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Alright, flight leaves in a few hours.

(I am sure I am missing things on this list, but here it goes).

Things I will miss about my time here

  • The people
  • The beach at my doorstep
  • Wednesday night bus rides
  • Thursday night poker
  • Glasshouse, Ivory, Illawara, North Gong
  • Having salt-water drip out of my nose all night after a day at the beach
  • Weekend trips to Sydney
  • Everything New Zealand
  • Playing ultimate frisbee barefoot so much my feet turn black from the ground
  • Kebabs
  • Chicken Schnitzel
  • Fish and Chips
  • The St. George Illawara Dragons
  • Pulling all-nighters in the projector room during the World Cup
  • Climbing Mt. Kiera
  • Hitchhiking
  • Penguin Sightings
  • Meeting great people at hostels
  • Tim Tams
  • The Duck Pond
  • Vegemite
  • Kangaroos
  • Not being underage
  • The Blue Mountains
  • Thai and Indian restaurants everywhere
  • Open mic nights
  • The crazy sounding birds
  • Sydney Chinatown
  • Bushwalking
  • Abseiling
  • Arguing whether the American or Aussie name for something is correct (Chicken or Chook?)
  • Sweet Chili Sauce
  • Boogy boarding
  • “Maccas”
  • The people

This is a tough post for me to write, so I might as well (try to) keep this short. My time here in Australia was an unforgettable one that I will grow to appreciate more and more as I get older. The people that I have met and spent time with here are some of the best, kindest, interesting, amazing people I have ever known, and they are who I will be thinking about when I look back at my semester abroad. To those people that have helped me out in any way during my time here, shared their life experiences with me, or just spent time with me, I hope you know how appreciative and grateful I am.

My time here was filled with life lessons, but among them all, two realizations stick out.

  • The world is a beautiful place filled with beautiful people, and I can’t wait to continue to explore it.
  • I live a beautiful life, and whole-hearted thanks to those who are responsible for it being what it is.

Thanks for reading folks.

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Time For A Quick Update!

Hello loyal readers!

I arrived in Sydney yesterday after spending Friday-Monday at my friend’s family’s farm in Alectown, NSW. Roughly about six-seven hours west of Sydney, Alectown is a population of … 110. So I definitely got the small-town, country experience. And it was fantastic!

Not only did I get to spend quite a bit of time with my good mate John and his family, I also got to try my hand at quite a few things I have never done before.

The first day was mostly helping with chores around the farm. I helped John’s dad feed the sheep, check the lambs, and prepare the fertilizer. Afterwards, John and I took the tractor out to the fields to put the fertilizer into the ground. Agriculture isn’t exactly something I know a lot (or anything) about, and I really enjoyed learning about the farming process from John and his dad. We also got to chase away some kangaroos in the field on foot. Mad fun.

Later that day, John was playing in a community footie (rugby) game, and I watched the Alectown Alligators beat the Parkes Boars 10-0 with a very scenic sunset and rolling hills in wide open space in the background.

And that night was when things got interesting. Earlier that week, John had asked me if I would like to go shooting. Of course, I assumed that this meant shooting rifles at things like cans or fence posts, so sure! Well, I learned that Aussies call “shooting” what we call “hunting.” I’m not quite sure how I feel about shooting and killing animals, but whatever moral or psychological problems I have with it was ratinoalized by the fact that the animals we hunted (kangaroos, foxes, rabbits) are pests that interfere heavily with the crops and sheep.

Please don’t read this if you are heavily opposed to the hunting of animals, and please do not judge me.

I definitely am a city-boy, and it was a bit uneasy watching John and his friends slice up the dead kangaroos (for dog-food) and load them in the back of the pick-up truck (where I was sitting), but it definitely was an experience I will never forget. Hunting may not be my cup of tea, but I’m still really glad I gave it a shot (no pun intended.. ha!). I found out I actually have a steady trigger, and I ended the night with 8 rabbits. I didn’t get any kangaroos because in order to kill them, you’ll need to use the shotgun, which is much harder to use than the rifle I was mostly using. Seeing how I had never even held a gun before, this was definitely quite the new experience for me.

And there were plenty of other highlights to my stay at the farm. The stars at night are the most incredible thing I have ever seen. I got to go dirt-bike (motorbike) riding, which was very scary and exciting. Also, everyone I met there, especially John’s family, were so nice, warm, and friendly. A weekend I will remember for a long, long time, that’s for sure.

