Livin’ on a Prayer

See that picture across the top of my blog?  That’s where I was a week ago.  I still can’t believe it.  If there is anything I have learned throughout this journey, it’s that everything is so much better when you work hard for it and you earn it.  And that’s exactly why the Whitsunday Islands were so amazing.  Brittany, myself, and Rachelle rented a Wicked Campervan (a toyota van that converts to have a bed in the back) and roadtripped 15 hours north from Brisbane along the coast to the Whitsundays.  In 5 days, we drove 2400 km, which is about 1500 miles.  We slept 3 people in that van for 4 nights and for having never camped before, it was certainly an experience for me.  It was an adventure trying to find places to park the van and realizing that 30 hours is a long time to be in the car within 5 days.  Amazingly, Brittany drove the entire way by herself.  I did not trust myself to drive on the other side of the road, and anyways you have to be 21 to be covered by the insurance by the rental company.

As I write this, I am getting frustrated because there are no words that can really describe my experiences and how I have been changed by them.  Figuring out traveling plans on your own and being assertive and independent really makes you feel like you can take over the world, and I really think that I can.  The end is near, and I really have mixed feelings about it.  With exams and trips, this last month went extremely fast.  I did everything I wanted to do while I was here and much more.  I am almost broke, but if anything I learned that in the scheme of things, money doesn’t matter at all.  I learned more this semester than I have any other semester at school – and most of it wasn’t from my classes (which were extremely easy).  I have more faith than I ever thought I could, and I was blessed to become close friends with a few awesome, amazing, fun women.

What I am most sad about leaving behind in Australia are my friends Georgie and Caitlin whom I have become very close with and it scares me that it could be years before I see them again (hopefully they will come visit me in the US!)  I know that I will leave Australia as a different person than when I arrived, and this is partially thanks to them!  Australia and its spirit have left a mark on me that will hopefully never go away.  I am more adventurous, more carefree, and more confident.  I think that people might be surprised by the new me, and it will be strange to see Hope and all of the things I am used to from a new perspective.  I am excited to go home and begin the next chapter of my life – one that will no doubt be as crazy and adventurous as these past few months have been.

Back to the Whitsundays adventure:  we stayed in our van in Airlie Beach for 2 nights, and took a speed boat trip around the islands (which was extremely intense and hilarious because it was so rocky and windy).  We snorkeled at one of the islands on the reef, walked to the lookout on Whitsunday Island, and spent a couple hours on Whitehaven Beach (the most beautiful beach in Australia, with the whitest, softest sand I have ever seen).  This day made the extremely long road trip worthwhile.

About our van – it was a piece of crap.  It struggled to get up hills, and was practically falling apart.  I can’t believe we made it back to Brisbane in one piece.  Even though it was a struggler, we loved it nonetheless.  The best part of the road trip was blasting AC/DC and rocking out with our bandanas on, looking like complete hippies and honking and waving at every construction worker we saw.  Energy drinks and s’mores also made the trip go faster.  There were a lot of hilarious/scary moments on this trip, but I can’t possibly list all of them, so just ask :).  Brittany and I have a gift for making any dangerous or scary moment into heaps of fun.

1 exam left tomorrow, then 2 days left in the Gold Coast before I leave for a long weekend for Easter at Georgie’s home in Glen Innes.  Then I have 1 day before I go back! It’s finally starting to hit me that I’m leaving!  But I am excited to get back to my family and friends and good ole Holland, Michigan for the summer!

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Sydney

Years from now I am not going to remember what I bought as a souvenir in Sydney or what buildings I saw on the walking tour of Sydney and everything that the tour guide said. What I am going to remember is the feeling I had on the ferry to Manly, watching the sunset over the Sydney Harbour in the distance, and realizing that I earned this trip, this amazing view, and that Brittany and I figured it out all on our own.  I will remember laughing so hard that I almost cried when we were running through the streets of Sydney to get a picture of the rainbow over the Opera House (and causing a firetruck to stop because it thought we were running towards it for help), being scared and disgusted at first by our hostel in the red light district of King’s Cross (don’t worry, it wasn’t as bad as it sounds), making a fool of myself asking strangers to take pictures of me jumping in the air in front of the Opera House, seeing a man on Bondi beach wearing a thong (why?!? why???), meeting the crazy people who worked at our hostel (one was named Ant and told us he was from Antarctica, yet he had an Aussie accent), and making friends with the security guards in the train station and on the harbour bridge (he ended up being a pretty good photographer hah).

Sydney lived up to every expectation I had, but there is no way I can really explain the experience I had there.  Yes, I hiked Blue Mountains, including seeing the Katoomba waterfalls (there was a rainbow over these too), and the three sisters.  I also explored the Opera House (they let you use the bathroom for free)  and walked across the Harbour Bridge.  I went to the famous Bondi Beach and sang along with the Beach Boys out loud and looked like a tourist everywhere I went.    I walked around the city for miles until my feet and entire body ached.  I went to a market in Chinatown and haggled with the shopkeepers.  Sydney was just one of the many experiences I’ve had here that has changed me so much.

