Culture Shock: Australian Edition
I recently returned from three months living and studying abroad in the current economic shambles that is the country of Greece.
Having travelled extensivly and lived abroad before I presumed this return would be like no other, sure I would be sad for a day or two but would get back into the flow of things quickly like an professional traveller.
For some reason this return has been the hardest and I was not sure why.
This was only three months away, last time I was abroad living in Ireland for seven.
I knew I had limited time in Greece due to visa restrictions, so it wasn’t a surprise I was asked nicely to leave once those three months were up.
I was looking forward to seeing my family and friends and the beautiful country which I realised I loved more than I let on.
Yet something had gone wrong this time and I fell into a pit of sadness and had a mini depressive episode the first few weeks back.
I realised that whilst my family were pleased to see me, many friends had moved on or where busy or lived in differing corners of the globe now.
Being the constant traveller makes you extremely popular on social networking sites such as Facebook where everyone claims to live vicariously through your travels, but it makes for a pretty lousy physical relationship, with many wary of putting in a lot of effort when im potentially going to run away again to some other distant land anytime soon.
Those that I have seen have helped make the transition smoother, especially my best friend. It doesn’t matter how long we go without seeing each other nothing changes and we still have the best time.
I had applied to two internships before I came home so that the re entering of Perth would be easier, both of which I found out I did not succeed in getting.
I finally found a part time job which is lovely and has deffinatly helped in regards to finances, but something is missing still.
Two of my best friends currently still live in Greece, and it is often with a pang of jealousy that I Skype with them with their tanned skin, sunny weather and hilarious stories of the daily trials of Greek life.
Whilst in the current situation I dont have a pressing desire to be living in Greece again, I have come to the conclusion that right now Australia does not hold the answer. And that I need to continue my searches for jobs and experiences elsewhere.
I also had a terrible headache for the first week and a half which I realised was my body going through caffeine with drawls from the amount of coffee and frappes I was consuming daily in Greece.
It was also hard to get up before 12pm in the day, and eating dinner at 6pm was also eerily strange, as that was normally coffee time not dinner time!
In saying all of this things are better now, I have been home a month and have really enjoyed spending quality time with my family and catching up with friends. I am still struggling to find any work or work experience or internships in journalism/public relations but am becoming more upbeat and positive again.
I think the change of weather (well in three months when spring arrives and winter ends) shall be good and I’m starting new activities and volunteering in an effort to re inspire myself and feel as though I have a purpose being back here in Perth (study doesn’t count, its like having a job you dont get paid for 🙂 )
To all of the other returning study abroaders I hope your transition home is much much smoother than mine was this time and that the reverse culture shock of returning home does not last too long.
The re entering culture shock as bad as it has been this time around, I certainly would not change the experiences and friendships that I made in Greece and would readily go through it again in a heart beat.
Luke from UEA in the UK here with a post about mine and Tilly’s trip to Prague!
The bus trip from Norwich to Prague was our longest yet: TWENTY-FIVE HOURS.
Trepidatious anticipation at the journey’s beginning. We were gonna get a disheveled ‘after’ shot as well, but couldn’t be bothered by that point.
But it actually wasn’t as bad as it sounds. It was fine except for when the coach had to stop for whatever reason and the air-conditioning would stop too. We had excellent weather during the trip, in the thirties and sunny every day.
However long the journey was, it was worth it to be in Prague. It’s an incredibly beautiful city, simply a nice place to be. We did a lot of that thing tourists are s’posed to do where you just walk around not doing much but absorbing the atmosphere.
It was the perfect place to visit to augment my nascent, Grand Designs–inspired interest in architecture; the styles to be seen are multifarious: medieval, neo-classical, cubist, art nouveau, Modernist, postmodern, everything!
Prague Opera House.
The one on the right looks like it’s made of bubble-wrap, or … you know … glass bricks …
Thought this looked like a grand design abroad in progress.
And there are just nice touches everywhere. As with so many European cities, Prague is a testament to its people’s value of the nonessential. The bare functionalism of so many elements of society, of so many minds in Australia has been brought into contrast for me by my trip to Europe. I’ve been made to feel really defensive about my appreciation of art and my choice to do an arts degree by the attitude at home, so now whenever I’ve been coming across relevant quotes I’ve been writing them down, like these:
‘The fact is, while we’re on the subject of cheese, and it’s a bit like wine, and it’s a bit like love: there are things in the world that are not necessary for survival. And it is one of the paradoxes of being alive that it is only the extras that make you want to keep on living. We don’t really embrace the world because there is water and warmth. They are the necessities without which we cannot live. But actually, what we can’t live without are the extras; wine and cheese.’ – Stephen Fry
‘We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love – these are what we stay alive for.’ – Dead Poets Society
People in Australia are always talking about the uselessness of art and arts degrees, but you find less of that attitude over here, and their attitude shows up in the extra, nonessential details of their cities, like the legs of public benches, the lampposts, the gates, the fountains everywhere, which I can never help myself walking up to and taking a photo of – I’m obsessed with water (features)! I’m beginning to wonder if the human race has evolved to find water beautiful and therefore want to live near it, because all the people who thought it was ugly wandered off into the desert and died.
