There and Back Again - an Australian Tale

There and Back Again - and Australian Tale

As of Friday, October 1st, 2010 I have officially been accepted to study abroad in Cairns, Australia. This program marks a new page being turned - another new start. I feel like my life is in need of some revamping and by traveling, submitting to my wanderlust, going somewhere new to learn new things in new ways - well, this trip is just billet I've been looking for. Come along and laugh at me, with me, or both as I prepare to tally forth, wander en and return from, the Land of Oz.

Australia's New National Animal

Australia's New National Animal
A Fez ?!

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Breif Interlude

Hello Everyone,

So if you have not heard the word (that bird is the word) this is just a brief post to let you know what is going on out here. I am sad to say that my dear Hard Drive passed away in the early morning of Tuesday last week. This grievous passing has also, unfortunately, rendered my laptop useless for the time being. I am trying to bring together my next post using a flash drive and a few scattered evenings in the 24-hour room but trying to bring the media and photographs into the blog as I normally would is a little difficult when you use a different computer every other free moment. So for now, hang on tight and a new post should be out soon (exciting!) - my trip out to Chillagoe was a lot of fun this past weekend and I finally saw a kangaroo!

But more on that later.

Exiting on the Rick Roll
Until Next Post,
~ S.S.

p.s. - to continue the Family Guy theme for those of you who like the show you get an Extra Special Rick Roll
Click to be Rick Roll'd

Saturday, February 19, 2011

144 you say? I think I'll just take your word on it ...

So P.S. and just in case you haven’t gotten the memo yet … I have successfully arrived in Melbourne, subsequently Cairns and have officially parked my tired, travel-worn ass at the Footprints Student Lodge across from the University.  The rest of the trip was really easy and I got some amazing pictures from the plane of sunrise on the way into Melbourne and then sunset through the clouds as I began to descend towards Cairns. 

                      Sunrise                        Lake Outside Sydney                       Sunset

There was even something oddly relaxing about the 14 hour flight. Maybe that is only because I managed to pass out for about 8 hours of it. I remember wondering as I began falling asleep what the procedure is for loud snorers on planes but apparently I didn’t care quite enough to put the sleeping off all together. On another note, two hours before the plane landed and after most people had woken up to enjoy our breakfast everyone experienced what I have decided to call “Seventh Inning Stretch Syndrom” – aka: SISS. For some reason everyone decided it was in their best interest to stand up, walk around, stretch and do yoga in the isles of the plane. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was pretty cool and I definitely partook but it seemed like a very strange and random occurrence.

And now for more on those not so random occurrences that occur when flying!


Number 19:

When traveling on planes or making plans to travel – if your area of the country (or departure city) experiences freak and/or violent weather make sure you book your flight with plenty of time between connections just in case of delays or cancellations.

Number 20:

Check ahead about baggage requirements and limitations for each airline you will be flying on – make sure you are aware of differences in baggage allowances so you can prepare for them accordingly. For example: 1) if your first airline only allows one piece of free check in, know the price for an extra bag, 2) check the number of allowed carry-on’s – don’t bring two on the first flight if the second only allows one otherwise you’ll probably have to check something in for an extra charge/when chucked below it has a high probability for getting destroyed, 3) make sure, once packed, that none of the above luggage exceed weight or size requirements because it will result in fees. Et cetera.

Number 21:

Make sure, especially if you are traveling between countries, that you have cash available to yourself in both currency forms. Also make sure you do not keep it all in the same place – this way if you lose a bag or find some of it to be missing you have some for back-up.

Number 22:

When you go through security, it is nice to have the people seeing you off stick around. If you realize that you have forgotten that you left your favorite multi-tool in your back pocket or in a carry-on, they can take it home for you instead of ending up in the trash. I saw a woman almost get tackled for wipping out a pair of tweezers from her jean pocket; security in the US = no joke.

Number 23:

Chasing the sun or chasing the moon – either way you are going to feel it when you land. Getting a feel for the local time of your landing will give you a way to estimate (using the length of the flight in total) when you should sleep on the plane and for how long. The less the jet lag, the better the night sleep when you arrive and the better you feel the next morning. Don't get your butt kicked by Jet Lag.

Number 24:

Be aware of what you will need at customs when you arrive in your abroad location – if your needs exceed your passport and visa, have them ready. Check with past students who have gone or your international studies office to be sure you are aware of everything you’ll need.

Number 25:

When you land or arrive, make sure you call your parents/significant other/friends who are wondering about your well-being – if you have landed overseas and can’t find a payphone, it is worth the extra charges on your cell phone bill to get ahold of them.

Moving on.

