Saturday, May 7, 2011

Scuba Diving The Great Barrier Reef

Wearing a dark stinger suit, flippers and mask in hand, I show up on the back deck of the boat a good ten minutes early for my dive time. My other friends, Rob, Lauren, and Janie look identical to me as the dive instructor fits us all with weight belts and makes us sit on the platform to wait for our air tanks. Once outfitted with the right gear to go under, we splash into the water to meet our diver, Kelly. We swim over to the metal bar, the metal tank heavy on my back and water already seeping into my facemask. Lauren quickly diverges from the group and back to the boat. I have the same feeling of panic on the inside, but I will not let it win today. Kelly checks all of us on our skills- breathing in the regulators, draining our masks of water, and equalizing the pressure in our ears. Janie’s ears won’t pop. She cannot dive because the pressure might damage her eardrums. This leaves just Rob and me with our instructor.

In scuba diving, bubbles are good. In fact, they are great because it means you are breathing. This took the longest for me to get used to while practicing the skills on the side of the boat and even under water I would have to remind myself, “You are breathing.” After completing the skill set check, Kelly released the pressure in our vests so we could sink and then she linked arms with Rob and me. We rapidly descended into the water and I forced my ears to pop the entire way down.

Life under the water is completely surreal. I felt in a dream like state while swimming amongst the wildlife. The coral is bright hues of orange and deep reds. The fish were darting every which way as we swam by them and I felt nervous that I would accidently kick one with my flipper. Quickly into our exploration, Rob found Nemo. He spotted the orange and white stripped clown fish hovering above a small bush shaped coral piece. In this moment, I realized I am swimming at The Great Barrier Reef. Entire movies are made about this place and it is a big item on bucket lists. And here I am, scuba diving the wonder.

Kelly guided us along the reef and over a giant purple clam. The clam, a regal purple hue outlined in much lighter shade must have sensed our presence. As we glided over his giant being, he open and closed his shell. I jumped. Kelly felt my jolt and the two of us looked at each other through our plastic masks and began to laugh. Bubbles burst through my regulator for the next few moments as I continued to giggle as we wound away around more coral.

Schools of fish swayed around the mountainous structures of coral and underwater plant life. The life forms under water are nothing like anything I have ever seen before and I was having trouble believing they were real. This world below the surface thrives just like any other community and in our ascent to the surface, I felt grateful that I had been able to be a visitor in such a vibrant environment.

Australian Outback

Armed with a hardhat and headlamp, I shuffled down the shaft in a single file line. Fine coats of dust lingered on the rocks and in the air and I could feel it starting to coat my own clothes and throat. Hunching over and unsure of whether to pay more attention to the next place my foot would step or to the person in front of me, I wound my way deep into the earth. The sides of the wall glistened with the tiny traces of silver left and other crevices petered off into a dark abyss. I have descended into the core of Australia- a mine in the Outback.

Touring through the mine, we snaked through numerous passageways that were created by man as he searched for resources. Our tour guide somehow navigated us through the passageways that to me just seemed too complex to understand. He took us into the mine and explained the unglamorous life of the miner. Heavy bags of rock and silver had to be dragged back out of the mines, multiple times a day. Lung diseases and blindness were often effects from working in the mines from a young age. The tour guide also explained what it is like to live in the mine towns and close-knit community that existed. We also had the opportunity to view the miner’s memorial that is constructed to simulate the feelings of entering a mine. Each of the miners honored on the wall suffered from a death while at the mine.

Other then mines in Australia’s Outback, there are also farms of sheep. Anyone say Ugg boots? A professional sheep shearer came to give our group a demonstration. He talked about the joys of living in rural Australia and how the sheep shearing lifestyle has given him pure contentment with his life. He explained the different techniques to shearing a sheep and the conferences that are held for sheep shearers. Finally, he grabbed his electrical shearing tools and nabbed a sheep from the pen. He kept the sheep in a firm grasp while he hung double over in a sling. He managed to clip the sheep’s coat in a few minutes and it seemed to be not a harmful process for the sheep. I would even think the sheep was pleased to be rid of the warm coat.

Following the demonstration, we had the opportunity to truly take in the Australian Outback. We hiked through the bush. Our group ventured through what seemed to be a sandy terrain until we reached the base of a small mountain. We trekked up through prickly bushes and foreign vegetation. Reaching the top, complete with scrapes and spiky weeds in our shoes, the sun began to sink into the vast nothingness. There is unpopulated land that stretches on for miles and looking out from the top of the mountain, the only visible light came from the small farm where we had seen the sheep shearing. Trampling down the mountainside to return to the house before complete nightfall added more cuts to our legs but with a sense of how small we actually are compared to the rest of the land. To make the final installation of the immenseness of the world, we had the opportunity to view the Southern Cross constellation. It is only visible in the Southern Hemisphere and from almost any point in Australia. Being so far from any type of light pollution, the Cross illuminated the sky as I stood in patch of grass, not close to anything but the feeling of complete awe.

