Oz Through Sara’s Eyes: Fiji

Before landing in Australia, I chose to take an additional Pacific studies course at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji. While there, I stayed with a homestay family with three other AIFS students. We really lucked out and had such a kind and welcoming family. Our “dad” took us to his home village of Daku, where he carried out a lot of work involving environmental changes and how it affects the village. Our trip also took us to the Sigatoka Sand Dunes and then to Mana Island, one of the little, picturesque islands that surround mainland Fiji.

Whitmanythought 1: I would love to spend more time relaxing on the outer islands of Fiji.



A Quick Trip to Maryland

Just before my fairly low-key winter break ended, I went on some small getaways: twice to Philadelphia, and once to Maryland. For some reason, I have a deep love for Maryland. I suppose it is because I have had such a wonderful experience every time I’ve been there.

I took the drive down to an area just South of Baltimore one Friday night to see my friend Marisa. We went out to Buffalo Wild Wings, where I have never actually eaten wings, with her boyfriend and had a relaxed night at their apartment watching a Reese Witherspoon movie.

Saturday took us to a few different places. We had a slow approach to the morning and arrived at a restaurant in Washington, D.C. named Tico’s at noon. Marisa and I enjoyed a tasty and rather expensive meal paired with mimosas. I joked that I was finally a true millennial because I managed to be in an aesthetically pleasing eatery while looking put together and consuming appealing food with a drink in my hand. I think I did brunch the right way…


After brunch, we strolled over to the Newseum, the news museum. For communications nerds like Marisa and myself, this is a magical place. It is a six story maze filled with the history of and best accomplishments in our field.

One of my favorite exhibits in the Newseum showcases an original piece of the Berlin Wall and an original three story East German guard tower that was part of the wall. The exhibit laid out how information transferred from Berlin, to the rest of the world and back, where knowledge was free to come by in West Berlin, but blocked in East Berlin. It was so surreal to see this history in America after seeing it in Berlin two years ago.

East Berlin guard tower 

Another incredible piece of history showcased is the 9/11 Gallery. There are detailed accounts of the day that forever changed America and shows how the media covered a crisis that literally and figuratively blew up multiple times before the nation’s eyes. A touching tribute to a photojournalist showcased his cameras and some of the pictures he shot that day before he died, and a video about the disaster brought me to tears.


Other notable parts were the FBI exhibit, the news helicopter that hung from the celling of the museum and the spacious terrace that hosted a view of the Capitol Building. There was so much information to take in that the three hours we had to spend were not nearly enough.


After we depleted our time at the museum, Marisa and I headed back to her apartment where her boyfriend made delicious pasta with vodka sauce for us and his coworker. We all then went out to a cozy multi-level bar in Washington D.C. where we chatted and relished the night.

Maryland (and D.C.) treated me well once again. On top of that, it was super gratifying catching up with one of the people I hold dearest. Although I was sad to leave, I was excited to go home to watch the Eagles beat the Vikings, putting us in Super Bowl LII!

Oz: Soaking it Up

The only concerns I had for my last week in Australia were my final exam and soaking up as much of Perth and Fremantle as I could.


We take the Mandurah train line to get to and from Perth, but we had never actually been to Mandurah. Some friends and I changed that Monday when we hopped on the line to Mandurah to explore the waterfront. It’s a cute town set with a walkway along the shore and shops and restaurants. After a stroll along the water, we got some tasty fish and chips from the closest thing to a diner I have seen in months.


Tuesday was spent studying for my final the following day mixed in with some blogging. I ended up being well-prepared for my final, so I am actually not dreading the revelation of my final grade. I celebrated the end of finals with Sierra, Jordan and Lynn by going to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales with the movie passes we had won at the very beginning of the semester. The movie was great, as suspected, and the ending brought tears to my eyes. That night, we had our final Murdoch University Village dinner in the form of chicken curry, which was absolutely fantastic.


