A journey worth taking

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, blokes and sheilas, I have successfully completed my academic career at Bond University. That’s right, I am no longer a student at Bond Uni, as I will be returning to High Point in January. I am very excited to return back to my home university, but at the same time I will miss a lot about Australia. My time living in Queensland has truly been a journey that was simply “worth it.” I find it funny to think that at this time in 2011, I was finishing up my exams at HPU with no idea that I would not be taking any fall semester exams. Rather, I would be completing my second consecutive spring semester, with a third one upcoming.

As I recall, it was around Christmas time last year that I began to seriously entertaining the idea of studying in Australia. Since I was in high school, I knew that I wanted to study outside of the United States for a semester. I had seen both of my older brothers travel to the likes of Chile, Haiti, and Argentina, and I was pretty confident that I would follow in their footsteps. I do not mean that I wanted to study in any of those countries, but I knew a semester abroad was a life changing adventure I would almost certainly embark on. But where? Well, due to my 6 years of failure in an attempt to grasp the Spanish language, or any other foreign language for that matter, that certainly steered me away from a great number of countries. I am also admittedly very impatient when it comes to learning a new language. You are probably thinking that I am missing part of the study abroad uncertainty and adventure aspects that are often involved. And you might be right.

Although I did entertain the idea of studying in South Africa, which has tons of English speakers, I was pretty set on Australia from the start. It is a place that I had dreamed of visiting for my entire childhood, and this was my change to make it a reality. Although I did have lots of questions about what my time here would be like, I was ready to hop on the plane in April, when I got accepted. It’s funny how the 15 weeks leading up seemed twice as long as the 15 weeks I have been fortunate enough to spend in Oz.

Now that my time here is coming to an end, it is easy to say that I made a great decision to move down under. To be cliché, I will cherish the memories and friendships I have made here. A few events stand out to me as my favorite moments in the past 3.5 months, and shockingly none of them took place in a classroom or the library. Having the opportunity to vacation to the Great Barrier Reef and swim with amazing animals in some of the clearest and most beautiful water on the planet will certainly be a lasting memory. Also, my trip to Sydney was an amazing few days filled with some of my favorite memories (show in the Opera House, Harbour tour, Bondi Beach, etc…).

With all of this being said, I would be remiss if I did not thank the people who made this possible for me. They would be my incredible parents! Thank you Mom and Dad for your complete support of my moving to Australia. Although I’m sure it is not easy to send your child to another country for such a long time (although Ryan and Chris gave you 2 trial runs each), I thank you for allowing me to live this dream. I hope that you guys get the chance to visit Australia one day, and if so, that you bring me along.

Well, this brings us to the end. It is a bittersweet farewell, as I will dearly miss many of the things that reside in the place I have called home since September. That being said, I am certainly ready to get back to mainland living as I have spent the last 6 months living on two different islands. Thank you to everyone who has kept up with my blog, I hope I was able to deliver you some interesting stuff about my time in Australia. I have really enjoyed my first official blogging experience and I plan on starting a full time blog in the near future.

I will leave you with a few things that I have learned about this crazy place the locals call ‘Straya.

1-Bats here are not little fruit bats, they are more like birds of prey

2-The Aussie countryside and national parks are immaculate

3-The Great Barrier Reef is a mini slice of heaven

4-It is possible to survive without ESPN, although it never hurts to have it

5-Everyone should have the pleasure of visiting the Sydney Harbour

6-The sun is hotter here, something to do with the ozone layer

7-Kobe is the athlete of choice for Gold Coast residents

8-Kangaroos do in fact exist

9-There are 10 million more people in the greater Tokyo area than there are in all of Oz

10-Trivia is easier with a culturally diverse team

11-Don’t order the BBQ Pork… just don’t

12-You can survive on public transportation, although it takes some planning ahead

13-Music is truly the ultimate cross-culture language

14-You learn a lot about what you actually believe when you get out of your little bubble

15-I want go to New Zealand before I die

16-The way we do things in America is not always the best or right way to do things, although we tend to think so.

17-“Good on ya” is a sarcastic term

18-Everyone says mate, not just a stereotype

Here is a compilation of some of my favorite pictures from my time in ‘Straya.

Cheers!

