Alternative Spring Break Iowa 2015

One of the perks of selecting the spring semester as my exchange semester was that I would be able to experience the famous, Spring Break. Growing up in Australia, I would frequently watch American teen TV shows and films which would depicted college students during Spring Break. Thus it was a concept I was familiar with and excited about. Back in Australia we have a “mid-semester break” but this is generally a week where students catch up on their studies, study for exams and rest. Prior to researching my options for Spring Break I assumed that most students went to Florida and partied similar to the film Spring Breakers. This option didn’t really appeal to me because of financial reasons, so I went on the search for alternatives which would still allow me to have fun whilst seeing more of the United States. One of my friends was taking a communications class and her teacher informed her about the alternative spring break trips. She then discussed it with me, we looked at all the different locations which were offered, and we signed up. Prior to arriving in the United States I had no intention of travelling to the MidWest as I did not think the opportunity would arise and in addition to this, it is not exactly the typical tourist destination. We were both excited about the idea of the trip but did not know what to expect.

Our home for the week

Our home for the week

SUNY Oswego’s alternative spring break’s are organised through Habitat for Humanity, which is a non-profit organisation. I had heard of this organisation and the worthwhile work they do, so I felt comfortable and safe embarking on this trip. Our group was going to Iowa so we were volunteering with the Iowa Heartland Habitat for Humanity. This specific location builds between 10-12 homes a year which is an incredible movement to be part of.

Day 1

We travelled through the night in an attempt to preserve whatever sleep patterns we had prior to the trip, and arrived refreshed and ready to explore our new home for the week. We were staying in Cedar Falls, Iowa, in a United Methodist Church, this church was more like a community centre rather than a church. It had modern facilities that we were able to utilise including a basketball court, cinema, games room, three kitchens and general common areas. We spent the day unpacking, becoming familiar with our new setting, preparing for the week ahead and getting to know each other.

Community service project

Community service project

Day 2

Day 2 marked the beginning of our work week and thus our routines were established. We woke at around 7:30am, ate breakfast as a team, travelled to the site and commenced work at 8:30am. This first day we completed a project in the community. We pulled down a fence which surrounded the oldest property in the area. This was a sensational effort on our part, as initially we were predicted to complete the job in three days, we did it in one. We left the site at 3:30pm and spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the main street in Cedar Falls and visited the University of Northern Iowa. Our evening traditions emerged which consisted of watching a crazy number of The Cleveland Show episodes, whilst playing trivia board games, before bed at 11pm.

Day 3

Once we arrived on site, we were advised that we would be working in the warehouse and creating the exterior frames of a house. I was clueless about framing but fortunately we had an excellent instructor. Framing is reading a wall plan, following the measurements, doing

St Paddy's Day!

St Paddy’s Day!

some basic calculations, cutting the wood to size, fitting the wood together, and nailing the wood together. It’s quite a process. The first day it took each team all day just to complete one wall each as we were all still learning. It was actually St. Patrick’s Day, so after we had finished work for the day, we decided as a team to celebrate by getting a McDonald’s Shamrock Shake – we do not have these in Australia so I was very excited. In the early evening we attended a dinner which the church was hosting, this was great as we were able to interact with and meet some community members. Several of us decided to go for a jog in the later afternoon – it was beautiful. I really enjoyed being in the fresh air and seeing more of the town.

Day 4

Once agin we were framing, we became slightly better and each team

Framing

Framing

managed to complete either two or three frames, we saw this as a significant improvement. I discovered that I am allergic to saw dust as even with a ventilator my throat was still irritated. This was annoying but didn’t put a damper on my day as I knew I just had to endure several more days. After we had finished work for the day we went to the local sports complex which was fantastic. We worked-out individually for around half the time, before coming together and having an epic volleyball game.

Day 5

Day 5 was the last day of framing and by this point we were serious pros. At the end of the day, we had actually completed the entirety of the exterior walls of a home. We were really proud of this effort as not only had all of our construction skills improved, we were the ones responsible for these frames being completed which a family in need would eventually live in. Once we left the site we returned to the church where we had Brinner (breakfast for dinner – duh); it was incredible. We then went downtown to explore the main street more, purchased specialty popcorn and checked out the local ice-cream parlour where we devoured some tasty treats.

Photoshoot!

