A Home Divided.

I’m currently sitting on one of my balconies (yes, our new apartment has more than one– it’s delightful!) while Donnie grills chicken for our burrito bowls we’ll soon eat for supper. It’s absolutely lovely here: 27 degrees (80 fahrenheit), sunny, with a nice breeze coming off the ocean, and our friendly Cockatoo hanging out on the roof. It’s hard to believe that two weeks ago we were in the middle of winter!

IMG_7818.JPG

IMG_7821.JPG

We had a fabulous time visiting home over the holidays. I got to spend nine days in Carlsbad, CA (just north of San Diego) with my sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew at their new home having a blast at Sea World, Disneyland, and exploring their beautiful neighborhood beaches and hangouts. I also got to meet up with one of my best friends from college for a day of living out high school dreams in Laguna Beach.

img_7430

IMG_7446.JPG

IMG_7364.JPG

I missed my niece’s eighth birthday on December 2, so I took her to Disneyland for a belated celebration. She’s been to Disney over a dozen times, but she still was so excited when we got off the shuttle that she couldn’t stop squealing and we ended up sprinting to the ticket line. It was a truly magical day.

img_7468

IMG_7495.JPG

After a week full of laughs, games of speed, trampoline time, and snuggles with my fave little ones, we all headed to Nashville the day before Christmas Eve. We walked off our flight to the best welcome home committee ever, including a giant poster of my face. (Funny side note: I saw the face as we were walking up and thought “Hah! That’s so funny and also embarrassing for whoever it is on the poster…. wait… that’s MY face!”)

img_7571

Donnie got in later that evening after 17 hours from Sydney to Dallas and a quick 2 hour flight up from DFW. We all rendezvoused at our all-time favorite Mexican place, Las Palmas, for some much-craved cheese dip (which sadly does not exist in Sydney) and the always delicious LP Special (chicken, peppers, and onions over a bed of rice and doused in cheese dip). Donnie and I went back to his parents’ house to spend the night and have a reunion with our little black pup, Lucy. My in-laws are graciously keeping Lucy while we are in Australia and I miss her immeasurably. She was very happy to see us and promptly snuggled up on the couch with us, even when there wasn’t really room for her. All the puppy kisses and snuggles helped make up for all the tears I cried when we had to leave her.

img_7656

37943151-63DC-4C8B-BBA5-4B30949841C2.JPG

Christmas was a whirlwind of family time, comfort food, and presents. We got to celebrate with both sides of our families which was such a treat. The highlight of my day was waking up to Ally and Burton (8 and 3) digging into their stockings and trying to hold off until all the adults made it downstairs for presents. My nephew gets unusually excited about clothes, and when he opened the t-shirt Donnie had picked out for him he squealed, “It’s got a kangaroo AND a koala!” Later in the day at my aunt’s house he paused while tearing into a giant package, looked around the room and asked, “Is everyone enjoying their presents?” He’s pretty emotionally tuned in for a three year old.

5D42A059-5F11-44D2-97EE-A7A246FCCF6E 2.JPG

img_7661

img_7648

IMG_6573.jpg

15874784_10100226793800705_6834115411497249163_o.jpg

After Christmas we got to spend time with our parents and siblings– enjoying game nights, a Preds game, more delicious food, shopping, and just hanging out. Donnie got to go to a Titans game with his buddies and we got together with one of our favorite couples to watch our only Vols win of the year when they trampled Nebraska at the Music City Bowl, followed by some fun out on Broadway downtown.

IMG_7716.JPG

IMG_7781.JPG

We rang in the New Year with some of my college besties and their husbands and friends, really fun games, too many jello shots, a music note drop, and a Keith Urban concert. (I was pretty convinced that if we told Keith Urban’s security guards that I lived in Australia he would let us meet him. Luckily, I didn’t test out that theory.)

