Indiana University Overseas Study

Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Sachsenhausen: Past and Present

Sarah Monnier - Berlin, Germany

I am three weeks into my course looking at what is remembered and what is forgotten in Berlin’s history. In our short time here we have gone on numerous excursions as a class to visit sites that reflect this theme.

In our second week we had our longest and most intimidating journey, a visit to a concentration camp. This past semester I took a class on the history of the Holocaust as part of my history degree, so I knew the logistics of what happened. I knew that Sachsenhausen was a concentration camp just outside of Berlin. I knew it held prisoners for a variety of qualities categorized as criminal offenses by the Third Reich, from political beliefs and sexual orientation to being Jewish, Sinti, or Roma. I just didn’t know what to expect when seeing the camp in person.

Guard tower

The main guard tower for Sachsenhausen is at the center of a spoke-like arrangement of barracks. Built in 1936, the camp was meant to serve as the ideal model for later camps to follow.

To get to the camp we took an hour-long ride on the S-Bahn followed by a 10-minute bus ride through a picturesque town. Upon arrival we were met with a large map of the camp emphasizing the enormity of Sachsenhausen.

The camp was meant to be the ideal model for all camps that would follow. Our guide explained the semi-circular set up of the camp. One main guard tower above the entrance was able to control the entire camp with one machine gun because the barracks fanned out like bicycle spokes from its base. A curved track paved with uneven stones separated the barracks from the tower. Prisoners were forced to carry weights while testing shoes for the German army, trekking back and forth across the track until collapsing from exhaustion.

guard tower and fenceline

The outer perimeter of the camp is bordered by a combination of barbed wire, electric fences and a cement wall. The “neutral zone” served as a death strip, for anyone who crossed its threshold or was forced to cross into it was shot immediately.

Throughout the visit we were faced with the cruelty and suffering that was commonplace at the camp, from torture devices, gallows, and crowded bunks, to the crematorium. Some of us felt numb and uneasy, whispering to each other as we navigated the camp on our own.

In contrast to the raw leftovers of history we witnessed, were the intrusions of the current day. There were hundreds of other visitors to the camp that day, many with handheld, brick-like walkie-talkies that explained the history of the camp in whatever language was needed. There were some who snapped selfies in front of the gates near the sign that read “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” – work sets you free. The experience left me feeling disconnected from what that site was.

labor camp entrance

The entrance to many labor camps of the Third Reich bore the same slogan “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” – works sets you free. The saying was increasingly insidious, as most prisoners would be “freed” only through death after exhaustion from forced labor.

Our visit to Sachsenhausen served as another example of how Germany handles its darkest period in history. During the war, the scenic town was still where it is today, right next to the camp. German civilians could not have ignored the enormous structure located down the street from their own homes. They would have witnessed the new prisoners arriving at the local train station and seen the smoke stacks as no one made a return trip. Similarly, the camp remains as prominent as it was as a reminder and warning to all of us today. If we allow ourselves to forget, then we are enabling the conditions of fear and hate that emboldened the Third Reich to take hold once more.

Sarah Monnier - exploring the history and memory of Berlin

O’ Captain, My Captain: Sailing the Isefjord

Rachel Larsen - Copenhagen

I just had the most amazing opportunity that I will never forget. Myself and 18 new friends traveled to Isefjord, a small freshwater fjord connecting Kategat (the cat canal) to mainland Hoelbæk of Denmark. We met in Copenhagen and took a scenic train ride through rural Denmark at a beautiful 7 am. We walked through the town of Holbæk, known for one of the oldest hotels in Denmark and for the beautiful ports that host many of the country’s documented wooden ships.

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In Denmark, wooden sailing ships are not only a living piece of history, but they are a prized possession that requires much responsibility. To be a licensed wooden ship in Denmark (one that belongs to an illustrious club, that is), there are rules that dictate everything, including how the deck must be washed and how the sails must be sewn (criss-cross seams fail a ship upon inspection).

Once we were on the boat, safety demonstrations began. We put all of our stuff down below where there was enough sleeping rooms for 23. Soon, we began leaving Holbæk for Hundested, or “dog’s place.” The temperature was warm for Denmark, but the sea breeze was perfect. Kenneth told me he had almost never seen such a perfect Danish day for sailing.

