Archive for the ‘My Brain’ Category

Edublog Awards

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Best Teacher Blog/ Best Individual Blog: Mrs. Scribe for

http://scholastic-scribe.blogspot.com/

 

Mrs. Scribe’s blog is an all encompassing account of her life, from school, to home, cooking, family and travels you get a snapshot into the seemingly ordinary life of this high school teacher which is spiced up with her extraordinarily hilarious witticisms and anecdotes. She details her trials and tribulations as a mother, educator, baker and oppressed creative soul under the regime of her evil nemesis- Principal Man. Occasionally she will cameo the critters in her home, or students of years past, always tying it in with something current or timely while keeping it fresh and funny.  She has a talent for creating perfectly descriptive and biting nicknames for the evil doers in her life, and you can be sure that a mention of #nachos will sneak its way in somehow. I nominate Mrs. Scribe for Best Teacher Blog and Best Individual Blog!

 

A place I wish I could be- Mrs. Scribe's classroom

Back Where I Started

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

After five months in Australia, one week in Missourri, and another three weeks hanging out with Ryan I now find myself right back where I started, in my apartment in Fredericksburg. It was here that I first hatched the plan to go abroad over a year ago, and from the desk I am currently sitting at that I filled out and filed all the necessary paper work that enabled me to travel all those thousands of miles away.

Since being back at school almost everyone who I have run into me has asked me about my time in Australia. I have run into people who I wasn’t even that close with who have made comments to me about my blog and how much they enjoyed following it, and I have been surprised, bashful, and flattered every time I have encountered this.

The study abroad office here at Mary Washington encourages those of us who have already studied abroad to take an active role in promoting the studying abroad program. To this end they put out an email advertising two opportunities to do so early this semester. They held a study abroad photo contest asking for photo submissions from student’s time abroad. Each student was allowed to submit up to three high resolution photos, and ten winning photos were to be selected and then printed on canvas, framed, and given a permanent home hanging in the study abroad office. I submitted three photos, two from my trip to Thailand and one from Sydney. Much to my surprise two of my photographs were selected among the ten winning images! Ironically neither of them were taken in Australia.

Me and my kitty friend La La will forever hang in the Study Abroad office

Monks praying, forever in the study abroad office

Even with the promise of having my face forever hung in the study abroad office, they just couldn’t get enough of me, and after seeing a small sampling of my photos, I was asked to sit on a study abroad panel discussion for the first UMW discovery day in September. Since I was already going to be there giving a tour for the Washington Guides, I figured why not. The panel ended up being me, a male senior who had just returned from being in China, and a friend of mine Sara, who had done a faculty led summer program in Italy. Out of the three of us I was the only one who had kept a blog, so I put my blog up in the background on the projector and scrolled through all my images for an hour while we took turns talking about studying abroad and how to go about it. At the end of the presentation a high school senior from Fairfax County came up to me and told me that she was very interested in going to Australia to study government. I almost laughed in her face, because the ideal place to do that would be Canberra, but as that is also a location I wouldn’t wish upon my fiercest of enemies, I cautioned her against it. I ended up chatting with her for a good twenty minutes after the panel discussion was over and she asked me all sorts of questions about flights, transferring credits, places to go in Australia, and how to do it all on the administrative end. I ended up giving her my phone number, email address, and the name of Bill Bryson’s book on Australia so she could be sure and understand the horrors of Canberra before she committed to going there.

In addition to becoming the poster child for studying abroad at UMW, I have also been killing myself trying to graduate early by taking 18 credits this semester in addition to working a job part time at a restaurant downtown to repair some of the damage that Australia did to my bank account. I have been doing all of this with about five inches less of hair.

 

Right before coming back to school I decided I needed a change. So, the Friday morning before Hurricane Irene hit I went and got my hair cut by a woman named Irene, whose birthday was that day. Hows that for a coincidence?

 

So the plan for now is to survive this semester, get an internship for next semester, graduate in may, and get on with my adult life. (which will probably involve moving back home, such is the state of the economy these days) I’ve started looking into programs where I could go abroad again to a spanish speaking country and teach English for a year or so if I can’t find a decent job in the US. I might even end up chasing my boyfriend ( I will never get used to using that word) somewhere as his career moves him around. Who knows?

As this is my 89th blog entry I think I am going to say that this venture in blogging is officially finished. What started as a way to keep my mom informed of what I was up to while I was half a world away, ended up becoming a passion of mine and a scrapbook of my adventures abroad. I never intended for it to be widely read by my friends, or for anyone to discover that I am an atrocious speller, often hopeless at punctuating, and occasionally funny, but this happened anyway, and I was pleasantly surprised that it did. While I probably won’t post again on this blog space, I hope to have another blog in the future when something more interesting than working every weekend and reading english literature till my eyeballs roll out of my head is going on in my life.

I would like to thank everyone who ever took the time to skim one of my incredibly verbose ramblings for stopping by and allowing me to share my experience with them. I had a blast living this experience and writing about it, and despite the occasionally misspelled word I hope you have enjoyed reading.

Thanks and g’day.

