Bringing the learning home (Australian Learning & Teaching Council)

I wish someone had told me

Two weeks of German

10 days later it was time to leave the mountains.  My bag was full of delicious jam, pickles and bread that I had helped make.  I left on Sunday night, with a lift through carpooling.co.uk.  A man called Viktor was driving from Villach to Bratislava, and I managed to get a lift to Vienna for only 10 Euros! (the train was 50 Euros). I was feeling pretty tired, as I had had a late night and a few drinks the night before. I was looking forward to listening to my music, staring out the window and perhaps having a little nap.  Not if Viktor had anything to do about it.  Viktor was a very inquisitive man, he could speak 7 languages and was thirsty for knowledge. He made it his mission to get out all the information I had on Australia.  This involved 1000’s of questions ranging from what were some famous Australian icons/celebrities/brands/foods; the metric system; the Australian dollar; house prices; Australians’ average annual income; the distance between capital cities; the population and demographics; the weather… and the list continues.  I had to make up a few things, but I’m sure he checked everything I said when he got home anyway.  He had little interest for the 3 other Austrian passengers sitting squashed up in the back of the car.  I guess there was probably nothing about Austria that he didn’t already know.

  

A small kite festival I stumbled upon on a Sunday walk

I got back to my miniature flat in the student residence where I was staying.  The hospital-like interior and grey atmosphere didn’t bother me at all, I was just happy to be away from the endless Australia-related questions.  However the contrast between the mountains and city was felt straight away, and I immediately missed the fresh air and happy little routine that I had had. The next day I started my 2 week intensive German class. I found out why it was called intensive.  4 hours of German a day, for 10 days. Intense.

A lot of the other students in the class where European, and had experience at learning other languages, at least by learning English and in some cases other languages too.  It makes me angry that Australian schooling is so lax at teaching foreign languages.  There is a certain arrogance at thinking that because English is a dominant language that no others are useful.  I understand that because Australia is so far away from everywhere it is difficult for students to practice the languages that they are learning, but I still think that it is a skill that every brain should have to concur.  And they say that it’s much easier for children to pick up new languages.  I struggled initially in the German class, and felt that I was behind the students in picking up the language.  I don’t know if it was because I didn’t have any experience at learning a language, or that I had other things on my mind at the time, or simply if languages were not my strong point.  However, it did get a little easier.  The class became a lot more enjoyable as everyone got to know each other.  We even went out for drinks a few times, and would chat in the breaks about our troubles and successes in our new homes.

We learnt a lot in the two weeks.  Everyday I could understand more and more German words written on advertisements; in the metro; on street signs; or spoken in the street.  It was really useful learning the numbers, as I began to know how much my shopping cost at the vegetable market; which meant that I didn’t have to guess or always hand over way too money just to be on the safe side.

Me at the fruit and veggie market outside the metro station near my house. Much cheaper and fresher and friendlier than the supermarket.

  

During my first two weeks in Vienna I wasn’t so happy.  After my busy and fun time in the mountains the realisation that I was all alone in a big foreign city hit me.  I have traveled a lot in the past, but always with friends.  This makes the difficulties that you come across not such big dilemmas, as they are  shared with others and solved together.  Now I was the one solely in charge of the map (not my strong point) and getting lost was a frequent occurrence.  I was really missing my friends, family and lover back home, and was wondering why I had chosen to come and live on the other side of the world from them.  Small things, like washing my clothes or getting my film developed, became difficult tasks.  I knew it would get easier as it all became more familiar, but I still felt lost and frustrated a lot of the time.

-Betty

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Welcome to the new guys

Hi

To all the new students joining the blog for the first time or just having a bit of a look before you take the plunge, welcome. Please explore the blog – have a look at the different posts by theme (you’ll see the links on the right hand side of the blog page), read up on the photo competition, and immerse yourself in all the different stories and images students have shared over the past year. We can’t wait to enjoy yours!

As soon as you have received your blog invite from Greg or from WordPress (let Jan, Tonia or Greg know if you are still waiting…), you can start new posts; in the meantime, we woud love to hear your comments on other people’s posts !

We look forward to all your stories.

