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Top End of the NT

Sarah Whaley

My last holiday before leaving Oceania was to the Top End of the NT. In other words, the northernmost segment of Northern Territory Australia. The Australia everyone thinks of when they think of the land down under: red dirt, termite mounds and crocodiles. Home of Crocodile Dundee and the land of two seasons, wet and dry.

bridge in woods

Northern Territory: It doesn’t get much more Crocodile Dundee than this.

July is in the midst of the dry season, meaning water levels are down, you’re less likely to stumble across crocodiles in your swimming hole and the heat isn’t humid and oppressive, at least on the coast. When I got off my red-eye flight at 1:25 a.m. I welcomed the change in temperature from chilly Adelaide. Finally I could wear all those summer clothes I’d brought to Australia, mid-winter.

I chose to not do the touristy thing in the NT and stay in website-recommended hotels. Instead I lived with friends from St Mark’s, Callan and Glen. I chose to let them show me the places they love rather than the Lonely Planet Top 10. I still ended up seeing half of the Top 10 and cramming several weeks’ worth of attractions into one.

My first three days were spent in Darwin, the largest city in the sparsely populated NT. I flew in on Territory Day, the anniversary of self-governance being handed down to the Territory by the Commonwealth Government. Its finale is known more commonly as Cracker Night because for one day only proud Territorians can purchase and set off fireworks (much to the dismay of volunteer firefighters). I watched fireworks spring forth from the beaches of Darwin’s many bays as my plane landed.

Over the next three days, Callan showed me many of the places I had seen by the light of the fireworks that first night. Casuarina beach and Callan’s personal favorite, East Point Reserve. During World War II, East Point served as a military base for the defense of Darwin and today you can explore the gun emplacements and tunnel entryways that remain. The reserve is also a favorite place for wildlife like wallabies and bush turkeys, which build nests of dirt and plant matter several times larger than themselves. They are best seen by biking the off-road trails in the early evening.

biking through the woods

My first experience off-road biking to see wallabies.

Callan and I ran down to the coast to watch the sunset every night in Darwin. The first night we watched from a lookout on our way to Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, a magical place that draws what seems like the entire city to the beach for exotic foods, artisan wares and variety performances. The advantage of markets in the NT weather is that they can be open regularly year-round. While tourists love the markets as much as the regulars, it’s fun to watch the regulars banter with the vendors they know so well.

Sunset.

First sunset in Darwin.

Crowd gathered around performer

A performer at Mindil Beach Sunset Markets.

My last full day in Darwin was the busiest, and also the 4th of July. Callan and I woke up early to drive to Kakadu National Park and take a jumping crocodile cruise on the Adelaide River. I never thought crocodiles would be so much scarier than sharks, but watching five meter male “salties” propel themselves out of the water towards a small clump of meat did the trick. The women who ran the cruise knew the crocodiles on that portion of the river well and had even named some of them, like Grover and Stumpy. They estimate for every crocodile you see above the muddy water, there are at least five others underwater nearby. We saw eight. In total, they estimate there could be anywhere from 2500 to 10,000 crocodiles in the Adelaide River alone and I will be the first to say I don’t want to find out. Some crazy tourists and Territorians with a death wish sometimes dare each other to swim across the river (at varying levels of intoxication) and it’s 50/50 whether they make it safely to the other side.

sitting on giant crocodile sculpture

Callan and I sit on a life-sized model of the largest croc ever caught in the Adelaide River.

crocodile leaping out of water for dangling meat

Grover, a 5 meter male “saltie,” leaps for buffalo meat.

After the cruise we headed to Berry Springs to swim. After watching crocodiles leap from water all morning, I wasn’t too keen on swimming, but the springs were wonderful. Looking at the water you’d think it was chlorinated because it’s so clear and beautiful. You can swim all the way from the bottom spring to the little falls at the top, which Callan and I did in spite of the current and the rocky shallow bits. It’s the ultimate natural swimming spot and I felt like a part of the nature around me as birds flitted in and out of the palms.