For My Father

Sunday, June 19th, 2011
My father is a long time collector of comic books. He has boxes upon boxes of comic books neatly filed and collated sitting in our basement, and even though some of them have been valued at a few thousand dollars, he cannot bring himself to part with the last remaining relics of his childhood. A Marvel man through and through he devoured dozens of these graphic novels as a child and has since come to emulate many of his comic book heros in his adult life wether he realizes it or not.
The Riddler
When speaking with my father no question is ever simple and no answer is ever clear. He enjoys the run-around of teasing an banter, often answering questions in song lyrics and  film quotes, and sometimes just avoiding questions all together. Trying to get a straight answer out of him is like trying to get into DC at 8am on a weekday, its a slow, tiring, and exhausting process. My father is a Riddler.

The Joker
My friends have been known to come over to my house not to hang out with me, but to sit in the kitchen and be entertained by my father. He is constantly making people laugh, sometimes even intentionally. The trouble usually comes when people have trouble telling when he is and isn’t joking. His jokes are brash and sometimes go to far, but he is quick on his feet and is always trying to get the last laugh.

Batman
Just like the Dark Knight my father likes to hide in the basement where no one can bother him. He keeps to himself in the dark and moves around the house at odd hours of the night while the rest of us try to sleep. When he doesn’t have to work the next day he is almost completely nocturnal, much to my mothers annoyance. Just like the famous caped crusader he likes to do all manner of odd things in the middle of the night like work out, ride his bike, order things off television, and sometimes he gets really wild and balances the checkbook. Perhaps he isn’t out saving all of Gotham City but he certainly enjoys his batcave and shuns the daylight.

Spiderman
He doesn’t swing from building to building, but he certainly swings back and forth between activities and conversation topics so quickly that no one can ever keep up with him. He weaves a complicated web of conversation and while he scurries across it with expert ease the rest of us are left to sort through a sticky mess. Just like Peter Parker he was the nerdy kid in high school who somehow ended up with a great girl who loves him despite his oddities and incredible A.D.D.

The Hulk
With all the miscellaneous exercise equipment that has come through our house and ended up at the church bazar over the years my father should look like the Hulk by now, but he is only the Hulk in his mind. He thinks he is capable of lifting just about anything and thinks that somehow his workout regime of ten minutes on the Total Gym every third week and a protein power shake in the morning has him on the way to the perfect Hulked out body. My father may not look like the Hulk, but you certainly won’t like him when he is angry. He has HULK SMASHED quite a few things over the years. If you ever find yourself in the kitchen in our home you will notice that we keep our fruit in a pile on the end of the counter. It used to be kept in a ceramic bowl…..HULK SMASH!
Superman
Every morning that my father has to work he showers and puts on his white shirt and dark pants and suddenly becomes a completely different person. Gone is the man who takes nothing seriously and can’t focus, and in his place is an efficient and productive adult.  His labcoat is the superman cape that transforms him into the serious Pharmacist who I barley recognize as my father. In this clever disguise as a serious adult he saves lives by ‘dispensing life saving medication’ and it is only until he returns home again that the labcoat comes off and he is back to his human alter ego.


Thor
Having been the only male in my immediate family for quite some time my father has been the butt of many jokes over the years, but he takes it in stride because in his mind he is a God, which God? Why Thor of course. His hammer has been many objects in our house, shovels, meat mallets, steak knives, and even occasionally a broom, but regardless of the device he can usually be found picking up random things and shouting to anyone who happens to be in the room “I AM THOR, GOD OF THUNDER!” No matter how much we may pick on him he will always be a Norse god in his own mind, and therefore he is unfazed by whatever joke he finds himself on the wrong end of.

While he grew up idolizing super heroes in real life he is just my dad. An unbelievably intelligent man whose heart is bigger than his mouth, even though it is hard to tell because his foot so often occupies that space. He adores my mother and despite his wild and unruly nature my sister tamed him at the ripe age of six. He is a man of simple pleasures, whose idea of a perfect day off is to balance the checkbook, listen to AM radio, eat a bagel and read the paper. To him I owe my sense of humor and my ability to laugh and talk my way out of just about anything. He may not save the world but he certainly saves our lives from ever being dull.
Happy Fathers Day, I love you Dad.

How Mary-Kate and Ashley Got it Wrong

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

The last two weeks exams have been in full swing. Since the exam period in Australia lasts for the better part of a month and most of us only have two or three classes this has lead to a lot of down time. In addition to this, it has been raining quite a bit and therefore we have spent most of our time confined to our apartments pretending to study, or just straight up procrastinating. After a few days of this we were beginning to feel the early symptoms of cabin fever, so late one sunday night Kaela and I decided to head to the local blockbuster to pick up some DVDs to watch. We grabbed 3 full seasons of Sex and the City, The Royal Tennanbaums, Ferris Bueler’s Day Off, Stardust, and this little gem:

More like: Our Lips are Full of bad stereotypes and cliches

It was Kaela’s idea.

Our Lips are Sealed is one of those classic straight-to-video releases that Mary-Kate and Ashley made in their prime before they started dating suicidal movie stars and developing eating disorders. The premise of the film is that the girls witness a crime and have to be placed in the witness protection program. They are relocated all over the United States but they keep blabbing that they are in the witness protection program so they are finally relocated to Sydney, where theoretically they cannot be found. It was one of my favorite Mary Cait and Ashley films when I was ten years old, and re-watching it eleven years later I am having serious doubts about my mental capacity as a ten year old.

