Strap your ears and eyes in tightly, because they’re going for a ride in this post.
Two months ago, I boarded a plane from Birmingham, Alabama, bound for Gold Coast, Australia. The flight time was 31 hours total, and I was so excited, I didn’t sleep the entire plane ride. Layovers in Houston, LA, and Melbourne didn’t slow me down. Nothing could stop me: I was on my way to the adventure of a lifetime.
The flight from LA to Melbourne, was somewhere between “oh god, are we there yet” and “My butt hurts”, clocking in at 15 and a half hours. It awed me how huge the pacific was. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such vastness before – on my facebook, I shared a “hello from somewhere in the pacific!” status update. Nine hours later, I was in the same spot, on a pitch-black metal tube hurtling through the atmosphere at 500 miles an hour. People had gone to bed and woken up in the time I’d spent on a plane. Friends had gotten dinner, gone out at night, gone to sleep, and woken up before I had gotten off the plane. It’s the longest wait I’ve ever endured. You could have flown from Miami to New York and back before I got to Australia. You could have flown from New York to LA and back, and then some.
After literal eternities where I tried to learn both Dothraki and Spanish (and failed), this was my first glimpse of Australia, and it was love at first sight:
(I’m still getting goosebumps remembering this picture. It’s not much, but it’s the first time I saw the sun in 20 hours, and it was in Australia. No big deal, just 9,000 miles away from home and everyone I’ve ever known.)
I can’t even begin to explain how crazy the next few months, or even the next few days were. Once I finally landed in Gold Coast, I was provided transport to Bond University, my home for the next few months. After lugging my 50lb bag all across campus, sweating my butt off (It was 85! In “Winter!” Australian winter is SO CUTE), I promptly slept for a whopping six hours. Jet lag is no joke. It was okay though, because aside from the magpies (who I have grown to hate in my three months here), this was what I awoke to:
So all in all, living in paradise was off to a good start. That’s the view from my dorm room. Alabama, you are beautiful in your own way too, but nothing has ever beat this view.
The next night I was there, three days after school started, Bond threw a paint party. Bond University also has an on-campus bar and tavern, which is the place to be on Thursday nights. They also work with student associations to throw parties on campus throughout the semester.
Being 21, I fully enjoyed this, but it’s nothing new to the Australians, who’s drinking age is 18. My fellow Americans (a phrase we all came to love) and I were in a whole new world – having a DJ sponsored paint party in the woods, where you’re allowed six free drinks (which is nothing to sniff at – a six pack of beer costs upwards of $40 in Australia. Remember that next time you’re at a bar, my friends.) is not your typical experience.
The adjustment was easy, relatively. It gets lonely around 2pm, since Gold Coast is on Australia’s eastern coast, putting me 14-15 hours ahead of all my friends on the East Coast. Everyone at home wakes up around 10pm ‘Straya time, which is nice for trading “goodnights” and “good mornings”, but not much else.
The first few weeks I was blown away at the newness, at the amazing adventure I was on, and at how different everything here in Australia is. That’s not to say that I’m not still excited – I’m desperately sad I’m leaving, as this has been the best time of my life. However, I don’t think I could have survived if my mom hadn’t facetimed me my cat from time to time. I missed both my mom’s and my brother’s birthdays. I missed my brother’s high school graduation. Facetime saved me on all of these occasions – I could facetime audio call my mom and dad, close my eyes, and pretend they were right there. It helped enormously. I’m extremely grateful for the ability to be in Australia, I love it here to the point that I’m considering moving back here once I graduate in the spring, but the culture shock everyone talks about in the pre-departure meeetings we all zone out in – it’s real. There were some late night phone calls and tears, and I don’t consider myself the kind of person to get homesick.
It helped that I made friends. The girls in my corridor were all lovely, lovely people. They took me out, they showed me around, they helped me when I felt like a little kid in a supermarket who lost their mom. I’ve made a group of friends who I’ll remember for the rest of my life. They sat outside with me when I was lonely (even though they were freezing when it was 55F….), they had long chats about their lives, they shared everything with me. It gave me something to relate to – we’re all people, and people grow closer through shared experiences. I earned the nickname “Alabama”, which I wear with pride. I met a guy one night who was from Muscle Shoals – I swear we hugged so hard my head hurt. Meeting Americans here is an instant bond. At the infamous paint party, I met a friendly man from Mississippi – he’d done his undergrad at Ole Miss, and was here for grad school. We yelled Roll Tide all night, because the absurdity of meeting somebody who understood you while you were so far away is hilarious. He told me where to find boiled peanuts on the Gold Coast – for a while, I thought I was 8,000 miles away from any, or anyone who knew what a mile was. I cried over some very, very weird cravings, like pickles. I don’t even like pickles.