IMG_6655.jpg

Being home felt surprisingly normal. At one point I remember thinking, “That was fun when we used to live in Australia.” Falling back into old patterns felt seamless. And now that I’m back home (Australia home) it also feels surprisingly normal. The day we landed in Sydney we collected our bags (and our two amazing backpack beach chairs with headrests and cupholders that recline- thanks Mama and Daddy!) and took a cab back to Dee Why. We dropped off our stuff, grabbed bacon and egg rolls, showered and rested for a minute before heading to the beach. It was a perfect day and we soaked up the sun until we were too tired to stay awake and promptly fell asleep at 6:30 pm.

3F0F99FD-6FE1-4969-A0B1-F42AF6F92195.JPG

I have felt an acute loneliness since we’ve been back that I hadn’t really felt before. I miss my friends, my family, my niece and nephew. I miss being able to drive anywhere I want to go. I miss being surrounded by people who know me, who just get me, who speak the same and grew up the same and share my cultural identity. But I also simultaneously crave the slightly uncomfortable growth that I experience here almost daily. While in Tennessee, I really missed being surrounded by various accents and languages at all times. I missed the ease of jumping on a bus and being driven wherever I need to go. I missed being able to walk to the grocery or to shops. I missed my little apartment and my new familiarities. I felt a sense of relief the first day I boarded a bus, tapped my Opal card, and sat down to listen to a podcast while riding the 15 minutes to the mall. I suppose what I’m trying to describe is the bizarre reality of truly having two homes– two distinctly different places in which I feel both comfortable and also like some integral part of my reality is missing. While living here is not our forever plan, it really has become home over the last eleven months, and I think there will always be a little piece of my heart here.

IMG_7790.JPG

Advertisements

Post-Thanksgiving Thanks

15135881_10100209013028515_4386499626351768559_n.jpg

While Thanksgiving is officially over and it’s now time for presents and lights and trees, I still want to share a little about some specific things I’m thankful for this year. I find sharing our thanks to be a little tricky sometimes. When I was in fourth grade, we wrote in our journals at the end of every school day, and on Fridays we were supposed to write about things we were thankful for from our week and then share with our class. We had just put in a pool at our house and I ended up using this weekly reflection to brag about it. I wrote things like, “I’m thankful I can go swimming anytime I want” and “I’m thankful it’s warm enough to swim in my pool every day after school.” I kind of missed the point. As an adult, I still walk the line between being truly thankful for things and doing that annoying “humble brag” thing that is so easy to do. That being said, I spent some time in quiet reflection over the past week thinking over this year and all of the things, both seemingly positive and negative, for which I am truly thankful.

Alone Time

IMG_3515.jpg

Before moving to Australia, I spent very little time by myself. I spent my early and mid-20’s living with roommates and spending most of my days with my students and my free time with my friends. After moving back to Nashville at 25, I was usually with friends, Donnie, or my family. I’ve never lived alone and I’ve always worked full-time in jobs with lots of human interaction. However, I spent the majority of the first three months we were in Sydney completely alone. Donnie went to work every day and I had no where to be. After a year and a half of working far more than 40 hours a week at a demanding (and perfectly wonderful) job, the change was abrupt and challenging. I read 47 books in three months. I felt incredibly sad and lonely at first, but gradually I began to grow into my new-found alone time. I explored our new city at my own pace, visiting museums and parks with no rush and no agenda. I started drinking tea on my balcony each morning while our street slowly woke up. I prayed, but not in a deliberate or specific way, more in just a casual, continuous conversational way I had never really experienced before. I improved my photography skills a little. Even after I started working part-time and going to school full-time, I still found myself spending the better part of my days alone. I use my alone time to listen to podcasts, read, write, and just think. I’m much more comfortable with myself than I have ever been. Silence used to intimidate me, but I now find it to be vaguely comforting. I’m much more aware of my mental and physical health as I spend time tuning in to my experiences and working through things instead of just blazing full-steam ahead and ignoring my discomfort or frustrations.

My Students

254770_589054588225_1523173_n.jpg

Connecting with students, whether my first class of kindergarteners (pictured above), high school seniors, or even college students, brings me joy unlike anything else. I’m so thankful for the hilarious, cheeky, curious little minds I get to engage with every week through my job. Watching as a kindy student makes the connection between all these sounds she’s learned and actual words on a page is inspiring. Coaxing a shy year five student into developing an opinion and putting his opinion into a structured persuasive essay is exciting. Building success with my little guy who finds school frustrating and who now looks forward to coming in for an hour after a long Monday at school because “this is fun and I actually learn stuff” is as rewarding as it gets.

