Notes from Abroad

The overseas experiences of NC State University students

“Ooh Krakow we love you”

I promised I’d be back with a blog just about Krakow and I’m finally living up to that. Sorry, I kept you waiting. Once again the Erasmus Buddy Network at WU organized a fantastic trip for us to visit the city of Krakow, Poland. We began our trip by stopping before we even reached Krakow to tour take a tour and taste the beer of Tyskie brewery, the largest brewery in Poland. We arrived in Krakow at the Giraffe Hostel (which is a great place to stay if you visit) and immediately left to get some traditional Polish cuisine. Over the course of the trip my courses included: Goulash, Bigos, Kielbasa, Kotlet Schabowy, Pierogis, and a plethora of soups, desserts, and snacks.

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There’s a competition every year around Christmas to see who can build the most elaborate model of the church. This is the winner.

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We were given a walking tour of Poland on our first full day by a woman who was very proud to be Polish and took us around the entire city listing off fact after fact and story after story from medieval times, to WWII Krakow, to modern day.

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Looking wary of arrows

For example: every hour there are trumpeters within the castle walls who play ‘Taps’ but they always never finish the full song. The piece used to be performed to signal the lowering and raising of the gate. The legend behind the uncompleted song is that during a Mongolian invasion in the 1200s, a trumpeter began playing to alert the gatekeepers to lock up but his throat was pierced by an arrow of the invaders and therefore didn’t finish playing.

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Yup that is a real dragon bone…

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Filming location for Schindler’s List

She also told us tales of dragon bones, showed us where the pope would come speak to people when he visited Krakow, and took us to one of the major filming locations for Schindler’s List.

Later in the day following our walking tour we were taken into the Wieliczka Salt Mines.DSC00623

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Pretty sure this is Gimli’s uncle or something

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Something punny about ‘can you please pass the salt’

If you picture Moria from Lord of the Rings you won’t be far off. The tunnels are crafted straight through the salt. You can literally run your hand along the wall, lick your fingers, and they’re salty. There are statues four times taller than me carved into the salt. The chandeliers were made of giant salt crystals. There was even a replica of The Last Dinner carved out of – you guessed it- salt. I’ve been into caves before but nothing as fascinating as this. We were 327 metres below the surface when we had dinner that night.

Following the Salt mine we grabbed a little bit of rest and got ready for the Krakow pub crawl where we got to experience the Polish nightlife, Polish drinks, and got to know our fellow travelers a bit more. A good friend of mine on the trip, Jacco from the Netherlands, was humming a song under his breath that’s a soccer chant but he had replaced the team name to ‘Krakow’. Fast forward 5 minutes and he and myself had taught the nearest 5 people the song, who taught the nearest 5 people the song, and we had a full marching parade going through the streets singing about how much we love Krakow (thus the title of this post).
DSC00655The next day is difficult to describe. Maybe influential is a good word. We spent the majority of the day on a tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Our guide was fantastic but that’s about the most positive thing I can say. It was haunting. At one point we walked through the smallest of the gas chambers (the only one still standing since the others were destroyed when the Nazi’s were trying to cover up their atrocities) and I would count that as the single most uncomfortable moment of my life. I’m really glad(?) that I had the experience but haunting and sickening is the only way I can think of to described it. As something that we begin studying at such an early age in America, it’s so disorienting to see it with your own eyes.DSC00669

The rooms full of human hair, full of shoes from all ages,DSC00668 full of suitcases stamped with the names and locations of their owners, turn the textbooks and lessons into actual people. The sheer scale and size of the infrastructure is baffling. One of the thoughts that kept running through my mind while there was just imagine if all of this time and effort had gone towards something productive instead of something so heart-wrenchingly destructive. I highly recommend going if you ever get the chance because it definitely was a life-changing experience.DSC00698DSC00695DSC00689

We wrapped up Krakow with another dinner and another night on the town and we went all out. If I’m being completely honest, I would hate to live in Krakow. It is foggy and dirty and feels much calmer than many of the places I’ve travelled. BUT it is the perfect place to visit for a few days as we did. You can really soak up a lot of culture and history there as well as have a good time and (as always) good food.

