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

Oz Down Under

It’s been such a great month and a half here in Townsville. There are so many fantastic people I have met and made friends with. I was lucky enough to spend my 21st birthday here with all of them and was surprised to find out how fast you can become good friends with people. They all made it such a special day for me, even though I had class for the first time ever on my birthday! We celebrated by going out for gelato, hanging out on the beach and taking a drive to the top of Castle Hill (no drinking seeing as it was a Monday night).

Love these guys!

Love these guys!

Other things that have been going on down under:

Townsville’s Cultural Festival: this was filled with food from different countries including, Thai, Greek, Italian, Indian, etc. and several performances by each culture

Drinking Coconut Milk straight from the coconut!

 

VisitedPallarenda which acted as an old fort base during World War II and walked along the beautiful beach that included the city of Townsville and Magnetic Island in its view

Pallarenda

Pallarenda

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Had a holiday themed floor party that included St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, Australia Day,Cinco de Mayo, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and New Years.

Floor Party: My quad was St. Patrick's Day

Floor Party: My quad was St. Patrick’s Day

Attended my first touch rugby game as well as my first netball game

Touch Rugby: Uni Hall vs George Roberts Hall

Touch Rugby: Uni Hall vs George Roberts Hall

Completed the ice bucket challenge

Completed and handed in my first assignment! (GIS related)

I made this beautiful masterpiece.

I made this beautiful masterpiece.

Learned how to identify leaf families and have now started to press leaves

Figured out how to get netflix on my computer (it has not come to this country yet) and have made new friends by sharing the wealth

Fed a polychaete

Took a road trip up to Cairns for a weekend and spent it visiting waterfalls, walking through the rainforest, mountain biking and canoeing

Road trippin' to Cairns

Road trippin’ to Cairns

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Stopped at the beach on the way to Cairns

Female Cassowary!

Female Cassowary!

The gals.

The gals.

Cathedral Fig Tree

Cathedral Fig Tree

Milaa Milaa

Milaa Milaa

Saw 3 wild Cassowaries!

Swam under a waterfall

Learned about culture and life in Singapore

Went for a hike up the mountain behind Uni

Have used the word “keen” to show how excited I was for something

Say “oi” on the daily

Held the world’s largest cockroach

Found out cotton candy is called “fairy floss”

Ate my first mandarin

Ate my first scone

Completed all seasons of Breaking Bad

Planned trips to Sydney and Melbourne

Played a few jokes on some of the wonderful Australians here

Painted faces using ochre

I am truly blessed to have all of these wonderful opportunities and couldn’t ask for anything more. Classes are going really well although I find it difficult to want to go to class and do work while I am here. My next assignment is due this Friday but it’s going pretty well so far. I get to use the concepts and ideas of behavioral ecology in the real world by going out into the field and finding examples. It is a lot of fun and a new way to learn material that will be useful in the future. I have not received any grades yet which makes me a little nervous because a majority is based solely on the final exam. I just need to stay on top of the work and I am sure it will all work out. I am still loving every second here and will continue to keep you updated!

Touring Townsville

Wombat

Wombat! What a cutie.

The first 2 weeks of my stay in Australia are officially over. I feel like I have been here for a longer period of time though. My floormates are all so nice and friendly and I have made some great friends so far. O Week was filled with talks about everything from the basic rules of Australia to a tour of the campus to fun things to do around town. JCU also offered so many fun things to do during orientation week as well, besides all of the informative presentations I had to sit through, including a visit to Billabong Sanctuary where I met some beautiful koalas, kangaroos, crocodiles, wombats (my new favorite animal), snakes, birds, dingos. They were all so precious and we were able to touch and hold some of the animals as well. A lot of the animals were rescues that were taken in to live out their lives in peace.

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A koala named Ray Charles. He was hit by a car that blinded him when he was a little joey.

 

There was also a scavenger hunt that took our group all over the campus to find random items such as a ukulele, surfboard, wig, jump rope and some other difficult things to find, especially since we were all study abroad students that brought the least amount of things with us possible. Most things were borrowed from Australians, so we made quite a few friends along the way.

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Take a picture in front of the menu board at Green Plate Cafe

Over the weekend a group of friends and I took a trip to Magnetic Island, which is a 20 minute boat ride away and stayed for the weekend to relax on the beach and get out of Townsville one last time before school started. We went hiking from the backpackers resort to the other side of the island where we found a beautiful beach to go snorkeling at. The water was a little cold, but for winter it was absolutely amazing. There were giant boulders on each side of the beach so we got to do a little rock climbing as well. We spent the whole day there and eventually caught a bus back to our hostel. The next day we went to a closer beach and laid out for the day and looked for seashells.

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Horseshoe Bay

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Florence Bay

 

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The gang.

The vacation ended of course but the first week of classes went pretty well. My schedule was very difficult to understand at first but I thankfully made it to all of the classes. It was basically an introduction week so there wasn’t much to do but all of my professors are funny and nice so the semester should go well. I also get to go on a field trip for my Rainforest Ecosystems class to a rainforest! That was definitely a good choice for an elective! Now that the second week has started there are assignments already so I know I need to stay on top of them all before it becomes overwhelming. Each subject seems really interesting so I’m sure it won’t be too difficult to keep up. When it came to buying school supplies I cut back so much from what I usually have at home. I didn’t bring anything with me so I had to buy it all. The basics for me included notebooks for each subject, post-its, a highlighter, and a mini stapler. Luckily I only had to purchase one textbook so that was another money saver. Also, I only have 4 classes to take here, Rainforest Ecosystems, GIS, Invertebrate Zoology and Behavioral Ecology. It’s nice to have a smaller work load for a semester and the behavioral class is even based off of field work every single week! Everything is great here so far and I can’t wait to share what happens next. (:

Australia in T minus 7 Days

Hi everybody! My name is Kelsey Thomas and I am a senior zoology major with a photography minor and I am studying abroad at James Cook University in Townsville, QLD, Australia this upcoming fall 2014 semester. It has already been a stressful process of filling out an endless supply of paperwork however this last week is going to be crazy! There are still so many things I need to do, such as going to doctors and dentists appointments, verifying my visa (which was not completed correctly the first time), verifying my flight, printing out all necessary papers, visiting family and friends, oh, and packing too. I am just praying that I remember to do everything. Determining what is necessary to bring with me will probably be the toughest part of this whole process! What to pack and what not to pack will be difficult but starting a week early will hopefully give me enough time to look through everything a few times over.

I have to say, I am very nervous about the trip. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely excited as well, but I will be sad about leaving everything behind for the next four months. Learning a new culture and finding my way to classes is going to be stressful at first but I know it will all be worth it in the end. It does make it a little easier with Australia speaking English (kudos to those studying abroad in countries that don’t). I really can’t wait for all of the new memories and friends that will be made in this country. The school looks absolutely beautiful and the town itself looks nice as well, not to mention that it’s located right on the Great Barrier Reef.

Heads up to all of the Biology and Zoology students out there; I picked this school because the man I talked to in the international office said that Australia was the best option for our major. It is so different from what we have here and they do focus a lot on science majors. If you’re looking to study abroad, check out JCU’s website!

http://www.jcu.edu.au/

James Cook University

Townsville, QLD www.nextstepaustralia.com

Departure is in one week and now I am just counting down the days. I will be sure to keep you all updated on this wonderful adventure!

-Kelsey