Why English?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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It’s Called the Mountains…

Back in June and July, life was a little hectic. We went to Alaska with my parents, my friend Lane came to visit, we went to Bali, and then I started grad school. I slacked a bit on this dear little blog, so I want to go back and revisit some of the adventures from this winter! (In case you forgot, the seasons are switched Down Under.)

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While Lane was here, we decided to take a day trip to the Blue Mountains. We’d heard lovely things and decided to check out the views for ourselves. We made two mistakes early on in our journey.

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First, don’t ever sit in the first or last carriage of a Sydney train unless you are alone or desperate for some quiet. Lane and I learned this the hard way. We boarded the Blue Mountains Line train to Katoomba at Central Station, excited for our adventure and surprisingly energetic for the early morning hour. We settled into our seats for the two hour train ride, just chatting away. We noticed this older woman, who vaguely resembled Professor Umbridge in her pink beret, gesticulating wildly at us and tapping the window repeatedly. She was glaring at us. We followed her pointing to a sign that clearly (and politely) stated that this was a “quiet carriage” and passengers should please keep talking to a minimum. Oops.

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We waited in silence (with lots of eye rolling and semi-silent giggling) until the train got to the next stop, ran out of the quiet carriage, and re-boarded in a normal one. Why didn’t we just walk through the connecting doors, you may ask? Because we literally couldn’t escape the quiet carriage! Everywhere we went, there were still signs. While we were waiting for the next stop, some boys down quite a bit from the Umbridge lookalike and her husband were talking and laughing until Umbridge’s husband bounded out of his seat, down the stairs, and shouted (in his polite Aussie voice) “I don’t like what you are doing and I wish that you would stop it Right. Now.” We died.

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I forced Lane to be in this picture. But seriously, how cute is that new puffy vest? 

If boarding the quiet carriage was mistake number one, we became aware of mistake number two immediately upon exiting the train at Katoomba Station. The temperatures had been in the high-60’s to low-70’s in Sydney pretty consistently, so we thought we would be fine in long sleeves and fleece pullovers in case it was cooler in the mountains. Well, it was cooler, by about 15 degrees. Despite being from Michigan, Lane is a giant baby when it comes to the cold, so we immediately headed into a hiking shop across the street to purchase some additional layers. While perusing a rack of puffy vests, we explained to the shopkeeper that it was much colder here than we were used to in Sydney. He kind of stared blankly at us and then said, “… it’s called the mountains.”

Armed with a cute, and warm, new puffy vest, we headed for Echo Point Lookout. The view was easily worth getting chastised on the train and freezing a bit. It was absolutely stunning.

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We decided to do a medium-difficulty hike that allegedly involved descending over 900 steps, and then continuing in a flat walk along the valley floor, until we came to a cable car that would take us up the incline to Scenic World. The steps were pretty intense, with most consisting of various-sized rocks and not actual stairs, but we were going down which was much easier than going up. We caught up to a group of middle-school aged kids who were not quite enjoying the experience. One kid in the back of the group decided this was “idiotic” and “not fun AT ALL.” Hah!

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Once we finished with the steps, our legs were excited to stretch out on this supposedly flat walk. However, what the woman in the visitor’s center failed to mention that was throughout the flat bits of the path, there were approximately 500 more steps and more steep inclines than could possible be part of any walk I would call “flat.” Luckily it was a gorgeous day, and after over a year of not seeing each other in person, we had plenty to discuss and enjoy along the way. Overall it was a fabulous hike– just not described quite accurately.

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Once we made it to the (world’s steepest!) cable car, we were kind of tired. We enjoyed a scary ride to the top of the mountain and had some fish and chips in the cafe. From Scenic World we took the trail back towards Echo Point, which involved hundreds (I kid you not) more stairs. Except for one moment when I refused to continue if there were more stairs ahead (spoiler alert: there were) I survived, and thankfully Lane the CrossFit champ kept me motivated. After our day of nature and adventure, we were happy to relax on the train ride (safely in a talking-allowed carriage) back to the city!

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So… What’s New?

After 6 months in the Land Down Under, it feels like time for a bit of a check-in. The time has flown and a lot has changed, so a little reflection seems appropriate. The following are six ways in which our lives have experienced major changes, transformations, or adjustments.

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Public transportation (or a major lesson in patience and an active lifestyle.)