Jan


Travel disaster the fourth

Luke Bagnall here once again, realising, having written this post already, that it probably won’t be as interesting to anyone as it is to us, but it feels like it needs to be told, dammit! I give you

the latest travel disaster of the trip so far: the journey from Les Deux Alpes back to Norwich.

The first leg of this journey went smoothly, the worst part being when we had to move from one bus to another and I’d been asleep. It really went sour when we arrived at Stansted Airport with only two British pounds between us. That’s fine, we thought. We’ll just get some cash out at the airport. Oh wait, no, Luke lost his wallet in Ireland and now has no cards, and Tilly has no money in the account she can access with her card.
That’s okay, we think again, they have internet at airports. We’ll just get on and Til can transfer money from one of her accounts to the account she can access and then we’ll be fine. So we spend one of our two pounds on ten minutes internet access. But for some reason the computer WILL NOT LOAD Til’s internet banking page.
We decide to explain the situation to one of the people behind airport help desk in the hopes that they will lend us their computers for thirty seconds to transfer the money. But of course they don’t. They tell us to go and try another internet access point run by the same company. Obviously those computers didn’t work either, so we went back to the desk a second time and asked again, thinking this time surely they would show some human compassion and let us use their computers for a SECOND. But no, British customer service proves itself once again to be shocking. They couldn’t really have cared less, despite the fact that their stupid advice had left us stranded in the airport, bereft of our last two pounds. Instead of helping us they directed us down to the nearby swanky Radisson Blu hotel to ask them for help. Great work there, Stansted Customer Service.
Thank God for the rich. They could afford to let us use their lobby internet access point despite the fact that we weren’t staying there.
That night we stayed at the Days Hotel Stansted, resting and recovering for the next leg of our journey. The plan was simple. Tilly would leave at six in the morning so she could catch the Stansted Express and the tube to get across London to the ski shop to return her gear, then meet me back at Victoria Coach Station for our one o’clock bus. I left a couple of hours later, catching the Stansted Express to London Liverpool Street, from where I was supposed to catch the tube to Victoria Station. Seemingly a simple task, but no.
Liverpool Street accesses three London lines: the Metropolitan Line, the Circle Line, and the Hammersmith & City Line. Trains for the last two lines both leave from the same platform. I knew this as I rushed down to the platform, but I was so ahead of time that I thought I may as well just get on the train sitting there – if it was the wrong one I could always just catch the train back.
I sat in my seat, anxiously looking out the window. If the next station was Aldgate, I was on the right train. If it was Aldgate East, I was on the Hammersmith & City Line and going the wrong way. It was the latter.
So attempt two. I get back to Liverpool Street and arrive on the same platform once again. Usually you can tell where the next train to arrive is going by the electronic signs that hang above you. But they only tell you the ultimate destination of the train, not the intervening stations, so if you have no knowledge of London trainlines, you need a map, of which there were none around AT ALL. The next train arrives and I stick my head in to hear the ‘next stop’ announcement; there isn’t one. I’d noticed on my way back from Aldgate East that trains have the same coloured railings inside as the lines on which they travel. Clever, I think. This train has yellow railings, the colour of the Circle Line. Good. This one should take me to Aldgate.
Nope. Aldgate East again. SO FRUSTRATING. HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHERE THE TRAIN IS GOING!?
At this point it’s a choice between going back to Liverpool Street again and chancing whatsoever the next train may be, or just taking the District Line from Aldgate East, which also goes to Victoria, but which takes a lot longer and will probably make me late.
I go with District Line because if I end back up at Aldgate East again I might just go mad.
I emerge from Victoria Station, FINALLY, having followed a sign that said ‘Exit’ and ‘Victoria Coach Station’, which I think is convenient. On the surface I search further for a sign directing me to VCS, but to no avail. How can they guide me so cossetingly to the surface only to abandon me like this? I find a map which has VCS on it, but of course, there’s no street signs around to tell me which street I’m on and the map is consequently pretty useless.
Til calls me, very annoyed because she had apparently been trying to call me the whole time I was in the tube and because she had JUST missed the bus to Norwich herself (THANK GOD – I would’ve been in so much trouble if we both hadn’t have missed it) due to a couple of travel disasters of her own, including the Stansted Express taking half an hour later than it should’ve, the ski shop being closed until nine, several tube lines being cancelled, and a typically overenthusiastic British set of directions from a policeman.
After hanging up, I decide the only way to get to the coach station is to circumnavigate the train station and see what streets surround it. As soon as I get to the other side, though, I find signs directing me to it anyway. So misleading! Why on EARTH would that sign clearly reading ‘Victoria Coach Station’ have lead me to an exit on the OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE TRAIN STATION TO THE COACH STATION!?
Long story short we have to buy new tickets to Norwich and wait an hour or two. This means that we will not make it to uni in time to hand in our Creative Writing assignments at three, and probably not before the submissions close for the day at five, meaning we’ll have to hand them in the next day and incur a 10% penalty instead of just 5%.
When we do arrive at uni, though, we find that we still have fifteen minutes to get it in. We rush to the library to print them and do so, but for SOME RIDICULOUS REASON the printer just prints out ten BLANK PAGES instead of my assignment and has the audacity to CHARGE ME FOR IT! AHHHH! HOW do these absurd travel disasters keep happening!? HOW does everything manage to go wrong all at once!?
With five minutes to spare, Til prints hers and I go back to a computer to print mine again. Til got hers in literally at the last minute and I missed out. Luckily I explained the whole situation to the illustrious Trezza Azzopardi and she granted me an extension.
Thus concludeth travel disaster #4, the most recent and hopefully LAST travel disaster of our exchange trip!
Luke Bagnall

