The Greatest Feeling

 

(Writing from 1st March, 2 weeks since arrival)
I’m walking on a wooden path when a sign warning me about venomous snakes appears. I amusingly laugh and take pictures before I head on my way. It’s a relatively short walk, but as I walk I reflect about this weekend. Over this one weekend I’ve seen wild kangaroos, gone surfing, played AFL, partied with newly made friends, and even came across a giant spider. Finally, I make my way to the Twelve Apostles, certainly a tourist trap but one that turns out to be well worth the visit. I gaze upon the sandstone rocks as my heart sinks to my stomach and my heart stops pumping for half a second. It’s not a fear of heights, I could care less about the hundred or so feet (meters?) between me and the ocean. But it’s a feeling unlike any other, that stops you dead in your tracks and makes you gasp in awe. It was this moment I realized I was in a whole new world, ten thousand miles from everything I ever knew. And I was in love.
Signing up for the Orientation Trip was one of the first things I knew I wanted to do right away, even before I left. As soon as I saw the email about it, I signed up. “Jon, this is the first trip you’ve heard about, you can’t just spend money on everything that appeals to you,” my family cautioned me. Perhaps they were right, I knew I would have to budget myself and my excursions, especially if I wanted to make it Sydney or Uluru someday. But, budgeting was a concern for later (NOT an ideal attitude while studying abroad, or going through life in general for that matter), and I signed up, eager to make friends and get out to see the more remote parts of Australia.
At first, I was a little anxious or even reluctant to go. I had to wake up early and was still pretty tired from jet-lag, and the weather for the weekend didn’t look too ideal going into it. It was a two hour drive to our accommodation in Anglesea, and I was still nervous about meeting new people. As it turns out, I made friends quickly, even though at times it was hard to remember everyone’s names and where they were from. I realized fairly quickly that despite not being a huge group (well, it was still big to me, around 50) there were LOTS of other people, all coming from different parts of the world I’ve only ever imagined. Friendly Canadians, Brits, Germans, Mexicans, Dutch… the list goes on. Seeing all these people shows you just how big the world is, and watching everyone interact with each other is really a life changing experience. Hearing everyone ask about where each other is from and what they do for fun and what brought them to Australia makes you realize that despite the geographical difference, there’s so much you can have in common with people from thousands of miles away. Really, we’re not all that different.
Going into the trip itself, first thing first was a trip surfing. Unfortunately, because our group was large, we had to split some of our group to go with another (meaning me, and one other guy). I’d never gone surfing, and was pretty certain I’d fail at it. But despite my somewhat low expectations, I was eager to try, and as I slipped on a waterproof suit and boarded up my confidence slowly grew. In the water, I lay on my board, experimenting and playing around with what worked and what didn’t. Most of it didn’t. But, I was determined to do it, and due to my persistence (and thanks to the help of the instructors) I tried, and tried, and tried, each time getting closer. Finally, I found myself on top of the board, riding a wave with the proudest smile on my face. It didn’t last long before I lost balance and fell into the water, but you know what? I did it!
Afterward, I walked along the beach while the rest of group took their turn at surfing. As I mentioned earlier, it was relatively easy to talk to people, even despite my shy personality. I made several friends throughout the day, spending a good portion of the night playing games and telling stories. In the morning, I ended up exploring the town a little with friends before joining altogether for an AFL game (Australian Rules Football, big in Victoria). Again, I knew I would be terrible at this sport, seeing as I’m not very athletically inclined or coordinated, but had an absolute blast. Shortly after that, a hike in the Australian bush. This was one of the things I was looking forward to most: seeing the natural landscape, watching kangaroos bounce about, witnessing the great beauty of a world yet to discover. But it was even more than I had expected it to be. I was astonished at how different the plants and birds looked and sounded, marveled at the views of the distant rainforest and waterways. But even more than that, it gave me the chance to connect with others, and I was overcome the entire way by this great feeling of happiness.
That leads me to the moment at the Twelve Apostles I mentioned earlier. I stood there, gazing across the turbulent Pacific Ocean waves crashing against these beautiful limestone rocks. I was here. I made it. I was in a world unlike any other, and it was no where near how I imagined it. It was so much more. This feeling, which I can only describe as both terribly anxious and satisfying, is a feeling like none other. To know that you, who two years prior would never have expected anything as great as this moment to happen in your life, were now at the top of the world. It’s the feeling of discovering a long sought treasure chest, of marrying the love of your life after years of loneliness, of triumphantly gazing across a kingdom as newly crowned. The feeling of discovering that there is so much out there in this world than you ever realized, and it’s even more beautiful than you imagined.
Just watch out for the snakes on the way out. This is Australia, after all.