Traveling outside of the city and into the Outback had been well worth the trek. Seeing Australia for how vast it truly is and the diversity it offers shed light on a new perspective of the place I am studying abroad. Not only have I had the opportunity to see Australia for the urban life Melbourne provides but I have also seen the area of Australia that is full of rural culture. My experience has allowed me to developa a more complete picture of Australia.

It's Complicated With PB & J

I really don’t like you when you are on white bread- unless you are toasted to a golden brown. Definitely not burnt. I prefer when you are on whole wheat or Arnold’s sandwich thins. But no matter what, I am not eating the crust. I like you with crunchy peanut butter, except I bought smooth. I was too nervous the first time at Cole’s, the grocery store to try their brand of crunchy. Usually, I peanut butter both sides, unless I am running low on PB. Jelly on one side. Strawberry. Or jam as it is called in Australia. I like the jelly thin and smooth, with no gloppy bits that leak out of the sides. If the jelly bleeds through the bread, then it’s definitely over. I’ll gag and I won’t be able to get you down. I envision myself as a first grader when all I ate for lunch was peanut butter and jelly until that one day when I had to run out of the lunchroom to throw up my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I guess you can say, our relationship has improved since then. You have become my staple in Australia. I have you for lunch every Thursday between my lecture and tutorial. I pack the two triangle halves in aluminum foil and stick you in the front of my backpack. I hope my notebooks and laptop won’t smoosh you until my one o’clock break.

Peanut butter and jelly sometimes feels like my only meal. I eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When I run out of bread, or more likely when the bread gets moldy, it’s breadless peanut butter and jellies. A scoop of PB with a touch of jelly. While I feel as if I have perfected the art of making peanut butter and jelly- Australians don’t eat peanut butter and jelly. They have an idea of what it is but do not really eat them. It seems to me they prefer vegemite on toast with a light spread of butter or a bean “toasty,” beans in a toasted sandwich.

Even when traveling in Australia, peanut butter and jelly comes with me. A day at the beach involves packing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my beach bag. Often eaten within the first hour of arriving at the beach because the commute from campus involves a bus, train, and sometimes a tram that can take over an hour. All the transport works up an appetite. However, there is a small stand at the South Yarra train station that sells apples, muffins, assorted sandwiches, and an Australian version of a milkshake- creamy milk whipped until frothy with a type of chocolate syrup mixed in for flavor. Every so often I spring for a blueberry muffin and red apple to satisfy my hunger pains. But I feel guilty knowing that my peanut butter and jelly will be roasting wrapped in tin foil in my beach tote while I munch away on a crispy apple. Close to leaving the beach I’ll unwrap the packaging, pull hunks of peanut butter and jelly from the crust, and quickly shove them into my mouth. I don’t want the birds to realize I have food on the beach. The seagulls seem much tamer than those at the beach at home, but birds make me nervous. It’s something to do about the way their wings contract before they fly and their lack of personal space when close to my towel at the beach. Even though my sandwich is not very appetizing, I would not want a bird to take my meal hostage in its claws and devour it through its beak in rapid bites.

On a bus ride to Sydney, peanut butter and jelly was packed as a provision. My friend and I worked as team, one peanut buttering and the other jellying, to assemble a few sandwiches for a group of us. Each one of us enjoyed our sandwiches a different way- peanut butter both sides, lots of jelly, white bread toasted; peanut butter one side jelly on the other, white bread uncut; peanut butter both sides, minimal jelly, whole wheat toasted, triangle cut. Each sandwich got wrapped in a paper towel and placed into a giant Ziploc bag and tossed into a backpack. They were to be pulled out at a strategic time, not too soon after getting on the bus but not too late because we were stopping at a rest stop for food. My order is the most complicated- I am not a fan of white bread and I enjoy my sandwiches cut in half, preferably in triangles. The girls ate their sandwiches at the perfect time, an hour and a half into the bus ride and two hours before we stopped. I did not eat mine then and grabbed fast food at the rest stop. I fell asleep and still did not eat my sandwich. Thirteen hours after leaving campus and finally arriving in Sydney, my peanut butter and jelly was not in good shape. Flattened with jelly oozing from all sides and through the bread, it had to be sacrificed and thrown into the garbage. I couldn’t eat it and there were definitely no takers. My poor sandwich and I did not get my peanut butter and jelly fix for the day. But not to worry, breakfast consisted of toast and peanut butter and jelly sandwich supplies. Even in Sydney, peanut butter and jelly remained to be at least one of my meals each day.

Halfway around the world, where peanut putter and jelly is not an elementary school lunch favorite, it stands as a reminder of American life. A simple sandwich that can be made in numerous ways due to the variations within the few ingredients allows for the ability to please many.