Donnie and I haven’t bought a car at this point. Aside from being terrified of driving on the wrong side of the road, navigating roundabouts, and learning new road rules, depending on public transportation has improved our lives in several ways. We are a lot more active on a regular basis. Going to school involves a 20 minute walk to the bus, a ten minute walk to class, a 10 minute walk back to the bus, and a 20 minute walk home. Just going about my daily business usually requires anywhere from 45-90 minutes of walking, which really adds up.  Relying on the bus and trains also requires us to operate on a schedule– we have to be ready to go at a specific time in order to catch your ride. Buses are late (especially the 136) and you have to be able to create back-up plans to get to work or school on time, which always keeps things interesting. We also have plenty of time to read and listen to podcasts while someone else worries about the transportation, which takes an unbelievable amount of stress out of the day.

 

Cooking at home (or the solution to money and health problems.)

After downgrading from a large, gorgeous kitchen full of my dream cabinets, walk-in pantry, and more storage than I could fill to a tiny space of basically one counter and a miniature stove/oven, I was somehow inspired to start cooking regularly. Hah. I would say cooking (almost) every meal at home has been the biggest change, with the best impact, in our lives here. It’s so basic, so simple, but has allowed us to save money for travel (priorities) and made losing weight feel so manageable. We eat real food, and never feel deprived, which is almost like magic. Now that I have class three nights a week, Donnie has taken over the weeknight cooking, and is surprisingly talented! He is the best grill master, so we tend to take advantage of those skills as well. I plan a menu each week, order our groceries online, and they arrive weekly– easy as! (This is a common phrase here, by the way.)

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Exploring a new place (or not just watching Netflix all day.)

Back in Nashville, we had gotten stuck in a pretty serious rut. We loved our new house and were so content to just be home with our little pup that we became pretty boring. We got out every now and then, and of course we still saw friends and family, but overall we were homebodies getting old before our time. Moving to an exciting, new city makes it so much easier to get out of the house and do some exploring in our new town. Whether we take the ferry into the city, hike up to a gorgeous lighthouse and view, cheer at an AFL game (go Swans!), indulge in Yum Cha, have a pint at a new pub, or just relax at the beach, we are consistently going somewhere or doing something new. We also spend considerably more time outside, which makes my soul happy.

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Communicating (or thank goodness for FaceTime Audio.)

Communicating with friends and family has become slightly more complicated, thanks to the physical distance and the 15-17 hour time difference (depending on daylight savings.) I can’t just randomly decide I want to talk to someone and pick up the phone to call. Thanks to FaceTime Audio, and the ubiquity of the iPhone, I can actually talk to people (for free!) without having to be on the camera, like with FaceTime or Skype. We use those as well, but it’s nice to be able to have a regular “phone call.” Communication has become much more deliberate and planned– dates and times picked out that will work for both parties. Planning a time to talk to my best friend becomes a conversation like this, “OK so you are available on Thursday morning? Me, too! Wait, but my Thursday morning is your Wednesday afternoon and evening. OK so if you can talk between 4 and 5 pm on Friday? Your Friday of my Friday? I’ll call you at 6:30 am on my Saturday.” Just a little complicated.

With this more deliberate, focused communication, I’ve learned that I really value the time I have to talk with my people. We Skype with Donnie’s parents on scattered Sunday mornings, which is time we now look forward to and save up stories during the week to tell during these chats. It’s a different kind of “visiting” than we used to do, when we could just sit down on the couch or pick up the phone and randomly call, but it’s also more meaningful. You really appreciate the friends who take the time and effort to stay in touch when it isn’t simple and straightforward. Even getting a text message from someone I haven’t heard from in while is exciting. And real mail? Getting a card or a letter is like Christmas!

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Marriage (or we haven’t killed each other yet!)

I knew that moving to Sydney meant leaving a lot of my favorite people. I also knew that Donnie would be my only friend (for a while) and that we would be relying on each other in a different way once we got here. What I didn’t expect is that our marriage would benefit so much from this move. It seems counterintuitive, but our marriage feels easier, lighter, and more joyful in the six months we’ve been here. There is absolutely a “honeymoon” effect to thank for some of that, but it also goes deeper. Because we are the only physical support system for each other, we seem to be a bit more careful with our words and actions– we are more intentional about how we take care of the other. Moving to Australia wasn’t pure magic. Donnie still doesn’t really know how to properly wash a dish or turn the water off while brushing his teeth, and these things still annoy me. I still get super annoyed if he asks me more than two questions within the first 30 minutes I come home and I’m entirely too judgmental about the way Donnie washes the dishes, or really cleans anything. We still have our faults. We still argue. We still get upset, annoyed, or hurt. But there is also this understanding that we really need each other, magnified by the physical distance between us and the “safety” of home, and this realization helps us both be a little more selfless and a bit more understanding.

