Highly original title courtesy of this poem, which you should be reading right now.
My last weekend in Sydney was rather anticlimatic, actually.
I spent Friday night in the common room of my college, watching TV and chatting with friends.
Saturday, several of us went to the city to walk across the Harbour Bridge, because one of my American friends hadn’t done it yet. The trains were out of service due to trackwork, so we took a bus to Wynyard, then walked back across the bridge. We stopped for gelato at Milson’s Point, which was a very good decision. We then began the journey back to college, as it was quite cold and starting to rain. We caught one of the trackwork buses, which took FOREVER–at least 90 minutes, compared to the usual 45. We amused ourselves by drawing pictures on the foggy windows with our fingers, but lesson learned: never take a trackwork bus.
Once we got back to college, we gathered around the gas heater in the dining hall to warm up (yes, really), then enjoyed a delicious–especially by college standards–dinner and dessert. After dinner, most of my friends had homework or other commitments, and it was freezing cold and pouring outside, so I regretfully decided to stay in for the night. I bummed around the common room, talked to people, and tried to forget it was my last night in Australia. Eventually, I went to sleep.
The next morning I woke up and–guess what–still raining. I got soaked on the walk to the bus station, but the rain stopped by the time I got to the city and caught the airport train.
One of my other Sydney friends, who left a week before me, said it took a while for her to fully realise she was leaving. That was definitely not the case for me.
As soon as the train left Circular Quay–the last place I’d see Sydney Harbour–I burst into tears. The harbour is my absolute favourite part of the city, so leaving with no idea when I would see it again broke my heart.
The sobfest continued as the train passed through St. James, Museum, Central, Green Square, Mascot, and Domestic Airport. When I arrived at International Airport, I decided I should probably pull myself together. I checked my luggage, acquired a boarding pass, cleared customs and security, and made my wait to gate 9.
The flight was long, of course, clocking in at about 12 hours. To pass the time, I took advantage of Qantas’ excellent movie selection and also slept a little bit.
When I arrived at LAX–four hours before I left Sydney–I was greeted by Alex and James, two of my best friends at Mizzou. We spent the day cruising around L.A. It was fun to try In-N-Out Burger, see the other side of the Pacific, and enjoy one last adventure before heading home for real.
The next day, Alex took me to the airport and I got on a plane to St. Louis. As much as I loved SoCal, and as much as I loved Sydney, it felt great to be finally going home for real. Every time someone said “Flight 768 to St. Louis,” I smiled. I couldn’t believe it was really happening.
The flight was only about four hours long, but it felt much longer.
When I arrived at Lambert, I was greeted by my mom, dad, and sister. We definitely did one of those cheesy movie run-into-each-other’s-arms things. Then, because it was 10 p.m. and I’d only eaten one meal that day, we went to Ted Drewes for dinner.
I arrived home on Monday night. It’s now Thursday, and I still feel like I want to sleep forever.
I haven’t even gotten over the jet lag yet, but I’m already having Australia withdrawals. My family, in turn, is probably already sick of hearing about them.
At some point this week, I also realised I left a piece of my heart in Sydney–and I’m pretty sure no matter what I do to get it back, it will stubbornly refuse to budge.
This is probably the part where I should do some cheesy sentimental wrap-up about how amazing my time abroad was, how much fun I had, and how much I grew and changed as a result. Blah blah blah. But in the interest of not writing a study abroad brochure, I’ll just say all those things are true, and leave it at that.
I will, however, include a cheesy song: one that’s been running through my head all semester, and almost exactly captures my feelings toward the people I met, things I saw, and experiences I had in Sydney.
That’s it for this blog. Thanks to everyone who supported me with their advice, encouragement, and finances (that’s you, mom and dad) throughout the semester. If I know you, I look forward to a joyful reunion sometime this summer. If I don’t, make yourself known–I’d love to meet you!
One last thing, and this goes for all of y’all: if you’re thinking about embarking an adventure of your own, DO IT.
