Sunday, February 22, 2009

First week of Uni = not much Uni

G’day to all. I have officially made through the first week of lectures so I figured it was time to drop in with an update.  After a bit of shuffling around and sitting in on extra lectures I have decided to take Introduction to Australian Indigenous Studies, Introduction to Tourism, and Psychology: Drugs and Dependence.  The first week of lectures proved to me right away that the University life and style of learning is quite different from that of my last 3 years at Gustavus.  For each class or “unit” I have lectures once a week and then “tutorials” once a week.  Tutorials are almost like study sessions in a small group format of 15 or so students where as lectures are upwards of 50 students.  The grading method is also quite different here.  Essentially there are HD’s or high distinctions (our A), D for distinction (our A- through B) and P for pass (our B- through C).  The major difference here though is that grades or marks do not matter as a student who gets all HD’s gets the same exact certificate of deposit as a student who just passed everything.  Its kinda funny cause most of my profs even admit that they just went for passes and only did what was required to get P’s.  In essence this creates a laid back and noncompetitive environment in the classroom which is nice for a change.  In terms of how I am assessed for my units there are generally 1 paper for each class, a presentation in the tutorial and one final exam.  One major benefit of going to school here is that textbooks are cheap here…too bad everything else is real expensive.

weather wise perth has been experiencing a bit of a heat wave where it has been arond 37-40 degrees Celsius which is roughly the beach has been a good place to chill.  I will say though that the sun is super powerful here...sunburn is a major issue.

But enough about the boring side of my time in Australia…throughout out this past week I spent quite a bit of time exploring around and going out again (especially cause I only have class 4 days a week).  The lifestyle in Perth and Freo revolves around the beaches.  There are many amazing beaches all within reach.  My favorite so far has to be Cottesloe beach, which is a simply amazing stretch of white sand, rolling waves, water so clear you can see the bottom at 20 feet deep, and home to some beautiful Aussie ladies.  Just the other day a couple of us traveled to Scarboro beach which was about an hour or so of travel to get to….see the photos online.  Scarboro had some nice waves and I am hoping to be able to get some more surfing in here in the near future.

I have also been busy further exploring Perth and Fremantle.  On Friday night I went into the city to hit a pub and club with one of my Aussie mates and one of the Americans I have been traveling with.  Perth is a great city with a good night life…it can be a little sketchy depending on what part of Perth you find yourself in…but we had a good time.  The highlight of that night was definitely eating a kebab while waiting for the bus.  An Australian kebab is a delectable treat that is somewhere between a gyro and burrito.

After spending another week exploring Freo I have really come to love the small yet busy town.  It is now home to my favorite pub little creatures…which has one of the best pale ales I have ever had…it gives the 471 Breckenridge IIPA a run for its money.  Creatures over looks the ocean and is a great place to watch the sun set, grab some food, and obviously grab a brew.  I have also come to love the Sail and Anchor, which is a pub with a great cover band that plays on Saturday nights.

Another adventure during the week led me to Newport…a club in Freo.  I was amazed at the kind of shenanigans that was going on for a Wednesday night but to put is shortly Aussies know how to have a good time every night of the week.  This club was filled with 100’s of students…including 100’s of attractive Aussie females…where everyone was dancing and drinking the night away.  A good time was had…I met some new people and I ended the night with another delicious kebab…only to have to get up for lecture at 8am the next morning.

I think the coolest experience in Fremantle for me so far had to have been when I went and explored the market that is open only friday saturday and sunday.  It is an open air but closed market where locals come and sell anything and everything.  when I walked through the gates it was as if I had stepped into a different world...or culture at the very least.  I was there towards the end of the hours today so I was able to pick up some fruits and dried mango for really cheap.  It was a great place to just walk around and look at all the different things getting sold and bartered for...and a great place to people watch.

One of the best adventures of my travels so far happened today…one of the guys I am traveling with rockclimbs and like myself he brought some of his gear down.  So this morning we got up and mapped out a place where we had found some climbing.  The journey to the climb would have entailed catching 2 busses and about an hours worth of travel.  We caught the first bus into freo and saw that our next bus was pulling away from the station…leaving 5 min early…and the next bus wasn’t to come for 3 hours…so essentially our day of climbing was done before it even started.  Rather pissed off we walked back toward freo where we passed a didgeridoo shop called didgeridoo breath…it was a shop I had seen earlier and wanted to stop in to take a look…so that’s what we did.  Turned out the two guys working the place talked us into trying to play the didge…long story short we ended up jamming out on the didgeridoo for over 2 hours with these guys who were giving us “lessons” on how to play.  I almost bought a didge on the spot…and I will definitely buy one in the near future.  Learning to play the didge was on my list of things to do here and I am really stoked that it happened so early in my travels.  everything happens for a reason I guess...climbing will have to happen later but for now I would have to say that missing the bus today led to one epic day.

