Saturday, 8 November 2014

Week Seventeen

Me at the Gold Coast

Me in Melbourne

Me in front of the Sydney Opera House

At the Wagga Botanic Gardens

Alright ladies and gentlemen, welcome to what is actually going to be my last blog entry. This post is going to be, unlike, my previous entries, reflective of past experiences, rather than an update on my recent activities. As this blog was created for the purpose of detailing my experiences in Australia, there's not really much new to share with everyone anyways. I've arrived home safely in America after about 30 total hours of travel (including the dreaded airport layovers) and I'm very happy to be back with my family and loved ones. So, I'm just going to use this blog entry to outline some of the main things I got out of my semester abroad in Australia.

I think a major benefit of my Australian semester was the opportunity to immerse myself in a culture other than my own. Having never ventured outside the continental United States prior to this trip, it was hard to even fathom what people in a country other than my own would live like. After actually living in Australia for four months, I've discovered that Americans like myself often have the tendency to envision other countries as simply an exoticized version of our own country. And I did learn eventually, that while Australian culture may share many similarities with American culture, it is still very much its own entity, and the only way to truly get a handle on what it's like is to experience it firsthand.

One thing in particular that I will miss greatly about Australia is the overall friendliness and lack of hostility on the part of the Australian people. I missed this in particular almost the moment I arrived at LAX (the first time I had set foot back on American soil). I found the staff at LAX, unlike the staff at the Sydney airport, to be much less accommodating and certainly less cheerful in demeanor. Another thing that I will miss about Australia is the enormous feeling of safety you have while you're there.While I consider the place I live in southwest Missouri to be a pretty safe place, I'd say it's probably as safe as Sydney, which is one of the more un-safe places in Australia (at least some parts of it anyways). I will definitely miss being able to roam the streets freely without coming across anyone who looks like they might have the desire to do you harm.

But I think that, most of all, the thing (or things) I will miss about Australia are the relationships I was able to form while I was there. As I mentioned earlier, the general friendliness and hospitality of the Australian people made it very easy to meet and befriend new people. I often wonder if foreign exchange students have a difficult time making friends in America, since I don't think we're quite as accommodating as the Aussies. In addition, I felt that being able to spend four and a half months in Australia afforded me the opportunity to develop long-lasting friendships. I eagerly await the day I will be able to see my Australian friends again.

So in summary, I guess you can say I had the time of my life in Australia. I had always dreamed about visiting another country and seeing how people from different nationalities and cultures go about their daily lives, and visiting a country that so few people have the opportunity to visit in their lifetime was a tremendous blessing. Needless to say, I am very thankful to all those who helped me in achieving my goal of studying in Australia; as well as the people who made my experience an enjoyable one. There are too many people to name here (which is a huge blessing in and of itself) but I assume that if you're taking the time to read this blog, then you are one such person. So for the last time, I'm signing off from JayceDownUnder. Thanks again everyone, all the the best for the future!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Week Sixteen

Locks on the bridge at Federation Wharf

Royal Barracks in Melbourne

Graffitti Wall on Melbourne

Me and some other international students at the Wagga Races

Hello again everyone and welcome to JayceDownUnder! A quick clarification before I delve into this post: this is not my last blog post. My last blog post will in fact be next week, and will be a reflective entry on the entirety of my time spent here in Australia. So, this entry will instead be a brief post about my final days in Wagga, as well as my first experience with final exams here at CSU.

Anyways, last Friday I took my first final exam here at CSU. Fortunately, for the first time in my life I have only two final exams, and have had more time than ever before to prepare for them. So, needless to say, I've been less stressed than ever before during a final exam period. My final exam was held in a gym, which was proctored by volunteers (rather than professors or teachers) without about a hundred other students all taking different finals. I must admit, I think that this method of holding final exams is perhaps somewhat inefficient. As the exams are held in the gymnasium, this requires that the school's recreational facilities be shut down during the examination period. Therefore, students have to wait until 5:30 to use the recreational facilities, which I'm sure many students find inconvenient. I feel fairly strongly, that the way my home university (and probably the way many American universities do it) administer exams is much more efficient. Having the class take their final exam at the usual time and the usual place takes care of the issue of space, and having the professor personally proctor the exam seems far more effective than recruiting volunteers.

