I’m here -- really truly here in Australia! By way of introduction, my name is Lauren Haney, and I’m a senior Business Communication major with a Communication Arts minor, a former resident assistant, and a soccer player missing her last JV season. I’m graduating in December 2010, right after my travel abroad program in Australia.
Lessons learned the first week…
Lesson #1 14 hours in a plane is not near as terrible as you might think.
Honestly, I slept for so much of it and watched movies for the rest and generally was so confused by my lack of sleep the night before and the fact that I somehow skipped Tuesday July 20, 2010, forever that my body could not also get worked up over a long time in a plane.
Lesson #2 I will no longer be addicted to Diet Coke.
For two reasons (and this is a terrible thing, because I miss it very much): One, if you get it at a Maccers (McDonald’s) or anyplace that has it on tap, it’s SO SYRUPY! Now, perhaps someone accidentally gave me regular Coke because they couldn’t understand my thick American accent, but my first DC here was sweet beyond all reason. Gross. The second reason is that a can of Diet Coke here is $2. The minimum wage is $16, so the prices of everything are -- how do I say this -- exorbitant ($2.20 for a candy bar out of a machine, a bottle of regular sized Herbal Essences is $5).
Lesson #3 First look RIGHT before you cross the street.
Cars drive on the left side of the road. The steering wheel is on the right of the car. Death is imminent for Americans. I now believe you will never understand how deep seated your “look-left-first” instinct is until you don’t and your nose brushes a Jeep’s passenger window as it whizzes by. Also, I take public transportation everywhere, so I am constantly crossing the street. I am the chicken crossing the road, so please pray I continue to make it to the other side.
Lesson #4 “School of the Arts” means “School of the Arts.”
Okay. Melinda from Trinity is my roommate and an art major, and I love her to death. But I now go to Wesley Institute in Drummoyne, New South Wales. The school offers only arts courses. Have you ever seen a movie about a school of the arts? How about that Hilary Duff one – Raise Your Voice? Regardless, think of all your artsy sterotypes and apply. All men wear skinny jeans. The women who don’t wear skinny jeans wear leggings…as pants. The one small student center is full of music and singing and occasionally dramatic outbursts, and the dancers walk around barefooted in pink tights and oversized sweatshirts. Alright, it sounds fun and new and different and Australian and intercultural but wait.
Now insert into this fun, slightly crazed, artsy society a girl who wears no make-up, doesn’t do her hair, and wore the same oversized pair of gray Adidas soccer sweatpants with a hoodie and flip flops all winter and thinks the term “extra-curricular” means sports. CLASH. So needless to say, I’m having some difficulty relating to my… “peers?” and some difficulty wanting or trying to. Not that I don’t like art students – I do. I have arts and drama friends. But a school of only art students is very different.
Lesson #5 We are filled to be emptied but emptied to be filled again.
I’m going to get serious for a minute. The first week was pretty terrible (other than some awesome sight-seeing we did). For maybe the first time in my life, I was homesick. I was tired, jet-lagged, living with a family I didn’t know, and hungry all the time (No idea why). It was also cold and wet and rainy and there was no heat in the house that smells like my great aunt and her mothballs should live there. I just wanted to be back in the middle of summer in New Jersey with my best friend and living in my beautiful, warm, comfortable house where my mom makes the best food ever and I work for my Dad. It was pathetic.
And then I went to church on Sunday. I chose to make Hillsong Church in the city my home church to do something entirely different from what I’m used to. Church was the best thing that could ever have happened to me. It was incredible to be in the house of God, where no matter how different everything else in my life suddenly was – time, season, day, temperature, family, school, peers, classes – I found the same thing at church. People that love God, praises to the God I worship, strong preaching from the same Bible I read. I was almost in tears during that Sunday night service. Then the pastor said something about how we are filled to be emptied, and I realized something that is even deeper for me – the whole past week I had felt so empty. I was aching to be back on my own terms, and it felt like I was literally emptied. But God emptied me so he could fill me again. He took away everything I loved so he could fill me even more with his love. We are filled to be emptied but emptied to be filled again.
There’s so much more to say, but there are plenty of weeks to say it. No worries, as they would say here. It’s cool :)
#6 If it ends in “er,” pronounce it “a.” Corollary: if it ends in “a,” pronounce it “r.”
That’s the basics of the Australian accent. Also, “Australia” is pronounced “Aus-tray-ya.” Not sure why I’m telling you that that – in a skit at all-campus spiritual camp this weekend in which I was Bindi Irwin (the daughter of the late croc hunter Steve Irwin) I had to use an Australian accent. I was not exactly great. Everyone asked me if I was trying to do a Norwegian accent. I have no idea what a Norwegian accent is.
#7 Buses can choose not to show up. Public transportation sucks.
And total reliance on public transportation makes going anywhere a big ordeal. But it is kinda fun. It’s also how I get my time away from all the people I’m always with – and listen to music. I have never used my iPod so much. I love love love that thing. Thursday I attempted to take the bus into the city, but got off early because I found the Cowtown of Sydney. Yesssss. (Non-Jerseyers – Cowtown is like a better Swap-O-Rama or cheap flea market).
#8 Saltanas looks like raisins, but they are not raisins.