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Out on the front of the boat, rigging was set to help hoist the sails. Between the 3 of us, we were able to shimmy out past a net, onto the beams beyond the boat to raise the sails in a windy adventure. We saw jellyfish go by underneath us at a comfortable 5 knots. We sailed for an entire day before landing in port, the beach of Hundested. It was a beautiful small city, one that most of the crew was pretty familiar with. Kenneth, Jonas, and Johnny showed us around and let us have a great time around the city, teaching us new words and Danish and laughing at our all-together Americanness.

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Every day, different members of the crew cooked a meal and did the dishes. In Denmark, customs say that if you make the meal, you eat last, inviting your guests to partake first. While we weren’t used to this, the first mate was quite strict. That being said, the fruit here in Denmark is the best you will ever have. Denmark doesn’t use preservatives like other countries, meaning the food goes bad faster here, but tastes must fresher. We had bread fresh from the bakery in both ports. And, we learned to make a tenderloin-sausage stew that was absolutely fantastic! Everything we had on the boat was good!

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While many of the sights were beautiful and amazing, easily the best part of this trip was the crew. The captain, Markin, was the quietest, but one of the funniest. He obviously loved our energy and laughed at our jokes and bad dance skills on the boat, but never spoke to the guests directly. Christina, the first mate, was a delight. She was the person who helped us all cook and taught us the tradition of logkake, a layer cake that is made for celebrations in Denmark. She also was dating the captain, which she explained happened during a 2 month excursion to Spain.

Johnny was the funny guy. He had been on the ship the longest as a crew member and loved the seas. He was very open and loved to talk to us all, though his English was spotty. That made Kenneth, a 27-year-old student on the ship, even more fun. Kenneth was as fluent in English, no doubt about it. He only needed to look up a few words during the entire trip. He was an amazing artist and really enjoyed spending time with us.

Finally, “micro-man” Jonas was the most reserved about the group. Jonas was only 19 and was a student in the sailing school. He was very wary of us when we started, but he warmed up pretty quickly. We got him to laugh, though his English was the worst. Not bad, at all, but definitely a challenge.

The crew really took us in and taught us the meaning of hygge. Hygge is the traditional moral of the Danes, a way of life that incorporates comfort, compassion, and welcome into their lives. I can’t imagine being able to recreate the feeling of watching the sunset on a small boat with the comfort of new friends.

Rachel Larsen - exploring collaboration in STEM & study abroad

Bloomington Meets Berlin

Sarah Monnier - Berlin, Germany

When I was preparing to study abroad there were a lot of warnings about culture shock and homesickness; and of course when my mom was driving away, leaving me at the airport, I was shaken up. That nervous feeling did not leave me until I met the other Indiana University students in Berlin. Since then I have been too busy exploring to be bothered by weird instances of cultural confusion, like the Kontrolleurs on the trains. The Kontrolleurs spend their days in plainclothes slipping onto trains and flashing their badges before requiring everyone to show their validated ticket. Being caught without the correct ticket will get you kicked off and earn you a pricey fine.

While I’m on the subject of public transportation, I think Bloomington could take some pointers from Berlin; they have it down to a beautiful, eco-friendly network of trams, trains and buses. To get to class I can take a tram from the hotel we are staying in on a five-minute ride to the Oranienburger Straße stop which is at most a two-minute walk from our classroom at IES. The trams are particularly nice because they have their own lane to operate in and only stop when requested, making for quicker commutes. To get virtually anywhere in the city, we can also take the U-Bahn, the underground train or the S-Bahn, the above-ground train. I prefer the S-Bahn because you can see the city as you travel. A tip to those riding public transportation, Germans are not fond of noisy, over-talkative groups so save your breath and keep it down. Also, don’t be alarmed if you feel like people are staring at you — I’ve gathered that they are just an observant bunch and don’t mean anything by it.

Sarah and friend eating döners.

My treasure hunt partner, Greer Brown and I enjoyed the task of finding the best döner in Berlin. Döner is becoming one of the most popular foods in the city, behind currywurst.

