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.
Welcome to the new guys
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.
Travel disaster the fourth
the latest travel disaster of the trip so far: the journey from Les Deux Alpes back to Norwich.
Cheap flights: a warning for unwary travellers
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)
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.
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!
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!!! 😀
So it’s been snowing for a couple of weeks now. This was a photo I took after the first big snow in Krakow. It was 7:30am (I have an 8am Monday class – it kills me every week) so no one had cleared the paths yet. I never realised it could be difficult to walk in. I didn’t realise that some of the cobblestones in Krakow have a funny kind of glaze or something on them which makes them absolute death traps once a little bit of power’s on them.
I seriously found it that difficult to walk without almost slipping all the time that at first, I had to leave five minutes earlier for class to avoid being late It sounds stupid but it’s true – I have almost fallen over so many times. So I took to walking very deliberately and very slowly.
By the time I went on a holiday to Stockholm last week, I thought I had the hang of walking in the snow, but then I was confronted with some we don’t have in Krakow: hills! Or at least very slight inclines – Krakow is pretty much completely flat. I honestly thought I was going to lose my footing and end up sliding down this one.
I feel like a complete idiot because everyone else seems to be able to walk along normally, and this seems like such a simple thing… but snow has given me so much trouble in terms of staying upright, and I completely didn’t realise that would happen!
New guys on the block
For those of you already on exchange, the next group of students is about to join you – already we have had a post ( thank you Wollongong!) from some one in pre-departure mode, and there will be more to follow as Murdoch and Macquarie students join in. For those just getting involved – you will receive an invitation from Greg Downey at Macquarie to join the WordPress blog (that’s us), and after you accept it, you will be able to register and log in to OzStudentsAbroad. Before that point, you can add comments to any one else’s posts, but you can’t actually start a new post…
Now we have people both in country and about to depart from Australia – do you new guys have any questions you would like answered ? You have the perfect opportunity to quiz people in the very countries – maybe at the very schools – you are about to visit.
And for those of you who have been away for a while – is there anything you really wish someone had told you before you came? something you absolutely have to share with new comers? Advice on accommodation/ clothing/ friends/ habits and customs/food/ public transport/relationships … can’t think where to stop really! Maybe you have accumulated junk you don’t want to take back but which you might like to pass on? books and texts? we could get an online international swap mart happening! It would all be useful and all in the name of making the experience better all round.
So – now is the time to get into the blog in a more interactive way – maybe get some conversations happening and make some connections.
VISA – if you know how to wait in line you’re halfway 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!