Consistently Pleasant Weather

IMG_7154.JPG

I’ve lived through the end of summer, all of autumn, all of winter, and all of spring in Sydney so far, and there has not been a rough season. Winter, while cooler, was still almost always bright and sunny, with our average July (the equivalent of January in the States) temperature between 18-20 degrees (64-68 degrees fahrenheit). I’m pretty sure every single day of April was sunshine and 76 degrees. Good weather makes me a happier, more balanced person. I spend so much more time outside every day and I no longer have to suffer through those weeks of cold, dreary, grey days that just suck all of my energy and joy. The sky here is usually this unbelievable shade of blue, just so vibrant and rich that it looks like an Instagram filter in real life. Living on the ocean is an added benefit, as the calm and serenity that I gather from the water is unbelievable. I’m grateful for all of the sun I’ve soaked up, the cool sea breezes, and a consistently lovely climate.

15171215_10100209012958655_3626972542371842811_n.jpg

Thanksgiving is a time for traditions– deep-fried turkey and caramel apple sangria at the Conleys, Black Friday shopping (and an excuse to go out to lunch) with my mom, sister, and niece, watching football and putting up our Christmas lights at our house– and we really missed enjoying those things with our families this year. But Donnie and I truly have a lot to be thankful for in this exciting, adventurous season we’re living at the moment, and I feel it’s important to focus on what we gain instead of what we lose. This year we got to celebrate this holiday with friends from all over: the US, Australia, Ireland, Slovakia, and South Africa if I’m remembering all of the countries represented at our little expat celebration. We talked about our own family traditions and created new memories that we’ll think back to once we’re no longer in Australia. It’s a beautiful time and we’re so thankful for this wildly different and always changing life down under.

 

 

America Votes: 2016

I have cried so many tears tonight my eyes are all squinchy and red.

There will be no cute koala pictures in this post, but there will be a lot of honesty.

I proudly cast my absentee ballot for Hillary Clinton. I am not ashamed and I do not feel like I chose the “lesser of two evils” for our nation’s president. I believe that Hillary Clinton is a brave, strategic, educated, intelligent, shrewd politician and I believe that she was the best option for president of this nation. Full stop.

After today’s (or last night’s) election, it is apparent that my candidate of choice did not win the election. Donald Trump, a racist, xenophobic misogynist has won the election. I am in disbelief. But I also accept the democratic process we have in place.

After the 2008 election, my newsfeed on Facebook was littered with both excited and distraught posts. Some of my friends were energized by the new President-elect, and some were dismayed. I saw so many “I’m leaving America” posts and too many “that’s not my President” posts. Tonight, however, I witnessed something different. I read post after post (the election ended much earlier in Australia, albeit on the 9th, so I read pretty much everything once all my Americans had gone to bed) about hope and love and the importance of fighting for love and acceptance and freedom. I saw so much sadness, and a lot of fear, and more than anything, I saw love.

Tonight I cried so many tears for so many different people. I cried for my friends who are minorities. I cried for my friends who are LGBTQA. I cried for my friends who are women. I cried for my friends who believe in freedom. I cried for my friends who believe in the love that Christ taught. I cried for my niece who, at seven years old, sat in front of a TV and chanted “Hillary! Hillary!” for the girl she saw who had a legitimate shot at our nation’s highest office. I cried for my country.

Donnie and I had so many conversations over the course of the evening– how did this happen, what are different demographics showing in the polls, what does this mean for us and how long we stay in Australia, how do we talk about this to those around us, how do we pray and what do we pray for? There is an unbelievably large amount of information and reality that we must sift through over the coming months and days. There is much to process and decisions to be made that will have long-term effects on our lives. But above all, we must acknowledge that Donald Trump, a man who stands for nothing I believe in, will be the President of our home country. I do not take this lightly. Michelle Obama, in her eternal eloquence, said it best, “When they go low, we go high.” I will not go low. I will not join in fear-mongering or spreading of hate or disparaging our elected leader. Do I believe he was the best option for President? I 100% do not. But I do respect the democratic process and I will never stoop to the lows I’ve seen others take during President Obama’s tenure.