The sad stuff doesn’t last long, I promise. Australian slang, for lack of a better word, and I mean this with respect – it’s very silly. The easiest way to talk about something in Australian is to shorten it and add “-o” or “-ie/y” to the end. There’s a buzzfeed video that went around about “how to speak Australian” – it’s 100% true. Liquor stores are called BottleOs, Coolangatta (a neighborhood) becomes cooly, petty is petrol which is gas that goes in your car, Brisbane is lazily shortened to Bris (Or Brisvegas, if you’re feeling cheeky), afternoon becomes arvo, Gold Coast is Goldy, doing a U-turn is “chucking a u-ey”, avocado is cut down to avo. Some of the slang doesn’t make quite as much sense, like “cigarette” becoming “dart”, “Bush” being anywhere that isn’t a city (though it mostly is referring to the Outback), and being “off your face” means being absolutely trashed drunk.
Disappointingly enough though, nobody says “put a shrimp on the barbie” – for one thing, they’re prawns, and curiously enough, I haven’t heard a single usage of the word “barbie”. Also? Fosters isn’t a thing. Proper oath, I haven’t seen one anywhere. The only story I’ve even heard about Fosters was a bartender “taking the piss” (making fun of… sort of? It’s aggressive, but friendly. Australians have an interesting sense of humor…) and giving an American tourist one. Australians are so laid back in everything they do – I don’t think I’ve seen one get offended in the time I’ve been here. I’ve seen my mates shrug off drama that at home would have ended friend groups, I’ve seen friends laugh off things that at home might not be so funny, and really, I’ve never seen one brag about anything they do.
I have to switch gears for a second, as I write this blog post to bring you a very, very important PSA: Australians (except for the weird ones) do not eat vegemite by the spoonful. Curse whatever childhood camp you attended which put you through that. It’s generally spread thinly on toast, with a bit of butter, and it’s way more tolerable that way.
They also do “pies”, which are similar to chicken pot-pies, but with meat instead. Fairy bread is another thing: it’s just white bread with sprinkles on it. Curiously enough, the whole of Australia seems to have no idea what mayonnaise is. I also can’t mention Australian food without mentioning the glory of Tim Tams. Tim Tams are a thick chocolate “biscuit” (cookie) that come in different flavors – red velvet, coconut, and salted caramel are the ones I’ve seen around lately. They are literally the most glorious desert I’ve ever had. Actually, I take that back. I had a Tim Tam Milkshake one day. It was beautiful.
On the subject of things that are beautiful, a few weeks after I got here, my american friends and I flew down to Sydney for Vivid Festival. Flights are much cheaper Down Under, and we got a return ticket for less than it costs me in gas to get back to Florida.
Vivid Festival is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. If you don’t know what that is, the city of Sydney lights up the Opera House, all of Circular Quay, and the Sydney Harbor Bridge with millions of LED lights. Boats light up with all sorts of neon signs. Downtown Sydney becomes a veritable feast for your eyes of millions and millions of lights. I woke my mom up at 2:30 am Florida time because of how excited I was to show her. If you’re ever in the area, I cannot even recommend it enough. My pictures don’t even do it justice. Since I don’t want to spam this up with too many pictures, here’s a link to the pictures I took at the festival – including me staring at an Elephant, because Roll Tide, even down under. I make pretty goofy faces in pictures, please don’t hold it against me. I was mesmerized, so much so that I sat in one spot near the Opera House, and begged everyone not to leave until the animations projected on the house started over. We watched it three times.
While in Sydney, we also went to Bondi Beach, which is home to the Bondi Icebergs Club. It’s something that’s on a lot of people’s bucket lists, and I got some of the most beautiful pictures in the world while I was there. Here’s an album of those, since I can’t possibly pick one cool picture. Bondi is reached via train, and one of my companions decided to be real, real daring, and got on the train before either myself or my other friend could. We laughed the whole time we waited for the next train – at home, I think we might have cried. Tourist-y places, for once in my life, were actually pretty amusing. Australia has a way of making everything funny.
Travelling in Australia is wild. We stayed in hostels – which are way, way cooler than the movies would lead you to believe. They’re clean, the sheets are changed daily, the bathrooms don’t look like a Saw movie, and nobody’s kidnapping anyone. In Sydney, we stayed in Base Backpackers for $20 a night, and they gave us free towels, free usage of hair straighteners/blow driers, gave us info on how to get around town, and private rooms. Plus, I got to sleep on the top bunk of a bunk bed. I haven’t done that since I was like seven. Hostels are my new favorite way of staying somewhere – we made new friends who eventually showed us around new cities, and the conversations with people from every single walk of life are unreal.