Tomorrow marks the three-month milestone of my time in Spain. Although I can’t be 100% sure, I believe I’ve finally overcome the last of the culture shock. While it has been a difficult battle, there have been plenty of fantastic experiences that create the culture which preceeds the shock. In other words, although I’ve suffered from culture shock for the time being, at least it’s been worth it.

So, here are a few stories about my time so far:

Pinxtopote:

This might be my favorite. So far I’ve visited four cities/towns– San Sebastián, Bilbao, Mondragon, and Vitoria-Gasteiz– and in each there is an “old part” of the downtown area with alleyways lined with shops and plenty of bars with people eating, drinking, and talking both inside and outside the restaurant. There are plates and plates of hor d’oeuvres, each one around 2€ each. Instead of having to buy a whole meal when you go out with friends, you can instead enjoy one or two of these with a glass of beer, wine, water, or, as I prefer, mosto, which is an orange and grape juice mix. In this way I get to taste a lot of different foods.

The pintxo itself is usually made up of two parts, the base and the topping. The base is usually a slice of French bread (though here it’s just called bread…), but the topping can be literally anything. I’ve tried pintxos of tortilla (which isn’t the tortillas from Mexico. It’s like a casserole/cake of potato, egg, and cheese), sausage, crab-salad, peppers, and a spinach-cheese topping.

Here we’ve got hot chocolate (which is not cocoa; it’s more or less melted chocolate in a cup. Needless to say, it is BEAUTIFULLY DELICIOUS), a piece of bread, and a “tortilla-taco” (my title, not theirs. It’s the Spanish tortilla sliced in half and stuffed with lettuce, tomato, chicken, and other taco-ish ingredients). If you compare the two pictures, you’ll see not all pintxos are this size, but they can be even fancier. 

Traditional Basque Social Dancing:

 One weekend I stumbled upon a Basque Ceilidh in the center plaza. Instructors shouted out instructions in Basque, a band performed traditional music, and a large crowd observed while the braver folk gathered to dance together. Drawn in by curiosity, I looked on for a while before jumping in. I failed miserably, so I bailed out and watched a little longer. Then I tried again, this time with more success. There were three general styles of dance, two of them very similar to Contra and Scottish Country dancing. It’s fun to experience the local twist of an international activity.

Medieval Festival

Much like the reinnacance festival in Raleigh, the center was decorated with flags, vendors set up booths selling kids’ toys, jewelry, clothes, knives, sweets, meats, and other crafts, and earlier on there was music, theatrical performances, and carnival games (the latter three, unfortunately, I missed because I was out of town). Even though not all of the wares were strictly from the time period, the ambiance was very festive, the night beautiful, and it was fun to pretend to be part of the time period for a little bit.

 Thursday Movie Night
 My friends and I have started a weekly tradition of watching a film each Thursday night. After dinner we head up to the living room, share a couple packs of cookies, and pop in a DVD. Kids here love the same movies that are popular in the U.S., and we’ve watched a wide variety: The King’s Speech, Mission Impossible, Date Night, Holiday in Rome, Twilight, and Hancock are some we’ve seen. This week’s will be Lord of the Rings. 

All of the titles are translated into Spanish –and sometimes it takes me a while to puzzle out which movie they’re talking about– and the dialogue dubbed. Quicker than I expected, I adjusted to the new voices and translated dialogue; the more I watch, the more I see the art in translating a film. Although the words don’t match up with the lips of the actor, the speech begins when he opens his mouth and ends when he closes it, and if he marks a phrase with emphasis with his hands, that’s the word that’s emphasized in Spanish, too. It’s got to be a tricky process.

