Bringing the learning home (Australian Learning & Teaching Council)

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Land of the Free, Home of the Brave – but it’s not my home.


Been a while since the last blog, I think I was ranting about my Brazilian VISA experience, which worked out thank goodness. I did go to Brazil for winter break and had a wonderful time with my best friend and her family, that is definitely something I will not forget any time soon. Back at UMass Amherst now and I have four-ish months left of my experience here and I’m starting to miss home, everything about home, my friends and family and the feeling that I really belong. As soon as I got back to UMass and class started again it was evident that this semester was going to be different from the last. I had close friends leave to continue their adventures and other friends let me down when I needed them. I had tried so hard to make this the best experience I could that I wanted America to be my home. But it’s not my home, it’s not the place where people love and care for me and help me through tough times, Australia is and I had forgotten that. Thankfully my sister is arriving for a visit later this week and I’m going to have two crazy busy weekends ahead of me, one in Boston and one in New York City. Then later in March my parents are arriving to visit me and have a little American experience of their own.

I don’t want to seem like I regret going on exchange, I don’t at all but I do have to admit I was a little bit too cocky about how I would cope over here. Bad shit happens everywhere, no matter who you are or where you are and exchange isn’t going to be all fun times and happiness, especially not for 9 months straight. So my best advice for pending and current exchange students is don’t forget where you are from, don’t get caught up in a swirl of new things and forget about home because eventually you have to go back home and it should feel good.

VISAs – Are they really this hard or is it just me?

I’ve been having a look through the blogs and noticed all the people who have gone on a little world trip before they got to their final destination and all I can think is “hmmm I wonder if they needed a VISA to go there”. It seems like my traveling experience is defined by whether or not I can master the newest VISA process I have to go through.

Don’t get me wrong I am hugely excited for my up coming trip to Brazil but I think the process to get the VISA took at least 10 years of my life off me. After waiting at least a month for the Brazilian consulate in Boston to get back to me I finally gave up and rang the Australian Embassy in DC and left a very irritated voice mail on the lack of information provided for obtaining a VISA and couldn’t believe it when I was called back within half an hour and provided the information I needed. FINALLY I was able to put all my stuff together and send it off via express mail to the embassy.

I went to the post office and was served by a very knowledgeable and helpful postal person and was smiling on my way out glad that the blasted VISA forms had been sent…until I realised that I hadn’t put the money order in the envelope which was needed to pay for the VISA. I cursed loudly and ran back into the post office only to be told that the express mail bag had just been picked up. The look on my face was enough for the postal lady to ask what had happened and when I explained she said “Okay this is what we’re going to do” and she proceeded to ring the outgoing mail office which is just outside of town and tell them not to take the express mail bag out to be delivered she then drove me in her own car over to the outgoing mail place, snuck me inside and helped me cram the money order into the envelope. I couldn’t believe how nice this lady was to a perfect stranger, a foreign one at that! I was so grateful for her help the next day I went into town and bought her some flowers. My mothers’ reply email about the whole incident was that I “probably shouldn’t be such an atheist as someone was obviously looking down on me that day” I have to say she has a point.

A week or two went by and I was starting to worry that my VISA wouldn’t arrive on time. I checked the tracking receipt on a Sunday only to discover it had been delivered the day before! I was so happy I bounded down to my mail box only to find it empty. okaaaaaaaaay maybe it’s in the office. nope, nothing in the office. I should just go to the post office, maybe they kept it there for me to collect. So I go to the post office and am served by the lovely lady who helped me last time, I gave her the tracking receipt and told her I never got it, she replies with “oh no! you didn’t get it. Okay we’ll see if we can find it”. At that moment I firmly believed that postal employees like tattoo artist are people who should never say oh no. After a long winded phone call the man who originally delivered my envelope said he would meet me back at my dorm so after a couple of bus rides I walked back into my dorm to see a man clutching a envelope. He said “Hi, are you Olivia? sorry about this, I accidentally put your mail in the box above you” and handed me the envelope. Safe to say as soon as I got into the elevator I tore open the envelope to make sure my passport was safe and sound, it was and it had a shiny new Brazilian VISA inside. The happy dance that ensued was one that will not surrender it’s position of best happy dance ever very easily.

On a brighter note. BRAZIL!!! ๐Ÿ˜€

“Ooooh you have an accent!…are you English?”