Group swimming by small falls

The small falls at the top of Berry Springs.

We wrapped up the 4th of July with a party and I met some of Callan’s Darwin friends. We went out on the town and even though Callan and I were exhausted when we returned to his home, we lit up some sparklers he’d saved for me so I could celebrate Independence Day the American way. He lit sparklers as well and listened to my rendition of “America the Beautiful,” probably one of the only Aussies to celebrate the American 4th.

Sarah with sparklers

Celebrating Independence Day while half a world away.

The next day my friend Glen and his brother David picked me up and we drove to Katherine. There I stayed with Glen’s family for a couple days, eating meals under the overhangs of the industrial shed turned home they live in. Like how the Weasley’s call their home “The Burrow” in Harry Potter, Glen’s family calls their home “The Shed.” While the rooms are sealed from wildlife entering them, the four main doors to the central living area remain open. They shared stories of snakes slithering above the dining table on the rafters and hearing wallaby tails hit the concrete floor as they hop through at night. During breakfast the wallabies were still often hanging about waiting for carrots to be tossed to them, including a mama wallaby with a joey in her pouch.

Glen and I toured all of his favorite spots in Katherine from Knotts Crossing to the low-level bridge to the incredible Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park. Each place came with its own crocodile warnings, and Glen pointed out some crocodile traps along the river banks. People were still swimming or kayaking at each stop! Even Glen and I waded around in the water at low-level bridge. After spending hot days out in the Australian sun it was nice the relax back at The Shed with Glen’s family and friends. His mom invited some of her colleagues over the last night for dinner so I could ask them some questions about their Indigenous cultures. During some dizzying explanations of Aboriginal family relations, we enjoyed fresh fish and kangaroo with rice.

Sarah and Glen selfie

Glen and I at the low-level bridge.

Sarah on deck overlooking gorge.

Posing at a gorge in Nitmiluk National Park.

My last day in the NT, Glen and I took a Nissan Patrol through Litchfield National Park on the way back to Darwin. It had a snorkel on it, a feature of many of the off-road vehicles in the NT. When water levels raise during the wet season, some people who live out bush have to ford through water just to get home. We didn’t have to ford any water because it was the dry season, but we did pass meter sticks informing drivers of water depth. After a brief stop in Adelaide River for some deep-fried broccoli, chicken, cheese balls, Glen and I checked out bush fires that were still burning, termite mounds several times the height of a person and the monsoon forest surrounding Wangi Falls. The park was breathtakingly beautiful, but also breathtakingly hot. As we drove off-road through the red dirt I found myself secretly praying the car wouldn’t break down because other cars didn’t pass by often and all that could be seen to either side were heaps of shadeless trees and bush. Finally I was experiencing the Australia I’d always imagined. I fell in love with the topography and the red dirt that clung to my shoes and water bottle, but I still didn’t want to be stranded out in it with no phone signal to call for help.

Sarah next to giant vertical "mound"

Me in comparison to a cathedral termite mound in Litchfield National Park.

SUV on road

Our trusty Patrol out on the red dirt roads.

We made it safely to Darwin and I spent my final hours in the NT exploring caves along the seaside cliffs with Callan and having dinner at the sailing club with his parents beside yet another gorgeous sunset. Callan gave me a book on the Top End as a gift before sitting in the airport with me until 2:25 a.m. for my flight back to Adelaide. I didn’t want to leave and cried for both the last time I would see Callan and Glen before leaving Australia and for having to leave the warmth and sunsets of the NT. Adelaide is great, but in the span of one week Top End stole my heart. It turns out the Australia I love the best is the Australia everyone imagines. The Australia full of animals that can kill you and plants that provide no shade, but also the Australia of unsurpassable beauty. Callan said that’s great and all, but I have to come back and experience the wet season before I decide I want to move there. In the words of Barney Stinson, “Challenge accepted.”

Coastal Sunset

Can you blame me for wanting to move here?