Cheap flights: a warning for unwary travellers

Hi

Thought you might like an Irish look at cheap flights – but I think it’s a universal message! (It’s not finished until the bodhran player walks off stage)

Jan


University of Miami

So on tuesday I have been in the States for 3 weeks and 2 days. I have finally settled in and bought a lap top, mobile or cell as they call it here and all household items. It was a looong flight to get there as i had to go to from sydney to LA which was like a 13 hour flight and then from LA to miami was another 5 hours. When i got to Miami is was about 9pm so i decided to book a hotel. I ended up staying at a hotel in South beach which is like the Bondi of sydney. I was absolutely exhausted when i got there and all I wanted to do was sleep. My hotel however happened to be on the main strip where all the night life happens so I put my bags in the room and ventured out. I was gobsmacked at all the lights, tobacco shops, tattoo shops, pizza places and night clubs on this road. I walked along with caution as i didnt feel safe at all as it was my first night in the US. I ended up meeting some guys from Chicago and went clubbing with them. I ended up back at the room at 3am. With three hours sleep I woke up and got ready for orientation. Drained as I was a got up ate breaky at the hotel and then ordered a cab to UM. At orientation I met some of the other Aussie blokes and they said there was like 25 people from Australia on exchange here. I was the only one from UOW. Towards the end of orientation I left and wen to  my room and crashed, having not slept in nearly 48 hours.

When I lay down on the bed I was SHOCKED! The mattress was literally made out of some sort of plastic and was sooo uncomfortable. At this point i was sleep deprived, angry lonely and really missed home as this was the first time I would be away from my family for so long. I lay there freezing and trying to sleep thinking how am I going to make it through the next three months. It was not a good feeling, I had never felt like this before, I just wanted to go home. To everyone that thinks exchange will be really exciting and a great experience, think again. Post my departure I only thought about how good the experience would be and never even imagined how challenging it would be. Lying there I kept saying to myself its only you here, you have to be strong, I believed in myself, knowing that if i accomplish this i can do anything. This was a really good experience even though it was challenging, it gave me will power and strength.


Going home

For those of you who are wondering if you can keep blogging once you go home – yes yes yes! there is so much you can share with us all once you get home – please keep it up. And if you get a little homesick for the places you have left behind, the blog might help you keep in touch.

For those of you staying on for a second semester – lucky you! It will be interesting to see how/whether your perceptions start to shift now you feel REALLY at home and comfortable in your no-longer-new environment

Thank you all for your great contributions this semester – it has been fantastic!

Jan


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!!! 😀