Halfway

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So we just finished up our semester break. I haven't posted in forever because I've been insanely busy. School is a ton of work, my classes are really tough, mostly due to the fact that I didn't have the same starting point as the rest of my class. Uni here is laid out in a very sequential order. For example, every Biology major takes the same classes in the same order, so things from previous courses are often referred to since everyone took the same classes. Stepping in to this system from another University is pretty difficult, since they do things in quite a different order back home. Here they take a lot of math early on, so the math involved is mostly stuff I'm unfamiliar with, and they also had a few chapters of intro to the topics covered last year, so I just started off behind and I've been playing serious catch up. With Uni, traveling, and just having a good time, it's hard to make time for the blog, sorry!
But since my last post, I've done a bit of traveling, went to Crescent Head for a surf camp which ended up being a pretty crazy time, lots of good stories from that! I also bought a car, everything's more expensive here, but I think I scored a good deal that I can possibly make money on in the future. I took the new station wagon on a road trip out to the outback. We did some camping, saw some incredible things, and got to experience some real outback. I hit a lot of outback pubs way out in the middle of nowhere, and meeting these extremely unique cultured people was great. They were a great help, telling us where to camp and even giving us gear and help us go "yabbying"! Yabbies are like blue lobsters that are in the river out there. We had a real good yabby fry, saw a ton of roos, tore through some real desolate areas off-roading in the wagon, and made a hell of a time of it.
I'm getting real used to living here, makes me wish I had more time here. Having a car is great, just a ton more freedom to explore. I'm getting a good feel for the Australian culture, it's hard to describe, maybe I'll write an essay on it sometime or something, but for now, that's what I'm up to. Needed to get something in the books, I'll be back soon hopefully.

Mardi Gras in Sydney

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The weekend of March 3rd I went down to Sydney for their Mardi Gras celebration. Absolutely crazy. I hopped a two-hour train about noon on Saturday from Newcastle to Sydney with one other American girl with really no plan. We started calling trying to get a reservation at a hostel and were repeatedly turned down. Two other girls we were friends with were staying in a hostel in the Bondi Beach area, so we just figured we'd head that way until we found something. Walking around a huge city with a heavy backpack in 25 degrees isn't the ideal situation. We got some help from a concierge at a mall, and eventually, after about fifty calls, found what I believe to be the last remaining room in all of Sydney. It was located in King's Cross, the "red-light district" of Sydney. We walked around aimlessly and finally found it. Sketchiest place I've ever been in my life. Had to hang around an hour until the guy who was supposed to check us in woke up. The room was a joke. One twin bed in a bunk with a table and ancient mini-fridge below it. We bought a box of wine and went to work. We eventually ended up going out, and hitting the unique night-life of the area. The thing is, in Sydney, Mardi Gras turns into kind of a gay pride type thing haha, so there was a lot of interesting people about! It turned out to be a pretty crazy night for us, definitely acquired a few good stories. The next day I met up with the two other girls at Bondi Beach. They had met some British guys who were once again, just taking months to travel and live abroad. Bondi Beach is so sick. There had to be a thousand people there, just a beautiful beach with some incredible surroundings. We then went back to the English guys' hostel where we made these mixed fruit drinks called "pims" and pretty much took over the hostel common area and threw a party. We went out that night, definitely an eventful night once again with some ridiculous stories, and then hopped the 3:45 am train back to Newcastle, where I had just enough time to head home and shower before my morning class.
Fun facts: A glass of beer at the bars is a schooner, bottles are stubbies. "How ye goin'?" is probably the most common phrase I've heard here thus far. Bathrooms are called toilets.

First Week of Classes

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So classes commenced on February 27th, and my schedule consists of Quantum Mechanics and Semiconductor Physics, Philosophy 1A, and Classical Mechanics and Special Relativity. Classes here are quite a bit different. Everything is laid out at the beginning of the semester. I have one test in each class, the final exam, which accounts for 50% of my grade. The rest is divided up into about four assignments/quizzes per class per semester. They're really large assignments, and we are expected to work on them from pretty much the start of the course until their due date. I've found my classes extremely difficult so far. My quantum professor is a little asian lady with a squeaky voice and a hardcore accent that's nearly impossible to understand. Another thing that makes things fairly complicated is that I haven't taken the same prior courses as the other students. Professors keep referencing things from previous courses and I don't have any idea what they're talking about. Also in physics I've found that they use a few different symbols and terminology than I'm used to back home so it's hard to recognize and follow. On top of that, I still haven't gotten any of my textbooks, so I haven't been able to do any catching up yet. I'm waiting on them to be delivered.
Fun facts: The letter z does not exist in the Australian alphabet, it is a symbol which they refer to as "zed". Baby strollers are called "prams."