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Hard Lessons and Soft Landings

Sarah Whaley

Finally I’ve wrapped up the ‘study’ part of my study abroad. With my final essay submitted for assessment, I now have time to assess my experience so far. For all the good that has come out of the past four months in this beautiful country, I’ve also had to learn some hard lessons. Thankfully, the hard lessons have all ended in soft landings.

Hard Lesson #1: Australia is not always hot.

It is nearly winter here on the opposite side of the world. And with the exception of the past couple days, it’s been cold. I’d say freezing, but that would be a misstatement. It has yet to drop below freezing, but my new Aussie experience of the world means a little chilly feels a lot colder than it would back home.

I arrived to high 90 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, and the change from then to now (low 40 degree Fahrenheit temperatures) is biting. Perhaps the change wouldn’t be so bad, except I was overly optimistic with my packing. Lots of short sleeves and tank tops and very few sweaters.

Soft Landing #1: Staying warm is cheaper here than at home.

Luckily, K-mart in Australia is alive and well and $10 sweaters aren’t hard to come by. I’ve been able to fill out my wardrobe with warmer pieces of clothing and now have practical souvenirs to bring home. I was also able to find an inexpensive electric heater and an $18 blanket to make falling asleep easier. I love the blanket so much I might even pay extra for it to be shipped home.

Preparing to Kayak

International friends and I bundled up for a chilly day of kayaking with dolphins.

Hard Lesson #2: When they say don’t procrastinate on your Uni assignments, they mean it.

The booklet given to me before I left home clearly laid out the ways in which study in Australia is different than study in the U.S. Mainly it warned about slacking off because there are less assignments throughout the semester. Though there are less assignments, the ones you are given are worth more.

For the first half of the semester, I did a good job of working ahead on assignments and turning them in sometimes a week ahead of time. I felt more relaxed than I’ve ever felt throughout my Uni career. Then mid-semester break ended and the assignments started piling up.

Instead of being worth 10 to 20 percent of my grade, the assignments were worth 25 to 40 percent. I had a major exam and two major research essays due in a span of two days. Perhaps I wouldn’t have reached the level of anxiety I did if I had worked further ahead instead of procrastinating and binge-watching How I Met Your Mother.

Soft Landing #2: I survived Uni.

Though the past week was stressful trying to finalize my Uni assignments, they are now complete. I almost don’t know what to do with myself going from being overwhelmingly busy to completely free. My classes ended earlier than many of my friends’ and while they’re studying I’m seeking out my next victim to distract with a game of cards or a walk around the city. I’m looking forward to a month of holidays before returning home.

Kaurna smoking ceremony

A Kaurna smoking ceremony wrapped up a semester of Indigenous studies courses.

Hard Lesson #3: Your problems remain your problems 10,000 air miles away.

Before I left the U.S., one of my best friends told me he envied me. I was going to be able to leave my problems on ice for half a year while he dealt continuously with his at home. I reassured him he’d be alright, but I believed him that I was escaping. That turned out not to be the case.

The thing about your problems is that they’re yours and they’re bound to follow you wherever you go. I’ve dealt with many of the same emotional struggles I’ve had at home here. I’ve also dealt with new ones, like homesickness and being frustratingly far away from the people you trust the most to be there for you when your day doesn’t go the way you planned. And now that I’m facing going home in a month, I’m feeling torn in a similar way I felt torn before leaving home for here.

Soft Landing #3: Old problems have new solutions 10,000 air miles away.

Though your problems remain much the same when you travel, traveling provides a new perspective on them than the one you’ve been trapped in back home. You also are surrounded by new friends with new stories, new advice and new solutions. Instead of going for a therapeutic run, you can go for a therapeutic surf. And with the understanding that you’re going home in a month, you can take the days that don’t go as planned less seriously.

Though these three lessons and others I’ve dealt with here in Australia have been hard, the landings have all been soft. After all, it’s difficult to feel down for long when you’re a short drive from an ocean sunset and in a country whose national motto may as well be “No worries, mate.”

ocean sunset

A breathtaking ocean sunset just when I needed it most.

