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 😀


Drive Across the USA!

From Boston MA to Golden CO, three days of straight driving to my future home where I have never been before with my girlfriend Kat.
We came across some pretty American things, when driving west they have these water towers which are in the shape of an upside down water droplet with the town name on them written in massive letters. Now these things hold probably enough water so that everyone in the town could flush there toilet once and it would be empty, so its not much of a reserve but every single town had one! They came in many different colors and fonts, but they were all the same shape and size.

We all know that Americans love their big pick ups! The parking spots are bigger here than at home but still some of the trucks don’t fit into them. This guy here is pulled right up to the front of the park but he still has a good chunk of his ride hanging out.

I spent Thanksgiving with Kat’s family which was a lovely time, we really don’t do that enough in Australia. Getting the family together really should happen more than just around Christmas. The day after Thanksgiving they have an event called Black Friday which is like the biggest most epic shopping day of the year. I spent like $400 that day which may not seem much to some people but to me that’s massive. Every shop has massive sales like 40% off the leading brands.

There lack of tax on there alcohol is AWESOME! look at this   first my favorite beer from back home is $10 a six pack. THATS HALF PRICE! So they import it  and sell it for half price and still make money.

This is something my Father would love about this country, he would probably find some other beer he would lie here though.  Can I also point out this 9 liter bottle of bubbly. I should of put up a normal size bottle there to give you prospective but you can get the general idea. It turns out they don’t have RSA here so i guess this is what it leads too.

A good thing to get once you get here is a state I.D they really don’t like my Australian licence and I don’t want to carry my passport around with me. So as soon as i get a permanent home I will get one.

This will conclude my first post, I’m going to enjoy a white Christmas soon and some more crazy american driving.


First Snow!!!

So I woke up this morning to find that it had snowed last night!!!

It has been so cold here in Storrs that it was bound to happen soon. What baffled me is that some people were still walking to class in jeans and a jumper! The wind here is so cold that it cuts through that sort of clothing and freezes your soul. Nah i’m exaggerating a little there. Everyone in my class this morning had a good laugh at me as I walked in with my big snow jacket and beanie, they just said its gonna get colder, and I believe them.

Seeing the snow is making me look forward to some snowboarding trips and Christmas with my mate and his family in Vermont.

I’m really excited about the snow and I can see how the winter would be unbearable without it here, it makes the bitter cold worth it.


“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 that  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 🙂 *points* SQUIRREL!


the college life

It was an overwhelming experience my first hour at UNCW, it involved traffic jams, getting lost and not to mention cheering from hundreds of people. I was nervous, but the intensity and bustle of everyone got me excited and gave me the immediate feeling that I had made the right decision participating in this exchange program. This feeling still stays with me three months later, the college feels like a community. It feels a lot different from me coming from UOW where I lived at home with my parents. Here at UNCW everyone lives on campus, eats together on campus, plays high level sports on campus, parties at campus etc… So what I am trying to say is everything revolves around the campus. For me therefore it gives me the feeling of warmth and somewhere I can call a home, rather than just an academic place of study.

What comes with this setup of American universities where everyone lives on campus is an opportunity to meet hundreds of people that you would not have otherwise met. For me, this is one of the greatest benefits of my exchange program. Even half way into my semester I have met people that I will never forget and call friends for a long time to come. With these new found friends it makes the transition of living in a foreign country so much easier, and feeling lonely impossible.

One of the other highlights for me in this exchange program has been the sports and the school spirit that is associated with it. It was a massive culture shock for me to see the intensity that all students here have when following sports. However saying this, it is not only the students that are flying the flag for their school, but also the parents. If I had a dollar for every bumper sticker or shirt I saw saying “UNCW MUM” I would have enough money to cover my HEX debt when I graduate. Even local businesses have big signs up supporting the school before events saying “good luck this weekend UNCW”.

All in all, I have no hesitation in saying this is the best experience of my life to date, looking back now at the extraordinary long process to get here with what felt like hundreds of forms to fill out, and hours spent at the U.S consulate. It was worth every minute I spent working to get here. Knowing what the rewards are now that I’ve stepped off that plane, I would fill out one hundred more forms and spend another week camped out at the U.S consulate.

In conjunction, coming to University over here is the best thing that has happened for me not only academically but also personally, as I am learning much more about life and myself than I could of anticipated. So I’m being educated just as much outside the classroom, as I am in it. You learn so much and become more independent without even realising it, the experiences you go through make you grow up, whether you like it or not.


US of A

I’ve been in the States for about three months now, and I’ve learned:

  • to sharpen my “r”s, especially when introducing myself – I think “Clare” in an Australian accent sounds like “Clehhhhh…a”, so I am now “CleRR”, the American version of myself, who is about twenty pounds heavier because of the high fructose corn syrup in.. well, everything;
  • that the word “gig” is meaningless here;
  • that even by American standards, Vegas is regarded as a city full of trash-ed and trash-y people (think 24/7 deep-fried cheese sticks with ranch dipping sauce);
  • that America is a lot more classist that Australia, with a more clearly defined class structure, a much larger low/working class who are often severely or noticeably economically disadvantaged, and less movement between classes;
  • that college campuses turn into drunken orgies on the weekends, regardless of the drinking age, and that at 24, I seem to be the oldest undergrad on campus;
  • a different way to learn – as someone posted earlier, the classes here are five days a week and there’s a stack of small assignments throughout the semester; in my classes, participation is worth a fair amount, and often there’s an expectation of a weekly response (written, oral or online) to readings so you can’t get away with skipping readings like at home; the assignments are also less research-based and more critical, which is entirely different to the way I normally work; overall, I feel a bit like I’ve been sent back to high school, with the excitement over binge drinking, daily classes and these expectations of how to engage with coursework;
  • a lot about “the American dream” and “mythology – I’m taking three classes of American literature, two of which study the classics and the beginnings of an American identity, and another which is about contemporary African-American lit. I expected more blind patriotism, more active belief in the supriority of America as “land of the free, home of the brave” etc., but actually the idea of the American dream seems to be something existing only in the hopes of the citizens and maintained for the benefit of one another and as a facade for the rest of the world. It could just be that I’m here at a bad or unusual time (recession, support for the War here and abroad waning, Americans generally becoming more aware of the way they’re perceived) which has made everyone more disillusioned.