Life is also really fun, and we are much more active, which keeps us both much happier. This is a simple, but powerful, lesson that we’ve resolved to keep a priority wherever we live in the future.

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Travel (or what feeds our souls.) 

One of the biggest perks to moving to Australia, for me, was being centered in a completely different spot on the globe, which opened up new worlds for nearby traveling. We absolutely loved our first foray into south east Asia (see my post on Finding Bliss in Bali) and we’ve had fun exploring Australia and the South Pacific. Donnie and I travel really well together, with the exception of the actual airport experience, where I usually have zero patience and Donnie overthinks everything and I may or may not sulk/pout/or get super annoyed. But once we’re beyond the airport, we have similar travel styles and enjoy experiencing new places in many of the same ways. I am obsessed with planning trips and Donnie is really good at green-lighting my harebrained ideas. Planning and daydreaming about future trips keeps life exciting. Traveling with a partner requires both people to sacrifice and prioritize the other, while sharing the excitement, beauty, and awe of new places or vistas or experiences with someone else can magnify and increase the joy. I firmly believe that traveling with your significant other challenges you to develop better communication skills/habits while also creating the unique bond that only experiencing something new together can create.

I start feeling trapped or claustrophobic if I’ve been in one place for too long, and Donnie not only understands this, but proactively makes sure we’ve got travel plans in the works and prioritizes our travel needs by budgeting his holiday time as well as our finances. I was scared of getting married for a long time, because it felt like “settling down” and I wasn’t really into that. Luckily, I’ve found that just because you’ve “settled” into the comfort of a committed relationship, it doesn’t mean you have to be “stuck” in anything. Relationships are living, breathing things, and you get to create a relationship that supports both of you, however that may look. For us, traveling is a big piece of that support, and we’ve found a good groove here “down under.”

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To the Lighthouse

Donnie and I took on an interesting challenge for the month of May: No spending money on anything other than groceries and transportation.

Traveling is a major priority for us while living in Australia, so we wanted to see if we could save money while still enjoying our new home and not being boring homebodies. While Australia, specifically Sydney, is one of the most expensive places in the world, it turns out it is almost one of the best places for fun, free activities.

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One of the top places on my “free in Sydney” list was the Barrenjoey Lighthouse in Palm Beach. Palm Beach is located right at the tip top of the Northern Beaches, about 20 km from our neighborhood. We hopped on the bus and settled in for the hour-long journey.

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The lighthouse sits in the Ku-ring-gai National Park, where it was built in 1881. To get to the top, we took what was described as “an easy 1 km walking trail” to the top. The walking trail was short and paved, so there was no real hiking involved, but the trail was at one of the steepest grades I’ve ever encountered. There’s a chance we took a few “Oh look at that beautiful view” breaks that were poorly disguised “gotta catch my breath” breaks on the way up.

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Once we reached the top, the views were unbelievable. It’s supposed to be a great place to spot whales, but we didn’t have binoculars so we were unable to see if there were any passing by. With the bay on one side and the sea on the other, you are almost completely surrounded by water.

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It was an absolutely lovely day to sit and enjoy the views once we reached the lighthouse. Our late fall (or autumn, since “fall” isn’t really a thing here) has been almost consistently mid-70’s temperatures and warm, bright sunshine, so we’ve been spending as much as time outside as possible.

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While we were enjoying the lovely panoramas, I was overcome with gratitude. Australia is truly the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen, and I have the freedom and opportunity to explore and enjoy each day here. My life has changed significantly in the three months I’ve called Australia home. I am surprised and thrilled with the direction my life is heading, and Australia is the gorgeous catalyst for those changes.

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As for our May challenge, we did great! With the exception of a ballet and a Swans (Aussie Rules Football) game, which we had bought tickets for prior to May, we limited our spending to groceries, transportation, and a few necessary household items. I was shocked at how much money we were able to save without feeling like we were sacrificing anything. The best part is planning the trips we’ll be able to take! I also got a part-time job this month, which has been really fun while also contributing to our travel fund. I’m teaching Kindy to Year 6 students in private and small-group literacy lessons. My kiddos are adorable and the center where I’m teaching is fabulous with really great materials, curriculum, and support. The hours are flexible and should work well with my class schedule once my masters program begins in late July.