Week 2: Bacon?

Written (3/1/18)

Australia has been incredible so far. I still have not fully grasped that I am here! That being said there have been some adjustments I’ve had to make. One of the biggest adjustments is getting used to living with five people. Back at New Paltz I have had the same Roomate for almost two years so this is definitely different.

I thought Australians speak English this will be easy! I was wrong. While day to day conversations flow fine there are always a few words I don’t know or I misunderstand. For example, my first day I was given a tour of the residence hall (Unilodge@VU) and was told over there is the ‘lift room’. Now I know that some people call elevators lifts but when I heard lift and room I assumed it was a gym. I was like “wow you guys have a gym?!” In return I received a confused and concerned look. It was the first mistake of many but it is all part of the experience!

Now onto one of the most difficult things I’ve had to adjust to. Food. Don’t get me wrong Melbourne is known as the food capital of Australia and has many great offerings. However, bacon is not one of them. Their bacon is literally ham and it is disgraceful(just kidding). All jokes aside it has been rough trying to find bacon. Also it took me two weeks before I learned how to order pizza. I went to a pizzeria which sold pizza by the slice (which is rare here) and I asked for “a plain slice”. The guy looked at me perplexed. I then asked for a cheese slice. Once again he was confused. Then I said just a pizza with tomato sauce and cheese, finally he responded “we don’t make that here”. I left upset I couldn’t get pizza and thinking what kind of pizzeria doesn’t have a regular slice. Well long story short after talking to my classmates I learned I needed to ask for a margarita slice. I have however discovered that I love Indian food and that there is lots of it here in Melbourne.

It is strange being in a new country. After 20 years in New York City I can maneuver my way around the city, the culture, and the lingo extremely easily. Yet over here it is a whole new experience and that is exactly I was hoping for. People are extremely nice and often go out of their way to help you. One big difference I noticed when it comes to culture/dress is that people don’t go to class in sweats and a t-shirt the way we often do back at New Paltz. So it has been interesting actually putting on clothes for class everyday.

P.S Rice Krispies is known as Rice Bubbles here.

P.P.S You can make CUSTOM KIT KAT BARS!

Indian Dosa

Rice Bubbles

Custom Kit Kats

Where is everyone?

