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The Craziest Thing I’ve Ever Done

Thanks to conflicting term lengths and funny school requirements, I was lucky enough to have a 2 week holiday right towards the end of my placement here in Perth.  Of course I wasn’t going to spend 2 weeks doing absolutely nothing in Perth, so I made plans to backpack the ENTIRE east coast of Australia.  When people asked me about my trip, they assumed I was starting in Brisbane and ending in Cairns since I was only travelling for 2 weeks, but I went the absolutely crazy route and started in Melbourne and worked my way up the coast, all the way to Cairns.  And for those of you who are geographically challenged, that’s a bit like going from Southern California all the way up to the Canadian border, without flying and stopping in 7 cities and doing 2 major day trips along the way.  I also decided to do this trip myself, mostly because I could be a lot more cost effective by doing this instead of doing New Zealand during the holiday and east coast cities on weekends.  I also didn’t want to have to try and plan around what other people wanted to do, which meant that I actually could do a major city in a day or two.  The original plan for my trip included Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Byron Bay, Brisbane, Noosa, Fraser Island, Airlie Beach, the Whitsundays, and Cairns, which the guy who helped me plan and book was quite jealous of.  Of course those plans changed ever so slightly once I actually started travelling, but it was still a fantastic experience. I met so many awesome people along the way and was able to see and do some incredible things.

Melbourne

I only had 1 night/1 day in Melbourne, but I wish I had had more time to spend there.  I got off the plane Saturday night, checked into my hostel, and went straight for the bar.  There, I was able to meet some cool people that gave me some good ideas for what to do the following day.  On Sunday, I wandered around for a while, looking for a public toilet as usual, and stumbled upon a guy wearing a shirt that said Free Tour, so of course I decided to join.  On this tour, we learned so much Australian history, including their most notorious criminal and even how the city was started.  We were also introduced to some of the major sights and of course some of the off beat sights as well.  Overall, I was quite pleased with the city and I would love to return some day and spend more time there.

Canberra

Being the capital of Australia, Canberra was an obvious choice of destination.  All I knew was that there were some really cool and historical buildings there, as well as some good museums, and would be perfect for a day trip.  What I didn’t know was that since it is quite a bit inland, it would be freezing cold towards the end of April.  I also should have planned a little more carefully and tried to not arrive at 4 am.  When I got there (at 4 am), it was freezing cold and raining, which was immediately off putting.  On top of that, nothing, not even the bus station, was open, so I was stuck sitting on a bench outside for nearly an hour.  I ended up wandering around for a bit, but I was on the wrong side of the river to see anything interesting.  When the bus station finally opened, I asked an employee how I was supposed to get to Parliament House and when I would be able to do that.  She told me a bus to take and when/where to catch it, but when I went to do that, I was told I was on the wrong bus and would have to wait even longer for the right one.  At that point, I gave up on spending time in Canberra and went straight for the Greyhound desk to change my ticket for the next bus out to Sydney.  Had I planned more carefully, I would have skipped the stop in Canberra and done the extra day in Melbourne.

Sydney

Sydney was by far my favorite city and has made it’s way onto my list of top cities in the world.  With the extra day I gained after skipping Canberra, I was able to sit back and really enjoy my time there.  On the first day, I had a lot of time to kill before I was able to check in to the hostel, so I wandered around for a while to try and get my bearings before trying to see everything possible the next day.  I went to Darling Harbour, which is actually quite the touristy area and not really my favorite bit of Sydney.  Darling Harbour is the home to the Hard Rock Cafe, several (not free) museums, and quite a few other tourist attractions.  I also made my way to Hyde Park, which was quite pretty and nice to just sit and watch the people walk by.  On the second day, I did another free walking tour and was able to see a fair amount of the city and get help figuring out where to go for a while or how to get to important places.  I also went to see a ballet at the Sydney Opera House!  That was an incredible experience, even though I had a partial view seat.  I was really excited to be in one of the most famous buildings in the world and definitely Australia’s most iconic building.  The view from there at night is spectacular, with all of the lights in the city and the Harbour Bridge being all lit up over the water.  The water in the Harbour is incredibly clean, something the city has been working really hard at for years now.  On my third and final day, I decided to relax for a while and I headed over to Manly Beach (named after the Aboriginal men that looked particularly manly when English settlers found the beach).  The beach and surrounding areas were full of people, but the best part of the whole bit was the ferry ride.  The Manly ferry is known for provided riders with one of the best views of the city, including both the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, giving people the classic picture of the Opera House in front of the bridge.  I wished I could have stayed in Sydney for much longer, but it was time to move on to some really relaxing places.

