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Last night Tiff and I had a dinner date in the city, and I had my first dumpling tasting experience. It was quite an effort to find a restaurant; one because the one Tiff originally picked was closed and two; Tiff doesn’t have the best sense of direction. For example, when referring to the northern part of the city, she calls it the top part; it’s one of the reasons I love her. We eventually settled on one of her favorite Asian eateries called Dumplings Plus, and seeing as I had never eaten dumplings before, I figured this would be the place to try them. Even though I burned my mouth on the first bite, the rest of the experience was quite enjoyable. I found I still couldn’t eat with chopsticks though, despite a steamed dumpling probably being the easiest thing one could eat with chopsticks because they are sticky. I honestly don't know how I made it out of that restaurant without a soy sauce stain on me somewhere becI also realized how stereotypical I was because the whole time I was thinking “I’m like Mulan!” To be fair Mulan was, like, my favorite movie growing up, so eating steamed dumplings like she did was definitely something on my bucket list.

Today Devin and I experienced our first Australian final exam and the only similarity I found between here and how finals are in the states were the scantrons. Our final was located at the Melbourne Showgrounds, so not on campus, and for some reason I felt like I was in the setting of the Hunger Games. It was kind of an overcast day and approaching the one of many massive buildings where our final was, there was a monotone voice over the PA system announcing that we had to put our bags in the designated bag room. I just followed the crowd because I literally had no idea where or what I was doing and I discovered that the bag room was located across the large field and under the stadium seats – that was the first weird part. The second weird part was how big the room was; there were 645 desks to fill and they were all perfectly aligned in their necessary rows and columns, organized by our student ID numbers. So yeah, when I say this place was huge, I mean it. The third and probably most disturbing part of the whole experience were all of the proctors. In the bag room they tell you to bring your valuables with you, but if you even think about putting them on your desk in the exam room – red flag alert, and you instantly get swarmed! For example, I had a guy next to me who had brought a folder and he had even placed in under his desk and they still took it away from him and I was even required to take the case off of my calculator. Oh and the proctors would come around as they pleased and snatch my cheat sheet – that you’re allowed – out of my hands for spontaneous inspection, regardless if I was in the middle of using it. I mean come on; in my opinion they were holding on a little too tightly. If someone was really that keen on cheating, they would have noticed instantly because there were about 50 proctors constantly pacing up and down the aisles; one was even switching between wearing and not wearing sunglasses to prevent us from seeing where she was looking. Oh, also if you want to go to the bathroom you had to take your student ID with you and leave it with the check in guy who sits outside the toilets, recording your time in and time out.

I’m really excited for this weekend because I get to go back to Sydney one last time. There are a bunch of us going – it’s one of those student trips – so I know it’s going to be a lot of fun. One of the festivities planned for the weekend is a Halloween cruise around the harbor, so naturally I need a costume to wear for it. I had my mom bring me a pirate outfit that I wore sophomore year of high school, hoping it would still look decent; however it didn’t, so I had to find a plan B. I decided that being a cat would suffice, as I have a pair of black shorts and a top, so all I needed to find were ears or something cat-like. So I set off early evening to shop, only to remember that for some odd reason, the mall, as well as the majority of shops here, closes at 5:30 during the week. That’s the only thing I miss the College Mall for: how late it stays open. Also Auntie Anne’s. Okay, so I miss two things. Anyway, by the time I left my place I only had twenty minutes to shop. However despite the odds, this story has a happy ending. I ended up finding a kid’s costume tiger package, equipped with tiger ears, a tiger bowtie, and a tiger tail. Looks like I’m being Tigger!

Also, please enjoy this picture of me and my poorly drawn out attempt at Indiana and its surrounding states. I was trying to show Tiff where Indiana was amongst everything, because like every other Australian, she has no idea where it is.


 
 
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Mouse problem solved – I bought a wireless one from the Apple store yesterday. I wanted to avoid buying an Apple product to fix the problem that I had with my current Apple product, but after searching two stores for a mouse, I gave in. I wasn’t proud of my moment of weakness.

Last night, the lovely ladies from Canada threw a Halloween party and I don’t think I have ever been in such a diverse environment. I think every single person I have met that is on exchange here was at this party; Spain, Norway, Germany, Mexico, Portugal, the UK, Canada, and the states were all accounted for last night. I really like the fact that because English is the Australian language of choice, no matter where a person is from, it is the language they have to speak if they want to have a conversation. I mean with how some people get drunk, I don’t know how they manage to still be bilingual. I feel like I would just throw in the towel and start using hand signals. But I guess that’s why I’m not bilingual, even though Devin wants to learn German together because my roommate speaks it.  We’ll see how that goes.