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Trapped on Kangaroo Island and Other Adventures

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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The ‘Study’ Part of Study Abroad

Sarah Whaley

Views of Australia shared by friends back home tend to consist of sea and sun. Not studying. Nor did mine prior to the start of classes at University of Adelaide. I have to admit the studying part of study abroad is still not sitting well with me. When I could be surfing instead, why would I want to sit inside and open a book?

However, reality reminds me studying at Uni is the only reason they gave me a visa to get into the country. So I figure now I am halfway through the semester, I may as well embrace it.

Selfie in front of trees.

Looking far more prepared than the first day.

Studying in Australia is quite different from studying in the U.S. For starters, undergraduate degree programs here are typically three years long instead of four and taking gap years between high school and university is not uncommon. That means some of the freshers (freshmen) arriving on campus spent the past year or two backpacking Europe or being a ski instructor in Japan. Also, many students at Uni live at home and commute to classes, which is less common in the U.S. for a state university. Otherwise, students live with friends or in residential colleges (separate campuses housing around 150 to 250 students from various universities).

The living conditions of students contribute to the confusing Aussie terminology surrounding education. Back home we often use the terms school, college, and university interchangeably. Here each means something distinct. School strictly refers to kindergarten through 12th year. So when I unconsciously let a phrase like “my school back home…” or “school work” slip, I get strange looks. Saying “my college back home” is greeted with similar looks, as college strictly refers to a residential college. Only university (almost always shortened to uni) refers to university, and hence phrases such as “I’m headed to uni” and “uni work” are commonplace.

After nailing down the education lingo, I found adjusting to other major differences at uni easy, even enjoyable. First, taking only 12 credit hours worth of classes a semester as opposed to the 16 or 17 I am used to at IU has been a welcome relief. Four classes are certainly more manageable than five or six. Also, the lack of busy work has been amazing. Most courses in Australia are assessed entirely on the outcome of three or four assignments as opposed to weekly submissions. That said, the lack of padding to your grade when facing major papers or exams can be an added stressor. One missed or botched assignment (especially if you have an unforgiving professor) will lead to failing the course. It is also more difficult to dedicate time to studying for uni when you don’t have a graded assignment to turn in, though that’s exactly what Australian professors expect you to do. It’s more difficult to get away with turning in a major assignment you finished the night before. If you’re lucky you’ll pass, but you won’t get distinction or high distinction (meaning you’ll receive a 50 to 64 percent, but no higher). Professors expect to see you’ve put in time reading other books related to the topic and doing practice exercises outside of class.

Though the assessment structure in Australia sounds intimidating, I’ve found it easy to adjust to in comparison to the little things I never expected could throw me off. For instance, I brought over old folders and journals from the U.S. to use for classes here to avoid extra costs, only to find out the paper is the wrong size. Like the British, the Aussies use A4 paper. Which in U.S. measurements is just off enough to make a difference at 8.27 by 11.69 inches. Luckily, the printer at St Mark’s always reminds me when I’ve forgotten to change documents to A4 paper by refusing to print. Other inconveniences such as not knowing how to format different types of papers, or how to reference in Harvard style had me almost in tears during a busy assessment week. But once I got over my embarrassment and asked the questions I needed to, my professors and Aussie friends were understanding and curious to learn more about the differences in American formatting rather than impatient with my ignorance of theirs. My friend Glen even proofread one of my papers to correct my poor American spelling (they don’t understand our use of “z”s in “colonisation,” our lack of “u”s in “colour,” or even why we call a “.” a “period” instead of a “full stop”).