The first half of Thursday was spent in the Media Arts Center’s television studio for my own personal practice. However, I have absolutely nothing to show for it because technology hates me (really, it does). However, my sorrows were lifted with a delicious half-price caramel and banana waffle from a restaurant in Perth.

Afterwards, Sierra, Nicole and I decided to be extra touristy and take a tour of the Perth mint, which is Australia’s original and was established in 1899. The gold pouring at the end reminded me of watching glass blowing in Venice.

The largest gold coin in the world

The night ended on a high note, quite literally. Sierra, Nicole and I went out with the pancake Friday crew to a karaoke lounge and it was one of the best week nights I had spent in Australia. One thing to know about me is I love to sing and I constantly have songs stuck in my head, and being able to scream tunes shamelessly with my friends was much needed and extremely fun.

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Singing with Nicole

Finally, Friday came—our last full day and night in Perth. We spent it by going to the Fremantle Markets for lunch. That night, we headed out to The Court, which is a club we went to one of our first nights out in Perth. Dancing the night away is one of my favorite things to do, and doing that with my study abroad friends made me feel so lucky.

Saturday’s lunch

Saturday is not easy to think about because it was our last day in Australia. Sierra and I cleaned in the morning and headed to the Fremantle Markets one last time with Brian and Nicole to devour anything that caught our eye. It was a sentimental last Saturday afternoon, or should I say, “arvo,” as the Australians do? Fremantle has to be one of the most unique, fun places to explore and I am so thankful I got to experience it over and over again.


My friends told me I was going to miss the plane because by 4 p.m. I had still not started packing. One of my hidden talents is packing last minute, though, and I proved my friends wrong!

Because we had to leave the village at 3 a.m., Sierra, Nicole and I decided to stay up the whole night and we did that by taking on Northbridge one last time. I love Northbridge because it is always buzzing with people and the energy coming from the streets and clubs, and it is always able to throw a smile on my face.

We went to Mustangs to watch a band Nicole fell in love with the previous week (or should I say the guitarist of the band). I had no idea what to expect from the band and I was pleasantly surprised to hear everything from Taylor Swift to The Killers played by them. I was jumping around like a five-year old high on sugar all night and I loved every second of it.

I could not have asked for a better last night. Luckily, our friend drove us home and we got back an hour before we had to leave, which gave me the perfect amount of time to shower, eat and drag my bags to the parking lot. Luckily, the rest of the crew that we went out with that night pulled up to the village right before we left, so I got to say a second and final goodbye to them.

And with one last hug and a stream of tears, the craziest, most wonderful months of my life were done.


Oz: Halfway There

I leave Australia and return to “normal” life in exactly two months from now. How?! I have been here for just over two months and I really do not know where the time went.

I often think about what life will be like when I go home. I wonder where I will end up working this summer. I worry about my school schedule for next semester. I freak out because I only have one year of undergraduate university left. I remind myself I need to make this summer count. I feel like everything in Australia will become just a distant memory. Will I talk to any of the people I met here again? Will I ever see my Australian “little brother again?” The questions and concerns go on and on.


And then I think about all the incredible experiences I’ve had while here. I have met so many fascinating people. I have gone to the outback and gotten stuck in a cyclone. I’ve spent my day at the beach countless times. I’ve watched the sun set behind the Perth skyline. The list goes on and on.

I noted that I never got the “Wow, I’m in Australia” feeling. But every day I wake up and say to myself, “Wow, I’m in Australia,” and I feel like the luckiest person ever. I saw myself switch from a nervous student who had no idea what was going on to someone who could be a tour guide of Perth. I have really thought about life, and although I still have no idea where I will end up, I am more confident than ever in my journey to find out. It really is difficult to put into words how thankful I am for this adventure.

Australia has been an experience of a lifetime. I am so thankful for all the memories I have gained and friends I have made. I also am thankful for the fact that I feel just as close with my friends at home, despite the distance of space and time. I am not excited to go home, but I am excited to be able to carry all these amazing experiences with me going forward.

I still have two months left, and although May is going to be a month full of tests, papers and projects, I am determined to make the most out of any free time I have. Here’s to the second half of my journey!