In the film the girls spend all their time in Sydney, and all their time in Sydney around the Harbor. It’s as if American’s will only be able to recognize that they are in Australia if the Opera House is in the background of every shot. All the usual suspects were wheeled out for the film: kangaroos, vegemite, crocodile dundee hats, and all the boorish Aussie colloquialisms they could squeeze into an hour and a half.

While Jill, Kaela and I sat and watched the movie we mocked the bad acting and were elated when we could pinpoint every location they filmed at. During one scene they have a chase sequence that goes through the public restrooms in Darling Harbor that Kaela has used on many an occasion, she was quite excited that she could recognize them.

While we mostly just found ourselves laughing at the sheer idiocy of the film, we also found ourselves groaning at the grossly over perpetuated aussie stereotypes that the film rested upon. Here is a brief synopsis of what we found to be deplorable about this film. (Let me just say before I go into this that yes, I realize its a movie and a crappy low budget one starring Mary Cait and Ashley at that, so I don’t take anything too seriously nor delude myself to think that this film had much of an impact on anything, although one of Courtney’s friends from Bondi did once say that this film was her reason for becoming interested in Australia, which frightens me)

Aussie slang

1) Colloquialisms- Throughout the film they use words like “sheila” and “brekkie” over and over again, trying to illustrate the point that even though Australians speak English you can’t understand them half the time. This is highly inaccurate. While there is some use of colloquialisms here they are easy to figure out for the most part. For example, brekkie is short for breakfast, sunnies is short for sunglasses, bangers are sausages, barbie is short for barbeque, ect ect. While sometimes a thick Aussie accent can make someone a bit more difficult to understand someone, generally speaking it is really not a problem in Sydney where accents are not that thick. Also- the word “sheila” is only used now on tacky tourist t-shirts.

2) Vegemite- In the film the students at the girls new school make them eat vegemite to prove that they are ‘worthy’ of hanging with the Aussies. While vegemite can be found at most continental breakfast bars and has its own shelf section in the grocery store, it isn’t something people are big into forcing onto other people because even the Australians know its kinda weird. Vegemite is a gritty brown food paste that is made from a yeast extract and it is typically eaten over a piece of buttered bread. So basically you are putting bread on your bread. In the film one of the twins tries it but it is fairly obvious she is eating Nutella and not Vegemite as the substance she spoons into her mouth is creamy looking and smooth, whereas vegemite is thick and gritty. I even looked it up on IMDB and it was cited there as being nutella as well. Not that I put too much stock in Mary Cait and Ashley films but SERIOUSLY!? They couldn’t even be bothered to ACTUALLY try vegemite for one scene? So much for method acting.

Care for some bread and yeast?

3) Kangaroos as pets- In the film the girls have a kangaroo as a pet. This is not only ridiculous but its something that Australians often make fun of Americans for thinking. Keeping a kangaroo as a pet would be like the American equivalent of keeping a deer as a pet, you just wouldn’t do it. Yes its true kangaroos are everywhere, because, like deer, the population has gotten a bit out of control, but you are more likely to see them lying dead alongside a major highway in Sydney than anywhere else in the city. Just like you don’t see deer in New York City you aren’t going to see Kangaroos in Sydney unless you go to a zoo.

4) Climbing The Sydney Harbor Bridge- At the beginning of the film the girls and their parents live in a trailer and the twins share a room. When they move to Sydney they work at a hotel on the harbor but have almost no guests, suffice to say it isn’t a very profitable enterprise. Yet, one day they meet two boys who ask them what they are doing later, and they say nothing. The next scene cuts to the four of them climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge. I did this during orientation and it is a $200 excursion, certainly not something in the budget of most 14 year olds and definitely not something you can just do on a whim as you have to schedule it ahead of time and its an hour of processing to get onto the bridge.

5) Manly Beach- At the end of the film the girls attend a surf competition that is supposedly held at Manly Beach, which is in North Sydney. Had they actually been on the beach in Manly then the would have been surfing on the ocean and not the Harbor, and therefore would not have been able to see the Opera House or the Harbor Bridge in the background, and yet during this scene that is exactly what you see. Anyone with any sort of basic geographic knowledge of Sydney would know that if you can see these landmarks then you are not where waves could be caught because you would be in the harbor.

6) Boomerang usage- A boomerang is an Aboriginal flying tool that was used for hunting and for sport and has become an Australian icon, but you are far more likely to find one in a tourist trinket shop than anywhere else. Living in Sydney for four months I have never seen anyone tossing a boomerang around a park like a frisbee, or tossing a boomerang to an animal to catch and retrieve. It just doesn’t happen. In the film they make a big deal out of the Australian kids playing with boomerangs like frisbees and one of the Olsen twins even masters the art of using one so that it actually comes back to her after she throws it. Most boomerangs are not “returning boomerangs” which are a kind of boomerang that is specifically designed to return when you throw it, but you have to learn how to do it, it doesn’t just happen if you chuck it mindlessly into the wind.

7) SHAMELESS Qantas Product Placement- Qantas is the big airline in Australia, and clearly they thought it advantageous to use Mary Cait and Ashley as their marketing monkeys throughout this film. It went further than just showing the famous kangaroo logo every time the characters flew anywhere, they even went so far as to blatantly spell out where all the funding for the film was coming from during this little exchange.

