Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Great Australian Bucket List

So ever since I found out that I was officially coming here on exchange, I've been adding notes to a mental "bucket list" of things that I wanted to do while I was over here. Needless to say there was a lot of them, a lot being an understatement even, and I figured it was about time that I actually wrote them all down. This has been the past couple of weeks of adding things as I remembered them (my memory is really terrible sometimes) but I know that there's still some that I'm missing. So let's call this a work in progress for now... But I'd say it's a pretty solid work in progress. I can't wait to start doing some of these things!

  1. Learn to surf
  2. Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
  3. Go skydiving
  4. Hug a koala
  5. Go to the Melbourne Cup
  6. Go to the Melbourne International Film Festival
  7. See Tazmania
  8. See the tiny penguin colony
  9. See the 11 Apostles
  10. Backpack the Gold Coast
  11. Go to an opera in the Sydney Opera house
  12. Attend a gallery opening
  13. Go to a concert
  14. Camp put at a music festival
  15. Go to a cricket match
  16. Go to an Aussie rules football game
  17. Go to a rugby game
  18. Do a local brewery tour
  19. Do a vineyard tour
  20. Camp out in the Outback
  21. Go sailing
  22. Go soaring
  23. Go flying
  24. Visit the Freemantle market
  25. Go kiteboarding 
  26. Magnetic Island full moon party
  27. Visit as many National Parks as possible
  28. See something deadly
  29. Walk around Uluru
  30. Islands on East and West coast
  31. Road trip along the coast
  32. Go snowboarding
  33. Stay in a hostel
  34. Become a regular at a Melbourne coffee shop
  35. New Years in Sydney
  36. Epic kangaroo picture
  37. Make it across to Perth
  38. Make it up to Cairns
  39. Spring break in Bali/Southeast Asia
  40. See 360 live
Feel free to comment or give me suggestions of things you think I should do! Wether it's something that you know from actually travelling here, or cool things you've seen in tour books or National Geographic issues I'm always open to new suggestions.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Week Already?!

So here I am, trying desperately to finish this blog post that I started about 5 days ago, and it just wasn't happening. I had all of these assorted paragraphs trying to break down the past week into different aspects and describe each, but it just wasn't working. For those of you who don't know me, I am a perfectionist to say the least, and that post was no where close to my usual standards, it didn't really sound like me. And tonight, sitting in bed snuggled with a blanket, book and mug of tea I realized why; what I've learned and experienced in the past week can't be broken up into categories and taken by hour (well literally yes it can, but not effectively), it's a much bigger picture than that.

My first week here was mostly spent doing my orientation with Monash Abroad during the day, and the Monash Student Association putting events and activities on during the evenings. To say it was a busy week would be an understatement. And while we learned so many things about the school, working and travelling in Australia, the history and culture of this amazing city and how to be an effective ambassador for our home countries and universities (all wonderfully useful information), there was two things said to us that really hit home with me.

The director of the study abroad program should be commended for being so effective in the way he speaks. He did not talk for a long time, but what he said in those few minutes made me think more than anything anyone else said (sorry to the others, but it did!). We he first got up, he just looked around the room for a moment, taking it all in. We had just gone through the process of calling out the list of 40+ countries represented in that room by the 400 students in the theatre, and the magnitude of that was still in the air. "This is our own united nations", he said after a few words of welcome, and it is incredibly true. Looking around the room and realizing how much of the world we have present here is incredible; from every race, country and walk of life we have all come together in this experience. Not only that, but we could all talk and laugh with each other without a second thought. That first day hardly anyone knew each other, and we were all in the same boat of having to make new friends from scratch. What was amazing was that all it took was asking where someone was from, and bam there goes the conversation. You had groups of people from 10 different countries standing and talking over coffee, laughing about jet lag and comparing this place to their own homes. The amount that I learned just from talking to these people this past week is unmeasurable. This really is our own United Nations, working together and sharing in this experience.

The second thing that the director said that struck a chord with me was that when you take full advantage of this experience, "you will be able to travel around the world and never have to pay to sleep because there will always be an open door with a couch for you". Thinking about this for a minute it is incredibly true. Being put in a situation like this you make friends with the people around you, and in an exchange program those people are from all around the world. Literally around the world. From Brazil, to the UK, to Spain and to China we've got it covered. These are friends that could be bridesmaids at your wedding, future roommates, life-long pen pals, people you loose touch with for years and reconnect by chance, or better yet, life-long friends. These are the people that are going to help shape who you are, how you look at the world and experience things. They will share you adventures in a new city, understand when you're missing home more than anything and pack up a car and roadtrip with you on those long weekends off. These people have the power of making a permanent impact on your life, wether it be a passing day of fun or a lifetime of friendship. And this has really made me realize just how much people matter. We always say friends and family are the most important things in life, but do we really mean it? Do we really realize what we're saying or is it just a reflex? I think it takes being pulled completely away from all of those people, starting from ground zero or square on to really understand that. And it's hard, not having that support system around is a huge shock to the system, but building a new one is one of the most rewarding and amazing things. It makes you look at yourself, see what kind of person you are and have to find what works with that. If you can be open and honest with yourself, about yourself, there is nothing stopping you from making that new system. And yes, while it may take some time (I don't think I've ever eaten this many meals alone before!), it will all be worth it.