I will reach out to each and every person I know who may be feeling scared or threatened or endangered by this election to let them know that I love them, value them, believe in them, and will hold space for whatever emotions they may be experiencing. I will continue my fight for equal education rights and the ability for every student to go to college, regardless of their economic status, ethnicity, or zip code. I will pray for our country and our leaders and I will trust that God has a plan that is greater than all of us. This is all I can do right now.

I am unbelievably encouraged by the strength, unity, and hope I’ve witnessed in the amazing people I call my friends and family. There is no hiding the fact that I am devastated and terrified by what tonight’s vote said. America stood up and cried out against a large percentage of its population and this is not something I take lightly. There is so much work to be done. But I believe that we will process, we will grieve, we will fight, and that ultimately, we will rise.

 

Twenty-nine isn’t so Scary

Nine years ago, I celebrated my 20th birthday in Paris. I spent the weekend with some of my best friends roaming the city, going to the Moulin Rouge, eating Nutella crepes, visiting Disneyland, and snacking on baguettes along the banks of the Seine. It felt somewhat monumental, leaving my teenage years behind and starting a new decade in a glitzy, cosmopolitan place like Paris.

1923575_507128863035_5390_n

1923575_507128962835_1483_n

1923575_507128878005_6139_n

In two days (three if you’re reading this in the US) I’ll turn 29, celebrating my birthday on yet another continent. It doesn’t feel like my 20th birthday could have really been nine years ago. I so clearly remember feeling confident and sure of myself. I was living in England and spending my weekends traveling through Europe with my friends, I still had so much time to figure out what exactly I wanted to do with my life, and in many ways it felt like real life was just beginning. Fast forward nine years, and I am still trying to figure out what I want to be, it still feels like real life is just beginning, except now I realize just how little I actually know.

1931061_515613564625_9096_n.jpg

Celebrating my 21st birthday in Evansville, IN.

In the last nine years I’ve accomplished quite a bit: visited 12 countries in Europe, made life-long friends, became an aunt, graduated from college, moved to a city where I knew no one, spent a few years working harder than I’ve ever worked to try to be a good teacher for my students, moved back to my hometown, adopted a puppy, jumped out of a plane, chose to love and commit to the best guy I’ve ever known, worked long hours and driven tens of thousands of miles while helping thousands of seniors access college, built a house, moved to Australia, started a Masters program, and had a lot of fun.

76589_550274937955_3748696_n.jpg

Turning 23 in Tulsa, OK.

When I look at that list, nine years feels like a long time. In some ways, I’m a completely different person than I was on that birthday in Paris, but I still have that feeling of being on the edge of something, waiting for that moment of clarity and understanding. I hope I always hold onto that feeling, because it keeps me motivated and optimistic for my next adventures. The hope and expectations for the future keep me young.

340983_601933004775_515444494_o.jpg

In Fayetteville, AR for the South Carolina/Arkansas football game for my 24th birthday.

I was initially a little apprehensive about turning 29. It’s my last birthday in my twenties, and to be 30 feels like a jump I’m just not prepared for. When my mom was 30 she had a five year old, and I was a newborn, but I still don’t feel capable of taking care of a child for more than 12 hours. Professionally my life is all up in the air, as I left a job I saw myself in for the longterm to move to Sydney, and now I’m only working part-time while studying full-time. Needless to say, I’m absolutely no where near where I assumed I would be at this point in my life. But I’m really OK with that. If nothing else, moving across the world and taking on the huge changes that have come my way in the last year has taught me not to try so hard to mold my life into what I think it should be. I’m developing a more zen attitude while truly slowing down and appreciating the insignificant day-to-day moments that eventually add up to real life. I’ve also noticed a trend of caring less about what others think about me or how they judge my happiness or success with each passing year, so I’m excited for that freedom to continually grow.

