These Minnesota college students get an A+ for adventure. Follow along as they explore the world while studying abroad.
I write this final post somberly knowing that my life abroad in the Emerald Isle is rapidly approaching its end. My academic semester ends in the next few days. I will be on a plane home December 12th after I do final travels with my family, which shall arrive shortly. It feels appropriate to sum up what I have accomplished on this trip (Warning long list approaching!): I have hiked three mountains and reached the highest point in Ireland and hiked in the Alps, I have traveled to five different countries, learned 2000 years of Irish history, literature and theology, deep sea fished, recorded a music video with Irelands leading musicians, tracked down family heritage, experienced the hostel life, lived out of a backpack for ten days, met Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), experienced several Irish pubs, traveled away from family for the first time, remained out of the States for over three months, gained new friends, had five different currencies in my wallet at one time, travelled via train, bus, plan, car, and foot in one day, ate a full Irish breakfast, learned how to cook without the microwave or frozen pizza, wrote this blog, tested myself on a ropes course, learned the words fortnight and penultimate, learned great card games, lessened dependence on electronics, wrote letters with a pen (mind blowing I know), mastered the Tube in London, became more sustainable, read several good books,went to nearly every corner of Ireland, tried several news foods, discussed the ramifications of a post-colonial society and neo colonialism, watched the sun set over Spiddal, and most of all I have had a most wonderful experience on this adventure in my life.
I look back on all that I have done and it is remarkable. Three months ago I arrived on the island not knowing what to expect. I had no idea what I was getting into, and I could not be happier about that. Some advice to any who are thinking about studying abroad is, do it. It is an amazing experience and I know if I had not gone on this abroad experience I would be kicking myself.
I have done things and changed in ways I may not fully understand. What I do know is I have done many things over the past few months and I look forward to the future, and what can be accomplished with it. While this chapter may soon be coming to a close, another is opening. The question remains, where will it lead? I am ready to find out.
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
The past six weeks have been incredibly busy and doubly fantastic. I had fun, and sun, and exams.
I sailed the world famous Whitsunday Islands, lived on a private island for a week, snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, visited Australia’s art capital, Melbourne, saw Beyoncé, my lifelong idol, in concert, and visited my favorite place in Australia, Byron Bay for the last time. Somewhere amidst these adventures I also wrote papers, prepared my final painting portfolio and completed exams.
In late September I left on Spring Vacation for a 10-day, 90-person bus trip up the east coast of Australia. We first hit the Australia Zoo, Steve Irwin’s home and legacy. We stayed the night near Fraser Island, which is the world’s largest all sand Island. In the day we raced through the sand dunes on massive 4-wheels sand buggies, which delivered a wild ride. We spent the afternoon at Lake Mackenzie, enjoying the pristine water. We discovered that Fraser Island is home to both Dingoes and Aborigines. We then spent an uncomfortable night on the bus. On one of our many pit stops I was fortunate enough to come across wild Kangaroos hopping about in a field.
The next day we boarded boats in Airlie Beach and headed to our private island resort- on South Molle (pronounced “mall”). We spent the day snorkeling the Whitsunday Islands and got to see Whitehaven Beach, home to the purest silica sand beach in the world. The high concentration of silica in the sand creates the brilliant white color, and also promises cool feet, as it does not retain heat like other less pure sands.
The next day we spent wandering South Molle. We started the day by feeding turtles and enormous fish. On a walk we came across an eerie abandoned bar with a disheveled 2 bedroom home attached. We had heard that the Island was hit with a terrible storm and had left it destroyed. This bar, in addition to abandoned shops and villas at the edge of the resort hinted at this as well. We ventured into the home in back and found a frightening scene. The place looked ransacked, bedding still on the beds, drawers pulled out in a hurry, a child’s stickers all over the walls. We were confused, but the paragraphs written all over the walls filled in some of the blanks. There had been a 3-person family living here, running the bar. They had spent 4 years working under miserable management and had nothing but horrible things to say about the resort owners and the island itself. They had not been allowed to leave the tiny island for 4 years- overworked and under appreciated. It was clear, by what the writing contained and the fact that there was writing on the walls at all, that this family had gone mad. We took photos, I took a sticker off the wall and we quickly got out of there. Maybe stranger than that scene was the conversations we had later with the current workers, who had not in their months living on the island ever gone over to that edge of the resort nor had they any idea who the names were that were mentioned in the writing. Still unexplained, it all makes me feel a little uneasy. The island seemed so magical until we ventured away from the populated areas and saw all that it once was and learned the mystery it now holds.