The Great Ocean Road

I never envisioned myself surfing. Or being able to carry a surfboard and in fact, I can’t. I had to be paired with my friend Sam so we could both carry our boards down to the water. For a weekend in mid-March, the Loyola group of students studying at Monash went to The Great Ocean Road. We first went to the Surf Museum and viewed the history of surfing. The evolution of surfboards and different types of boards is fascinating. The museum also played a documentary of Australians surfing all of the fifty states which made all of us a little nostalgic for America. But luckily, we were quickly whisked off to Bells Beach, another famous Australian beach. There were people surfing and hang gliding from the surrounding cliffs. The waves seemed unreal and the water was a little too cold for my liking. After our quick stop at Bells, we were taken to our surf lesson at Point Addis Beach.

Sticking my legs into a wet wetsuit still covered in sand, I wasn’t so sure of what I had gotten myself into. The wet suit was damp and way too long and the board seemed massive compared to my body. The surf instructors ran us through a series of drills and took us into the water without boards to get used to the temperature. We learned how to jump up and the best ways to balance. After the crash course on sand, the intructors put us all in the water and helped us pick waves. Soon enough many of my peers were standing on the boards. I spent the majority of my time closer to shore with an instructor helping to point out waves to try. I stood up for milliseconds to quickly topple sideways and into the water. Needless to say, the entire time I could not stop laughing. Being abroad is for adventure and trying new things and surfing is definitely one of them.

Following surfing, we drove along The Great Ocean Road to see the different beach towns and look out onto the ocean. It is a small road that winds along the ocean that started construction in 1918 and was completed in 1932. Servicemen built it in honor of fellow service men that fought in World War I. The road links the otherwise isolated beach towns. After driving along, we reached our destination for the night where we had a barbeque and quiet evening.

In the morning, we toured some of the famous sites along The Great Ocean Road. We saw the 12 Apostles, which are giant rocks standing in the water by erosion, the London Bridge, which is a rock shaped like a bridge, the Grotto, which is a cave like structure and Loch Ard Gorge, which is a small beach area sandwiched between steep rocks. The sites were incredible when I realized that it was all naturally created. The azure water seemed so inviting but was deceptively cold. Not long after realizing how vast the coast is, it was time to leave the beach behind and return to Monash.


An overnight bus ride to Sydney from Monash takes about thirteen hours and a few McDonald stops. Once we arrived in Sydney, it was Friday morning and time to explore the city. We made our way to the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park that recognizes those in the Australian and New Zealand armies that dedicated their lives to the service of their country. On the ceiling of the memorial, there are 120,000 stars that represent members in the service from New South Wales during World War I. Looking up and being blinded by stars in the middle of the day is incredible. My heart swelled with pride for the selflessness and dedication to their country and their ability to protect the lives of others.

After the ANZAC Memorial, we walked over to St. Mary’s Cathedral, which is the largest church in Australia. The church is in a traditional Gothic style and contains beautiful statues and stained glass. Visiting a religious site seemed strange in Australia in that much of Australia’s culture is not based around religion. There seems to be little religious affiliation or identification by Australians that I have met. However, I enjoyed visiting this church and it was nice to be reminded of the Lenten season approaching.

Following the church, we made our way through the Royal Botanical Gardens. The flowers and sheer beauty of the plant life seemed unreal to be located in the city. The Gardens had the same effect as wandering through New York City’s Central Park. One cannot imagine that such magnificent greenery and plant life exists in an active urban environment. After wandering through the Garden, I felt as if I had just stumbled out onto the Sydney Harbor. Blue skies, gentle water, and the Sydney Opera House had just magically appeared at the foot of the Garden. Walking to the edge of the path that wound around the Harbor and gazing out to see the boats, Opera House, and people just milling about made for a complete moment of disbelief. I had to remind myself that I really do live in Australia and these places exist here. After taking in the landscape, the group and I walked to the Opera House and climbed the stairs. The white shells of the Opera House loomed overhead as I envisioned myself studying the structure in Art History and now was standing at this piece of artwork.

After the Opera House, we went to the Sydney Habour Bridge and climbed to the first pylon. The first pylon is only 89 meters above sea level while the height of the arch is 134 meters. The bridge offered a spectacular view of the city. It seemed too incredible to be real. The Sydney Harbor Bridge began construction in 1924 and was opened in 1932. It took 1400 men to build the 1149 meters long structure and sixteen of them died during the construction. Once we finished taking in the view from the bridge we took a ferry to Darling Harbor and then perused Paddy’s Market. Paddy’s Market is an indoor market with booths full of souvenirs and various items. All of the stand owners were eager to display their merchandise but we had to make our way back to our hostel for showers and dinner. To end the long day in Sydney, we went on a night boat cruise around the Harbor. The city was just as beautiful when lit up against the night sky.