That's another things I've learned; if you can't live with yourself how do you expect anyone else to live with you? If you can't accept who you are and be true to that, how can you expect anyone else to accept you and do the same? There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing things on your own. Who says you can have dinner in a nice cafe, with you, your food, a beer (so many amazing local beers here!) and a book? It's actually pretty fun! That's not really something I would ever have done at home, because there's always people around to see and we default to doing that. It's when there's no one around all of a sudden that you realize that it's okay to just be you for a while. Why not go an adventure the city for a day, take a camera and a bag and not come back until the sun is long set and your feet are sore. That's what I've been doing and it has been the most incredible time. Sure it would be fun to have someone to comment to about the art on the walls in the gallery, or the funny things the pigeons do in the park, or the outrageously lavish stores in the downtown core, but that's what a camera is for. I have friends here to talk about all that stuff with later on, but in that moment I can take a picture. Documenting it for myself and for anyone else that is interested. A photo captures a moment and, when done right, and emotion, which is why I love photography so much. I have been capturing my days through pictures, sharing them with my SIM card and (when I finally find my camera cable) all of you.

So as of right now those are the couple things that have really stood out to me over the past week. That's not to say there aren't many more, and actually I'll probably think of at least 3 more the minute I post this and climb into bed. But hey that's what the next post is for right? Next post is going to be Thursday probably to sum up my week adventuring and exploring my new city. I've got pictures to put up as well so don't worry, they're coming! But for now I have to say good morning to everyone back at home, good afternoon to all of you in between and good night to everyone in Oz.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Whole New World

Stats so far
A day and a half : the amount of time that I've been in Melbourne
A week : how long I should have been here for the amount of new things and info I've picked up
14 hours : amount of jetlag that I'm trying to manage
2 Australian guys : my new roommates (also the only people here that know much about me at all)
UK students : some of my new favourite people here, they're so funny!
40 : amount of countries represented at our exchange student orientation
3 : number of times I've gotten lost (even my good sense of direction can't help me when I don't know the city at all)
3 : number of types of public transit (trains, trams and buses, it's crazy!)

So the expression "separated by a common language" has become incredibly real to me here, it's quite entertaining. Here's come things I've learned
-rubbish : garbage (no one uses garbage here)
-petrol : car gas (if you say gas they assume bodily functions...not so good)
-mate : friend (actually used commonly, definitely need to pick up that one)
-robe : closet (you get really funny looks if you say closet)
-Coles : grocery store (not a book store like it is back home)
-Myki : Melbourne equivalent of Ottawa's presto card transit pass (scan every time you get on and off public transport, also way more expensive than it is back home because of the amount of transport services)
-ARF : Australian Rules Football (follow it, be loyal to your team, and you had better understand how its played...still working on all of those parts - it's nothing like football back home)
-snow skiing : skiing (if you don't put the snow in front they assume water skiing apparently)
-ice hockey : hockey (if you don't put the ice they assume field hockey, or as they call it grass hockey)
-cheers : bye, seeya later, talk to you later (actually spoken and not just used to sign off e-mails)
-how ya goin : what's up (when starting a conversation with it add "hey" in front)

And that is only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more that I can't even remember right now, I know this list is just going to keep getting longer and longer. It's quite fun to learn all of the expressions though! I definitely need to pick them up and start using them so I can come back to Canada with them. 

For now that's all, not to say I don't have a million things to write (I could probably get a pretty good novel going to recap the past few days) but I can't bear sitting at a computer inside writing today when I could be out exploring! I've got the afternoon off since registration was so fast this morning which means it's time to go buy some of my own sheet and pillows. Kmart here I weird buying this kind of stuff when I have perfectly good sets back in Canada. Then tonight we've got a walking tour of the Melbourne street art (beyond excited for that) and a trip to the casino/arcade complex in the city! So many things to do, the days just don't have enough hours for all the fun and adventures. More to come soon, and I promise I'll get on posting some photos as soon as I find all of my cables!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Let the Adventure Begin

Travel update #1, brought to you by my over tired self writing on the plane from Toronto to Vancouver... and posted from the Sydney airport thanks to their wonderful free wifi. 

This is one of those moments when my life doesn’t feel like it’s real. I’m currently sitting on an Air Canada 777 from Toronto en route to Sydney Australia (and then to Melbourne) with a brief stopover in Vancouver. Yes, that’s right, Sonia is finally going to Australia!!

For those of you who know me, or just happen to read this blog, this is probably not a surprise to you. This trip has been an long time coming; the paperwork process started back in September 2012, and it has been a content list of things to do since then. But it was all worth it in the end of course! However what only family and good friends know is that this has been a dream of mine since somewhere around grade 11 when I learned that exchange programs were actually not as impossible to achieve as I had previously thought. This has been one of those huge dreams of mine that I worked towards from that point onwards, knowing that I needed to keep my marks high and stay involved. I have to say, sitting here in the airplane with the setting sun outside of my window and the adventure of a lifetime just ahead of me, all of that hard work was more than worth it.

