The Two-Step Program

January 11, 2012

Finally, this is the last post. I’ve boarded my plane, reached my destination of home, and am back in the United States. My study abroad is over. But really, it doesn’t feel like it is. I think one of the hardest parts about studying abroad really is the end; the part where you leave the country you spent a significant portion of your life in. Once you get home, it hits you that you’ve just left the country, school, and friends you had just started calling your own. You start to realize that you really were in another country (in this case, halfway around the world) and going back to visit just isn’t something our current level of human technology makes simple or cheap.

Ironically enough, going home can make you feel…well, homesick. The thing about studying abroad is that no matter where you go, you throw yourself into a completely new environment. You toss away any foundation of who you are or friends you have or what you know and get to find out who you are without everything else you’re so used to identifying you. You throw away all the labels and, regardless of your experience, you realize that it’s something you’ll never forget.

I finally understand how those people from “Lost” felt. Even though they were almost murdered countless times in the most incredulous ways, they would always feel a connection to that insane place they spent a portion of their lives in. Now, I’m not saying that my experience in Australia was equal to that of being on a deserted island. But even looking back at those  low points (few and far between), I can still laugh, smile and feel some sense of wistfulness.

With that said, I have made my own patented guide to cope with returning.

Dear (insert name of study abroad student here),

(Mike), you have just returned from your study abroad experience. At times, you may feel it will be hard to cope. Therefore, someone has composed this multi-step guide for your benefit.

1. Although modern technology has yet to provide us with teleportation devices, molecular destabilizers, etc., it has provided us with Facebook and Skype. It makes keeping in touch much simpler. And though you may want to cut off your entire trip’s existence altogether to make it easier on yourself, your trip happened, so deal with it and cherish it. Miss your friends and keep in touch — it’s normal. And didn’t you make friends who are back in America now, too? Keep in touch with them as well; you can reminisce together.

2.  Refer to step 1.

With this guide, my study abroad trip really does come to an end. However, the experience really never does quite end.

P.S. Here’s that other guide I promised you– Mike’s Guide to Australian Phrases:

Arvo – Afternoon
Mate 1: Sorry mate, I don’t do the whole arvo tea thing.
Oi: An expression or interjection similar to that of “yo” or “Hey you”
Mate 1: Oi! Get over here mate, the footie game’s about to start!
Cheers
– much like the cheers said at a toast, but can also be used as a response to an act of kindness you have received.
Mate 1: I’ll get the door, mate
Mate 2: Ah, cheers, mate
Mate: A friend or acquaintance
Barrack: To cheer or support, especially an AFL Team
Mate 1: Hey mate, who do ya barrack for?
Mate 2: I barrack for the Essendon Bombers of course!
AFL: abbreviation used to refer to the Australian Football League where Australian Rules football is played
Footie: Another abbreviation used to refer to Australian rules football
Mark: A catch, used especially in AFL
Mate 1: If he had made that last mark, he would have been close enough to score and win the game!
Speckie: A spectacular mark in AFL
Mate 1: Did you see that speckie?! He got on that other bloke’s shoulders to mark that!
Bloke: another term for a man, similar usage to dude
Sheila:  Another term for a girl or a woman
Snags: another name for sausages
Get on ye mate: an expression used to express a job well done to another person
Mate 1: I finally did it! I spoke to that Shelia I’d been telling you about!
Mate 2: Ey! Get on ye mate!
No worries: an expression similar to that of “not a problem”
Mate 1: I’ll get the door mate
Mate 2: Ah, cheers mate
Mate 1: No worries
Thongs: flip flops
Troll: a prank or a joke
Zed: The letter z


The Last Supper

December 14, 2011

The semester was coming to a close. At this point, finals were done, summer had begun (remember, Australian seasons are backwards from the US) and, sadly, many people, like myself, were preparing to go home. That meant that a plethora of last hurrah’s would have to be packed into the few days remaining before I would return to a cold winter.