Despite these complaints, the exam itself went quite nicely. Very fortunately, the exam was less difficult than I had anticipated, which was a tremendous relief. As I've said before, the Australian grading system (or at least the one used here at CSU) is a bit tougher than the American system; and I've found that a 70 percent is considered to be a good grade, or 'mark' as they call here it in Australia. If you'll examine that last sentence closely, you'll notice that I used single quotes around mark, as is the Australian custom. I'm actually somewhat relieved to be able to use American spellings when I return.

So, as I write this post, I have only four full days left in Australia. I leave the CSU campus at 5;00 Saturday morning (1:00 pm Friday in Missouri) and by the time I arrive in Kansas City, it will be 6;35 pm on Saturday, November 1st (due to crossing the international date line). Nothing like fitting thirty hours of travel within the space of one day!. In spite of this, I'm absolutely thrilled to be going home soon. I've enjoyed my time here in Australia immensely, but I having been away from my loved ones for such a long time is beginning to take its toll. Luckily, by this time next week I'll be with them in person!

As is custom here at JayceDownUnder, I will close this blog post out by saying 'see you next week'! However, when I say it this time, I mean it literally. So, everyone can still look forward to what will actually be my final post next week, and look forward to seeing me in my person. As much as I've enjoyed keeping this blog, I can confidently say I would much rather share my experiences with you all in person! See you all (in person) next week!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Week Fifteen

Interesting installation at the NGV

Memorial to King Edward VII

Stained glass ceiling at the NGV

Me and some other international students at a banquet

Hello again everyone! Welcome to the Week Fifteen entry for JayceDownUnder, which means this is my next to last blog post. Time has truly passed rapidly the entire time I've been here in Australia! With now slightly less than two weeks left, the first stages of my preparation for leaving have begun. So, I think for this week's topic, I will be discussing the last phases of my semester down under.

Well, as I write this post, it is Monday in Australia, and the final exam period here at Charles Start University has officially begun. Fortunately, my first final isn't until this Friday, so I have plenty of time to study and prepare. To be honest, I could definitely get used to having two whole weeks off of class to prepare for finals. And on top of that, I have only two finals to prepare for. Therefore, my stress-level during finals is at an all-time low.

As is customary here at my blog, I will take a brief moment to explain the photographs I've included above. The first photo is of a very interesting art installation that I came across in the sculpture/scent garden at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). I'm not sure whether it's a wall painting or what ,the technical art term is for such an installation, but I did find it very interesting. The second photo is, as the caption would suggest, a memorial to Edward VII, who was king of the United Kingdom from 1901 to 1910. While both Australia and the United States have a similar heritage as former colonies of Great Britain, I find it quite interesting how Australia is far more proud of their English heritage than we are in the US. I suppose the fact that Australia remains part of the British Commonwealth, coupled with the fact that they obtained their independence peacefully, might have something to do with that. Which brings to me to my random observation that Australian culture very often feels like a hybrid of its west-coast American and English counterparts. 

Anyways, back to the pictures. The third photo is of the beautiful stained glass ceiling at the NGV. I've been trying to include more photos of myself for  my last blog entries, so I thought I'd include a picture of myself and some other international students at a banquet I attended that was specifically for internationals. This banquet took place over a month and a half ago, but it was a good picture and shows some of the friends I've made during my stay, so I'd thought I'd post it for my readers back home.

So, back to the specifics of what I'm doing for my last two weeks in Australia. I realise (see what I did there) that me explaining my plans for my final days here are not that interesting (especially to those of you reading here in Australia) but as I'm running out of things to blog about, I apologise as is this is my only recourse. My final on this Friday is for a business management class, and my second final is a history exam (essay form) that takes place on next Wednesday. So, needless to say, I've got a lot of writing to do before I leave this country.