We found our way to the St Christopher’s hostel without a travel mishap or disaster to be seen. The hostel was really swanky, perhaps the best we’ve stayed in. We wondered if maybe the St Christopher’s chain spends the same amount on every one of its hostels, and they just got more for their money in the Czech Republic, which I should say was refreshingly cheap. The hostel was really environmentally friendly as well, which I thought was fantastic. It runs on 100% renewable energy sources, recycles shower water for use in toilets, extracting heat from that water beforehand and putting it to use, and it has automatic lights to conserve energy. If they can do it, why can’t everyone?
We didn’t know when we arranged to come to Prague, but fortuitously our stay coincided with the last four days of the Prague Fringe Festival, so there was plenty for us to do. The lady who told us about it recommended some events to us, two of which we attended on our first night. Funnily enough, both performers were Australian, as well. The first one was a musical comedian named Merry-May Gill, the conceit of her show being that, along with the timid local librarian (who bore a remarkable resemblance to UOW Creative Writing lecturer Chrissy Howe), she was on a quest to learn what she could from the cultural hubs of Europe so that she could turn the rural NSW town of Moree into the cultural capital of the world. The show was pretty funny, but most of the humour was based on poking fun at Australia and Moree which, while different and new to the Europeans in the audience, was nothing we hadn’t heard before. She had an astonishing voice, though. Incredible.
The next event we attended was an intimate show with Australian songstress Phebe Starr, another incredible voice. She had a charmingly sincere dialogue with the audience, and Til and I and two Canadians we’d met (the dudes in the foreground of the above photo) had a chat to her after the show. The Canadians’ names were Matt and Luke, which was funny (Til’s family often calls her ‘Mat’) because they said the other people they’d met on their travels and gone around with were also named Matt and Luke.
Next morning we went on yet another New Europe free walking tour with the Canadians, eh. Highlights included seeing the Kafka monument and the stories about the Czechs’ subjugation by the Soviets.
In addition to the Chrissy lookalike from the night before was this guy who reminded me of (another lecturer) Joshua Lobb, pictured here with his friends desperately trying to answer the tourguide’s question.
(picture from blog.chinesepod.com)
And after the tour we had a beeeeautiful, cheap-as-chips gourmet, al fresco lunch at this place around the corner.
Someone hilariously profaned the Lennon wall with Rebecca Black lyrics.
We also came across another one of those lock-bridges we saw in Paris.
And an art gallery with these anti-consumerist statements crawling around outside.
David Černý’s Babies.
Reflected in an artwork.
That night we went to another two Fringe events. The first was called ‘Glue’, a spoken word event by British poet Annie Moir. It was nice, but bizarre. It was in the tiniest room imaginable (the kind you walk into and instantly realise there is no escape from, causing you to wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into), with a small audience mostly comprised, I’m fairly certain, of the poet’s friends. She was a grey, steatopygious woman who mostly read poetry about … y’know, love and children and getting old and housework and twee things like that, with a healthy helping of cliché in between. There was the usual discomfort of a spoken word performance, where you don’t know whether what you’re hearing is just the poet addressing you, or if it is supposed to be a part of the performance. But it went to a whole new level of weird when, to accompany her poetry, Moir drew different objects, images and toys out of a box onstage and arranged them on a table or stuck them on a big board like some kind of Play School presenter – there was a definite sense of the pantomime about her. Furthermore, in each transition between poems, her husband standing at the back of the room (about thirty centimetres away from the front) would play twenty seconds of some tenuously relevant song, to which the poet would halfheartedly and awkwardly dance.
But I mean, it’s a fringe festival – what else do you expect. It was weird, but her poetry had moments of poignancy and beauty, and I think sometimes that’s what art and poetry are about. Even though the style may not be your preference, you actively experience it, you hurl your intellect up against and into an artefact, a performance, a text, and see what you come up with, see what it makes you think about. I didn’t regret going at all; she was a lovely, warm woman of some talent who I was glad to support with my presence and entry fee.
In between the poetry performance and the next event Til and I had another delicious dinner and I discovered how AMAZING Pilsener Urquelle is. No wonder the whole city is obsessed with it – it’s to Prague what Bintang is to Bali. Possibly it’s so good because the Czechs, apparently, INVENTED lager, and have the highest beer consumption rate in the world per capita. So if you’re in Prague and you go to a Pilsener restaurant bar and have the Urquelle in the proper glass at the proper temperature (12 degrees), you won’t be disappointed. Even Tilly liked it and she hates beer!
Hesitant initial sampling.