On our first day of class our professor paired us off and assigned us each a treasure hunt to find different sites or things around the city. Mine took me from the first place the Berlin Wall opened to the best döner kebab stand to a fancy mall overlooking the zoo. I felt like I was back at Freshman Orientation learning my way around campus and finding places to hang out or study. An early favorite of mine is the Teirgarten; a huge park perfect for jogging, sunbathing, reading, or just watching the other visitors, usually with their impressively obedient dogs in tow. When you are close to the outside perimeter of the park and can see the Brandenburg Gate, it feels just like any small, green space in any city; but when you are deep within it wildflowers, weeping willow trees and countless statues surround you. If you’re lucky and find yourself near the statues for Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn, you’ll hear chimes — solidifying the feeling that you are in some kind of fairytale.

Sarah posing with Ampelmann

While on our way to the Reichstag, we discovered a giant statue of the Ampelmännchen, the crossing guard symbol of East Germany. Affectionately called Ampelmann, it is one of the few symbols left over from the communist German Democratic Republic.

After finishing our scavenger hunt we reunited with our class to tour the Reichstag, the home of Germany’s parliament. Touring the Reichstag gave an interesting insight into the theme of our class. The exterior of the building has historic grandeur while the inside is pristinely modern. There are few reminders of the mysterious fire that destroyed part of the building in 1933 after Hitler came to power.

Our tour guide led us through the enormous glass doors and began to explain the dusty, charcoal graffiti found on the walls. At the end of World War II after taking Berlin, Soviet soldiers descended on the Reichstag and left their mark on the walls. She explained that it was decided that it would be preserved to serve as a constant reminder of Germany’s history.

German graffiti on wall

This may not look like much but there are numerous walls in the Reichstag covered in it. The graffiti was filtered by the Russian and German governments when the decision was made to preserve it, first removing any pieces that were explicitly violent to the people of Germany.

We continued on our tour to an interior balcony overlooking a wall-sized window facing the east. Our guide pointed out the bullet holes left in the ceiling from the Battle of Berlin and then focused on the slightly darker line on the pavement outside. She explained the Berlin Wall used to run directly behind the Reichstag separating it from what used to be East Germany. She laughed as businessmen walked along the line, unaware that a group of tourists were observing, perhaps oblivious to what they were walking on. After one week here, these are the kind of ironic contrasts we are starting to get used to.

Sarah Monnier - exploring the history and memory of Berlin

Argentina’s Historic Election

Vincent Halloran - Buenos Aires

Waving the Argentina flag at a street celebration

As a Political Science major and campaign staffer back home, I couldn’t help but take part in the celebrations at the Obelisco after Argentina elected a new President, Mauricio Macri, on November 22nd.

Throughout my semester in Argentina, I have had the privilege of watching an unprecedented and contentious election season play out. The elections, a referendum on distinct visions of Argentina’s future, have dominated news broadcasts and even daily discussions with my host family. The omnipresence of political discourse, particularly in a nation with compulsory voting (don’t worry, it is possible to vote in blank), has been a dream come true for an aspiring political functionary like myself. As Argentina chose between the status quo of a tightly regulated economy with an expansive welfare state, and a liberalized future focused on opening up the economy to the international market and dismantling strict capital controls, I found many of my own convictions challenged along the way.

Giant political ad down the side of a tall building.

One of the countless political advertisements that have seemingly covered the country this Fall. Pasted to bus stops, hung from balconies, and displayed on the sides of high-rises, posters like this banner for the eventual victor, Macri, dominate the city and countryside alike.

The elections were largely expected to be a long victory lap for the Peronist candidate Daniel Scioli, the Governor of Argentina’s largest province, Buenos Aires. Scioli, who represents the party that has dominated Argentina’s democracy since its inception in 1946 under Colonel Juan Domingo Peron, looked to take the place of term-limited Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. The Peronists, representing a diverse collection of political ideologies and labor unions, have used their populist appeal to reassemble the Argentine welfare state and ‘protect’ the domestic market from the volatile and capitalistic world market. Despite success in this project for nearly a decade, allowing Argentina to emerge from the Crisis of 2001 and weather ensuing default, growth has slowed of late and accusations of corruption have mounted for the incumbent party. This all led to shocking results in the first round of the presidential election in late October, when Scioli found himself surprisingly challenged by Mauricio Macri.