Well I think that is enough rambling for a night…just thought I would share a little about the past week.  As for this week coming up I have a couple days of lecture and reading ahead of me…along with a couple days at the beach…maybe a trip back to the didge shop as well.



Saturday, February 14, 2009

Photos: Round two

photos from the end of orientation (surfing), Freo, Perth, and the Swan Valley

First week in Peth (a brief update)

G’day and Happy Valentines day to all…Today all of the WA ifsa students (the 10 of us) traveled to the Swan valley for a bike ride around the vineyards and wine tasting.  Swan valley is only 30 min or so from my campus and within the valley there are many wineries and breweries.  Throughout the bike ride we stopped at a local coffee house and at an olive oil “farm.”  The coffee house was a fantastic and “cute” little place with some potent coffee…one of the best lattes I have had in quite a while…similar to European coffee with even more kick.  The olive oil farm was really neat…it was run by just one man who simply grows olives and presses them into oil.  Hands down it was the best olive oil I have had…he had many varieties based on different olives and pressing techniques, all of which were delicious.  Following the 3 hour ride or so…we held a really slow pace…we stopped at a local winery for an 8 course lunch where we ate and drank amazing food and wine until we were all fat dumb and happy.  I believe the winery was Lemont…a 4th or 5th generation winery.  I am not a wine snob by any means but it was some great wine and the best food I have eaten in weeks…gotta love a college diet.

Following lunch we all piled back into the van that drove us there and stopped at another winery and a chocolate confectionary.  The second winery was a really old place that was set in a really cool underground cellar (see photos).  We all sampled around 7 different wines from reds, pinots, and whites.  Again, it was really really good wine and to buy a bottle was only around 15-20 US dollars…so not bad…but expensive for a poor college student…I picked up two bottles.  It was a great little afternoon and I got to see another new part of the country

I have spent the last couple of days pretty much exploring the cities, beaches and my uni.  Of all the cities, Fremantle is my favorite and I see myself spending the majority of my time around there.  Freo is a very lively city that is pretty much encompassed with one long main strip where all the action happens.  There are many really cool pubs, places to eat and places to shop.  The shopping in Australia is quite different than in the States in that everything closes by 5pm and it is pretty pricy too…a simply t-shit will set you back close to 44 (aussie dollars) and a swimsuit seems to run around 90 (aussie dollars) here.  Freo is real laid back…as is all of Australia.

One thing that has become real clear to me is that people love to drink here…not that I did not know that Aussies enjoyed a cocktail…but it’s a little crazy.  The pub on campus has a steady constant flow of people stopping in for a middy or a pint starting around 11am and carrying on all day.  Sunday is an all day drinking holiday where Aussies will grab their best mates, their favorite 10+ beverages, go to the beach and drink all day.  As our orientation leader put it…Australian uni students are trained athletes and their sport is drinking.

I am really loving just about everything here. The beaches are the best I have ever seen, everyone is really laid back (which fits well with my lifestyle as you all know), most people are really nice (with the exception of the aboriginals who are all quite rude disruptive and constantly try to get is scuffles with people).  We have already had a few run in’s where they have been confrontational and disruptive but so far nothing too serious.  Apparently they can get pretty violent so after dark it can get sketchy around Perth.

Some of the most memorable times so far have been the beaches, exploring the cities, watching the sun set with a quality brew and good people, being in a new culture, working through some bumps that have happened in the past week, and food shopping (imagine walking into a grocery/market where you don’t recognize any brands and you have absolutely nothing in your house…makes it a little overwhelming).

School starts on Monday and I am looking forward to getting an actual routine going again.  Currently I am taking intro to aboriginal culture, abnormal psych, and drugs and dependence.  I will have to change at least one of those around to a different class due to scheduling conflicts but I’ll figure that out after a day or so next week.