Not How I Planned It, but Exactly How It Was Meant To Be

(Writing from 22nd Feb, 7 days since arrival)
Imagine the trip of a life time, landing into the beautiful new place to discover and instantly feeling at home. Imagine entering your new kingdom as a celebrity enters the Oscars, arms open wide to your arrival. Everything has worked out exactly the way you planned it, everything you’ve worked toward for several months, perhaps even a life time, has lead up to this special moment where you discover your destiny ahead of you.
Now take all of what I said, and scratch that under the rug. Then take the rug outside and beat it a couple times, uncovering the hard-wooden floor of reality. And that, is what it feels like once you first land. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that what I was embarking on was going to different. But mostly, I still had romantic hopes as I saw the sun rise over the Pacific on my long flight to Sydney. I thought that all my hopes and dreams had come true as I landed in Sydney, the great beauty of Australia, with the Opera House and Harbor welcoming me. Then I realized I was almost about to miss my flight to Melbourne, the poor man’s Sydney, and where’d I actually be spending my five months abroad. No matter, I knew Melbourne would be just as fantastic and full of adventure.
Getting off the plane there, I met my ride and set off to my accommodation. As the city slowly faded, I wondered exactly where my dorm was. Pulling up to the building, I realized that it was kind of in the middle of a dump, and not near what I had expected. After signing contracts and finding my room, much smaller than anticipated and without the shop pack I ordered in advance with my house supplies, I began to settle in. Because I got there after my roommate, he claimed most of the space in the room already, and I was stuck in the top bunk of the bed, using the highest shelves and the tops of cabinets and wardrobes to store everything (thankfully I’m tall). Then I met the man himself: my roommate, who although seemed nice enough, didn’t exactly seem like someone I’d form a friendship and actually enjoy rooming with (I admit, part of that was my hope to be with a real true-blue Aussie). We went out to get some basic supplies: milk, cheese, toilet paper, and what not, and ended up getting lost. By the time I made it back to the lodge, I decided enough was enough, and I needed to wander around on my own for a while.
This wasn’t at all what I anticipated. I was in a dumpy suburb, neither in the bush nor the city, without anything in my room in terms of supplies (no toilet paper, pillows, blankets, etc.) and stuck with a roommate who still struggled with English. I was exhausted, from nearly two days without sleep and near thirty hours of flights and layovers (note to self: if you go to Australia again, spend a day or two in Hawaii first, even if just to sleep. You’ll thank yourself later). On top of that, my phone, despite my efforts, didn’t work at all, and I had no way of getting in touch with my family to let them know I was alright.
What I ended up finding is, even though it wasn’t what I planned, it worked out exactly the way it was supposed to. Eventually, I did get my supplies (THREE days later), and I’ve adjusted to my arboreal life in the top bunk. I discovered I was actually kind of glad to be in the suburban area I was, with most everything I need local enough to walk to, as well as top-notch public transport system that can take you into and around Melbourne with ease (it’s especially nice that the campus is across the street, and the grocery store and train station going into the city are only 15 minutes away). The campus itself looks nice and not too difficult to navigate, and although I’m not excited for classes next week am sure it’ll be alright and I’ll adjust well. The thing I’m finding though, is that wherever you go in the world there’s always good people out there, and so far, there’s a lot of them in Australia. The security guard at Sydney Airport that helped me catch my flight, the staff at the lodge patient and understanding as I try to adjust, people on the street showing me the ropes with public transport and finding my way around, and even friendly blokes at the bar willing to help me figure out how to call home and let my family know I made it safely.
I’ve met the others here from New Paltz and other SUNY schools and they were all thrilled to meet me, and I was to meet them too. We’ve only known each other about a week, but we all get along and already have great and big adventures planned in the coming months. It’s relatively easy to befriend people and talk to them, even for me, and even if I don’t go out to great parties and events to mingle with people, so far I’m okay with that because I can already tell I’m making friends with this small group (still, it’d be great to meet some locals as well who can give tips and tricks on life in Melbourne).
Maybe this wasn’t exactly the way I planned it out to be. It rarely is, I think. But in my opinion, I’m fairly glad it turned out this way. Maybe there’s more to it than what I could have imagined. And I can’t wait to find out.

Week 1: The Adventure Begins

G’day Mates!

Greetings from down Under! 22 Hours on plane… 22! I was lucky enough to have not one.. but two crying children on my flight! Boy it was quite an experience. But when I landed at Melbourne International I was beyond excited. After waiting almost two hours to be taken to my accommodation ( Thanks Victoria University) I finally arrived at Unilodge. Of course the first thing I noticed was how all the cars were driving on the left side which made crossing the street a lot more difficult than I am used to. I got to Unilodge and was introduced to my five roommates since I had signed up for a six bedroom suite (not my brightest moment). The suite was A MESS. But I told my self I am in a new country over 10,000 miles away from home I wasn’t going to let that disastrous apartment set the mood for my time abroad.

Reflecting back it was probably a good thing that the suite was they way it was as it pushed me to leave Unilodge and explore my very first day. With absolutely no sense of direction in my newfound environment I just picked a direction and started walking. I saw many southeast Asians and many signs in Chinese. A lot of businesses have signs in Chinese which was one of the first things that surprised me. Also if you come to Australia don’t be surprised if people stop you to ask “how ya going”? Being from New York City I always have my guard up and of course you should do the same abroad but it was surprising to me that people would take the time to ask how I am doing without wanting anything in return! The people here truly are incredibly friendly.

It was an interesting feeling to wander around in a completely new environment. I found a Kmart which was essential in buying essentials (Ha! see what I did there?) . Anyways if you do stay at Unilodge you should expect some differences. Like you need to pretty much pay for everything other than oxygen. But if you budget your money and spend wisely you should be fine:). My first two weeks were nice but I was counting down the days to the Great Ocean Road Orientation trip. I wanted to get away from the city and head out towards the bush and explore the parts of Australia I read so much about.

Atrium Vibes (New Paltz is that you?)

I love doing work here! (Victoria State Library)

Unilodge @ Vu

 

Hosier Lane

The Journey of a Lifetime- Melbourne

(Writing from Feb 11th, 2 days before flight). I’m sitting by the television, eating dinner with my family, I turn my head to look at the window. It’s beginning to snow, just a little bit though, not enough to cover much of anything. The weather, though cold, is supposed to be fine for the next few days. Even though the heat is on my step-mom is still freezing, and my sister is cuddled with her set of blankets. This is the life I’m used to. Aside from just ONE semester at New Paltz, this is all I really know.