After the party, I spent the night at Tegan’s house, and today she chauffeured me around Williamstown, which is a suburb of Melbourne. Long story short, I fell in love with the area. Sailboats, cafes, and classy architecture – it all was so neat. I’m surprised I didn’t crash my bike because I was looking all around except for in front of me. Not to mention the classic beach smell. I absolutely love the salty air smell because it instantly makes me think of North Carolina, which always puts me in a good mood. I told Tegan how when I’ve seen something here, I try and relate it back to something I know back home, so I wonder when I go home if I’ll be reminded of things back here. Anyway, this place totally made me see the suburb life in Melbourne in a new light. The areas I live and go to school in, Footscray and Maribrynong – try and see if you can pronounce that correctly on your first try – aren’t the prettiest. To be fair, they are trying to revamp everything, but it is a work in progress. With that said, I didn’t really think I could ever see myself living near a big city because I haven’t really liked it here in terms of location. But Tegan has it great because she is about a 25-30 minute drive into the city, the beach is a five-minute bike ride down her street, and there is also an incredible lake right in the middle of her neighborhood. The picture with this post is of the lake and if I’m being honest, I had to Google-image it because I didn’t have my camera. But the good news is I’m forcing Tegan to take me back before I leave so I’ll make sure to get plenty of legitimate pictures. 


 

Hi

10/25/2013

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Using my laptop this past week has turned into quite the guessing game – I never really know when or how it is going to behave. All of the sudden, whether I’m typing or clicking, my mouse will start freaking out; Deleting, highlighting, searching, etc. my mouse pad has become possessed. Only sometimes does it calm down, like right now for instance; I’ve written this whole paragraph without it deleting everything. Let’s see how much longer I can go.

Literally no joke, I got to this sentence then it started freaking out.

These past few days have been full of unique experiences. Tuesday was one of my gal pal’s birthdays, and we went ice-skating to celebrate. Man my ankles aren’t what they used to be, let me to tell you. I felt like they were going to break at any moment because it was so hard to keep them from rolling in. I would compare how uncomfortable the skates felt to what I can imagine Chinese foot binding was like – extremely painful. After two hours of twirling, attempting to skate backwards, and not falling once, my feet were glad when the time came to leave.

Yesterday, a bunch of us went to Carlton Brewery. The place was absolutely huge, but extremely cool to see. The only beer that any of you Americans would recognize that this brewery produced was Fosters. I learned that it was actually two American guys who created the recipe believe it or not. I’ve also learned that hardly any Australians actually like Fosters. At that location alone, they make 2 million liters of beer every single day. I’ve never seen so many kegs, cans, or bottles of beer in my life. I can’t wait until I can go to Upland or The Tap or Oliver Winery with my other sophisticated 21 year old friends when I get home because yesterday we spent the whole afternoon at that place just enjoying life without a care in the world.

It’s weird being done with classes until January. I don’t even know if I’ll remember how to go to school by then. I literally have all day, every day free now, but of course I don’t choose to keep it like that. I’ve been shadowing every other day at the gym and it is absolutely amazing how much I learn every time. This morning I went in at six, but to my surprise I still loved it. I have yet to find a reason to prove me wrong and tell me that I don’t belong in this field, which is exciting stuff. The people I shadow are just another four or five reasons why being back in Bloomington will be bittersweet. I promise I’m not keeping a daily countdown or anything, but I do know I am now under 40 days until I get on my plane to come home. 


 
 
Time after time I get shown how small this world really can be, and on Friday night, I had another one of those occurrences. Friday night I was out with Tiffany and a few of her coworkers, and I met an Aussie guy who had lived in Greenwood, Indiana for five months. Of all the people I could have ended up talking to that night, I talked to one of the only people in Australia that has heard of Indiana, so it was just an added bonus he had actually lived there. This guy had worked at Jimmy Johns, visited Nicks, the Bluebird, and Kilroys multiple times, and of course feasted at Chipotle too many times to count. I was ridiculously home sick after that conversation and I am still amazed that our paths had crossed each other’s that night.

I also got shown on Friday how much fun working in a big city like Melbourne can be. Tiffany works right in the heart of the central business district, and has so many perks to her job, I’m actually jealous. Due to her location, she has a plethora of delicious eateries to choose from every single day for lunch as well as shops to browse through; she receives free 24/7 parking, which is good because I learned that you could end up paying $90 a day in a car park; her office has a gym, shower, and full kitchen to use whenever one pleases; all of her coworkers participate in casual Friday; and because her company helps with putting people back to work, her desk is fitted out as ergonomically pleasing as possible. Long story short, her company doesn’t make it very hard for her to love her job.