Apologies for the lack of post. I have been in the US (specifically UMass Amherst) for about 2months now and I have noticed a lot about America, laughed a lot at American things and ranted A LOT over American short-comings. I do try to stop my self if I notice that I’ve been ranting/complaining for the last five minutes straight, I tend to do this to my American friends and I wonder if they even understand why I’m annoyed. I think, just for therapeutic reasons, I will list the irritating things that I so much love to rant about:

  • Whenever an American finds out I’m Australian I get – American: “Put another shrimp on the barbie! *elbow jab*” me: “uhm you know we don’t call them shrimp in Australia, we call them prawns” OR American: “Oooh do you have a pet kangaroo!?!?” me: “No…do you have a pet squirrel?”
  • Peanuts…specifically peanut butter is in everything. EVERYTHING!
  • 4 out of 5 times I will get “Cool accent, I’ve always wanted to go to England” or something of that nature. I don’t know what that says about my accent but it’s making me paranoid, I always thought I my accent/speech was a tad on the bogan side but evidently not!
  • The work here is different, vastly different then how it is structured back home and it took a while to get used to. Although I have noticed that the grading is on the easy side and I don’t really mind that at all!
  • Bros/Barbies…oh lord they are annoying! but fun to bag out I suppose.

Okay I’m done. forgive. I’m sure there are a lot of things that my American friends would love to rant about me…I think number one on the list would be that every time I see a squirrel I can’t suppress the urge to yell SQUIRREL! and point. I think thatย  probably stopped being cute about 20 squirrels ago. I think this is what is great about exchange, being immersed in a culture that sometimes irritates you so much you just wish so bad for someone to offer you a cheeseybite scroll instead of PB&J but loving it so much all the same…

Hat’s off you to American, damn do you make my eye twitch sometimes but I will concede you sure are good for a laugh.


I couldn’t help but add my photo of a squirrel that sat long enough for me ๐Ÿ™‚ *points* SQUIRREL!

VISA – if you know how to wait in line you’re halfway there.

Hi there,

I thought I would let the Oz Students Abroad know about my VISA adventure on Friday (02/07/2010). For those of you going to the US you know where I’m coming from. I know these blogs are supposed to have photos attached but since I was going to the American consulate I didn’t think a camera would be a good idea (they kept asking if I had a mobile phone, as if modern communication technology would be the end to us all!).

After successfully making my way to Martin Place and onto the MLC centre, (with minimal annoyance to the transit people ;D ) I realised I had about 45mins and I would still be early to my appointment. Being stuck in Sydney surrounded by shops like Tiffany and Co, Prada and Cartier with a lot of time on my hands was not good for my self control.

I moseyed on up to level 10 to begin the exciting VISA process! *insert sarcasm here*. I was greeted by some happy looking security guards covered in American flag stickers and put all my stuff through the x-ray scanner thingy (scanner thingy is now it’s official name) and successfully avoided the urge to crack a really bad taste joke which seems to come over me when I’m nervous. I waited in line and was called by a pleasant lady who seemed to be going for the world record in processing paper work, VISA ninja I tell you. It was then I noticed I had forgotten my HUGELY important self addressed enveloped and I needed to get a new photo taken…

This is where it started getting annoying, I had to haul ass all the way back down to the shopping centre and get a new envelope and photo and then haul ass all the way back to level 10 and go through the security check again, yep even the x-ray scanner thingy. I waited in line and talked to the VISA ninja again and then low and behold I had another line to wait in…

A group of us scared and confused looking VISA applicants were herded into an elevator and whizzed up to another level where apparently the ‘real interview’ happens. BING the doors open and we were greeted by President Obama’s smiling face…not actually him obviously, just a photo on the wall. I couldn’t decided whether I thought it was cute or cheesey, I guess he deserves his photo on the wall it is his consulate.

I went through a big heavy security door into a room with a big long counter, kinda like at the RTA, you take a ticket and try not to look bored while you wait to be served by an annoyed looking 40-something who you’ll annoy even more no matter what you do. I submitted my paperwork, scanned my fingerprints and sat back down to wait again. Finally my number was called and the ‘real interview’ began…This was it, I can’t screw up now, just answer the questions and you’ll be fine.

He asked me about three questions, pushed a few buttons and said “Okay Olivia, your VISA has been approved just move to the next window please and pay the fee and you’re done”. That was it?!, you’ve got to be kidding me! I gave him this look like I didn’t believe him and he just smiled politely and gestured to the next counter (I think he gets that look a lot) So I paid the fee and I was done. I walked out of the tower with the biggest smile on my face, I couldn’t get over how easy it was.

So that’s about it, my best advise for anyone going for a American J-1 VISA is make sure you have all the documents they tell you to have plus an extra American VISA photo (would have saved me tons of time) and you’ll do fine, all of the VISA people were really nice and it feels great to hear you’ve been approved!

Good luck!

Olivia xo