And that’s the moment it hits: in two days, everything I know is going to change. Instead of cold winter weather, I’ll be hit with the hot Australian summer. In place of Jeopardy with my old-fashioned family, I’ll be watching the sun rise over the Pacific from 30,000 feet. I already said goodbye to my extended family at church today and my friends at New Paltz a week ago, and soon enough I’ll have to leave my sister, father, and step mother too. Cars will drive on the other side of the road, the birds will sing different songs, even the night stars will be different then back home. Heck, for all I know, people will talk backwards and everything will look upside-down.

I’m nervous, of course. I only left home a few months ago to go to college, and now I’m going to have to learn total independence. I’ve never been to a foreign country (save for one rainy and rather dreary experience in Montreal in 8th grade, ending with me getting lost in the Notre Dame), never even been outside of the northeast US. I hardly know anything about my life here, and suddenly I’m about to plunge into a new world ten thousand miles away. The only place I could go further from home is further in Australia (which I intend to do, if I can). I ask myself what my ‘plan’ is after school, as if I have any idea anymore. I ask who I am and who I want to be. I question my future and my part in this world. In part due to my faith, part because of my great support from family and friends, and part perhaps simple hope, I believe that there’s more out there I can comprehend, somewhere a role for me in changing this world into a better place. There’s more than I can possibly know out there for me, if only I can reach out and take it. But how? Where does that journey begin?

Perhaps, this is where that great chapter of my life begins. Going to Australia has been my dream for years, and now I’m actually able to make it happen. I’ve always been fascinated with the culture, the history, landscape, and environment, which is largely unknown in America (unfortunately, P Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney does not actually exist) and want to explore it as much as I can. I even started writing about going to Australia in a novel I’ve been working on for some time. From the looks of it, it’s a beautiful country and I’m eager to see what I can (on a limited budget). Also, looking at home, I realize more and more that even though it’s nice enough where I am, I don’t know that I want to stay. I need to explore the world, see things and grow. And on this trip, I plan on trying to do all of that: learn about other people and the world, become more independent, stretch way out of my comfort zone, grow as a person, and do everything I can to shine light into the world.

I don’t know exactly what will come from all of this. You never do, but I guess that’s how faith works. But I’m certain that, whatever road is planned for me, it’ll lead to a great new perspective on life and shape me more and more into the person I strive to be.

 

Australia, the 10,512 Mile Journey

I am beyond excited to be venturing to the other side of the world. I have wanted to go to Australia for as long as I can remember and now it is finally happening. I never thought I would make it this far from home but its really happening! I fly out on February 12th and will be there until early July. But for now comes the boring yet essential stuff… packing! Whenever I am traveling anywhere I make it a point to pack earlier rather than later. I have spent the past month packing here and there to make sure I don’t forget anything.

Not only is this my first time going abroad but the longest I have been on a plane is 3 hours. The flight to Melbourne is 22 hours!! It still feels surreal even after so much planning but I am going to Australia! First in my family but hopefully not the last. I am beyond excited to continue my college adventures abroad and make memories to last a lifetime!

‘We hope you find something you love’

Clouds consume the day sky most days, a steady stream of rain pouring down on unprepared walkers. The summer leaves have accepted their fate, and lie unchanging on the cement streets. The wind continuously blows, ruining perfectly pinned-up hair, and the sun’s warmth kindly reminds us that summer once was. The changing of seasons has been a prolonged, anticipated moment that seemed to happen in a blink of an eye. The climate, atmosphere, and weather have changed here, reminding me that I too have changed.

I have changed in many ways since being in Australia. I have become comfortable with who I am, I have a confidence in my voice and, I am more determined than ever. But, something happened to me that I could not foresee. I thought coming here would help me narrow my focuses and passions. I thought I would go back to the States and know exactly what I was going to do after I graduated. However, I don’t have that and control is just an illusion.

I have become assimilated with a culture that is less work driven and more passion driven. Through my experiences here, I have come to realize that I am interested in many different things and there is no need for me to limit my interests and narrow my views; I want to connect with people, educate, and create change. I thought I had to follow a straight line in order to do this, I thought I needed to have an end goal-in many ways I do, I want to be a doctor-but I don’t need to follow a path so many have taken before me, I don’t need to follow a path that doesn’t embrace every interest I have.

