Bringing the learning home (Australian Learning & Teaching Council)

I’m not from here

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


Around America in 14 Days!

It’s been quite some time since I’ve updated on this blog. When I first got to America I would read over and over all of the things everyone had to say about it getting better and making friends and all that jazz. Now that I’ve finally made all of my friends, fit in with an amazing bunch of people and started to feel at home, I am beginning to see that I just couldn’t imagine leaving this place just yet… no matter how much I miss my family.

A word of warning to anyone contemplating going overseas for a year – think long and hard before leaving your family, especially if you’re like me and are really close to each and every one of the (eek!) 15 members of your family (small, I know).

The greatest thing about being in America… the US of A… is the ability to get anywhere you want to go… no matter how small of a town you live in (I live in a college-dedicated town), you are able to travel the country, relatively cheaply, at the drop of a hat. Let me explain…

Since I’ve been here – I arrived in January – I have been to the following places:

– Whitewater (my hometown in Wisconsin).

Whitewater, Wisconsin

Whitewater is a teeny tiny little town with no public transport and no craziness. I thought it would be an issue at first, but I’ve really come to love it and be proud to call it home. This place is the most school-spirited and community based town i have ever had the pleasure and blessing of stepping into. I can’t wait for it to snow again and I can’t wait to go back to Whitewater and start my second semester!

– Sterling, Illinois (my summer home, the house of Americans that adopted me for the year).

Sterling, IL

A little place in Illinois that I have the pleasure to call my home for the summer. This place is filled with a family that has no problems helping everyone and anyone that needs anything. The people that fill this house have welcomed me into their home for three months, not allowing me to give them any money, simply because their daughter is my best friend here. I am sad to leave this place after summer, but I am even sadder to leave these people at the end of my exchange. I couldn’t have asked for a better family to have had to honour of getting to know and love.

– Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. 

Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee was my first adventure out of Whitewater. Another Australian that was attending my school joined me on our couch-surfing trip to Milwaukee where we were at last free to explore sights other than our tiny town. This opened the door for our travel bugs to itch us constantly until we got out and enjoyed this country. Milwaukee was beautiful and snow-packed and just great, a perfect first adventure in America.

– Chicago, Illinois.

Chicago, IL

Chicago is amazing, one of the greatest cities I was able to see. My first experience in Chicago was a concert for the band Cake with the family I’m staying with over the summer. We went to this outback steakhouse where they served things like a dessert named “Chocolate thunder from down under” which sounded quite peculiar to me!

– Hollywood, LA, California (my first trip – SPRING BREAK).

Hollywood, CA

Hollywood was a mind blowing experience, the most surreal one I’ve ever had. Walking the walk of fame and knowing all of the celebrities had been exactly where I’d been was a crazy feeling. We of course did all of the touristy stuff like Hollywood Blvd, The Sunset Strip, Universal Studios, Warner Brothers Lot and all of that. All of it was amazing, and I can’t wait to go back there – and maybe even take some of my family along.

– Las Vegas, Nevada.

Las Vegas, Nevada.

This is a really amazing amazing place. The lights, the people on the street, the WALKING, it’s all crazy in general but definitely an experience I’m glad I didn’t miss.

– New York City, NY.  

NY, NY.

– Niagara Falls, CA.

Niagara Falls, CA.

Niagara Falls is my favourite place on earth. That is all.

– Toronto, CA.

Toronto, CA.

Toronto was our last stop before we went back to Milwaukee and Chicago – two places I’ve been multiple times. It was great coming back and settling back in. I love traveling, but I love my own bed.

So now, in two weeks I’m headed home. But not before I go to Disney. On Monday at 4.45pm I will be on a plane to (freakin’ hot) Florida for Disney World for 7 days. Staying on the property and having tons of fun. After the holiday it’s 3 days at home and then back onto a 27hr flight home. FUN. Even though I was meant to stay until the end of the year, I have no regrets and am excited to be seeing my family again.

So to all the people getting ready to jet off to  a magical new place for 6 months or a year, make sure you have skype ready and your family willing to get on camera (my Mum isn’t willing and it made things veeerrrryyy difficult).

Some ‘Engrish’ I have noticed that I thought you all might find funny (especially if headed to the USA):
+ Next year may mean next school year. Every time one of my friends says next year she means next semester and I think she’s talking about 2012!
+ Sucker = Lollipop (they only say lollipop to young kids… they called it juvenile)
+ Peppers = Capsicum (and if you tell them you want capsicum their jaw will hit the ground in confusion)
+ You will notice that we shorten many words and add a ‘y’ or ‘ies’ to the end.
– Telly.
– Sunnies.
– Speccie.
– Breaky (Breakfast).

+ Truck = 4WD.
+ Truck = Ute.

These are just some to warn you guys. Be prepared to be looked at really strangely for majority of your visit. I’ve been here 8 months and it’s still happening. You WILL get sick of being the new shiny toy, I promise.

2 more weeks and I’m home. What a bittersweet ending to the journey I’ve been waiting for for years and years.


‘The last refuge of the unimaginative …’

– Oscar Wilde on conversations about the weather.

Luke here again, with a quick post concerning meteorology.