All in all, I think I lucked out taking arts and humanities electives while abroad. I’m used to writing papers, which are most of my assignments (here my engineering friends cringe). The class topics are fascinating to me: Indigenous Studies of Australian Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders; Anthropology of Emotion, Mind, and Person; Electronic Writing; Introduction to Linguistics. Indigenous Studies is easily my favorite class, as my professor is enthusiastic and I would have never had a chance to take such a course back home. I love doing the readings about Aboriginal Dreamings and find myself looking for evidence of institutions paying respect to Aboriginal people everywhere. Anthropology is providing me a new and challenging way of looking at the world divided not into binaries such as black and white or Eastern and Western, but into small and specific cultures, times, and places. My professor for Electronic Writing is the most accommodating and friendly of all of my professors, taking time after class to get to know me and answer my questions about the differences in Aussie class structure and formatting.

South Australian Museum

A trip to the South Australian Museum for Indigenous Studies fieldwork.

Linguistics, which I thought would be a breeze, is killing me. (My use of the phrase “killing me” being an interesting linguistic phenomenon itself.) Not only is enough information packed into each week of the course that it could be its own course, but the professors are generally unhelpful. Every time I ask a question I get looked at like I’m only trying to get a good grade (which I would like as well, I suppose, but really I just want to know what I am doing) and I’m given an even more ambiguous answer than before. And now we’re learning phonetic transcription and the International Phonetic Alphabet, I’m more aware than ever of my status as a foreigner. After mid-semester break I will be facing an in-class transcription exercise spoken in – guess what – an Aussie accent. Which, though I’m now mostly adjusted to, I do not hear in my own head when I repeat auditory input back to myself. Did you know the Aussie pronunciations of “merry,” “marry,” and “Mary” are written differently in IPA? According to my American pronunciation, they should be the same.

Though adjusting to certain classes and differences while studying in Australia has been a challenge, I suppose I wouldn’t change that part of my experience even if I could. After all, the goal of studying abroad is to push one’s limits and learn to live in another culture – not to conform it to your previous expectations of the world. Even your expectations of yourself have to change. At home I’d pass with flying colors. Here I might just pass. BUT I also learned how to introduce myself in Kaurna (the local Adelaide Aboriginal language), read about fire-walking for a class, created a new blog called Found Objects of Adelaide, and got to explain the definition of a “Hoosier” to hysterically laughing Aussies. Cool as, mate.

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Exhaustion and Refreshment

Sarah Whaley

Last week was the end of the honeymoon phase of my exchange program in Adelaide. Before last week, my days consisted of shopping, exploring and partying in the city. It felt more like a holiday (vacation) than a study experience. Then, classes began at Uni and I have to admit I felt a bit shell-shocked. I hadn’t done anything related to school since December. I’d had no academic readings to complete, no lectures to attend and no online content to continuously check (except for Facebook, of course).  I felt assaulted by the sudden amount of work and embarrassed by the inadequacy of my preparations and organization.

150317a

Braving a smile for the first day of Uni.

 

Then, after making it reasonably successfully through the first two days of classes, I panicked and left class early on Wednesday. I left class early because the bites I’d woken up with on my legs that morning and the day before could no longer be ignored. My worst nightmare about Australia was unfolding before me: mysterious bites from an unknown creature that appeared red, angry and swollen. One bite had a red tail trailing off to one side. I made essentially the worst decision I could have made and Googled the bites during class. Top results were 1) poisonous spiders and 2) infection. I immediately excused myself from the room and went in search of the nearest doctor.

insect bites on leg

Convinced death from bites is imminent.

University of Adelaide is a smaller university than IU, so you’d think they would have walk-in doctors appointments, but that turned out not to be the case. The lady behind the counter wouldn’t even look at my bites, and her advice was to call the next day a 9 a.m. to see if there had been any appointment cancellations. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to see me until Monday. Next I tried the Dean at my residence, St Mark’s College. Her advice was to see one of the sixth year medical students at the college, but he was nowhere to be found. So I asked my friend Daniel to walk with me up the street into North Adelaide to find a chemist (pharmacist).

