According to the "study abroad roller coaster" that I was introduced to prior to my departure from the States, I am due for a crash downwards into homesickness and culture shock sometime soon (although, it looks like the worst is yet to come). I am feeling the beginnings of the first descent here and there, such as when culture shock still pops up after I think it must all be over, or when I am reminded of the smallest of details about home that I never thought I would miss. For example, the price of $2.50 for a single avocado (on sale!) has caused me deep regret for the times I passed up a 2 for $1 sale back home. The pure luxury of choosing to go home for school breaks is not an option right now, even though those around me have already visited home numerous times in recent weeks. Finally, the accent barrier still occasionally requires excellent listening skills and guesswork on my behalf - but I must say that I'm becoming very good at this.
However, I maintain my adoration of Australia because of the countless other ways that I have been pleasantly surprised here. The weather, for one, is a surprise every day. I've become accustomed to falling asleep to thunderstorms and waking up to sunshine. I have seen more lightning in the past month than I have in the twenty years I lived in California. One day last week it was gorgeous and sunny, yet I could see lightning casually bolt across the sky in the distance. Later in the week, it felt as if a storm decided to take place directly over Bathurst to make a point that the seasons are changing. As for the upcoming days, I'll just have to find out as it comes - the weather predictions often turn out wrong.
Australia's gorgeous nature does not stop at the weather variations. I am constantly in awe of how clear the night skies are, how far I can see over the wide and flat landscape, and the many creatures I encounter day to day. Dozens of kangaroos live on the campus of my uni, coming out of their hiding places at night. I have joined my roommates on a couple of drives through campus to see if we can find an even bigger and more intimidating kangaroo than we saw last time. The bunnies, sheep, magpies and possums keep life in Australia interesting as well. My nights tucked in bed are always interrupted by a possum hissing outside my window, and my daily walks to campus would certainly not be the same without the squawks and songs of various birds (one even joined me for lunch once).
I'd like to mention a couple of highlights of the past weeks. I was able to venture outside of Bathurst a bit to spend time in the sun. I joined my housemate, Ashley, at a gorgeous riverbank called Flat Rock where we ditched the homework we had brought with us to soak in the sun and keep an eye out for snakes that might be warming themselves on the rocks. A very Aussie moment for me was indulging in my first real Vegemite toast, which I added avocado to in order to cut the taste a bit. I am slowly but surely getting used to the sharp taste of the spread, and might even miss it when I head home. I'm going to have to stock up on bread to try out the other classic meals here, such as spaghetti on toast and baked beans on toast (I'm still skeptical about these). Hundreds of other memories have been crammed in between the moments I share here, but words wouldn't suffice.
It has been just over two weeks since I arrived in Australia, and I now feel that I have officially settled into my new lifestyle. I have tasted Vegemite, seen my first giant spider, fought Sydney's humidity, and have even been chased by a kangaroo. These two weeks have been a whirlwind of culture shock and pure joy as I have learned what it means to be a uni student in Bathurst.
First of all, travel is very routine here. I have met many students who regularly travel home to work and visit family on the weekends, or choose to commute from out of town. This is very good news for me, because several invitations to visit other cities have been extended to me (which I fully intend to accept). In celebration of all the travel I have to look forward to, here is a photo of me on my last leg of travel to Bathurst, buried in luggage and wearing clothes that are much too warm for the humidity outside.
The second thing I have learned is that everyone is your friend. The Aussie culture has a heavy emphasis on extending yourself to one another, and expecting nothing in return. I have been shown nothing but kindness since touching down in the airport. Between my housemates (all 20 of them) offering to drive me to the shops, and a stranger inviting me to do a calisthenics workout in the park with him (which I accepted), I have found it more than easy to get along here. My housemates have been especially generous and have fully adopted me in as one of the two token exchange students for the house. I am with them nonstop between grocery shopping, studying, doing laundry, and going out. Quick tip: nearly all the events that students attend are themed, so don't be surprised if you change from a toga to full Hawaiian garb to a school uniform in the course of a week - I did.
Finally, I have learned to roll with the punches of learning a new dialect of English, orienting myself with a new town, and developing an understanding of the Australian culture. I have had to repeat myself and ask others to do the same more than ever before, but it has been such an enriching experience to laugh at the differences in slang and pronunciation and widen my vocabulary. Thankfully, Bathurst is a friendly town and has been so patient as I learn. It is also a gorgeous town, and I am lucky enough to have a breathtaking view right out my back door (see below!). To wrap it all up, Bathurst is home to a wide variety of Australians who have been drawn to the uni. I have met individuals from Newcastle to Perth, and have been able to broaden my geographical and cultural understanding of the country.
Happiness is just the beginning of how I feel to finally be here. It is both relieving and overwhelming to be reaping the results of all of the work required to study abroad. Between visas and interviews and meetings and research, I have been working towards this moment for a year. It is incredibly comforting to be settled in and still confident that this was the right choice for me. The cherry on top is knowing that I still have months to soak all of it in.