Joel

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The end is near

Alright, a lot has happened in the last couple of weeks so I will do my best to fill y’all in. First off, classes finished up last Thursday and I successfully turned in all of my assignments, on time, and even knocked out my first exam of four. My next 3 exams are in the coming week, and I cannot wait to be completely finished with my semester, well educationally at least. Insert random thought, I am craving an Arnold Palmer like crazy at this exact moment. I digress, it is extremely difficult to even think about studying, not to mention actually picking up my notes and stuffing all sorts of facts in my brain for a 2-hour test.

As far as the fun and adventurous stuff is concerned, there has been plenty of that since I last posted. In fact, there has been so much going on that I’m sure I will forget something. 2 weekends ago a group of us went on a rainforest/countryside/wildlife tour to get a glimpse of the “real” Australia. Our first stop was Lamington Nation Park, which is southwest from the Gold Coast. Here I had the chance to sit inside a tree, walk on a swinging bridge and climb some sweet trees. There were a lot of wild birds, including some that enjoyed eating out of your hand. We enjoyed some morning tea and snacks before heading on a drive through the countryside.

On this drive, we saw several kangaroos, wallabies, mountains, cliffs, and other beautiful parts of this incredible island. We enjoyed some off road 4-wheel driving as well which is always a good time. I got to take in some breathtaking views and see what a traditional Aussie farm really is. The other main stop that we took was at Springbrook National Park, the set for Spielberg’s TV show Terra Nova. Sprignbrook is one of my favorite places in Australia. On this tour we only spent about an hour at Springbrook, as we saw the Natural Arch, home to many glow worms, which has a waterfall running through the middle of it. The Natural Arch was certainly a sight to behold.

A few days later, six of us rented a car and set off for the Currumbin Rock Pools. Here you can relax beside the water and jump off of some boulders that hang over the stream. This is a popular place to get your blood pumping by jumping off the rocks, and that’s exactly what I did. From there, we drove to another section of Springbrook Nation Park and found a few more swimming holes. This section of Springbrook quickly became my favorite natural area in Australia. There is a swimming hole, a little bigger than a hot tub, in between two waterfalls that you can kick it in. Or, that you can slide into. I decided to do both. Check out this video of my first attempt (I moved up higher on the rock after the first run went well). The waterfall that feeds into the swimming area goes down a slick rock, which makes for a perfect slide. For lack of better words, it was freaking awesome.

The last few days were spent in Byron Bay, New South Wales. This was a great chance to get away from Bond Uni and just relax, because life on campus is so stressful. Wade, Jared, Lauren, Alice, Lara, Shauna, and I rented a villa in Byron and we had a blast. We made several homemade meals, played trivial pursuit, watched Shark Week, and soaked up the sun. Did I mention that there was a pool in the back yard? Yeah, there was. Oh and the Pacific Ocean just across the street and a short walk through a National Forest away. The majority of the time spent in Byron consisted of relaxing, swimming, and eating. But what might have been the highlight for me came on Monday, when Jared and I teed it up on the links at Byron Bay Golf Club. I can now say that I played golf in Australia, which is dream come true for me. And considering my 3-month break from the game, I played quite well which was a bonus. A close second was hiking from the lighthouse to the most easterly point in Australia. I also knocked out some more gift purchasing, along with picking up a few toys for myself. I really hope I can get everything back home with me on the airplane, but I’m sure I’ll find a way.

I want to give a few shout outs to some people. First and most importantly, my little sisters, Sarah Grace and Hannah, to let you girls know how much I miss you. I put both of your pictures in my wallet and I smile every time I open it. You two truly are a blessing in my life and I love you very much! Can’t wait to see you on December 22, hopefully at the airport if Mommy and Daddy will let you stay up a little later than normal. Another shout out to all of my friends at HPU, I hope that you all do well on exams this week and have a fantastic Christmas break. Can’t wait to see you guys in January. Lastly, my man Evan who is studying in Finland and won’t be home for Christmas. But don’t feel too bad for him, he just got to see the Northern lights, dogsled, snowboard, and ride snow mobiles.

This semester has been such an incredible experience and something that I will remember for a long time to come. I have still yet to hear a Christmas song, see a snowflake, or wear a jacket this December. But getting a little sunburned, that I have experienced this December. I hope everyone is staying warm, although I heard it has been a bit warmer in NC the last few days.