One of the most memorable things that has happened so far (I think it’s such a favourite because it seemed like it was a lived experience of a Bukowski novel, which is part of this “American mythology” that I had formulated before I came here): getting on a Greyhound to go into NYC and listening to the conversation of two women behind me. One of the women had just been released from prison, at which point they apparently provide a bus ticket to anywhere and forty dollars cash; this woman was going to meet up with her friends who had also been serving time. The women had only met at the bus station, so they didn’t really know each other, but they formed this kind of friendship based on a combination of mutual sympathy and bravado – they had both obviously lived somewhat rough lives. The ex-con got off the bus in Scranton, Pennsylvania (which is where they set the American version of “The Office”, to give some clue as to the type of town it is..), and I somehow got sucked into a conversation with a woman (different woman, same bus), and it went something like this:

Woman: So you mighta noticed I’m missin’ my bottom teeth.

Me: Oh, um, no, I hadn-

Woman: Well, y’see, I had these false ones, the real ones got knocked out years ago.

Me: Oh, right. Cool. (I remember saying that and then realizing it didn’t make sense).

Woman: But, I – I got soooo drunk last weekend. Oh man, I puked them up! But it’s okay ‘coz MedicAid (the US version of Medicare) will get me a new set. I was going to get them before I left, but.. nah, fuck it. I’m only going to visit my sister.

At least, that’s how I remember it. And that’s all that matters in the end.


Britain, Britain, Britain! or Wednesday Woes

At Lancaster University there is a free bus throughout Wednesday taking students into and back from town. This is when all the international students with half a brain go shopping because we get free transport. Why? Because the buses are run by Sainsbury’s (a supermarket in Lancaster) in the bid to get us to shop there.

Anyway, so this Wednesday, my two American flat mates and I went into town on the free bus for a shop. We had planned to spend about an hour shopping and get back again. Instead we were in town for five hours. There were many reasons for this;

a) we got lost in the arcade trying to find the one pound store and refused to give up on the principle of being povo exchange students who couldn’t afford another store
b) in the centre of the arcade there was a patriotic lobbyist group set up. Photo below but not great because I was trying to look like I wasn’t taking a picture.

I can tell you there is nothing more awkward than having a bunch of people seemingly enveloped in British flags coming up to you demandingly and saying “Help our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan! THEY ARE FIGHTING FOR YOU AND YOUR COUNTRY! SUPPORT THEM TODAY!” followed by “Would you like to donate and support our country?”

My American buddies and I were so shocked by the randomness of the situation (but… but… your troops arn’t fighting for us? and this is not my country… and we are povo exchange students who can barely afford to eat let alone donate money to lobby groups) that we stood there like idiots for what seemed like ages before my friend said “um no…” and I said “Not really,” and then we walked off as quickly as we could before we got lynched for being unpatriotic citizens or something. The result of this encounter meant that we were all too afraid to go through the centre of the arcade so we had to keep taking the long way round to get to the shops we were trying to get to.

c) Finally, we finished our shopping and went back to get the Sainsbury’s bus. We waited there for ages, and ages and ages… the line of students grew and grew and still no bus…

.

Again, we insisted upon waiting for the bus on the principle that it was free and we didn’t want to pay to get back to College. It became a kind of contest. Who would out wait everyone else? After an hour and fifteen minutes and still no bus, five of us remained. It was cold and we were tired so we gave up together, walked to the bus station, paid for a bus, and begged the driver to go via university even though it wasn’t on his route.

Ha. Ha. I love Sainsbury’s and their evil, evil sense of humour. Won’t it be really funny to watch all the freezing exchange students stand there waiting for a BUS THAT IS NEVER GOING TO COME. Ha Ha Sainsbury’s. Thanks for looking out for me while I’m in Britain! *cough* I just so appreciate it.

Ahem. Anyway, we climbed the four flights of stairs to our flat and decided to make hot chocolate because we were tired, grumpy and cold… only to find out that my flat mate had bought coffee by accident.

My flat mate has decided she is now sleeping through Wednesdays.

On a more positive note, I am seeing Hamlet tomorrow… and thank goodness I didn’t book my ticket for a Wednesday 😉


Shocking

This Photo is in Mexico on Roserito beach, we tried to sit down eat some food and drink a little, but that was interrupted every five seconds buy someone coming up to us and trying to sell us something.

We took it in our stride and just kept saying our “no thanks were fine” but these Mexicans were persistent! To try and get the deal they would send their children up to try and make us feel a little guilty.

One bloke finally tricked us by throwing these metal objects into our hands and telling us it was free. We were intrigued, so believed the man and tried it. The device ends up sending volts through your body to make all your muscles contract. It hurts big time. Yet it was kinda cool so we Ethan and I both did it again, this time for photo evidence for this blog.

After we were done the guy tried to hit us up for 4$ American. It was no longer free as he had first promised. However his slyness was matched by Ethans, Ethan gave him 50 cents Australian which the guy was very impressed with. He thought it was worth a lot of money because of its size and interesting shape.

my experience taught me that nothing in Mexico is free… just super cheap