Study Abroad?... I Hardly Know Her!

A humble attempt to document life and all its eccentricities

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thanksgiving, Saying 'Goodbye', Sydney, More Goodbyes, Home.

Life has been moving in fast-forward for quite a few weeks now. Just a week ago I was still in Sydney, soaking up plenty of UV rays thanks to the hole in the ozone layer right above Australia. Alas, I'm now stuck back in the arctic tundra of central Illinois. It's cold, it's rainy, it's full of unprecedented amounts of Christmas cheer. I'll just give a quick recap of my last few weeks down under and my tiresome journey back to the place I call home.

As the days in Australia hit the single digits a cloud of melancholy came over the Village population. As each newly created and sustained friend boarded a plane back to their country of residence it was like a piece of my study abroad experience went with them. As corny as that sounds, it's true. However, we did manage to have one last dinner together with nearly everyone present. We had our own modest Thanksgiving dinner, put on by the Americans. Being a purely American holiday it was pretty difficult to shop for. I went to the store with some of my fellow countrymen and tried to find the staples of any good T-giving. Unfortunately, no canned pumpkin, no stuffing mix, a tiny turkey with no arms or legs was a whopping $42! Obviously, we were a disheartened bunch. But we were Americans. We come from the land of ingenuity, freedom and Pilgrims goddammit! Sarah, a resident of the great state of Maine, proclaimed that she would make a pumpkin pie from scratch. That's right, roast a whole pumpkin, scoop out the filling, blend it, mix it with ginger, cinnamon, and other spices, then bake the pies, all by herself! What a good little American! Then to the stuffing...we all agreed 'Who needs stuffing? We're gonna have pies!". Finally, the turkey. I suggested, "You know what looks like a turkey? A rotisserie chicken. Oh, and they're only $10? That sure is convenient." So with all of our forces combined, we managed to have a decent Thanksgiving in a country very opposed to the very idea. Why do Australians hate giving thanks? Beats me.

After that a couple friends and I took my flatmate Sanna to the airport to catch her flight to the east coast. Very sad indeed. It just got the ball rolling though, pretty soon everyone was loading their belongings into cab and shuttles and trekking back home or onto holiday destinations. I wasn't going home right away but spending a couple days in Sydney with friends. I think if I had gone straight home after leaving Perth it would have been a lot harder to adjust back to life in the States. Sydney was a nice little buffer between the dream world of Perth and the cold reality of Illinois.

Sydney was amazing. We did the biggest tourist-y things, but hell, we WERE tourists. The first morning I was all by myself and couldn't sleep the night before cause I was so excited. I was up at 7am and even though it was raining, I got my shoes on walked down to Circular Quay to see the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. I was so pumped. I was seeing the symbols of Australia. I met up with Bridget and Sheila (friends from Murdoch) later in the day and explored more of the city and the botanical garden. Ended up napping under a giant eucalyptus tree.

When I woke up the next day I called my good friend Amanda who was supposed to be flying in the night before. I made plans to meet her, hung up the phone and turned around only to see a good friend of mine from Perth. It was Monty! He had left the first of all of my friends to go travel by himself down the east coast of Oz for awhile. I hadn't made any plans to meet up with him, but there he was, standing in my hostel. I freaked out. He ended up getting booked into the same room as me and was leaving on the same day. We made it our job to explore the city. We met up with Amanda and Martin and went back to the harbour. Booked a package deal that included a high speed boat tour of the harbour and passes to the zoo. The jet boat was intense. The zoo was amazing. Such a good way to end my time in Australia, especially with some of my good friends.

December 3rd was the longest day of my life. Got on the plane around 11:15am in Sydney. Landed in LA at 6:30am, on the same day. I only slept one hour out of thirteen. When we got to LA, I was barely coherent. Speaking of, LAX sucks. They're renovating their international arrival terminal so I was ushered through customs in an almost comatose state. Then of course, American airport security. I had to take my flip-flops and sweatshirt off to get through the metal detector. Yes, that's right, I had a bomb in the inch of foam in my flip-flop. NO! That's my freakin' foot! Then I forgot to dump the water out of my UIS water bottle. So I had to stand there and chug my water and hold up the whole line. I was not a happy camper and I had only been in the US for a half hour. Got to Chicago and my last flight of the day (to Peoria) was delayed. They couldn't find the pilot. Then, once they found the pilot, they had to de-ice the plane. I was delayed for longer than the actual duration of the flight. Made it back to my hometown and was greeted by the smiling faces of parents and one sibling. As I was catching up with the 'rents I saw my friend Kasey strolling over by the baggage claim. I was perplexed. Wasn't sure if I was seeing things because of lack of sleep or Kasey was just randomly at the Peoria airport for some reason. Then was surprised by UIS friends Zach, Evan, and Chris who came to make sure I got back into the country alright. It was so good to see everyone and even though I was smelly, tired and irritated by airports I was still giddy to see everyone. Once we got back to my house I immediately went into first grade show and tell mode. "Look at all these cool things I have and all these neat places I've been!" So good to be back in the company of those who know me too well.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Spontaneity. It's a good thing.