IMG_9858.JPG

Celebrating 25 with my family in Brentwood, TN.

In order to truly appreciate my 29th year, I’ve decided to commit to doing 12 things that scare me before my 30th birthday. Ideally, I will conquer a fear (big or small) each month leading up to my birthday next year. My hope is that this challenge will keep me focused on the present, not wishing for time time to speed up or slow down, and consistently engage my sense of adventure. I’ll blog about the experience, so look out for the first adventure coming sometime in the next 32 days. Here’s to enjoying every moment of my 29th year on this earth and to embracing aging for the gift it truly is!

The Great Ocean Road

img_6179

While in Melbourne, we took a day trip down the Great Ocean Road. Let me just say that if you ever find yourself in Melbourne you absolutely must venture out on the GRO and I would highly recommend going with Paul and Escape Discovery Adventures (www.escapediscoveryadventures.com.au). It was a truly magical day!

img_6108

Our morning started with pick-up at our hotel and an hour or so drive before our stop for morning tea. Paul’s wife made the most addictive Anzac biscuits I’ve ever tasted, and we also had TimTams, lamingtons, French-press coffee, and tea. Paul, our tour guide, is one of the most Aussie of Australians in the best way. He casually said “crikey” and used the phrase “spit the dummy” (to throw a tantrum (a baby’s pacifier is called a dummy)) in normal conversation.

IMG_6102.JPG

After tea, we drove for quite a bit before coming to our first glimpse of Apollo Bay. We had to take a slightly altered route as part of the Road is still closed due to severe storms that ruined the road several weeks ago. Luckily, Paul made sure we doubled back to search out some wild koalas. We wandered up a dusty road, staring up into the leafy, tall eucalyptus trees hoping to catch a glimpse of a furry little koala sleeping up in the branches. What we found was so much better: an alert koala who ate some eucalyptus leaves and then climbed down the tree she was in and jumped to a new tree!

img_5531

img_6138

Unfortunately, my husband will not let me waste $76 a year in order to post videos directly to this blog, so you’ll have to click on this YouTube link to see her in action!

Paul takes these tour groups out 4 days a week, and even he was impressed by the experience and made sure we knew how rare of an opportunity we had to see a koala in action!

img_6171

 

We stopped at another scenic overlook before heading into Apollo Bay for lunch. After a scrumptious ham and cheese toasty we left the coastline and made our way into the temperate rainforest of the Great Otway National Park. After terrifying the kids in our small group (there were 10 of us) with harrowing tales of the dangerous, carnivorous mystery animal lurking in the trees (it turned out to be a snail- hah!) and assuring us Americans that he has liability insurance, we went for a pleasant walk through the lush rainforest.

img_6212

img_6220

Post-rainforest we headed back to the coastline and made our way to the 12 Apostles. These limestone stacks are impressive, and also reminiscent of the Koopa Troopa beach levels from Mario Kart. We made a few stops at different vantage points, as you can’t actually see all eight “apostles” (there never were 12, despite the name) at once. We also learned that there used to be 9 apostles, but one collapsed dramatically in 2005. We also learned that the stacks were originally called the “sow and piglets” until a visitor decided one of the stacks looked like a priest, which then became the apostles. The apostles were formed by gradual erosion of the soft limestone that first created arches until the “bridge” of the arch became too weak, crumbled, and left two pillars standing alone. You can actually see the process taking place with what will eventually become the newest apostles which is pretty cool!

IMG_6228.JPG

IMG_6252.JPG

We also had the chance to explore the Loch Ard Gorge that was the site of an awful shipwreck in 1878. While there, we decided (ie I forced Donnie) to take “jumping”pictures because why not? Turns out one of us was really impressive and one of us was terrible. You can make your judgments from the photos below…

IMG_6284.JPG

IMG_6329.JPG

After a lovely dinner of fish and chips we made the long trek back to Melbourne. It was a long (over 14 hours) day, but we were blown away by the natural beauty and wonders of the Great Ocean Road.