Brittany and I talked about how we feel like we are becoming adults here.  Although you mostly hear about how amazing studying abroad is (which it is), it is also really hard at times.  When things are different from what you are used to, they are going to be uncomfortable at first, but getting out of my comfort zone is exactly what I needed.  Everything that has felt like a setback has somehow become a catalyst for new and better experiences.  I am learning so much about myself and what I want my life to be like.  I know that what I value most are deep friendships and relationships with people and that I love the city but I can never live in it.  I know I will always be an academic and I am happiest when I am learning, writing, or reading.  This experience has only increased my fascination with people and how the world works.

I can’t believe I have only 30 days left here!  I love this country, and I have been so spoiled by it, yet it has helped me appreciate so many of the things that I take for granted in my life- like cheaper prices, my car, my family, my friends, and my Hope experiences.  The easygoing Australian lifestyle has taught me to not sweat the small things and to really appreciate them instead.  I hope I never lose the spirit of adventure and “no worries” attitude that Australia has taught me.

Undie Sunday and other adventures

This weekend I did something I never thought I would do or would ever want to do.  I danced with 250 strangers in my underwear. In public.  I will explain…  Brisbane had an event called “Undie Sunday” to raise money for Colon Cancer research- kind of a dance marathon, but without pants.  The goal was to break the Guinness World Record for the most amount of people dancing in their underwear in one place.  The old record was 547 people.. and we did not even come close.  But still it was hilarious (and also kind of digusting because it was really hot and not everyone was attractive in their underwear), but mostly just hilarious.   For your safety and ours, I will not be posting any pictures (don’t worry, we wore shirts).  We also thought it would be a good idea to stay up until 2 am the night before when we had to catch the train at 7 am the next morning.  Good plan.

There were news cameras and photographers everywhere, so I was probably at some point on Australian tv in my underwear (who else can say that?!?)  It’s funny because I would never do this kind of event in the U.S. because I really don’t think it would be safe (creepers abound), but I feel like here it is much more acceptable and a part of the culture to be more open. When in Rome… (or Australia)…

here is a video of the festivities:

In other news, I have been learning so much about Aussie culture from my roommate and her friend Caitlin, like about what “bogans” are.  A bogan is kind of like an Australian redneck.  They are usually from the country and have very thick accents.  It’s hard to explain, so I will just show you. I have not met any bogans, but I have definitely seen some, and have had fun teasing my aussie friends when they act a little bogan-ish.

This is a very extreme bogan example:

And here’s another video of Aussie- nature just for fun: 

 

Melbourne

The best word I can use to describe this weekend is EPIC.  I have a hard time believing that it actually happened.  Let’s just say that my only hope is that someday I can live in Melbourne.  It was an amazing adventure and I got to experience so many new and beautiful things with some really fantastic people.  It truly is not about where you go, but who you are with, but it doesn’t hurt if where you go is one of the most beautiful cities in the world (and the third most liveable).

We stayed with Jordy, an Aussie who did an exchange at Brittany’s high school 5 years ago and who was kind enough to put up with 3 girls taking over his house and even showed us all around the city.  Here are the highlights of what was one of the best weekends of my life.

The Cafe Culture of Melbourne: Degraves Street is lined with tons of coffee shops that are delicious.  I could see myself spending hours a day on that street, reading books, sipping lattes, and people watching.

Driving the Great Ocean Road: This was the adventure I’ve been waiting for.  We rented a car and Brittany amazingly navigated out of the city of Melbourne and 150 miles along the cliffs of the ocean.  This was so exhilarating and the Great Ocean Road had the most beautiful sites I have ever seen.  I still cannot believe that we survived driving from 9 am to 12 at night on the left side of the road.  The best sites were the Twelve Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge.  They are rock formations caused by the erosion of the land by the ocean. We may have gotten a little lost trying to get back to Jordy’s house in Melbourne, but that was just part of the adventure…

Dandenongs: We drove to the top of these mountains outside of Melbourne and had the most amazing view of the city.

Yarra Valley:  The Yarra Valley was gorgeous and Jordy, who is studying winemaking, took us to a wine tasting at a vineyard and we went to a brewery afterwards.  Double the goodness.

Port Philip:  Jordy’s family drove us out to have a picnic and watch the sunset on the water with a perfect view of the city.  Afterwards we went to a pier where you could watch penguins in the wild. They were so tiny and so cute! Who thought you could see penguins in Australia??

Cliff Jumping: We jumped off of cliffs into the ocean on the peninsula outside of Melbourne. SO. MUCH. FUN.

Roo Chasing: We went to this spot in the country where there are tons of kangaroos just hopping around and we got really close to them! I never thought I would ever be able to do that and I feel so much more Australian now. I got up close to a kangaroo with a baby joey in its pouch and got the best picture ever!  Ironically, we grilled up some kangaroo steaks from dinner right afterwards and they were suprisingly really good! I did feel a little bit guilty though…

I actually took this picture!!!