The next performance was this highly recommended (by Matt and Luke) play called 7th Circle about these magician charlatans that accidentally summon a demon and have to complete three tasks or the world will end. With hilarious results. It was funny, but it felt a bit like a band three or four HSC Drama group performance to me. I think the Canadians might’ve been more easily impressed than us, or perhaps had lower expectations beforehand. Either way, I personally enjoyed the subtle equation of charlatan magic with religious practice.
The second challenge was a dance-off against Michael Jackson.
Til and I stayed in different dorms throughout the trip, because it was cheaper that way. My dorm was supposed to be mixed, but I swear it was eighty per cent annoying American girls. That night, just as I was finally drifting off to sleep, two of them came in and started YELLING to each other. I couldn’t BELIEVE it. SO RUDE. I feel bad judging Americans on these girls; I know all nations have their idiots, but the incidence seems to be higher in Americans in my experience of hostel life. At first it was like, ‘Oh my Gahd! Where’d you go!? Did you go to the big club? We were so wurrayed’ and then it turned into a half-hour discussion of the top ten most inane topics in the world. And then, just when you think it’s over and they’re finally going to sleep:
‘Oh, I forgaht to aask you if you like guacamole.’
‘D’you like guacamole?’
‘Why, do you have guacamole with you?’
‘Well why’re you aasking me that?’
‘It’s from Step Brothers.’
‘Have you seen it?’
‘What? Why naht?’
‘I have started, I just never finished it.’
‘Gahd, get with the times.’
‘I’ve seen most of it, I just never saw the whole thing!’
And it’s like oh my God SHUT UP! Learn to express more than one single unit of meaning in each utterance. Every notion of your speech does not have to be given the maximum dramatic space and effect! Your conversations just devolve into these long, vapid exchanges of nothing, that way. No wonder the world hates America.
On our last full day in Prague Til and I went to look around the grounds of Prague castle, from where there are great views of the city. We had lunch up there with one of these views, then came back down to go to one last Fringe event. But alas, we could not find it in time and gave up (something that happened frequently on the trip). We did, however, find a Gloria Jean’s, whose iced coffees I’ve been missing desperately. That was a treat. One of the (few?) positives of multinational corporations.
The inviting entrance to Prague castle.
A view of the castle at night.
We rounded out our exploration of Prague with another stroll, a venture down to the water’s edge, a stint in the Kafka museum shop where I bought a copy of The Metamorphosis, and then a mouth-watering pizza dinner.
That night was the last of the Fringe Festival, with Belushi’s, the bars on the ground floors of all St Christopher’s hostels, hosting the final party, so we hung out in there, me enjoying my last Czech Pilsener Urquelle.
Next day we departed Prague for Berlin by train. Here’s hoping we don’t catch E coli and die in Germany!
PS. All these blog posts and I still haven’t worked out the formatting … No idea why the font changes halfway through, or why there’s such big paragraph gaps sometimes and other times no gaps, but sorry about that.
Wow … such lies
Hey. Luke Bagnall from UEA in the UK here, and if you read my last post about Amsterdam, you’ll know why I’m so pissed off about the blatant lies told by O’Reilly in the video above. Everyone knows those North-Western/Scandanavian progressive, secular, liberal, expensive welfare-state European countries have the highest standards of living and the lowest crime rates anywhere in the world. So how can he get away with just lying like that? Now I’ve experienced for myself what I’ve always heard about Fox.
Three wollongongers do london: the longest post ever part two
Luke here, continuing on from my last post.
The last thing I said was about how we kind of poorly timed our trip because we missed the Royal Wedding, but one way it wasn’t poorly timed was meteorologically. The weather was spectacular. Last time we were in London it was grey, bleak, positively Russian, but it couldn’t have been better this time. Compare the pair:
Actually, those two pictures probably don’t really demonstrate the difference that much. Except for the leaves. That was just the only thing I took a picture of twice.
After the tour, lunch and Snog we returned to Trafalgar Square to go to the National Gallery (yet another free attraction – although we did donate), but first we saw the performers outside:
That second guy was such a wanker. There’s pumping the crowd up and then there’s gratuitously wringing them for all they’re worth. I swear he took half an hour just to get through that stupid tennis racquet. It’s not even impressive; you’re just skinny …
The National Gallery was good, but we weren’t really up to it after the walking tour and all. Our feet were killing us so we ended up surrendering and going for cider and wine in St James’s Park. I love that you can drink in public here! They’re not, however, very big on screwtop lids, so getting to our precious liquid required some ingenuity:
Kirb using Til’s fake plastic key; I favoured my metallic phone case.
After that it was more predrinks in a bar and then back to Jamie’s Italian for a delicious, inexpensive dinner.
Predrinks at Verve.
Til being counselled by our (pleasantly) surprisingly knowledgeable waiter.
Til’s truffle tagliatelle
My lemon curd.
Kirb’s raspberry chocolate brownie
Til’s walnut slice.
What looks to be an authentic Crapper’s toilet!