Byron Bay

Byron Bay is a town full of surfers, hippies, and anyone else that wants to disappear from society.  I wasn’t all that thrilled with the town, but at that point I hadn’t experienced a day without looking at a clock.  My hostel was by far the most interesting hostel I’ve ever stayed in, but it was by far my least favorite accommodation.  It wasn’t one large building, but instead a collection of buildings and tents, most of which are slowly falling apart and could use a bit more care.  This hostel is definitely a place where people go to forget about time and just sit back and relax.  Overall, Byron wasn’t really my favorite place, but it was nice to have a day to just lay around and do absolutely nothing after spending a few days frantically trying to see everything in Melbourne and Sydney.

Brisbane

I was expecting a lot more out of Brisbane than I actually got.  It would have helped if I had done a bit more research and showed up prepared, but I still wasn’t overly pleased with the city.  I arrived mid afternoon, which meant that I didn’t have a lot of time to check in to my hostel and then make my way to anything really important to see.  I spent a few hours wandering around the city and the botanical gardens, which were beautiful, trying to make my way over to an art gallery, but by the time I was actually able to find it, the gallery was going to be closed.  As I was wandering around trying to find some dinner, I managed to find the Queen Street Mall, which looked like a very small scale version of Times Square in New York.  The shops were all lit up and there was live music in the middle of the square.  There were also tons of independent stalls where artists were selling their crafts or where you could get some good street food.  I think that if I were able to spend a few days in Brisbane and actually do some of the important things, such as the Australia Zoo, I would enjoy it a bit more, but for now I remain indifferent about returning there.

Noosa/Fraser Island

Noosa was a bit like Byron Bay, but minus a lot of the hippies and the stoner/surfer vibe.  It had a very small town feel, which was also pretty obvious when I was looking for lunch at nearly 2 pm and almost everything was closed.  Everyone in town was incredibly friendly, which was really nice to see and I really enjoyed my time spent wandering around.  On my second day in Noosa, I took a day trip out to Fraser Island.  Fraser Island is the largest sand island in Australia (maybe the world too?), which means that it was formed by sand drifting through the ocean and building up.  The island was spectacular.  The tour I took was in this huge 4 wheel drive van/bus thing and I had no idea what to expect when I got in.  We took the ferry over to the island and then spent the morning driving down the beach so that we could then make our way inland to see some of the really interesting bits.  The island used to be heavily logged, so in many of the wooded areas, the trees are in perfectly straight lines, where logging companies planted them but were never able to cut them down.  Fraser reminded me a lot of Maui in that the climate changes from place to place and it really is just a beautiful island.  There are only a few paved roads, so it was a rather bumpy ride all the way around.  We made a stop around lunch time at Lake McKenzie, which is a perched lake, meaning no rivers or streams feed in or out of it, so the entire lake is filled with rain water and nothing else.  The water is incredibly clean and I didn’t feel the need to rush into a shower after I got out.  It also provides some beautiful views.  I was really pleased with the day I spent on this tour, even if I was the youngest person there.

Airlie Beach/the Great Barrier Reef

When I arrived in Airlie Beach, I only had a few minutes to drop my bag off at the hostel and make it to my shuttle bus that was originally going to take me to the Whitsundays.  The boat I had booked was out for repairs, so I was given the free upgrade to a snorkeling cruise on the Great Barrier Reef.  I was thrilled to do this because it is one of the most incredible natural places and I will probably never have the chance to do it again.  I was a bit sad that I wasn’t able to go to the Whitsundays and spend time laying on a perfectly white sand beach, but the reef was still great.  I got to snorkel (for the first time ever) and saw some really bright and colorful fish.  I also decided to pay to do an introductory scuba dive because I’ve always wanted to and it seemed like a really cool opportunity that I just had to take.  Scuba diving was awesome.  Even though it was an intro dive, we went down 8 metres and I was able to watch as the fish got a little bigger and darker and the coral lost a lot of its color.  I bought an underwater disposable camera, but I haven’t been able to look at those pictures yet.  I’m really hoping that they turned out well, even if it is just the ones I took while snorkeling.  Overall, I had an awesome day on the reef and it is another experience I can cross of the list of things to do before I die.