Mary-Kate: You need to get yourself down to Australia

Ashley: I recommend Qantas, is a long flight.

Not that I thought the Olsen twins had standards or souls when it came to creating films, but COME ON.

The whole film was camp, kitsch, and embarrassing in its shameless promotion of Qantas and pushing of inaccurate Aussie stereotypes, but then again, it’s a Mary Cait and Ashley movie, so I can’t say I expected much more out of it.

Where Friends Became Family

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Before coming to Australia I had been concerned about finding friends that I would really connect and want to travel around with. My friends from home are so important to me and I am usually slow to make meaningful connections that I was concerned about meeting people while abroad. I am so glad that this fear turned out to be completely unfounded. As the semester is ending and people are starting to return to the states I find myself excited to return home but sad to leave my glebe family.

The first people I really got to know were my roommates. Jill is a brassy bostonian with a razor sharp wit and an old soul who could be found most nights knitting and waiting for Law and Order to come on TV. For the first three months we shared a room together and would fall asleep talking about home and our lives there. We also spent a few evenings bailing out our balcony which would flood with a few inches of water every time it rained, but we always laughed and smiled as we did it.

Kaela is an adorably southern shutter bug who is kind to a fault with an infectious laugh and a tremendous weakness for chocolate. She is a hopeless romantic who would read us the poetry of Pablo Neruda at night and take dozens of pictures whenever we would go out. The Australians would always pick on her for saying “Ya’ll” but within the apartment we would just giggle and tell her that her Alabama was showing.

Courtney is the trendy street smart californian turned New Yorker who knows how to find a good time and is always ready for an adventure. She was always the one to initiate our take out nights, and per her suggestion we shared many meals of Thai and Mexican food ordered in.

Together the four of us shared meals, movies, drinks, and laughter. Together we are Samatha (Jill), Charlotte (Kaela), Carrie (Courtney) and Miranda (me) to a T.

Apt 18 ladies

The first night in my Glebe apartment Jill, Kaela and I decided to go out on the town (or at least up the street) to get a drink to commerate our new digs. Yaella, who lived down the hall, had agreed to come along. As per usual I made a memorable first impression. This is how Yaella described it (copy and pasted from her blog)

“What is the origin of your name” Valerie, a tall blonde haired girl asks me as we walk around Glebe, hunting for a bar where we can get a beer.

“Hebrew” I respond without hesitation.
“Oh I should have guessed, what with the hair and the nose” she causally replies. Like a boxer punched the stomach, I feel a whoosh of noise leave my mouth that sounds vaguely like “what!”
Valerie is not trying to hurt my feelings or make racial slurs. In fact she has many Jewish friends, has eaten Matzah, and attended  a Jewish funeral (which she swiftly endorses and tells me she wants one). Quite honestly, Valerie is just the most honest person I have ever met in my life.
We find a karaoke bar and it turns out Valerie not only has a penchant for the truth but is also a very good singer. As we sit around the bar, we (Valerie, Jill, Kaela, and myself) all belt out the lyrics to popular songs from the 90′s while Kaela deflects the advances of a 30 something man. However, before we can get up in front of the crowd to sing and make fools of ourselves, karaoke night is over.

Despite my brassy beginning Yaella and I got to talking and  discovered that neither of us had class on Tuesdays  so we made a plan to walk a differnet suburb of Sydney every Tuesday. While wandering the side streets of Sydney we shared conversations and slurpees and found a fabulous pair of $15 leather pants. We weren’t fast friends, but we definitely became great friends.

As Yaella and I got to know eachother we also got to know eachothers roommates. Yaella lived with two Lyndsays, one of which was a tiny sorrority girl who is full of life, laugher, and is always ready to rage. One rainy weekend in March Lyndsay found herself sitting alone in her apartment for most of the weekend, and I wanted to go see the USyd production of Cabaret, and no one would go with me. Somehow Lyndsay and I found eachother that day and ended up going to the show together that weekend, and had such a great time trying to decipher the german accents done by Australians that we planned many other adventures. We went to see Spring Awakening, skipped school one day to go to the beach, and then spent a long weekend in Melbourne together. After one fateful night at the Flying Fajita Sisters where we agreed to split an amazing coconut bananna desert, one of the major tenets of our relationship became the splitting of deserts. We have split pies, cookies, puddings, a questionable chocolate pear parfait, the most amazing mango lime cake and countless wild nights. Suffice to say that life with Lyndsay is always sweet. She also taught me that you can never be too tired to go out and have fun. She would never let me skimp on an evening out, she taught me how to rally and rage!

Lindsay Yaella and I have spent just as many nights watching movies and eating baked goods as we have going out and painting the town red. We have danced till we dropped and color coordinated our outfits to get into clubs for free. We even spent an evening getting thrown around by shirtless Australian circus performers. I am so lucky that the two best friends I made in Australia both live in Maryland because this means our good times can be continued in the northern hemisphere.

The other Lindsay in Apt 29 was my roommate all through Thailand, and my fellow connoisseur of hotel breakfasts while we were there. We graduated cooking school, went snorkeling, made pad Thai, and rode elephants together. We even shared a lavish honeymoon suite in Krabi where we stayed up late watching HBO movies and chatting. She was always down to party and we had a crazy Thailand adventure together.