My check-in at the airport earlier this afternoon was definitely an adventure to say the least however. Here I was thinking I was so organized with my folder full of organized paperwork and tickets, boy was I wrong! Word of warning to anyone getting a work or study visa for another country: if you renew your passport after you have gotten your visa, it will not be transferred over to your new passport. You would think it would, but no, it does not! How do I know this you might ask? Well being a good little citizen I renewed my passport a few weeks ago because it was due to expire less than 6 months after I would be returning to the country. The problem was that I applied for my Australian visa with my old passport about 2 months ago, because I was told to do it months in advance because of processing time. Other word of advice: getting an Australian student visa from Canada is incredibly painless, it takes about an hour to fill out the form but you get your visa within a few days if it’s done properly! So I get to the airport with all of my visa paperwork and ticket information, and for some reason when they’re scanning my passport there is no visa showing up. New passport problems-it wasn’t connected to the old one. And normally you get to keep your old passport, in which case they would have been able to scan that one and all would have been well, however I got some new employee when I renewed my passport and she insisted that it needed to be shredded. Thank you passport Canada for that one. Luckily though, because most Australian visa’s are able to be done online, the people at the airport desks can actually put through a new visa for you right then and then, problem solved! Hopefully. I don’t want to jinx it by saying it’s all good until I’m standing on the other side of Australian customs at the airport. Problem number 2, go figure, was overweight baggage. It is so bloody hard to pack for 6 months in just a few suitcases! I had accepted the fact that there was no way I would be able to get it all into my one allotted checked baggage and would need at least 1 or 2 more, but I had not planned on them being overweight. Thank goodness I ended up getting a wonderfully helpful ticket agent who helped me manage the weight between the bags which took the extra charges down to a much smaller sum. Not to say it wasn’t a decent charge, but some battles you just can’t win!

Okay, so check-in adventures aside, I finally made it to the gate to catch my flight from Ottawa to Toronto. Somewhat ironically security was an absolute breeze to get through. A combination of an very efficient security crew and the fact that I have become a master at packing/dressing to get through security as painlessly as possible (leggings and a long shirt means no pockets or metal). I can’t actually remember the last time I flew to Toronto, or had a flight that short for that matter so it was pretty entertaining to start descending about 15 minutes after we had reached altitude. Gotta love short hops on efficient planes! Had a few hours in Toronto to browse the shops (so many more than Ottawa) and stretch my legs (the extremely long flight to Sydney looms ahead of me) and get some food which was quite nice. You forget to eat sometimes in all the last minute packing and it struck me all of a sudden why I felt like i was about to pass out at 6pm, I hadn't eaten anything since early in the morning! It’s a good thing that I didn’t have to talk to many people until I got food in me though, I tend to get “hangry” (hungry angry) at a certain point and having to make polite small talk with people usually does not bode well. I did have two wonderful older ladies sitting next to me though en route to vegas (you go girls!) who wanted to hear all about what my future life was going to be like down under.

That actually got me thinking, what is my life going to be like down there? I actually don’t have an answer for that one. Which is kind of nice actually, the promise of a blank canvas full of possibilities that are yet to be decided is amazing! I’ve had some many people tell me I must be so scared or nervous about going to a foreign country all alone to a life that is a completely strange concept to me. That question always catches me off guard because that is the exact opposite of what I have been thinking and feeling! I guess that’s just my personality, but excitement and happiness have always been the dominant feelings as my departure date got closer, not anxiety and fear. I would be lying to say there wasn’t a whole lot of stress and craziness leading up to it, but hey everyone needs a little bit of chaos sometimes. It’s when people ask that kind of things that you realize some of your more dominant personality traits; independent, adventurous and determined seemed to be what everyone was always telling me about my attitude towards all of that. I mean yes, I’m going to be on the other side of the world from all of the people I love and am used to seeing all the time, but it’s not like I won’t be able to talk to them. Skype is an absolutely wonderful invention, snapchat fills in the hole for people you can’t text and of course there’s always e-mail and facebook! We are so blessed to live in a time with so many means of communication. Now all of that is not to say it isn’t hard to leave everyone behind. There has been quite a few tears shed and countess tight hugs the past weeks that were difficult to say the least. But, as I tell people, it’s not like I’m moving there forever, I’ll be back in January! You won’t even have time to miss me before I’m back. 

However now I have to give into my ever drooping eyelids and try and take a nap. So this is the end of the surprisingly long first travel update! I will try my best to get another one done on the flight to Sydney, considering I’ve got 15 hours to kill that shouldn’t be too hard. 

Also as a side note, being the photography junkie that I am there will probably be many pictures posted on here both with and without posts to accompany them. I find most of the time the good old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" is dead on. Once I have gotten settled in Melbourne and will have all my camera cables and such I'll upload the ones from the trip over!