Photoshoot!

Day 6

Day 6 marked our last day working for Habitat and it was bittersweet. We spent the morning doing another community service project which consisted of pulling down a handicap ramp, and then spent the rest of the day assisting with cleaning up the warehouse and yard before finally doing a photoshoot as a team and saying our goodbyes to the Habitat team. We spent the afternoon packing our bags and napping before heading out for a Mexican dinner and attending a semi-professional Ice hockey game. The Ice hockey game was like nothing I had ever witnessed before. The fans were all shaking their cow bells when their team had possession, and the hosts were engaging with the audience through shouting and dancing competitions. My seat was apparently lucky as I won a coupon for a local ribs outlet.

Day 7

Chicago!

Chicago!

We hit the road at 7am, Chicago bound. We arrived in Chicago around noon and driving into the city was sensational as we were able to see the skyline and the Willis (Sears) tower very clearly. My first impression of Chicago was that the city is a smaller version of New York City. We explored Millennium Park and I was in awe the entire time. I was so excited to see the Big Bean and couldn’t wait to see what else the city offered. We passed the Chicago river which was still a hint of green from St. Patrick’s Day, and also walked down the Navy Pier. I was amazed by the pier, and Lake Michigan’s beauty. It was one of the most beautiful shades of blue I had ever seen. We had intentions of walking down the magnificent mile and shopping, however our stomach’s interfered with this plan and instead we went to Pizzeria Uno to eat the original Chicago-style deep-dish. We waited around an hour and a half for this pizza, but in my opinion, it was worth it. The pizza had a fruit pie-like base with fresh toppings. After two slices I was uncomfortably full. By this point it was around 5pm and it was time to go. We once again drove through the night and arrived back at campus at approximately 5:20am. Although it was a long day, this day was one of the best days of my life.

The group

The group

Final thoughts

We all agreed that the trip was a very worthwhile experience and I would certainly recommend it to students looking to do something different during their break. Working for Habitat put life into perspective for me, and allowed me to see how fortunate, blessed and lucky I am. I want to give back where I can, and prior to this trip I found it difficult to discover these kinds of organisations which were inline with my visions and values. Habitat provides this opportunity in a safe environment with the chance to learn useful, valuable skills. The kinds of people that you meet on these alternative trips are a special kind, I feel it takes a certain type of person to be willing to sacrifice their break in order to go and do community service. I am sure that the friendships which were formed during this trip will last in years to come.

Thankyou SUNY Oswego for providing me with this opportunity, thankyou to the incredible group I was able to experience this with, and a massive thank-you to Scott Ball for being an incredible leader and role model.

Peace Out

K

Ozzie scored a job at Cooper!

Working in Cooper

Working in Cooper

SUNY Oswego has 13 residency halls as around half of the enrolled students live on campus. To accommodate this large volume of students, Oswego has 5 dining halls. As an international student living in Hart Hall, I eat approximately 80% of my meals in Cooper Dining Hall. Because I was spending a large proportion of my time in this dining hall, I was able to witness the culture and attitude of Cooper and its employees – I wanted in. Whenever I was being served a meal the staff were always smiley, friendly and wanting to strike up a conversation; I loved it. I was also motivated to earn some pocket money due to the AUD being weak.

So I did the next logical thing, I applied for a position. Initially I didn’t hear back as there were no openings, however several weeks later I received a call asking if I was still looking for a position. I started two days later. So far I have only worked as a server (dishing out and serving students food) and in the deli section (making wraps and sandwiches) but I am enjoying the work and grateful for all the new friends I have made so far.

I have a positive attitude towards this job as that’s exactly what it is, a job, it’s not a career, and it’s a way for me to make friends whilst earning some cash. Being employed has forced me to setup a US bank account and obtain a Social Security number, both which put me in good stead if I decide to return to the states in the future for work purposes.

Hard work is good for the soul,

Peace out

K xx

Snowshoeing in the Adirondacks – an Aussies POV

Early start

Early start

Since I began my semester abroad, my new friends would always speak of travelling to the Adirondacks on weekends and hiking, fishing and camping. The word Adirondacks itself sounded like some foreign language and I could barely even pronounce it initially. I had heard of snowshoeing but only on TV and in movies and I was under the impression snowshoeing was when someone straps a tennis racquet-like head to their shoe and walks through snow. Technically I was correct, but those were the “old school” style of snowshoes – they are more sophisticated these days.