The next morning we visited Westminster Abbey. Of course, the first thing I did when I got inside was get the baby (DSLR) out to get a photo of the amazing stained glass windows. Before I’d even gotten the lens cap off, this waspish old bag in an absurd green cloak had blustered over to me and snapped, ‘There’s no photography in here!’
‘Oh, sorry’, I said, immediately repentant. I was a little embarrassed. ‘Really?’ I asked, suddenly finding it astonishing that you wouldn’t be allowed to take photos of such an iconic attraction.
‘Well there’s notices everywhere!’ she snarled, as if I’d just whipped it out and started pissing on Chaucer’s grave or something.
I looked around, genuinely looking for a single one. ‘Well I don’t see any, and that’s a really nice way to speak to someone, isn’t it? Very Christian. Turn the other cheek, love thy neighbour and all that.’
Except by the time I’d turned back from looking around she’d already stormed off, probably luckily, or I really would’ve said that to her and then gotten kicked out of the church. But what a bitch. It was just the way she spoke to me, and the fact that we were in a church and that she was presumably Christian. Sorry if I was so distracted by the magnificent historical splendour around me that I didn’t notice one tiny green sign prohibiting photography. As if I’d walk in and blatantly take a photo right in front of her if I’d seen the sign. Besides violating her Christian beliefs, she was also not living up to her job description which, according to the Westminster Abbey website, includes ‘[h]elping visitors to feel comfortable in the Abbey and not to be daunted by the building.’
Now, I’ve been to a lot of churches and abbeys and cathedrals since I’ve come to Europe, and at first I did feel a bit guilty taking photos in a place of worship. It felt disrespectful somehow. But I’ve since come to the conclusion that it’s not me turning them into a tourist attraction – it’s them. They’re the ones charging a seventeen pound entrance fee, hawking cheap religious merchandise, trying to elicit a few more pounds out of you by deliberatley funnelling you past the coffee stand which, I might add, is sitting ON TOP OF PEOPLE’S GRAVES. But oh no, we wouldn’t want to defile the sanctity of the church by cheapening it into a mere tourist attraction with our photos. I’m sorry, but if you’re selling it like a tourist attraction, the tourists should be allowed to take photos of it. Also, you can’t forcibly dominate one and a half thousand years of human history without surrendering some privileges; it’s part of the bargain. When a culture or institution gains a certain amount of supremacy in the world, it relinquishes control of the institutions and constructs it previously commanded and enforced so that, today, many of the irreligious celebrate Christmas, and Christian relics such as abbeys are of as much, if not more historical importance than spiritual.
But anyway, I am glad I didn’t get kicked out, ’cause the church was really cool. The audioguide was narrated by Jeremy Irons! I was having inappropriate Lolita flashbacks. Saw the graves of lots of famous people. Sure wish I had some photos. Haha. We saw one grave of some guy named something like ‘Baganoll’, and we were going to get a cheeky picture, but then we remembered a fact from Dave’s tour: that Britons are the most watched people in the world, with some ridiculous amount of the planet’s surveillance cameras situated there. So we thought maybe not. Also we’d had the fear of the ‘greencloaks’, as I’d taken to calling them, struck into our souls.
We did get a few photos in the cloisters, which I later discovered you were allowed to do anyway, but whatever.
In the cloisters was the coffee shop I mentioned above, and the delicious pastry fragrance wafting from it wasn’t helping the fact that I was starving. I refused, however, to give any more of my money to this evil institution (haha), so we finished up in the abbey and since I LOVE them and Kirbie hadn’t tried one yet, went in search of pasties. Usually it’s not that difficult: there’s a Cornish Pasty Co every five seconds in this country but, like Starbucks, you can never actually find one when you want one.
Next up was the British Museum (free once again!) which was, ironically, having an Australian exhibit that we, needless to say, didn’t see. There I got to see a lot of old friends from Ancient History, plus some other cool stuff.
Me with the Rosetta Stone.
Only mention of Hatshepsut I could find.
Once again, after the museum our feet were dying. Kirb went back to her hostel to get ready for the pub crawl that night while Til and I dropped dead in the nearest cafe to be replenished by some surprisingly good (by European standards) iced mochas.
Known for their restorative properties.
After a minor travel mishap which involved me running all over London looking for an internet cafe, we were reunited with Kirbie for a speedy Maccas dinner and the pub crawl. I was neg-vibing on it a bit at first, due to exhaustion, but it turned out great. There was one crazy Western Australian guy who must‘ve been on drugs, and a Swedish girl who challenged us and a Canadian guy list ten famous people from our countries, only to list brands when we turned the tables on her.
It kind of became evident as the night went on that the pub crawl was more of a singles-fest than anything else. By the end of the night it was kind of just the guys passing around the girls, which was funny and gross to watch, but we left around that point.
The next day was Kirbie’s last in London, and I had high expectations. We were going to the Tower of London and to see Lion King, two things which I’d really been looking for. And as always, ‘when a man get something he wants badly he doesn’t like it’ (VS Naipaul’s Miguel Street). I did like them both, I just had such high expectations that I was slightly disappointed.