The second day in Sydney consisted of traveling to Australia’s Blue Mountains. The Aboriginals originally habited this area. We saw “The Three Sisters,” and the Aboriginal legend about them is:

The Aboriginal dream-time legend has it that three sisters, 'Meehni', 'Wimlah' and Gunnedoo' lived in the Jamison Valley as members of the Katoomba tribe.

These beautiful young ladies had fallen in love with three brothers from the Nepean tribe, yet tribal law forbade them to marry.

The brothers were not happy to accept this law and so decided to use force to capture the three sisters causing a major tribal battle.

As the lives of the three sisters were seriously in danger, a witchdoctor from the Katoomba tribe took it upon himself to turn the three sisters into stone to protect them from any harm. While he had intended to reverse the spell when the battle was over, the witchdoctor himself was killed. As only he could reverse the spell to return the ladies to their former beauty, the sisters remain in their magnificent rock formation as a reminder of this battle for generations to come.


The mountains were beautiful and amazing to see. We were unable to go on any of the nature walks due to the inclement weather. However, it is fascinating to view natural beauty and learn about the Aboriginal history that accompanies these wonders.

Following the mountains, we were ready to get ready to celebrate Mardi Gras in Sydney. The Mardi Gras celebration in Sydney focuses on the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community. The parade went by the restaurant that we had dinner and socialized for the evening. Due to my lack of height, I was unable to view any of the parade in person. However all of the people in Sydney were dressed in Mardi Gras fashion of crazy colors, costumes, and masks. My friends and I had all purchased masks at Paddy’s Market for the occasion and enjoyed our interaction in the festivities.

I could not have asked for better weather for the next day. We toured some of Australia’s famous beaches. We went to Manly Beach for lunch. The water was crystal blue and there was a type of lifeguard race going on. The beach was full of people with the same interest as us- to get a tan. Soon after lunch, we went to Bondi Beach. We took a walk on the cliffs surrounding the beach and then down to the sand. The water was beautiful but rough when we went for a swim. After being knocked around by the massive waves, it was time to grab dinner and embark on the bus ride back to Melbourne.

The Beginning

There is nothing quite like viewing the sun rise from the other side of the world. When I first landed in the western hemisphere that is all I could think of as I viewed the blazing sun through the airplane window. It was as if the sun was rising in welcoming to newest part of my life. Study abroad has been an experience that I have been looking forward to since the stages of picking a college and an experience that I will forever talk about as one of the most significant after I leave Australia. It is with this thought process that I arrived in Melbourne to begin the semester of university that is not quite like anything else in my life.

The first week in Australia was International Orientation week. The presentations went for days about safety from wildlife (deadly spiders), transportation around the city, and Australian mentality. Everyday was full of activities and adjustment to the time difference was not too kind. Organized trips into Melbourne consisted of lots of public transportation. A bus to a train and sometimes even a tram are used to get to different destinations in the city. We went to a beautiful place on the South Yarra River and another night we went to the Victorian Market, which is an open air market with live music. On our free day of International Orientation we decided to investigate the beach. We took another lengthy public transportation ride to Brighton Beach where they have colorful bathhouses. It was crazy to think that we were in bathing suits when our American homes are covered in snow.

During the first week, we also had to pick classes. I am taking three core classes and Children’s Literature for my major. My friend Sam and I were lucky to take all the same classes and be placed in the same lecture and tutorial times for each class. Once we had our schedules, the two of us adventured around campus to locate all of the classes before school started. Monash’s campus is significantly larger than Loyola and we did not want to get too lost or be late for our first days of university abroad.

Following International Orientation week, Monash also has Orientation Week or “O-Week” for its first year students. International students are considered first year students and participate in the O-Week activities. Each residence hall has its own activities and O-Week staff. I live in Richardson Hall or “Richo” with five other girls from Loyola. We quickly met many of the students living in our hall and surprisingly the ice breakers are very similar to the ones we play for orientation at Loyola. It was strange to think that I am considered a first year but when I leave Australia, I will be going to lead these same ice breakers for my final year on orientation staff at Loyola.

In an effort to familiarize us with the city, our Richo O-Week staff had us organized into teams to go on a scavenger hunt throughout Melbourne. We had to perform ridiculous tasks such as make pyramids, exchange clothes with the opposite sex, and clip clothes pins on strangers while simultaneously spotting other Richo groups and making them doing a goofy moose motion in the middle of the streets of Melbourne. The scavenger hunt was a great way to have us become acquainted with the people in our hall and also offered insight into the mentality of Australians. Walking around the city and feeling somewhat embarrassed, the Australians in Melbourne were not fazed by our large group antics and were friendly when asked to assist in any of the tasks. When everything seemed so foreign, it is comforting to know that the people are welcoming.