Cairns/Atherton Tablelands/Skydiving

Cairns was my final destination and I couldn’t have been happier about working my way north instead of south.  The whole city is full of Japanese people, but I believe it is a convenient entry point for them before they start their tour of the country.  Cairns is also full of life and plenty of things to do.  My first day there was spent simply wandering around, getting my bearings, and trying to stay dry.  Their dry season officially starts in May, but since I was there the first few days of May and at the tail end of a cyclone, it was still raining, but never very much at once.  On my second day, I decided to do a tour of the Atherton Tablelands instead of going to the Daintree Forest, mostly because it was closer and canoeing sounded like a lot of fun.  It was definitely the best day trip I had booked for the entire trip.  The morning was spent taking a walk in the rainforest and checking out some cool things along the way, including the Cathedral Fig Tree and a tree full of fruit bats.  After lunch, I split with my morning group and joined another one to go canoeing.  During this bit, I figured out exactly why people like to spend a whole day fishing in the middle of a lake.  It is incredibly peaceful out on the water and I really enjoyed just sitting in the canoe as we watched the wallabies on the shore and hopelessly searched the trees for tree kangaroos.  In the middle of the afternoon, we stopped at some rocks and painted our faces with ochre clay, just like the Aboriginals used to.  Ochre clay is found in the form of small rocks in the lake, and if you get them wet and rub them on a larger rock, you end up producing a paint like substance.  It was really cool and my face turned out really well.  On my final full day in Cairns, I went skydiving.  I was originally supposed to go onto Mission Beach, which is about 2 hours south of Cairns, but the weather there was not good enough for us to jump, so I was lucky enough to be able to go in Cairns after someone else had not shown up for their jump.  Skydiving is definitely the craziest thing I’ve ever done.  The plane ride up was nerve wracking, but it didn’t really hit me until the door opened and the first pair went.  We went second, so as we’re awkwardly crawling towards the door and I’m being told to stick my legs out the door, I started freaking out, but I knew there was no turning back and I absolutely had to go.  I didn’t get a countdown or anything before exiting the plane, so the look of fear in my face in almost every picture is the purest fear I have ever experienced.  Free falling at 120 mph is exhilarating, but obviously quite scary.  I screamed the entire 60 seconds of it.  Once the chute was pulled, I was a bit more relaxed, but it is nearly impossible to process the fact that you have just fallen 10,000 feet out of an airplane before pulling the chute while you’re still hanging there and heading straight for the ground.  I would absolutely love to go again, and hopefully next time I won’t have a look of pure fear on my face.

Now that I’m back in Perth and sitting through my last few days at school, I’m trying not to think about the fact that the real world is only a week away.  I really don’t want to go home, but I know I have to so that I can rebuild my savings and get a teaching job.  Hopefully I’ll be able to line up a job soon, but so far I’ve only been asked for one interview that I unfortunately missed due to my holiday and lack of internet access.  I’ve had an incredible semester and I can’t believe that it’s nearly over!

Nearly Done?

At this point in my trip, I’m starting to realize that I’m heading home in a mere 4 weeks.  That thought terrifies me.  I absolutely love it here and I really don’t want to go home just yet.  So of course, to occupy myself and fulfill my need to travel, this Saturday I’ll be taking off on a 2 week backpacking trip of the East coast of Australia.  It’s going to be absolutely fantastic.  In 14 days (not including the travel time to and from Perth), I will make it to Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney (including a ballet at the Opera House), Byron Bay, Brisbane, Noosa, Fraser Island, Airlie Beach, the Whitsundays, and Cairns.  It may not seem like a whole lot, but you must remember that Australia is enormous.  This trip is roughly the same as covering the entire West coast of the US.  Check out the map for a rough idea of the distance.  During that trip, I’ll be documenting absolutely everything with photos and in my little travel journal, which will make it quite a bit easier for me to actually blog about it.  I won’t have wi-fi for a fair chunk of the trip, nor will I have my computer.  It’s going to be me, my backpack, and my iPod.  But enough about that for now.