Our host family keeps their cereal in Tupperware, so I can’t see what it’s called. The first few weeks, I ate this GREAT cereal every morning that had what looked like raisins and some other yummy, dried fruits in it with bran flakes. It tasted so good. (This may be a TMI moment.) However, I did NOT feel very good the first few weeks either. Our lovely host brother-in-law heard me mistakenly call the cereal raisin bran and corrected me – “Saltana bran,” he said. “That’s dad’s cereal. High in fiber – and saltanas have the same effect on you as fiber.” What. WHAT?!? Want to know what I found out today? One of those “fun size” personal cereal boxes of sultana bran has 11% fiber in it. For reference, corn flakes has 3% and Special K has 0.9%. I was eating the equivalent of 3 mini boxes a morning. 33% fiber.
#9 AFL (Australian Football League) is soccer + football + rugby + hockey + quidditch + baseball + basketball + volleyball.
We went to a game last weekend, and it was awesome. It may have been awesome simply because it was the first time I was surrounded by excited athletic, manly men in not skinny jeans and tight v-neck shirts, or it could have been the coolness of learning this crazy sport. Or both. But they score by kicking the ball into tall posts (soccer), they run and pass the ball to an end zone (football), they tackle each other and wear no pads (rugby), they have stoppage time when it gets in a certain goal area (hockey), there are three goal sections (quidditch), they have to bounce/dribble the ball every 22 steps they run with it (basketball), and the way they pass is by bumping the ball (volleyball) or punting it (soccer again). Confused? It’s cool.
#10 It doesn’t matter where you are if you first don’t have who you’re with.
I used to think I wanted to travel the whole world and if no one wanted to come, I’d go by myself. Maybe I’d still do that but I have a different view on the opportunity cost (okay, econ people, please let me use that here). Australia is awesome. I’m surrounded by some of the coolest sights and some really interesting people. I love everything I am seeing. But it’s almost a half-experience. I can’t shake the fact that every place I see or go, I so badly want to share it with each one of you. And I don’t say that as a blanket, “Oh-let’s-make-this-blog-sound-personal-to-everyone-on-this-list.” I have thought of each of my friends and family at all different moments and places. This trip would be doubly more worth the time and money if I could share the experience with the most important people in my life. Experience is great – it’s awesome and eye-opening and inspiring. But shared experience would be even more. I don’t care how cheesy that sounds.
Great quotes from the trip so far:
“What’s a Ben & Jerry?” —my 14-year-old host sister asked when we were talking about Ben & Jerry’s ice cream
“You guys only carve pumpkins? And you throw the insides out? You can’t buy them at a grocery store?” —we eat pumpkin a lot here as a vegetable (I think it’s pretty gross) and they (our host family) were shocked that we Americans only buy them at Halloween and throw out the insides – the “best” part, ha
“Careful, you might get egged.” —my roommate Jamie was the subject of a drive-by egging while waiting at the bus stop – I felt bad for her and didn’t want to laugh, but who gets egged at a bus stop?!?
Australian ‘Uni’ lacks American ‘versity’
(Class assignment on the difference between American and Australian higher education)
I am taking three Australian college (“uni” is the local term) classes and have a total of nine assignments due for this semester. That is it. I take each class for three to four hours once a week and turn in one project about every three weeks, each between twenty and thirty percent of my final grade. Most of my time in class is spent working on whatever project is next due. My professors (who we students address by their first names) tell us that they do not want us to have to spend too much time out of class on our projects.
At home, I may have three projects in one class, but I also have each class multiple times a week with reflections and readings due each class period. I receive my marks the following class and may have to do three projects, two papers and one or two presentations per class. And these assignments are to be done at home, that’s why it’s called homework, say the professors whose first names I will never use.
These are just a few surface level differences I have already seen in Australian and American higher education.
On a deeper level, Australian students seem to lack the desire to jostle with peers to figure out who is taking the heaviest course load – something American students pride themselves on with an air of self-denying, noble, academic burden. They lack the “student vs. student” mentality – the American definition of success as surpassing peers and rising to the top. The Australian university system I have experienced seems to be interested only in another’s talent rather than focused on academic arm-wrestling and intellectual battling.
Maybe the Australian university system then is a small picture of the larger ideal of Australian thought. As we have studied in our Australian history and culture classes, the Australian way is not to rise to the top or clamor over others, but to keep each other on one common level, pulling down those who try to rise up, if necessary. It is not even about moving out of the house as soon as possible to move across the country and become immediately independent of family as one starts the vigorous, clamoring climb in the work world.
But so what? Then what is it about? And what impact does it or should it have on me? Maybe it should call me away from my American instinct to be the best – to work to surpass those around me and guarantee myself a place in the workforce and call it success. Or maybe it should encourage me to resist the cultural pressure to level off because my peers will not be keeping tabs on me. Or maybe it should just be a reminder to me that God calls me to do my best, whatever culture I am in, and to give glory to God. Regardless of a competitive or non-competitive university system, my actions should be the same: doing the best I can with what God has given me for his glory. I Corinthians 10:31
All of us American students took a bus trip to Canberra, the nation’s capital this past weekend. Other than losing my iPod, it was a great weekend. What a difference from Washington, D.C.! We happened to be there on election day (Saturday the 21st), but there was NO ONE in the city. But it was a great time to bond with fellow Americans on the trip. I had some deep conversations -- a discussion about contentment and complacency, some discussions over the intended message of some art pieces in the National Art Gallery, and a great discussion with the whole group on the meaning of the song, “American Idiot” by Green Day. I would like to argue I learned more in those impromptu discussions than any formal class I’ve had here -- interactive learning, I’m a fan :) Does that make me a nerd?