I joined the SUNY Oswego Outdoor club with some friends and signed up for this snowshoeing adventure to Lake Placid, Adirondacks. I honestly had no idea what to expect or what it would entail but I was very eager to see part of the Adirondacks.

Beautiful snow capped trees

Beautiful snow capped trees

Lake Placid is located roughly 5 hours from SUNY Oswego so we left at 3am on Saturday to begin our journey. We stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts and various convenience stores on the way to use the bathrooms and stock-up on snacks. I found it remarkable that convenience stores in the U.S are reasonably priced and items are priced almost identical to their prices in Walmart. In Australia the prices are approximately 2-3 times higher in convenience stores.

Fortunately enough I was able to get several hours of sleep through the night during our travels so by the time we arrived I was refreshed, excited and ready to snowshoe. Once we arrived at the Adirondacks we layered up, fastened out snowshoes and set out on the trail. We were chasing Tabletop Mountain which is one of the 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks. It was approximately a 7 mile hike with snow literally everywhere.

Incredible

Incredible

The hike up was difficult to say the least. It started off okay as it was mostly flat with small inclines but as we progressed the trees became thicker, the trailer thinned out and the inclines were steeper. About a mile before the peak was when the real inclines began and it was a struggle. In several places we resorted to getting down on all fours and climbing (scrambling) up the mountain as it was too steep to walk. The whole climb we were regularly stopping to take off layers as we were sweating, however once we reached the peak the wind had a strong chill and all these layers needed to be put back on to essentially prevent hyperthermia.

The view from the peak was breathtaking in my opinion. It was grey, cloudy and snowing heavily so it was hard to capture the outlook on camera, however I thought the view suited the atmosphere of the day and exceeded my expectations.

Peak

Peak

Once we had admired the scene for long enough we proceeded to slide down the mountain and go back to base. We had begun the hike at around 9:30am and were all back at the lodge by 5pm; it was a long day. Because it had snowed so much during the day it was a longer trip home, but I mostly slept so was not phased. When we arrived back to campus, myself and two friends went to late-night and ate our hearts out – it was fantastic.

I feel so lucky, blessed and privileged that I was able to go on this trip as it is so different to anything I had ever experienced or imagined I would do in my life.

Peace Out

K xx

The Oscars! In Hart Hall

Oscars!

Oscars!

Being from Australia an all, I had never actually watched the Oscars – only ever the highlights. This is because the timezones are so out of whack. Anyway! This year because I am in the U.S.A I was fortunate enough to not only watch the oscars, but also attend a party organised by my hall. It was so much fun! The Oscars reminded me of the Logies but on a bigger scale as all the big stars were there, lame jokes were cracked, award winners made moving speeches and all the celebrities looked incredible. My highlight of the evening was seeing Lady Gaga perform a tribute to the Sound of Music, as I grew up watching this film with my Mum and Ba, so this was really special to me.

death2At our event in Hart Hall, there was a red carpet setup to make us feel fabulous as we entered, big cardboard images of cinema film reels and stars dangling from the ceiling and walls, posters on the walls, and food. Lots and lots and lots of food.

We all watched (and cheered) the Oscars and participated in mini competitions whilst continuously stuffing our faces with food. I did not win anything but one of my friends won a Walmart voucher which we all thought was pretty neat. I had a great evening and really enjoyed watching the Oscars all the way through as it’s something I probably will not be able to do again.

 

Peace Out

K xx

 

 

 

 

My first impressions of Walmart

For years I had always heard Walmart referenced in movies and pop culture and I was always so intrigued as we have nothing quite like it in Australia. The college is really well serviced with public transport so getting to Walmart was not an issue. My friends also had never been to Walmart before so we decided to make a day of it.

As expected it was huge. I had built it up so big in my mind, however it really wasn’t as incredible and exciting as I had expected. It was underwhelming to be completely honest. It was just like several stores in Australia combined (Woolworths and Big W). I was really impressed by how inexpensive everything was, especially makeup. I was able to pick up lipsticks which are usually around $17 in Australia, for $6 at Walmart. I also loved how friendly and willing to help all the folks there were and the great range of cheap, American candy.