This realization really hit me when I began running my own speaking group at Victoria University. I was fortunate enough to meet one of the directors, Carla (she is such an amazing, vibrant woman and I’m so thankful for her kindness and enthusiasm), and have her fully embrace my desire to help ESL students. Through speaking with students, I have been able to see the world through their eyes, and have opened myself up to numerous cultural traditions, beliefs, and values. I have walked away so many times excited to share what I learned from my students during one of our sessions. I want to keep educating others, and sharing the knowledge I learn from them; it’s a two way street, and a relationship that facilitates change.

Australia will always hold a special place in my heart, a place where I will go back to when I feel discouraged, lost, confused, at peace or happy. The first day I got here, I saw a sign that said “we hope you find something you love.” That saying has stuck with me this whole trip, something I repeated to myself throughout each day-find something you love. Here, in Melbourne, I found many things I love, and they’re the driving forces that motivate me to create change and inspire others to create change of their own.

Thank you Australia, and thank you everyone who has been a part of this journey.

Good-byes.

There’s a false sense of security you have when you leave for 6 months. You purpose this idea that the live’s of those back home remain the same, stop, and plateau. It’s a safety blanket that keeps you from thinking about the potentiality of you missing out on something. But of course, you’re abroad and nothing back home could possibly compare to everything you are experiencing in another country. That safety blanket is lie, because everyone (life) is changing, growing and evolving back home. Though you may feel like a completely different person now, as may the people back home. Time does not stop, nor do the people that we involve ourselves with. The safety blanket is a protective factor that can easily be stripped from you when you least expect it.

~

Yesterday, I found out my grandma passed away. Her death was drawn out, yet quick. She has wanted to leave us since the day my grandfather passed away; you could see that in her face, mannerisms, and in her soft-spoken words. Before I left for Australia, she said good-bye to me like I would never see her again. Walking away from her with a chill running down my spine, I also knew that was the last time I was going to see her; a silent acknowledgement. No one in my family was especially ready to say good-bye to someone they loved so dearly, but we all knew it was time.

Across the globe, I cannot be with my family, I cannot be a part of their grieving, and they cannot be a part of mine. We are just voices over a device. We’re detached from each other, and I’m especially detached from the reality of the situation. I imagine, and envision situations my family is in but I do not know the actuality of the hours planning a funeral, saying final good-bye to her.

Across the globe, I grieve; caught in-between feeling alone, and knowing I have all the support I need. I wish I could say my final good-byes to my grandmother, I wish so badly I could be at her funeral surrounded by loved ones. I feel guilty that I left knowing she was in bad health, but I know that feeling will pass. My grandmother was proud of me, and was so excited for me to finally travel to Australia ( a life long dream).  I know that somewhere my grandma is at peace, perhaps with my grandfather. It is in that comfort of thinking she is somewhere lovely, and with my grandpa that will get me through.

I love you, grandma.

Blue Mountain

 

During my Autumn break, my roommate and I spent two days in the blue mountains. Completely engulfed by greens, and hues of blue, we gazed with widened eyes at the mountain ranges that carried for ages. Our minds grew quiet, and our body’s still. Just like the Great Ocean Road, there was an enchanting, memorizing air to the blue mountains. As we began our first hike, smiles were planted on our faces, and giddiness boiling out of every pore. We tested our determination within the blue mountains, hiking up and down 922 steps on 90 degree angle. Least to say, going up and down that many steps, really pushes your body to its last drop of endurance.

The following morning, Alex (roommate) and I got up to watch the sunrise over the mountains. Racing down to the trails, we ignored the cold that was penetrating our skin, and sending chills down our spines. As we arrived at our destination, the sun was just beginning to peak over the far mountains; pinks, oranges, blues, reds, covered the sky and painted the mountains. We jumped over a fence and sat on the edge of rock, watching and listening. Below us, hundreds of birds were calling for mates, crickets were still chirping in the darkness that hesitated to leave, and the hush sound of trees swayed in the passive wind. I closed my eyes, and I began to pray. An act I rarely do, nor find significance in. In that moment, I began to talk to a God I didn’t believe in, and I found meaning in the words that fluttered in my mind. I talked about my gratitude, and how this trip as changed so much for me. I thanked that God over and over again for letting me be here, and experience such beauty. I felt complacent sitting on that rock, embracing the warmth of the sun that was now emerging from the mountains. Rejuvenated, and wary about my rekindled relationship with a God/Creator/Higher Power/Universe, I inhaled the crisp morning air, and continued on my hike.

~

So, the blue mountains were another spiritual experience I had but least to say, being there was amazing and I recommend anyone traveling to Sydney to take a trip out there for a couple of days!