There was no one else moved into my suit of three when I got here so after unpacking/creating a semblance of order in my room I forced myself to stay awake by reading Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy until 9:30... after which I officially could take no more and finally crashed. That time difference really hits pretty hard. My roommates showed up that Saturday and Sunday and are pretty cool – Chantelle is a freshman from Australia and Nikki is a senior from Austria. I’ve met a lot of other people since they arrived, mostly international students who were also arriving early for Orientation week and the few token Australian students who have been sprinkled in with the early arrivals "just because". The group of us have had a few welcome parties, birthday parties and just-because parties down by the lodge’s pool over the course of the past week and a half. I’ve had a blast – although I will say that drinking a lot over here is not anywhere in my future. When the cheapest price of a six-pack is $14 bucks and a bottle of rum will cost you $50 for the brand that no one has ever heard of it makes you consider what your money is actually worth to you. I for one would rather drop $100 on a day trip some Saturday and travel around the country a little bit than drink – I can do that when I get back home and hit 21 for more than half the price here.

And speaking of dropping money on trips I have arranged for my first official trip through the school heading out on a 2-day Outback Tour to the Limestone Caves in Cillagoe. But that’s not going to happen until next weekend, so more on that trip when it comes up (^_^). On the other hand and not speaking of dropping money I won a contest during O-week and now have a free dive trip to cash in on - going out to the Great Barrier Reef via the Ocean Freedom (a beautiful ship) *fist pump*. Also, I have already done a few day trips in the area and let me just say, choosing the rural campus instead of the one in Townsville was one of the best decisions I have made thus far. One of the trips was out to Crystal Cascades where our group of students went cliff jumping and waterfall sliding ...

Another was a day trip into the city of Cairns to see the markets and activate my Aussie phone and the third one was out to Trinity beach for some ocean Frisbee, hiking and tanning (within our designated netted boundaries so we may be safe from jellies and crocs).


I do apologize for the wait on this one and the relative short length but after surviving my second official freshman orientation week and finding time for fun in between, time has been stretched a wee-bit thin. Hopefully I will be able to keep up a little better from here on out - especially with courses starting on the 21st.

Also, before I go to bed, I would like to bring to explain the title of this particular entry to my blog.

Someone, potentially bored to tears or death, had decided one day to write out the lyrics to the song “Around the World” by Daft Punk. For those of you who know how terrible this is - just go listen to the song and say a quick prayer for this poor person. For anyone who will need a brief sum-up to understand what I am talking about because you have never heard of the song or Daft Punk hit the link below:

Wishing you all well,

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I'm leeeeaving on a jet plaaaane ...

Howdy howdy and big hello’s from the even bigger city of LAX!

Let me first say that I have an awesome family. Friday night my Mom and Dad got our family together for an Australia (or bust) departure party and it was a blast. I was presented with a Dora the Explorer hat prior to the party from (presumably) iParty which I was instructed to decorate, paint and put Country appropriate Stickers on (also provided). The plan was for me to wear said hat for the duration of the party, however I am not well known for having a small head (I apparently do not fall into the “one-size-fits-all” group for the Dora Explorer age group). Then, with my too small hat balanced on my too big head I was presented with my parent’s big surprise for me – a cake. A chocolate cake. A bourbon chocolate cake. A bourbon chocolate cake with raspberry filling. Oh – and this bourbon chocolate cake with raspberry filling looked like a foot-tall replica of a kangaroo. View the awesome-saucery below.

The party was very relaxing and enjoyable, it was a good way to also celebrate the news regarding the status of my study abroad program. I finally got a hold of Karl - the head of the International Studies office - who was all too happy to tell me that the program would indeed go on. It took me until the ride up to Logan Airport in Boston the next day to really grasp what was going on. After the massive flooding on Australia's east coast which was followed immediately by Cyclone Yasi, I was more than a little worried about being able to get out there but as they say in Australia (so I am told by Bec) "she'll be right mate". And I believed her, especially as I walked down to my gate after my mother made me cry (because she cried - it is a completely *tearing up* normal reaction *sob*). I'll miss my family - its been a fun month and a half.


So, for now, everything is going according to plan. But before I get too far into explaining my trip so far and offering advice on practicing good and safe travel, I owe you some more helpful hits on pre-pre-departure preparations. As I said in my posts about Yasi, I do have a list of hints all drawn up for you  but I got busy with school after midterms ... one thing led to another and here I am at the (almost) start of a new semester. I believe we were on hint 8. Don't forget, this is stuff you should be doing BEFORE you are sitting in a hotel in (insert country/state here) en route to the program:


Number 8:

Start worrying about your medicinal and immunization needs. Certain countries will require you to be up to date on certain shots or on a medicine regime before entering the country. Seeing as some of these regimes must begin well before departure, be sure to check in with your program head early about medical needs.