Before you get the idea in your head that I didn’t ever go to class, I should explain that class structure in Australia is different – my classes only meet once a week, for two hours, and they get a five-ten minute break in the middle. Then, you have a one hour tutorial or seminar, which is a smaller group of people, and more hands-on learning. I definitely felt challenged here, but UA prepared me extremely well – I did earn the highest grade in the class on an international business exam (not to brag, but that’s a High Distinction, or an A+ for the folks at home). The grading structure is slightly different – a High Distinction is an 85-100 (A+), a Distinction is 75-84 (A), Credit is 65-74 (B), Pass is 50-64 (C), and anything below a 50 is a fail. My classes all transfer back as pass or fail, as do most people’s, but it’s still nice for bragging rights. This is how I had so much time to travel – I didn’t even have Friday classes! Weekend trips are my life. Also, thanks to my 2.1lb baby laptop, I’ve studied in some pretty interesting places, like a hostel in Wellington, as the bar beneath the hostel shook the floor.
Speaking of studies, though, it isn’t as though I took underwater basket weaving, or wine tasting (which Bond does offer) – I’m currently working on the equivalent of Finance 302 while I write this blog (any business student reading this might have just cringed a little bit), and working on Econometrics (EC 471), which will give me the room in my studies at home to graduate with a double concentration, and a minor in another field. I’m also looking into adding on an international studies minor, with a concentration in international business, because now I’ve learned business and how the US is viewed from a global perspective. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we’re stereotyped as loud, rude, and pretty much not the smartest – but now that I know that, I can fix my own stereotypical problems, and break everyone here’s opinion of Americans. It’s gone swimmingly well. I have a map hanging in my room, and not a single Australian has done a very good job with our geography. While I can name all the Australian states, and major cities in each one (seriously, test me!), two of my friends made me cringe with their lack of state knowledge. I’ll be honest: when asked to name all 50 states, I’m ashamed to admit I only got 47. But on the plus side, I can spell them all.
While I did travel, and still have trips to go, the Gold Coast is Australia’s 6th biggest city, and quite a huge tourist destination. Exploring the entire 160 square miles has been a blast – there are still neighborhoods I haven’t visited, and hope to before I leave All of Goldy is easy to get around: public transportation here is clean, timely, and not-scary. Two buses run straight from Bond to the biggest bus hub around, where I could hop on a tram to nearly anywhere, or take a bus nearly anywhere I wanted. There was also a bus that took me straight to the train station, and I could go all the way from Robina (my Uni’s neighborhood) to Sunshine Coast, which is about an hour north of Brisbane. If I’d had the money and time, there is a 24-hour train ride all the way to Cairns, but I do have to be a student sometimes….
One of my favorite parts of living in Australia has been my ability to just hop around and find a new beach to walk on. I caught the sunrise off Burleigh Beach one morning before a finance tutorial, sat on Surfer’s Paradise at 1am after seeing a teammate from home, went to Brisbane’s South Bank one particularly warm afternoon, had all of Phillip Park’s Main Beach to myself on a cloudy day, represented Alabama on Broadbeach, went walking on a spontaneous 2am trip to Byron Bay (no picture, do you know how hard it is to take a picture of the ocean at 2am?), caught multiple sunsets on Burleigh, spent an afternoon walking Currumbin Alley, witnessed the most beautiful full moon I’ve ever seen off Mermaid Beach, spent 4th of July representing Alabama down at Snapper Rocks in Cooly, walked through paradise at Elephant Rocks, Currumbin, snapped pictures of beautiful reflections in Palm Beach (and sunsets too), and found my new favorite place to meditate.
Aside from the beaches, I got real comfortable with a Koala in Currumbin (where I also achieved a lifelong goal of a selfie with a kangaroo), went Whale Watching off the coast, got an aboriginal tattoo (it symbolizes journey, which this definitely was), found a ton of treasure on the beach (beachcoming is my new form of zen, I swear), made new friends who I will love and remember forever, had a bird get way too cheeky (I had no idea that the bird would steal my fish. Honest. I was trying to snapchat how close he’d get…. Australian wildlife is a treat, I tell you what), and kayaked the mangroves on Stradbroke Island (which might actually be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been).
It also turns out I’m very, very restless, but comfortable with travelling by myself.. so I went on a solo trip to New Zealand, much to my mom’s dislike! Jetstar, the budget airline in Australia, had a huge birthday sale, so I went for about the equivalent of $100, staying Friday-Sunday. Customs thought it was very shady, and I was questioned pretty thoroughly upon entry into New Zealand – they made TSA look like kindergarden teachers, honestly.
Wellington, while not the main tourist destination in New Zealand, is absolutely beautiful anyway. The airport actually says “Welcome to Middle Earth”, as New Zealand’s biggest claim to fame (as of late), seems to be the fact that The Hobbit was filmed there.