O week

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Okay, so still pretty far behind here. The week of February 20th-24th was deemed "O Week" or orientation week. New students come to meet with their faculty, which is like a general group of similar majors, but as an international student, there was a separate orientation for me to attend. Here is a link to some of the activities and such that they had lined up for us: http://www.newcastle.edu.au/Resources/Divisions/Services/Student%20and%20Academic%20Services/Student%20Administration/Images/Online%20Orientation/INTERNATIONAL%20STUDENT%20ORIENTATION.pdf
University of Newcastle is nearly twenty percent international students, so running into other foreigners, especially Americans and British, is real common. Campus is huge. Like 260 acres or something ridiculous, so getting to class is a long process. I have a solid walk to the train station, nearly two kilometers, and then I have to pay $4.60 for a round trip pass to campus, which is about ten minutes each way. Then I get to campus, and it's a solid ten-fifteen minute walk to any building in which I have class. But campus is dope as hell, it's all in the bush so walking to class is like a nature walk. There's some pretty cool buildings, restaurants--oh, and two on-campus bars!
Through the week I got really sick of walking everywhere, so I threw down on a longboard, which I got at a pretty solid price. The week was a good time, made it down to the beach a few times, hit quite a few new bars and clubs, had some pretty insane stories after only a few nights! Oh, and another fun fact about Uni at Newcastle... they have a Quidditch team? Yeah, like Harry Potter Quidditch. We got a free meal and concert at the on-campus bar one of the evenings and a few of us Americans actually played the Uni's Quidditch team. It's actually embarrassing, because we murdered them. I didn't sign up for Quidditch, but I signed up for a bunch of sick clubs like the Goonion where they hook you up with deals on boxed wine, you go on wine tours and stuff. I signed up for info on playing rugby and their version of hockey, which is not on ice and played quite differently. I signed up for a bunch of bar/club VIP memberships, and a few outdoor clubs.
Fun fact: Australians are much much more casual in just about everything they do. Advertising is so much more informal, they'll throw slang into printed advertisements for banks, schools...pretty much anything. I saw a billboard making fun of guys who wear speedos referencing "budgie smugglers". Budgies are birds, and speedos are often referred to as budgie smugglers. Make the connection. People don't really worry about political correctness at all here, and everyone gives each other shit here. States make fun of their neighboring states a ton, and in very harsh ways haha. Australians can just take jokes better.

Still Catching Up...

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Okay, so I'll pick up where I left off with the last entry. After landing in Newcastle we were transported in two groups to our accommodation, which is about three blocks from Bar Beach, one of the best surfing beaches in the world. We met our landlord Mark in one of the properties, which was an incredibly modern beach-style house which about fifteen of the Americans shared, another fifteen or so moved into an identical house next door, and two other Americans and I moved in a few doors down in a small house with two Australian guys and an Irish girl, so there's definitely some communication obstacles with all the different accents, terms, and slang in this house! I definitely personally prefer my situation to the large group houses, I definitely have met more locals this way, and it's a lot more comfortable living situation for me with six people rather than fifteen. The rest of the Americans moved to on-campus accommodation, which is called college here rather than dorms.
Now that we were moved in we were no longer on a fixed schedule and had about a few days of freedom before O-week activities started at Uni. We set about exploring the part of the city we could reach on foot. The cities here are divided into district-like suburbs, and my residence falls within the domain of Cooks Hill. So Cooks Hill and a few other suburbs are within walking distance. The area I've explored so far is really cool. There are so many little shops and restaurants, and there's a ton of bars. The bottom floor of every hotel is dedicated to a bar/club scene, so hotels are actually pretty popular destinations for going out at night. The residential areas are sick too, there's a unique style of architecture here that I really find hard to describe. The houses are small and close together but very classy and cottage-like. The houses near the beach are incredible...huge and super modern-looking. Money has been going real fast with everything so expensive and all the initial stock-ups that are needed. I've made it down to the beach a few times, and it is incredible. Feel free to send me a friend request on Facebook if you want to see photos. We managed to get our hands on a few surfboards, all free--swagggg. So we're all trying to learn how to surf, but just as insurance most of us are signed up for a surf camp on the weekend of March 9th with this group called Mojosurf that gave us a presentation while we were in Cairns.
I'll just throw in a paragraph of differences and adjustments I've had to make living here. First, I'm currently 17 hours ahead of Central time, so it's hard to communicate with people back home. Everything tends to close early here, not bars and nightclubs, but as far as stores, banks, that stuff closes a bit earlier than I'm used to. Tipping is not a common practice here, it can even be taken as insulting if you do so. If you're trying to hit the nightlife scene, you should be well dressed or you won't get in. Although the drinking age is 18 here, they take everything to do with alcohol much more seriously. Drinking in public is illegal, so no beer on the beach, at least not in the open! You will not be served at any bar if you're visibly drunk, and people get kicked out easily. They also don't do shots here, tragically, they're illegal :( Americans are easily recognizable wherever you go. Some popular American atire is rarely if ever seen here. Polos, hi-top shoes, basketball shorts--all dead giveaways. Sorry for the ridiculous disorganization in these first two entries, I'm trying to recall events a couple weeks back in a time span that's been ridiculously busy and literally everything is brand new. Give me a couple more entries and I'll be on track.

