Australia is amazing. Normally, I would strive for a more eloquent and aptly descriptive word, but I feel like amazing sums it all up pretty well – aside from the weather that has been overwhelmingly dismal since I got here two days ago. So let me begin there, two days ago, when my ongoing adventure began.
I flew out of Cincinnati’s airport on Friday afternoon after a more than tearful goodbye to my parents, sister Abby, and Uncle Mark. I thank the poor airline security woman who offered a tissue and a kind word after seeing my splotchy, tear-stained face despite my best attempts at maintaining my composure. A small flight delay out of CVG gave me some time to calm down, and I was on my way to Chicago O’Hare, then to LAX. By the time I boarded the double-decker plane (yes, this plane that flew for fifteen hours over the ocean had two levels, and no, I don’t know how that’s aerodynamically possible) it was after midnight Cincinnati-time. I chatted to the two men next to me on the plane, one a traveling businessman who makes the Australia-US trip once a month, the other an almost retired geography teacher, about what to expect once I got off the plane. I was reassured that Australia is much like the US, and even though I’d heard that from a number of Americans, it was nice to hear from the mouth of a few Aussies.
I arrived in Sydney at 6:30am, Australia time, after little plane sleep, but managed my way through customs without much trouble. My bags, unfortunately, did not. Around 8:00, an airport worker saw me still waiting and I was informed that my bags would arrive on the next few flights and be delivered to my housing. I looked on the bright side and was thankful that at least I didn’t have to carry my three heavy bags through the airport!
My housing, International House, or I-House, provided a car from the Sydney airport to Wollongong, which is a little over an hour south. The driver pointed out a number of landmarks, national parks, beaches, and roads that lead all around the country, but despite the breath-taking scenery, I was hard put to stay awake and actually dozed off a few times while he spoke and drove, which probably isn’t all that surprising. We arrived in Wollongong in good time, and I was given a tour of I-House (complete with movie room, dining hall, outdoor grill and eating place, game room, and library) and a goodie bag with a cut koala key chain, was showed to my room, and taken to breakfast.
There, I met a few other American girls that I’ve been mostly hanging out with, one from Massachusetts, Colorado, and California. They invited me to the store with them where I picked up some essentials for my room and had the full effect of the sticker shock; the cost of living in Australia is one of the highest in the world, but on the upside, the money is really cool looking!
When we finished at the store, one of the mentors (like an RA) took us to play lawn bowl, which is like Bache. But I’ve never played Bache either. The game is basically horse shoes, but with balls that are weighted to turn one direction that you try to get closest to another smaller, white ball – called the jack – at the other end of the pitch. Points are given out based on which team has the most balls closest to the jack, but I never really got the handle on scoring.
Two of my three bags and dinner were waiting when we came back from lawn bowl, and we moved on to I-House’s game night afterward, part of the Orientation Week, or O-Week activities. The group I was with, two of the American girls and a Norwegian guy, played Pictionary until we went out to the pub, North Gong, which is just a few blocks from I-House. Most of the group continued to party for the night and took the party bus – a free city bus decked out with lights and painted black that runs through town to all the clubs and pubs – to Abbey’s, a club in North Wollongong. I, however, called it an early night, only to set my alarm for 4:45 in order to watch the US-Japan Women’s World Cup final. No, I don’t want to talk about it.
After the game, I ate an early breakfast and worked on organizing my room until our house meeting where the rules were given and we met the administrators, where I also fell asleep. A barbeque was held outside (hot dogs/sausages on a bun with grilled onions!), and we saw our first bit of real Australian sunshine as well as our first Australian spider. It was the size of my ring-index fingers, measuring knuckles to finger tips. Not cool. Jumping ahead, I also saw a moth on my way to breakfast this morning that could have eaten a small child. Turns out all those scary rumors are true.
The “Amazing Race-Wollongong” took place in the afternoon and my assigned group of some Americans, a Canadian, and a few Aussies spent the next few hours running from I-House to the beach, the lighthouse, the rugby stadium, then Woolworth’s grocery for Vegemite that we had to use and eat in the next challenge. Vegemite is not meant to be spread more than a teaspoon per slice of bread, and even then it’s so salty that I want to gag. An acquired taste, apparently. After the Vegemite gag-fest of my group, we went to the pharmacy and caught the city bus to “uni,” and back to the North Gong train station, just outside I-House where we finished the race, third out of six teams. Since we had time before dinner, I unpacked my last bag that finally arrived and connected my internet (finally!) and pictures onto the computer, but not online just yet, due to the immensely slow loading of pictures to Facebook and from my Picasa program to the online albums. Either way, pre-departure pictures and the start of Australia pictures will be up soon!
Last night’s activity was ten-pin glow in the dark bowling where I met even more new people and bowled my potentially worst ever few games of bowling. Still feeling jet-lagged, I came home and crashed, only for my body’s internal alarm to wake me up at 6:30 this morning. I decided to take advantage of the extra time and showered in the floor’s co-ed bathroom, which I still find interesting, and got ready for the Study Abroad/Exchange Student orientation on campus where we were overloaded with information. I was again put in a new group and seemed to be one of the few people without a partner as we were given the smaller group tours, but I was able to introduce myself to a few new people and faces are becoming familiar, even if I’m not getting really close to people just yet.
What started out as a sunnier, pretty day with blue skies turned very dark and very gloomy by the time we finished the tour, and the tents were actually being broken down and all the groups and clubs that were advertising were on the move. I thought it was a bit soon to be calling it a day until a gust of wind blew over a tent and about clobbered a big group of students and (I think) landed on top of someone. Still, it didn’t stop my group from grabbing the free lunch that was offered before going to get ID pictures taken and I met up with a few of the original American girls and the Norwegian guy.
We decided to check out the uni shop, or bookstore, then head into the city to find an ATM and explore a bit. It was bitingly cold, but the rain managed to hold out until we were back on the bus toward uni and I-House. Unfortunately for us, we got off the bus at uni to transfer buses but weren’t sure which transfer bus we needed. Instead, we got back on the same bus the next time it came around and got off at the closest stop near I-House, still a ten minute walk in the pouring rain. For now, I write as I’m tucked nicely under my blanket in a pair of baggy, comfy sweats. My door is open and anyone walking by that looks in says hello, so it’s nice to be in a friendly, welcoming place.
Coming up the rest of this week are more O-Week activities, including a dolphin watching trip, a few hikes through the nearby mountains, a Sydney and Chinatown day-trip, and for those who signed up, surf camp Friday-Sunday. I’m hoping to be updating more often or at least learning how to eliminate the mundane details and focus on the really cool stuff I’m getting to see and do, so hopefully posts will be a little more colorful and a bit more interesting as I get the hang of this thing. For now, dinner time and deck, or hall/floor meeting, then hopefully a calm night as I get over the last of my jet lag so I can prepare for dolphin watching in the morning! Pictures to come with that, too. For some reason, only this one would load...
Here and there,