Sweet selfie we took

Sweet selfie we took

My Final Weeks in Australia

These last few weeks that I was abroad were definitely the hardest. Everyone began to study for finals about 2 weeks before they actually started. We were given a reading week, basically used just to study, which was very nice because we don’t have that at Oswego. It definitely gave me a lot more time to understand all of the material throughout the whole semester. Even though this was useful for schoolwork, it meant that everyone was hidden away in their rooms or the library for a majority of the time. At the time I wanted to see everyone the most, it was that much harder to do so. Studying was really important but I wanted to see all of my friends before I left.

My first final was on the first Saturday. SATURDAY! I didn’t know that ever happened. It was nice to get one out-of-the-way though. My other two finals were on Monday and Wednesday so there was a good chunk of time in between each to continue studying. As I finished my last final on Wednesday, November 12th, I couldn’t have been more excited! In the morning I was heading to Tasmania for a week to travel around the island. I quickly packed my bag so that I could get a couple of hours of sleep because my flight was at 6 AM. But before all of this happened, I sadly had to say goodbye to my friend Arj who lived in Canberra. He was leaving for home while I was in Tasmania so I had to say my final goodbyes. It was a lot harder than I had expected but I knew we would see each other again.

At 5 AM my friend Scott drove me to the airport for my final vacation in Australia. Tired but excited, I boarded my plane (alone!) that would take 8 hours to take me to Hobart, Tasmania (that included a stopover and an hours time difference). It was exciting to be able to travel on my own for once but it is always more fun to travel with a friend however all of them still had finals. I knew this would be an amazing experience to meet new people from around the world and to see one last part of this amazing country. Once I landed in Hobart, I boarded a bus that took me to my hostel. It was such a beautiful place and I ended up getting a room all to myself for the night! I put all of my bags down and decided to take a walk around the city before everything closed at 5 PM! It is a small city, only 200,000 people in total but the largest in all of Tasmania. It has a lot of older buildings with a lot of history. Dinnertime came around and I decided to get some Chinese food from the restaurant next to my hostel. I ate and was exhausted from all of my travelling so I headed to bed because my tour guide was picking me up at 7 AM the next morning for a 5-day tour around the island.

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Welcome to Hobart!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I woke up the next morning and met my tour guide, Rhen, and boarded our bus. Another woman, Felicity from Germany, was already on the bus. We then picked up 5 more people, an older couple from San Francisco, Nicklas from Germany, and Yannick and Axel from France. As we left Hobart, we all got to know each other. We rode to a few waterfalls in the rainforest on the western coast of Tasmania to begin with. It was a lovely and cold walk through the forest. The western coast of Tasmania was extremely cold compared to Townsville. Townsville was constantly humid and at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit while Tasmania was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It was a good thing I brought a few pairs of pants and long-sleeved shirts with me! One the same day we stopped at Lake St Clair for lunch. I had bought a loaf of bread and PB&J for the week and the first thing I hear is, “you are so American.” We arrived in the small town of Strahan which had about 500 residents and settled into our rooms at our hostel. We all made a barbecue dinner together and ate outside while we talked more. Bedtime came early again but not before I video chatted with my parents so they could feel a little better about me travelling by myself.

Lake St Clair

Lake St Clair

Tasmanian waterfall

Tasmanian waterfall

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday was boat cruise day. We boarded the Eagle run by World Heritage Cruises and sailed towards the Southern Ocean and through Hell’s Gates. This was where prisoner’s from the mainland came through on their way to Sarah Island, the place where the prisoner’s were kept and were worked many years ago. The boat stopped here and our fantastic tour guide told us all about the island and prisoners and the stories of all of their lives. We also saw aquaculture pens for salmon and trout at Liberty Point and sailed down Gordon River. We were served lunch on the boat as well while the captain shared history about the area. The ship returned to Strahan by stopping at the Morrison’s Huon Pine Sawmill so the family could do a demonstration and tell us about their business. To end this relaxing day, Rhen took us to the longest beach in Tasmania where we played Frisbee and went for a walk.

Rhen and Nicklas playing Frisbee

Rhen and Nicklas playing Frisbee

Such a beautiful cruise!

