Part 1 – Beginning
I just arrived in Adelaide on Sunday, and it’s felt like a whole new world. Right out of the airport gate, I was surprised to discover Angela (Patrick’s mom) and Julia Chukwani (Westminster’s exchange coordinator) waiting for me. They didn’t have to wait outside the security area because in Australia anyone can come straight up to the gate! When I left the airport, I made my next blunder—trying to get into the front right seat of the car, until I realized there was a steering wheel in front of me. Then, of course, there was the adjustment period for driving on the left side of the road. Although this was not my first time in a country that drives on the left, (e.g. England, India), it was still something I was not readily used to.
I also needed to acclimate myself to the
sudden change in season. Instead of the sun setting at almost 9 pm, it set at
just after 5. The weather was cold and rainy, which is very different from the
burning Australia I had imagined. It was nice to be away from the burning
California sun—or, even worse, their own summer weather, which apparently goes
up to 110˚ (or 45˚ C, another of the units which I was not used to).
The next day was Monday, my first day at school. After experiencing Athenian’s non-existent dress code for two years, I found the school’s formal uniform very strange (and uncomfortable). I had to wear a dress shirt, sweater, blazer, and a tie! (I didn’t know how to tie a tie, but I do now!) We had to spend the entire day in dress shoes, which were not the most comfortable.
The first students I met from Westminster were on the train to school. Learning names was harder because everyone was in the exact same clothes. Moreover, I met everyone at the same time in a large crowd. There are still a large portion of which I have not learned yet.
I will be the only exchange student at Westminster throughout my stay, which is quite different from the experiences of the exchanges at Athenian, who usually bond quite closely together. In a way, this is good. Rather than staying in the bubble of other exchanges, I am forced to go out and completely immerse myself in the Australian culture.
The number of American stereotypes I heard when meeting students was mind blowing. The first thing that everyone would ask me after Patrick introduced me as “his American”—often before my name–was whether I owned a gun or liked Donald Trump. They were very disappointed to discover that I did neither of those things. Their image of America resembled the Deep South, and not California, though someone did think that Detroit was in the South.
Fascinatingly, they were more
well-versed in American politics than their own. They were aware of the Mueller
report and Russia investigation, but couldn’t name their own prime minister who
had been elected in a surprise victory not five days before. Additionally, they
had never heard of the little piece of history I knew about Australia: The Emu
War (a military extermination operation they lost to the emus in 1932).
The amount of slang was very disorienting. It seems as though Australians are so lazy that they shorten every word to its first syllable and add “o” or “ie” to the end. Here’s a little Australian slang dictionary:
Servo: Gas Station
S’Arvo: This afternoon
Choccy Milk: Chocolate milk
Bottle-o: Liquor store
Macca’s: McDonald’s (This is the official name now!)
Part 2 – Ending
I have less than a week left in Australia, and it has been a blast! Because I have been taking year 10 classes but Patrick is in year 11, I have made friends with both grades. Overall, everyone has been really friendly. I have enjoyed talking to friends about all of the differences between Australian and American slang, culture, and politics. Through these conversations, I have also continued to notice a number of differences between here and America.
The Australians’ treatment of Aboriginals is very different from how we treat the Native Americans. Last week, we had an assembly at school for Reconciliation Week, which is an annual week dedicated to recognizing the wrongs that the Europeans committed when violently colonizing Australia, and reconciling with them. There were three Aboriginal visitors from the local tribe at the assembly, who began it with a traditional “smoke ceremony.” This involves burning native plants to ward off bad spirits. Then, we listened to a few students give speeches about their experiences with their own Aboriginal heritage. The Aboriginal guests also spoke about their experiences and shared facts about the achievement gap between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals. Lastly, an Aboriginal musician performed music. Even outside of the assembly, I could tell that Australians are a lot more conscious of the Aboriginals than we are about Native Americans. For instance, every place where there is an Australian flag, there is an Aboriginal flag. It is a constant reminder of their original history in this country. In contrast, in the US, we rarely discuss Native Americans, even in an age when racism is a central political topic.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the public transport system (when it works, that is). Even though locals seem to be constantly complaining about it, the ability to get pretty much anywhere without a car amazes me. Patrick’s house is a one-minute walk from the train station, which means we can get to school or the city effortlessly. Even at places where the train doesn’t go, such as Glenelg Beach, we were able to take a tram or bus there. While it is convenient when it does work, twice in the last three weeks we have had an issue where the train either didn’t arrive at all (it broke down two stops before and blocked the tracks) or just didn’t stop at our station!
In terms of academics, Westminster seems much more relaxed – apparently, “unis” (universities) here don’t see students’ grades except in their senior year. There is barely any homework each night (30 mins to 1 hour). In terms of rules and discipline, however, the school is much more rigid. If teachers see a phone, even at a lunch or break time, they will immediately confiscate it for the rest of the day. The uniform rules are also very strict. You can get in trouble for not wearing the top button of your shirt! However, the school is a lot less religious than I expected, given that it is a Christian school. Most students don’t know which denomination the school is a part of, which is the Uniting Church (an Australian union between a few churches). The only sign of it being a Christian school at all is the 20-minute chapel service on Friday mornings.
About two weeks into my stay, we visited Cleland Wildlife Park. We were given a bag of food to feed the animals. The kangaroos and wallabies were very friendly. The more I fed them, the more they wanted. I was even able to pet them! We were also able to pet a koala. We also saw emus and dingoes.
Just last weekend, we visited Kangaroo Island, which is probably the most popular tourist destination in the sparsely developed South Australia. To get there, we drove an hour, and then took a one-hour ferry. We stayed in the former home of an early European settler who had lived on Kangaroo Island for 71 years!
We had stayed in Penneshaw, which is on the east end of the island, however, all of the main sights were about a two-hour drive across the island, so we did that on our only full day, Saturday. During the drive to the other side, we saw a number of animals; however, most of them were kangaroos that had sadly become roadkill.
The first place we visited was called Seal Bay, but we only saw about five sea-lions because it is winter. We then visited Admirals Arch, where we saw “heaps” of seals (as an Australian would say). There were a number of rocky areas where the seals were relaxing. The last place we visited on this side of the island was “remarkable rocks.” This was a set of amazing rock formations very close together, that were in the middle of an otherwise remarkably green area by the ocean. We even spotted a wild kangaroo while walking in the parking lot! That evening, we decided to go back to civilization and visited the only real town on the island, where we ate at an Australian pub. It was a real Aussie experience, as I had never been anywhere like it. It was a cross between a typical diner and a bar with live music.
The next day, we decided to visit a town called Victor Harbor, which is back on the mainland. I learned that this is the most popular destination for an Aussie high school tradition known as “schoolies,” where the seniors have a week-long holiday right after their last final exams to party (The drinking age in Australia is 18.) The town itself was a cute oceanside retreat that seemed fairly empty–the population triples in summer because many people have vacation homes there. We walked a short bridge to “Granite Island,” and from the top of the island we were able to see far along the coast. Although we didn’t stay there overnight, if we had we may have been able to see penguins. (Australia has them too).
I have had a great time in Australia, and I am sad to be leaving so soon! I was very nervous at first, but the experience has definitely exceeded all of my expectations. I am hoping to come back with my family at some point and visit Patrick, his mom, and all of my friends at Westminster.