Number 9:

This also includes calling insurance companies if there is a drug you are on that you will need while abroad! Some countries will not carry the prescription you need, in some it may be off the market - make sure you are able to ask for a travel allowance for multiple prescriptions filled in a short span of time.

Number 10:

Apply for/research the process of applying for a Visa in your destination country. Without one, you shall not pass, and for that there is no cheat code ... you are more likely to be eaten by a grue

Number 11:

Application for the Visa portion of travel also begs the question, "Do you even have a Passport?" ... if the answer is no, you need to get on that. Sometimes it can take 2-4 weeks for your passport to come in.

Number 12:

Check with your school about availability of a school-hired agent to help arrange travel details. Often times a group flight will be offered from a certain city to your program city so that students who will spend the semester together can fly together. Be sure to know the details of whatever itinerary this agent gives you so you can make arrangements for connecting flights and hotels where necessary.

Number 13:

Start saving your money. If you haven't been doing so already because you haven't dreamed about was going to (__insert country name__) and having a good time since you were little. Each program acceptance will normally be accompanied by an estimate of cost calculated by your school using average amount spent by students in prior years and the currency value of the country.

Number 14:

This one pairs with 13. If you don't already have local destinations in mind to visit or cities in your country you want to see, make a list. You can even start exploring options for travel so you can estimate and work toward being prepared to get to your destination once you have arrived in the country.

Number 15:

In the case of Australia - and a few other programs - consider working toward certifications that will expedite or increase your fun while abroad. I personally would recommend getting Scuba certified as a college student at your home university if courses are offered. The course is often significantly cheaper than registering to be certified in tourist ports and this way you can get right to it once you get to Australia instead of needing to worry about another class.

Number 16:

Start following (if you don't already) the top news and headlines for both your home country and your destination country. Be aware of the political/social environment you are entering and respect it - girls traditionally wear a sari in India so don't be one who comes armed with only a bikini top and shorts. Tourists are frequently targeted by pickpockets and thieves so where ever you are - act and move with confidence. Go straight to a bathroom stall if you are nervous or unsure where you are going, lock yourself in and get your bearings - you'll feel safer and more steady alone and surrounded by walls on all sides.



So. Right now I sit in the online deal hotel I cooked up for my two night quick stay in L.A. and here is what I love about airport hotels so far: not much. Well, at least not much about the one I am in. Room is good enough to sleep in, has great mattresses and plenty of space for one. Negatives are that the TV makes a high pitch screech every 5 minutes or so, the thermostat goes up when i tell it to go down, there are no trash bags in the trash barrels, wifi sucks and when I asked that my sheets be washed in hot water only (in advance about 3 months ago and on an official request sheet) because of a skin allergy to detergents I still ended up looking like this. Well, this minus the red hair. I had to sleep in my travel pants, socks and dig up the one long sleeve shirt I packed just to sleep comfortably and get rid of the rash.


Number 17:

Just because you ask for something to be done, make sure you call before you arrive just in case your request is accidentally overlooked - especially in the case of allergic reactions.

Number 18:

Free wifi does not mean good wifi and free breakfast does not mean healthy or filling. Make sure you know just what you are asking for when you pay for it. I knew my reservation did not come with a complementary breakfast - so I was prepared to supply myself with one via room service, meal bar or breakfast nook nearby.


I still believe that if the overnight stay is simply, overnight, a more "sub-par" hotel is O.K. This place looks nice enough but the staff is unfriendly and unaccommodating (except for the guy who brought me my two room service meals). The daily and frequent shuttles to the airport help to make up for this lack of interest in customer satisfaction or comfort ... especially being far from home, having heavy luggage and being under 25 (under which it is illegal to rent a car). Regardless of the poor service, this is the first time I have ever stayed in a hotel alone and I am enjoying the ability to run around naked with no one here to care (kidding!). There is nothing wrong with being a little wet behind the ears but with this in mind, ask your parents about their travel blunders and advice too. I'm sure they will have some lovely pearls of wisdom on why you should not leave you wallet in your back pocket or explain to you just why you should never pack fine china in your check-in bag at an airport. But more on that next time. For now I need to end here and get a good night's rest - check out is at noon tomorrow and I need my sleep to make sure I am awake enough to make my 11:20 flight out of here and to Melbourne!