The lovely ladies of apartment 23, Alana, Amanda and Megan have always been the most welcoming hosts and some of the greatest party companians. Their apartment has been the location of many of our Glebian group evenings and they never show up anywhere without a bottle or a plate of something for everyone to enjoy. It’s hard to go over to their room and not end up sitting on their couch chatting for the next twenty minutes. They are always up for an adventure and excited to join any adventure already in progress. They party hard and the six of us always end up having a great time together reguardless of the activity.

The boys of apt 30, Andy, Seth and Jordan were always up for going out or staying in and watching a 1$ movie rental from blockbuster. They were also usually the first ones to show up when I announced that I had baked something. They even allowed us to borrow their apartment kitchen when Kaela and I needed to bake a cake for Courtney’s birthday without letting her know. For some reason the boys in this room decided early on in the semester that they would never pay for a haircut so every month in their room they would put a whole bunch of newspapers on the floor, get out the trimmer kit and have hair cut day. Jordan experimented with some odd hairstyles over the course of the semester. Andy and Seth are both from Iowa, but Andy is the only one I ever picked on about it. Andy is also the one who would insist that we stop in at McDonalds every time we passed one.

Yaella, Jordan, Andy, Lyndsay, and Me

Lyndsay, Seth, me, and Jordan on our weekend in Melbourne.

Seth was the father figure of the group when we went to Melbourne. He was the only one who ever knew where we were and could get us from point A to point B. I was the maternal one who was always suggesting activities and making sure we had eaten, but Seth could be counted on to make sure the logistics were taken care of.

If ever I was looking for little Jordan I knew not to even bother knocking on his door, for he would always be in someone elses room sitting on their couch and chatting. He fielded the most questions about Jersey Shore being from New Jersey but he always answered them with a laugh and a smile. I edited many a paper for him throughout the semester but we made sure to always celebrate with a gin and tonic once we had finished. He was like the stray puppy of Glebe, if he knocked on your door he was sure to be let in and stay for a while.

This group of people from all over the united states assembled in Australia and became friends and then a family.  I am so fortunate to have met and spent a semester with all these wonderful people, and I will miss all of them once I return home. Thanks for a great semester guys!

Glebians!

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Thursday, June 9th, 2011

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Taking The Long Way Around

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Last week my Australian classes ended, and they did so rather abruptly. Perhaps I had not been paying attention to the schedule or I just could not conceive of the idea that I would have two weeks of no class before exams started up, but it caught me completely off guard. Silly me, I thought we would spend at least a week discussing what would be on the final and reviewing in preparation for it. Nope. We weren’t even told when and where our finals would be, that we had to find for ourselves online. Yes, silly me to assume that I would get any of this information.

So my last day of class was May 26th, the Thursday before Justin and I left for Canberra, and on the 30th Justin went home and suddenly I was left with this giant void in my heart and my schedule. The day Justin left was particularly bad as I knew I would not be seeing him again until September at the earliest and I was a gooey mess of emotional gunk the whole day. I am my mothers daughter after all. The day he left I did two loads of laundry, caught up on some work I needed to do and packed away all my summer clothes and reorganized the remaining ones. In short, I tried to stay busy, but once all the housework had been done I was left with a void that I soon identified as a loss of purpose.

While I have really enjoyed being in Australia and I am quite pleased with my decision to study abroad, with my classes ending and my boyfriend (this is a fairly recent development and I still find myself feeling weird using that word) leaving, I found myself wanting to get on that international flight with him and forgo my last month of Australian adventures.  It is not that I had suddenly lost my taste for Sydney, but rather that I felt like I had gotten everything out of this experience that I was going to get, and I was ready to return home.

The general consensus among my  fellow Glebians has been that everyone is pretty much ready to get home. I have heard many people say that they have done everything there is to do in Sydney and they are beginning to feel restless and bored. I cringe when I hear people say this because while I have lived 20 minutes outside of Washington DC my whole life, when my friend Katie moved into the city to go to art school there I discovered all sorts of things through her that I had never found on my own. There is no way we could have exhausted every interesting thing to do in Sydney, there are always rocks left unturned.

With this in mind I tried to focus on setting new goals for the remainder of my time here. I talked to Yaella and came up with a short list of things I wanted to see and do over the next few weeks. While this was progress I was still feeling kinda down. Come Friday afternoon I had nothing to do, so I decided I would walk up to the library and check out some movies to watch over the weekend. On the way back to my apartment I  was bopping along to some music and decided to venture down the other end of Glebe Point Rd, past the street I normally turn down, just for fun. I also wanted to check out the hostel that my mom and I will be staying at when she arrives on July 3rd, which is located down there as well.

I found the hostel quite easily as it wasn’t that much further down Glebe Point Rd than I was used to traveling, but the weather was nice so I decided to venture even further. Eventually the road ends at Backwattle Bay Park, a beautiful green area and dog park that overlooks the bay and the ANZAC bridge. It was a beautifully clear night when I got there, and I was astounded to find that I had lived so close to this park all semester and had no idea it was there.

The next day I needed to go back to the hostel to make the reservation and ask some questions, so I grabbed my camera and walked back down to the park after finalizing the reservation.  Once there I was greeted with a gloriously sunny day and a park that was bustling with activity. Moms and dads with babies and toddlers, people jogging with ipods and dogs, old men chatting on benches, couples lounging and picnicking.