Road trips. A university students idea of a holiday. Pack up a car, get a map, and drive. This past week, Brittany, Amanda, Sanna, Martin and I did just that.

After the whole Margaret River debacle (it was only a debacle because there were so many people on it. It's so hard to do fun things with a huge group that has no leadership.) we decided that another road trip was in order. This time, there were to be no plans, just a leave date and an return date. Our first day we drove down to the tourist town of Pemberton. It's a really really small town that caters mostly to backpackers coming through the region. The forests in the area are incredible. Huge karri trees surround almost the entire town. A really cool place. We camped near a creek in a caravan park. To cut costs we borrowed a tent from a friend. The tent was made for three people. We had five people in our group. We were very cozy in the tent. Also, since we were further south, the temperature was a little chillier, especially at night. We froze that first night.
The next day we drove along the coast to a town called Walpole where we got coffee which made everyone happy. Right after we made our way to the famous Tree Top Walk. It's a steel structure that takes visitors up into the tops of these massive trees. The trees weren't karri this time but tingle trees. Because of the iron ore in much of Australia's soil, the trees take on a reddish tint. The treetop talk was stunning. We were nearly 40 meters off the ground at some parts! I can officially say that I've danced in the tree tops.

After that we trekked to a place called Greens Pool where the coast is not sand but massive rocks. We climbed around on a section called Elephant Rocks. Martin and I got adventurous and climbed on some of the more dangerous sections of rocks. The rocks were very steep with rocky gorges in between. Death traps for sure. We made it out alive though. As we were walking back a massive snake slithered across the path. Then it just sat there, in the path, staring at us. An Aussie man and his daughter came up and he told us that it was an Australian Brown Snake and that it was one of the most deadly snakes in the world...and we were all barefoot. We turned back from there and found a different path to the car.
Drove to Albany after to find a place to sleep for the night. Found a great caravan park that had a pool and a hot tub and really nice facilities. It didn't take much convincing for us to decide to stay there. We quickly changed into our bathers and swam and relaxed in the hot tub. We went into Albany for dinner and a drink at local bar. After we all walked out to the beach and watched the stars. So many shooting stars. It was amazing.

The next day we decided to explore Albany. We took the drive along the cape which Albany sits on and stopped along the way. Our first stop was a look out, but we traversed through the bush to the coast. We found a perfect place for jumping into the ocean. We all took turns jumping into the amazingly blue water. Just driving down this peninsula we stopped at some of the most beautiful places in the world, one right after the other. The Southern coast is just breathtaking.
After we had our fill of amazing scenery we started our trek back. We wanted to make it to Busselton to watch the sunset. The drive back was intense. Martin was driving ridiculous fast on these winding roads. Magpies were reluctant to move for our car so we had to brake constantly and then the bugs...We must have hit right after all these insects hatched because there were thousands of them. Once we hit them with our car they stuck to the windshield. Once the sun hit the windshield covered in bug guts it became impossible to see out of. It made the drive a little scary. We made it to Busselton just before the sunset and walked out onto the jetty (supposedly the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. It's almost 2 kilometers long!) and watched the sun go down. There was a lightning storm going on right along the horizon so we watched that for awhile as well. Hit the road after, only stopping to get Chicken Treat for dinner. Made it back to Murdoch around 11:30. Exhausted. Fulfilled.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Margaret River, Fremantle Festival and Things I Miss from Home

My life has been in fast-forward for the past 3 weeks. Ever since Halloween, it seems like time has decided to move extra fast, as if it wasn't pushing the limit anyway. It seems like just a few days ago that I first arrived here in Australia and now my adventure here is in its last weeks. Although, while time has been flying, I've managed to make the most of it with some really great friends I've made here.