P.S. - While I am not flying Pacific Blue or drinking Vodka this is TOTALLY what my pre-flight orientation was like while i was comfortably stretched out across my empty row waiting for take-off

Flight Hostess makes Flying a little More Fun
What does Alcohol and Air Safety talks have in common?

P.S.S. - I would like to here note the extreme efforts of Yasi in preventing me from leaving the country and getting to Australia. I would also like to point out that Yasi failed and I am on my way there and I am going to help fix the damage she caused. If you want to follow continued efforts toward recovery click [here] for more information.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

You don't move your body like a Cyclone - you move it like a Hurricane (loser)

Howdy all,

So It would seem that Cairns was spared the full brunt of the tropical cyclone Yari – although there is quite a different story in the smaller tourist towns of Mission Beach and Tully, just over 100km south of Cairns. Individuals who have called into the local news stations have begun comparing the damage to the aftermath of napalm and Agent Orange. Based on the looks of things – especially reports from Australian News Channel 7 (Click Here for the jump), students making their way to Townsville are going to have an especially hard time getting adjusted to their new living situations with the after flood of a 9.5 meter storm surge that has hit the area, lost power and lack of clean drinking water. In fact, according to local news reports, Magnetic Island is already receiving emergency bottled water due to damage sustained to the water line as Yasi passed (Click here for more on the story).

It is amazing how wide-spread the damage is and how devastating it has been to the area. Not only have homes and businesses been shed of their roofs but marinas have been impaled by their 50-foot-long yachts, shopping strips have been repopulated with giant trees and the costal area has been showered with unripe bananas and immature sugar cane. Most of the economy of this area comes from the banana and sugar industries - both of which have taken at least $1 billion dollars worth of damage thus far in destruction of infrastructure and in the loss of over 90% of their crops. Hit the jump below for more news:

I have found some images from the Cairns area as well if you are interested in what my destination town is going through. By comparison to Mission Beach and Tully the damage here is ‘tame’.

I am still waiting to hear back from the St. Lawrence University International Studies office with more news about altered travel plans. As of right now the Cairns airport has been cleared and reopened for travel and are again accepting commercial air traffic and I have a place to stay (thanks to a very supportive pen pal and good friend who has opened her doors to me if needed) in the Sydney area just in case the way is made impassable again. As it stands I'll be heading out to LAX at 7:27pm on Saturday from Boston and hanging out in a Hotel for 2 days. Alone. Its gonna be a blast. I might go to a sports bar and watch the Superbowl but beyond that - it'll be a slow few days waiting for my Quantas flight out. I'll be posting all of the remaining hints i've lined up for future study-abroad-ers to this program during that time and, as expected, keeping you up-to-date on the storm recovery in Australia.

Keep your ear to the ground and digeridoo at the ready,

~ S.S.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tropical Cyclone Yasi

Australia study-abroad tip number 7 ...

Number 7:

If you are studying abroad in the American spring semester (aka the Australian Fall) make sure you are aware that you are going to a tropical zone during their equivalent of Hurricane season


Right now it is just past midnight on February the 3rd in the State of Queensland. From what I have gathered from the news reports I’ve been watching and articles I’ve been reading, residents of Northern Queensland are holding their breath and waiting as the clock nears 1:00am – TC Yasi’s expected ETA for extreme landfall. And here I sit over 15,500km away in my comfy living room at 9:18am where I will be holding my breath from 10:00am until 1:00pm when – seemingly – nothing will happen.  I am actually just going to be hoping that James Cook University at Cairns – the school I am supposed to be traveling to – is not going to be wiped off the face of the earth. The other 7 students who are waiting (as I am, to hear from our home university as to what we need to do) are all waiting for news of their campus about 2 ½ hours South of Cairns – James Cook University at Townsville. The eye of the cyclone is set to split the bet and go straight between Cairns and Townsville but current weather reports shows this eye (which is over 100km across) hitting both cities anyway. 

This beast of a storm is over 650km (400 miles) wide and, at that size, it is over two times the size of Hurricane Katrina and more powerful – after seeing what Katrina did to New Orleans what will be left after this storm is a terrifying thought. So as the eye of the worst cyclone to ever hit Australia begins to make land fall I will be keeping up with reports and letting you guys know what is going on. Hit the jumps below to read reports, stats and watch video on Tropical Cyclone Yasi – I’ll be in touch.

~ S.S.

p.s. - Obviously I have not been posting and I have some catching up to do but half-way through a semester is not time to be trying to keep a blog going (apparently – who knew!). I do have more tips and advice on the way but right now this somehow seemed a little more pressing. I will be trying to post my updates within the next two days but right now – this storm of the century seems a little more pressing than giving tips about applying for your visa or planning your connecting flights.