Oz: Fremantle Prison Tour

My week can be summarized by the fact that the most exciting thing to happen to me was receiving my external hard drive in the mail. I suppose shopping in Perth with some of my mates and ordering some mushroom and rocket pizza Thursday night should top that. It has been a slow week for me, getting back to classes after a week off and returning from an interesting outback trip.

Sierra and I in Perth

The last activity in which I participated before the outback trip was the Fremantle Prison Torchlight Tour, and I only briefly mentioned it, so I wanted to explain a bit more about its history and the tour. The Fremantle Prison, originally named The Convict Establishment, was erected by English convicts between 1852 and 1859. The limestone that constructs its walls was quarried right on site, and the first cell block was inhabited by 1855. It was used as a maximum-security prison up until 1991, despite it being deemed an uninhabitable unit about a century prior.

Entrance to the prison

The life of inmates revolved around routine. Each day usually consisted with waking up quite early to start a day of work with intervals of eating minimal food. Prisoners often learned traits such as metal and wood work, tailoring, shoe-making, painting, and other trades that could be used once they were released back into society. Fremantle Prison was one of the first maximum security prisons to provide free reading material, its library holding over 10,000 books. Art classes were also offered, and there is still artwork in the prison left from inmates. Religious activity was encouraged at the prison and was seen as an instrument of reform.

An original 4 by 7 foot cell

Life at the prison was absolutely atrocious with dirty living conditions, bug-infested food and constant danger to one’s life. The tour focused on this aspect of life, and the guide definitely tried using this to spook us. On the tour, we saw the maximum-security cells, the solitary confinement cells, the yards, the bathroom convicts would first enter to be stripped and cleaned, prisoner artwork and the morgue. There were two “inmates” who startled most of the crowd when they jumped out at random times, but I thought it was a bit corny. I think the most morbid part of the tour was when the guide was making jokes about hanging where many people were hung. The scariest part, for sure, was when Nicole and I entered the “most haunted cell” together, because I thought the guide was going to shut the door on us.

Sierra trying out an old punishment

It was an entertaining and informative tour. I had always wanted to go on a nighttime prison visit, so I am glad I got to check that off my list!

(All information received from Fremantle Prison)

Oz: Third Week of Classes

This week was a big one: March 14 marked me being in Australia for a whole month! Time really is flying by and I feel like I am leaving tomorrow, even though I know I have three months left and so many plans. Another exciting thing that March 14 marked is the day I fly out to meet my Pop Pop in Sydney. I cannot believe that my Pop Pop and I spoke about Australia for so long, and now our new chapter of travels starts so soon. I am pumped!

I have really adjusted to my life down under, from cooking healthy meals and exercising almost every day, to the unfamiliar class set-up and balancing my social life. At first, I was not as excited as I could have been to be in Straya, most likely because I felt like I was running around without a head a good portion of the time. However, I am so happy with my life here. I wish I could do nothing but travel; however, I am here for a reason: to “study.” I do take my schoolwork seriously, of course, as I always have. Nevertheless, I am in no way turning down a great opportunity such as a trip due to homework.

Campus views

My third week of classes definitely treated me well. I am accustomed to my schedule, and I am still able to fit in an abundance of fun time between my classes. For example, I stayed up late in the library Monday to catch up with the work I neglected during the weekend (because I was too busy having fun). Tuesday, I was lucky enough to catch a few waves thanks to my new Aussie friend, Mitch. The weather was not very nice and the water was rough, but I was still able to get out there for a bit.

I signed up for a village-run trip to the Fremantle Prison for a torchlight tour Wednesday night. It was really interesting learning about the brutal history of the prison, seeing inmate cells and getting a bit startled by some “prisoners” who jumped out at us. Did I mention Nicole and I were forced into the “most haunted” cell in the prison?

Entrance to Fremantle Prison

After that, Sierra and I decided it was a good idea to go out to the Newport Hotel, since we were already in Freo. We got there a bit early due to the tour ending at 8:30 p.m., but we eventually found our friends and had a fine time.