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No Turkey, No Problem

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Writing this blog is taking every little bit of brainpower that I have remaining today, but I am excited to report on my last couple of weeks. Well, last week was not the most exciting of weeks, in fact it was rather mundane, so I’m going to skip it. This week however was far from boring. As all of you know, Australia does not celebrate Thanksgiving, so I was stuck going to class all week. On top of that, I had/have 4 final projects due, which has really made for an eventful Thanksgiving week. Luckily, as I type to you, I have completed and turned in 3 of those projects, leaving that dreaded last graded assignment of the semester yet to finish. This has been one of the tougher weeks in my academic career, highlighted by the fact that all of my family and friends back home are kicking back, enjoying the holiday. I will not take mid-semester breaks for granted anymore as they truly are rejuvenating and a great stress reliever.

Okay that’s enough of that little pity party. In between all of the research and keyboard pecking there were plenty of good moments. I have realized that no matter how much work there is to be done, there is always time for beach volleyball and swimming. I have played volleyball nearly everyday the past couple of weeks as summer is quickly approaching. It’s a great stress reliever and heaps of fun. Volleyball is always followed by a dip in the pool to cool off and catch a few more rays. No better way to forget about Uni for a couple of hours.

Yesterday a group of 40+ people from at least a dozen countries gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving. The non-American’s loved it just as much as we did, because in Australia you can use anything as an excuse to have a party. That being said, it was really neat to celebrate with everyone from different cultures. Dinner was a potluck style buffet with all sorts of dishes from each person’s home country. This was a fantastic meal and evening that was unlike anything I have ever been a part of. There was no turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberries, or mashed potatoes.  So what was there? Well, dishes from Australia, America, Nigeria, Germany, Sweden, China, England, Norway, etc… It was fantastic! I wanted to try everything, but it would have been impossible. A few items that stood out were kangaroo, African pasta, and my personal favorite, Sweet Potato Casserole! I also ate several mystery dishes and honestly liked each of them.

I was the lame American who brought pre-packaged rolls, only to be outdone by someone else who made warm garlic bread. I wasn’t too upset though. While we all crammed copious amounts of food in our mouths, people would stand on their chair and say what they were thankful for. The night was a fantastic and unique experience that will stick with me for many years to come.

Although I do wish I could have been in the North Carolina Mountains with my family, this was not a bad alternate. I hope that everyone had a phenomenal, relaxing, and fattening Thanksgiving! I also hope you all get some sweet Black Friday deals, as I’m sure Mark Wilson will be first in line at some clothing store. I swear my Dad has never bought a clothing item that wasn’t on sale. It is crazy to think that I will be on a plane home in less than a month. I seriously can’t wait to see everyone when I get back. Miss y’all!

There are a lot more pictures that other people haven’t uploaded yet, but these are just a few that I took. Oh and I rocked the mustache for 2 days for MOvember. It was hideous. 

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Cricket, Wicket, and a Train Ticket

Well, a few days ago when I promised another blog post, I assumed I would be discussing my recent trip to the Gondwana Rainforest. Unfortunately, the weather forecast prevented our group from going on our much anticipated day trip. Oh and did I mention, it ended up being partly cloudy and 72 degrees? You win some you lose some. Hopefully we will find another day to go, and I will in fact be able to tell you all about that trip. But since I promised all 12 of my readers, whom I appreciate greatly, a Sunday post, I could not let you all down.

Rainforest disappointment aside, this weekend was not too terrible. I have found that having no class of Friday is quite a treat, and I look forward to that same treat next semester. 3-day weekends allow for a lot more time (obviously) to have fun and get schoolwork done. This particular 3-day weekend, was spent watching sports, buying gifts, and writing essays. Friday, a group of us headed north to Brisbane, aboard the train, to watch day one of a 5 day Cricket Test Match between South Africa and Australia. Yes, you read that correctly, Cricket takes 5 full days to play. I will not fool any of you, Cricket is not the most adrenaline rushing sport out there. Frankly, it makes little league baseball seem fast paced.

This does not mean that I didn’t enjoy watching a couple of hours of the match. In fact, I took the opportunity to learn the rules and actually understand what was going on. I found that to be the most exciting part. We were lucky enough to see Australia make an out just after the lunch break, which is a big deal in a 5 day match. I can now officially say that I have been to an international Cricket match, so that in itself made the trip worth it. Apparently there are also 1 day and 3 hour matches that provide a lot more excitement, so maybe I will have to check one of those games out sometime.

After leaving the match, we headed for downtown Brisbane, which is a neat area. We spent some time just walking around town before we all decided to do some Christmas shopping. This is where the fun began. Honestly, I could have walked out of that store with one of everything. This was a nice change, as I usually struggle to buy family gifts, especially you Dad, but not this year. I wanted to buy it all. After spending a long time deliberating, I walked out satisfied.