No excuses. None of this “I don’t have time/I can’t afford it/I’m too scared/I have responsibilities” nonsense. I couldn’t afford to go to Australia either. I was nervous too. I have responsibilities as well (Even college kids know what those things are, so hold the snarky comments, grown ups). But I went anyway, and it was the greatest experience of my life. Of. my. LIFE.
So whether you’re looking to move halfway around the world or just head out of state for a weekend, do it. You’ll be glad you did. And whatever you choose to do, I look forward to hearing all about it.
Okay, off you go. Stop reading about my adventures, and start making some of your own.
Until next time,
My last post left off with me preparing to catch an 11 pm flight from Cairns to Auckland, New Zealand.
When I arrived at the Cairns airport, my flight was the only one open for check-in in the international terminal. (The place isn’t exactly LAX.) Checking in took a little longer than I anticipated, because the person working the counter apparently wanted to ensure before I left for New Zealand that I wasn’t going to be deported once I got there. Before she gave me my boarding pass, she asked if I had plans for leaving New Zealand. Luckily, I had my itinerary in my bag for my flight back to Sydney a week later. When she saw that I had an American passport but was flying back to Australia, she asked me if I had a valid Australian visa. Luckily I had my visa confirmation with me as well, but really, how did she think I got into Australia in the first place? She was friendly enough, but I just wanted to get to my gate so I could sit down and think about taking a nap.
Eventually, I got my boarding pass and proceeded through security. People complain about the TSA, but Australian airport security is pretty much the same ordeal. You have to take your laptop out of your bag, and the liquids rule still applies, except here’s it’s 100 millilitres instead of 3 ounces. The main difference is in Australia, you get to keep your shoes on. They also don’t do pat-downs, as far as I know. Oh, and no one asks you for your passport. Okay, maybe it is easier in Australia.
Once I passed security, I was directed to the customs area, where I had to fill out a “departing passenger card.” The card asked for some random information about my stay and made me swear I wasn’t exporting any contraband from Australia. (This is where I’m glad I left that coral on the beach in Palm Cove.) It wasn’t a difficult process, but I don’t remember filling out anything like that when I left America. I presented the completed card to a customs officer, who put a “departing Australia” stamp on my passport.
It was sometime during this process that I realised New Zealand is, in fact, a different country. Intellectually, I knew that, but the whole customs process reminded me that I was in fact leaving the country I’d spent the last three months in. Not nearly as dramatic as leaving (for the first time) the country I’d spent the last 21 years in, but still notable.
When my flight was ready for boarding, they didn’t even bother to make a real announcement. It was the only flight leaving from that part of the terminal, so the crew pretty much just looked at all the tired people sitting near the gate and said, “Okay, y’all can get on the plane now.”
Once I got to my seat, I was delighted to find I had the entire row to myself. I guess not many people were clamouring to take a red-eye flight from Cairns to Auckland on a random Saturday. I was able to get a little rest by lying down across the three seats, but still airplanes are airplanes and I can’t sleep on airplanes.
The plane landed in Auckland at around 5:00 a.m., just in time for me to see my second sunrise of the trip. (Four-hour flight plus two-hour time difference, for those of you keeping track at home.) I proceeded through customs in a sleepless stupor, passed the giant “Kia Ora – Welcome to New Zealand” sign on the airport wall, and found a shuttle bus to take me to my hostel.
Because it was 6 a.m. when I arrived at the YHA International, I couldn’t really check in yet. The desk attendant looked about as awake as I was, but he gave me some change for the washing machines and the key to the luggage storage room. My first task was to do my laundry, since I’d only brought enough clothes for a week and they were all pretty much dirty by the time I left Melbourne. Once that task was complete, I stumbled out into the street in search of a cup of coffee. Along the way, I was surprised to find a record shop near my hostel open so early on a Sunday morning. The store reminded me of Vintage Vinyl, except it was much bigger (!) and sold music books and c*** colouring books and things as well as records and CDs.