That’s one major lesson I’ve learned from my exchange experience so far. It’s been a fair while since I’ve made new friends – everyone I’m close to at home has known me at least since the startof uni. So having this intense experience of becoming close to people in a period of six months has been a kind of checkup on what I’m like as a person right now. Everyone else I know has preconceived notions of me, but the people I’ve met overseas have nothing to go on but what they’ve discovered for themselves in the last few months. In a way, their opinion of me will be the most unbiased account of who I am, perhaps not wholly, but currently. And it’s interesting because two of the people I’ve grown closest to over here, Sam and Kim, have both said I’m a very cynical person – which is something I don’t know many of my friends at home would call me.
I’ve thought about this a lot, and learned from it. I think the best way to be, in this respect, is to have the acuity to be able to perceive things as they are with all their faults; the disposition to not be bothered by those faults; and the social awareness not to come across to people as a critical asshole who can’t be pleased by anything. I think I had the first two to begin with, but I was never aware of the need for the third until now.
I think I have a higher tolerance for faults than other people. Yes, I can pick holes in something and point to the parts of it that I didn’t like, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it otherwise. That doesn’t mean I dislike it all together. I have an exacting standard of perfection, but not an exacting standard of enjoyment. So yes, I can be disappointed by a whole lot of things in Lion King: the fact that the lines were rushed and said without conviction, that the additions to the show weren’t of the same quality as those from the original, that Simba’s accent was far too posh, that Nala kept making the same ridiculous gesture with her body and so on and so forth, but still come away from the show having loved it.
I love language, and think it’s our best medium for communication, but even so, it’s so inadequate. There is no way to economically modulate it enough to accurately convey the middleground, the liminal, the grey , the inbetween of human experience, and you can see this in the way we think. It’s difficult to list the faults of something without it seeming like you didn’t enjoy it because language forces us to make assertions in relative polaritie, with only clumsy adjectives and things as modifiers. That’s why you get all these people saying in their Facebook ‘About Me’s that they’re ‘a walking bundle of contradictions’ and ‘so random’, because when called upon to give an account of themselves in words, they find it difficult to reconcile any words which contradict one another, they are ‘unable to hold in their minds … two contradictory ideas’ (Earl Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance – you can tell I’ve just been studying for a Postcolonialism exam, can’t you?). They go to write that they’re quiet, but then they remember that, when they’re with a certain group of friends they’re really boisterous. But what? Quiet AND boisterous? No! God, I’m just sooooo random!
You’ll notice how long and dense (and boring?) all my posts are, and how full of relative pronouns (which etc) they are. This is because I’m trying to accurately represent my experience, and that requires modulation. But people don’t like picky people (everyone hates professional critics), and it’s my responsibility, not theirs, to control how I represent myself. I think sometimes I’ve got to just hold my tongue and say I liked something instead of saying I liked it, except for all these things, but I still liked it. Lesson learned.
Insecure, much, Henry VIII?
After the Tower of London, we went to this really bizarre restaurant. It wasn’t overtly weird, it just kind of built up in strangeness so that by the end, I was convinced it had been started by this family who had everything except the chef, and they finally found one to work for them, but he was like, ‘All right, but we’re gonna do things MY way’, and from then on the family lived in terror of displeasing the chef by violating any of his punctilious rules. First, they didn’t have eftpos. Then they wouldn’t take our order until Til had gone to the ATM which they said sometimes didn’t work, they wouldn’t let Kirbie have two toasted sandwiches instead of one (without getting two entire meals), and they gave us paper coffee cups for our Coke. They had a whole page of restrictions on the front page of their menu, essentially saying things like ‘no alterations’ and ‘too bad if your food comes out at different times’. Do you see what I mean? How it was all so self-oriented instead of customer-oriented. Like, NO we don’t have EFTPOS even though it would be really easy for us to get it because we’re in the middle of the city next to a gigantic tourist attraction; NO we won’t take your order yet because we don’t want to be inconvenienced if the ATM doesn’t work; NO alterations, NO food out at the same time, NO proper glasses because we don’t want to wash them up! It’s like, it’s called the hospitality industry for a reason …
Coke in a coffee cup.
The bill said service wasn’t included, but there was no way we were tipping, so we just left the exact money and sketattled.
Sadly that night Kirbie left. It’d been so good having her there; we probably wouldn’t have done half the things we’d done if she hadn’t been there to energise and motivate us – we were leaving the hostel at nine in the morning and not coming back till eleven, twelve, or one every night. She really made our visit.
Kirb being swallowed by a sea of tube commuters.
After Kirbie left, Til and I walked around Covent garden and watched an amazing busker for a while before heading home.
Our last day in London turned out to be a return to all our favourite places without us meaning it to. We started out at the National Gallery, this time in the Portrait Gallery, where we saw some very cool familiar faces:
And guess who else we saw? That’s right, Mandalf!:
It was this guy:
(image from http://www.life.com)
After that it was a return to St James’s Park and Snog:
BAMF once more.