The amazing part is that I watch and can understand without subtitles… sometimes I can’t believe that I actually understand what is being said and what is happening. (Then again, I understand a lot less on the nights I’m super tired.)

And then there’s the visit to Guggenheim Museum…

And recording the radio program…

And then, you know, normal stuff, like, exploring my own city…

And going to class, then coming back home again…

But we’ll save those stories for another time.

Goodbye Perth (for now)

My final days after exams were spent taking pictures around campus and getting in any last minute activities I had wanted to try. All of the exchange girls went out for a final dinner, I climbed the grand clock tower at UWA, and I took a final picture with the residential peacock.

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The goodbyes this past week were some of the hardest I’ve had in a while. The problem and glory of exchange is that you meet so many amazing people from literally all over the world. The chances of seeing them again someday are slim, because they come from so many different places, which also makes future travels easier. I am amazed at how fast so many random people from around the world can become best friends. It was with a heavy heart I left them all, with hopes of someday reuniting.

Putting into words what the past four months of exchange has meant to me is almost impossible. Even in a country so similar to one I am from, I have found that exchange has taught me lessons I would have never gained in the classroom. Exchange has given me global friendships that would otherwise not exist. And exchange has provided me with memories and stories to last a lifetime.

To reflect on the past four months I’ve made a list of some of the most memorable and rewarding parts of exchange:

  1. Meeting friends who care about you enough to jump out of a plane with you on your 21st birthday.
  2. Taking an 8-day road trip up the western coast of Australia and teaching English lads how to set up a tent.
  3. Traveling to Asia for weekend trips or during study weeks to dive, spend time on the beach, and eat many meals for less than $3.
  4. Running along Matilda Bay and the Swam River as dolphins jumped out of the water next to me. It was at this point I realized studying abroad in Perth was a fantastic decision.
  5. Formal dinners on Wednesday nights.
  6. Many trips to Margaret River and the Australian family that welcomed all of the exchange students each time.
  7. Biking around Rottnest Island while going for an occasional snorkel in the surrounding waters.
  8. Participating in the crazy events Trinity College put on.
  9. Learning a new education system that challenges the way you have learned in the past.
  10. Afternoons and nights spent at the beach. Having a beach within a 15 minute bus ride of campus is a pure luxury.

Before leaving, I had as many people as I could sign an Australian flag. I hope to hang this flag in my room on return to NC State as a reminder of how small and amazing the world really is. Cheers to Trinity Residential College, UWA, and all of the people who made the past four months so special. Hopefully I’ll be back to Perth in no time!

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The Final Weeks

First off, I’d like to apologize for my lack of blogging the past few weeks. Amongst the last week of classes, a trip to Bali, and finals, I have been quite busy. Although my last week of class was quite busy, I made the most of the Australian sunshine through going to the beach a few afternoons after class. Having a beach within a 15-minute ride of campus is amazing; something I wish I had taken advantage of more. The only problem with going to the beach in the afternoon is the great wind. The wind seems to take over the entire beach, spraying sand on anyone laying on towels and making it almost impossible to keep warm, even in the hot Australian sun. During the last week of class we also had our final Trinity formal of the year. Formals were one of my many favorite events and being our final one made me a bit sad.

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Since I only had two finals when I could have had four, I went to Bali the week before final exams. In Australia there is a “study” week before the two weeks of final exams commence. My exam timetable had my two exams near the end, so I thought I would be safe to take some time to relax and explore a bit more of Asia. My time in Bali, Indonesia consisted of learning to surf, white water rafting, a sunrise volcano hike, visiting temples, scuba diving, and lying on the beach. I do have to say the scuba diving I experienced in Bali was probably some of the best I will ever see. I saw sea turtles, white-tipped reef sharks, an octopus, a bump head parrot fish, clownfish, and millions of alive and healthy corals. I’ve never seen so many fish in one dive in my entire life. I was a bit disappointed I did not see a mola mola or manta ray, but I guess this just means I will have to return someday. Bali was similar to Malaysia. All of the food was extremely cheap, and the people loved to nag tourists to buy their products. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my week in Bali. It wasn’t until I arrived in the airport that I realized finals were quickly approaching and I better prepare.