And now I am in Sydney for a few more days before I head back to Wollongong to grab my luggage before heading back home. Final arrangements are being made, which is definitely an odd feeling.

I’m definitely enjoying my last few days here in Sydney, and I am meeting up tonight with some mates from my New Zealand trip – one of whom has my camera! I snapped a few pictures over the weekend on my old camera, and I’ll make sure to throw them up here when I get a chance.

Until next time!

Oh man, what is going on?

Sadly, my time here is coming to an end. And I’m not even going to acknowledge my absence from the blog. Can we pretend like it never happened?

The weeks since my return from New Zealand have been interesting to say the least. The first few days were devoted to cramming for my one final exam, which I really have no idea how well I did on.

But after that, it has been spent doing, well, nothing. Nothing in relative terms.

With the semester winding to an end, the last few weeks have been a barrage of goodbyes, as people leave Wollongong one by one, whether it is back to their homes in Australia or their homes from overseas. Regardless, these last few weeks were the last time that I spent with my friends here, some of the coolest, nicest, funniest, interesting people I’ve ever met.

And it’s been tough. Being one of the last ones to leave means that I get to say bye to everybody in a drawn-out fashion – which has been torture. So for the last few weeks, I’ve spent my time really just hanging out with my friends here for one final time. And, of course, watching the World Cup.

And I write this blog as I am packing up my things. I will move out of my dorm tomorrow, and then I’ll head to central New South Wales, where I’ll be staying with a friend on his family’s farm for a few days. After that, I’ll head to Sydney for a few days before coming back to Wollongong to gather my things (which will be stored at a friend’s place) before I jet off back home.

And I know the process of leaving will be a difficult one on all levels, so I am trying to prepare myself mentally, psychologically, and emotionally by keeping my mind on home. And I have been doing this mostly by song.

Q: So what do you do when the University gives you a week off to study for final exams? A: You book a two-week trip to New Zealand.

I missed my last week of class and combined it with my one-week study recess to take a two-week trip to the South Island of New Zealand. And I can say without a doubt that it was the best two weeks of my life.

Everything I heard about New Zealand was true. The scenery was incredible. The Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand, and what I saw looking out the window during the long drives was even more spectacular than the movies. The people were just as friendly as I was told they would be. And yes, there were sheep everywhere. And I mean everywhere.

But what made the trip so special was the people I met on the trip. I decided against travelling with friends because their travel plans and times didn’t match up well with mine, so I hesitantly packed my bag and headed off to New Zealand on my own.

I booked a Stray bus pass, where I was told I would be able to meet a lot of cool people and get to see the Island. And I met, travelled with, and got to know some of the coolest, nicest, funniest people I’ve ever encountered, and they absolutely made New Zealand that much more incredible.

I jumped on a bus of 24 people, and I easily stood out. I was the only American – everyone else was from different parts of Europe – mostly England. And I was the youngest – almost everyone was in their mid to late 20’s. There was a great variety in the group, from groups of friends travelling together to couples to lone travellers like me, but from the very beginning, we got along great. By the second night, we had already become good friends, feeling like we had known each other forever, and by the third night, we were planning our visits to each other. I can’t wait to save up some money to go visit England and Ireland! We spent the two weeks together in constant conversation – whether during the long drives, touring around, eating, or at the local pubs – and by the end of it, we had all gotten really close. With everyone being older than me, many of them referred to me as their ‘little brother,’ and they acted upon it, helping me cook, sharing life experiences and stories with me, and giving me career advice. I learned more from taking this trip and meeting these individuals about life, people, and myself than I ever could have imagined.

I will post a blog detailing the various places my trip took me, but unfortunately I can’t do so right now because, being the forgetful person I am, left my camera at the hostel in Queenstown. Luckily, my friends are still there and have it in their possession, so once I retrieve it from them somehow, I’ll make sure to put the pictures up! I snapped a few on my other, older camera, but these aren’t as nice.

Highlights included Abel Tasman, Franz Josef, and Maikaroura, but without a doubt, the best part of the trip was Queenstown. A fantastic ski town, it had just a vibe and energy that made me want to never leave. I stayed there for five days, and it was a blast getting to enjoy the city with my new friends, making it the perfect way to end the trip.

And what is a must-do in Queenstown? Besides getting a Fergberger (the best burger this side of Charlie Beinlich’s), you’ve gotta bungy jump! Queenstown is the birthplace and capital of bungy jumping, and I knew beforehand that, despite my phobia of heights, I wanted to give it a go.

This may be the single most palpable way I’ve grown during my time abroad. I’ve always been the person to ask the question “Why?” when facing a decision. Now I find myself asking “Why Not?” It’s a simple shift in mindset, but I’ve learned that there are always a million reasons not to do something. It’s all about whether or not you’re going to let that stop you.

So off I went to take the jump, and I’m not even going to attempt to describe the feeling of jumping. All I’ll say is everyone needs to give it a go. Push yourself, strap yourself to a sturdy rope, and jump.

I know my mom will freak when she sees this video. Sorry mom.

Additional highlights: pulling an all-nighter to watch the World Cup in Queenstown: South Korea takes down Greece, and the US draws against England. Also, sneaking on to Gondolas, climbing glaciers, and going seal-watching.

Like I said, hopefully a more detailed blog post will come. Not so much for you my readers, but more because I’d like to document it as much as possible.

I had to bid farewell to one of my good friends as he left for home this morning, thus beginning a parade of goodbyes that I am not looking forward to. But it is inevitable, and it makes me realize that time is quickly running out. Here’s to making the most of the next few weeks.

I have returned from my recent excursions to attend class, catch up on some much-needed sleep, and, of course, update my blog.

Last Wednesday, I woke up bright and early to meet my sister Janet and her friend Kelli at the airport. They are visiting Australia for 10 days, and they are up in Sydney right now before they leave on Friday (sadly, I am back in Wollongong).

It’s always exciting to have visitors. On Wednesday and Thursday, I hosted them in Wollongong, and had them do the major tourist activities – hang out at the beach, look around town, feed kangaroos, etc.

The exciting part came on Friday, when we woke up early and caught a train to Katoomba, which is in the heart of the Blue Mountains. If you are keeping track, this is my fourth time in Katoomba visiting the Blue Mountains, and I’ve visited the same major sites every time (we even stayed at the same hostel as last time). But I have to say, it never gets old.

We arrived around noon, and we looked around the main lookout points, snapped a few pictures, and hiked around. We even walked all the way down to the bottom of the Blue Mountains, and then rode a Cable Car back up. Needless to say, we were exhausted by the end of the day.

It was a good thing we hit the hay early that night, because we needed to get up early the next morning to abseil some sweet cliffs. For all you loyal readers out there, you will recall I went abseiling during my first month here in Australia, and I enjoyed it so much, that I decided to take Janet and Kelli and so the same. Last time I abseiled down 30 meter cliffs, but this time we went all the way up to 60 meter cliffs.

My friend John (from Wollongong via Canada) joined us, too, and we spent the entire day going up and down cliffs. It may have been my second time doing it, but the nerves are still there every time. But it’s a great adrenaline rush, and the views while repelling down are unbelievable. Like I said, it never gets old.

After we got dropped off back in town, we had to rush to the airport to catch our flight to Melbourne. My good friend Alex is studying abroad there, and it was great to see her for a few days.

On Sunday, we took a wine tour through the Yarra Valley, which houses some of the best wine in Australia and the world. The weather was beautiful, and the scenery was picturesque, and it was great to get out of the city and enjoy the quaint atmosphere (with a good glass of wine).

I am by no means a wine-connoisseur, especially seeing how my participation in the wine tour is actually illegal back home, but it was great to learn about the culture that surrounds wine making and wine tasting, and I hope to develop this curiosity (after November 21, 2010 that is).

After we got back to Melbourne, we walked around the city. I really liked walking around – it definitely has a different feel and look than Sydney. I believe The Economist when it ranks Melbourne as the third most livable city in the world (behind Vancouver and Vienna).

The next day (Monday), we did what all tourists have to do in Melbourne – The Great Ocean Road. The road starts about an hour or so outside of the city, and it extends 240 km (150 miles) along the coast. We took a tour that took us on the scenic drive, stopping at key spots for us to snap photos of the various beaches, rocks, and caves.

The tour started at 7 AM, and we were back in Melbourne at 10 PM, so the entire drive took the whole day. The weather was a bit overcast, but we managed to fend off the rain for most of the day. Highlights of the drive included Bell’s Beach, the Loch Ard Gorge, the London Bridge, and the famous Twelve Apostles. We also were able to check out some rainforests, see some wild kangaroos and koalas, and play with some sweet birds.

Our flight back to Sydney was at 3 PM on Tuesday, but before that, we got to look around the city some more. We checked out Queen Victoria’s Market, which had a lot of cool, cheap stuff (now I understand why everyone comes to Melbourne to shop). I got my souvenir shopping out of the way, and also had one of the better lunches I’ve had here.

We flew back to Sydney, and once we got there, we met up with some friends from back home who are doing a trip through New Zealand and Australia. I only got to hang out with them for a few hours before heading back to Wollongong, but it was great to see them after not seeing them for an entire semester.

My New Zealand trip is now just one week away, and I’ll do my best to blog again before that. But I’ll be busy getting ready for the trip and finishing all my final assignments, so no promises.

To all my friends back home – SEE YOU SOON! (only a month and a half left!) To my friends here in Australia – LET’S HANG OUT! (only a month and a half left!)

Another quick post in record time!

This past weekend, Sunday in particular, was a blast. Saturday was spent working, both at my job and with schoolwork, but I did end up watching The Castle, which my Aussie friends hail as the greatest Australian comedy of all-time. It’s definitely Aussie humor (very dry), which I love, and I loved the movie. Although I didn’t find it as hilarious as my friends do, I still found it highly amusing and all-around a very good movie.

But Sunday was the highlight of my weekend, and maybe even my entire Aussie dorm experience thus far. It was the annual and highly popular Campus East International Food Fair, which was basically a mini Taste of Chicago (for my friends back home), but with food from all over the world.

The great thing about Campus East (my residential dorm) is that although there are a high number of Aussies (about 60%), there is a strong international presence. The International Food Fair took place at noon, and the dorm encouraged students to make food from their own countries to showcase at the fair. There always is a lot of excitement surrounding the Fair, as students are really keen on making their own native food for other students to try. The volunteers spent all of Saturday busy at work in the dorm kitchen, and the dorm covered all the expenses for ingredients. On Sunday, each country set up a stand filled with food along the parking lot. I didn’t count how many countries were represented, but the entire parking lot was full.

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I Love The Whole World!

The days continue to fly by here, and although I wish I could be posting more on here, I’m not took broken up about it.

That’s because I’ve been rather busy as of late, and those of you at home would be happy to know that it is because I’ve been doing my schoolwork – ahead of time (shocker!). Though I still have over a month of school left before the end of my final exams, I’ve been forced to be responsible because the next few weeks will be jam-packed with fun activities.

First off, my sister and her friend Kelli will be visiting on Wednesday, and I’ll be traveling around with them for a little over a week. They both just graduated from college (well, after Saturday. congrats!), and they’ll be making the trip across the Pond for 10 days of Aussie travels. On the agenda: abseiling the Blue Mountains (but more extreme this time), visiting my good friend Alex in Melbourne, and, of course, Sydney. And hopefully I’ll also be able to catch my friends Casey, Rich, and Cara in Sydney in two weeks before they jet off to Cairns during their around-the-world trip.

Afterwards, I’ll be heading to New Zealand for two weeks from June 2nd – June 16th. I’m going to be going around the entire south Island, and I couldn’t be more excited. The more I talk to people about New Zealand, the more I expect it to be the greatest place on earth. I’m envisioning Middle Earth meets Avatar.

But it hasn’t been easy getting all my assignments done before hand. I admittedly don’t have the best study habits, and it doesn’t help that I haven’t done any real work since December. Nor does it help that my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been inundated with friends announcing that school is now over and summer has begun.

But onward I trudge, knowing that nothing but good times await me. I have, though, been procrastinating in various ways, such as designing a new layout for my Twitter, posting on different blogs, and continuing my Daily Illini football coverage. But, for the most part, I’ve been pretty productive.

And although I’m busy doing school work, my friends back home are now enjoying summer, and the days here are getting shorter and colder, my spirits are still high! Any day in Australia is a good day, and I can’t help but having this song stuck in my head. It just seems to capture my current mood. Definitely watch the video!