Such a beautiful cruise!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day was a hiking day!! It was one of my favorites. We left Strahan and headed to Lake St Clair National Park where we saw the beautiful Cradle Mountain. The hike up to the top of the mountain next to it was fantastic. There were chains along the way to help you pull yourself up and the hike was only about an hour to the top with amazing views of the surrounding park area. This was probably my favorite day out of the 5-day tour. It made me realize the type of environment I want to live in when I’m out on my own. The mountains and the lakes were stunning and I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing view. This long day in the park lead to us driving to Launceston, the second largest city in Tasmania, where we checked into our hostel and relaxed for the night. Sadly, Nicklas and Felicity had to leave but we picked up 3 new people; Tiffany was from Arizona and we also picked up a Danish couple, Jan and Meredithe.

Cradle Mountain

Cradle Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the morning, before Felicity left, we all went on a nice walk through Cataract Gorge in Launceston. It was such a beautiful sunny day filled with flowers, peacocks and a beautiful walk. From here, Rhen drove us to the Bay of Fires! This area is on the east coast of Tasmania and is basically a large area of beaches with sand that squeaks and extremely blue waters. So, this day was a beach day. I collected some shells, saw a wild echidna and platypus and took so many photographs. Although the east coast was so much warmer than the west, sadly it was still not warm enough to go swimming.

Wild Echidna!

Wild Echidna!

Launceston Cataract Gorge

Launceston Cataract Gorge

Bay of Fires

Bay of Fires

 

 

 

 

The final day on the tour was another hiking day. We entered Freycinet National Park, home of Wineglass Bay. Rhen had mentioned that the hike up to the top of Mount Amos, which overlooked the bay at its highest point, was really difficult. I had done quite a bit of hiking back home so I was excited to give it a go. The only other person who wanted to try the hike was Yannick so we headed up the mountain together while the rest headed towards the lower spot that led down to the beach. The hike was a lot more difficult than I expected! It was a flat rock face for a majority of the hike and it was extremely steep! We had to put our feet and hands in cracks in the rocks so that there was something to hold onto. The hike although difficult was not very long and we reached the top of the mountain in about 1 hour and it was absolutely worth it. The views were unbelievable and made for some wonderful pictures and memories. From here, we climbed back down which took a bit longer. It was actually really scary because it was so steep. We both slipped a few times and after sliding down the rocks on my butt, we made it to the bottom where we met the rest of the group. After Freycinet, we drove to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary where we met some furry animals and fed some kangaroos. Our tour guide gave us a talk about each animal, most of which were rescued from the wild while some were born at the sanctuary. Sadly, this was the last stop on the trip. The drive back to Hobart took a couple of hours because the Chinese President was in town, making for a bit more traffic than usual. But we finally made it back and I said farewell to all of my new friends. I checked back in at my hostel (I stayed at the same one I had the first night in Hobart) and met my roommates. One girl flew from Sydney just to see the Chinese President (she was from China and studying in Sydney). She said that everyone had lined up along the road on the sidewalk so they could simply have a glimpse of their president however they sadly never saw him. Another roommate was from Denmark and had just arrived to Tasmania and was trying to find things to do. I shared my experiences with her and hoped she got the opportunity to enjoy her trip.

Wineglass Bay

Wineglass Bay

Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary: Wombats

Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary: Wombats

Kangaroo mob

A group of kangaroos is a mob

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day I boarded a bus back to the airport. My flight was at 1 PM and went from Hobart to Melbourne to Brisbane and finally to Townsville. It took me 10 hours of travelling to reach uni where I would only stay for another 30 hours before I left for good. My final day was relaxing. I took one last walk around campus picking up papers and getting a few souvenirs to bring home. I spent quite a bit of time with friends that day. We had dinner together and eventually went out to town to celebrate the end of such a great semester. I couldn’t help but get emotional a few times throughout the night. I was the first one to leave which made it so much harder. I did not want to go AT ALL. I knew it would be hard to say good-bye but I never thought it would be that hard. I made such good friends over the 4 months I spent abroad and that’s what was the hardest to leave behind. They are all such amazing people who I hope I get to see again one day. It’s very cliché, but I know that this was more of a see you later.