May has been a pretty fabulous month!

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Koala Heaven

The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is one of the most peaceful, happy places I’ve ever visited. The Sanctuary was our top priority for our weekend in Brisbane, and we couldn’t have asked for a better day: sunny, nice breeze, high-70s (I’m still just not getting the whole Celsius thing.) Lone Pine is about an hour bus ride from Brisbane CBD and we were lucky to get on the bus first, because it was quickly packed with (mostly) tourists heading to the land of koalas.

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The Sanctuary is very spacious and shaded by so much greenery, you really feel as though you were in the forest, encountering these animals in the wild. They have giant Cockatoos and laughing Kookaburras right at the entrance, although both have become commonplace to us, it’s kind of like seeing a deer at a zoo in the States. (Cockatoos are pretty, but they make the most awful screeches you’ve ever heard!) We also saw some “flying foxes” (actually bats) and a few other Aussie birds.

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The Dingos were going out for a walk when we arrived. They really look just like domestic dogs, and we were able to pet them– even if Donnie was a little scared to until a two-year old jumped right in. We obviously couldn’t resist a few Dingo quotes: “Maybe the Dingo ate your baby” (Elaine on Seinfeld) and “alligators, dingo babies” (Kevin on The Office) our favorites. (I had to watch the clip of Kevin’s Aussie accent again just now. Do  yourself a favor and watch it.)

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One of the highlights of the Sanctuary was actually seeing a duckbill platypus! Usually these guys are hibernating or hiding, so we had yet to see one at any of the other zoos we’ve visited. This platypus was swimming up a storm, and so weird looking! Donnie decided it looks like a cross between an alligator and a beaver, which I think is pretty spot on. He was a lot smaller than I expected, and impossible to photograph!

The main draw of Lone Pine, for us anyway, is that is one of the few places in Australia where you can actually cuddle a koala! The koalas are protected and closely monitored– each koala is only allowed to be cuddled for 30 minutes a day, and they are very serious about switching them out when their time is up. Unfortunately for us, our koala was on the very end of his shift and did not really want to be cuddled. We persevered and got some terrible pictures, but holding the little guy was an experience I won’t forget. You basically are told to “be a tree” and keep your hands locked and low, not moving even if the koala decides to move.

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When it was Donnie’s turn, our little guy actually tried to climb him! Their claws are incredibly sharp, so Donnie had a few scratches on his shoulders and some holes in his shirt by the end of it! I think Mr. Koala was ready to go back to nap time.

After cuddling our antsy koala friend, we headed over to the kangaroo and emu enclosure. There are dozens of kangaroos and several emus who just hang out and wander around the large open area, and visitors are permitted to walk among the animals. You can even feed the kangaroos if you buy food in the visitor center.

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We spent some time just walking around, soaking up the glorious sunshine, and watching these fascinating animals hop around and lay down for their naps. We even saw an emu running full speed down the hill toward the entrance gate, which was terrifying. Giant birds not my favorite.

There are several animal encounters and animal shows on daily, and we were happy to catch two: the birds of prey and the sheepdog show. The birds of prey show was fantastic! They bring out different birds, or have them fly up from a trainer down the hill, and you get to see them in action– diving for food, soaring, and, if you’re me, hitting you in the face with their wings as they fly right past you!

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The most impressive bird was the peregrine falcon who can dive at speeds up to 400km/hr and kills its prey on impact. Apparently these falcons even lurk around in cities in Australia because of the abundance of pigeons! The keeper giving the talk was really great. She told us about the different birds’ personalities and temperaments, and was very engaging and entertaining.

After the bird show, we walked across the paddock to the sheep enclosure. Here we got to see a Border Collie and an Australian Kelpie herd the sheep. They were so cute, and so good at their job! The sheep would try to run away, especially two cheeky sheep who kept trying to sneak off, but the pups would circle back and get them every time. They moved the herd through an obstacle course and down into the pen. If you wanted to stay after, they did a demonstration shearing the sheep as well.

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By mid-afternoon we had visited all of the animals, cuddled (and been wounded by) a koala, been hit in the face by a flying owl, and seen an impressive sheepdog show. It was time to head back into Brisbane, but we truly loved our time at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the highlight of our trip! If you find yourself in Brisbane, the Sanctuary should be at the top of your list!