Well, I think that's going to be a wrap for this week's entry. So, that means we've only got one blog post to go. I remember thinking about my Week Sixteen post during the beginning of the semester, and thinking it seemed like an eternity away. And now, it's nearly here. Wow! Anyways, you still have at least one exciting (but not really) account of my adventures to look forward to. So for the last time, I'll say: see you all next week!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Week Fourteen

WWI Memorial

Sculpture outside the National Gallery of Victoria

Sculpture at Federation Wharf

Me and some of my Australian friends

Hello again eveyone and welcome to my entry for my fourteenth week here in Australia! That means there will be only two more blog entries left after this, so enjoy it while it lasts! Unfortunately, my travels in Australia have come to an end, so there will be no more entertaining posts about my visits to exciting Australian cities or places. However, I can hopefully continue to enlighten my American friends on Australian culture and academia.
As is customary on this blog, I will begin by explaining the interesting photos I've included above. The first photograph is of the WWI memorial that I visited in Melbourne (if you remember last week's post, you'll remember I included a photo of myself on its steps). The next two photos are examples of Melbourne's rich arts scene. The sculpture of the gorilla wearing an interesting head piece was taken at the sculpture garden outside the National Gallery of Victoria, which was unique in that it was also a scent garden filled with unique smells. The second scuplture was an unusual art installation right in the middle of the walkway at Federation Wharf. The final photo is of me and some members of a bible study I've been attending on Monday nights during my time here at CSU.
So, anyways, I figure an update on my recent activities is in order. As I write this, the last full week of class for the semester is commencing, at the conclusion of this week, I will have two weeks of final exams prior to my departure from the "Land Down Under". Just for your information, I leave on the morning of Saturday November 1st (which, incidentally, as I'm crossing the international date line, is also the date of my arrival in the US, despite over 24 hours of travel). So, needless to say, I'm beginning to get slightly stressed; as is normal during the end of any academic semester. However, I have discovered that not having two jobs to occupy my time while attending class affords me ample free time to get my work done so that my stress is far more manageable.
So, the remainder of my time here in Australia will most likely be spent studying and tyring to make the most of the few days I have left. Needless to say, I've been blessed enough to meet some incredible people here and I feel that I've formed some strong, lasting friendships. As I've said before, I find Australian people (particularly here in Wagga) to be generally friendlier and more open than most Americans, so I will definitely miss the kindness and hospitality of the Australian people. Nevertheless, I will admit that as the weeks I've been away from home begin to pile up, I find myself missing my family and loved ones more and more.
Despite this, there are several fun things coming up in the near future. There is a big final bash sort of thing happening this Wednesday which should be (to use a common Australian expression )"heaps good". So on that note, I'll leave you, letting you know that I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you guys next week. In fact, I just came to the realization that next week's post will be my next-to-last entry! Pretty crazy, huh?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Week Thirteen

Melbourne Arts Centre

Flinders Street Station

Federation Wharf

Me on the steps of the WWI Monument
Hey again, guys! Welcome to Week Thirteen here at JayceDownUnder! I'm pleased to announce that there will be only three posts for the remainder of the term. Once again, you'll find this week's post to be a particularly interesting one, as I will be detailing my recent trip to Australia's second city: Melbourne,Victoria.

Melbourne is, as I have stated earlier, the second largest city in Australia (after Sydney) and is in many ways considered to be the country's cultural capitol. And after arriving there last Friday, it was not difficult to see why. One of the first things I noticed about Melbourne was the fact that it seemed to be planned out much more nicely than Sydney. There is a free tram that encircles the city and the streets are (slightly) less crowded. But I think one of the main things that separated Melbourne from Sydney was the overall artsy feeling of the place. There were numerous buildings with fascinating architectural qualities (including the Melbourne Arts Centre and Flinders Street Station pictured above).

Throughout the entire city there were also numerous art installations, I would just be walking down the street and there would be some sort of unusual sculpture there. There will be more photographic evidence of these things in the weeks to come, and of course they can already be found in their entirety on my Facebook page. The bottom picture of myself is not as interesting as some of my other photos, but I recently realized that I probably haven't included as many pics of myself as I should.