I have been home in the USA for about 3 weeks now. It has taken me this long to finish my last blog about my travels because I knew once it was written that it would be the very end of it all. There is no amount of words that could explain what I got to experience abroad and it can only truly be understood if you take the opportunity to do so yourself. So, take advantage of all of these opportunities given to you now. This is the time to see the world, meet new people and make amazing memories. I have grown so much as a person and travelling has taught me to be more independent and more comfortable being myself. If you want to experience something truly breathtaking, all you have to do is travel.

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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Sunset over Sydney

I finally made it to Sydney for a five-day vacation with my friend Erica. We left Thursday afternoon for the airport, getting dropped off by my mate Mitch. It was a straight shot to Sydney once we boarded the plane. It was a much-needed vacation since I had two tests earlier in the week, one in GIS and one in Rainforest Ecosystems. We arrived in the famous city after a two and a half hour plane ride from Townsville. And the cool thing about our plane ride was that the entire Cowboys team was on it! They play AFL rugby for Queensland and were going to Sydney for a game.

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3 Sisters at the Blue Mountains

Anyway, the hostel we booked had a free airport pickup service so we hopped on the bus to get there. Westend Nomads hostel is located right in the middle of the city with only a 30 minute walk to the bay and the Opera House. We got checked in and headed up to our room where we met our four other roommates. The best thing about staying in hostels is that you meet people from all around the world. The people in our room were from China, Canada, the U.K. and France. Each was here for a different reason for a different amount of time.

The first night consisted of walking across the street to the grocery store to pick up a few things for the week so we wouldn’t have to spend much on food. Coles (which I thought was like our Khol’s) was the store we went to and it was packed, as most places in cities are. We got the basics of PB&J, milk, cereal, juice and chips. We also snagged some fun cookies that were shaped like platypuses, roos, and wombats. The hostel also provided free pasta and rice so we took advantage of that too.

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Theater in the Opera House

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Echidna!

On Friday, we went for a walk to the bay and took a tour of the Opera House! It was absolutely beautiful and we even got to go inside to see the theaters. I also found out that the outside of the building is covered in over 1 million hand-lain white tiles, 1,056,006 to be exact. Our tour guide also mentioned that that is an answer to a Trivial Pursuit question. Also, the Opera House holds events other than operas including plays, ballets, orchestras and the stranger being boxing and even sumo wrestling. It was a wonderful tour that should be experienced if you ever get the chance. The same day we went to the aquarium, wildlife zoo, where I saw a Tasmanian Devil for the first time, and the Sydney Tower Eye which is a very tall tower in the middle of the city that allows for 360 degree views, sort of like the Empire State Building. We went at sunset making everything more beautiful. After that we went back to Nomads to eat and pass out. But, on the way back, everyone was out and about seeing as it was a Friday. We stopped at a little park where there was live music and people playing ping-pong in the middle of it. Tons of others were sitting and walking around enjoying the night.

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Tasmanian Devil :)

Saturday morning around 7AM we walked to a pickup point for the tour we booked to the Blue Mountains. Sadly, before we left we discovered that our food had been stolen from the communal fridge, forcing us to buy more at the grocery store. I guess that happens at backpackers hostels. We didn’t let that ruin our day though. The bus we took drove to an aboriginal center to start off the tour. Here we watched a traditional dance and learned about different cultures in Australia. Most aboriginals don’t consider there to be 6 states and 2 territories but over 300 states that are based on cultural groups. The show was beautiful and from here we could also see the Three Sisters rock formations. Later we went to Scenic World that had a couple of rides through the mountains. Erica and I walked through the rainforest for a bit too before returning to the bus to head to a little nearby town for lunch. The Featherdale Wildlife Park was the last stop for the day. This is where I saw an Echidna for the first time and well aren’t they just the cutest! There was a Tasmanian Devil feeding, and a buzzard that ate his dinner right in front of me. There were giant pelicans, roos, wallabies, wombats, koalas, dingoes and several kinds of birds. All were either rescued or born in the sanctuary. On the way back to Sydney, our driver drove through the Olympic Park that was used in the 2000 Summer Olympics.