The plan for later tonight looks like we will be heading to Freo for some live music and a little pub action at Sails and Anchor and maybe a stop at Little Creatures (top rated pub in WA supposedly).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I have made it to Perth


(I have been without internet for the past couple days so I will try and catch up with the blogs over the next day or so)

 Traveled from Sydney to Perth.  It was a 5 or so hour flight on Virgin Blue Airlines.  Not very comfortable, a little warm, and you had to pay for all drinks including water.  Vikki our SSC who lives in Perth traveled along with us, which was nice as it provided us a guide through the Sydney and Perth airports.  When we landed in Perth and offloaded the plane onto the tarmac I was greeted with an immediate feeling that Perth was going to be a good fit.  The crisp, clean, warm and non humid air was really refreshing and quite different than Sydney…hard to explain but similar to the soft Tanzanian air that greets you as you step off the plane.

 Vikki showed us to chap who was going to shuttle us to Murdoch Uni and suddenly we were off on our own.  The “training wheels” had come off and we were finally just a bunch of clueless Americans in a foreign land…an overwhelming yet great adventurous feeling came over me.  We said goodbye (more like see you later) to our new friends who are going to UWA and we set off.  The fellow who was driving the bus was a typical helpful and really nice older gentleman who had one hell of a dry and sarcastic sense of humor…which I now realize is quite common.  He choose to take us on a longer route than usual so that we could see downtown Perth and the surrounding areas.  Perth is small compared to Sydney but It has a really cool skyline and it is really clean looking…hopefully we will be able to explore it later this week.

 When we got to Murdoch, our driver dropped us off at the student village and left.  It took us a while to figure out where were supposed to go but we figured it out eventually.  The 6 of us (3 dudes and 3 women) were more than a little surprised when we found out that we were all to be living in entirely different flats (apartments) and that all of our roommates would be complete strangers.  My flat is pretty dodgy…especially compared to the brand new flats that some people got.  It feels like a jail cell with bars on the windows and lack of the posters and tapestries that usually cover my walls.  I have no roommates yet but people are supposed to move in throughout the week.

 Once everyone got their room assignments we all pretty much just dropped off our bags and caught the bus down to Fremantle to explore a bit.  Freo is a really cool area right along the ocean.  It seems to have a great night scene with lots of good eats and drinks.  We grabbed some dinner and stopped at a local bar “Sails and Anchors” where there happened to be a great live bar band playing.  It was great night…a great dinner, a good IPA, and some excellent live music.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Orientation Day 3...Perth Tomorrow

To put it simply, today was quite epic.  Once again I awoke to see that it was sunny 85 degrees outside without a cloud in the sky.  We, the 12 or so students heading to Western Australia, started the day with a short drive over to Long Reef Beach where the enthusiastic Manly surf school instructors greeted us.  After donning our appropriate attire and being fitted with a surfboard we walked over a large sand “dune” and the most magnificent beach and surf came into view.  After a brief instructional, which basically entailed 20 min of how not to hurt yourself, we were paddling out into the 9am surf with the locals.  I was immediately conscious of my body on the board and just how powerful the ocean really is.  I did happen to catch the first wave that I paddled into and rode it for about 20 yards before it died.  It was really something special for me to catch the first wave that I paddled into.  Following that epic moment it took a while to catch my second wave successfully but after just two hours I had successfully rode, and even got in a few turns, 6 waves.  We did have a run in with some blue bubbles (blue’ys), which are essentially small jellyfish that look like a bubble blown with gum.  Our extremely laid back surf instructor pointed them out to me and said that they would hurt a bit if I happened to brush up against one.  Translating that “would happen to hurt a bit” from Australian to “American” means that if you brush up against one it will hurt like hell…so I avoided them.  Surfing was hard in the sense that paddling out, keeping your balance and trying to put all the many steps in the right order when catching a wave required quite some focus and motivation.  I have to say that I was really stoked to surf and it has DEFINITELY been the highlight so far. The surf was amazing and I think I will definitely be looking to buy a used board as we were told that Perth has the best surf in all of Australia.  After surfing for the entire morning and realizing that I have a little bit of a natural skill for it…I might say “a guy could live here.”

 Following the surfing we had an informational session about Murdoch Uni…which was good in the sense that I was reminded that I am here for school and not a continual party and surfing filled 6 months.

 The remainder of the day entailed another trip to the beach to lay in the sun and continue my sunburn that has progressively developed and to body surf some 10 footers.  We capped off the day with an traditional aboriginal dance and smoking session.  The dancing was extremely interesting and it incorporated some very sweet didgeridoo playing (another thing that is on my to do list is learn to play the didge).