The weekend of the 8th of November some friends (17 to be exact) and I made it down to the wine-growing region of Western Australia known as Margaret River. Beautiful coastlines, massive waves and a relaxed atmosphere centered around the consumption of wine made this the perfect holiday. We rented cars and booked a huge house with ocean views right outside the town of Margaret River. Just a short drive to get groceries or petrol. We went to the beach, did some spelunking in the cave systems, did our self-guided wine and beer tour through the region, made pit stops at a chocolate factory and a cheese factory. At night, we made the most out of having a massive beach house all to ourselves. I think I could get used to this kind of lifestyle. Sanna, Brittany and I swam up the Margaret River aways. I always seem to forget I'm in Australia and dangerous things lurk around every corner. As I was swimming I couldn't get the image of crocodiles out of my head. Not to mention the giant "coastal death adder" we saw on the road on the way to the house. It was probably 5 feet long. No more walking around in bushes for me, thank you. Death adders are not my friend.

The whole region of Margaret River is breath-taking. Massive karri tree forests spring up along the road. Rolling hills are covered in grapevines and peppered with palatial mansions. Strange that such a place exists in a country known for its vast deserts and arid climate. As exams are underway here now, this trip was a sort of farewell to everyone. In the next couple weeks the people who I've grown to enjoy and treat like family will go their separate ways. Sad in a way, but all good things must end.

Today was the Fremantle Festival on the cappuccino strip in Freo. The main street was closed and stages were set up for live music and other attractions. Freo is full of energy on just a regular weekend, now the entire focus of Perth was upon the village. The parade that went through town was intense. Usually, parades are nothing more than fire trucks, the VFW, and candy-throwing. That's not how they roll in Freo. This parade was like a social justice Mardi Gras. Floats passed through the street with messages like 'Save Freo Beaches' and 'Equal Rights for All'. Such a diverse group of individuals. Aboriginal dancers began the parade strutting like the emu. So many colors in the costumes of the participants. Happiness and hopefulness radiated from the entire spectacle. Fairies frolicking, children smiling and waving, musicians playing. Such a great way to spend a day.
While Fremantle does feel like a second home now, there are so many people and things I can't wait to get back to in the States. I'll just do a short list.

-Family (immediate and extended)
-Friends (you know who you are)
-Driving (both on the right side of the road and just driving in general, I miss my car)
-Papa John's Pizza (Australian pizza is so so bad, they have Dominoe's here and they say it's the best, if you thought Dominoe's in the States is bad, the Aussie version is 10x worse)
-Homemade chocolate chip cookies (technically I could make them since I have an oven, it's just laziness)
-Seasons (Sure, it's great having sunny day after sunny day, but the leaves never change here, it never snows, plants rarely bloom. It gets old real fast. Not to mention trying to study when it's always perfect weather makes for a big distraction)
-A good gym (The Murdoch gym is like a closet compared to the TRAC)
-Having an income of some sort (It's sad to constantly see money go out of my account and never in)
-Backgammon (I didn't bring my board cause there was no room in my bag! ARGGH!)
-General Tso's Chicken (Yum)

It's such a bittersweet experience to come home cause there are countless thing I'll miss from Australia as well.

-Being able to drink legally (The age here is 18. I only have one more month once I get back until I'm 21 though)
-Soy Crisps (Best snack food in the entire world)
-Kebabs (Chicken, Tomato, Lettuce, Sweet Chili and Sour Cream...I'm in heaven)
-Playing Rummy nearly everyday (I have an addiction, luckily I found people with the same one. It's a support group)
-Having class 2 days a week (best schedule I'll ever have)
-So many cool accents in one small area
-Friends (It's sad to say it but most of them I will never see again)
-Living so close to the beach (I don't think I've ever turned down a trip to the beach if someone suggested it)
-Tim Tams (They are going to be for sale in the US, but only caramel and original. My favorites are Double Coat.)
-Always having something to do or see (Perth is an amazing city and I'm proud to have called it my home for the past few months)

So it's just a few more days and then I'm off to Sydney for a week and then back home to good old Peoria, Illinois, heart of the Midwest and ready to start another chapter in my life.