As I wandered around downtown Auckland, I felt like I was at home–but not in a good way. The city reminded me of St. Louis. There are some nice parts, but it’s not. quite. there. The interesting things, like the record store, coffee shops, and museums, were scattered amongst vacant buildings and deserted sidewalks.
The Auckland Domain was okay, but the walk from the CBD was full of construction and concrete and not all that pleasant. In my wanderings, I came across the Auckland Institute of Technology. I remembered very briefly considering studying in Auckland this semester, and was quite glad I didn’t give that thought any serious attention.
My initial distaste for Auckland may have been caused partially by my tiredness resulting from a sleepless overnight flight. (Not that that stopped me from loving Sydney the minute I got here.) Despite the exhaustion, I decided to try to make something productive out of my day. First I went to Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was very nice. I even managed to stay awake through the 1.5-hour service.
Then I went to the Auckland Museum, which was pretty cool. The Museum is located in the Auckland Domain, a big grassy area in the middle of the city. (Like Forest Park. Except smaller. And uglier. But the St. Louis analogies continue.) Next to the museum is the Winter Gardens, which consist of a few greenhouses full of pretty flowers and stuff.
After visiting the Domain, I decided I’d had enough adventure for the day, so I got a sandwich for dinner and went back to check into my hostel and sleep. It was 6 p.m., but that was highly irrelevant.
The next day, I left Auckland on a Kiwi Experience tour. Our first stop was a lookout over the city. It was cold and rainy but the city looked slightly less lousy from the top of a very dormant volcano.
I spent a wonderful five days exploring the North Island. But at the end of the tour, I ended up–guess where–back in Auckland.
When I arrived in the city on Friday afternoon, I had the benefit of a full night’s sleep. On the other hand, it was Good Friday, which is a public holiday in New Zealand, so EVERYTHING was closed. Plus, it was raining. Feeling epically lame, I spent some time on the internet at my hostel, then ventured out for a falafel kebab, some chips, and a bottle of L&P from a shop down the street. The kebab shop was pretty crowded, because it was one of the few places open on Good Friday. Kiwis take their public holidays very seriously. I also got a chocolate chip cookie from an “American-style” cookie store. It’s funny–I don’t think of chocolate chip cookies as particularly American, and it wasn’t until this store pointed it out that I realised I hadn’t really seen them anywhere else in Australasia.
On Saturday, I decided to give Auckland one last chance, so I ventured down to the harbour. There, the St. Louis comparisions ended and the Sydney ones began. Let’s face it: Auckland just wants to be Sydney. Their Harbour Bridge looks like a smashed-down version of Sydney’s, and they have a Bridge Climb too. (To be fair, you can’t bungee jump off the Sydney Harbour Bridge. But this is New Zealand–you can bungee jump off everything.)
I took a ferry to Davenport because, as I’ve mentioned before, ferries are awesome. Davenport is the historical area of Auckland, and there were lots of pretty buildings and parks there. I climbed to the top of the dormant volcano we drove up at the beginning of the week. I walked around with the tourists for a while, then slid down the steep grassy side and back to the bottom. That was pretty fun, even if the only other people doing it were under the age of 6.
After killing some time in Davenport, I went back to the Auckland CBD and has a delicious Chipotle-style burrito at a Mexican restaurant. Then I walked around the harbour for a while and became further convinced that Auckland is trying to be Sydney. Unfortunately for the city, it is failing. Miserably. If I had gone there first, I probably would’ve thought the trendy restaurants and fancy boats on Auckland’s harbour were pretty sweet. But because I’d lived in Sydney for three months, I was not impressed.
Then I went to church, because that’s what I do when I’m alone in a city with time to kill and no money to spend. (Actually, it was Easter Vigil, so I probably would have gone anyway.) It was a beautiful service, and it lasted until 10:30 p.m. After Mass, I said goodbye to Auckland (not entirely happily–even if it was a lousy city, few things are more enticing than a city on a Saturday night) and took a shuttle to the airport. There, I found a comfy bench and slept until it was time to check in for my 6 a.m. flight out of the New Zealand knockoff version and back to the real Sydney.
