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 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).
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 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 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 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.
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.
– Niagara Falls, CA.
Niagara Falls is my favourite place on earth. That is all.
– 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.
– 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.
First Impressions about Thessaloniki
I have been spending my semester abroad studying in the city of Thessaloniki in the north of Greece.
My first impressions upon arriving in Saloniki were of disappointment. The sky was grey and overcast, the weather barely 10 degrees and the buildings seemed dirty and un appealing. Nothing seemed to work as it should, or as it does back in Australia. Nothing can be achieved in one day, for instance if you want to post a letter home it will take a few days as you need to go and buy and envelope one day, and then try the post office a few times until its open to send the letter. It can be frustrating and exhausting as you try to push past this to make life work the way you think it should. This view was soon overturned as I made friends, the weather improved and I began to really appreciate the beauty of the city.
The streets are lined with citrus trees which means that there is constantly a faint citrus scent wafting down the streets. You see past the graffiti and the ugliness of the buildings and instead begin to appreciate the undercurrent of the Greek culture which pulses through the city. The art of taking a coffee with friends and family for hours every single day. The sharing of dishes at meal times, which also last for several hours, the Greek version of siesta which means most of the shops close in the afternoon every day. You begin to adapt to the lack of urgency which surrounds everything, and it no longer bothers you that it can take days to fulfill a simple daily task, as that’s part of the charm of Greece.
At first I was overwhelmed with the daily life of living in Saloniki, but now I know im going to find it really hard to adjust to being back home in Australia, where it is rude to be more than 10 minutes late to meet a friend, a coffee takes 30 minutes to drink at most. You also can’t leave everything to do tomorrow like here. Whilst today you don’t have anything specific to do, your too busy having a coffee and enjoying life to do it today so you will do it tomorrow instead.
It’s amazing how far a smile can get you when you show up for your flight two days early…
So at 6am in the morning when I double checked my departure terminal I noticed something that didn’t seem right. Today was the 24th wasn’t it? So why did my phone say it was the 22nd? Sitting on the edge of the bed, brain still muddled with jetlag it takes me a while, but eventually I begin to realise that yes, I’ve made a pretty large mistake, and yes I am about to get the shuttle bus to Heathrow two days early. Shit.
“Ah, excuse me? I’m accidently here two days early, any chance I could fly to Madrid please?”
It’s amazing how far a smile can get you. The nice lady from British Airways and I have a bit of a laugh and what do you know, hello to the 8:15 flight to Madrid. What are the chances? I thought I’d got away with the blunder pretty well until I had to explain to the check in lady and baggage man my embarrassing predicament. Humiliation aside, I was on the way to Spain, with a window seat and whole row to myself.
It wasn’t until I was on the plane that I had any time to wonder how on earth I could have misread the ticket maybe 70 times? To be fair, the 22nd is the date I return home, so it is written just under the 24th – the day I was supposed to get to Spain. But to be honest, I’d been telling everyone that I’d be arriving in Spain on Saturday all along, I’d made an appointment to look at a flat on the Sunday, so really I have no excuse, it just happened to be one of those moments in my impeccably organised life where my brain suffers a small glitch and I make a mistake. Yes, as far as mistakes go, this was a pretty big one. But these things happen to all of us, well, okay maybe just a small minority.
Madrid Airport was an absolute joke! With old Barry Backpack weighing me down I asked about a million different people where to get my bag from – turns out you have to catch a train to the baggage carousels, of course, because that is so logical! Anyway the next hour and a half of my life was one I’d rather forget, but at 2:00pm I found myself on the high speed train to Valencia cruising at a casual 300km/h.
Turns out rocking up in a new city with a new language in the middle of siesta is kind of difficult. But the universe had been on my side all day, although about an hour later somewhere in the cobblestone alleyways of Valencia without a map, or anyone I to ask for directions it left me for dead. I eventually found a taxi and got to the hostel where I got chatting to the girls at reception, one of whom had a room for rent in her flat and just like that the universe was back on my side! Not only that, in my dorm I met a girl from the Czech Republic also about to study in Valencia on exchange. We were later joined by another Swiss girl who is studying in the same faculty as me in at the University of Valencia.
Anyway, there is much more to say, but I think that will do for now, I’ve just moved into my new flat, more on that story later… E x
On (not) smiling in France
I came across this in an article I was reading, written by a Canadian scholar, and wondered if it resonated with any of you. Are you beginning to see aspects of your own behaviour – your ‘Australianness’ – more clearly , do you think?
“One common experience of international travellers is the sense of ‘foreignness’, of being different, and that difference being obvious to others. Yet, it is not obvious what it is about oneself that is recognised a being different. It is easier to see what is different about others, but this is compared to an innate belief about right, wrong, appropriate, inappropriate, in order to register that difference. For example, while travelling in France, I noticed that people didn’t smile very much. At first I registered this behaviour as rude. I had compared the common behaviour I saw around me to my innate norm of smiling whenever eye contact is made. When I talked to people in France about my own cultural heritage, telling them I was Canadian, they would often talk about how friendly Canadians were and that many Canadians they had interacted with always smiled. It was then that I started considering perhaps my behaviour did not represent the global norm, but rather an extreme end of the scale and that in fact, the French norm might represent something closer to the global average. I do not know the answer, not having found a study of global smiling behaviour; however, I did register my comprehension that I had been assessing French behaviour without really understanding my own within a context of global behaviours.”
From Berdrow, Iris (2009) ‘Designing effective global competence development opportunities’, Int. Journal Management in Education, vol 3, nos 3/4, pp 335-345; p. 339
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.
Chuna and Chuesday
Also — in Canada — people have no idea what I’m talking about half the time, mostly the slang they cannot cope with, I didnt expect it to be so pronounced, Tuna and Tuesday we pronounce like Chuna Chuesday.
Also had thanksgiving dinner recently which was awesome! Pumpkin pie was so good, but pumpkin is not considered a savory vegetable here, they don’t eat it with roast dinners at all.
Other weird things
– They never ever go barefoot
– Classrooms are much quieter and no one talks to each other, I think there is a lot more respect for professors.
– Final exams are worth alot less marks, they have alot more assignments and the final invigilators are professors from the subject
– Classes are mon wed fri or tues thurs.
– Tax and tipping… makes it hard to give correct change
– Beaches in Vancouver have logs on them to lean on.
– Everything has peanut butter in it
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