The English and their weather. In the presentation we had on our orientation day, they gave us some tips on integrating into English society, one of which was not to introduce ourselves to strangers by name straight off but to talk about the weather. This instruction became kind of notorious among incredulous exchange students and local students alike. I think they miscommunicated their idea there – they should’ve  specified this was for strangers at the bus stop. Don’t stride up in your cowboy boots and rhinestone belt and say, ‘Hi, my name’s Bill. Pudder there, pal.’ I don’t think the advice was meant for use with class- or flatmates.
It’s funny – I’ve noticed that really prevalent among the English is this attitude that ‘people just aren’t meant to live’ places. Anywhere hot or cold, anywhere that storms, anywhere with poisonous animals or floods or ice or humidity or mountains – basically anywhere outside of the hundred or so square miles that comprise the United Kingdom of Great Britain: people just shouldn’t live there. They simply aren’t meant to. I’m sure this is due to the fact that Britons happen to inhabit the only place on Earth where literally nothing can hurt you, where the most dangerous animal is the semi-poisonous, at best, adder, and the wildest meteorological swing is between lukewarm and temperate. As if we can all find somewhere as mild and sterilised as Britain to live. And a lot of British, especially older ones, are happy to look at Asia and Africa and say people aren’t supposed to live there, but they certainly don’t want any more Asians or Africans around (a lot of racist grandmas and grandpas around).
You hear a lot of moaning about English weather, but honestly it hasn’t bothered me, and I’ve been here through winter, since December, although I did miss most of the snow. And now that it’s spring there’ve been quite a few nice days. It was funny at first – 16 degrees and everyone drops what they’re doing to go outside and just be out. They appreciate it more. The field outside my kitchen window looked like a beach on the warm days we’ve had lately.
Luke Bagnall

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

Oops..

O man I was just reminded of this when I got sent the link for the survey…

Anyhow, I’ve been in Germany for almost a month and a half and heaps has happened.

I found out that I actually like having my family around when I was travelling alone to Erlangen. It was a week. Horrible jet lag in London, followed by my tour of said city had been screwed up somewhere in the system. It was fun shopping though. (I’ve been told my sisters are thoroughly enjoying the video games, that although in pounds, were still half the price of the same ones back home). It was ironic that the day I flew out the sun came out. It was pretty sweet to see Stonehenge, but I found it funny that when in Bath the tourguides made no mention of the fact that King Edgar, first king of England was crowned at Bath Abbey, and instead went on about the Roman Baths.

So I flew to Germany, arriving in Frankfurt am Main about 7pm. It was dark and wet and you physically walk down the stairs onto the tarmack. I felt like JFK and then wet, as it was raining. I took a taxi to my hotel, and absolutely failed, almost got in the driver’s seat because everything is on the wrong side of the road here. Then in the pooring rain, in a Mercedes taxi, on the wrong side of the road, I decided I could never drive in Germany. My buddy here in Germany told me all about how hard it is to get your driver’s license. The way these people drive, I can understand why. Maybe they can drive the way they do because they had to be so well trained to get their licenses in the first place.

The language wasn’t too bad for me, I could confidentally say “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” and understood basic numbers so I functioned. Well, my impressions of Frankfurt weren’t so good, but that was probably because I had issues with getting money on my Travelex Card. (I did manage to forget that I had about 150 pounds on me, that could have easily converted to a larger amount of euro). O and also the language barrier is bad when, in a somewhat large city, lots of people refuse to, or just can’t speak much English. However, Nutella is huge here, so I’ve got a comfort food from home at my fingertips.

An exact week after I left Australia I arrived in Erlangen. To say I was impressed with the rail network is an understatement. Slightly expensive but when it seems to work so damn well, why wouldn’t you pay for it? I woke up on a sunday morning, my first morning in Erlangen, and there was snow all over the ground. I was so impressed. Here’s a picture of a frozen leaf.

I had heaps of fun, tramping around the town in the snow.

Apparently there is a saying about Erlangen. “They say that Erlangen makes you cry twice, once when you arrive and once when you have to leave.” Let’s see if the second half of the saying will come true too.


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

Hello,

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.


Living the American College Student Life!

Quite a few of the international students at UWW this semester.

An American basketball game – cheerleaders and all!

It’s actually snowing in this picture, but you can’t tell.


America = Insanity.

I’ve been here for a little more than 2 weeks now, and it’s starting to feel a little bit normal. Seeing millions of squirrels is normal. Seeing skinny girls with massive amounts of food is normal. Repeating myself one thousand times is normal and even being in the freezing cold temperatures is normal. I love that I finally got here and I can say I live in America, but I still feel like I’m missing out on a lot from home. I’ll no longer take the way the uni runs for granted, they optional lecture, it’s availability on the internet and then a two hour tutorial seems much easier than the three 1 hour mandatory lessons per week.

On the other hand, I am not missing the non-community feel of Perth and the lack of school-spirit that they have so much of here. I love being part of the community here, it’s great. I have been to a basketball game, watched the ‘bring-it-on’ style cheerleaders, mastered my American accent and taught many people about the wonders of Australia.

There is an international student dinner coming up where we will have a chance to inform all of the people around us about our home countries, I’m looking forward to it, because a lot of people are intrigued when it comes to Australia – especially the animals. I’ve even been asked if we have cows… my response – ‘No, we don’t have milk in our country’ with a heavy coat of sarcasm.

There’s an another Australian here, Claire… she’s just as amazed by the American way as I am. It’s good to have another person here who understands what I’m missing when I am having Australia withdrawals. It’s also good to go and hang out with another Australian after only interacting with American’s. In fact, we’ve both decided to go to California and watch the Ellen Degeneres show – that would be amazing.

Anyway, I’m so happy to be here, no matter how much I miss my family and I can’t wait to get out and explore America 😀