Studying abroad, I learn the value of frugal living. Two suitcases and the vast city of Melbourne teach me that when it costs $4 to wash and dry my laundry, I don’t mind waiting until I run out of underwear to do it. (Of course, this is before I move to New York and discover that it costs $6 to do a round.) I realize that I probably should have brought my raincoat but left the giant tapestry, and I learn that looking right first before I cross the street could have dire consequences.
But Melbourne, my Melbourne: population 3,283,000 – food and fashion capital of Australia, home to Queen Victoria Market and the tallest building in the Southern hemisphere – this Melbourne becomes my love, my fascination, my home.
Scene 1 – Orientation: After two days of travel, I file out of a bus with about 40 other students going abroad with IFSA-Butler. The next four days will be spent at Noosa Heads North Shore Resort to banish jet lag, learn the Melbourne nitty-gritty and develop four days worth of friendships to make the plunge into Australian life less scary.
Orientation is fabulous – when I am managing not to keel over from exhaustion. There are troops of kangaroos lounging in the backyard like gigantic squirrels. Although they seem harmless and let me come close enough to touch, I hear that boxing with kangaroos is not a good idea, as they have very large claws and strong back legs. I cross that off my list of things to do.
We go to the beach down the road for a surfing lesson, and even I manage to get up and surf to shore. I’m feeling very Blue Crush with the salt water lapping at my board as I paddle toward the setting sun. It is at this exact moment that I fall in love with Australia. After four days, I’m living without the aid of intravenous caffeine, feel like I’ve made real friends and am anxious to get to Melbourne.
Scene 2 – Queens College: Though I’ve been looking forward to truly beginning my semester, I’m suddenly just a little bit terrified of living in another country as we pull up to Queen’s College. The building is palatial and looks like a sandstone Hogwarts. Formal dinners are Monday through Wednesday, and we are to wear black robes. Once the “Queeners” (all 200 of them) start coming back, however, all is delightful chaos.
We are immediately plunged into DisOWeek, yet another orientation. On Sunday, all of Queens crams into the upstairs of Puggs, and we foreigners learn the difference between pots, pints and jugs and lose track of how many people we’ve met. Monday night is Bogan Turn, a party which involves running around the streets of Melbourne in tacky track suits or sloganed graphic t-shirts, sequined velvet sweat pants and brightly colored windbreakers. I also learn the words to “Dirty Old Town” and re-meet the people I’d met the night before.
Tuesday night we exchange our Bogan drag for cocktail finery and head to Rust on Brunswick Street, the “artsy” part of town. Before this, the third years on our corridor invite us to eat at Bimbos, and I find myself staring at a massive goat cheese and ruccola pizza in a place whose decorations include shoes stapled to the wall, a cotton-and-Christmas-light mural and a baby with a dildo in chains suspended from the ceiling. I’m not asking questions. The pizza is good.
By Friday I have witnessed an inter-corridor pashing (kissing) contest, a meeting which includes punishment showers for falling asleep and have played “sudden impact,” where one person with a big rubber ball runs at another person who has no rubber ball, and whoever does not fall over wins. I feel like I’ve really earned my new green and gold Queens polo and proceed to wear it everywhere.
Scene 4 – The Great Ocean Road: About a month has gone by, and I’m feeling at home. I’ve found my favorite setting (B4) on the coffee machine in Eakins Dining Hall, discovered Tim Tams (chocolate cookies sandwiching a layer of chocolate mousse and dipped in chocolate) and spent considerable time wandering through the fresh produce in Queen Victoria Market.
A friend from down the corridor says he has a house on the Great Ocean Road and invites a group of us up for the weekend. We drive his car to the house on Saturday night and dine finely on bowtie pasta with marinara, salad and Turkish bread with dips. I make an apple pie, and we sit picking crumbly bits of brown sugar out of the pie dish as candlelight falls on half-drunk glasses of wine and the ocean purrs outside.
We wake up early the next morning and drive another two hours to the Twelve Apostles (although now there are only nine) – huge rocks jutting out of the ocean. They are inspiring, these sentinels along the Australian coast slowly and inevitably being reclaimed by the sea.
As we pile back into the car and begin the winding drive back to Melbourne, I feel like we’ve been friends for a long time. It all seems to happen very fast, this adopting of a new country and making it your own. But then again, this is what we left home to do.
Stay tuned for Part II: Guideline to Studying Abroad