Seeing this tucked away part of town that I had no idea existed so busy with life and activity excited me and made me realize all that I had been missing about Australia. Yes I had gotten to know the famous landmarks, monuments, and major tourist attractions, but here was a whole community of people who live their lives here and I had never noticed them before now. I had entered into a casual acquaintanceship with this city, but I had really explored the depths of its treasures. All week I had been glum about feeling like I had no purpose in being here anymore. Walking around Backwattle that day I kept thinking about perspective.

It’s amazing the kind of peace this can bring. Wether its a figurative act where you back off of a problem or mental hang up to examine its relevance in a larger context or in a literal sense where you climb over the face of a mountain to see the valley below and the ocean beyond. It’s peaceful.

I tried to remember why I had studied abroad in the first place. It was not really to study, because I was doing that just fine in Virginia, and it wasn’t to spend time with a boy, although that had been a nice unintended side effect, it had been to explore. To explore this new continent and to explore myself. To figure out who I was away from everything that I defined as being a part of me. Away from my family, friends, school, state, country and continent. This process of redefining remains ongoing, so I was not without purpose, I was just without motivation.

Some combination of being near the ocean, the glowing sunny weather, all the dogs playing, and the children laughing totally cured me of my glum disposition. I walked all the way around the bay to get back to my apartment, stopping whenever a dog came up to me to pet it. I hung out for a few hours until the sun set. I watched the sailboats come into port and some rowers head out for an evenings row. I sat with my feet dangling over the water and the setting sun casting warmth on my face and I felt content. I plan to push myself to explore more and try and fill up my remaining days with adventures worthy of writing about. I don’t want to ever feel like I am taking this experience for granted, because spending 21 hours on a plane to get somewhere means you better have the time of your life.

I hated myself for wishing my time away for even a second. I am in Australia! A place few people in North America or even the world will ever see, and I got to live here for five months. It is the furthest away I could ever travel without commissioning a rocket and going to the moon. After coming here no flight will ever be able to intimidate me, and no distance away from home will ever scare me. I kinda feel like I got relive my freshman year of college, a year where I was upset and went home every weekend. I got to replace it with a semester where I removed myself from everything I knew and met all sorts of new people who I now consider close friends and opened my mind to exploring and pushing past my comfort limit.  If nothing else, I am proud of myself for having grown so much since my freshman year. I don’t think I would even recognize that girl anymore, the one who got in her own way and lost a year to moping and complaining about a school she never really gave a chance.

Well I never seem to do it like anybody else, maybe someday I'm gonna settle down, but if you ever want to find me I can still be found taking the long way around.

In taking stock of what I have gained so far I can already be appreciative of  the opportunities I have been given, the cities I have seen, and the cultures I have experienced. I will return home with a new world perspective, memories of the laughter I have shared, new friends who became family, a boy who was willing to chase me across the globe, and waiting for me will be the family who supported me and got me to this point. So all in all, not too shabby.

Lies My Orientation Leader Told Me

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

As the semester is winding down to a close and I am finding myself more and more busy with school work and preparation for the onset of the windstorm that is the final exam period. This accounts for my recent lack of blogging and my lack of blog worthy activities. As much fun as I have doing research deep in the bowels of the reserve section of the library it certainly doesn’t make for a very fascinating blog entry.

In the little downtime I have found in between stressing and procrastinating I have caught my mind wandering back to my first few days here in Sydney. One of the first things we did during our Sydney orientation was to take a walking tour of the city. We stopped in Hyde Park for a few minutes while our orientation leader Russ described the War memorial in the middle of the park and the museums surrounding it. It was a hot summer day in February (I will never get used to Feb being hot and summery) and as we walked through the park Russ talked to us about the different types of trees in the park. As we all stared up into the trees Russ told us that the Autumn season in Australia was fundamentally different from Autumn in the states in that the trees in Australia did not loose their leaves all at once like ones in the states, but rather lost a few leaves year round, so there would always be some leaves on the ground. The explanation he gave for this phenomenon was that the soil in Australia was too nutrient poor for the trees to be able to pull up enough nutrients to be able to replace all their leaves all at once, so they instead replaced a few throughout the year as they lost them.

Russ talking to us during orientation

Russ talking to us about trees and pretty birds in the Botanical Gardens

This seemed very odd to me, but I was fresh off the plane and willing to believe just about anything I was told about this strange new continent I had found myself on. I thought this fact was so interesting that I began telling everyone who engaged in a discussion with me about the differences between Australia and America. I told everyone about the odd Autumn they have here.

When I went to Melbourne I was talking to a guy I met at a club and I shared my interesting fall fact with him and he almost laughed at me before asking “Who told you that?!”

This was my first indication that something was amiss. I began to make further inquiries of Australians in my classes, and I was consistently met with the same confused glances and chuckles. A boy in one of my tutorials even said

“Yeah its always tempting to mess with the tourists and tell them ridiculous things, my favorite thing to tell them is that I have a pet kangaroo, hahaha”

Despite all this evidence staring me in the face I just didn’t want to believe that I had been lied to by the very person whose job it had been to help orient me in Australia. I was thinking that perhaps I just hadn’t remembered correctly exactly what he had said. Maybe he had been talking about one specific tree and I had misheard and thought he meant all trees? I don’t know. But I do know that the fall season is in full swing in Australia, complete with all the traditional signs of Autumn I am used to in the Northern Hemisphere.