Study abroad is filled with expectations. Some are met and, conversely, some are not. But sometimes, maybe even more often than not, it is the things you least expect to meet your expectations that do. Sometimes it is the events you happen upon by chance that leave a firm imprint in your memory.

And sometimes, it is the things you go to out of obligation that become the moments you’ll never forget. I remember getting a text message from my friend coaxing me to come out as it was his last night in Australia, the same night I had already said yes to my final taekwondo dinner. This would be one of my last opportunities to hang out with the taekwondo club, the club that helped me to find my place here. At the same time, this would be my last night in Australia to hang out with a close friend I had made. So, I figured we could just put the night plans on hold and at least go to the team dinner first. They had made a tertiary reservation for my friend because, after spring breaks shenanigans and my midlife taekwondo crisis, he decided he would come to the last few practices that were left. And so we decided we would both go to the dinner and put our plans on hold until later.

What proceeded were the shenanigans and inside jokes I had loved come to live with and would soon have to learn to live without. I could easily say we were having a great time. Soon the dinner was coming to a close and final speeches were made for graduating presidents and jobs well done by coaches. And then a speech was made…for me. A speech was made and a gift was given to the exchange student who had been a part of the club for barely half a semester. People applauded and thanked…me. I was dumbfounded. I was speechless. Most of all, I was touched, sincerely. At that point I didn’t know what to say, but I had to say something so I stood up and spoke. I thanked everyone for being so welcoming and really making me feel like a part of the team. I thanked everyone for treating me like a family and really being my closest friends while I was abroad. And, as I was talking, I realized that all these things that rushed to my head that I just repeated without hesitation were completely true. In a nutshell, these people really helped to make my experience what it was and I can confidently say it would not be the same otherwise. Even days before I left, days after finals, I was still learning. And thus, things you expect to occur do not always do. However, sometimes, those expected things that don’t occur, or the expected one’s that do, make your situation better than you could have possibly imagined.


Sydney Adventures

December 14, 2011

So they say the human attention span limits our ability to focus for extended periods of time. That’s why experts recommend that about every two hours you deserve a 45 minute study break in order to refresh your mind. You know what? I value expert opinions. I mean, after all, they are called experts for a reason. So before my last exam I figured I’d take my study break. But, since I had been studying and writing essays for the past two weeks, I figured that, mathematically, I need a break proportionate to the amount of work I had been doing. And that’s how I justified my one week vacation to Sydney before my last exam. A few other spiders studying at University of Melbourne and I went off to Sydney to stay with a few Spiders studying there. And thus, we were spreading our spider web over Australia…because we’re spiders. Spiders spin web. And that, my friends, is almost definitely the last Richmond Spiders pun I will make.

Anyway, a few friends of ours from Richmond offered to let us stay with them in Sydney. What’s nice is we’re getting an opportunity to see what it’s like at other universities in Australia. They live on campus at their university, but much like University of Melbourne it is very much a commuter school. Still, the smaller minority who live on campus is proportionate to the size of the entire student population. So, there are about 1000 students living here at a time.

The city of Sydney is incredible. We took time to visit some of the famous touristy areas like the opera house and the royal botanic gardens. Before we left to venture out into the nightlife of Sydney, we had to decide whether we would try to catch the last night train, or wait until they started again in the morning. And that’s when I realized you reach a point in life where you tell yourself that all-nighters are over-rated. You come to believe and accept that, after countless late night study sessions and written-in-one-night papers, nothing really special happens at the break of dawn other than a weird bodily sensation of fatigue that you can’t really differentiate between “just woke up” fatigue and “it’s really time for me to go to bed but I’ve had too much caffeine” fatigue.