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Aboriginal Show

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Sydney Running Festival

Sunday we went back towards the Opera House to look at shops and to eat lunch. There was a running festival going on that morning so we cheered on those running through the city. We stopped at an aboriginal art gallery where I got my mother her didgeridoo and shipped it home so I wouldn’t have to deal with taking it on the plane. We ate lunch in front of the Opera House and took in the views of harbor views. We did a bit more shopping and walking around before getting on a ship (it literally looked like a pirate ship) for a harbor cruise. I booked a mast climb on the ship so once in the harbor I was hooked in and got to climb up! It was a little nerve-racking at first but I made it to the top. It was heaps of fun and I could see everything from up there. After the climb, it was open bar and they provided nibblies too. The ship sailed under the Harbor Bridge as well making for a wonderful boat ride. I met a couple from Long Island on the ship who were there on a business trip (they noticed my Oswego State sweatshirt) and one of the deckhands was from Colorado. It really is a small world!

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Mast climb on the Soren Larsen!

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Bondi Beach art

Our last day in Sydney consisted of taking the ferry across the harbor to go to a marine sanctuary. Most of the sanctuary consisted of tunnels to walk through so that the animals surrounded you. I have only been to a couple of places like that before so it was pretty cool. After that, we headed back towards the hostel to catch a bus to Bondi Beach. The beach was full of people sun bathing and swimming but Erica and I were in pants and sweatshirts because we were so used to the heat of Townsville. The waves were massive here so there were quite a few surfers out. There was a wall with different artist’s paintings on them too. Each was completely different from the one before it but all were beautiful. So we ended the trip with a (cold) beach day and collected shells at Bondi too.

Our plane left Tuesday morning at 6AM so we were exhausted when we arrived back in Townsville, but were warm once again! Sydney was such a wonderful and fun city and is definitely a must if you come to Australia!

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Sydney Opera House

We Have Arrived: James Cook University

After travelling for over 35 hours, I am happy to say that I made it to Australia! This was the longest trip that I have ever made away from home and it was not a fun time. I started my travels by leaving my house at 9 AM on Tuesday, July 15th and drove down to JFK with my parents where I met  my travel buddy, Deanna. She is in the same program however she does not go to Oswego, but goes to Oneonta instead. We had been discussing everything before the trip but this was the first day meeting each other. After having trouble printing my boarding ticket, I finally said goodbye to my parents and headed toward the gate. It was easy to find the gate and navigate through the airport. But of course there had to be a thunderstorm directly headed our way so our plane to LAX was delayed 3 hours! It was a good thing we had a long layover there because by the time we landed and got our next boarding pass, the plane was boarding for Sydney, Australia. This wonderful flight was a whopping 14 hours over nothing but ocean water, and it was a red-eye flight so there wasn’t much to look at. Luckily it wasn’t too hard to fall asleep and I slept for 8 of those hours, making the trip a little more bearable. There were also plenty of movies to be watched which took up the rest of the time. But this flight did have one good part to it; the girl who sat down to my right happened to be going to the same exact place as Deanna and I; town, school, dorm building and all. So we made a new friend, Natalia. There was another study abroad student, Luke, who sat in front of us who was traveling from Kansas State to Perth, Australia.

We all got off the plane together at about 6 AM on Thursday, July 17th. After collecting our luggage in Sydney, and going through customs, we got separated from each other! I did freak out for a few minutes but then realized that if I just keep going to my next gate that we would meet up there. As I got back in line to recheck my bags, I found Natalia but Deanna was still nowhere to be seen! I waited with Natalia for a few minutes before getting on the bus to our next terminal. Finally, when we found the gate, Deanna was there with Luke, safe and sound. Luke’s plane left first and we said goodbye as we prepared for boarding as well and after landing 3 hours later at our final destination, we went to pick up our bags and meet our ride to the Uni (what they call the college campus). There was of course one more setback; my bags were lost. Come to find out, they were left in Sydney and never boarded the plane to Townsville. But I brought 2 changes of clothes and travel size shampoo. Deanna let me borrow a towel for the shower and I should be getting my bags today (Friday)!

Townsville Airport

Townsville Airport

After arriving to uni and our dorm building, I met my RA, Andrew, and got to see my room for the next 4 months. It has its own balcony which is the highlight of the whole building. People, mostly those here for the whole year, have decorated them and even have hammocks too. But besides this awesome feature, it is a pretty standard dorm building. It’s not as enclosed as those in Oswego, for obvious reasons, so there is more air flow making for a beautiful tropical feel.

