Australia: My New Home City

Study abroad and exchange students only had a few days of orientation at Murdoch, while full-on students continued sessions into the second week. Therefore, the week before classes was virtually open to us. Tuesday’s adventure? Perth.

Murdoch University is south of the Swan River about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the city of Perth. Luckily, it is an easy bus and train ride to get to the city center, so we figured it out with ease. The city center is composed of a few strips of shops and restaurants set on a gray paver walkway with trees throughout. I loved the city already, and just like London, its young, clean vibe reminded me of Philly and Boston. After shopping some more (even after I told myself I would not shop anymore, which I mean this time), we settled at a small café for some lunch.

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After lunch, we strolled to Elizabeth’s Quay. To my surprise, the vibrant, waterfront area is set on an artificial inlet and was developed to attract tourism. It is home to the Swan Bells, which is a set of 18 bells suspended in an extremely modern, needle-like glass and copper building. The area is beautiful.

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The trip to Perth was super fun, and I am looking forward to visiting the city again and exploring more of it. I hope to visit some popular and/or historical sites, such as the mint.

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I love the mixed architecture in Perth.

That night, the resident assistants set up a pizza and trivia party. It was actually quite a popular event, mostly due to the free pizza. My group of friends made a team for trivia, which consisted of multiple rounds of really random questions to which we needed to write the answers. We tied two teams at the end, but after a bonus question, my team won. It was a great surprise to end an enjoyable day, and it was nice to walk away with a movie ticket each!

Australia: Shopping at Garden City

Monday was all over the place from the start. I think I may have walked to and from campus about four times to sign up for surf and didgeridoo lessons, receive a partial refund and grab a surprise free bus token for the big night out coming up. I was really trying to organize my life Monday, but Monday was not letting me get anything done.

When a chance to go shopping in Garden City popped up with Jordan and Nicole, I took it. I figured I needed a new bathing suit and wanted to check out this mall. Fun fact: Hofstra University is located right outside of Garden City, NY and and there is a shopping center with the same name.

When I left for the mall, I did not expect to buy much. Let’s just say that there were a lot of good stores with great sales, and I basically shopped until I dropped. To be honest, although I was not planning on spending so much, I had one of the best days of shopping ever with Nicole and Jordan, so it was totally worth it. At least I got the bathing suit I needed! I found one store called City Beach that I absolutely adore, and it had incredible sales.

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Outside area at the mall

The mall was quite large, and I don’t think we saw most of it. I was surprised when we walked outside and there was a beautiful area with pavers and shrubs. Between the mall, the sales and the company, I could not have asked for a better originally unplanned day.

Australia: Floreat Beach and Hillary’s Harbour

After another beautiful day at the beach, we had yet another planned! Murdoch Village organizes a few trips for students throughout the semester and the one planned for Sunday was a beach and harbor trip.

There was not a cloud in the sky Sunday and the sun was scorching. We only had three hours at the beach, but that is all we needed. I am one to spend as much time as possible laying in the sand, but the Australian sun is intense. Surprisingly, the water is much cooler than one would imagine considering how warm it is. After a few hours of switching between water and land, enjoying a sausage sizzle and napping in the shade, we loaded the buses and headed to Hillary’s Harbour.

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Hillary’s Harbour is the first major marina north of Perth and is full of shops and restaurants. It houses The Aquarium of Western Australia and offers many tourist attractions such as helicopter rides, ferries to Rottnest Island and fishing charters. The area is nice, but we only had about thirty minutes to spend there. That, of course, does not count the almost hour we sat in the parking lot because the other bus broke down.

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The day ended with an outdoor cinema at the village. I am glad it was a movie I had never seen before: How to Be Single. The night was a swell ending to a peachy day.

Australia: Fremantle Markets

As a continuation of orientation week, nicknamed “O-Week” here, the resident assistants had a “recovery breakfast” for everyone who went out to the club the night before. I find it so different that part of orientation week consisted of going out with our resident assistants; but the drinking age is 18 here, so the night life culture is slightly different from America. Breakfast was fantastic. There was a pancake station, fruit, cereal, eggs, sausage and many types of pastries.

During breakfast, we quickly decided to go to Fremantle for the day (Freo) to visit the shops and beach. Fremantle is a major port city in Western Australia with rich history and ornate colonial-era buildings.

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Upon arrival, there was a magician performing a show, and we decided to watch. Little did we know that Ethan would be volunteered by the magician to wear a helmet with four poles sticking out of it, upon which the magician spun four plates. It was quite entertaining.

The market reminded me so much of the Borough Market in London, with its green metal structure housing a myriad of shops and food stands. It was spectacular to browse the area, which I plan to visit again for souvenirs and gifts for family and friends.