 

Adventures in Melbourne

Donnie and I ventured south over the weekend to do some exploring, and lots of eating, in lovely Melbourne. We have now officially visited half of Australia’s states! However, that isn’t quite the accomplishment that it would be in the US, as Australia only has six states (and two territories, if we’re getting technical).

IMG_6352.JPG

We spent two days in the city and one full day exploring the Great Ocean Road. I’m writing a separate blog post for the Great Ocean Road, as it was full of amazing things (like spotting a wild koala!) so today I’ll focus on our time spent directly in Melbourne.

img_5993

After finally arriving in the CBD (we flew on a cheap airline that flies to an airport about 45 minutes outside of the city) we immediately headed to a little cafe for brekkie. We had delicious bacon, egg, and cheese toasties (a departure from the ubiquitous bacon egg rolls of Sydney) and flat whites before dropping our bags at our hotel. We headed straight for the Queen Victoria Market, which was only a 5 minute walk from our room. The market reminded me a bit of the straw market in Nassau, only with laid back vendors and no one screaming at you for looking at their bags and then buying from someone else. We had fun picking out some cute things for people back home and Donnie even got a custom leather belt from an adorable older gentleman.

img_6008img_6002

We planned to ride the City Circle tram, as it is free and provides audio commentary of major areas around the CBD, but it was suffocatingly packed so we skipped it. Speaking of trams, because they run down the middle of the streets, there is this terrifying traffic pattern called a “hook turn” that only happens in Melbourne: when turning right (remember that cars drive on the left here) at an intersection, cars go out into the middle of the intersection all the way over on the left, and then turn right across all of the lanes, while watching for cars going straight to blow past. It’s scary to watch and even scarier to experience.

img_6012

One of the fun things about Melbourne are the random alleyways and side streets with restaurants, bars, and cafes tucked away. We found a cute little side street with globe-lights and outdoor seating for several restaurants for lunch. Donnie picked a place called “Bread and Meat Co.” (Ron Swanson approved) and I ate sweet potato fries while he had a Texas BBQ Chicken sandwich– they were celebrating their new “American” menu.

img_6020img_6030

After lunch, a Little Cupcakes indulgence, and a little rest in our room (catching a 7:00 am flight when you live an hour from the airport requires a pretty early start time!) we wandered over to Federation Square and the Flinders St. railway station. This turn-of-the-century station is gorgeous. It’s also home to a “pedestrian scramble” which essentially stops traffic in all directions at once and allows pedestrians to cross at every crosswalk, including diagonally. We eventually landed at the rooftop bar of Taxi Kitchen, with great views of the Yarra river that runs through Melbourne.

img_6047

IMG_6405.JPG

IMG_6060.JPG

For dinner (I really wasn’t kidding about all the eating) we headed up to Carlton, a cute, leafy neighborhood adjacent to the CDB and home to Lygon Street. Lygon Street houses all the best Italian restaurants, and we had reservations at Da Guido La Pasta. In order to understand the level of my delight at the enormous, fragrant dish of homemade, traditional Italian pasta that was set before me, you must first know that I have not had one single bite of pasta in over six months. This was a heavenly experience.

IMG_6079.JPG

img_6961img_6962

In addition to their fabulous, authentic Italian restaurants, Melbourne is also home to numerous cake shops. We ventured to one of the most famous, Brunetti, after our dinner. Thankfully we got in a bit of a walk on the way, so I was able to enjoy two miniature treats. The bright, white marble flagship store on Lygon Street was bustling at 9:00 pm. We walked in, took a number for our turn to order, and perused the cases that were filled with mignons (mini-cakes and treats), cake slices, cheesecakes, macarons, cannolis, eclairs, and every dessert imaginable. I ended up with a mini nutella cannoli and a nutella and ricotta mignon while Donnie indulged in two opera slices. We ended our evening on our hotel balcony overlooking Flagstaff Gardens, tired from a day full of exploring and so many delicious carbs.