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The view from my balcony

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The balcony

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My room

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My room

Deanna, Natalia and I decided that we would go to the store and get a few things after we showered and looked decent after travelling for such a long period of time. We asked someone on our floor how to get to the store that was on the uni and they said it was a short walk down the street, so off we went. It was literally a 5 minute walk, and I just got a few things, including a phone that I could use just in Australia. We walked back, dropped our stuff off in our rooms and walked around for a bit, exploring a little before we went to the dining hall for dinner. We had a nice chat with one of the cooks who told us about some of the local birds and the kangaroos that enjoy sitting on the grass right next to the dorm building! I also met another exchange student from Norway! She got there the day before. Her name was something very Norwegian (I could not pronounce it to save my life) so she told us to call her Chessa. There are so many people to meet still and O week hasn’t even started yet. It is going to be an exciting time here in beautiful Australia!

Graduate School Isn’t For Everyone

Whether you’re thinking about going on with higher education to pursue a Masters or Doctoral degree, there are a lot of things you need to take into consideration before taking the dive. Financing is an obvious issue, as is how you’re going to support yourself in the meantime- you know, eat and stuff.

Beyond those types of things, there are some others which aren’t as apparent; things that don’t happen during undergrad.

Going through the History Masters program here at SUNY Oswego has made one thing painfully obvious to me: There are people who are much, much smarter than me. During undergrad I was a pretty good student. I loved studying history, writing papers, analyzing- all that stuff most of you hate. It made me seem smart because I was invested in the process. However, at the graduate level, I had to step up my game. There aren’t a ton of us in the program, so standing out negatively is easy. Teachers, and frankly your peers, expect more out of you. The days of the kid who doesn’t know what he’s talking about speaking up every class making people look good are over. You’re in the big leagues now. If you didn’t read for that day, stay home. People will eventually figure it out.

This is a good time to bring up my next point: You better love what you’re studying. If you’re pursuing a degree after your Bachelor’s it should be something you don’t mind spending every weekend for a few months…who am I kidding? You’ll probably be spending most days researching, studying, and writing about. You may have to skip out on some nights out with friends or with a significant other, which is never fun. Dedication and perseverance will be key. It’ll get tiring, trust me, but at the end of the day I’m proud of the result and focused on getting my degree. If you feel that maybe it’s not for you, do more research, talk to people already in the program and the professors in the department, and choose your University or College very carefully.

Finally, being in graduate school also brings on this feeling of limbo: Am I a student or a professional? I work 30 hours a week, but I go to class at night. How do I introduce myself in a meeting or to people I meet? I’ve personally had trouble understanding the difference. Many times I’m expected to be professional, going to meetings and creating events, but I need to make sure I’m home in time to finish a paper or study for an exam. It’s a delicate balance that will work itself out. In the mean time, do your best to just concentrate on what you’re doing.

At the end of the day, make sure you take your time with your decision and way all the pros, cons, and everything in between.

– Jon (@jonzella)

 

Wait, what month is it?

When I started Graduate School in late August of 2012 graduation seemed distant. Now, in the midst of my second semester, it seems to be coming up quicker than I thought. Though most people will explain Graduate School programs in years, 1-3, in the grand scheme of things Graduate School is only 4 semesters. When you break that down, it’s easy to lose track of time when you think of how the semesters themselves get fragmented with school work deadlines and, before you know it, it’s the end of the semester. 5 months flew by and you can barely remember what you did. This made me think about what was important to me, what I needed for professional development, and what I just needed to do to survive.

It was a hard decision to stop doing certain things that I had become accustomed to doing here at SUNY Oswego for the last few years (I received my Bachelor’s Degree from here, too.) I realized that in order to stay sane it was important that I did things that I wanted to do for me and stop thinking about the big picture 24 hours a day. Professional development is important and taking time out to do that is something everyone should do. However, sacrificing happiness now for future happiness wasn’t how I wanted to live my life. So I changed it. I left some things behind, adopted a new attitude, concentrated on a few things instead of a handful, and opened my self, and my schedule, to new experiences. One of the most important things that I’ve picked up along the way is that personal development, learning more about who you are, will help you in the long run when developing yourself professionally. With a more relaxed schedule no longer filled with the stresses of simply too much to do, my spring semester has slowed down in comparison to the fall of 2012. I take my school work one day at a time and leave enough time for me to relax, go nuts, enjoy food, favorite sporting events, and well- anything else I want.