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After our trip to the markets, we headed to Bather’s Beach, which is a small beach area surrounded by restaurants, Esplanade Park, and museums. It is also home to the Round House, which, opened in 1831, is the oldest building standing in Western Australia. We relaxed on the beach for a while, and then everyone decided to find a place to eat.

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The Round House

We then climbed up to the Round House, which is situated on a hill, and watched the sun set behind the calm waters.

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It was a fun day exploring the beautiful area and I can’t wait to come back. However, I definitely want to find a less seaweed and people-filled beach. The rest of the night consisted of me hoping I did not burn the flat down while cooking my first dinner on my own. All went well.

 

Australia: My First Beach Trip and Night Out

This week had its ups and downs, but there was nothing but sunshine in sight for Friday.

Instead of all international students, there was a short two-hour orientation solely for study abroad and exchange students at Murdoch. Brodie and Athira, the other woman in charge of exchange students, went over academic information, gave us some general knowledge about the university and then discussed some of the trips planned for just study abroad and exchange students. Brodie met us again today and she gave us our travel cards with $10 loaded onto them. These are formally known as Transperth Smart Rider cards, which is the equivalent to a subway/metro/tube/underground card. The $10 card and the new information that a few of the cheap study abroad and exchange-only trips are already paid for by AIFS was a sweet treat.

Speaking of sweet treats, we had some Tim-Tams, an Australian chocolate cookie that are amazing and lunch before departing for our free trip: Kings Park and Cottesloe Beach. Kings Park is also the Western Australia Botanical Garden. Additionally, it offers a beautiful view of the city of Perth.

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Cottesloe beach was absolutely gorgeous and I was super excited to be on my first Australian beach trip. During the short amount of time there, I laid on the beach, swam in the Indian Ocean and walked on the jetty. The sand was speckled in small white shells, and I loved it.

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After the fun time off campus, we traveled back to Murdoch in our coach buses to find a carnival happening at the pool. There was cotton candy, burgers, blow-ups, a caricaturist, a dunk tank and an extremely fun water slide that I went on a few times. I received a caricature of myself and I absolutely love the finished piece.

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If that day wasn’t enough, there was a planned outing to a club in Perth that night. Everyone here gets much more dressed up to go out than I ever have, so I was a bit shocked when my outfit was nowhere near as nice as everyone else’s. Luckily, Stivia let me borrow her dress and lipstick.

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The first bar we went to was absolutely boring, and luckily, we gained entry to another around the corner from the train. The night was full of awkward dancing, but I sure enjoyed it.

It was a jam-packed day—just how I like it. Next Friday should be just as fun, as I signed up for another international student outing.

Australia: Murdoch University Orientation

Now this is the orientation I was waiting for!

After a village orientation that left us AIFS students still with many questions, we spent nine hours on Murdoch University’s campus in various information sessions that answered almost all of our thoughts. We talked to other Americans who came together through their school, and they seemed to be just as lost as we were at first, so that was a bit comforting.

Orientation consisted of five sessions of valuable information. All international students gathered for registration in a huge lecture hall on campus, where we were greeted by the Vice Chancellor. The most interesting thing I learned from her is that Murdoch is built upon traditional teaching land of the Nyungar people.

After this, we were split into more intimate groups of less than 20 students, designed so that we could meet knew people. The first session I went to consisted of speaking to people in the group and discussing our expectations and understandings of Australian culture so far. The second session discussed academic expectations and university culture, and the third session informed us about life around Perth. The free lunch was between the first and second session, which consisted of sausages (hotdogs) and a meet-up with my friends.

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Nicole made a friend on campus

The final session found us back in the lecture hall for some more safety information, but I was a bit too anxious to sign up for our international student trip to King’s Park and Cottlesloe Beach to pay much attention. There were limited spots on the trip, so I definitely wanted to get out the door as soon as possible to get a good spot in line.

Luckily, all my friends and I were able to register for the trip. During the sign-up period we finally met our on-campus AIFS coordinator, who I spoke with briefly the day prior. Her name is Brodie and she is one of the sweetest and most informational people ever. She answered all our questions, extinguished many of our worries and made us feel more confident about our upcoming trips and student life. We wished we had met her our first night!

We left campus that day with two Murdoch bags (one thanks to orientation and one thanks to Brodie), a lanyard and a Murdoch bottle. I was so excited that we finally had some Murdoch gear, considering I was under the impression I would not find much. More importantly, we left having talked to more people from all over the world, having gained so much useful information and feeling more assured as international exchange students. This allowed us to relax while we headed back to the store for more groceries and day-to-day items, and enjoy each other’s company over some games of cards.

Australia: The First Day

I woke up quite early the first morning in Australia, just as I had been waking up early in Fiji. I guess the time change has really been messing with my body, as I easily pass out by 10 p.m. and sleep like a baby until early the next morning. However, I have been this way since London.