Friday, November 7, 2008


Since Australia is 15 hours ahead of the US, I didn't have to stay up late the night of the 4th to witness history being made. I was still in my pajamas after committing myself to the TV for the morning and afternoon, watching election coverage. These campaigns and this election were not just for the United States, the entire world looked on with morbid fascination. Australia was no different. Three out of the five channels we receive in our flat were showing non-stop election coverage, complete with Australian experts on the American governmental system. Also, with no responsibility, and no 'Florida incident' hanging over their heads, the Aussie pundits could make outrageous comments with no fear of repercussions. The host was unapologetically in favor of Obama. They called the election for him about an hour and a half before the American media did. My flatmates and I watched the TV for hours that day, feeling the same hope as countless other Americans in the country and overseas. McCain's speech was eloquent and incredibly humble. Obama's was inspiring and moving. It gave me chills the entire time.

Once it was finalized, we Americans knew that we had to celebrate. There's a bar on campus here called The Tavern so some of us went to the bar to watch election aftermath and have a beer. There were people from all over the world at the Tav and while the election may not have affected them directly, they appreciated the historic nature. Obama is the embodiment of change, which we certainly need after 8 years of idiocy. I can't wait until January 20th to start getting our country back on the right path.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The most isolated city in the world.

Australia and I had our three month anniversary the other day. It was nice. I decided to spend it in Perth. I don't usually make the trek into Perth unless there's something big going on there or I feel like being alone. It takes about 40 minutes to get there and that's if you manage to time it right and catch the bus and train, whereas it only takes 25 minutes to get to Fremantle from campus. Perth is a great city though. All the people I've met in the city have been so nice and helpful. I think it's because of Perth's claim to fame of being 'the most isolated city in the world'. The tourism industry isn't as big here as in other places of Australia, so people here aren't sick of giving directions or answering stupid questions asked by outsiders. Usually when I talk to people I get questions like "Oh, where in the States are you from?" or "How long are you here for?". Even the cashier at Kmart will say something when he/she hears my accent. Which brings me to another thing...some people actually enjoy American accents here. Personally, I think my accent is a little bland. Plus, the people here have been hearing American accents forever, in movies, music, television, news reports. I figured they'd be tired of them by now. I met this Aussie girl in one of my classes and we got to talking about accents and she said that whenever there's Americans in her classes she can't pay attention because she just listens to them talk the entire time.

I had the last tutorial for one of my classes today. It was my Global Media class, which sucks because it was my favorite class. The class itself was a big eye opener for me. It's so fascinating to study globalization in another country, especially one so influenced by America like Australia is. The class was made up of a ton of different nationalities. About half were Aussies, but the other half were made up of myself ("token American" which I was actually referred to as during class. "Can we get the opinion of the token American?" in reference to Fox News.), Malays, and Singaporeans. I've learned so much about the world and the media in that one class. The discussions we had during tutorials were incredible.

Anyway, back to Perth. On our anniversary I decided to walk up to Kings Park by myself. It was a beautiful day and I just took my time walking through the massive park. Situated on a tall escarpment, Kings Park is a part of Perth history. It's half beautiful gardens and scenic views of the skyline and half protected bushland. You could spend an entire day following the trails in the park. I read a plaque that said that when the area was inhabited by only the Nyungar Aboriginal people, they hunted by chasing groups of kangaroos off the steep cliffs of the escarpment where Kings Park sits. Pretty clever way of hunting, no need for weapons, gravity does the work for you. After I had my fill of beauty courtesy of Kings Park I took the train back, made myself dinner and drank some coffee. Perth and I had a great day together on our anniversary. I only have a month left here so I've got to make it count.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Heaps and heaps of Aussie slang, I reckon.

I really love accents and regional slang. Ask anyone who knows me. So when I found out I was going to Australia I was so pumped because I really wanted to pick up on some slang of the land down under. Now, in the academic sense, there is little differentiation between American English and Australian English (besides a few spelling changes like 'color' to 'colour' and 'organization' to 'organisation'...speaking of I'm taking a globali(z/s)ation course here and had to write a paper on media globali(z/s)ation. I forgot to changes the Zs to Ss and got lots of red marks, oh well. Oh, one more thing, the letter Z isn't pronounced 'Zee', it's pronounced 'Zed'. How random is that?). However, some of the spoken Australian dialect can be hard to decipher, especially when they talk fast. Most of the language here seems to say 'just get on with it'. Aussies don't have time to muddle around with grammar or proper sentence structure, or even real words. Here's a quick run down of some typical words thrown out in an everyday conversation. I'll give them in a sentence too, like in a spelling bee.