Another plus to the weekend was that the weather was actually enjoyable. The sun was out and it was above 80, making for perfect beach days. Oh but how quickly the weather changes here because now it’s overcast and drizzling rain, with a temperature hovering around 55. I hate to say it, but Melbourne beats out Bloomington in terms of bipolar weather.

For those of you who don’t know I participate in IUDM, which is a fundraiser for Riley Children’s Hospital up in Indianapolis. Despite the fact I’m here in Australia, I’m on a committee and still raising money with my goal being $1,000 and I’m so close to reaching it that it hurts. We always say that every penny counts when it comes to fundraising because of the fact that Riley is run completely off of donations. With that said, if you have a few dollars to spare and would love to be a reason behind my smile, please consider donating to my fundraising page. Here’s the link, and a very big thank you in advance:

http://www.helpmakemiracles.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=174813 

 
 
Today my mom and aunt left, and while I know I only have a little over six weeks left, it still sucked. Just the idea of them leaving me here again is what is hard to think about. After they left this morning I crawled into my mom’s bed, because I could smell her scent, and rolled up in a little ball for a while; Yes, I kind of momentarily hit rock bottom. After Devin and I left the hotel though, the day picked up. It helped that my roommate was here, and I had gotten a birthday gift in the mail from one of my besties, Kelly. There’s nothing like getting a package in the mail to make your day, and it came at the perfect time.  But I’ve realized I just have to get myself back into my routine to distract myself from the fact I hugged my mom goodbye again for an extended period of time. That starts tomorrow when I go in to the gym to shadow at 7am – yay for routines, right? But whatever, I know I will love it and it will help distract me.

What other positives happened today?

One of the things my mom brought for me when she came here was grape jelly, because Australia carries every flavor of jelly besides grape. Anyway I had been enjoying it this past week, then I absent mindedly forgot in the fridge while gathering up everything else to move back to the village. I was heartbroken, but then a knight in shining armor came to the rescue. Chris, one of our good friends here, drove back to the hotel to get it. I mean, do friends get much better than that? The answer is no, no they don’t.

Well, I got caught in yet another random Melbourne windstorm downpour this afternoon while walking home and to avoid the gusts blowing in my face I pulled up my hood and started walking backwards hating my life. However when I turned around, I realized I was looking at a double rainbow! It was gorgeous and helped lessen the rage I felt inside of me due to the fact Mother Nature seems to time her downpours to exactly when I step outside.

I FINALLY FOUND TORTILLA CHIPS HERE. Normal ones, no funky flavors, just white corn tortilla chips. My prayers have been answered.

 
 
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It’s official; I have been lucky enough to meet some of the best people in the world while I’ve been here in Australia. As if I needed any more of a birthday celebration, I was surprised my by Frisbee team at dinner tonight. I was expecting just a dinner out with my family and a few friends, to let them have an opportunity to meet each other and see how amazing each other are, but they all had another plan in mind. When we arrived at the restaurant, we were pointed in the direction of our table and there the team was, just grinning and waving at me; boy, did they get me.  There were ten of them there in addition to my family and Devin, and I can honestly say I appreciate and absolutely adore each and every one of them. Individually, they have their own unique traits and quirks, but they all have in common their ability to be selfless, shower you with kindness, and make you smile without even having to try. I seriously cannot imagine my life without these guys, but I am so thankful I have been lucky enough to share part of my life with them. Because I have met them, I have learned so many life lessons and now I have a better understanding on how to keep growing and becoming a better person. Why don’t they make suitcases big enough to pack people in them yet? Seriously, it’s the 21st century.

It breaks my heart to think that in less than 48 hours, my mom and aunt will already be gone. Like I knew it would, time has flown by no matter how much I tried to slow down the hours passing. The only things that help numb the pain are the support system I have built here, and the fact that I only have a little over six weeks before I return home. I can’t believe that it is already half way through October already, and my last class finishes up this Thursday – have I really been gone for almost four months? Apparently, yes. I’m now in this contradictive state where I miss my life at home, but I know I’m going to miss the life I created here. Apparently though, Hawaii is the half way point between Chicago and Australia plane wise, so everyone that I know should just move there to make this whole thing easier. I mean come on, it’s Hawaii, you know that’s not a bad compromise.  

By the way,the lovely gal in the picture is Tiff. She's just one of the amazing people I am going to cry so hard over leaving here. 