Moral of this story: either I’m a moron or my orientation leader is a liar. Either way, Autumn totally happens here in the same way it happens in the United States.

The leaves are not only changing color, but they are also all falling off, and its still warm enough for short sleeves.

Also during Orientation we were sat down and given a quick briefing on the major differences between American and Australian culture. One of the things we were told is that Australians had an international reputation for being drunkards, but this was a complete misconception. Russ told us that if we went out to a bar and got completely plastered we would be branded as the sloppy Americans, because this is not how Australians behaved. There are three campus bars at the University Of Sydney, which the university administration is actively trying to get rid of, and the students are fighting it tooth and nail. There are also no open container or public intoxication laws. So yeah, Aussie’s like to get drunk and they make it very public knowledge when they do. Alcohol can be consumed when you turn 18, and many of the museums in Sydney become clubs after hours. I have been to quite a few karoke bars since being here, and  have seen more belligerently drunk people than I am capable of remembering. Aussie’s love to drink just as much as Americans if not more.

The other thing we were told about bar culture was that as a woman if you allow a man to purchase you a drink it will be expected that you will put out for him. I think this was just Russ’s way of discouraging us American girls from taking advantage of the Australian guys because I have known many people who have been on the receiving end of alcoholic beverages from Aussie men and have no had to provide any lewd acts in payment for the gesture.

In other unrelated news, the hens of Apt 18 welcomed a rooster into our midst this weekend. Justin arrived early on Friday morning. Poor guy flew in around 6:30 am and I had set an alarm for 7:30 so I could meet him at the train station and walk him back to my apt, and of course I slept through it and he was left waiting for an hour. Oops. Welcome to Australia!

The Citadel graduated rooster invades Australia to stay in the apt 18 hen house

For My Mother

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

.

My mother is:

The woman who gave me life after a dozen hours in labor

And then gave me a sister, because I told her it couldn’t be a boy

Who gladly took in another daughter, my best friend, when she lost the mother in her life

She taught me that if a boy doesn’t value you for the content of your mind, then he isn’t worth your time

She is the first one to tear up at girly movies and then tell me to shut up when I point it out

Who proved she could be more stubborn than me when I was six and I threatened to leave home, and she handed me a suitcase

She is my biggest supporter and my most honest critic

Who still crawls into my bed to cuddle on Sunday mornings

And is constantly reminding me to spell check everything I write

Who taught me how to recognize great lyricism through the music of Billy Joel, Carly Simon, and The Eagles

And fashioned a household that all my friends feel welcome in, even when I am not there

She is the peacemaker who made sure that even when I fought with my sister I always understood that she is my greatest ally in this life, and my best friend

She taught me that sometimes, after a particularly hard day, its ok to eat ice cream for dinner

She is the educator who showed me how to read nutrition labels, and then came to regret it when I started reading the ones on the food she was eating

The one who sees the obvious simple solution that everyone else overlooks

The woman who believes that life cannot be properly lived unless the laundry is done

Who taught me that there is no amount of stress that a trip to the beach can’t remedy

And made sure that home was a place I would never be hesitant to leave, but always be excited to return to

The person who genetically gifted me a talent for writing and a tendency to be long winded

Her patience is infinite, and her ability to forgive, legendary

My mother, whose fundamental flaw is that she will never be able to spread her fingers wide enough to catch all the pain she wants to heal

All three of her children

She supported me in my decision to go abroad, and even though I can’t spend this Mothers Day with her I am sure she would have had it no other way

Dear Mrs. Lapointe,

On this wonderful (windy in south africa), mother’s day i just wanted to thank you for all that you have done for me. You have always done your best to be there for me, especially when I needed someone to talk to. You have always been a big part of my life and I am so grateful that our relationship could grow over the past 15 years. I love you very much and am really excited to see you when I get home. I miss you!
Love,
Jaime

Happy Mothers Day

I love you Mom

No Worries Mate!

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Things have finally begun to cool down in the state of New South Wales. The dog days of summer have finally slunk away and the pleasantries of Australian fall have swept in. I find myself able to walk the 20 minutes to class without being drenched in sweat. I have also noticed as of late that I seem to have hit my Australian stride.

Upon arriving here it took me a few days to get used to the time difference, and then orientation happened and it took me a few days past that to get used to the climate and how expensive things were. Once I finally moved into my Glebe residence I had to learn about how to navigate the grocery store, and a two-flush toilet. Things I hadn’t thought of as being difficult were new, like using my weird Australian oven in Celsius.  And just when I was feeling like I had everything in order, classes started happening and once again I was thrust into a whole new acclamation process.