Following shopping hour, we walked around a bit more and then headed back to campus on the train. You may remember me discussing a past experience on the train home from Brisbane, but this time we were able to dodge that nasty bullet.

The rest of my weekend was spent writing final reports and papers. It is crazy to think that in only two weeks I will be done with all of my semester’s work and exams will be the only thing remaining, which are two weeks after that. On another note, if anyone is feeling so generous, and wants to somehow mail me a fresh Chipotle chicken burrito, I will owe you big time. I miss American food quite a bit. I hope all is well wherever you may be reading this post. Happy November 11! It is a good day, trust me, I’m 15 hours in the future.     

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Brief Update

I apologize for not updating this more often, but things have gotten very busy with school rapidly coming to a close in a few weeks. I wanted to update you all on my last couple of weeks though. The week after my return from Sydney I received a nice little wake up call, realizing just how much work I had to do before the end of November (end of classes). I had a 40% presentation last Wednesday, which went well, along with several other little things I had to complete. Wednesday night was a lot of fun as I got to go to see one of my favorite bands, Mumford & Sons, here in Gold Coast. I had a blast seeing them for a second time.

Last Sunday my friend Kelli got baptized, which was really awesome. This baptism was not a “normal” baptism for me, frankly it was a bigger spectacle than any I have ever been to. In Australia they do baptisms big time. They are an all day event at the beach which includes soccer, rugby, swimming, rock climbing, hanging out, and of course a good ole Aussie BBQ. I really enjoyed meeting lots of new people and watching Kelli and several other new believers get baptized in the salt water. I did however slice my foot open pretty good on a piece of coral, but luckily the sharks didn’t attack. Oh and Jared got stung by a jelly fish. But what is an Aussie baptism without a few minor wounds?

This week I have a lot of work to do as there are 4 major assignments due in a weeks period, beginning next week. After that, 4 exams and several days off are all that stand between me and returning home. My time here has flown by, and I’m sure the next several weeks will be no different. I registered for my spring semester at High Point, which is always overly stressful, but I got all of the class I wanted. I do have a couple of fun adventures coming up this weekend, but you will have to check back around Sunday to read about those. Right-O, back to my studies I go.

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Sydney

I know it sounds cliché but, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did. I spent this weekend in Sydney, New South Wales and I honestly did not think I would get the chance to do as many interesting things as I was able to do. Of the many cities I have been fortunate enough to visit across the world, Sydney quickly became one of my favorites. I flew down with Wade, Jared, and Jared’s father who is in Australian on business. Flying domestically here is much easier than it is in the states. Flights are significantly cheaper, you don’t have to strip going through security, no identification is required (not sure if that is really good?), and the planes have more legroom. I was also fortunate enough to have an entire row to myself on the flight from OOL to SYD. Needless to say the trip was off a to solid start.

We arrived in Sydney on Thursday night at 10pm, took a cab to our hotel, grabbed some Maccas (McDonalds) and headed to bed. We stayed at the Marriott Harbour Hotel (courtesy of Mr. Grossman and the state of Virginia). While Jared and his dad had meetings to attend most of the day, Wade and I took full advantage of what the city had to offer. Our day began early at 8am, on a chilly overcast morning, as we made the short 2-block trek down to the beautiful Sydney Harbour. This is when the reality of being in Sydney really kicked in. As I took in the amazing sights that the harbour had to offer, I had to ask Wade if this was actually happening. Standing on the water’s edge looking at the Sydney Opera House and the massive Sydney Bridge, I honestly felt as if it was some sort of mirage. In my mind The Opera House has always been this mythical piece of architecture in a foreign land, but no longer. This foreign idea became a stunning reality, and I am not sure why it hit me so hard, but I felt like a child on Christmas morning.

Naturally, we had to go open our presents and see what was inside. As we made our way over to the ‘exploding sailboat’ (I mean, just look at it) we started snapping picture after picture. Since it was so early and cold outside, the place was rather vacant, which was a plus. I got several pictures taken with no other tourists to interfere. After the photo session ended, it was time to check out the building itself. First stop: the box office. Out of curiosity, we stopped at the box office just to get an idea of how much tickets were. Well, after some deliberating we decided that we had to go to a show, and that’s exactly what we did. We bought tickets to The Blue Planet, which is a live orchestra playing to the striking images of animals in the ocean. The show, which was on Saturday, was one of the most remarkable spectacles I have ever been to. It gave a very real sense of how marvelous, yet cruel, nature is, to the intense sound of a flawless orchestra. To sum the show up in one word, I would say it was captivating. I never thought I would attend a show in the Sydney Opera House in my lifetime, yet there I was.