So, like back at school, we decided that we would catch the last train, feeling that we had outgrown the all-nighter phase. And with that decision, we learned another very important lesson. Some decisions don’t go the way you plan them to. Sometimes, because of things like track work on trains, a changed bus schedule and a very convincing argument that there will be a second “last train”, you just don’t get to avoid the all-nighter…And sometimes you don’t get to avoid it three times in a row. Now, as much as I would love to say that the incredible people we met at 4:30 in the morning showed us a different part of Sydney that I will personally hold dear forever, I can’t, mainly because everyone else was asleep at 4:30 in the morning. What was incredible, though, was the way friends can make up games to keep themselves entertained for hours until the trains start running again. I guess that’s when the creativity kicks in. But you definitely find out who you can and cannot deal with after four hours in the Australian version of Burger King. And I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome.


The Story With a Moral

December 7, 2011

My first in-class exam was in Intermediate Macroeconomics, and I was slightly terrified.

After my three days of non-stop studying (minus the bathroom breaks and nap breaks and food breaks… and Facebook breaks and TV breaks including, but not limited to, Dexter, Community and How I Met Your Mother), I was as ready as I would ever be to take this exam.  I decided I would get there relatively early, and this meant that I would get 15 minutes of reading time before the exam began, almost like a bonus for being early. I was ready to go. I had my pre-exam cup of coffee. I had pencils, pens and a calculator. I was wearing pants, unlike most typical pre-exam nightmares.  The only thing I hadn’t done was the pre-exam workout my housemate had suggested, but I figured I could do without the morning jog.

I went to the general exam hall 15 minutes early, and I learned three very important lessons. Lesson number one: not all exams are held on campus, apparently. Lesson number two: my exam that day was not held on campus. Lesson number three: I would get that pre-exam workout my housemate suggested. After asking around and discovering that my exam was a solid five blocks away from campus, I ran for my life.

When I finally got there, not only did I fail to arrive 15 minutes early, I was 15 minutes late. I jumped into my chair as the gears in my brain jumped into double overtime. I was wide awake at that point, and scribbling answers as fast as I could. I glared at test proctors as they distracted me from my exam by reminding me to fill out insignificant information like my name and student ID number. Sweat was racing down my face as if my eyes were the finish line, forcing me to waste time to clear my vision.

However, at last, I finished without a second to spare and not a second to double-check. I walked out of that exam hall to a shining sun and warm happy smiles all around. The moral of the story is…well… I don’t think it has anything to do with morning jogging, really. Maybe the moral is… “directions a day keep the lost and tardy away!” Okay, you know what? We’ll just go with the moral: “In life, the unexpected occurs.” So, in preparation, be prepared to be unprepared, because preparing can only help you to prepare for that which can be prepared for.


Level 13 Academic Warrior

November 14, 2011

Lately, a large portion of my collected fan mail has been flooded with requests for me to describe how different schooling is in Melbourne in comparison to Richmond. So, I figured that now, during the exam period, is a perfect a time to fill you in.

First off, the University of Melbourne is held in pretty high regard. It’s prestigious in Australia, and I think about 40,000 students attend school here. That’s about ten times what I’m used to at the University of Richmond. Classes are divided into lectures, which equal one professor teaching an auditorium full of 200+ students — for a little more than an hour if you’re lucky, and for two hours if you’re not. Unlike Richmond, the lectures are so big there’s no way they can actually take attendance. That would probably take about the entire lecture to complete. So, of course, if a few students don’t show up, a lecturer won’t notice. On the other hand, like in my Human Rights in East Asia class, if only 24 students show up to a lecture of 100, the professor has a pretty good idea that some people aren’t showing up. Also, classes are called subjects here, and subjects are called courses (Note: be on the lookout for an upcoming Australian to American English lingo translation guide).

Anyway, university here taught me a few very important lessons.

Number one: there is no actual cap or regulation on the amount of red ink that can be used while grading a paper.

Number two: the grading system starts a lot lower here than it does back in America, so the category for failing is consequently a lot lower.

Number three: in a panic attack induced from receiving a very low grade, refer to number two.