And then finally we revisited Covent Garden, my personal favourite, for some chorizo and chicken rolls which were AMAZING. It was the perfect way to end our stay in London.
‘The last refuge of the unimaginative …’
– Oscar Wilde on conversations about the weather.
Luke here again, with a quick post concerning meteorology.
Travel disaster the fourth
the latest travel disaster of the trip so far: the journey from Les Deux Alpes back to Norwich.
Further irish adventures
This time I made a point of taking a photo of Mr Connolly’s bookshop. Lonely Planet has named him as an integral part of Cork’s culture, and he’s a very interesting man. He resents being turned into a tourist attraction, and while I was talking to him (because Charlene knows him) he told someone off for trying to take a photo of him without his permission. I was therefore a bit apprehensive about taking this photo, in case he thought that’s what I was doing, but I got away without getting in trouble.
We also went out to dinner at Charlene’s favourite restaurant, Scoozi’s, where I gave a brief speech in an attempt to embarrass her.
Anyway, I think this post’s gone on long enough!
University of east anglia: a crytoscopophiliac’s dream
I’m on the top floor of Norfolk Terrace B Block, and Til’s across the field from me on the bottom floor of Suffolk Terrace B Block. It’s kind of cool – I can see into her kitchen from mine because UEA is made exclusively of windows and concrete. The windows are pretty; the concrete notsomuch, but apparently all the buildings have been listed and they’re not allowed to change them. I think that’s okay, though, because the buildings are so distinctive. Norfolk Terrace was just used on the cover of the new Streets album:
The windows come in handy – I can climb through Til’s when I want to visit. That admittedly isn’t very often because Til lives with four other girls and about seven guys, all of whom are around eighteen, so her kitchen is generally pretty hilariously filthy, meaning we cook and eat at mine a lot more.
(Photo by Kim Sherwood)
I’ve been fairly disappointed with the food in Britain so far. I didn’t know it was renowned for bad food until recently, but it certainly does live up to that reputation. It’s not TERRIBLE, it’s just of a noticeably different standard to home. I think I might’ve expected it to be better than ours due to that inferiority complex of Australia’s I mentioned in my earlier post, ‘Impressions of the emerald isle’. I have had one amazing meal, though, on Valentine’s Day in the Library Bar and Restaurant. GOD, that was good!:
- Everything you’ve heard about tea consumption and politeness is true.
- They’re AWFUL at giving directions. Literally every single person we’ve asked has given us a massive spiel detailing every possible route with any additional information they can think of. I’ve never seen a trait so present in every member of any society. And the way they do it is by mentioning landmarks along the way that are just confusing because you don’t know the area anyway: ‘You’ll come up on the fish and chip shop, keep going past that until you get to the paper shop and turn right, then look out for the post office on the right etc etc’.
- They say things like ‘To be fair’ and ‘In fairness’ on the front of all their sentences, regardless of whether or not it makes sense, and Til and I have found ourselves picking up this and other habits of British emphasis and rhythm in speech.
- They’re a bit morbid in weird ways. One really strange example is calling ‘op shops’ ‘hospice shops’. Why would you want to make explicit the link between the secondhand clothes you’re buying and the recently dead person who used to own them? Just weird …
- It’s really strange to me how they don’t have a way. You know how in Australia there’s a way you walk when someone is coming towards you, i.e. left. You always keep left. You drive on the left and walk on the left and if you’re on the right you’re wrong and you have to move left to let the person coming towards you past. Well here they don’t have a way. They drive on the left, but all their tube signs say keep right, but in everyday life they just go whichever way. Apparently, my friend Gilly tells me, this has given rise to a cheesy joke of a man saying, ‘Shall we dance?’ when that awkward thing happens where you both move the same way to let each other past.
- And finally, they really love their trashy crap. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their general taste in music and TV. They’re definitely not yet over the boy band or the gameshow. I’m starting to think they don’t have any good quality television. Their favourite programs consist entirely of those trashy shows that you guiltily enjoy but only permit yourself to watch one of because otherwise your brain will euthanise itself. These include such stunning televisual works of genius as X Factor, which is almost universally talked about; Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents, where rowdy teenagers are sent on vacation and voyeuristically spied upon by their parents; My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (what else is there to say?); Take Me Out, which only ran for about six weeks in Australia before being kicked to afternoon TV, The Weakest Link, which finished, what, TEN YEARS AGO, back home?; and, of course, Hollyoaks and Neighbours.