I went on a walk and found Hannah, Courtney and Nicole and I was not expecting the wrath that burst out of them like a firework in the night sky. I literally could not understand what they were saying because they were all screaming to me at once. Once I told them to calm down and speak one at a time, I found out that Courtney found a cockroach in her flat and woke up to one in her mouth, and Hannah found one crawling on her bag. Although they had wanted to move out last night, this was the icing on the cake.

The rest of the morning consisted of the girls sitting at reception with their bags, demanding that they move out. At this point, we were under the impression that our phones were not going to work with the Wi-Fi system and we still had no idea where orientation was located.

Luckily, we met up with another girl who studied through AIFS and did not go to Fiji. She had arrived before us and knew where orientation was. Kara is super sweet, and I told her she reminded me of one of my sorority sisters. Then, to my astonishment, I found out that we were in the same sorority –hooray for sisters! Kara also told us we could us an RA number for our Wi-Fi account, so we did not have to worry about connecting. What a relief.

Hannah, Nicole, Stivia and Courtney all decided to pay the $1,600 to upgrade to the newer, nicer apartments that were the ones flaunted online, which we all thought we would be living in. With the paperwork submitted, we ventured off to orientation.

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Village orientation in the Rec Room

This orientation was just for the village, so we only learned about the rules and safety information for our flats. Therefore, we were still left with many questions about university life. The rest of the day consisted of finding out random information from different people, such as how to purchase the Transperth Card, which is the public transportation card we can buy at a better student rate, and how to get our student identification cards.

There was a reptile show with a free lunch, which was the first time we had all eaten since the previous day. After lunch, which were small subs, we headed to the library to get our I.D. cards, but not our transit cards, because the desk unfortunately closed at 2 p.m. The best part about going to the library was the free Wi-Fi, which I logged into to tell my family and friends I was alive and surviving.

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A snake from the reptile show

We had some free time prior to the village tour and trip to the supermarket, so I bought a Wi-Fi plan that is $37 per month with 60 GB  of Wi-Fi per month. Nicole and I walked to the student center, which is basically a bunch of information desks, and asked about trips we saw. Brodie, one of two people in charge of exchange and study abroad students, said not to worry about it and we will find out everything we need over the next two days.

The rest of the night was spent at Cole’s, the grocery store. One thing I regret is not packing literally everything I could have needed. AIFS scared me out of packing things I could buy, but I did not realize sunscreen would be $17 AUD a bottle! I did not purchase much at the store, because I still had no cooking utensils. After the store, Nicole and I visited the Treasure Chest, which is full of hand-me-down items from previous students. I loved shopping there, because all the money is sent to a mental health organization.

All of the girls went out to a club that night, which apparently is a huge thing the village does every Wednesday. Nicole and I turned that down, however, and I was asleep before 10 p.m.

 

Australia: Surviving the First Night

I have now been in Australia living in the Murdoch University Village (housing set aside for first year and international students) for a full two nights. It has not been an easy transition at all, and I definitely had to practice my own advice regarding traveling to foreign land.

After a layover from Nadi to Sydney, we landed in Perth around 7 p.m. Luckily, almost all of us received our bags right away. One thing I have noticed about Fiji and Australia is that luggage comes immediately (take note America!). Our drivers picked us up after Courtney filed a lost baggage claim and we were on our way to Murdoch University.

Upon arrival, we lugged our bags to reception. I feel weird about calling the administration building “reception,” because when I say that word I think of a hotel. Anyway, we were given our rooms and it turned out that all of us who signed up for a standard double room besides one person was paired together and all our flats (apartments) were in fairly close proximity.

The good news ended there. Some of us ordered linen that was supposed to be delivered to our rooms upon arrival, but we had none. I was going to tough it out and just use the blanket I brought, but some of the other girls’ mattresses were terribly stained and quite unappetizing to sleep on. So, we found the one RA helping people move in and he actually gave us a bigger linen box than we had ordered. Score! With that, he said, “Good luck,” and probably tried to hide from us as well as he could.

Some people were quite dissatisfied with the apartments; however, I thought they were great. Each one has a kitchen with a table and chairs, a fridge, stove, oven and a microwave, plus a lounge area with two comfortable couches and a table. Plus, each flat has a small porch and two bathrooms.

I met my one flat mate the first night who had been there for a week and I eventually met the other two flat mates the next day. The first one is from Hong Kong and the other two are from Asia as well. Apparently, this is the first year that international students outnumber domestic students, and Asian student are the largest demographic. I was slightly bummed that I was not rooming with any Australians, but my flat mates seemed nice and easy going.

As ironic as it is, I was paired with the other girl in my program from New Jersey. Another student said it is because they had to keep the Jersey girls contained. Anyway, we are both pretty easy going and I am glad we got paired together.