 

Adventures in Brissy

One doesn’t tend to hear amazing things about the city of Brisbane (pronounced “Briz-bin.”)  Capital of Queensland, an inland area situated on a bend in the Brisbane River, Brissy is the third largest city in Australia. This was about all I knew about Brisbane before venturing northward for a visit over Anzac Day weekend. However, after a short time in the riverside town, I came to respect and enjoy what Brisbane had to offer.

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Donnie and I left early Saturday morning to catch a Tigerair flight from Sydney. Tigerair is budget airline here, much like EasyJet (SleazyJet) or RyanAir in Europe. I was impressed with how quickly the boarding and take-off process was completed, and we did not have any issues with the airline, despite hearing some horror stories from other travelers. After a quick 1:10 flight, we landed in sunny (and much warmer) Brisbane.

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Thanks to TripAdvisor reviews, we booked our weekend stay at the Meriton Serviced Apartments. The room was large, modern, clean, and very reasonably priced at $150 AUD per night. Bonus: We also had a partial river view.

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After a quick bite at Guilty Rogue (where I had the best veggie/goat cheese/pesto sandwich ever) we headed down to the North Quay pier to jump on the CityHopper. I really appreciated how much effort the city has put into making their city accessible. The CityHopper is a ferry that’s free to ride (hop-on, hop-off style) up and down the river. They also have city-wide free wifi! We rode the full circuit on the CityHopper, which was a great way to get a feel for Brisbane, and some great views of the skyline.

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After an hour or so on the river, we were ready to explore some more of the city and also take a little siesta since we got up super early for our flight. After resting up, we headed back to the river and headed down to nearby Hamilton to visit the Eat Street Markets.

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The Eat Street Markets is a food market that is only open on Friday and Saturday nights (plus some Sunday afternoons in the winter) and features foods from around the world. The market is built out of shipping containers in an abandoned container wharf– kind of like stationary food trucks. After disembarking the CityCat, we took a leisurely 10 minute walk along the lighted riverside path before arriving at the Markets.

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We arrived around 7:30 pm on Saturday evening to find the place absolutely packed with visitors. There was a live band playing, twinkling lights everywhere, and heavenly smells coming from every direction. We made a full lap, which was quite a feat considering the crowds, before deciding on an appetizer of Chinese dumplings and a pork bun, a main of taco salad/quesadillas, and a dessert of the most sinful little fried delights called “honey puffs.” I’ve never seen honey puffs in the States, although if they do exist or you should ever come across them, indulge immediately. Traditionally Greek (called Loukoumades) honey puffs are deep fried mini balls of dough, coated in honey, and in our case, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzled in Nutella. Heaven in a styrofoam bowl.

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After our international feast, we walked around to people watch and soak up the atmosphere. Even though it was difficult to navigate the crowds, everyone seemed to be having a fabulous time, eating, drinking, and enjoying the lovely night. I was grateful for the 15 minute walk to our bus stop when it was time to leave, although we probably needed more than a mile to walk off those kilojoules.

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Sunday morning we woke up very excited to venture to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is in Fig Tree Pocket, about an hour bus ride from the CBD, and we were lucky to get a seat on the packed bus. Apparently everyone was dying to cuddle a koala!

Lone Pine was founded in 1927 with two koalas named Jack and Jill, and is now the world’s largest koala sanctuary with over 30 koalas currently in residence. There are also all kinds of other Aussie-native animals, including kangaroos, emus, dingos, parrots, cockatoos, kookaburras, sheep, raptors, and a duckbill platypus. We were thrilled to see a duckbill platypus swimming around in his exhibit as they are almost always burrowed away and impossible to see. I’ll post a Lone Pine-specific blog later this week, but for now, how cute are these little guys?

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After returning to Brisbane, we grabbed some pizza at Communal Bar and Eats. The prosciutto and parmesan was perfectly salty, savory, and cheesy.

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We walked around the Queen Street Mall, which had some fun stores, although as the receptionist at our hotel told us, “It doesn’t really compare to shopping in Sydney, and definitely not to anything in the States, so you might just skip it…”

Once it was dark, it was time for a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane and a pre-dinner sparkling drink. Much like the London Eye, but on a much smaller scale, the Wheel of Brisbane is a ferris wheel located on the banks of the Brisbane River. The cars are enclosed, air conditioned, and private, which is a nice difference from the giant, crowded London Eye cars. (Also, Donnie didn’t knock down a little kid and make him cry like he did on the Eye, so that was a win!) The wheel makes several full rotations while a recording describes points of interest. We enjoyed the views and the drinks!