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Preparing for finals was quite different than how I would typically prepare in the States. Since in the States I have taken tests prior to finals over most of the material, I know the material quite thoroughly. The final exams I was taking in Australia were the only exams I would be taking all semester, therefore I had an entire semester’s worth of material to memorize and try to recall from various lectures. Also, one of my units focused on many required readings from throughout the semester, adding another layer to try and understand. With five days to prepare for each final, I spent my time in the library. I began to become convinced that I was living there. I could not study forever and took a few breaks. During one break I went on a tram and river cruise from Perth to Fremantle with Georgie. Fremantle is an old port city outside of Perth with nice shops, cafes, and a great atmosphere. On the tour I learned that Perth is one of the windiest cities in the world. I never would have guessed. I also took some quick evening trips to the beach, with the nice ocean waves putting any nervousness I had about upcoming exams to rest. One afternoon a group of us went cliff jumping off some rocks into the Swam River. I was disappointed to not be spending my final weeks in Perth exploring the area and hanging out with all of my newfound friends, but we made the most of the free time and study breaks we did have.

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Final exams were administered much like standardized tests I remember taking to enter college, such as the ACT. They gave us testing booklets and all of the responses are short answer or written essays. One is forced to truly learn the material. Each exam time period is allocated for two hours. Some of the exams have classes so big they are held in huge lecture halls. I’m pretty sure one of mine was even held inside a church of sorts. The exams were what I expected. I did not predict the concepts that would be asked as well as I had hoped. Only time will tell for my final marks. Apparently we do not receive our grades until over a month after exams. Going into exams, there was one class I did not have a single grade back yet. The Australian system of doing exams is quite different, but I think I may like it better than how we are taught in the States. Having to know all of the material thoroughly at the end of a semester is quite a rewarding feeling.

I’ve been busy

Since I last posted I’ve traveled to 6 more countries. If you’re planning on visiting Europe on Study Abroad because you want to travel all over (one of my top reasons) you can’t beat Vienna. I mean, it borders 7 countries in the center of Europe and is a major city with an international airport, and an international train station, and great student bus system, and it rests on the Danube.

Since so much happened over the trip I’ll just give you a highlight (with pictures of course) from each country.

Slovenia was the first destination on the (in)famous 8 person, 2 car, 6 countries road trip. Unfortunately, we were only passing through Slovenia and only stopped at Ptuj Castle late at night. All my photos of here were accidentally deleted but it was definitely worth the trip even with the mutant spider infected bridge we had to cross.

After Slovenia we arrived in Zagreb the capital of Croatia. Here we spent a night in the club, in the rain and in the cars. Do not sleep in a car with 4 people. Not that it wasn’t safe, we were smart about it, but the cost of a hostel for 8 people is minimal and worth it. When we woke up before the crack of dawn we traveled to Plitvice National park which is on the UNESCO world heritage site list and for good reason: DSC00026 DSC00041 DSC00088

From there we moved on to Split in Croatia where we had an actual AirBNB apartment set up which was wonderful. We finally got to lay down for the first time in over 2 days. After Split we split and went down the coast of Croatia to Dubrovnik or as you might know it: KING’S LANDING. DSC00295

After Dubrovnik we headed towards Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Mostar there’s the “Old Bridge”. The story behind the bridge is that on one side of the bridge lived Christians and on the other side Muslims. The bridge was continuously being destroyed because the two sides could not get along but, it was constantly rebuilt because it was needed from travel and trade. Long story short- eventually times changed and the bridge has been up since 1994. DSC00354

From Mostar we went to Sarajevo where we stayed in a lovely hostel right in the center of town. For me all of Bosnia was very interesting because of everywhere I’ve ever visited Bosnia is the place that has most recently been affected by a war. There are still bullet holes in many buildings and there are ruins everywhere.