Macri, the Mayor of the Federal Capital (a separate administrative entity from Buenos Aires province, much like our own District of Columbia), offered another vision for Argentina’s future. The outgoing mayor spoke out against corruption, the refusal to negotiate with the holders of Argentina’s defaulted bonds, and Argentina’s increasingly controversial and confrontational foreign policy. He offered an Argentina without strict capital controls that have made exchanging for dollars nearly impossible (and made my trip exceedingly complicated) and instead hopes to create an increasingly open economy based on cooperation with Europe and the United States rather than states like China and Russia. In late October, Macri came within just two points of Scioli, initiating the first runoff election in the history of Argentina’s young democracy. The debate that would engulf the country, between two distinct approaches, left me on the front lines of a historic shift in Argentine politics.

smoke rises at a political demonstration on the street

Political demonstrations in the final days before the October elections led groups to cutoff one of Buenos Aires’ main avenues during morning rush hour – a common tactic in political activism here (don’t worry, this is as close as I dared go).

The runoff, occurring on November 22nd after an unprecedented election season which saw Peronists on their heals for the first time in over a decade, featured historic events such as Argentina’s first successful presidential debate between the remaining candidates. The contentious debate spurred a shouting contest between supporters of the two candidates from the balconies behind my apartment, with shouts of “traitor!” directed at Macri and accusations of “liar!” directed at Scioli. On election night, with Macri’s upset win seeming inevitable, people in my upper-class Buenos Aires neighborhood took to the streets to celebrate the dawning of a new Argentina. I joined several other students to go downtown to watch as Macri’s supporters shot off fireworks and blazoned their national flag while reveling in the victory. However, I remain unsure of Argentine’s future, fearing for the safekeeping of its welfare state yet happy that clientalism and corruption have been dealt a blow. One thing is certain, for Argentina the future will not be easy, regaining growth and leaving strict economic regulations behind will impoverish many on the path towards the promise of future prosperity as part of the global economy.

Vincent Halloran - analyzing Argentine political and economic models

Meeting my “Argentine Family”

Vincent Halloran - Buenos Aires

I cannot describe how pleased I have been with my experiences in Buenos Aires so far. On our second night in the city, after spending our first night in a hotel, we were each picked up by our respective host families and taken to our new BA homes. My host, a sweet Argentine grandma named Susy, is a former social psychologist who now focuses her free time on painting and writing poetry. We live in a comfortable first floor apartment with two beautiful patios in a trendy and beautiful neighborhood known as Palermo. Soon, after arriving and taking a moment to unpack my mountain of clothes (I am here for 5 months, remember), we sat to eat dinner with Susy’s cousin Ernesto. Ernesto, upon learning that I study Political Science, shared with me a passionate and encyclopedic knowledge of Argentine politics over dinner; I could not have been more thrilled.

 

Casa Rosada

Casa Rosada, the seat of the Argentine presidency

Ernesto, over the course of our two-hour meal of chicken soup, chicken salad and a delicious apple salad, essentially broke down the last 50 years of Argentine political history. His account, accompanied by the occasional clarifying interjection by my endlessly kind host Susy, captivated me with its level of detail. At one point, to illustrate Ernesto’s level of knowledge, Susy randomly asked him “Who was the Argentine Economic Minister in 1947?” Ernesto answered so quickly that I even thought they may have planned it before!

the Obelisco

The Obelisco, a potent symbol of Argentine democracy

From 8 until almost 11, Susy and Ernesto debated the merits of the current administration, headed by the heavy-handed but progressive Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Ernesto, a steadfast supporter of the left-leaning populist, praised “Kirchnerismo” for revitalizing Argentine domestic industry. Meanwhile, Susy decried the current level of corruption, highlighted by the Nisman controversy earlier this year, so much so that at one point the discussion escalated to shouting! As a passionate observer of Latin American politics, I felt incredibly fortunate to have this intimate window into the Argentine reality opened. The evening left me filled with anticipation of an exciting semester to come.

Vincent Halloran - analyzing Argentine political and economic models

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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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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