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We loved Brisbane at night. The temperature was a perfect mid-20 degrees (low 70s) and the lights from the buildings and bridges reflected beautifully in the river. It was also so quiet and calm– quite a difference from Sydney.

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After our ride on the Wheel, we headed to dinner. We grabbed a table at Ole, a tapas and Spanish restaurant on the Southbank. Once we had glasses of red sangria in hand and melt in your mouth buñuelos de queso on the table, we relaxed and noticed the gorgeous wooden ceiling. Almost all restaurants in Brisbane are either outside or open air, since the weather is typically warm year round, which reminds me of San Diego. The service was good but not rushed (it never seems to be hurried anywhere here so far) and we really enjoyed the beautiful night, almost as much as we enjoyed our seafood paella.

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Monday dawned sunny and windy, mostly pleasant weather for Anzac Day, a national holiday here that commemorates the Australians and New Zealanders who served (and died) in war, much like Memorial Day in the States. We lined up with the crowds to watch the parade, full of service men and women, drum corps, and bands. It was difficult to get a good photo, but fun to watch!

After the parade, we attempted to take a bus to Mt. Coot-Tha. I say attempted because it was quite the journey. Due to the Anzac Day parade, several bus stops were temporarily relocated, even though no two sources seemed to agree on the new locations. After traversing dozens of blocks, waiting, seeing our bus zoom past, and one minor argument (it can get a bit stressful trying to figure out complicated transit when no one has a cellphone with any battery power left…) we finally made it on the 471 and headed out of town and up, up, up, to the Mt. Coot-Tha lookout.

The views were definitely worth the transportation disaster.

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Once we made it back to the CBD, it was time for a quick stop at the Treasury Casino (where we won $11– yeah!) before we had to gather our bags from our hotel and jump on a train to the airport. Brisbane turned out to have a lot more to offer than we originally expected, and the city was (almost always) very easy to navigate. I’d give Brissy a 7 out of 10 for overall experience, and definitely recommend it as a place to visit if you are going to be in Australia for a while.

 

Risky Business

By Donnie Conley

“Some people see things that are and ask, Why? 
Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? 
Some people have to go to work and don’t have time for all that.”

-George Carlin

I’m not a risk taker.

It’s just not my style. My brain has always been incredibly logical and that has shaped many of the important decisions of my life. Spontaneity doesn’t come naturally to me and it’s something I’ve tried to work on.

I did go skydiving in 2012. It’s something I never would have considered doing if my then-girlfriend (now my wife) didn’t ask me to try it. Of course, I also spent hours researching skydiving accidents and felt comfortable with the odds. Leave it to a nerd like me to turn an extreme sport into a math problem. Even so, on the way to the drop zone, I almost backed out.

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I decided to go through with it, and can honestly say it was one of the coolest, most exhilarating experiences of my life.Truthfully, I can’t jump into any decision without considering some of the underlying factors. This is a blessing and a curse. When it comes to big decisions, I try to consider every possible factor and make a good, informed decision.

When it comes to little decisions (like where to eat dinner), I’m horribly indecisive, I spend way too much time researching individual restaurants (“Well, BigButtz57 on Yelp said the spring rolls were overcooked and the service was horrible”) and end up wasting 30 minutes before just giving up and settling on something familiar.

This past fall, I was faced with the biggest risk of my life. I might have a chance to move to Australia. A process that started as an off-the-wall suggestion had turned into a very real possibility. In the early days of this process, I didn’t honestly think it would happen. Sometimes, I secretly hoped that it would just fade away and I wouldn’t have to confront this incredibly challenging decision. Yes, we had discussed it at length, but it wasn’t until I officially had a job interview scheduled that things began to feel real.

I changed my mind around 100 times. One day I would be super excited about the move, the next I was near tears at the thought of leaving my life behind. I was worried about so many things. Some practical—how much of a loss would we take on our house after owning it for such a short length of time? How would we manage to get out of a car loan that we are upside-down on? What would we do with our dog? How do I avoid a lapse in health benefits? Some less practical—can I survive if I only watch the Vols on sub-50-inch TV? How will I watch the NFL during work? Does Cracker Barrel deliver to Australia?