When President Obama announced Sunday night that the United States had killed Osama bin Laden, it was around 12:30 pm Monday here in Australia. I was working at my internship with an outdoor interest magazine. The past weekend’s royal wedding was dominating office conversation, until one of my Australian co-workers interrupted, saying, “The U.S. says Osama bin Laden is dead.” Someone else said, “He is?” “The U.S. says so,” she replied with a hint of skepticism.
The conversation ended there, though I’m sure most of my co-workers spent the next several minutes checking their preferred news websites–I know I did. For the rest of the afternoon, we didn’t discuss the news. Someone mentioned Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was giving a speech in response, but that was it.
Back at my dorm, the reactions were much the same: no one really had any. Initially, the only reactions I saw were from the other Mizzou study abroad students living in the building. We gathered in the hallway, watched the video of Mizzou students celebrating in Greektown, and bemoaned the fact that all the exciting stuff happens while we’re gone.
At 7 p.m., about seven hours after the news broke, just two television channels were discussing the news during their regularly scheduled nightly newscasts. There were no special reports, no interrupted programming, or anything like that. I didn’t have access to a TV then, so I don’t know what the television media reaction was like when the news broke, but I was quite surprised at how quickly programming had gone back to normal. As I watched the newscasts, I finally got the opportunity to gauge everyone else’s reactions. I was startled by how different they were from the scenes portrayed on American news websites.
Most people here were satisfied that an evil man had been killed, but there was no jubilant celebration. The Australian and international students took a more skeptical view of the news. They questioned the United States’ decision to spend ten years, billions of dollars, and countless lives on the operation to find bin Laden. They debated the ethics of celebrating a death, no matter how evil the victim. They questioned if the whole thing was an elaborate hoax, since the US had not released photos or video of bin Laden’s body. They worried about retaliation against Americans from governments and terrorist organizations.
The U.S. State Department has issued a travel alert for American citizens travelling worldwide. If I were in the Middle East, I would probably be scared silly right now, and justifiably so. But here in Australia, I feel reasonably safe. Australia is an American ally, but I think–I hope–they haven’t played a big enough role in the war on terror to be considered a serious target.
As for my personal experiences as an American, the worst abuse I’ve dealt with so far is from people who feel the need to blame me for everything my government has done. In America, people spent the night waving flags and chanting “USA.” Here, when I quietly admitted I’m proud to be an American, I was faced with a torrent of verbal abuse.
Like most citizens, I don’t agree with everything America’s government has done. Yet some of my fellow students feel the need to chastise me for everything they feel is wrong with America. It’s infuriating, and I admit there have been a few moments where I wish I were at home where I can–usually–wave a flag without being made fun of.
But as much as I complain that all the good stuff happens while I’m gone, it’s been interesting to see such a major international news story unfold from outside America. There are no parties in the streets. No one is waving flags or congratulating themselves on a job well done. Instead, they’re thinking about the future. While Americans are caught up in patriotic fervor, the rest of the world is looking on calmly, skeptically, wondering what is going to happen next.
This is irrelevant to my life right now because it’s currently March, but today I came across a very interesting column giving an Australian perspective on American Christmas celebrations. I encourage you to check it out here on the Sydney Morning Herald website if you’re interested in learning more about the cultural differences between the two countries.
Meanwhile, I’ve been relatively busy this past week with my new internship and the first round of essay due dates. As if that weren’t enough, I also need to plan my mid-semester break travels (it’s in two weeks!) and figure out what I’m doing this summer (yes, unfortunately, I have to go home eventually). I haven’t had a lot of time to do anything awesome in the past few days, but hopefully I’ll have a few good adventures and a few good blog posts this weekend.