Trolley: Shopping Cart "Little Billy, bring me a trolley so we can stock up on meat pies and Vegemite.'

Heaps: Tons or A lot "Oi! There's heaps of fun things to do in Perth."

Eh?, Yeah?, Hey?: Punctuation to almost any sentence "Homework sucks, hey?"

No worries: No Problem "No worries! We've got plenty of goon for this weekend!"

Goon: Boxed wine "This goon is eating away my stomach lining."

Ace!: Awesome! "This Vines concert is going to be so ace!"

Bloke: Man "Which is the men's bathroom?" "The one that says 'blokes'"

Tosser: Wanker "That (bleep)ing tosser just dumped his beer on me!"

Dobber: Tattle-tale "That stinking dobber told the lecturer I was cheating."

Knackered: Tired "After a night out in Freo all I want is a kebab and a warm bed cause I'm so knackered."

Cheers: Thank you "Nobody's every told me how much they like my smile, cheers."

Brick shit house: Badass Mo Fo "My friend walked into a biker bar and got his ass kicked by a total brick shit house."

Yonks and Yonks: Years and Years "It's been yonks and yonks since I watched a footy game."

Pom: British person "That anchor on the ABC doesn't sound Australian, he's a pom!"

Bogan: Aussie white trash "Kath and Kim is the epitome of bogan culture"

Good Onya: Job well done "You just finished your essay? Good onya!"

The overall shortening of words:

Cottesloe: Cott
Fremantle: Freo
Rottnest: Rotto
Thanks: Ta
Subiaco: Subi
University: Uni

Everyone has at least one nickname here as well. Sometimes two or three. It goes along with the whole shortening of names. Most of them end in 'zza' or the letter O. So like Jerome becomes 'Jezza' and Courtney becomes 'Courto'. Mine would be hard since my name is already one syllable, plus Luko just sounds weird.

So try and use some of these words in your everyday speech and see if anyone notices. If they do try and pull off an Aussie accent and call them 'mate'. If that doesn't work, just walk away.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I guess this is the formal introduction...

Since I was recently incorporated into the UIS Blogger club, I guess I should formally introduce myself. My name is Luke Runyon. I'm no good at this whole 'describe yourself' thing so my good friend Howard Kang has made it a tad bit easier. Here's his questions answered my me.

1) Why did you choose your major?
Well, this was actually a pretty easy decision for me. I'm terrible at Math and Science so that ruled out roughly half my choices. I've always been interested in broadcasting and mass media so Communication seemed to be the best way to explore those further.

2) What are your plans post-graduation?
I'm currently looking into public radio internships for this upcoming summer. In an ideal world I could straight into radio production or even be a presenter for awhile. However, the media industry can be a difficult field to break into so we'll see what happens.

3) What's the last non-textbook you read?
It's called 'Survivor' by Chuck Palahniuk, the same guy who wrote 'Fight Club'. It's a really great book about a man who was part of a cult who inevitably killed themselves but he stayed around for awhile to cash in in the media on being the last known survivor of this cult.

4) What's the last movie you watched?
Pulp Fiction actually. A couple of my flatmates had never seen it and I was appalled so I quickly went to this library and rented it.

5) What's the last thing you watched on TV?
It's this really trashy Australian soap opera called 'Neighbours'. We watch it mostly for the cringe-worthy acting and ridiculous story lines.

6) What's you favorite thing about being at UIS?
Well, I'm not currently at UIS but I'm looking forward to being in close proximity to all of my friends again. Plus the gym here in Australia pales in comparison to TRAC.

7) What's at the top of your iTunes playlist right now?
Technically the song I play most is 'Let's Make Love and Listen to Death from Above' by CSS. But the bands I've been playing constantly for two weeks are MGMT and Passion Pit.

8) What's one guilty pleasure you have?
80s music. I know it's not good. But it's so bad it's good.

9) Where's the best place you've ever traveled & why?

I've seen so many beautiful places since I've been here in Australia. My favorite has probably been Karijini National Park in Western Australia. It felt like I was in a dream the entire time I was there.

10) Create your own question.
I'll go the same philosophical route as Howard and pose the question: How?