The chemist was kind, but when she came around from behind the counter to look at my bites, all of her professionalism disappeared. She gasped and put a hand to her mouth, then brought it down to say, “I think you need to see a doctor.” Exhausted from my earlier attempts at finding a doctor, I fought the urge to cry as I asked where walk-in appointments might be available. She gave me the addresses of two places, both outside of walking distance from St Mark’s. When I left the shop, I finally burst into the sobs I’d been holding back. I had no car and felt intimidated by the public transportation. I wanted to give up and, more than anything, to call my parents. I couldn’t do the latter and Daniel wouldn’t let me do the former, so he found someone from the college to drive us to Prospect Medical Centre.

My walk-in consultation was free, but the downside was Daniel and I had to sit waiting for hours. When they called me back after the first hour, I was excited. Finally. But all that happened was a lady who didn’t appear to be a doctor took a look at my bites, confirmed how terrible they looked and told me she’d put me on the waiting list for a walk-in appointment. I sat waiting for another hour and a half before seeing an actual doctor who told me the bites were likely from a mozzie (mosquito) and I was just having an exceptionally bad reaction to them. He prescribed me $45 worth of antibiotics, antihistamines and steroid cream.

Sarah and friend Daniel smiling

Daniel and I excited to be waiting for hours.

The next few days were hazy, both from the medication and a sudden onset of homesickness. I grew impatient with my friends in Adelaide and started intensely missing friends back home who had known me for longer than three weeks. I was easily irritable and moody and left two parties without saying goodbyes. One night I sat outside alone for more than two hours watching a light show on the theater that was part of the Adelaide Festival. When I looked up to see the stars and the moon glowing brightly in the sky, I was suddenly struck by the fact no one in Indiana could share the view with me because it was daytime there. I felt immediately far away and incredibly alone.

patterned light splashing on rooftop

Light show on the Adelaide Festival Centre.

Saturday night after leaving the second party of the weekend, I messaged my friend Ameen to tell him what a terrible time I was having. He suggested I make a trip out into the Adelaide suburbs to see him and his roommate, Ahmed. It was quieter there, he said, and I would enjoy the bus ride on the O-Bahn, a special track for buses leading from Adelaide to Tea Tree Gully. I hesitated once again out of fear of public transportation, but decided I needed to grow up and take a risk. After all, my own attempts at lifting my mood had been rather fruitless.

Sunday evening I hopped on a bus and took the O-Bahn out to see Ameen and Ahmed. It was a wonderful one-night break from the city. We took it easy, watching Australian comedians on YouTube and shows on TV. Then in the morning I woke up to the sound of birds and even the sound of a short rain. The rain cleared and we took a walk through the suburbs to grab some lunch. My spirits rose from the darkest of places to soaring heights. The beauty of the suburbs was consuming, with the hills so close by and the houses and fences a patchwork of reds, yellows and oranges. As Ameen cleaned the kitchen and I waited to catch a bus back into the city, I breathed in the fresh air coming from the open window and felt the most relaxed I’d been since my arrival in Australia. The suburbs of Adelaide felt like home.

The beautiful suburbs outside of Adelaide felt like home.

The beautiful suburbs outside of Adelaide felt like home.

I carried my refreshed mind and heart back into the city and everything felt lighter. The weather was perfect and I wandered slowly through Rundle Mall and across the River Torrens back to St Mark’s. I finished the last of my medication after dinner and saw that the marks from my bites were disappearing. I went and saw my second show at the Adelaide Fringe Festival that night and took a new path home to see all the lights and special art displays of Blinc (part of the Adelaide Festival) along the river.

a Blinc installation on the River Torrens

One of the Blinc installations on the River Torrens.

Though the second week of classes has now begun and I’m already playing catch-up on readings, I’m no longer feeling homesick and I feel more equipped for what’s yet to come this semester. Now I know the next time I feel like giving up I just have to keep going. And even though I’ve only known my friends here for three weeks, I can trust they’ll always be there to lift me up when I’m feeling down.

Sarah with friend Ameen

Ameen and I relaxing on the Barr Smith Lawns at Uni.