Up to Speed...

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Okay, so I'm well behind the curve on this thing, so I'll try to recall everything as best I can for ya'll. I landed in Cairns, Australia after a series of flights and a ridiculous amount of hours logged in the sky. It was a hot, humid, sexy sunny day in the rainforest, a solid 34 degrees (in fahrenheit that's about 93). I am part of a program called Australearn, or after their official name change, GlobalLinks Learning Abroad, so I am among a group of about fifty Americans all heading to the University of Newcastle. From Cairns airport we hopped a bus to Gilligan's Backpacker's Resort, which is a pretty dope hostel in the city which has two full bars, a large dance/clubbing area, along with a deck and pool area. The next six days would constitute what is referred to as the "Bridging Cultures Program." We attended various orientation sessions where we learned about the Aussie lifestyle, culture, customs, and things like transportation and cell phones. We had almost all of our meals covered during this period, and I ate some daaaaaank food! The food is pretty similar, they eat the same foods, but in different fashions. For instance, baked beans are a staple breakfast food. Fries are chips, and are often consumed with a mixture of sour cream and sweet chili sauce as a dip rather than ketchup, which they call tomato sauce. Salad is pretty odd, the collection of greens is pretty different. Barely any lettuce if at all, and a lot of stringy shoot type things and a lot of things that look and taste a lot like thistles. Oh, and no dressing.
As far as language, they speak a confusing form of english. They like to shorten everything and throw a "ys" or "ies" on everything. Sunglasses are sunnies, flip flops are foamies, and the like. They say "heaps" a lot. Like for everything. Where I would say "hella", they say heaps. But way more. Heaps of this, heaps of that--when I was heaps little, heaps ago...heaps and heaps. You'll hear words like "bloke" and "wanker" and "pokies" (slot machines). There's a lot to it, kind of a lot to try and put into this blog, but I'll try to throw some in every time. Other cultural differences... they drive on the left side of the road here of course, and everything is pretty damn expensive when compared to back home. But minimum wage for someone my age here would be about $18, so they don't really complain. The most ridiculous adjustment is the price of alcohol. A 700mL bottle of rum or whiskey runs about $45 (keep in mind the Australian dollar and US dollar are virtually the same) whereas back home...I shouldn't have to tell you. So everyone here drinks goon (boxed wine), because it's all they can afford if you have a healthy drinking habit ;) Australia is in the midst of a mining boom right now, which means their economy is exploding at a ridiculous rate, so with so many dollars floating around, the price of goods tends to go up. As long as I'm on money, Australia has a sick deal where all advertised prices include tax, and they don't deal with any of this penny bs, everything rounds to the nearest five cents. But their money isn't perfect. They have a weird coin system, there are one and two dollar coins, and they are progressively tinier, so easy to misplace. And of course the twenty cent coin is freakin huge! Anyways, in Cairns we went out on a boat and SCUBA dived/snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, which was absolutely incredible. So many fish, so many colors! I touched a sea turtle, saw a stingray.... amazing. Cairns is an amazing and tropical city, but way too touristy for me to live in. We also spent a day at Rainforestation, a park type thing where we toured the rainforest in an Army Duck (they can drive on land or in water), got a tour through a zoo full of Australian animals where we petted kangaroos, held snakes and koalas, and saw tons of cool Australian wildlife. We also got taught how to throw a boomerang and spear by aboriginals, watched a traditional aboriginal dance, and listened to some ill digeridoo performances. Another day was spent whitewater rafting which was great! I went out to various bars and clubs each night and had a crazy good time, but my wallet really took a hit. I'll fill in the move to Newcastle in my next blog.

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