IMG_6097.JPG

IMG_6095.JPG

IMG_6089.JPG

We spent the first part of Sunday morning listening to the Vols game on the radio as the illegal stream we were watching annoyingly turned into a baseball game. The game, which started at 6:30 am, was headed to overtime at the exact moment we had to check-out, which wasn’t great for Donnie’s nerves. I accidentally caught this moment when Tennessee failed to score a TD in the first OT…

IMG_6353.JPG

After a disappointing loss (but overall impressive comeback attempt by the Vols) we headed back to the Queen Victoria Market to buy some things we had passed up on Friday. There were intense 45 mph winds that made walking quite the challenge. You haven’t experienced “wind” until you’ve been to Australia. We managed to make it to the Greek Precinct and took a break from the blustery outdoors for some of the best (and most garlicky) hummus I’ve ever had at a cute little place called Stalactites, complete with stalactites hanging from the ceiling!

IMG_6358.JPG

Melbourne is known as one of the greatest street art cities in the world. One of the most famous laneways of street art is Hosier lane, which we happily stumbled upon because Donnie somehow has a weird sixth-sense for spontaneously finding places when we travel. This area reminded me a lot of Seattle. There were a few artists painting as we were walking by, and you could even pay to spray paint something yourself. Pretty cool!

IMG_6393.JPG

IMG_6380.JPG

We decided to check out The Crown, Melbourne’s fancy casino in Southbank. (Fun side note: the hotel attached to the casino, Crown Towers, is where Tiger Woods was busted by his wife for being a cheating loser.) The casino is luxurious and so clean with no smoking on the main gaming floor. Donnie found this super fun pokie (what Aussies call slots) called “More Chilli” and we ended up winning $200! We cashed out after that happy turn of events.

img_6980

The last thing on my Melbourne “to do” list was to photograph the bathing boxes at Brighton Beach. We caught an Uber to the quiet beach town about 20 minutes outside the CBD and after almost having the door smashed off our driver’s car when the wind blew it wide open into oncoming traffic, we made the short walk down to the iconic boxes. If you’ve never been on a beach in super strong winds, I would recommend keeping it that way. You could hardly see the water due to the “fog” of sand being swept up by the wind. The sand stung our faces and our eyes, filled my jacket pockets, and became permanently embedded in our scalps, but I got my pictures of the colourful boxes! Was feeling like Princess Jasmine when she’s trapped in that hour glass at the end of Aladdin worth it? Maybe not. But it made for a good story and some cool pictures!

img_6425img_6411

Overall, we really enjoyed Melbourne. The food was amazing and the city has a casual, hip, slightly gritty vibe that is very different from Sydney. We were planning a return trip while still there, which I think is a sign of a great city! Besides, how can you not feel drawn, as a Nashville native, to a city that has its own Batman building? It almost felt like home.

IMG_6082.JPG

Why English?

img_6873

I’m officially more than half-way through my first semester of grad school- hooray! Going back to school after a 6 year absence was intimidating to begin with, then compounded by my unfamiliarity with the Australian education system. I’m starting to settle in and feel more comfortable with my courses, and thought I would share three insights from my experience so far.

img_6886

1. Grades are Marks, and No One Really Cares

One of the biggest changes from the American university system has been the lack of emphasis on grades. Here, we call grades “marks” and instead of an A, B, C, D, F system, they use a much broader range to encompass a student’s degree of understanding and mastery.

85-100%: High Distinction

75-84%: Distinction

65-74%: Credit

50-64%: Pass

49% and lower: Fail

In grad programs, anything that receives a mark of 90 or higher is considered publishable, so that mark is reserved for only incredibly outstanding, thoroughly researched, original work. I’ve only received one mark thus far, on an oral presentation I gave in my Critical Reading class on a highly theoretical, difficult reading. When I first saw my mark (I got an 88) I was disappointed. In my American mind, I’d received a B+, which was a letdown for the amount of work I’d put into my lecture. However, when I met with my professor (or tutor, or lecturer, or coordinator– I still haven’t figured out exactly what to call my professors here) he was full of praise and remarked how well I had done. We then spent a few minutes discussing the differences in grading here and in the States (he came to Sydney Uni from Harvard.)