Whenever people need to meet up before dinner they just say "At Horse" and come here for an easy landmark in the city center.After Sarajevo the next destination was BelgradeSerbia which surprised our whole group. Unfairly out-shined by other European cities Belgrade has a very long and interesting history, a HUGE and beautiful city center, and (like everywhere else on our trip) wonderful food.

After Belgrade we got on the road once more destined for a hostel in Budapest, Hungary. Unfortunately, we only had a few hours in Budapest and were not able to fully appreciate it (I hope to make it back there before leaving).

302 steps up St. Stephen's Basilica to view Budapest

302 steps up St. Stephen’s Basilica to view Budapest

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From Budapest we headed back in to Vienna. Of course I’m leaving out the stories, jokes, people, dancing, arguments and other personal experiences that made this trip unforgettable but I don’t want to talk all day (and trust me I could talk all week about this trip). So, if you’d like to know more about any specific place, feel free to comment/message me!

The last place I’ve been to since last posting was Krakow, Poland but that will have to be a full post on it’s own since we were there for 4 days.

Traveling Abroad- Abroad

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Recently I embarked on a trip with 4 friends to Bratislava, Slovakia for a day. We woke up early to catch a train ride which took us to the neighboring capital in roughly an hour for 15 euros round trip. Great deal! Except that there isn’t much to see in Bratislava. We visited the Bratislava Castle which was interesting but felt inauthentic after being remodeled over the years since the original burned down in 1811.DSC09926 The view from the top of the castle was amazing though. In the castle was a museum with art, coins, and a World War I exhibit which was interesting because before going in I could not remember which side Slovakia had fought for. Then I realized Slovakia was non-existent at the time as it was part of Austria-Hungary and I definitely knew which side they were on. Other sights we saw were the main city center and Grassalkovich Palace (aka the Slovakian White House). We stopped in a brewery for lunch and here we discovered the best part of Bratislava is the prices. There’s very low cost for everything without sacrificing quality.

The trip was accompanied by the worst weather all 5 of us had experienced this semester as it was rainy, cold, and windy but despite the poor conditions and lack of things to do we had a wonderful time getting to know each other and learning about our respective cultures. There was an American (Myself), a Japanese girl, a guy from Belgium, a guy from Sweden, and a girl from neighboring Canada. One very interesting thing I’ve learned abroad is that most people know a lot about America. Be it good or bad, people (at least in Europe) know a lot about US politics, celebrities, businesses and media. People here know about their home country, Austria, and the United States of America. 

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I don’t have service in Austria, but many of my friends have bought plans that we can use while out and about. I also have a list of places I know I can go for wifi. But in Bratislava this was not the case so we were disconnected from the world until we went into a cafe for a snack and finally (overly dramatic?) found some wifi. Of course not having a constant stream of social media, communication and entertainment at the tip of your fingers 24/7 is an adjustment with cons and pros. It was a shock though, when my Canadian friend pulled out her phone and found out that the Canadian Parliament building had been attacked. Soon after we realized it was the headlining news story in all of our countries. I think we all had a realization at that moment of just how far we were from home. There had been a terrorist attack on a government building of our companion’s and we didn’t hear about it until 3-4 hours after the fact. As a Wolfpacker abroad of course I know you should Laugh, Think, & be moved to Tears everyday to have a full day and Bratislava definitely gave us a full day. DSC09983

On Wednesday I’m embarking on a road trip with 8 other international students to 6 countries over 4 days. We will visit Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia, and Hungary. I’ll be back with plenty of pictures and stories I’m sure.

P.S. I also represented NC State at the Global Fair here and hopefully we have more International Students interested in studying back in Raleigh with us.

