Ah, the joys of air travel… Sitting in a cramped seat for 17 hours shifting this way and that in an attempt to find comfort where no comfort lies… Anyhow, enough whinging (the Australian term for whining). The trip was more than worth it, as I will come to describe.
After landing and unloading my belongings into my new room, Harry (my exchange partner), Zach (his brother), and I ventured off to the local park to pass our new Frisbee around. As we arrived at the park I was hit with my first surprise: the pigeons in Adelaide, Australia are pink and gray! They sit around like pigeons. They eat food scraps like pigeons. They are basically pigeons, except with a unique Australian flare that I have come to find in many places throughout my adventures.
The next sunny day Harry, Daryl (his father), and I took a walk down the coastal cliff. They were absolutely stunning. There was the water, with its aesthetically appealing teal blue color to the right, contrasting with the striking red earth to our left, leaving us to walk on the edge right between the two. Moving over the rolling bluffs and climbing out of gullies cut by rivers finding their way to the ocean, one’s senses were flooded with such intense views that you completely forgot how tired your legs were. Every part of the walk was unique and the sights only got better as we continued. As the awe began to wear off and the fatigue started to set in, I got my first taste of Australian slang: smashed and shattered, which both mean exhausted. I also learned other unique phrases such as morno, the Australian term for what we call morning break. Our walk down the coast was amazing and gave me a much better appreciation of how beautiful the world is.
Contrary to the serene excursion the day before, breakfast the next day was tragic (not actually). Before I begin it is important to understand one thing: Rice Krispies have been my favorite breakfast food in the universe since the first day of seventh grade. I even bought a special spoon made by Kellogg’s to eat them with. Conveniently, Harry’s family already had Rice Krispies in their cupboard–or so I thought. I was happily consuming my favorite cereal when I was asked, “Do you have Rice Bubbles in the US?” I had to do a double take, almost showering the table with cereal. “Rice Whats?” I asked. “Rice Bubbles,” Zach nonchalantly replied, “what you’re eating.” Now if they had simply been an off-brand remake of Rice Krispies I would have had no issue with it, but when I saw the box my greatest fears were confirmed. In horror, I saw the all-glorious Kellogg’s logo above the precious name and catch phrase, “Snap. Crackle. Pop…Rice Bubbles.” Rice Bubbles! In an instant my entire breakfast tradition fell to pieces. I simply could not fathom that my most commonly consumed food had a secret identity. It was shattering. Fortunately, Rice Bubbles has been the only culture shock I have experienced so far in “the land down under.”
After my breakfast of Rice Bubbles, Harry Zach and I caught the train from their house in Hove to the city of Adelaide, which is about twenty minutes away. The train cars were like our BART–just cleaner, cooler, and quieter. After leaving the grand stone station in the city I was instantly impressed by the architecture of the buildings. On the way there I had gotten a glimpse of the brand-new Royal Adelaide Hospital, the third most expensive building in the world. It is an impressive architectural feat with its triangular windows and contemporary design, but the convention center and the bridge across the river were equally impressive. The convention center looked like something out of a sci-fi movie with a very crisp polygon design, and the bridge, made out of aluminum and glass, gracefully curved over the Torrens River. We saw the Adelaide oval where their AFL (Australian Rules Football) team plays and the art and history museums. I was also introduced to frozen Coca Cola at Maccas (what McDonalds is called in Australia). Adelaide is like a combination of San Jose with its architecture and long open mall and San Francisco with its vibrant culture and rapid pace. We had lunch at the central market, which could have been the day’s adventure in itself. In the afternoon we explored the zoological museum, which was filled with all sorts of monkeys, tigers, lions, and other exotic creatures I never thought I would see. Adelaide was one of the most interesting and dense cities I have ever been to. I feel like I could spend a week exploring it.
The morning after that, Harry, Zach, their mother Natalie, and I all got up early to take Zach to his flying lessons. After Zach had finished, his instructor, who also happened to be his uncle (also named Ian), took me up in his little two-seater plane. It was all surprisingly simple. We taxied out to the dirt runway, did a few checks, hit the throttle and just lifted off the ground. At about 2,000 feet, Ian gave me a brief overview of how to fly–use your feet for the rudder and the joystick for the wings–and handed over the controls! Never having controlled an airplane before, I did not pull anything fancy, but under Ian’s directions I flew over some copper mines (mining is huge in Australia) and got to fly straight through clouds. Flying through the clouds was a dream-like experience that I will never forget. At the end of it all, to my surprise, I received a certificate declaring that I “could no longer be classified as someone who has not experienced the joys of aviation,” a most memorable token for a truly wonderful experience.
Our next destination that day was an authentic German settlement in the Adelaide hills (who would have known?) called Hahndorf. It was founded in 1839 and has not changed much since. On our exploration we got to watch genuine leather craftsman at work, see some very impressive stone architecture, and taste delicious meat pies (which are quite popular in Australia).
A few days later school started and another adventure began. Contrary to my predictions, wearing a uniform was actually quite fun. While the fact that I could not use my own backpack was initially disturbing, my troubles were settled after I put my normal backpack inside the official school one. After the three-block walk to the train station I began to meet many of Harry and Zach’s friends, like Rhys and Rhett who are both very fun guys. I was only to meet more new friends at school and our shared appreciation of the internet led to almost immediate friendships. After discussing our favorite internet jokes around our little rectangle of lockers, it was time to go to class. All my fussing over the backpack turned out to be pointless because at Westminster you do not carry your backpack around, but instead carry a pencil case and the few things you need for your next two classes. This system will take some getting used to, but is certainly an interesting change.
The classes at Westminster are much more relaxed than those at Athenian. Amidst my introductions people asked whether or not I liked Donald Trump or owned a gun. While it could have been quite embarrassing to explain the quirks and downfalls of American politics, this served as a great way to begin to build relationships. Another difference at Westminster is the breaks. Whereas at Athenian most people go to main hall or the library, at Westminster most people either go back to their group locker rectangles or go down to the field. While this is not as relaxing, I must say that it is much more fun standing up and occasionally kicking a ball around than sitting down. So far I have had a great time at Westminster, the students are all fun and the change of culture is refreshing.