By Julie Kohn
“Root” in Aussie lingo means to have sex, “thongs” are flip flops, “lollies” are candies and girls with bangs have “fringe.” Stepping foot off the plane into the country of boomerangs, roos and koalas, I had a lot to learn. On my plane ride to the “land down under,” I held a feeling of uncertainty far greater than any I’d ever faced. I heard the “ding” as the “fasten seatbelt” sign lit up above me. The clouds broke and the deep teal water slapped against the fine white sand. I was looking down at my new home for the next five months. “Is this real life?” the guy behind me asked, and all of the Americans around me laughed. We were all astounded that we were not only privileged to visit this oasis, but that we were going to be exploring it for months.
My studies in Australia were structured so that I was able to travel often–and I did, stopping in New Zealand on the way home. I’d been on 26 flights within six months by the time I got home. Ask any of my University friends, and they’ll tell you I am a safe person, but something about being in another country made me feel like I was in a fairytale. In Australia I hopped with hundreds of wild kangaroos, jumped 14,000 feet out of a plane, held a fuzzy koala, scuba-dived the Great Barrier Reef, cliff jumped in the rainforest and slept for eight nights in the wild Outback. In New Zealand I whitewater rafted down a 21-foot waterfall, climbed a volcano, got pushed down a hill in a giant hamster-ball (zorbing), learned how to play underwater hockey and visited the Shire from “The Lord of the Rings.”
In Australia I was at first confused by the style of learning. But having little homework allowed me to understand that in Australia, living your life took a priority over studying every single night until 1 a.m. and fitting fun in on the side. The Aussies really do live life with “no worries.” Once I was able to understand their accents a little better I met a great group of girls who became my family there. I think they were just as interested in learning about American ways as I was in learning about theirs. What are squirrels? Reese’s peanut butter cups? Are there really fraternities? What’s a sorority? Sharing my culture became a part of our relationship as much as my learning about theirs. For Halloween I helped them carve pumpkins and one night we made (makeshift) s’mores.
Fast-forward to spring break: the Australian Outback. With my program of about 15 Americans we spent eight nights sleeping under the infinite night sky of the Outback: no civilization, no tents. This is when I began to taste the communal feeling the Australian Aboriginal people feel with their country. I sniffed in the red dust and gazed at the land stretching in front of our truck, layered in sharp spinifex grass, vast gorges filled with the magic of water and in the distance the sacred rock of Uluru.
When I had finally settled into my Aussie life, it was time to leave for New Zealand. I explored the north island of the great sheep country with friends from Germany and Taiwan. Our cheap rental car zipped (on the left side of the road) through mountains, along the coast and through the famous Lord of the Rings background. While eating Tim Tams (the famous Australian chocolate cookie) and looking towards the south island on our last night I began to hum “Hallelujah”–you know, that song from “Shrek.” To my surprise my friends began to join in. Three friends all from different continents, together in New Zealand, humming the same song. The world really is a small place.
When I got back to Lewisburg the administration asked what we had learned, and this is what I said: Vegemite on toast is equal to eating straight salt. If you don’t know what it is, don’t touch it, because it might kill or paralyze you. You need to be happy both independently and when with friends. Live your life first and do your work second.