Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Beatitude in Brisbane

By Lucy Roberts
A view of the "cubby house" from the backyard veranda
            This week has consisted of new people, places, ideas, and experiences. We have all been placed with host families that, much to my delight, resonate with our interests and hobbies. The city of Brisbane has been warm, sunny, and very inviting. There are many elements here that are familiar and comforting to me; the river running through the city, the bicycle culture, the farmers markets, and the warmth of summer. Our lectures are starting to take a turn from sociology/ indigenous studies towards biology and natural history- subjects that I am eager to explore in the context of Australia. On top of all that, the agenda for our time in Brisbane is loaded with excursions that I know will be full of educational experiences plus the perfect amount of fun to balance out all the hard work we do!
            Annabelle and I are staying in a suburb called Auchenflower. We are located on the north side of the river- as opposed to the rest of the group, living on the south side of the river. My homestay parents are full of life and, much to my surprise, have the energy to keep up with two 20 year old Americans, which has made for the most wonderful time. The first weekend, we were up and ready to go by 8 am with a full agenda lined up for the day. On Saturday, we went to the farmers market early with the dog, Tillie, and explored all the tropical fruits and vegetables that are currently in season. I am still amazed that I can eat mangos (my favorite fruit) in February over here. We came home with mangos, dragonfruit, watermelon and pineapple- my arms are still sore from carrying around that huge watermelon. We spent the rest of the day hanging out in Brisbane and around the house. Fortunately, our host family’s daughter lives downstairs with other students in their 20’s, so we have been spending a fair amount of time with them, getting the insider’s perspective on Brisbane. On Sunday we basked in the sun on the Sunshine Coast, about an hour outside of the city. We first went to Noosa beach and hiked around, searching for Koalas in the gum trees and learning about the fauna from our host dad. After playing in the waves and sufficiently getting sunburn on my back, we went off to another beach! By the time we got home Sunday, we were all thoroughly exhausted and had to prepare for school the next morning. But that wasn’t all we had on Monday morning- our host dad is an artist and had to drop off his painted koala on the Gold Coast, and we got to ride along with the promise of a chance to jump in the ocean- all before lectures began on Monday at 11:30 am. With the Gold Coast being about 1 hour away, we were up and in the car at 7 am that day, bags packed with both school and beach necessities.
The painted "koalakeet"
Living the hard life at Surfer's Paradise on the Gold Coast
            This was undoubtedly the best way to start a long week of lectures, projects, and even our first exam. We spent this week wrapping up our lectures regarding indigenous Australians, in preparation for our exam on this topic. Not only did we have this exam on Thursday, but a few of us also have neighborhood tours to prepare for. These are group projects in which we have to explore a culturally and historically relevant neighborhood of Brisbane, and lead a guided tour to the group. We also have our research projects due in two weeks!
            But we never fail to manage time for fun and relaxation in our schedules- work hard play hard, right? Many of the students have homestays with swimming pools, beautiful patios and yards, so we congregated and hung out for a while post-exam at one of these homes. In addition to exploring each other’s homestays, we have also been hanging out in the city of Brisbane. We went out for dinner one night in West End, and it was reminiscent of hanging out in southeast Portland with folks playing music on the sidewalk, sleeve tattoos, small bookstores, and plenty of vegetarian options (just a few of my favorite things). Other areas of Brisbane include South Bank, which features a fake (man-made) beach, ferris wheel, beautiful gardens, and a ferry stop. Fortitude Valley consists of a few artistic alleyways, Chinatown, pricey boutique shopping, and the nightclub scene. One evening, our host family took us to the top of Mount Coot-tha. This lookout point was declared a reserve for public recreation in 1880, with the name “Coot-tha” taken from an Aboriginal word meaning honey, or the place of wild honey. Presently, bicyclists and pedestrians like to get their heart rates up by climbing up the steep incline, and get a rush from zooming down the hill after reveling in the “best view of Brisbane”. I recently read an article saying police are now concerned about the speeds at which the cyclists are descending the mountain, with speeds up to 80 km/hr!! Naturally, this means I can’t wait until I get to ride one of my host family’s bicycles up and down the mountain : )
The view from Mt. Coot-tha, depicting the sprawl of the city.
            This week was all over the map for me. It took all of about 5 minutes to get comfortable and adjusted to my homestay and the laid back Australian life and settle in to spending weekends at the beach. Then I had to get back in school mode, and listen to lectures and study for the exam. Luckily, the State Library here is a beautiful work of architectural art. I already feel well oriented in this city, which makes it easy to get out and around, and back home again. At first, I was anxious about living with a family, and I didn’t want things to feel like high school all over again. All my worries have subsided, and I love the feeling of coming home at the end of the day to spend the evenings with my host family and relaxing with all the pets and good company that resides at our home in Auchenflower. 

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