Number four: even though classes here are pass or fail, grades still made a difference to me. I’m not sure if it’s some sort of self-instilled personal high standard, or simply a way of judging my own abilities, but I still wanted to do well. At the same time, it taught me to do something because I wanted to, not because I had to. After skipping a few lectures, I realized that I would only have one opportunity to see education from this non-American point of view. This would be my only chance to see, in a completely unbiased manner, how other countries see the United States. As soon as I started listening, I realized how incredible of an experience that was. There was now this new category of an “American perspective,” and it drove me to learn everything I could. It really is an experience I can’t quite put into words, but if I tried, I’d say it’s one that’s worth it.


I’m Getting Too Old For This

October 31, 2011

Flashback:

Before I went to Richmond, back in the good old days of my prime, I used to do Taekwondo. And this wasn’t just your normal, calming, finding your center, peaceful and beautiful Taekwondo. This was training for hours a day, grab some shin guards and a mouthpiece, jump in a ring and have six minutes to go all-out karate-kid on the person in front of you Taekwondo.

In high school, this was my sport and my passion. We were a team that traveled across the country together, trained together, won together, lost together and cheered for each other every chance we could. Unfortunately, when I left that summer in August for Richmond, I knew that I would be saying goodbye to a huge part of my life and some very important people. I knew Richmond didn’t have a Taekwondo club, and though I was ambitious to start one, I never quite found the time. But when I came to Melbourne to study abroad, I heard of a Taekwondo club here.

Believe me, I was skeptical at first. I knew it would be nothing like my own Taekwondo dojang back home. Actually, some part of me was reluctant to go at all. I think that somewhere inside, I wanted to preserve the pure memories I had from high school and avoid the risk of contamination that would occur if this new club failed to meet my expectations. But, through a series of unfortunate events that left me without a laptop, extracurricular activities and a social life, I decided I would check this Taekwondo club out.

I showed up on that Tuesday, and found it to be the calming, finding your center, peaceful and beautiful Taekwondo I wasn’t looking for. Five minutes after going to that first class and introducing myself to all these people who were eager to meet me, I knew I wouldn’t be going back. However, some good did come out of it. I had discovered that there was a more competitive advanced club that met on Wednesdays and Fridays. It sounded more like what I was looking for, but I couldn’t be sure. Still, it couldn’t get any worse than this– or at least that’s what I told myself.

I went to that Wednesday training, and to my amazement, it was so nostalgic. The stretches were the same, the drills were the same, and even the atmosphere was similar. Despite the fact that my legs were so sore the next day that I couldn’t walk… in fact, because my legs were so sore the next day that I couldn’t walk, I knew that I would be going back twice a week, every week. In the first five minutes of that class, I knew I had found exactly what I was looking for, and that, even though the semester was halfway over, I would make friends that would change my study abroad experience.

Flash Forward:

Gold Coast, as much as it was an opportunity for a break from schoolwork, was also an opportunity to compete in the Australian University Games. I had been training for the last two months to compete, and maintaining a lower weight than normal in order to compete in a weight class more suited to my strengths. It was just like old times. So, while I went to places like Pancake Paradise with my friends and they chowed down pancakes piled high with whipped cream and maple syrup… I nibbled on a slice of pineapple, half a tomato, toast, and the green leafy decoration stuff it came with. Still, I was happy.

I got to the tournament with the Taekwondo team who came later that week, and I could not wait for my first match. I was fighting in the same black belt division I used to, and I heard there was some very good competition. I even heard there was an Olympic-level fighter whom everyone was talking about. When I was finally called to fight, I discovered that, out of all the fighters, the Olympic-level fighter was my first match…and that he was about six inches taller than me. Even so, I was confident. I used to fight guys like these all the time. It was no big deal. I walked into the ring for the first of three two-minute rounds.