Marks are really less of a judgment and more of an acknowledgement of a student’s output. Students here are also much less concerned with specific marks– they want to pass, and generally want to earn at least a credit for their work, but students are much more concerned with actually learning material and being able to apply new knowledge in their work. Honestly, it’s pretty refreshing. I’m still adjusting, but overall, there is much less pressure to earn a perfect mark, and more encouragement to take in new information and be able to apply that information to class discussions, future readings, and written work.

img_6838

2. English is Hard, and also Worthwhile

I’ve loved reading and writing since I was able to do each. My first journal begins when I was around 4 and half, and contains many amazing descriptions including: (and I’m paraphrasing from memory here) “Today we had a snowball fight. My daddy hit me in the face and I cried and cried.” And then an ending note, clearly in my mom’s handwriting, stating “It was an accident and he said he was sorry!”

However, from an early age I can also recall trying to figure out how to find a job that used my love of reading and writing, but was profitable. I landed on law first, then journalism, then editing– but ultimately ended up teaching. I love education, and I will always consider myself an educator, but I’ve also realized that I spent 28 years skirting around my true love: literature. Why? Because it wasn’t practical, profitable, or pragmatic. (Not that teaching is profitable in the States either.)

There is such an emphasis today (especially in the US) on earning a degree that is “worth it.” I kept English relegated as a minor area of study in my undergrad because Communication provided much wider access to the job market, and as I graduated in 2010, the job market was scary enough on its own. I’ve read countless articles that advocate for students to look at entry-level salaries in their chosen field, and then use that data to determine whether it is worth it to pursue their chosen major. It is exactly this thinking that kept me from pursuing the degree I truly wanted.

Education is a privilege, and the material we have covered in my courses this semester (namely Critical Reading and Global Lit) has only reinforced the privilege and responsibility that comes with an education. Many times, the only way repressed or unrepresented voices are heard in our privileged community is through words– by producing literature that is then accessed by broader communities. Literature provides us with a real, authentic education, and I’ve found that studying literature, and the greater cultural context inevitably surrounding all literature, immensely rewarding. Will I ever make a ton of money with an English MA? Nope. But I’m learning to look outside of our rigidly capitalistic societal norms and find a greater purpose. (Dad, please don’t read this as your already liberal daughter turning into a Socialist, I promise I’m not!) However, literature does connect us in a way nothing else can, and studying those connections prompts us to be better, more responsible, more responsive global citizens.

img_6820

3. Experience Creates Better Students

I was a pretty good student in undergrad. Pretty good. I went to (most) of my classes, I did some of my reading, and I almost always turned in assignments on time. It helped that I went to a tiny school where you failed if you had more than 3 absences in any given class and where your professors knew immediately if one of 15-20 students were missing from a class. I also remembered my Dad telling me that each class I took cost something like $7,500 or something ridiculous, so that motivated me as well. But I also cared a lot about my friends, my sorority, my extracurriculars, and sleep. Thank goodness Netflix instant streaming didn’t exist while I was in undergrad, or I really might not have gotten anything done.

As an adult, who is actually paying for her own degree and taking this on completely voluntarily, I am a much better student than I ever was in high school or college. Because I’m only working part-time, I have the time to read all of my assigned readings (though reading Moby Dick in one-and-a-half weeks was still quite the challenge) and take notes on everything. I have the space to think through the context surrounding different works, and even read interviews with authors and other critical pieces related to the work. I’ve been prepared for every seminar, and I feel like I’m able to participate in a meaningful way. I’m earning this degree because this is a subject matter that I love, and it changes everything.

I believe there’s a lot to be gained through taking a “gap year” (loads of Aussies take one, it’s a very common practice here) and growing up a bit before undertaking an undergrad program. I’m learning that education should be a process, not a product, and that we’ve (Americans) missed the mark in a big way with our current university system. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I do know I’m developing the skills and critical knowledge necessary to take on this problem in a meaningful way for the undergrads I’ll eventually teach.

Bonus: The University of Sydney has a gorgeous campus, and better coffee than I was ever able to get at UE or Harlaxton. Although this school does have considerably more asbestos than I’ve encountered in the US or UK. (Yikes.)

img_6874

IMG_6771.JPG