 
 
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When I woke up this morning, I think it was pretty clear I wasn’t feeling my best; however after a few hours of recuperation, I can confidently say that I survived my 21st. Last night a group of us ventured out to Brunswick Street to a place called Bimbo to help me stereotypically celebrate turning 21. This place was really neat – various couches and chairs to lounge around on, moderately priced drinks, a DJ playing funky music – and since it was on Brunswick Street, it was full of hipsters. Even though I’ve been going out to bars since I’ve gotten here, last night was different because I kept excitedly thinking, “I can do this back home now!” and that, combined with the friends we were with, made the night pretty special. Once again I have been reminded of how silly I was in thinking I wouldn’t be able to find a group of amazing friends while I was here. Over the past few months I’ve been shown multiple times how special and lovely the people I’ve met here really are, and my birthday was no exception.

After I was allowed my recuperation time this morning, I took my mom and aunt into the city to the Melbourne Aquarium. Devin and I had been there once before, but I’m all about marveling at cute animals so I didn’t mind going again; they had also redone and added a few more exhibits since we had went so that was an added bonus. One of the new exhibits included a huge, six-meter long saltwater crocodile, and let me tell you he was not cute – terrifying is the more accurate adjective I believe. This guy was extra terrifying because he had to be relocated from his crocodile rescue farm because he “was a danger to the other crocodiles”. At first I felt a little bad for him because any exhibit is incomparable to the wild, but then when I read his history and if he can’t play nice with other crocodiles, maybe a little solitary confinement is what he needs.


My favorite part from the aquarium was the rock hopper penguin exhibit. We learned that in order to woo a female penguin into becoming their lover, a male penguin attempts to build the best nest of rocks – sexy, right? Anyway, the penguins had already paired up and mate, so the ladies were sitting on their eggs atop their beautiful rock nests. However, after watching them for a few minutes, I realized that the males were still attempting to steal rocks from each other’s nests. It was so entertaining to watch because as one penguin would try to steal a rock from someone else’s nest, the female would start to squawk in panic. This would prompt her partner to rush to the scene of the crime and chase the stealer away, restoring the peace. As I read over this, it kind of seems like it was one of those things you just had to be there for to really enjoy, but whatever, this is my electronic journal that everyone else just happens to read. 


 
 
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Leading up to my birthday, I knew there was a special surprise happening on Friday morning, I just didn’t know what. But then I got to thinking about the only clue I had been given – that we’d be waking up extremely early – and then I remembered back to when we first got here and saw hot air balloons in the early morning sky hovering above Melbourne. My tummy instantly dropped and my hands started sweating – was this the surprise my family and Devin had planned for me? On Wednesday night I voiced my concerns about the hot air ballooning being my surprise and my mom’s response was “we can neither confirm or deny”. Unbeknownst me, I had just ruined my own birthday surprise by nailing it square on the head. Because I had a minor freak out on Wednesday night about it though, the morning of my birthday my mom sat me down and told me that a hot air balloon ride was actually the surprise. Long story short, I decided I would be an idiot to pass up such a wonderful opportunity, so this morning we were all up at 3:30am, on our way into the city to start our adventure.

The hot air balloon trip that we took part in was held out in the Yarra Valley, which is about an hour east of Melbourne, hence the early wake up call. We learned that hot air balloon trips typically only take place in the morning because the ground is still cool and the winds are relatively calm. When it starts to heat up, that’s when unstable pockets of air are created and you get bumpier rides – something I would totally not be able to handle. The plan was to go up at sunrise, but I had no idea what kind of preparation went into getting a balloon ready for flight. First off, the balloon itself was huge – 350 cubic feet – so the unpacking, unfolding, and inflating took a little bit of time. As I stood there before boarding the basket, trembling in fear, I realized the thing that scared me the most was watching the flame that provided the heat for the balloon. Not only was the noise insanely loud, the flame itself was terrifying. As we were departing the ground, I was clinging onto my mom and fighting back tears, however as soon as we were in the air, it felt like we were gliding. For the whole hour we spent up in the air, we didn’t experience one single bump of turbulence. I eventually even got up enough courage to peak over the sides! My favorite parts of the whole experience, besides the views of course, were the times where the flame didn’t have to be on because that meant it was absolutely silent; even though we were moving along above the ground at 2200 feet, we could here the cattle below us. It was magical being up in the air like that, with no motor and no noise, and being able to take in so much of the world in every direction.

I haven’t even gone out to celebrate my 21st with my friends yet, but this birthday has already been my favorite. I now truly understand the joy of just being around your loved ones and sharing experiences with them, while not needing anything else to make you happy – just another life lesson to add the collection jar I’ve started since I came to Australia.