Now, in my last blog entry, I told you that Gold Coast was loaded with extraordinary adventures filled with panic and crisis. And, because I am a man of my word, here it is. After the first minute of that round, I was already tired. After the first minute and thirty seconds, I was exhausted and just trying to catch my breath. Cutting weight had cut my stamina, and this guy looked like he was still warming up. I had been training for the past two months, but this guy had been training consistently for years. I trained twice a week. The days that he hadn’t trained in the past year probably didn’t even add up to two weeks.

It was at this point in my life, at the ripened age of twenty, that I finally understood what a “midlife crisis” was. I couldn’t just get up and try to fight these youthful people out of nowhere. This guy was not only in better shape than me, but he was also on a higher level. This is the point in my tale where I would like to introduce the panic and crisis. If any of you were, in fact, wondering where it was, no need to fear…I did that enough for all of us. But my pride, the thing that was the source of this “midlife crisis”, told me that I couldn’t just quit. No matter how tired, how defeated, I had to finish that match and do it in one piece.

Long story short, I finished the match. I lost pretty badly, but I walked off that mat with my own two feet and my head held high. I think, in retrospect, that match taught me a lot. As much as Taekwondo had always been about the competition for me, it was equally about those important people who I trained with. As I walked off that mat, I had a team of people to pat me on the back and praise my hard work. I had people to laugh with the next day as I watched the recorded video. I had teammates to cheer on to victory, even if I couldn’t reach it myself. Maybe, just maybe, when I get back to Richmond, I’ll find some time to start that Taekwondo club. You know what they say… better late than never.


The Traveler’s Guide to Hitchhiking the Gold Coast

October 24, 2011

It was finally that time– the time that students worldwide wait for in anticipation. Well, it was the time that students worldwide wait for in anticipation, if you don’t include summer break. Okay, not including summer break and not including winter break, it is by far the most highly anticipated vacation of the academic year. And because things work quite differently in the southern hemisphere, it had come much earlier than expected. It was spring break.

I had made plans to go to the Gold Coast of Australia with two of our very own Spiders also studying abroad in Melbourne. We were staying at a place called Backpackers in Paradise, located in a neighborhood called Surfer’s Paradise, which happened to be walking distance from the beach. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?  If a picture’s worth 1000 words, and this was picture perfect, how many words was Backpackers in Paradise worth? If you answered anything other than zero, unfortunately, you are incorrect.

Contrary to popular belief, modern forms of currency do not include payment in the forms of words or letters. After drifting away from the gold standard in the post World War II era, currency took the form of bills, commonly referred to as notes, and coins. Additionally, if expressions were measured in words, then speechless would equal zero. And speechless is what we were when we realized we would be living and sharing a bathroom with eleven other people, not including the three of us.

If you have never seen fourteen people share a bathroom together, it is nothing less than amazing. It requires both timing that is unheard of and an adjusting of sleep schedules that would equal forcing Dracula, a seven-year-old child, and a caterpillar in a cocoon to sleep at the same time. Surprisingly enough, we managed to rarely, if ever, have problems with the bathroom. Regrettably, we were not as fortunate in consolidating sleep schedules.

Regardless, the Gold Coast managed to live up to its name. The weather was incredible, people were at the beach everyday, and club promoters and their bargain deals had to be subdued with a two meter pole (preferably wooden, to mitigate permanent damage) with all the discounts and free coupons they offered. Additionally, the hostel we stayed at seemed to get new people every day. Students participating in the University Games (which I will explain in a later blog) came in dozens. How could this dream-like paradise possibly go wrong?

The second day at the beach, when we were well-rested enough to properly understand the grave mistake we had just made, we understood the grave mistake we had just made. We looked at one another in horror as we realized that no one had a football. The core of all beach-like activity was not present. We would be deprived of the pure foundation of waterside entertainment, American football. We quickly checked our backup, plan-B option. No Frisbee. We were doomed.

Then, as if it were a gift sent from above, we saw it. There, before us, was an American football in Australia. Long story short, we not only got to use the football, but we also made some new friends. Our day was a success, and those to come would be filled with panic and crisis. But, more on that next time.


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