Ciara Chow arrives in Tasmania

Ciara 3After a day of traveling, I arrived in Launceston, Tasmania at around 5 pm. Driving through the town with Amy, my exchange, and her mom, I jumped in my seat every time she turned left before reminding myself that Australians drive on the left side of the road and we were not going to get into a head-on collision with incoming traffic. After dinner with her family, the jet lag started to hit me and I quickly fell asleep. Over the next few days, I met several of Amy’s family members, some of whom had accents so strong that it hardly sounded like English.

Since arriving here, we’ve driven down to Hobart and spent a few days there, the state capital and at 250,000 people the most populous city in the state of Tasmania. Tasmania is a small island off the coast of Australia and has a total population of 500,000. For Ciara 2comparison, that’s about the size of our least populated state, Wyoming. However, I quite liked Hobart and we were even able to meet up for dinner with fellow Athenian Chloe Kass and her exchange’s family, who also goes to my exchange school. I spent the weekend shopping and exploring Hobart with Amy and her family. We drove to the top of Mount Wellington and caught a beautiful view of all of Tasmania with its green rolling hills, snowy mountain tops, islands, oceans and river. On the way back up to Launceston, we went to an animal sanctuary where we pet koalas and wombats and fed kangaroos, which I found very exciting!

Ciara 1A major difference between Tasmania and California is the amount of farms. California has tons of agriculture, but rarely do I see so much empty land full of green grass and trees, so much undeveloped land. In fact, it was the first thing I noticed when flying in. When you fly into SFO, you see endless city lights; in Launceston, it’s a landing strip amongst acres and acres of beautiful rural land.

Once I started going to school at Scotch Oakburn, the first obvious difference was the uniforms. I hadn’t thought about it too much beforehand, but on my first morning before school it dawned on me that even in the near freezing weather I’d have to wear an ill-fitting skirt and thin tights instead of a sweatshirt and Uggs. After a painstaking ten minutes of misbuttoning and fiddling with my tie, I was ready to face the day. Amy was in Melbourne getting her visa on the first day back to school, so I was really lucky to have Amy’s best friend Caitlin and Chloe to figure out my classes. My first class was with Chloe and when we saw it was dance, we both just laughed. The teacher encouraged us to participate, despite our polite objections and insistences that we were awful. In the end, however, we ending up having a great, if slightly cringe-worthy, time. Even then, we were still relieved to hear we could switch our electives.

Over the course of the next week, I met tons of people and teachers and desperately tried to match names to faces. Amy and Caitlin were eager to show me around and introduce me to their friends. It’s still a bit nerve-racking meeting new people all the time, but luckily I do have Chloe here and we’ve been trying our best to make friends with everyone we meet. In the process, I’ve been assured my accent sounds “very American,” told that only “bogans” wear Uggs outside here, and asked if I see celebrities all the time at home. On the other hand, I’ve also been asked if I like Donald Trump, will I move to Canada if he wins, and if all the gun violence scares me. I realized these questions had to come from people decently informed on American news, reminding me that the rest of the world does indeed watch our country and thus our actions hold global influence. Such experiences revealed to me the image the United States puts forth externally in the media and gave me a refreshed perspective on the issues our nation faces.

Ciara 4Some parts of life here are just the same as I am used to with my friends back home – everyone’s on social media, likes alternative music, and a lot of people have my sense of humor. But Amy and I also found several differences. Unlike living near Oakland and San Francisco where musicians regularly perform, going to a concert for Amy means flying out to Melbourne or Sydney for the weekend. The cost of living in a rural, environmentally-conscious state is a lack of cities and easy access to shopping. Whereas I got my license when I turned 16, Amy didn’t even get her “learner’s” (basically like an American permit) until age 16. We talked about how Aussie politics get so much less attention than America’s, even though Australia has had five Prime Minister elections in five years. I’ve also found out that her school, and Tasmania in general, has a lot less diversity than Athenian, but nonetheless has a strong interest in multiculturalism. They follow AFL (Australian Rules Football), NBA and even their school sports with such enthusiasm and excitement, making it quite a fun environment. Although Launceston is a bit smaller and quieter than I’m used to, overall it has been filled with friendly people, just like home.