Anyways, a large portion of my trip involved simply walking around the streets of Melbourne. The weather was beautiful on Saturday (when I did the bulk of my adventuring) and the weather here in Wagga is beginning to get beautiful as well. I'd have to say the thing I most enjoyed during my visit to Melbourne was the National Gallery of Victoria. Having visited the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney I had an idea of what to expect when visitng the NGV. However, these expectations were completely surpassed within my first fifteen minutes at the museum. The European collection at the NGV, which spanned from the Middle Ages all the way up to the mid-Twentieth centruy, was far more extensive than I thought it would be. And, much to my surprise and amazement, Rembrandt and Picasso originals were included in this collection.

I'd have to say that my favorite piece at the NGV was a painting called Queen Esther by the English painter Edwin Long. In addition to that, I also immensely enjoyed a Pieta (a sculpture of Mary holding the crucified body of Jesus) that was made in the 13th century in Germany. After I was done at the NGV, I paid a visit to the beautiful Fitzroy Botanic Gardens and then to the Australian Center for the Moving Image (ACMI), a museum about Australian film and television.

Overall, I really enjoyed my trip to Melbourne. In fact, I'd have to say it was probably my favorite city in all of Australia and probably one of the most beautiful cities I've ever visited. My trip to Melbourne, was of course, my last little excursion here in Australia. As I only have a little over three weeks left, I'm going to be very busy with essays and preparing for finals, for which I thankfully have two full weeks of prep time. Nevertheless, I'm beginning to get a bit antsy to get back home. Fortunately, I don't have very many days left to get through! See you next week!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Week Twelve

Parliament House

Chinese Embassy

Lake Burley Griffin

Australian Senate

Hey guys, welcome once again to Week Twelve at JayceDownUnder! At the conclusion of this week, I will officially have a month  left in Australia and the countdown to my return to America will begin. With the end of the semester approaching rapidly, things are beginning to heat back up workload-wise. I guess the stressful, end-of-semester crunch time isn't just unique to American universities. But anyways, this week's blog post will probably be slightly more interesting than some of the previous week's entries. That's because, this week, I'm going to be discussing my recent visit to Canberra, the national capitol of Australia!

Alright, before I begin, I should probably share a few basic details about the city of Canberra. It's actually pronounced Can-bruh, as I was fortunate enough to learn prior to my visit to Australia so as to avoid pronouncing it the way it's actually spelled. As I said earlier, it is the capitol of the entire country, the equivalent of our Washington D.C. And like D.C., it does not belong to any state. The "district" in which it is located is called the ACT (Australian Capitol Territory, not the standardized test). The ACT is a lovely place with lots of nature (including the beautiful man-made lake pictured above) and is a bit colder and more temperate than Wagga and other parts of Australia. In fact, the weather and lots of the trees that been introduced and planted gave it a kind of European/ North American feel. Canberra is also an intricately-planned out city, it is very symmetrical, which works out very well for a foreign tourist such as myself.

As for the things I did while in Canberra, I was elated by the amount of historical things available to do. Regrettably, I don't know nearly as much about Australian history as I do American and European history,so I found the trip to be a wonderful learning experience. Perhaps the highlight of my short trip was my visit to the Australian parliament, a large, majestic building with over 4,500 rooms! Needless to say, I was unable to see the majority of them, but a free guided tour took me to the House of Representatives and Senate chambers (as pictured above). In the process, I received a free lecture that taught me that the house has 150 members; and the Senate 76. Like the US, the House of Representatives is based on proportional representation (out of 150 federal electorates) and the Senate on equal representation (12 for each state, two each for the Northern Territory and the ACT). Having never been to D.C., I've never visted a national capitol before, so getting to experience the center of Australian federal politics was an amazing experience.

The Chinese Embassy pictured above was not the only embassy I visited. In fact, there were several streets, like a small housing division full of different embassies. In fact, I spent the better part of an hour walking around looking at all the different ones. Each embassy was built to reflect the culture of the nation it represented, with the Chinese embassy having a traditional tile roof and the Papua New Guinea embassy with an usual tribal design on its steepled roof. Photographic evidence of all the embassies I got around to seeing is provided on my Facebook page.

