Friday, February 15, 2013

First Impressions of a New Place

By Marc Steiner

After a rewarding week of research and studying we all travelled through various means of transportation to arrive in Brisbane, a beautiful city where we will be spending about a month’s time. While most of the students flew on airplanes, a few of us took a 15-hour overnight train to reach our destination. Despite the fact that the duration of the train ride from Sydney to Brisbane was nearly the same amount of time for the flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, the train was a much more enjoyable experience. We were able to see more of the Australian countryside. Parts of the landscape looked familiar to the United States with rolling green pastoral hills that only had a few fences and cows to graze in between. At the same time the eucalyptus trees seemed out of place in the memory of open fields in the United States. The train rode through land that epitomized the natural country of Australia. At points we looked out the windows of the train to see only bushes as far as our eyes could see. The scenes beyond the window were very illustrative of why the world refers to Australia’s natural land as “the bush.” We were able to watch the sunset before we fell asleep. We also watched the sun rise because our stop was called out only a little after five in the morning.

When we arrived in Brisbane, we saw puddles and wet pavement from the windows so we knew it had been raining. I was in my short shorts with all of my warm clothes packed away. I guess I wasn’t expecting colder weather in Australia. The train rode over the river before coming to our stop. After leaving the train station we got to see a little bit of the city before having to check in to our school office in preparation for upcoming classes. After seeing the river, upon leaving the train station we could see the mist drifting toward the ground and falling against our skin. The river, mist, wet pavement, trees, and bike lanes (something that Sydney had never heard of) all seemed reminiscent of good ol’ Portland. As the day went on I could tell that I was going to enjoy Brisbane and that the time here would be less hectic than bustling Sydney. There were posters advertising the city’s bike share that contained what looked like knock off stereotypes of Portlanders. The target audience for these posters is definitely some of us on this trip. The familiarity present on the first day in Brisbane boded well for our stay here.

An exciting aspect of Brisbane is our new living situations. We are staying with different families to experience Australia while being immersed in regular home life. So far it has been awesome and presents a different dynamic from our previous dorm and hostel living or our camping trips. The family I am living with is very kind and has offered insight on the way Australians live. The surprising thing about the Australian house and home is that it really isn’t too different from home, despite being in a foreign place. I haven’t even witnessed water spinning around the drain in the opposite direction yet. I hope to before I leave the country though. The family is truly great; they are open-minded and have interesting things to say about both Australia and America. The family I am with loves to cook and prepare all of the food they eat, which means I am well fed. I am definitely eating healthier than I was while living with my friends at college. It is definitely multiple steps above the standard of living among college kids, which is very nice to experience. The family has four kids, the youngest of which being the same age as me. They are all very funny and offer good insight on what life is like in places other than the Pacific Northwest. So far we all seem to be falling into place with our host families as they generously let us live in their houses.
A view of Brisbane from a residential area
Before classes started on Monday, some of us spent the weekend exploring the city. We rode the city’s ferry to get to the central business district. The ferries here are a luxurious form of public transportation because we can sit outside in the sun as we travel to where we need to go. We walked through unfamiliar streets without knowing where we were headed while looking for nothing in particular. It was nice just to see a brand new place. We ended up passing historic sites on our way to the central business district. The business district was swamped with shopping people, but the entire atmosphere made it seem like the city was relaxed for such a large place. The people in the outdoor market were very friendly and some of them took the time to talk to us. One girl seemed genuinely interested in the fact that we were from the United States, which was a first. After buying some new things we left the central business district well fed and smiling. We moved on to find the botanical gardens along the river. The gardens had a wide array of flora, but most of all I liked to see the palm trees. There were people out lying in the grass enjoying another gorgeous day in Brisbane. There were large colorful spiders that I was glad to have never seen anywhere else. There were big ibises stalking around in the grass. It was nice to sit on the park bench with my friends, to look out at the beautiful gardens, and quickly feel comfortable in a brand new place. I’m already sure that Brisbane will be great.
Brisbane's Botanical Gardens
Photo courtesy of Rachit Malhotra

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