P.S. I also represented NC State at the Global Fair here and hopefully we have more International Students interested in studying back in Raleigh with us.

Margaret River

Although I had visited Margaret River for my half marathon in the past, I felt the region warranted another trip due to all the area has to offer and my inability to fully experience and explore the region previously. Once again, Oscar, an Australian at Trinity, was kind enough to take a group to his home and be welcomed by his friendly family. We left Friday evening to arrive in Margaret River by dinnertime. Known for their delicious fish in the region, we bought fish and chips take away from a local restaurant. Similar to previous fish and chip experiences, I loved the Australian aioli sauce (garlic mayo).

On Saturday, we explored the food and drink of the region. Our day began with a trip to the Candy Cow to see a demonstration of honeycomb being made. I have never experienced this candy in the States, but maybe it just is not as popular. Honeycomb is a common treat in Australia. They make the honeycomb from honey found in various trees. The honey is combined with other ingredients and made into a hard candy one can bite into. As expected, the treat tastes like honey. I will never complain about sweets, but honeycomb is not one of my favorites. After the Candy Cow, we began our tour of the different wineries in the region. All of the wineries had something unique about the way they made their wine. Walking through the vineyards made me feel like I was back in a cornfield in Iowa, however I have to say I think the vineyards are more picturesque. We even saw a wedding occurring in the one of the fields.

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At one of the wineries we visited, we saw a sign about the Australian drop bears, hence the picture below. I recommend googling the funny video that many Australians try to scare tourists with. I’m still not sure if drop bears are real…

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The remainder of the day was spent exploring the other specialties in the area including cheeses, ice creams, and chocolate. I think my favorite was the chocolate factory where we were able to sample some delicious chocolate morsels. We returned to Oscar’s house for our evening meal, where his mother let us make our own pizzas to put in their stone oven. Since all of my meals are catered at Trinity, having a home cooked meal was a great change of pace. In the evening we headed to the beach, hoping to see some bioluminescence in the distant waves. Unfortunately, as soon as we got out of the car, rain began pelting our faces, forcing us to retreat. There is something about the Margaret River beaches that must not like me. When I was running my half marathon the same thing happened.

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Before heading back to Perth we stopped at Lake Cave. The Margaret River region is lined with caves that have collapsed inwards in the past 700 years, exposing a natural beauty. Lake Cave is supposedly the most beautiful of the three prominent caves available to visitors. The cave lived up the expectations, with a lake reflecting the glittering white stalagmites. The cave also housed the only suspended table formation visible to the public in the world. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the serenity of walking through the dark, beautiful caves.

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I am continually amazed by how welcoming and friendly Australians are to foreigners. I have realized just how lucky I am to be living in the welcoming community of Trinity, where people are willing to show exchanges their country and welcome students only staying for a few months. As I enter my last week of classes before a few weeks of studying for finals, I cannot believe how my time here is almost over. But I’m not going to try and focus on the inevitable departure and, instead, enjoy my final weeks at a place I have come to call home.

A Different Education System

This past week has consisted of mostly study. Over the weekend while I was writing multiple papers and not exploring much of Australia, I realized this was probably the first weekend that I’ve been here and have not had activities planned. It was nice to catch up on schoolwork. The weekend provided me a good opportunity to reflect on the education system in Australia and how it is different from that at North Carolina State University.

First, and foremost, the composition of grades is substantially different. At NC State, I most of my grades are composed of multiple tests, maybe one big paper, and a few small assignments. In Australia, my grades are composed of one or two large projects and a final exam worth half of my grade. In other words, I have yet to take a test in Australia, scaring me a bit for the final, because I do not know what to expect. Furthermore, the large assignments that compose a large portion of my grade are typically group assignments, making gauging how I am actually doing in classes quite difficult. Two of my classes here also have a large portion of my grade based off of a journal. The fact that I am graded about my reflections is different than what I am used to. This could be attributed to the fact that I typically take science classes and am taking two humanities classes in Australia.