We sailed around the Whitsundays the next day and then drove to our final destination in Cairns. Only stopping over to sleep and white water raft down the Tully River through the rainforest. It was an adrenaline filled day of rafting, with at least a million of the most torturous biting flies swarming us the entire time. At times I wasn’t sure what I was more worried about- falling out of the raft into a pile of rocks or getting eaten alive by flies.
On the final days of the tour we stayed in Cairns. Some sky dived and bungee jumped- but due to my recent discovery of my paralyzing fear of heights, I decided to be in charge of the camera on the ground. We also snorkeled and scuba dived the Great Barrier Reef, which was one of the most amazing sights of my entire life. And on our last day, we swam under a waterfall in the rainforest.
In addition to all the beauty and adventure, there was of course unmentioned nights of partying, but also bonding with some of my closest friends in Australia and the making of new friends from all over the world. All in all, 2 buses, 1000 miles, 90 people, 10 days, and 2 of the wildest tour guides I have ever met, amounted to one of the best weeks of my entire life.
After returning home I slowly resurrected my life as a student. Exams were approaching. I spent weeks writing my final paper for my Islam course, on Women’s Rights in Islam. I worked diligently to catch up in my painting class- and prepared for our final portfolio review, which was treated like a gallery showing. And lastly, I crammed for my Marketing Final.
But after all of this I was able to freely celebrate my final weeks in Australia. I finally got to see Melbourne, a place I knew little about but had a strong yearning to see. It turned out to be reminiscent of an American city, with a diverse culture and cool whether. I was pleased that my subconscious compass led me here. Art plastered brick walls on every street, and sculptures were erected in every park. Thrift stores and cafes lined the eclectic neighborhoods. And near the shore, craft markets consumed the beach walks. Besides being an unending race to find the coolest art and shops, Melbourne was chilly at 70 degrees and reminded me that I am completely unprepared to return to an already snowy Minnesota.
I also was lucky enough to get to see Beyoncé in concert in Brisbane. When I had found out her tour arrived in Minneapolis just days after I left for Australia, I cried. I felt both horribly unlucky by the chances and utterly spoiled by the idea that I was complaining about being in Australia. So when I found out just a month later that her world tour led her to Brisbane, just an hour away, I cried again, but happy tears. My parents, knowing all too well my obsession with Beyoncé as an artist and a person, gave me two tickets to see her as a very early Christmas gift. When the night came, I cried even more. But these weren’t just tears of joy, but tears of true unrelenting joy. I could not believe someone I had essentially worshipped (I shutter at the notion, but it is probably an appropriate use of the word), was standing just feet in front of me looking as beautiful as she is and singing as talentedly as she can. It was another of the many beautiful sights I was lucky enough to see while here in Australia.
Just today I returned home from my final adventure, to Byron Bay. It was my third time in this busy little hippie town. We got to do all of our favorites. We shopped, ate delicious Mexican food as Miss Margaritas, consumed lots of gelato, and the best burgers (“Heaven Burgers” as we call them) from Beleporto Burger Bar. We also frequented the beach, both day and night. During the day we found hoards of people tanning and surfing. At night, we found dancers and musicians. We even came across a soundless dance party. We found out that the idea is, headphones are given out to all who want to participate and a DJ streams music to each headset. The people are then able to dance together listening to the same music, but quietly, not disturbing the peace. Police officers as well as onlookers like us were pleasantly perplexed by the idea. The officers even joined in on the party at one point. Good old Byron Bay.
At one point, maybe the greatest moment of the weekend, we were mistaken for locals. To think, someone thought we fit in, for once we weren’t sore American thumbs standing out in a cool and collected crowed of Australians.
These days, I ever so rarely find the need to “Pull the American card” as we call it, using our foreign nationality as an excuse for our embarrassing behavior, or our unfortunate circumstances. I guess over the past few months I may have become apart of Australia just as much as Australia has become a part of me. With one week left, I plan to soak as much of Australia up as possible, hoping I can find a way to preserve the greatness that this experience has been.
The Journey Continues.
Northern Ireland, a place of former turmoil is where my most recent excursion has taken me. !Warning! History lesson about to begin. Many people are familiar with the term “The Troubles.” This correlates to a time where Protestant and Catholics hatred grew into great violence. Now using the terms Protestant and Catholic is a very loose and not fully representative term for the true nature of the violence, but it is a simplistic way of describing the sides. During these times it was not uncommon for there to be deaths and shootings daily. There was a wide variety of strikes and protests. Cities became greatly segregated, and remain so. Walls were put up to divide the two distinct sides of the conflict.