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For the last few weeks (or rather the last month), I’ve been doing a lot of school work and attempting to have a social life at the same time.  School is going really well.  I started my two weeks of full time teaching last week, which was rather exhausting for me.  I of course picked up the full schedule on a ‘B’ week, in which I have two days without a free period.  Those days are so incredibly exhausting, leaving me a bit more thankful for the typical American set schedule with a guaranteed free period every day.  Thursday, I ran in the school cross country carnival, a whopping 3.2 kilometres, which I struggled to finish.  My students begged me to run it with them, so it was well worth it in the end.  A fair amount of my students managed to pass me up on the course, which provided them with a sense of joy.  I’ve been learning so much from these kids and I really don’t want to leave them, which I believe is a mutual feeling.  These students are going to make it really hard for me to leave and go back home.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve also been collecting countless teaching resources, most of which I will be taking home and doing my best to adapt them to fit into my classes.  The teachers here have been incredibly helpful and make sure that I know where I can improve without being the least bit mean about anything.  I’ve been given different lesson plan formats (thank goodness) and a lot of really good ideas about teaching mathematics that come from all over Australia and the UK.

Since my last post, I have been to the Margaret River area, which is one of the best wine regions in Australia.  It was a really relaxing weekend full of good wine and even some good beer from the Cheeky Monkey brewery.  We went to Canal Rocks, which was beautiful, but not nearly as great as the Gap and Natural Bridge in the southern part of WA.  I took a few pictures and you can find them here: Margaret River Pictures

I have another busy week coming up, with full time teaching and finalising trip plans all at once.  Look forward to a long post about my adventures in a few weeks!

Busy, Busy, Busy

Based on the fact that I haven’t updated since mid-February, it’s probably quite clear that I’ve been incredibly busy.  I’ve been planning lessons and activities for two different classes, soon to be three, and I’ve been trying to see as much of WA as I can.  A few weekends ago, 5 of us COST students did a tour of the Swan Valley. The Swan Valley is a wine region, situated about 20 minutes north of Perth.  The tour consisted of 5 different wineries, where we tasted a nice range of wines and even some different olive oils/vinegars, a beautiful lunch at one of the wineries, the Margaret River Chocolate Company and a local brewery.  It was a beautiful day and the wine, beer, chocolate, and food was all delicious.  Pictures from that trip and around Perth in general can be found here: Perth/Swan Valley Pictures

The following weekend, Len and Heather took me and Siera on a wonderful journey through the southern part of the state.  We made a stop in Albany at their farmer’s market to get some fresh fruits, veggies, cheese, and bread for dinner and breakfast, and then made our way to some of the natural wonders of Western Australia.  We stopped at the Gap and the Natural Bridge, which are located on the southern coast and provide a stunning view.  Standing at the edge of the rock formations, I was on the last bit of land before you hit Antarctica.  The sound of the waves crashing on the rocks below and the feel of the wind was absolutely incredible, not to mention the view itself.  I was finally able to use my good camera for what it’s designed for, and I got some stunning pictures.  After those two, we moved on to the Blowholes, which for us were a bit of a disappointment because we couldn’t actually see the water blowing through the cracks in the rocks because it wasn’t quite windy enough.  It was still great though and provided a good workout with the walk back to the car being entirely uphill.  From there, we stopped at a small winery near Denmark called Estate 807.  There, we tasted some spectacular wines.  After that, we made our way to our lodging for the night, which was the home of friends of Len and Heather that we have met a few times at our Thursday night wine/Thai meals.  Their home is set in the middle of a huge property that is full of plant life and would be the perfect place to retire to.  It is also home to the best personal wine cellar I’ve ever seen.  The next day, we spent a good chunk of our time in the car, but still went to some cool places.  We stopped at Green’s Pool/the Elephant Rocks, which were both really cool.  Green’s Pool is a section of beach that is enclosed by rocks in the ocean, which block the heavy waves from coming ashore, making it a very safe and fun place to enjoy a swim or a relaxing day at the beach.  The Elephant Rocks are a part of this landscape, providing some excellent views when you climb around on them and make your way around the coastline.  After that, we made our way to the Valley of the Giants, which is a large Tingle Tree forest.  Tingle trees are among the tallest trees in Australia, capable of surviving forest fires.  When the fire hits, the center of the tree starts to burn out, creating a cave-like structure in the trunk, but the tree can continue to grow as long as there is still some viable root left in the ground.  The trees are strange looking but spectacular at the same time.  From there, we made our way up to Pemberton to check out a winery and some of the tallest trees in WA.  The southern part of WA is home to the Karri tree, which are very tall and have been used as fire lookout posts for decades.  A few of the tallest ones have iron rungs and platforms built into them that were used by the fire lookout ages ago, but are now available for the public to climb.  I took the challenge of climbing the second tallest, standing at over 60 metres tall, with 153 iron rungs leading up to the second of three platforms and a standard ladder to the top.  It was a difficult climb (mostly down), but the view from the top was probably one of the coolest things I’ve seen.  It may have been pretty much all tree tops, but being able to see that much at once was incredible.  My arms and legs were sore for a few days, but it was well worth it in the end.  After climbing the tree, we went off to another winery, which was a bit disappointing, and then made our way home.  It was a very long two days, with over 1000 kilometres traveled, but the pictures and memories are quite spectacular.  Those pictures can be found here: Southern WA.