 
 
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Yesterday Devin and I celebrated a day off of a school with a trip out into the bush with my mom and aunt. The last time my mom was here, our tours with the animals were confined to a sanctuary or zoo atmosphere but yesterday we experienced Australian wildlife in their natural habitats. Our tour guides were absolutely wonderful and their passion for wildlife was so apparent in everything they did. For example, we would be driving along when suddenly Scott, one of the guides, would slam on the brakes and jump out of the car with his binoculars to get a closer look at a bird flying past. This tour company is all about exposing people to Australia’s magnificent creatures without disturbing them. A lot of the time animals are tagged with chips to be tracked, but the way these guides find and track the animals is simply by wandering throughout forests and open fields; Mel, our other guide, was out searching for koalas at 7am yesterday morning. If she didn’t find any, that meant we wouldn’t have seen any koalas that day, but luckily she spotted five. And honestly, I don't know how she does it because spotting a basketball size ball of fur high above the ground, camouflaged perfectly in the leaves is something I'm totally incapable of doing. The guides keep track of all the koalas in the area by taking pictures, marking the differences in their noses and fur colors, and highlighting different parts of a map to where a certain koala is usually found, all which is kept in a little booklet. Isn’t that neat and so au-naturel?

We also were able to get up close to a group of wild kangaroos. We were within probably 20 meters of them, moving slowly and talking softly, and all of the kangaroos were totally okay with it. There was definitely something magical about being so close to all of those creatures and taking in all of their magnificent features. From far away all you could see were their ears popping out of the grass, which made it seem like there were just a bunch of bunny rabbits, however once we got closer, we could tell why none of us would ever want to cross paths with an angry male kangaroo. The males were absolutely huge – standing over six feet tall, with arms that made it seem like they do 100 bicep curls twice daily. To help balance out the terrifying size of the males, the females were nice and petite, and the added bonus was that the majority of the females all seemed to have joeys. Some of their joeys were big enough to be allowed out of the pouch and hop around as they please, but there were a few who seemed to be uncomfortably stuffed in their mothers’ pouches. It was like they had dive bombed, head first into their mother’s pouch and couldn’t fit in all the way, so all we could see was their feet sticking out.

In addition to seeing everything alive and well, we also stumbled across a couple of kangaroo skeletons. While it could seem morbid and depressing, it was so cool seeing real bones and being able to piece together a skeleton. All of the bones were so perfectly structured, it seemed unreal. We had a vet with us on the tour and she was able to identify every bone and put it together like it was nothing. It was so neat! 

The last thing I want to do today is leave my mom and aunt, but I have to go to class unfortunately. The past two mornings, I have woken up with the worry that maybe it was just a dream they were here; however those worries are quickly put to rest as I round the corner from the bedroom and see my mom standing there smiling at me. I literally have no reason not to be happy right now, and it is awesome. 


 
 
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As I look more and more at this picture, I realize just how little my mom is - seriously, I look like I'm crushing her. Anyway, I was a total mess by the time my mom made it from the customs sliding door all the way down to end of the walkway to where I was. I had been bouncing in place, holding the lilies I had bought her, for over thirty minutes and Devin was laughing at me the whole time. It was actually ridiculous how emotional I was because as soon as I saw her I started shaking and then I was bawling by the time I was able to hug her. I keep thinking I’m imagining her and my aunt being here and that it is actually just a dream because it is so unreal seeing them sitting on the couch right next to me. I am overjoyed and filled with such an elated feeling I don’t know if I could ever come down from this high, so the fact that my birthday is in two days is just a minor detail.

Because my mom is one of the best people ever, she packed in her suitcase some of the necessities I have been craving for the past three months. JIF peanut butter, grape jelly, Velveeta macaroni and cheese, and frosted mini wheats. Holy moly – three months without a PB and J is so wrong; I never want to put myself through that again. Australia has every kind of jelly you could ever want, besides grape, and it’s been breaking my heart. JIF peanut butter is my all time fav and even though it is packed with sugar and hydrogenated oil – stuff that is “bad” for you – I choose to overlook those details. My mouth is already watering from the anticipation of eating my first bowl of mini wheats tomorrow morning for breakfast.

This past Sunday, Devin took me to an indoor rock climbing gym as a part of an early birthday present. It was such a neat gym because it was in the middle of the city, and all the walls of the facility were glass. That meant while you were dangling in the air you could also look out to the streets just to see how high up off the actual ground you were, which was great for my fear of heights…not. It’s like I have to remind myself I’m not going to die every time I climb because being up high freaks me out so much. Despite my fear, I absolutely love rock climbing though, so the fact that he took me for my birthday was a perfect gift.