Life in the Gong


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Oceania » Australia » New South Wales » Wollongong
March 18th 2012
Published: March 18th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Hey, guys! Well, it's been what, three weeks (OK maybe closer to a month...)? Time's gone by crazy fast and clearly I am inept at keeping up with my blog postings. But here I am! Alive and well, having a blast! Since Cali I've been to Melbourne, Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the Nan Tien Temple, and I've actually started classes at Uni. Here, Uni is university, colleges are dorms and school means K-12. If you talk about going to school people are super confused, and think you're like twelve.

So after my delayed flight finally arrived I finally made it to Melbourne, where I awkwardly hung out with some guy who got kicked off his own flight. Yep. But we toured Melbourne, had a blast. Moved on from orientation in Melbourne to Wollongong! O-Week is our week of orientation for Weerona College, where I live, and the University of Wollongong. We had a clubs day, where I signed up for the ECU (the Evangelical Christian Union) who runs a Bible study; the Red Frogs, who are another awesome Christian group; the campus' creative writing magazine; the women's professional's networking group thing; the UniCrew, who runs events out of the campus bar. Yeah, we have a campus bar. Anyway, I signed up for a bunch of clubs, you know, trying to get involved. Classes started the week after that. I'm taking Psych101; a Sociology course, Intro to Social Theory; Intro to Indigenous Studies; and an upper-level English course: Black Writings from Africa, the US and the Caribbean. So far Indigenous Studies and English are my favorites. Classes work much differently here. Part of it is the difference between a large state school and a tiny private school, but some of it is just that they follow the original English model of schooling much more closely. Here you typically have one lecture and one tutorial per week: the lecture is one hour, and involves everyone signed up for the course (anywhere between 30 and 500 people.) The tutorial, which the Aussies call ‘tutes’ is usually two hours and has a much smaller pool of those same students from the lecture. Here you have more discussions, do presentations and turn in your assignments/ take test and quizzes. All graded things are called assessments, and you’ll only have 3-5 per course. The school is also equipped for distance-learning and mature-age students. It was kinda’ crazy the first few classes when the lecturer would be on video at other locations, and talking to those students via microphone.

On my way into town the first day The Shins’ ‘Australia’ came on my iPod and I made a Genius playlist out of it. Feel free to let that be the soundtrack for this blog. J

Weerona College is a pretty tight knit community. It’s known as the party college, but that’s not really sayin’ much because Australia’s kinda’ a party country. The college is in 3 blocks, A, B, and C. Each block has three floors. I’m on A3, with a lot of the other Americans. They seem to have quarantined us all in this one floor, but one some friends of mine did the math we actually only take up 30 percent of the floor. So there you go. It’s a coed dorm, which has been interesting. There’re guys on either side of me, but that’s nowhere near as much fun as sharing coed bathrooms. Men are disgusting. All I have to say is the first week our bathrooms were closed because someone decided to relieve their bowels in a shower stall. Seriously? But on to less nasty things: the meal system here is kinda’ strange. There’s breakfast in the morning (spaghetti is considered an acceptable breakfast food, by the way) and then after breakfast you make your sandwich for lunch. There’s hot breakfast Tues, Thurs, Sat and Sun. However, I don’t tend to wake up for breakfast. I don’t like breaky much anyway (there’s some Aussie slang for y’all) and frankly I’d rather sleep. So I’ve been rockin’ the one-meal-a-day thing by snacking on church bread, which I’ll get to in a minute.

I’ve ended up hanging out with a fantastic group of girls here; Americans, Canadians and Australians alike, although I have to say I’m definitely not hangin’ with as many Aussies as I anticipated. I’m even teaching a friend to knit, which officially makes us the coolest girls on A3. We also have feminist, political and social justice rants, which mostly involves me trying to remember that not everyone cares to hear about my every opinion on everything.

Most of the American students here are from New England, although I’ve met a few from the Midwest, one from Alaska, and a handful from the Deep South. I seem to be the only Texan around, though. The fun thing is that I get to tell Americans and Aussies alike that Texas isn’t a dessert, I don’t live on a ranch and I don’t wear cowboy boots everywhere. My first week or so in country I had the following conversation no less than 50,000 times:

Rando: Where are you from?