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My Aussie Addiction

Sarah Whaley

I am in love with Australia: the people, the weather, the places and everything in between. Though only a week has passed since my arrival, I already see myself returning. And every time someone mentions I only have 5 months left, I cringe. While I love my friends and family back home, I have yet to feel homesick once. It’s a bit overwhelming trying to satisfyingly summarize this past week of sunny days, but I will do my best by breaking it down to the simplest reasons Australia has taken my heart captive (insert “country colonized by convicts” joke here).

Reason #1: The People

I was told before boarding my first plane I was headed to the land of some of the kindest people in the world. While the thought was comforting, it wasn’t reality until my second plane hit the pavement in Melbourne. While waiting for my connecting flight to Adelaide, I met some native Adelaidians who eagerly shared everything I should do and see in the city. Then on the flight I sat next to an older couple who adopted me for a couple of hours and helped me into the airport, where I was greeted by two peers from St Mark’s College, the residential college I am staying at throughout my exchange program. A fro co (frozen Coke) from Macca’s (McDonald’s) and a night of games later, I had made my first friends. No need to have been so worried.

Even those I would not necessarily consider friends, such as the lady who set me up with a Westpac bank account, are unforgivably friendly. (“Unforgivably” because it’s nearly impossible to return their favors.) They say the Midwest is one of the friendliest parts of America, but we have nothing on the Aussies. They don’t just point you to where you need to go when you ask for directions, they walk you there. Now I think about it, I have yet to see an Aussie mad (except in jest). And that’s another thing. They all have a brilliant sense of humor and a resilience you wouldn’t expect in a county supposedly always trying to kill you with wildlife and riptides.

Not only are the locals amazing and full of stories, but being an international student has thrown me into a mix of people from all corners of the world. My tightest group of friends here met during international orientation week by a series of introductions to friends of friends. Now I’m regularly hanging out with friends from Italy, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Chile, France, Lebanon and Egypt. Perhaps our similar situation of being students in a new country drove us together so quickly, but I already wouldn’t trade a single one of them for the world. Plans are already being made for traveling together and making home visits once the semester is over.

my international friends

Some international friends and I.

Reason #2: The Weather

If the people weren’t enough to get me out of bed with a smile every morning, the weather would be my motivation. Though a couple of days have been incredibly hot (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit), I am loath to complain. Especially since my friends and family back home have been sending me shots of snow. I do not miss it and if I had a choice I would never return to it. My body was built for warmth and my mood was designed for sunshine. Here, I have plenty of both. They weren’t kidding when they said Adelaide is the driest Australian city either. The other day it rained for about five seconds. Though I’ve been told Adelaide can get cool in the winter, I am certain I will be the American out and about in short sleeves. I am also certain the Aussies will still be wearing thongs (flip-flops).

Adelaide from the air

Adelaide from the air.

Reason #3: The Places

This section is better told in pictures than in words:

My first impression of my new home was my room at St Mark’s. A queen size bed, two-story tall ceilings and a fireplace were waiting for me. The rest of the residential campus is beautiful too: the lawns are large, the buildings are old and architecturally interesting and the flora are labeled in case you’re interested in knowing their names.

my spacious living quarters

My spacious living quarters.

I didn’t get to see the city until the first day, but as cliché as it sounds the first glimpse took my breath away. Though the city of Adelaide is large and reasonably busy, the streets and parks are also large which helps the whole place breathe. The public transportation is easy, and from my location nearly everything is within walking distance. The walks are not dull either, but colored by the River Torrens, the numerous sculptures that hint at the artistic bent of the city and the birds (only found in zoos at home).

first glimpse of the city

First glimpse of the city.

If the city was breathtaking it was nothing compared to the campus of Uni (University of Adelaide). IU is comparably beautiful, but not quite as full of waterfalls and bridges covered in locks left by hopeful lovers. It is unreal thinking I will be taking classes there and eating lunch on the lawns in a week.

enjoying green space

Enjoying the campus green spaces.