After I was done at the embassies and Parliament House, I made the long (at least an hour) walk across town to the Australian War Memorial. The museum is billed as one of the world's great museums and it certainly lives up to the billing. In many ways, the setup of the museum and the presentation of the exhibits reminded me of the National World War I museum in Kansas City. While at the museum, I was fortunate enough to be present during the closing hour, where a closing ceremony was held by the "pool of reflection" in the museum's outdoor area. The ceremony was dedicated to one Australian WWII veteran in particular, with some of his relatives there to place flowers at the base of his photo on display. Following this very moving ceremony, I made the return trip to my hostel along ANZAC Parade street, which was lined by memorials for the different wars Australia has been involved in.

So, overall, Canberra was yet another successful and enjoyable adventure here in Australia. This upcoming weekend, I will be taking a journey to Melbourne (the country's second largest city). From what I've heard, the consensus seems to be that Melbourne is better than Sydney. I've been told it is a very European-esque city, so as someone who's never been to Europe, I'm pretty excited to see what it's like. The weather here in Australia has finally begun to get hot, this week's forecast predicts several days to be in the mid to upper seventies, so that's quite exciting. But on that note, I leave you all and look forward to sharing the details of my Melbourne trip with you for Week Thirteen. 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Week Eleven

Me and a large male kangaroo

Crocodiles at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary

Wagga Wagga Botanic Gardens

Hello again everybody and welcome back to my blog! We've now reached Week Eleven (once again, I'm absolutely astonished at how quickly time flies) and my time here at Charles Sturt University is beginning to come to an end. After the completion of this week, I will have exactly five weeks left in Australia: three weeks of class, followed by two weeks of exams. I must admit, now that the weeks are piling up, I'm getting a bit anxious to get back to my family and friends. However, I am not letting that distract me from enjoying my remaining time here in Australia and my academic goals. Once again, there is not a lot to talk about in this week's post; so I think I'll just give a brief update on what I've been doing, what I plan to do, and maybe a few random musings on Aussie culture.
This past weekend, I had the privelege of attending the Wagga Wagga Ag Races, an all-day festive event at the local 'turf club'. A brief aside: I used single quotes around turf club in keeping with the Australian custom. I must admit, I feel unusually sophisticated when, whilst typing class essays, I write organise instead of organize. I sometimes get the urge to read my papers in an English or Australian accent. But getting back to the Ag Races, I found them very enjoyable and almost the quintessential Australian experience. I'd never been to a horserace before in my life, so needless to say I didn't know what to expect. There were a lot of people dressed very nicely (I was dressed in a semi-formal fashion, but still felt somewhat underdressed) and there were lots of women wearing hats and very flamboyant hair ornaments. Nevertheless, I enjoyed myself immensely watching the horses run and meeting lots of new people. And no, I did not place bets on any of the horses. I'm not much of a gambler to begin with, and I know virtually nothing about horses so I decided not to throw away my money.
Other than the exciting and enjoyable time I had at the races on Saturday, not a whole lot new has been going on. The weather is getting progressively nicer each week, this week will be sunny and in the mid 70s (or the mid 20s as I've grown accustomed to saying, I'm getting better at the Fahrenheit-Celsius conversion) and the days are growing longer as well. I have just become aware that the day I arrive back in the US, November 1st, is also the last day of daylight savings; so my Circadian Rhythm will be thrown even more out of whack. Anyways, I have met no shortage of new people. Fortunately, as a foreign exchange student, I am able to make friends quite easily due to my 'exotic' nature in addition to the general friendliness of the Australian population.

So, as you can tell, the past few weeks have been rather uneventful with the exception of school assignments. I have only two assignments left for the entire semester, and they are both due on the same week in October. This upcoming weekend, I'm taking a trip to Canberra (the nation's capitol) and after that I plan on visiting Melbourne (Australia's second largest city after Sydney, the Los Angeles of Australia) over a three-day weekend. So, needless to say, there will be a lot more to blog about in the weeks ahead. By the time I've returned from my trip to Melbourne, I'll have just three weeks left in this country! Pretty crazy to think about. Regardless, I look forward to my upcoming travels and being able to share them with my readers in future posts. Cheers!