Me: Texas, the States.

Rando: Oh, Texas! You don’t sound like you’re from Texas.

Me: I know.

Rando: Why don’t you sound like you’re from Texas?

Me: Because I’m lying to you. I’m actually from Oklahoma.

Except I don’t say that last part, because nobody likes a snarky tourist. It wasn’t a thing at first, but 49,999 times later I was coming very close to saying ‘Actually I do sound like I’m from Texas, because I am. You’re just expecting me to sound like a Hollywood and media-produced stereotype. Thanks though.’ I say y’all though, which seems to appease everyone, and I’m very sad about the lack of Ranch dressing. This gives me enough Texas cred that people buy it. Country music is actually kinda’ big here, as is most American music. I’ve been tickled to discover familiar songs and artists on the free shuttles that tout us about town, because other than the people I love, music and food are likely to be the two things I get the most homesick about. There are still plenty of people that hate it, but a lot of these people are Americans. Among the Aussies I’ve found more people that like it as not. Also the climate, in terms of vegetation, is really similar to Texas. There’re more tropical plants here, but things like Lantana and Ficus trees, Morning Glory, plus scrubby-things that I recognize but don’t know the name of are all the same. The rain’s different, though. We tend to have flash-flood style storms that are loud, heavy and spectacular for maybe an hour and then we’re done. We’re coming off the rainy season here- being a seaside town they have wet/dry seasons more than summer/fall…etc. It’s rained for three and four days a time at points, just this constant misty drizzle that we’d call sprinkling or pissing at home. I’m discovering a lot of Texas-isms. When I said it was ‘bout to come a flood the other day it was entertaining to see everyone’s reactions.

Wollongong is gorgeous. It’s hilly, with Mount Keira in the background for some nice landscape shots. The diversity among the plants is insane. There’s palm trees and pine trees alongside one another, and at least four kinds of each. It’s insane. That’s not even getting into the birds. Lorikeets and cockatoos fly around wild here, and flocks of them will land in marshy grass to get some worms for breaky. I literally just walk around saying “Holy crap, unbelievable,” all the time.

I’ve had lots of fun religious and political conversations. People are sort of surprised/relieved to hear about my liberal tendencies, because they sort of figure all Texans are right-wing Bible-thumping Conservatives. The funny thing is they’re sort of surprised when I’m open about being Christian, and going out of my way to get to church and Bible study. Religion isn’t like a thing here in Australia. They’re egalitarian to the point of figuring that it’s a very personal thing and probably not one to discuss unless you’re really tight. And because it’s not the norm, the Christians here are for real, legit. It’s not like the States where you have to figure out if people are ‘Christian’ or Christian, as in I-love-Jesus-Christian. I’ve been really interested in talking about all of that, the differences and similarities, and whether one is better/worse than the other; that, and comparing Australia’s treatment of their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the treatment of our Native Americans…maybe more on that later. The church I’m leaving for in about an hour, actually is very cool. A lot like Sherman Bible up in Sherman; the first night we visited they had the congregation dress in their native costumes, so kimonos, turbans, ponchos and lederhosen were all present and accounted for. It was sweet.

I’ve recently booked my trip for Spring Break: four days in Brisbane and four days in Cairns. I also want to get over to Canberra at some point, and probably go back to the Blue Mountains. They were incredible. Abseiling, just so you know, is called rappelling in the States and it’s my new favorite thing. Mom and Dad are putting limits on how much extreme sporting I can get up to here, so I’ll have to save skydiving and other free-falling/up in the air adventures for home, but as long as there’s a rope or something to stand on I’m probably going to try it out.

Thanks to my friends from Canada I’ve read the first two Hunger Games books. I also picked up some Australian short stories and poetry from the Alumni bookstore, a second hand shop I’m looking at volunteering with. Going out is a big thing here. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays people hit the clubs, usually pre-gaming with goon (cheapawfulBoxedwine) because drinks out are expensive. I’ve discovered that I really like going out and dancing, but drunk people are still really only bearable if you’re at least a little tipsy yourself.

Well there’s lots of other stuff that I’ve neglected to mention. Most of my adventures are chronicled with pictures on Facebook, sooo you should creep there, because I hear a picture's worth a thousand words, or something.

'Til next time!

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