Indiana University Overseas Study

Sarah Whaley

In the middle of semester one at Uni, this wonderful thing happens: students get a two-week break from classes. I should clarify it isn’t equally as wonderful for everyone. One of my friends had a professor explain it was a “break,” not a “holiday,” and promptly assign the class three or more assessments to complete. However, for me mid-semester break meant two weeks of traveling with my parents.

Our first destination was the South Island of New Zealand. I met my parents in Christchurch at the airport, and after a nervous drive on the left side of the road back to the motel, they fell asleep. They were tired from their travels, whereas back in Adelaide it was two and a half hours earlier and I was sleepless for some time. It felt strange seeing my parents again, even though the overwhelming feeling was excitement. I felt a bit alien in my own life.

Sarah visited by her parents

First hugs in two months.

However, I didn’t have much time for thinking on such feelings as the next morning I woke up to my 21st birthday, my first time feeding eels, and in the evening my first time seeing “real mountains,” the Southern Alps (to anyone who has seen the Rockies or the Swiss Alps, apparently the Appalachian Mountains don’t count). The rest of the time in New Zealand was a gorgeous, literally and figuratively breathtaking whirlwind. We drove to a different part of the island every day and stayed in different motels every night. We hiked to see glaciers and icebergs around Mount Cook, we swam under the stars in Queenstown, and we cruised on a rare sunny day at Milford Sound. Even when boarding the plane for Sydney I wasn’t convinced I’d actually visited such an incredible place, and it was hard to watch the awe-inspiring beauty disappear below me as the plane climbed higher.

Lake Tekapo

Surreal New Zealand beauty at Lake Tekapo.

All the same, I was eager to arrive back in Australia. That was until the third day in Sydney. The first day and a half were nearly perfect weather. We could wear short sleeves, something we hadn’t been able to do in New Zealand, and we visited the must-see tourist destinations like Bondi Beach, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the Opera House. I thought the Opera House was incredible – the pictures always make it look white, but when you’re close you can see the entire structure is covered in white and off-white colored tiles arranged in intricate patterns.

However, the next couple days were terrible. The aquarium and the wildlife center weren’t terrible, nor was meeting my friends for dinner on the last night, but the weather was horrendous. Papers were calling it the “storm of the century.” Other places in the world, the weather would have been categorized as a cyclone. Umbrellas were useless and their skeletons littered the streets, every piece of clothing you wore outside was soaked through in a matter of minutes, countless people were without power, and north of Sydney some houses were literally floating off of their foundations. The umbrellas lying lifeless in the streets were amusing, but the people who were dying were not. When the Sydney airport finally stayed open long enough to let us leave, I felt only relief.

trash can full of umbrellas

Umbrella casualties of the Sydney cyclone.

Sometimes people don’t realize the size of Australia. It’s comparable to the U.S., not only in size, but in variations of people, lifestyles, and weather across the land. When we arrived in Adelaide the sun was brilliant across the hills and houses. My dad exclaimed, “Now this is Australia!” After resting the first night in Adelaide and meeting up with some of my friends who’d stayed for the break, we headed out for what we thought would be a one day and one night excursion to Kangaroo Island.

Though Kangaroo Island can be seen from the South Australian mainland, it feels like it’s much further away in its floral and faunal diversity. It is an expensive trip, so one can’t just make it on a whim. The ferry alone for three people and one car was nearly AUD$500, but every second of our (extended) stay was worth it. Before I left, my friend Glen joked I’d be disappointed if I didn’t see a single kangaroo. He needn’t have worried, because merely a half hour onto the island we’d already seen a handful. Australians are pretty good about aptly naming locations.

The rest of the first day went as planned, though the sun sank faster than we could drive. We saw sea lions at the (un-aptly) named Seal Bay, the Remarkable Rocks (which truly are remarkable), and fur seals at Admiral’s Arch. By the time we were driving to our motel in Parndana, the sun was far below the horizon. On the ferry over we’d been warned of driving at night and keeping your lights low so as to not blind the animals, but nothing could have prepared us for the next harrowing hour and a half. I was crouched forward the entire time with my arms balanced on my knees and my hands clenched into fists beneath my jaw, eyes squinted and vigilant of any suspicious shadow on the road. My parents were similarly positioned and after passing or stopping for (and thankfully not hitting) ten possums, four large kangaroos, and 58 wallabies, our nerves were shot. No kangaroos, my hat.

We slept deeply until a storm jolted us awake, and in the morning we were ready to leave as the forecast continued to show rain. As we prepared to head out, Sue, the lady who owned the place, greeted us with bad news. The ferries weren’t running. We were trapped on the island for another day and couldn’t get a ferry out until 5:30 pm the day after. I was horrified: all my plans for showing my parents around Adelaide were shot. On top of that, I didn’t have any clean underwear. After being consoled by my parents, things started to look up. Not being able to leave the island meant we were going to make the most of our time there, regardless of the weather. We ended up visiting Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park and I experienced one of the most memorable moments of my life, cradling a kangaroo joey. The joey’s name was Tigger and, as were the other animals in the park, he was a rescue. He’d been saved from his mum’s pouch after she’d been hit by a car. I fell for that little kangaroo right then and there and the rest of the day wasn’t so bad either. We explored the north side of the island and then watched some Aussie movies like Red Dog and Phar Lap while our clothes were in the wash.

Sarah holding a baby kangaroo

I now believe in love at first sight.

Our final day on Kangaroo Island was ANZAC Day, which was the centenary commemoration of Australian and New Zealand forces landing at Gallipolli, Turkey during WWI. Thousands of young men lost their lives, and many of the residents of Kangaroo Island at the sunrise service we attended had families that were affected. It was an honor to participate in the service and lay down a poppy in memory of the soldiers who died, not only those from Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., but those representing all countries devastated by the loss the war resulted in. After the service, we ended up being able to catch an earlier ferry back to the mainland, but I’d learnt an important lesson that not all changes in plans are bad changes. Plus, how many people can say they’ve ever been trapped on an island?

traditional war dance

A Maori family from New Zealand performs a traditional war dance, or haka, at the ANZAC Day memorial service.

 

As expected I only had a short time to show my parents around Adelaide, but it was a wonderful time and I was glad to be back in the midst of what I know. I also finally had the chance to process the feelings of being alien in my own life I’d first experienced upon meeting my parents in Christchurch. I deducted it was almost a temporary reverse culture shock brought on my the (welcome) intrusion of my old life into my new one. My parents are still my parents, but my definitions of home and myself have changed. How could they not, with so many new experiences? I imagine the reverse culture shock upon returning to the U.S. will be ten times greater. All the same, it was sad to see my parents go and for the next week all the Aussies sounded funny again compared to my parents’ American accents. Though the next couple of months are full of as many uncertainties as the first few, one thing is for sure: Adelaide is, officially, home.

Sarah on Campus

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