Having been in Australia for almost 5 months I have been fortunate enough to experience some amazing things, but maybe most memorable are the people who I have met along the way. I thought I would spend this post giving a brief glimpse into some of the people, Australian and otherwise, that I have had the pleasure of encountering.
I would be unable to put into words, into pages even, what the friends I have made through my Study Abroad program mean to me. Every experience would be different if they were not by my side. I am so lucky to be returning home with a group of friends from all over the country. It’s safe to say we are already planning a reunion for a year from now. But without going on and on, I can reduce my appreciation to simply say that without a doubt they are what I will miss most about my study abroad experience in Australia.
On my first day of classes in Australia, thoroughly nervous and intimidated, I met Mick. He is an Australian journalism major from Brisbane. He introduced himself straight away at the beginning of class, and although our conversation wasn’t fluid because of my inability to comprehend his heavy accent and soft tone, it was nice to have made a friend so soon. I’ll admit, probably because he was my first Australian friend, I was a little curious where our friendship would go. This notion existed only about 3 minutes after class ended. Because as we were walking through campus he mentioned his “partner” which immediately I linked in my mind to a male partner. It was later that I discovered in Australia, they call spouses “partners”, so he was not gay, but he was indeed married. We remained platonic friends and it was wonderful to see a friendly face every Monday morning for the next 13 weeks.
While in Australia I met hoards of Norwegians and Swedes. My first encounter was with a Norwegian girl I met on a weekend trip to Byron Bay. As we were walking through town to a backpacker’s pub, we discussed my Norwegian heritage and she told me all about the culture. I told her that although I was largely Norwegian and Swedish, there were few practices of my heritage that I still performed. One practice however, and a big one in my family, is the making of lefse. Ever since I was 5 I have joined the women in my family for an annual “lefse weekend” where we make lefse among lots of shopping and gossiping.
So it’s to be expected that I was utterly shocked when she had no idea what lefse was. I had been making this potato pancake, and preparing it with butter and sugar for years. I was told by my family all about how Swedes like sugar on their lefse, while Norwegians prefer just butter. I had pictured lefse to be sold regularly at grocery stores, I even did a “how-to” speech on making lefse in the sixth grade. Sure that my childhood could not have been a lie, I wrote this first shock off as inconsequential, she must just not have understand what I was saying. Or maybe she lived under a Norwegian rock.
But, this was not the last time I was given that funny look as I was expressing my love for lefse to Scandinavians. In fact, three times I received that look; once from a group of Norwegians on my spring vacation, and once from Mena, a Swedish girl in my painting class. I protested longer with Mena, only to come to a somewhat satisfying conclusion that maybe lefse was called something else. Mena thought maybe I was talking about a Swedish pancake, yet she said she has never had it prepared with butter or sugar. To date, I have no idea how there could be such disconnect. Google confirms that Lefse is a Norwegian dish, popular in Scandinavian countries. So why none of the handful of Scandinavians I met know what lefse is will continue to be a mystery.
One of my many discoveries during my travels was that Australia may have a running chance as the home of the nicest people. As Minnesota-Nice exists, Australia-Nice definitely contends. These next few stories illustrate this.
Once after a long night, and in the middle of a long bus trip, I was feeling extremely nauseous. I get somewhat carsick at times, but having rarely ridden a bus, I was unaware of the kind of sick I could get. At the start of a 2 hour journey south, on a extremely hot and crowded city bus, I found myself pleading with my stomach and my head not to get sick on all of the people surrounding me. To everyone around me it was clear I was suffering, and one saint of a lady offered her sympathy. She gave me tons of motherly advice, offering me chewing gum to alleviate the nausea, and finding a place for me to sit down. She told me about pressure points I should learn in order to help with motion sickness, and suggested a ginger beer when I got off the bus. I can’t even explain how much I appreciated her help in what felt like my darkest hour. Sometimes you just need to be “mommy-ed” and since mine was on the other side of the world, it was nice having a substitute for the time being.
There was another wonderful lady. She worked on campus at the student office. I had found my way there after my Student ID had fallen out of my backpack. She was kind enough not to make me pay the hefty fee for the lost card. She told me with all the ridiculous fees they charge international students; there was no need to charge for a little piece of plastic. She said loud enough so her coworkers could hear, “That’s so awful that someone stole your wallet, with your credit cards, cash, and your student ID inside.” This was the only legitimate way for her to give me a free ID. She winked at me and sent me on my way. Just another wonderful example of “Aussie-nice”.
I met Australia-Nice once again on the plane to Melbourne. She was a girl named Kat, who sat in between my two friends. She was headed home to Melbourne after a weeklong work trip in the Gold Coast; she owned her own photography business at the age of 25. She told us all the great sights in Melbourne, which was supremely helpful because we were headed there with not a clue what to see or do. She even bought my friends drinks as I slept. They ended up talking the entire flight, and when we landed she waited with us to get our baggage and convinced her boyfriend to wait outside with the car in order to give us a ride into the city. Our bags ended up getting stuck and her boyfriend was ordered by airport security to move along, so she had to go without us. But her kindness was more than abnormally generous, and much appreciated. We even met her the next day near her office for a little of her recommended shopping.
During my stay in Australia I met tons of amazing people from all over the world. Many unmentioned here, but not forgotten in the least. I will take their stories, their kindness, as they will mine, and move forward knowing I am connected to the rest of the world through these exchanges. It’s both a peculiar and wonderful feeling.
The Journey Continues