Secondly, all lectures at the University of Western Australia are recorded. This means I could not go to a single lecture all week and just watch them all online. I think a lot can be lost from only watching lectures online and not being able to interact with the professor, so I tend to go to all of my lectures. However, it is nice knowing I can go back to rewatch a lecture if I am not clear on an important concept.

Another major difference is the amount of time I spend in class. Here, almost all students take four classes a semester for three years in order to get an undergraduate degree. The classes also meet less than lectures in the States. I am in one unit that meets a total of six times the whole semester for lecture and five times for tutorial (guided discussion groups). Each of these meetings is 45 minutes. This unit was accompanied by a three day field trip, but the time spent in class still felt minute compared to other courses I have taken in the past. My science classes meet twice a week for 45 minutes, with an occasional three-hour lab or weekly discussion groups throughout the semester. Having such little time in class gives me the ability to complete schoolwork and studying during the day. Maybe I just overbook my free time at home, but this useful time during the day allows me to accomplish items I would typically accomplish during nights and on the weekend, allowing me to travel more and explore more of Australia.

An interesting difference is how some lectures switch lecturers every few seminars. For instance, my Behavioral Ecology class has a specialist present for each new set of lectures, so the person lecturing is highly knowledgeable in their field. I like this approach because I get the most up to date information on a unit. However this method makes getting to know professors difficult as well as having to adjust to each person’s presentation style.

My favorite difference between studying in the States and studying in Australia is the level of competition. In Australia, competition is almost non-existent. No one cares how the person next to them did on the past paper or test. People don’t complain about how much they have to do to further their careers. Removing these constant conversations and pressures makes studying and learning less stressful and more fun. A lot can be learned from studying in another country.

The Pros and Cons of Schedules

I realized I’ve been slacking on my blog posts a little bit. Sorry! That realization actually led me to a perfect topic for future study abroad students: Schedules. Vienna continues to be an exciting place to explore and study even 1 1/2 months in. Back in the States I usually work 2 jobs while taking classes and trying to maintain an acceptable social life. So, needless to say I’m pretty busy and busy people need schedules to fit everything in.

When I arrived in Vienna, I had no job and no classes for a month which was great! It was such a relief to have unlimited free time to visit all of the sightseeing hotspots, or to gladly waste away an afternoon at a cafe (a Viennese art form), or to simply pause a little longer during my commute to listen to the street accordion player. I started slipping into a never-ending-vacation mindset where time was only important to remind me how long it had been since I last showered. This is when the lack of schedules actually started to bother me.

  • Planning trips to other parts of Europe (or even dinner in Vienna) was difficult because our open schedules caused everyone to shy away from taking the reins and actually setting a time and date.
  • I was eating very poorly because I would wake up, eat a light breakfast, visit one of the many museums for 5-6 hours, then eat a large dinner, and that was all.
  • I was finding it frustrating to talk to people back home between the time difference and activities without scheduling conversations ahead of time
  • I went MIA on my blog and social media posts that kept my family and friends back home up to date on my excursions (assuring them I was alive)
  • Everything in Vienna closes early during the week and most places are closed all day Sunday. This makes grocery shopping very difficult. Let’s just say I’ve had more than one close call when it comes to toilet paper…
  • Laundry. Dirty Laundry everywhere. (Note: actual dirty laundry not the blackmail kind)
  • With classes looming in the distance I needed to make sure I allotted enough time to get all of my schoolwork done.

Realizing the cause of these problems was my lack of scheduling allowed me to get on a healthier diet, make more plans with more people (I will be traveling to Bratislava on Wednesday with a group), stock up on groceries during the week, and find time to talk to the people I care about.