This weekend was great because we got to see so many things in the city that we wouldn’t have been able to see if we were just traveling by ourselves, rather than staying with a local.  And having the freedom of a car rather than a tour bus was the best.  We were blessed to have the most amazing hosts and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life as I did this weekend.  The next trip I am planning on is Sydney and it has some pretty high expectations to live up to, so we shall see…

Brissy (Brisbane)

Yesterday I went for a day trip to Brisbane, only an hour train ride away from the Gold Coast.  I was so excited to see that the train only cost $3.50 each way!!! I went with my friend Rachelle and my trusty guidebook.  Normally I am extremely directionally challenged, but Rachelle and I found our way around the city pretty well!  My favorite part was definitely the South Bank, that had lots of cute restaurants and shops and a craft fair, a beautiful winding flowered archway, and a lagoon called Streets Beach which was unfortunately closed from damage from the flooding.

Rachelle and I found an amazing brunch restaurant in King George’s Square, toured the Museum of Modern Art, and rented rollerblades and bladed around the river through the City Botanical Gardens.  It was gorgeous, but also extremely hot and by the end of the night we were exhausted from walking and rollerblading!  There were so many shops in Brisbane and we got our shopping fix in the outdoor Queen St. Mall. Although I’m still struggling with Australian fashion… sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it (mostly because it’s so expensive).

I am obsessed with the sushi here.  They have little restaurants where you can get entire rolls that you eat with your hands for $2 each.  It’s so cheap and easy and they are everywhere. It almost makes up for all the other food that is so expensive. I still can’t believe it.  I am definitely going to miss those when I come back to the US.

This week I have midterms so I will be holed up in the library instead of enjoying the sunshine : (  But I had my first play practice today and that is sure to be fun… although the play is in only 4 weeks! They do everything so last minute here!  Speaking of… I better stop procrastinating and get back to hitting the books!

The REAL Australia

This past weekend was “sweet as”, as my Aussie friends would say (that means really sweet).  My new housemate Georgie was kind enough to take me back with her to her hometown of Glen Innes for their annual show (like a state fair carnival kind of thing).  Georgie, myself, and her two friends Caitlin and Tori embarked on the 5 hour drive through the Oz countryside.  Not only was it gorgeous, but it gave me an opportunity to annoy them with questions about Aussie life.  I was called “America” the entire weekend and was made fun of for my accent.  I felt like such a foreigner and I loved it!

 

The small town of Glen Innes had its charms and we had so much fun at the show, riding rides, eating chips (fries), dagwood dogs (corndogs), and steak sandwiches.  I also got to watch some bullriding and a demolition derby.  It reminded me a lot of the country ways of Indiana, but it was also different in many ways.  I got to experience many Aussie things that I have been missing out on, like passion fruit juice, these little candies called bananas, pasito (passion fruit soda), twisties, and sausage rolls fresh from the bakery.  And to my shock and surprise I actually like vegemite! The trick is to spread a thin layer on buttered toast.  It just tastes like extra salty butter.

I finally felt submerged in the Australian lifestyle, in the middle of nowhere in Australia.  It was amazing.  I didn’t get to see a roo in the wild, but I did get to see some roo kill : /.  I was so excited that I ran out of the car and got as close to it as I could to take a picture without gagging.  I will never forget this weekend, as I got to meet some amazing people, and had HEAPS of fun with them. You can learn a lot from Australians – their quick wit, sarcastic sense of humor, openness, acceptance, and friendliness have opened my eyes.  I am learning to open my heart to new experiences and new people and for that I am extremely grateful.

Surf’s Up!

So as you can probably tell by my facebook photos, I went surfing last weekend!  We went to a weekend Surf Camp called Mojo Surf and had 3 two hour lessons in 2 days.  It was exhausting, but so exhilarating!  I was worried I would suck and wouldn’t be able to get up on the board at all, but the instructors made sure that you could.  I was a lot better than I thought I would be, but still tons of wipeouts! Those Australian waves are intense and I ended up pretty banged up and sore by the end of the weekend.

Highs of the weekend: Hanging ten!  the crazy surf instructors who made lots of sexual jokes, accidentally dragging a surf instructor underwater because he got tangled in my leg leash, watching Old School on the bus (I’d never seen it before), Tiago- this Brazilian guy who was high all the time and just kept saying “Happy Daysss!!” He pretended he was going to drive the bus back to Bond and we all freaked out because he had a beer in his hand and was clearly drunk.

More highs: we stopped at Byron Bay on the way back and it was gorgeous and had some really cool shopping.  Definitely going to try to go back there for longer.  Also, I had some awesome roomies!

Lows: Note to self: if you surf in a bikini, you will have major wardrobe malfunctions.  Also, make sure you keep a good hold on your surfboard at all times or you might give your friend a minor concussion (sorry Brittany).

Coming back from that intense weekend and going to classes was strange.  I auditioned for a play this week at Bond and had a presentation, so it was a pretty full week.  I’m looking forward to a relaxing weekend with friends and the beach.  On a side note, all of the crazy weather that has been in Australia lately is totally freaky.  The flood, and then a cyclone… and it seems like I am at the only part that hasn’t been affected by any of it.  Scary, but I feel really lucky.  Meanwhile, hope you are having fun in the ice storm while it is so hot outside I can barely breathe!  So weird!

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