The rest of the night, the group met in one of the flats. Some people were quite unhappy, as we had no food and no toilet paper. Because AIFS scheduled our flights so late, we missed the barbeque that happened earlier and we had no idea how to get to the store. Also, we had to pay for Wi-fi, and apparently another student was told by AIFS that is was free. However, the rest of us were already under the impression Wi-Fi had to be purchased. When the boys tried connecting to the Wi-Fi, they realized the program did not take American cell phone numbers. Those of us who could not take SIM cards freaked out, because we thought we would have to go buy an expensive smart phone and plan.

The first night was less than we had hoped. We had no food, no toilet paper, no Wi-Fi, no one to talk to for help because reception closed and we had no idea where orientation was the next day. Sounds homey!  I knew things would eventually work out somehow, so I just relaxed and waited for more information.

Fiji: A Reflection

One week in Fiji is done and gone, and I am now on the plane for something I hope is fun. Australia: here I come!

As I reflect back on what I just experienced—a week of traveling, classes and living with people I have known as long as I have been in Fiji—I think about all the wonderful memories I have accumulated that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

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I don’t think two of us had the same experience, as we all have different mindsets and ways of going about new things. Here are a few things I took note of along the way:

  • First and foremost, have an open mind about EVERYTHING. This is something that comes easily for me, but I have seen others struggle with change and it can really dampen the mood. This goes hand in hand with culture shock, which occurs when one is thrust into a new environment. The best way to deal with culture shock, in my opinion, is to try to be as relaxed and understanding as possible when it comes to new things, which can be anything from foreign food to lack of Internet connection.
  • AIFS, the program through which I am studying abroad, could have been a bit more organized. Even our homestay parents mentioned that they usually get an itinerary so they know what we are doing and when we are free or occupied. We were not even certain where or when our first day of class was, which was definitely concerning. Another bummer was the lack of planned events. The first day, we were supposed to go to a temple and did not due to the rain. We only had three short excursions planned (besides the island trip), which is far less than prior trips. I am fortunate that Walter took us to his village. If he didn’t, I would have really felt like I missed out.
  • With the above concerns in mind, I also always think it is important to make the best of what one is given. This is useful not just for traveling, but for every day life. Nothing is ever going to go perfectly, but if one just rolls with what she gets and takes advantage of what she can, thing usually work out pretty well.

I’ll admit it, Fiji was not what I expected. However, in the end, I learned so much culturally by living with a family and I did fully enjoy anything I got to do, and I am simply gratified that I was able to experience the country.

Fiji: Vacation Time

Now this is the Fiji everyone thinks of! For our last day in Fiji, the group boated to Mana Island, one of many small isles off of the mainland. We stopped at a series of islands along the way, some with small resorts that are more for couples and one that was the tiniest island possible with a few small structures and some beach chairs on it. I loved the site of the islands: blue water that turns turquoise as it gets shallow a few meters around the shore and lush, green land jutting from the sea with tan beach surrounding it.

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Our resort, Mana Island Resort, was one of three and the biggest on Mana Island. As soon as we arrived we headed for the snorkel gear. The girls had a quick photo shoot before putting our gear on and making out way to the reef.

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Snorkeling is one of my favorite things to do, and of course, being in the water is my favorite place to be. I was so excited to be swimming a foot above a reef with colorful fish of all types. Looking back at it, the fish that sticks out in mind was one that was the brightest blue I have ever seen and a blue starfish. I have never seen coral that reflects the exciting colors of its inhabitants. I noticed some white coral, which I am almost positive was due to coral bleaching, which is caused by warming water temperatures. I had a great time swimming around with my friends visiting the magical creatures that thrive underneath the ocean’s surface.

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After snorkeling, we laid out on the beach, and I took a quick snooze. Then, we walked to lunch, which was a buffet. Score! The resort dining hall is located on the other side of the island, and when I heard this, I thought we had to drive. Alas, it is about a two-minute walk to the other side of the island.

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Once we satisfied our stomachs, we jumped in the pool which had a small water feature and a brown wooden bridge over it. I also went down to the beach on this side of the island and splashed around in a couple of inches of crystal clear water. At one point, we saw an off-white, speckled crab carrying a smaller crab. We only saw a glimpse of it before it buried itself in the sand. We also found some more beige colored fish and hermit crabs.

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After lunch, we were supposed to go paddle boarding and kayaking, but the winds picked up on the original side of the island we were on, and we decided it would not be easy to perform either activity. The rest of the afternoon consisted of lounging on beach chairs and taking in the warm sun and cool breeze.

By the time we had to go, it started raining ever so slightly. I am so thankful the weather cooperated for our island time, considering it seemed to rain any other time we were outside. I am glad we finally experienced the vacation side of Fiji. The only thing that would have made this day better is if we could have stayed over for one more day of fun under the Fijian sun!