In the current time Northern Ireland has enjoyed a state of grace for the past few years, however it is still rich with tension. This tension can be felt in the air as you walk down the street and seen in the elaborate murals painted on walls and buildings. The murals range from aggressive opinions to future prosperity. It is an unique experience to stand on the wall of Derry and see Irish flags on one side and British flags on the other. Additionally there is a mural saying “Free Derry” and on the other it reads “still under siege, no surrender.” These aspects alone create a tense atmosphere. This same tension can be felt in Belfast.
Now despite these tensions it did not hinder thee great experience. Fellow students and I were fortunate enough to be in Derry for Halloween. This is a big event in Derry as it draws crowds well over 50,000. It contains a parade which presents spectacular floats and displays. After the parade there is a fireworks show which was an impressive spectacle. I sported a purple morph suit this year for Halloween.
The end of this excursion signifies the near end of my study abroad experience. My academic semester officially ends November 26th. That is 19 days. I have one more excursion which will take me to Cork and Kilkenny. It is with this final experience that I will say farewell to the Emerald Isle and be bound for home.
While it may be hard to believe it, I am actually in Ireland for school. This entitles me to a fall break right? That is correct, ten days of traveling Europe. My travels brought me to London, Prague, Interlaken, and Geneva. London ways spectacular, Prague was full of surprises and Switzerland (Geneva and Interlaken) were absolutely splendid.
I arrived in London at night allowing me to see instantly the night life and lit up building such as the iconic Big Ben and impressive Westminster Abbey. The first day I went to the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace. People were crammed into tight spaces in hopes of getting the best picture possible. After attending the Changing of The Guards I continued to Westminster Abbey. This was one of the top experiences for me in London. Westminster is full of such a rich history. In addition the architecture present was absolutely staggering. After ending my visit at Westminster a walk around the city was needed. It unfortunately rained most of the day, but I managed to stay relatively dry.
The next day consisted of mastering the Tube (subway). After an initial blur of lines and which color to take mastery of the tube was found. I went to the British museum, Kensington Palace, the famous Abbey Road, and many other sites around London. To end the day myself and those traveling with me went out to dinner to celebrate a birthday.
The next morning it rained again, but it was the departure day. After an early visit to the Tower of London I hoped on a train to the airport. The plane was bound to Prague of the Czech Republic. This was one place I did not know what to expect. London I knew Big Ben, Westminster, etc. It was to my great delight that Prague was one of the most beautiful sites. The easiest way to describe it is a giant palace. To further add to the delight is the low cost of living. To put it in perspective I was able to buy two large meals for about three dollars. That is because the currency exchange rate. Prague itself consisted of a tour of the city, visiting the largest castle in Europe, and night life in the Old Prague Square.
Soon my time in Prague expired and I began the trek to Switzerland. I arrived in Interlaken, Switzerland in the evening as I did in London. The difference was the Alps were not light up. It was not until the next morning that I saw the splendor of the Alps. It is quite strongly a saw dropping experience. The first day in Interlaken a few traveling companions and myself walked the city of Interlaken. We walked to the lakeshore which presented an incredible view with mountains as a back drop. We even managed to stumble upon a 13th century castle. It was a day which can best be described by the motto “We should do that!”
The adventure continued the next day as the same group of us hiked the Alps. We ascended roughly 1500 meters summating one of the lesser mountains in the Alps. It rendered one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen. It was most rewarding after a near 4 hour ascent. The hike back down was filled with amazement at what had been accomplished, but was bitter sweet as our departure was the next day. Before my departure I went to a ropes course. The easiest way to describe this is a playground 20 meters up in the trees for adults. It consisted of over 20 sip-lines and countless obstacles pushing a person to the limits of balance and strength. It was further enhanced with the Alps in the back ground.
Once the ropes course had been completed it was time to travel to Geneva. The 3 hour train ride was stunning as the whole ride consisted of the beautiful landscape of Switzerland. I did not get the opportunity to do much in Geneva as it was simply a stop point before our trip back to my home away from home, Spiddal Ireland. The trip consisted of a train, plane, bus, and a cab. It was a welcoming experience to once again step foot in the cottages that I have come to know and love. Now back to that thing known as school…
Since landing in the Sydney airport 3 months ago I have been amending a list of cultural differences I have encountered while in Australia. Although Australia is a very Westernized country that speaks English, there is a world of differences. Many might even beg to differ that Australian English could classify as an entirely different language.