However, on the other hand I woke up yesterday with no plans. Thanks to a Facebook post in a group for my apartment complex I met around 10 new friends, saw one of the best sights of Vienna (yes, I’ll post pictures), tried some new local wine, and went to a party at a club lasting through the early morning full of other international students. I’m telling you this because sometimes “going with the flow” turns out to be the right approach. What I’ve learned and will continue to practice is the importance of maintaining a healthy, and comfortable balance between scheduling and the unknown.

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To the left is the city…

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…and to the right are the mountains that overlook Vienna.

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A planned visit to Belvedere Palace (behind me) and Gardens (behind the mirror)

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An unplanned trip to let loose with new friends.

Rottnest Island

This past weekend a large group of exchange students from Trinity went to Rottnest Island, an island approximately 20km off the coast of Perth. Since I had to be back Saturday morning for Relay for Life, Lindsey, Mandy, and Hana were nice enough to come with me early Friday morning so I would be able to spend an entire day on the island. In order to reach the island one has to take either a ferry or airplane. We took the ferry route, but with the early time all of us slept through the entire ride.

Rottnest Island is unique in the fact that no public cars are allowed on the island. The only vehicles we saw were government vehicles and tour company buses. Therefore, in order to get around we all had to rent bikes for the weekend. I had paid for my bike rental when purchasing my ferry ticket. When getting off the ferry and grabbing our bikes, they never recorded our names or if we had paid. I found that to be the strangest thing. The ferry company must assume people are quite honest or if they lose a bike there is nowhere for the bike to go but on the island. Either way, I was surprised by this lack of security.

The bike ride around the island took us all day, as we continually would stop at the beaches and scenery along the ride. The distance around the island was 22 kilometers. When we first began we thought no map would be needed. We soon realized how wrong we were when ending up on sand walking paths near the coast, not conducive to biking in anyway. Our little detour led us to some beautiful rocks we climbed to get an even better view. While climbing I had my first encounter with dangerous Australian wildlife – a large black snake. I decided not to identify him; I can only imagine how poisonous he was.

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Further on we stopped for a snorkel break. The water at Rottnest was crystal clear, similar to what I would see in the Caribbean at home. I walked right into the water and was floating amongst beds of sea grass and large rock formations. With the current research I am doing, I could name the species of sea grass making me feel confident in my research. As I continued to drift along I saw huge fish hiding under the rocks as well as others hiding amongst the sand. The snorkeling did not compare to what I had seen up north but was still beautiful. The water was absolutely freezing so we did not last long in the water before relaxing on the beach.

Stopping at another beach along our bike ride, we came across a quokka. Quokkas are marsupials, a little bigger than squirrels. Native to only the western island of Australia, they are quite unique. Even though quokkas are wild animals, they have become very humanized and came right up to us, begging for food. We bit pieces of our apples to pass to them as well as stroking their backs. It seems weird that a wild animal would not run away when people touch them. When posing to take a picture at the beach, we encountered some more wildlife. We came across a rather large lizard/snake creature. Even though they seemed friendly, we steered clear of them.

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IMG_3594 After completing our bike ride around the entire island, we met up with the other large group of exchange students at the two houses we were renting for the weekend. Needing food to barbecue for dinner, we headed to the general store on the island. Of course the prices in this store were outrageous as the owners had a complete monopoly over the island. Our evening was spent cooking and hanging out on the beach.

I left Rottnest early the following morning to ensure I was back in time to participate in Relay for Life at UWA. I was the only exchange student on the Trinity team, giving me an opportunity to get to know more people at Trinity I had not previously known. I would have thought by now in the semester I would know most people, but with 400 people living here meeting everyone is difficult. The relay was similar to ones held at NC State, just a little bit smaller in size. I think I walked a total of 6 hours in the entire 24 hours. I headed back to Trinity for a little nap between some early morning shifts, since I didn’t have a sleeping bag and everyone who’s sleeping bag I typically borrow was using it for the evening. Who knew one would need a sleeping bag so much when on exchange. A tip for anyone going abroad – bring a sleeping bag.

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