At first it was bewildering, being a freshman was not an experience I had hoped to repeat again so soon. It’s frustrating, and confusing and often you feel helpless under the weight of everything that is new around you. Soon this too passed, and I feel into a rhythm where I was getting to my classes on time and not needed to fumble around with my schedule and my campus map to figure out where I was going and what time I needed to be there. Physically getting to class was one thing, but then the school work started happening. I have been out of school since the first week of December, so it had been a good three months since I had done anything worthwhile with that lump of gray matter sitting inside my skull. I had gotten a little rusty. On top of this I had lapsed into vacation mode, which is easy to do when its 80 degrees and sunny and the beach is a backdrop to your life. I went to my classes for the first few weeks, but this was more of a physical going than a mental presence of actually being there. Sooner or later my professors started using words like “essay,” “exam,” “test,” and “soon” in the same sentence and I was yanked out of my blissful Australian day dream. I was here to STUDY?! I thought I was just here to play? Apparently not. So the last few weeks I have been frantic in my efforts to pull everything together in regards to school. I had lapsed on my readings and not started working on my mid semester assignments that would soon be due. Around this time my internship also started, adding another time commitment to my life, and more responsibilities.

There was one day where I remember sitting down with all my syllabuses and feeling really overwhelmed with everything I needed to due to prepare for the papers and projects I would soon need to turn in for midterm exam period. In the midst of all this travel opportunities kept presenting themselves, Tasmania, Melbourne, surf weekends, and while I am here to do some studying, had I only wanted to study I could have stayed in Virginia, so I didn’t want to miss out of any chances to explore this beautiful country I had been placed in on the precedent of “studying.” So instead of reading and doing school work I planned trips, one to Melbourne, and one to Tasmania, and spent my time in class day dreaming about where else I might go. Soon the impending exam period progressed from a mental itch to a full on rash. I needed to attend to it. One of the big reasons I had been putting off school work is because the books I needed for one of my literature classes were SO EXPENSIVE. I had gone to the bookstore and calculated that the 7 books I needed to buy were going to run me close to $150. In the world of an english major, thats pricey. Last semester at UMW I spent less than $100 on all the books I needed for five classes, so dropping $150 on books for one class was not something I was keen to do. Especially since Australia does not believe in textbook buy back, so I was going to get stuck hauling these books back in my suitcase.

The wonderful thing about being an English major is that you read books all semester, and until you have to write a paper or take a test, it is not imperative that you have read anything. It is the procrastinators worst nightmare, or greatest fantasy depending on how you look at it. We had four texts we were going to be on the midterm for my Australian Texts: International Contexts. One was a movie that I had managed to find and illegally stream for free online, one was a book of poetry that I had to do a presentation on so I had been forced to buy it at the start of the class, and the other two were expensive so I hadn’t bothered with them. I decided that since it had been weeks since the two books I hadn’t read had been assigned I would try getting one of the reserve copies out of the library. I was able to get copies of both, and as it turns out I really enjoyed reading them. One, called “Dreams of Speaking” I finished in two days because I was so absorbed. In the last week or so I have managed to catch up completely with all my school work, and even get ahead on a few things, and ever since this incredible sense of  joy has taken up residence in my person. Things at my internship have been really great, I have met some fantastic people, and am genuinely interested in the work I am doing. I return to my apartment at the end of each day tired, but feeling accomplished and productive. I feel like I have struck that perfect harmony in the melodies of fun and the baseline of productivity.

When I walk to school in the morning I hum and sometimes dance to the music in my headphones as I’m waiting to cross the street and pay no attention to the odd glances I attract. I smile like a loon when the wind picks my hair up off my neck and I can feel the warmth of the sunlight on my face. I find a childlike sense of pure delight over the silliest things like when my toast comes out of the toaster in a light brown crispy perfection. I would say its a case of spring fever, but its fall here in the southern hemisphere and getting colder not warmer. The kind of weather we have been having lately is the kind you don’t even notice. You walk outside and its so wonderfully temperate and sunny that the weather attracts none of your attention, for there is nothing to notice, it isn’t rainy or too hot or cold, its just wonderfully pleasant.

I am really enjoying the sense of independence I have here. Going to college at Mary Washington was a huge step for me in terms of starting over socially, and being away from my family for the first time, but it was also very close geographically, so I was able to run home whenever things got hard. While I felt blessed to have this option since my freshman year was really difficult, it meant that I was eased into my college life without ever really having to deal with anything hard on my own or for too long. Coming to Australia I was so concerned about making new friends and really being forced to do everything on my own for the first time. These concerns turned out to be completely unfounded as I have made so many great friends, and I am thrilled that so many of them live close to Virginia because I fully intend on seeing them once I return to the states.

My trip to Tasmania with Yaella fell through due to scheduling conflicts with her availability and mine, but in its place I decided I would book a surf weekend instead. I had wanted to do this since I got here, but as my weekends began filling up I had accepted that I might not be able to get it in before it got too cold to be desirable.  So on Wednesday of this week I decided to put a call into Mojo Surf just to inquire about their program, but after answering two of my questions the lady who was helping me asked me for my credit card number, and  I thought, well ok! So surfs up this weekend!

In Australia often in the place of saying “thank you” or “no problem” they say “no worries.” More than just being a way of saying thanks it seems to really be a way of thinking, and in my new and randomly blissful state of being I am really embracing this. While I am truly loving every minute of being abroad I am also looking forward to going back to UMW in the fall, being a tour guide again, seeing my friends, and finishing my degree. I feel like I am finally becoming a complete person all on my own. I feel ready to start a life that is my own. It’s a simple kind of free.

No I'm not the girl I used to be lately, you see you met me at an interesting time.