done most of the things I wanted to while here. There’s a few things still to check out, but the list is growing very short and I find I’m going into the city once again just for the sake of going, rather than actually having plans. In Victoria, there’s things I want to do still, but that requires more planning, and often requires transport I don’t have. And out of state, I don’t have the budget, aside from my trip to Tasmania tomorrow.
But I’m determined to make the most of my time here while I still can (provided I get all my assignments done!). Instead of looking so much for things to do, I’m looking for people to do them with. I’ve become closer with friends, expanding my usual group with mutual friends that overtime became my own friends. Though I most often only hang out with a small group of people, I’ve become a slightly familiar face throughout UniLodge and find myself able to strike up a conversation with most anyone (which is a huge boost for me as I’m usually pretty shy and not outgoing). Going out with friends to the bar or for a party used to be a thing I was very much afraid of and dreaded (which isn’t one hundred percent gone), but now it’s become more common and comfortable. I’m looking forward to Tasmania, and hopefully other trips with friends soon. And of course, I’m looking forward to finally getting my classwork all complete so that I enjoy the final month of my time here somewhat stress free.
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.