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For about four weeks, my mind was going 100 miles per hour every single day. It really wore on me and it wore on Emily as well. I am not the type to drop everything and make a major life change. I’ve always been jealous of those who were wired that way, but it’s simply not me.

In that respect, meeting and falling in love with Emily was my greatest achievement. She has a much greater sense of adventure than I have ever possessed. And while sometimes, I can keep her grounded more than she would like, I think we do a great job in bringing out the best in each other.

People often talk about the value of stepping outside of your comfort zone. For most of my life, I rolled my eyes at that. I knew what I liked and didn’t see a need to experience anything different. Once, early in our relationship, Emily asked where I would consider living. She was asking what foreign countries or cities I would move to. My response was “certain parts of Georgia and South Carolina.”

Suffice to say we’ve come a long way since that conversation. While some of that growth can be attributed to simply getting older and wiser, I think most of it is a result of spending my life with someone who is so willing to embrace the unknown.

The truth is, you can always come up with reasons not to do something. Sometimes these are imagined and sometimes they are very real. Either way, it’s very easy to maintain the status quo. If we had stayed in Tennessee, we would have had a wonderful time. We loved our life there, and for good reason. We were so close to family and friends in a house we built from the ground up.

We didn’t leave because we were miserable or in need of a change. We left because the chance to move to this incredible country was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will enrich us in ways we could never have imagined.

There is plenty of adventure and possibility surrounding you. My advice is to ignore the noise (looking at you, BigButtz57) and focus on trying something new.

 

 

 

 

When You Leave

While we were preparing to move to Australia (or “On-cherry-ah” as my nephew says it) I did a lot of research: what cities and countries could we visit, where would we live, how do people dress, what is the climate like, what kind of food do Aussies eat, and so forth. I also did a lot of dreaming. I dreamt of warm, sunny days spent on silky sand beaches and traveling to exotic new places. I dreamt of cuddling koalas and watching Cockatoos from my balcony. And honestly, some of those dreams have already come true. The beaches are absolutely lovely, with warm, soft sand and cool, salty waves. We’ve already booked a cruise to the South Pacific (rather impulsively, but the deal was incredible and we set sail in 22 days!) and I’ve seen more Cockatoos than I can count.

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With all of the excitement and adventure looming, I didn’t give a lot of thought to the leaving part. This isn’t the first time I’ve been away from “home.” I went to college in Indiana and lived in Tulsa, OK for the first two years after graduating. I spent a semester studying abroad in England and traipsing across Europe. I’m independent and adventurous. And I’m grieving the loss of my home and family.

It’s very important to keep things in perspective: my family and friends are all still very much alive and surprisingly easy to communicate with, thanks to FaceTime and WhatsApp. But leaving created this vacuum, this hollow space that used to be filled with family dinners, hugs and cuddles with my niece and nephew, and the ease and comfort of being surrounded by so many people I love and who love me. No one tells you that giving something up, even voluntarily, and even for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, will hurt like it does.

Burton, my nephew who just turned 3, told my mom today that, “Sometimes I don’t like Donnie.” (He loves Donnie and literally asks to talk to him every time I call.) My mom asked him when those times are, and he answered, “When he moves away.” Cue tears.

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I questioned publishing this post. This move is our grand adventure, and no one wants to read about the unglamorous, slightly depressing side to becoming an expat. But I also think it’s important to acknowledge– especially in today’s “Instagrammed” world where everything looks perfect and sometimes we find ourselves trying to measure up to someone else’s life that isn’t even reality.

This is my reality. I live in the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen. I spend my days reading on the beach or walking up and down the Corso to find the perfect takeaway lunch. I thank God every single day that I wake up here, unbelievably happy to be taking this one day at a time with my fabulous husband. I also cry sometimes. Some mornings even the beach loses its appeal and all I want to do is get on a plane and head back to Nashville. I feel uncomfortable grocery shopping because food has different names and I’m bad at converting kilograms to pounds. I never know what the temperature is because Celsius is dumb. (Actually, I’m starting to learn that one, too.)

I’m learning that feelings of loss are not negative, these feelings are simply part of the process. We had to give up some really important, really wonderful things and people to be able to make this adventure a reality. The joy and wonder we get to experience are magnified, not diminished, by our parallel sadness. While I’ll continue to miss home (and Chickfila) I am confident that we made the right decision in coming here. And December, which means a trip home and Christmas with our families, will be here before we know it!