Downtown Wellington is funky, and cold. The day I left, the winds were gusting at 90 km an hour. In Freedom units, that’s 55mph. One night I wore a poncho, and two 20-somethings on razor scooters complimented it. It turns out scooters are hot in New Zealand.
While I was wandering Wellington one night, I stumbled upon some night food markets, where I ate Sudanese and Nepalese dumplings, a Korean pork bun, a Japanese-fusion “rice burger”, Moroccan mhancha (a traditional pastry with almonds), and watched some very friendly Jamaican men cook a huge, unidentifiable piece of meat. I didn’t ask what it was – that would have ruined the mystery. It was brightly lit, everyone was friendly, New Zealand’s money has a bunch of birds on it and is all different colors so it’s not easily confused, nobody bothered me, and the most eventful part was watching a guy get kicked out of the market for calling a security guard the c-word. That’s barely even an insult down under! Seriously, everyone uses it.
Once the sun came up the next morning, I explored Cuba street, which is a very modern, independent, “indie” arts-y area – record stores are still a huge thing there. There’s a coffee shop there called Fidel’s, where I got the most amazing coffee I’ve ever had. The Museum of New Zealand is also in Wellington – Te Papa Tongarewa is the Maori name, and I spent a good three hours learning about their language, heritage, art, culture, and more. I’ve never really thought about the presence of the Maori people, and I doubt most Americans do (if you asked my mom, I bet she’d say it’s a country in Southeast Asia.)
If you ever find yourself in New Zealand, Te Papa is free, and a great way to spend a couple of hours learning about a country you’ve probably never given a second thought. It was also Air New Zealand’s 75th birthday, which meant a huge display about Airplanes and the airline itself. Retro advertisement, retro uniforms, and recordings from their time as Air Teal were everywhere – it was a history nerd’s biggest dream. I spent all day there.
I still have one more trip to go – a whirlwind of all the places I haven’t gotten around to yet. I leave from Gold Coast Airport, head to Melbourne, then to Hobart, Tasmania. After that, I’m taking a bus to Launceston, the other big town in Tasmania, and flying back to Sydney, to explore the big city again on my farewell tour. Then it’s back to Goldy for exams, and home I come. It’s bittersweet, because I’ve learned so much here, and I’m not ready to leave, but I know when it’s time to go.
If I could tell this blog in all pictures, I probably would. Australia has been the biggest adventure of my life. I could spend all day writing this blog, and I still couldn’t possibly explain my time here fully. How on Earth am I meant to blog about people who know where specific countries in Southeast Asia are, and just got back from a week in Bali, as opposed to some of the people back home who couldn’t tell you where Bali is? How on Earth do I explain to somebody that Australians found my accent charming? I’ve been here a bit, and their accents are still unbelievable to me. People will hear me and immediately ask where I’m from, or what I’m doing there – that is how I earned the nickname “Alabama”, after all. Meanwhile, I’m whipping my head around every time I hear an American accent, because it sounds like home.
It’s hard to blog about the differences, because there’s so many, but they’re so subtle, it’s impossible to point them out until you’re laughing because you’re in a situation where you have no idea what somebody is saying or doing.
It’s an English-speaking country, but they have koala and kangaroo crossing signs. It’s an English speaking country, but they drive on the other side of the road -our exchange asked us kindly to please not drive, because we wouldn’t be as good at it as we thought – I can understand why. Intersections are confusing. Left on red is confusing. Kilometers are confusing. The cars here are so tiny compared to Alabama’s massive gas-guzzling truck population. Gas is sold in litres, and in a format I still don’t fully understand – the gas station down the streets current price says “159.9”, and surely it isn’t $159. It’s an English speaking country, but the people in shops ask you “how are you going”, and all the prices on things already include tax, and Australia doesn’t use pennies.
It’s the strangest feeling, to be the foreigner. One of my biggest pet peeves became the fact that one of my friends called things in Australia “weird” – in reality, it’s all just very, very different, not weird. We’re the ones who are from another country – if anything, that makes us the weirdos. If you’ve never been the foreigner, I highly recommend it. It may be tough, but being the one 8,000 miles from home has given me a new perspective on the world, a new perspective on my life, and on myself. It’s tough, but Australia truly gave me room to grow. It might even be cliche – but I found myself here. I found out who I am. Sophomore and Junior year of college, I kind of “lost the plot” (Australian slang, how I love thee), but being away helped me find it again. I know who I am now. I know who I want to be. I wouldn’t know anything if I hadn’t jumped off into the deep end, and I’d do it all over again. I couldn’t have done it without UA, Bond, my mom, my dad, the Australian Government, and well, a long list of people in my life who helped me get to where I am. So dear Australia, thank you for everything.