But back to the lax timetable (eight hours a week). It’s really different academically here. That four-day weekend I mentioned has done wonders for my sleeping pattern, NOT, but that might make life easier transitioning to the late-night lifestyle of Europe, when we go over there, and then also with jetlag when we come home. The quality of teaching here, I think, is largely on par with UOW, but the style of teaching I’m less keen on. It’s really self-directed, and there’s this attitude of, ‘By third year, we’ve taught you all we can and now it’s up to you’, which I find laughable because there’s ALWAYS something more to be taught. And you know, you pay a lot of money to get taught at uni, not to just do your own independent work. I also have to say I was expecting a higher quality of writing from my third-year Creative Writing class, just because of the university’s reputation in Literature and Creative Writing, but it’s largely no better, if not worse, than the standard at home. I think it’s because they don’t have a full degree in Writing here like they do at home, so they necessarily can’t devote as much time to honing the craft as you can at UOW. I think the Masters program is the one that might deserve its reputation. Sadly I see UOW has just overhauled its Creative Arts degree and almost halved the number of Creative Writing subjects on offer, making the model more similar to UEA’s and possibly diminishing the quality of future students’ experience.
But if the quality of writing coming out of the undergraduate program isn’t extremely high, the attitude to the arts and study is much better here. There’s a real culture of appreciating literature and art that just doesn’t exist back home, where you often feel embarrassed saying you’re studying Arts or Creative Arts. Never in my life have I met so many impassioned people, had so many amazing philosophical/religious/political conversations with truly intellectual people. I think at home we cringe if we talk too much about that stuff, or we worry people will think we’re wankers.
Early on in the semester we got a visit from Gilly and Elisa, the latter of whom is also posting on this blog, which was great fun. It was our first real exploration of Norwich, and we got totally lost despite Brian Blessed’s GPS contributions. I’m still not quite sure what went wrong, but I think it came down to not taking note of which carpark in which shopping centre we parked in. The visit was cut short, though, by Gilly’s need to renovate her house and by Elisa’s thinking that her flight was two days earlier than it actually was, which you can read about below in her own account of that weekend.
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)
On the way to our accommodation, Ruthie stopped the bus and told us one of the abovementioned stories of a Scottish warrior princess who was abandoned by her Irish lover and showed us a river apparently formed of her tears. It is said that those that dip their faces in will be afforded eternal youth and beauty so, of course, we were obliged to try:
Me being sick and Til still being jetlagged, we retired early and missed out on a crazy night:
It wasn’t all just urination, though. At Glencoe Russell, one of the other people on the tour, got a standard jumping pic of some of us:
Til, me, Courtney, Lisa, Emma, Jodie, and Narelle
New Year’s Day was our last full day in Scotland, so we spent it seeing the obligatory sights of Edinburgh – the castle, the cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first couple of Harry Potter books and the nearby graveyard where she got ideas for character names, and we started but didn’t finish a free ghost tour. Thus ended our experience of Edinburgh, the SECOND MOST HAUNTED CITY IN EUROPE, as the ghost tour sign proclaimed (verified by the International Haunting Index).
Some things that happened in london
- I met a squirrel.
- I spent at least an hour when I checked in being lectured by a particularly loquacious Burmese man with whom I was supposed to cohabitate for the night. Seriously, I slipped my keycard into the door the wrong way, and in the time it took me to remove it and turn it around the right way, he must’ve leapt from wherever in the room he was languishing, just waiting for someone to enter so he could sermonise at them, pulled open the door and started talking, and did. Not. Stop. I can’t for the life of me remember what he was babbling about. At one point, perhaps forty-five minutes in, I found myself wishing I could commit his ramblings to memory so that I could use them for a character in a story. It then occurred to me that I could record him on my iPod, and then transcribe a portion here for everyone’s enjoyment, but unfortunately I didn’t press the button right. He mentioned Thatcher, Obama, ‘the soldiers’, coming through the back door, the Chinese women in the room who didn’t speak good English, and so, so much more. I later met some people in the common room and mentioned that I was afraid to go back to my room because there was a crazy Burmese guy in there and they all exploded with laughter, saying some among them had encountered him. After their horror stories, I made sure Til and I got different room.
- We saw all the touristy things.
- Christmas night, Til and I went to this crappy little diner that was the only place open and I paid 4 pounds for a gross slice of pizza.
- The same night there was a car accident right outside our hostel.
- We had dinner with Til’s friend Iris, whose exchange trip was just finishing, and her boyfriend Brenton at this Indian joint with two-storey booths, and I got sick and threw up from the chicken tikka masala.
- Our Russian or possibly Brazilian roomates gave us a suspiciously transparent (vodka-like) bottle of white wine.
- We went to the Boxing Day sales, which were MADNESS. You couldn’t move in Topshop.
- We bought a DSLR, for photos that’re automatically cool, so no more of the crap that you see in this blog post! Although it came at great cost, health-wise, not fiscally – the reason we got it was that it was, bafflingly, about three hundred dollars cheaper here than in Australia. The dodgy Indian had done some serious damage to my stomach and, surprise surprise, wandering the frosty streets of London in search of a Jessops with my 25 kilo bag on my back wasn’t the most salubrious of enterprises!