Out in Freo

That leaves me with the last day of my school week: Thursday. Thursday consisted of classes, homework, general organization, blogging, laundry and packing. That’s right—packing! The first break of the semester is already here and I am embarking on a 10-day outback trip with other study abroad and exchange students Friday morning. I will have no service, no worries and hopefully nothing but enjoyment.

I do really feel so thankful that I am taking to my new life so well. To be honest, I already get teary-eyed when I think of leaving. It has been a good month, and I look forward to the excitement that the next month has in store.

Australia: Digeridoo Lesson

After a nice Saturday morning work out, I hopped on the bus to Freo with Brian and Nicole for a didgeridoo lesson. Didgeridoos are wooden instruments that one blows into by vibrating the lips together and sealing the mouthpiece entirely. Surprisingly, these instruments are not native to the indigenous people here and came around once Western Australia was colonized.

Didgeridoos are made by termites. Yes, termites. Didgeridoo makers start off by looking for trees with termite action at the bottom. The perfect piece of wood is already hollowed out by termites and just needs to be cut down, cleaned and polished. Now, the instruments are made out of many different materials, and not always just wood.


The lesson was enjoyable, but the didgeridoo is much harder to play than I anticipated. Some people easily got the hang of it and were making different sounds with the instrument. Meanwhile, I was lucky to get any sound out of it. It is really difficult to describe what sound a didgeridoo makes, because it can make so many. Traditionally, they are used to copy sounds of the surrounding environment.

After lunch, Brodie took the AIFS students to a really cool warehouse-type building that was split into different restaurants. We ordered about five kinds of pizza, salad and garlic bread. The food was phenomenal.

It was an extremely hot and dry day out, about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. After looking in one unique clothing store, Nicole and I headed home to escape the heat. I relaxed in my flat the rest of the day, and went out to a bar called Tiger Lily in the evening for another night out in Perth.

Australia: Beaching, Learning and Eating

Thursday was another empty day that was filled with last-minute plans. Even though I was dancing for about two hours straight the night prior, I still woke up early enough to get a quick exercise in and to make myself two eggs before the bus came at 8:40 a.m. Nicole, Brian and I, all being the early risers of our group, found a beach to check out that was only abut 40 minutes away.

Leighton Beach

Traveling this far to a beach is huge for me, because it is only a fifteen-minute car ride to the ocean at home. This beach was in North Fremantle, instead of being directly in Fremantle like the last one we visited on our own. We hopped on the bus at Murdoch, got off at Fremantle Station, and took the train one stop to Leighton Beach. It was really smart going to the beach so early, because like I have said before, the sun in Australia is intense.

After about two and a half hours of lounging and swimming, we headed back to Murdoch to eat and nap. Before dinner, Brian and I walked to the university center for a cultural presentation by the Nyungar (Noongar) people, an indigenous people who live in the southwest corner of the continent. They brought many items with them, which I have posted some of below.

Pictured above are various boomerangs. Some are used for ceremony and some are used for hunting.

Pictured on the left is a bowl that is traditionally used for gathering berries. Larger versions of these bowls are used to carry babies. The stick on the right can be used for various things, such s digging up roots.

Above are shields used for protection and dance.

To finish the presentation, the performers showed us how the Noongar people used to make paint, played a Didgeridoo, which is an instrument not original to the people, and performed some animal stories and a dance. As always, it was interesting learning about some of the history of the area’s original inhabitants.


Thursday night was highly anticipated, as it was the International Student Welcome Dinner. The coordinators split everyone up into teams, similar to orientation, so we were forced to talk to new people. The first game was a quiz about Australia. Each team was given a roll of tin foil for the second contest, and we had to make creations and then present them to the room. It was actually a really fun time, and the food was spectacular. Dinner was a buffest of pasta, rice, roasted vegetables, salad, bread, beef and chicken. Dessert consisted of apple crumble and bread pudding. I wish I could eat like this every night!



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.