I will begin with a list of Aussie slang and an interpretation.
All “r’s” are left unpronounced.
“Come here” sounds like “Come hea”
Car sounds like “Caw”
Australians explain that American’s waste half of their life pronouncing their “r’s”
Enthusiastic positive response to a request or an activity. A want to do something.
“I’m keen to go the beach later”
A lot or lots.
“What are you up to?”
How are you going?
“How are you?”
So many times I froze at this question not sure whether to answer how I was or where I was going
“What’s happening?” or “What’s the plan?”
Instead of to take. “I’ll have a nap” or “I’ll have a shower” instead of “I’ll take a nap”
“Mine” / “Yours”
“My place / your place”
Good on ya
“Good for you!”
Thank you (less used).
“No problem” - I’ve picked this phrase up.
Pissed / Wrecked
Saying “hey” after everything
“Last night was fun, hey!” or “hey?” instead of asking “what?”
Refers to a friend. However, they also use it as a derogatory term. An Australian friend was driving us one day and yelled out angrily at another driver in traffic, using profanity but still referring to the driver as “mate” – Australians are always friendly.
Also a “wanker”. Comparable to a hick or redneck, but Australians would cringe at this comparison. A slang term for an uneducated person.
Wife or Husband. This is used commonly.
A New Zealander.
Places and things.
Bathroom. Australians will stare at you blankly if you ask for the "bathroom"
Maccas. Australians really like nicknames.
The best dessert ever. Similar to a prepacked s’more dipped in a chocolate.
Trunk of a car
Tank top/ sleeveless shirt.
Boxed wine. A popular favourite among Uni students, and broke international students. Alcohol is heavily taxed in Australia.
Shopping cart. We use these on a regular basis to truck our groceries home.
French fries. One of the first weeks I went to a food counter to order fries and told myself a thousand times I was going to be “cool” and say “chips”, but as I spoke “french fries” came out. The guy told me they didn’t have any of those but they did have some chips. I was a little disappointed in my efforts. But I definitely have it down now.
Not underwear. Sandals/flip flops.
Small scale casino with slot machines.
Pyjamas or Tyres
Use “Y” in words that American English does not.
Below is a list of other differences that I have noted during my time here
All foods are much healthier tasting.
Food at the supermarket is made with less artificial ingredients, many of those that are used in America are illegal in other countries.
When we first arrived at our apartment we had no food and no utensils so we ordered Chinse takeout. We were surprised at the freshness and taste of the food. We didn’t have that familiar bloated feeling after finishing a delicious plate of American Chinese assortments.
There is no tipping in Australia.
This includes everyone from waiters, to hair dressers and cab drivers. Tipping is of course always appreciated but is never ever expected. Minimum wage is much higher in order to accommodate for this. In addition, minimum wage increases with age.
American magazines distributed in Australia use Australian slang.
I was surprised to open my favourite magazine -which was 5 dollars more here I may add- and find some of the slang terms used above. One particularly different term, was “lovefriend” – referring to a boyfriend or girlfriend.
The relaxed nature of the Australian culture.
Everyone jokes about the laid back beach style of Australia, but I was surprised to find it to be true. Of course not everyone surfs, but almost everyone is involved in outdoor activities – and I have seen quite a lot of long blonde haired men. Shoes are always optional unless in upscale restaurants or hotels. Timing is casual. Even public transportation runs almost always behind schedule. This usually was not a problem, except for one day when the bus was an hour and a half late. That was a moment when the Australian time was too casual for our transportation needs. In restaurants, service is very slow. Trying to get a quick bite to eat at a sit down restaurant is an impossibly frustrating task. Despite this, we have come to love Australian time (for the most part) and will likely have a rude awakening when we arrive back in the States and are expected to join the hustle and bustle of American culture.
Not only do cars drive on the left side, people walk on the left side.
We caught on to this fairly quickly. In addition to cars driving on the left side of the road, people, when walking in crowds or along sidewalks always divert to the left side. This seemingly simple idea was a difficult task to ingrain in our trained brains. We so wanted to join the normal flow of foot traffic and avoid those awkward back and forth confrontations with strangers. By now we are able to naturally gravitate to that side of the road. But we will have to “un-learn” this when retuning to the States.
Even with just one month left in Australia,
The Journey Surely Continues.
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