Anyways now the Murdoch Uni fellas and myself are sampling some Australian and NZ wine (monkey bay and fifth leg)…both are outstanding.

Tomorrow we are finally heading to Perth.  I am really really excited to see the place where I will be living for the next 5 months….Until then Peace

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Orientation Photos

For any non facebook members here is a link to a sampling of photos from the zoo and the harbor tour

Orientation continues...Sydney is amazing

Woke up today at 5am feeling good and well rested.  It was a clear blue day and around 80 degrees already by 9am.  Today was day two of orientation with the entire ifsa student group.  The day entailed a trip to the Sydney zoo to see the famous and deadly Australian wildlife.  The highlights included the world’s most deadly snake capable of killing 200,000 mice with a single drop of venom, and the worlds deadliest spider.  I also got to see koalas, kangaroos, dingos, Tasmanian devils and many other popular Australian animals.  As we were walking I also spotted the first extremely large spider, not part of any exhibit, chilling in a tree (look for the photo to appear online hopefully soon).  

Following the zoo, the entire group boarded an extremely large chartered sailboat and proceeded to sail around the entire Sydney harbor for three and a half hours.  Words and pictures cannot explain or give any justice to how beautiful and vast the Sydney harbor was.  It was an extremely relaxing time to just take in the various sights, sounds, and action going around and in the harbor.  Some of the highlights of the tour included seeing the many 30+ million dollar houses lining the harbor and the many white sand beaches.  On a slightly off color and clearly Australian based humor moment, the captain of the sailboat chose the one nude and gay male beach as a good spot to pause and lower the sail halfway through our tour, providing us with some forever shocking images. 

I have gotten to know everyone in the group who is heading to the west side of Australia to Murdoch Uni once orientation is over and I think that it is a real good group and a good fit for what I was looking to accomplish during my time here. I think everyone in the group had at least one part of their body sunburned despite spf 85 sunscreen but overall the tour was absolutely amazing.

 Following the tour we returned to the area along the beach where we are staying, promptly changed into our bathers (swimsuits) and hung out at the beach for the remainder of the day (not that anyone needed any more sun).

 On a separate note, for dinner there was what seemed to be a standard layout of burgers.  The Murdoch Uni boys were fortunate enough to be instructed on how to build a proper Aussie Truckie Burger.  The ingredients to an amazing burger are as follows:

-       Bun

-       Burger patty

-       Bbq sauce, ketchup

-       Cheese

-       One fried egg

-       Couple slices of tomato

-       Couple slices of beets

-       Slice of pineapple

-       Lots of onions

Anyways, that’s all for today…kind of a big post but it was a real exciting and fun day.  Tomorrow should be equally as fun with surfing lessons in the morning.  Until then….Peace  

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

In the Beginning....


And so it begins…well I guess it really begins when I land in Sydney over 20 hours from now. But to say it has begun is good enough for now. I type this as I am sitting in the world club in the Minneapolis airport. I had the pleasure of hanging out with my dad for a while in the airport before he had to head off; he left for Boston just an hour before my departure. The first part of my travels involves a three hour or so flight to LAX. Once in LAX I have close to a five-hour lay over to hang out, find my gate, assumingly find the group I am traveling with, and wait for time to happen. Once in the air it is roughly a 19-hour flight to Sydney; give or take a couple hours. It’s kinda funny that I am leaving on a Monday and arriving in Sydney on Wednesday.

Packing took a real long time as you can imagine. By the time I was done I had one large bag weighing in at 66 lbs. Its had to pack for a 5 month time period for a place that I have never been too.


After a 3 hour flight to LAX, an 8 hour lay over, a 2 hour delay, and a 14 hour flight I have officially arrived in Sydney Australia. When we stepped out of the airport we were all greeted with 80 degree temperatures and a clear blue day. The first 4 days of my time in Australia will be in Sydney for orientation with the IFSA-butler students and staff. Primarily today we learned about the Australian culture, ate some Aussie BBQ and went for a swim in the ocean. The people here are great…real laid back and really friendly. Overall it has been an amazing experience already and I cannot wait for the next couple of days, which include a surf lesson, a trip to the zoo, and a boat cruise through Sydney harbor. Anyways I’m calling it a night as you are all waking up in a few hours…..Peace