Impressions of the emerald isle
My friends came over thismorning to get me for breakfast. They were wearing jeans and 2 jumpers, beanie’s, scarfs ect and i was wearing my summer dress. They thought i was ridiculous and stated how cold it was outside (today temp is min -1 max 3, current condition 4…?). when i woke up the sun was shining and my room was warm, which hadnt happened in 2 weeks. I was taking advantage of it while it lasted. it was cold outside, which i wasnt supprised. So my point it that I am loving exchange and all of the people on exchange (and locals) and everyhing about my exchange – but the weather.
You know the days where you wake up and it is cold and raining and you just want to snuggle up and drink hot chocolate and watch movies all day? that is what type of day it is everyday. It is always cold, always. Rain is everyother day, but when it isnt raining it is still coudy and grey. and on the rare chance that the sun does decide to bless us with its precence it is even colder because the clouds arnt acting as insulation to keep it slightly warmer.
I miss the sun, the beach, wearing thongs all the time (i still wear thongs, but not everyday). I miss sun baking, never needing a jumper, jacket and beanie. I even miss sunscreen. There is a massive poster up in the dining hall about “sufing in Tofino” – aparently tofino is the place to go surfing and there is going to be a day trip or weekend trip there sometime. It seems so ridiculous to me – all the of the beaches i have seen so far have rocks with brown sand/dirt and logs all over them. Furthermore, they have to wear a dry suit or a wet suit to go surfing, even in summer. I can not wait untill the exchange expo where i get to represent UOW. Oh man i hope UOW is ready for the influx after my advertising. So my only complaint is that i am sick of being cold.
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!!! 😀
“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!
Apology and culture shock.
First of all, sorry I have not written in so long. I do not have the internet in Montreal, and I lost my username n password.
I think I’m starting to feel a bit of the culture shock, I’m a little disappointed/disheartened with school, particularly women’s studies, actually mostly just womens studies. I’m also starting to find Anglophone Canadians slightly passive aggressive which is slightly offputting. I’ve made alot of friends but I do not feel completely at home with any of them, I feel like my Queer friends for example judge my more hetero international friends etc But anyway i’m descending into stereotypes which is not productive, or nice or polite or anything.
But even the politeness here is bugging me. I want to fucking swear and be loud and my self, and it just does not seem appropriate. In front of Quebecois it’s ‘so anglo’ i.e. so trashy, loud n obnoxious, and in front of anglo Canadian’s it’s just rude, offensive or bizarre.
That and school has been hectic. So difficult to adapt to, but I got a bunch of grades back, and I got all A’s and B’s which I’m happy with, extremely happy with in fact, but I think I would prefer lower grades and less stress/workload to be honest. They seem to overload you so much here e.g. for women’s studies I have 3 or 4 readings per week to do and approx a 500-word write up for both of my 2 women’s studies classes! It’s bullshit. Plus assignments, one of them an activist project, is just ridiculous, not only depending on what I do for it do I have to risk deportation but there is absolutely no communication or support with it. They will also give you weighted assignments that weren’t outlined in the syllabus or didn’t have a date set like a week before they are due. I don’t know how Canadian students work and take a full-time load, though I haven’t met one that does yet, maybe they just don’t.
I’ve also found there’s a bit of an assumption about exchange students; that they’re rich, trashy only here to have sex, get drunk and that they don’t take their studies seriously. I am not rich! I lived below the poverty line for the first 19 years of my life, I worked 40 hours a week, plus fulltime study load, took out a loan and got a scholarship to get here. I’m not a ‘stereotypically priveleged student.’ I’m just lucky and hard working. And you’re right, no body really wants to listen. I feel like my Nan for example is in complete denial of any troubles I might be having, she keeps changing the subject or even responding to my complaints with, “Sounds like you’re having a really great time.” The conversation seems so detached and bizarre.
Anyway obviously not feeling great today so I’m uploading this photo I took a couple of weeks ago:
As tired n grumpy n frustrated etc. as I am though, nothing has been that hard or that overwhelming. I did have a cry twice that I remember, but because of pretty hectic stuff that would probably make me cry at home as well. When I left I was really sick, like so so so sick. I contracted a virus, which gave me bronchitis n laryngitis, and traveling whilst not being able to stand without puking is one of the more hellish things I’ve done in the past few months.
I also had alot of trouble with my cell phone carrier when I got here, and they charged me a buttload and my phone didn’t even work, was still sick, couldn’t contact my family, trying to find a place to live (WITHOUT A PHONE!?!), my hostel booking was about to run out in a few days, and I couldn’t extend it so I was thinking I might end up sleeping in the metro with the bums :S Definitely distressing. But the universe conspired to help me, I got so ridiculously lucky, met some really cool people and found a place to live 2 days before my hostel booking ran out, cheap as chips, right near school, and one that I could move into straight away (I couldn’t with any of the others I looked at). I received so many random acts of kindness around that time, which was really inspiring n cool. Anyway positive note to end on. Think I will show you some cool photo’s I took in the bush at Mont Tremblant, cos we all need some beauty n serenity sometimes: