So, a cool thing about traditionally poorer neighbourhoods is that they often feel more natural, open, and exciting. They also can have interesting traditions. Such is the case in Mong Kok, which is famous for its street markets. Here is where I have found many of the best foods, both from intentional searches and happenstance. But the street markets also sell a wide assortment of oddities. There is a street famous for selling goldfish, another entangled with all sorts of cheap plants and flowers (cacti being an interesting inclusion), a hidden away corner for buying birds, a street where I bought very cheap shoes and sandals, and then general markets. These last ones are often cramped and narrow, but here you can find some of the best deals on clothes, tech, and souvenirs. However, none of this was entirely unexpected. What did throw me for a loop, however, was when the broad avenues and main streets became congested at night time. Dozens of clusters of citizens grouped around public demonstrations. It took me a while, and I’m still not sure of my conclusion, but I believe the objects of interest are basically public karaoke with dancing. Some performers appeared more professional, with personal mics and costumes. But others looked like they were comprised of random civilians. Even better, many were accompanied by people dancing in a couple or rocking it on their own. The best part? Most of these dancers were middle-aged to elderly. I saw men and women old enough to be my grandparents dancing passionately (and with much greater skill than I can attest to, I should add) to cheers and music. So in conclusion: Mong Kok’s streets come alive at night with a vigorous display of community and passion. Expect to be delayed, amazed, and captivated.
One of the largest culture shocks I have experienced during my stay here has been in the attitude of group work. Both my classes have assigned multiple class presentations, and when I first heard this there was some minor dread. As I’m sure most of us are familiar, group work in the U.S. is a crapshoot. Option 1: you get a dedicated group who communicates and shares responsibility. Option 2: you wake up and realize your group is you and one other member who actually cares, with the rest composed of people phoning it in or just never showing up. Getting people together for more than 10 minutes is a logistical conundrum that would rattle governmental intelligence agencies, and hoping for the project to be done earlier than midnight the day before its due is legal justification for asylum hospitalization. So I was surprised to say the least when both my groups, randomly assigned, immediately started organizing. Group chats were made, internal deadlines set, responsibilities delineated, and everyone got to work. People talked regularly, we set up skype and/or physical meetings, multiple rehearsals, everyone knew about google docs. In short, a magical experience. Heck, the first group to present in one of my classes made a 15 minute presentation in 1 week after 1 week of classes, complete with a game and prizes. Luckily classroom group work is probably no longer a worry for me, because I don’t think I can go back to the way things were. I’ve ridden a unicorn.
I was surprised at the the quality of the public transportation system here. Trains arrive very regularly, buying tickets and getting off at the right stop is made very intuitive through the use of flashing lights and arrows, and the stations are clean. One thing that is slightly unusual is the reliance on Octopus cards. These are basically debit cards that you can add money into at most stations. Japan had a similar system , but it is much more widely practiced here, to the point that a card was essentially necessary for me to live. Not only are tickets cheaper, it is the only way to pay for air conditioning and laundry at the dorms. It is also used for payment at many restaurants and the cafeteria. I will agree that it makes things run much more quickly than is standard for paper, but admit to being a bit confused. Why not just use actual debit or credit cards? Very few places actually accept them here, but an Octopus card is identically the same except that it has less uses and is harder to renew.
Food in Hong Kong is, as I was told by multiple people beforehand, very cheap. The cafeteria offers meals for between $3-4 USD, and restaurants are not that much more expensive. It is the only city I have been to where you can decide to go to a Michelin star restaurant on a whim. I can’t tell you how many times I have been wondering around the city to see the Michelin symbol on some random side street. So far, the best things I have tried include: pineapple buns (which have no pineapple), Hong Kong french toast (which has peanut butter), duck, and a special type of dumpling that is filled with delicious, tongue-searing broth. The most disappointing food has been the bbq-pork buns, which are too sweet, and coffee, which is too expensive and not very great besides. I have a little time left, which I intend to be partly used for food experimentation. The next post might very well be half a page of me loudly complaining about the taste of intestines.
This semester has been a semester of lasts. It was my last Spring as an undergraduate student, and therefore, I will never get to experience all the springtime activities that I know and love here at OU. It’s a bittersweet feeling, and I also missed one spring at OU while I was away studying abroad, and missed all my favorite events that semester as well. I would never trade my semester in Graz for anything, but I would do quite a lot to go back and be able to relive my days OU’s annual day of philanthropy, the Big Event. Luckily, I can cherish the memories of my last one, where OU Cousins volunteered at Cross Bridge Community Church in OKC.
The day of Big Event starts bright and early on the North Oval on campus, where thousands of students gather in their respective huddles to go out and serve the community. Speakers blast popular music to get the crowd pumped up, a few speakers give some encouraging words, and within a few minutes, the crowd disperses to make an impact at hundreds of different locations.
In my tenure with OU Cousins, I was used to going to the Whinery Family Farm, but I love a change of scenery, and it doesn’t really matter when you get to help those in need, and help we did.
When we arrived at our volunteer location, Cross Bridge Church was in dire need of tuning up, and OU Cousins took on the challenge valiantly. We cleaned the basement of dust and trash, hauling off unwanted everything from cardboard to an old furnace. Next, we headed outside into the bitter cold to paint the outside of the church, the ramp and the stairs leading up to it. The leaders at the church were so kind—they knew with the combination of cold and wind, we were freezing out fingers off, and they gifted us with gloves to help get the job done. By the end of the morning, the church was in tip-top shape, and all it took was a couple of gallons of paint and about 20 OU Cousins.
Some people might question whether or not The Big Event is an international activity. Besides the fact that it is something I do with OU Cousins, it is also something that crosses international lines and builds bridges between diverse cultures. Even with all the variances in the human condition, there are many things that bring us all together. Volunteering and helping out our communities is perhaps one of the most important of those many things. Compassion for others is something that has no national language, and no agenda (although, unfortunately, some volunteering does have ulterior motives, but that’s a blog post for another time). This event may be a very small action compared to problems and goings-on in the rest of the world, but its impact is vast. I guess that’s why we call it The Big Event.
I’m back! Same day, but just a little later. We just finished our delicious farewell dinner, and I wanted to conclude the Oxford trip on this blog since tomorrow I will be traveling all day and I’m not sure if I’ll have a constant Wi-Fi connection.
This trip has been a great opportunity and a dream come true, not only for me but also for my family. It was accidentally during a meeting with my Honors advisor that I found out about this study abroad trip, and after signing up and a flurry of schoolwork and finals and hoping, I found out that I had been accepted into the Honors at Oxford program.
Now that I have finished here, I feel that I have made full use of the time I was here all while still keeping an academic focus. I will probably talk about this trip months after I come back, but how could I not?
Tomorrow I head out back to Oklahoma, making this my last full day in Oxford. As always, with any good thing, it went by too fast and I’m sad to see it go, but I will always treasure my time here. It was a sort of academic dream, the perfect balance between school and leisure, doing my summer classes in the University of Oxford all while having the time and freedom to explore a new country. When I first arrived three weeks ago, I didn’t expect to grow so attached to the place, since I wouldn’t be here very long, but earlier I found myself taking pictures of even the most generic places here in Brasenose College, from the laundry room to the staircase leading to my dorm. I’m sure that when I’m showing my mom the pictures I took she’ll wonder what’s so special about where I washed my clothes. Later today we have a fancy farewell dinner scheduled to send us off, and I’m enthusiastically looking forward to it, but right now, I need to figure out a way to fit all my souvenirs into my suitcase!
The final post of my sweet time abroad in the beautiful country of Australia. Wow. Never thought I’d be here. It’s always strange to me how days can feel long but weeks feel awfully short. Honestly, that is truly what study abroad has felt like: long days but insanely fast weeks. My time in Australia will definitely go down as one of the best seasons of my life. It truly surpassed anything I could have imagined and I will always cherish my Aussie friends and adventures.
A week before our finals, a large group of us a took a day trip to Wattamolla beach to hike, explore the area, and see the area’s greatest attraction: Wedding Cake Rock.
At first, we explored the main beach and took in the beauty of the surrounding area. The water is truly a stunning crystal blue and contrasted beautifully with the green trees and bright blue skies. After hanging around here for a bit, we continued along a long, windy path towards Wedding Cake Rock.
After hours, and I mean HOURS, of hiking along the path, we finally reached the destination: picture 3 is Wedding Cake Rock. Honestly, we were all not expecting it to look like that and there was a gate blocking anyone from getting close to it (with a $1300 fine for anyone caught jumping it) so we all laughed and joked around about how far we’d hiking to look at a white rock. Pretty hilarious! But, it was so much fun!! The whole day was filled with beauty, nature, exercise and good conversations with new and current friends. I feel like every day I see and appreciate something new in Australia. It was a blast to be around a both Australians and Americans all enjoying each other and having fun on this lil excursion.
After completing finals, which thankfully were not too bad and I feel fairly confident about all of them, I went on a road trip to Byron Bay with 5 of my closest friends: Allene, Ella, Jake, Jack, and Nathan. We took two cars, Nathan’s and Jack’s, and made stops along the way at Newcastle and Seal Rocks before reaching Byron Bay, where we stayed for 3 nights.
For our first day in Byron Bay, it was a cloudy day so we thought it could be best spent hiking rather than at the beach. We hiked Mount Warning, which was a super steep 8.8 km hike. When we reached the top, everyone was dripping in sweat and feeling the burn in our legs. Sadly, because it was overcast, it looked like we were in a cloud and we didn’t get to see the supposedly spectacular view from the top. Either way, we still had so much fun and it felt good to exercise after spending long hours in the car.
For day 2, we spent the day at Broken Head beach watching the boys surf, soaking up the sunshine, and enjoying the liveliness of families, friends, and couples around us. It as such a lovely environment! That night, we watched the sunset, listened to live music, and then went back to the airbnb to have brie and crackers while dinner cooked. It was a perfect day.
For our final day in Byron, the boys and girls split up and did our own thing for bit until meeting back up for dinner. The boys went a found an amazing waterfall and explored around. Ella, Allene and I went to a stunning beach and hiked around and swam there for several hours. After spending a long time there, we walked to the town for coffee and to check out a few fun shops. It was a super relaxing day and, although we sure do love the boys, it was some much needed girl time. When we all met back up, we watch another insane sunset on the beach. Truly stunning!
The next day, we made are way back towards Wollongong, stopping in Crescent Head and Port Macquarie on the way. This road trip was one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever been on and hands down the best final “HOORAH” for my time abroad.
I miss this place immensely. Leaving Australia and the friends I made there was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to go through. I cried leaving my friends and family when I left for Australia even though I knew I would see them in a few months. Leaving these people, not knowing when I’d see them next, is what made it so emotionally rattling and hard to come to terms with. I’m still battling with it. I’ve been home a few weeks now and, at times, waves of sadness hit me and flashbacks and memories of Australia rise and I feel a deep longing to return. I go to the pool and can still vividly picture walking onto Fairy Meadow beach, running into the waves, and drying off in the warm sunshine.
When I made the decision to go abroad, I was super excited and praying that I would make wonderful friendships. However, I did not think I would find some of the best friends/people I’ve ever met who love me exactly the way that I am, even though I’m so different from them. None of my friends believed in what I believe or had the same passions and views on life, yet we formed deep, meaningful connections and I truly felt so at peace and comfortable with them. Although navigating post study abroad emotions has been a challenge, I would never do a thing differently. I have grown so much through this experience. I know it won’t be the last time I go through a significant change in my life, whether moving to a new city or starting adult life after graduation from OU, and this has only prepared me for the future change and challenges ahead. Change is hard at first. On my first night in Australia I balled my eyes out thinking I had just made a huge mistake. Then, 5 months later I’m in the car, crying harder than I’ve ever cried in my life ( I was an absolute wreck lol), because I’m headed to the airport for my flight back to Oklahoma. What a twist. Me in February would never have seen this coming or could have ever predicted this outcome. So, the next time I experience a drastic change, I’ll know that it will get better, whether it’s in a week, 5 months, or a year, it will get better.
Life is so good when we embrace situations and experiences with an open heart and positive attitude. I also think there’s a beauty in not setting expectations. In doing this, you get to be absolutely blown away by the outcome. I know I’ll be back to Australia and it will be the most beautiful reunion with my beloved friends there.
Goodbye, for now!
I’M BORED!!! Let the responsibilities begin.
¿Quien tiene dos pulgares y está listo para empezar el semestre nuevo?
Well, besides the boredom that slowly creeps in on unsuspecting individuals between shifts at work and volunteering, I’m doing very well.
For instance, I am still staying in touch with my host father Fernando (eyyyy escúchame una cosa, amiguito!! te echo de menos y vamos a vernos prontito cuando yo viaje a Europa una vez mas), Ignacio from Uruguay (whose English is as perfect and fluid as ever, but I’m not jealous :P), and Valentina from Italy (Ciao amica, io ando ancora practicando!)
I sort of feel like learning a new language is like polishing a ball of mud. It starts off murky and uncertain, not really put together with a coherent shape. With plenty of care, repetition, and patience, one can enjoy something that reflects their hard work.
Continuing this analogy, parts of my Italian are still scattered about in Arezzo. But I absolutely cannot wait to embark on the process of conveying ideas in another medium! It’s so incredibly frustrating and exhausting, but the reward of getting out a sentence correctly without conscious thought is just too sweet to pass up!
Interestingly enough, the Italian way of combining articles with their prepositions has come very naturally to me (so much so that I started to do it in Spanish as well…). I invite you all to do the same–it makes the sentence flow better, te prometo.
This coming semester is going to be challenging since I will be taking three intense mathematics courses (some form of honors research, a senior capstone seminar, and a stat class ~about time~) as well as working two jobs and continuing dance classes and personal fitness.
My current goals are such: continue practicing Italian, work out everyday, continue eating healthy (and easier to cook) foods with lentils, and finish up my mathematics credits.
Hopefully by the end of this semester I will not have burnt out. Thankfully I am taking a colloquium course which I hope very optimistically will interrupt the mathematical flow (propagating waves that represent the distribution of species in a plane over time…).
I feel like this post isn’t far off from that ball of mud. It started without a vision and then became just a stream of consciousness.
Anyway, I haven’t really conveyed enough aspects of my personality with this blog, so I will begin posting pictures of the foods I cook throughout the semester and ones that I make while abroad (because food is an inextricable part of my life).