One of the seasonal highlights here is the Adelaide Fringe and the accompanying Garden of Unearthly Delights. The festival celebrates non-traditional arts, and the Garden is full of food and drink vendors and shows. I even braved one of the pop-up fair rides with a little bit of cider courage, then spent the rest of the night laughing with my international friends as we took up three benches under the light-strung trees.

Garden of Unearthly Delights

The Garden of Unearthly Delights.

Before I left for Australia, I swore I wasn’t going to touch the water. Instead I ate my words the third day and dove into the Gulf St Vincent off of Glenelg Beach. The salt stung my eyes only at first and the water was pleasant, but everyone kept looking out for sharks. Adelaide is fairly safe from shark-traffic compared to Sydney or Melbourne, but even a dolphin fin would have had us out of the water in seconds.

Glenelg Beach at sunset

Glenelg Beach at sunset.

During a break in the international orientation schedule, a few friends and I grabbed our cameras and headed to the Botanic Gardens of South Australia. A better decision has never been made. But you’ll have to see for yourself.

Flower at botanical gardens.

A small taste of the beauty.

This is my walk to and from Uni every day. Enough said.

River Torrens

Walk along the River Torrens.

Reason #4: Everything in Between

By now I hope it’s understood why I never want to leave. But just in case someone is in need of a few more reasons: Tim Tams, Chupa Chups lollipops, the barby (barbecue), field trips to Victor Harbor, the sincerity of “no worries, mate” and this photo.

Me with a kangaroo

Kangaroo selfie.

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Waiting Room of Adventure

Sarah Whaley

Almost all my friends are gone. They are back to school, back at work, or already on their overseas adventures. I am home: washing dishes, working Monday through Thursday to pass the time, and scribbling tentative packing lists. And I still have a couple of weeks to go.

I don’t think I have ever experienced such a strange time in my life. I know I’m about to embark on a life-changing adventure, but I’m still here. It’s perplexing and I feel as if, in a way, I’m not entirely in existence anywhere. Half of my self is in Indiana, avoiding packing out of fear doing so will make my trip nonfiction. (Seriously, all I’ve done towards packing is put my suitcases in the hallway.) The other half of my self is already 10,000 air miles away in Adelaide, battling giant spiders and sea snakes. A bit dramatic, but if recent news is anything to judge by, my brain is doing me a favor by preparing for war.

Luggage & travel guide

My meager attempt at packing.

At first, the worst part about being in this antechamber of adventure (waiting room, but I like the way “antechamber of adventure” sounds like it could be the eighth Harry Potter book) was that my friends are no longer a campus walk away. But now I’ve reconnected with old friends at home and I’m spending almost every weekend traveling the state to see the rest. The worst part of waiting now is how my trip to Australia is all anyone wants to talk to me about. And I can’t even count the number of times the same people have asked me when I leave. I know they’re not anxious to be rid of me, but on darker days my mind sometimes goes there.

The first dream I had about Australia was a couple of months back. In the dream, I couldn’t make any new friends at University of Adelaide, and when I came back all my friends here had forgotten about me. The friends I told about the dream laughed at me to say, “As if that would ever happen.” But for as much as I laughed at myself in front of them, it’s still a legitimate fear. As legitimate as my fear of giant spiders and sea snakes.

Though I’m still struggling to feel fully in existence anywhere, my hope has been replenished thanks of one of my favorite movies, The Princess Diaries. Specifically, I’m given hope by the words of Mia’s father: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all.”

Traveling literally halfway around the world alone for the first time is incredibly terrifying. But while I’m clinging to these next couple weeks at home, I’m also anxious to move out of the waiting room and into my adventure. Fears of being friendless or bitten by animals aside, I could not be more excited. Not only will my overseas study give me the opportunity to take interesting classes, live within a different culture, and make new friends, but it will give me the opportunity to really get to know myself. After all, when all that you know is left behind, all that is left is you. I am looking forward to meeting myself in Australia.

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