Going back to Friday, Wade and I explored the city a bit and grabbed some lunch at a local café, which was phenomenal. That afternoon, we took a boat tour of the harbour. This was another spectacular part of the weekend, as we saw the skyline, Opera House, Sydney Bridge, and other sweet landscape from the water’s perspective. Friday evening, we rejoined with the Grossman’s and went to Blu Bar on 36, on the 36th floor of the Shangri-La Hotel, which over looked the harbour. This was one view that no matter how many words I use to describe it, justice will not be done. Astonishing!

Another early morning awaited us on Saturday as all four of us took the bus to famous Bondi Beach. This may ring a bell as I mentioned Bondi in a previous blog, being a fan of the Surf Life Saving reality show that takes place here. We walked around Bondi for a bit and took in the fantastic scenery that it offered, and also watched some rather impressive surfing take place. From Bondi, it was time to hit the Paddington Market. The market place was filled with several different hand made goods, mostly clothes, and other cool random stuff. I bought a few Christmas gifts for the family at Paddington, but obviously can’t discuss what they are. We left the market and headed for the Opera House to watch The Blue Planet, as I discussed earlier. In case you missed it the first time, the show was exceptional.

After a couple of action packed days, Saturday night was an early one. We went to a local Greek restaurant, which was quite good, and then called it a night. On Sunday, we made the quick 2-hour trip, via public transport, to Hillsong Church. Many of you may be familiar with Hillsong’s band, which is world renown. Hillsong was such an awesome experience, as we had each heard their music and even seen a couple of sermons online, but being there was so much better. If you haven’t heard their music, you should check it out. This was our last adventure in the greater Sydney area, and it was a fantastic finale. For those of you who have never been to Sydney, if you can ever find a way to make it there, GO. It really is a special place.

I want to end this blog a little differently; with a list of things I learned this weekend. Credit goes to Lara Parker as I am stealing this from idea her.

Things I learned: Nothing too insightful, but relavent nonetheless.

1-    Talk to people, it’s amazing what you can learn from them.

2-    Being in a cab, stuck at a red light is a terrible feeling. Tick, tick, tick.

3-    It is good to try new things. This includes experiences, food, drinks, etc…

4-    It is okay for me to spend money on stuff I normally wouldn’t. I mean, how many chances will I have to do these things in     Australia?

5-    Public transportation is not always true to its timetables.

6-    I walk way to fast. I need to slow down and enjoy the scenery.

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Living in the Moment

As I sit in my room and reflect of the first half of my time in Australia, I am struck by how quickly it has gone by. Thus far, my experience has been incredible and there never seems to be a dull moment. I’ve gone places that this time last year I would have never guessed I would visit, and plan to travel to even more. I have adapted to the Australian way of life, as I now naturally look right then left when crossing the road. I even move to the left side when someone is walking by. Oh, and I attended my first auto race this weekend, the Gold Coast 600 V8 Supercar race. So I would say that my Aussie experience to this point has been a memorable one.

But these past few days I have found myself thinking more about how much I miss __________ about America. My family, friends, Mama’s cooking, the fall weather, HPU, college football, cookout, my car, etc… The Counting Crows said it best “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” I am not sure if it is the recent school work load, my time away, or what, but I have missed home a bit more than before. And as most of you know, I am not one to get homesick. Also, with the upcoming holiday season arriving, it will be odd to be in class during Thanksgiving and right up to Christmas.

But as I find myself thinking more and more about home, I also find myself having the time of my life here in Australia. This obviously makes things easier. This has made me realize that, although it’s completely normal to miss the things I am accustomed to, I need to worry less about what I don’t have and spend more time appreciating what I do have.  After all, once I return back to NC I will have all of these things waiting for me, and Australia will be a memory, and a fantastic one at that.

I think I am someone who spends far too much time thinking about what is next, and not enough time appreciating what I have been given at that time. This is not to say that planning ahead is bad, because it’s not, but it is important to enjoy the moment that God has given me.

Always looking ahead will cause you to miss great moments in life. I do not want to fall victim to this, although I’m sure I do too often. This is a unique opportunity that I have been given and I do not want it to pass without making the absolute most of it.