After that trip, I’ve been working mostly on school stuff, trying to make sure that I will be able to get my school assignments completed on time.  I’ve also been busy planning my 2 week holiday.  For that, I’m backpacking the entire East coast of Australia, from Melbourne to Cairns with plenty of stops along the way.  It’s going to be a very long 2 weeks, but it will probably also be one of the greatest trips I’ll ever take.  And finally, as promised, I have pictures from Rottnest Island from almost a month ago here: Rottnest Island Pictures.

That’s about it for now, I’ll try to be better at updating, but the next week or so is going to be very busy with the TPA deadline quickly approaching.

 

Another week down!

I have now finished 2 full weeks at school and boy have they been crazy.  After the absolute madness of my first week, we sat down and figured out a regular schedule for me to follow.  I’ve now been in those classes for a whole week and they’re looking pretty good.  I have four different groups from four different year groups, from 7-10.  The students are at all sorts of levels of abilities, so this mix of classes will surely be interesting.  

Beyond school, we’ve done plenty in the past week.  We have done more exploring around the city and even made our way out to Rottnest Island.  I’ll have pictures at some point on Picasa so everyone can experience the cuteness of the Quokka.  I could hardly contain myself at how adorable they are.  I’ve also decided on what I’ll be doing with the two week holiday I get towards the end of my time here.  I will be backpacking the east coast of Australia!  I’m going from Melbourne to Cairns, with stops in Canberra, Sydney, Byron Bay, Brisbane, Noosa, Fraser Island, Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays.  It’s going to be a very busy two weeks, but it will likely be the best two weeks of my life.  I’m going to be seeing just about everything important and I’m even skydiving in Cairns!  Trip planning has been one of my biggest things over the last week or so and will be continuing well into the semester.  Other than planning my trip and Rottnest, it has been a fairly blah week.  The coming weeks are looking like they will be much more exciting as I really start to get into teaching and do some more travelling.

Week 1

My first week in Perth has been quite fantastic.  Between seeing and doing as much as possible and finally getting into the school, I am exhausted.  I’m probably also still a bit jet lagged.  I had no clue that a 13 hour difference would be this terribly rough on my body.  So far, we’ve spent some time hanging out on the beach (by we I mean us student teachers) and touring around the city of Perth.  The city itself is great.  Tons of different restaurants and shops to choose from and a pretty decent nightlife.  The beaches are one of the best things so far.  I may not normally be a big fan of the sun, but there’s just something about laying on the beach at the beginning of February that makes me never want to go inside.  Except for the terrible heat.  It’s been near 40 degrees Celsius most of the week, with maybe 2 days in the lower 30s.  The nights are nice and cool, making it perfect to wander around town.  This weekend is supposed to be extra hot, so we’ll see what we end up doing.

The schools here in Australia are much different than the schools in America.  In America, we tend to break up our maths courses by topic, such as Algebra or Geometry, whereas here in Australia, students get a little bit of everything each year.  So far, I’ve seen trigonometry, arithmetic, finance, algebra, and even a touch of calculus.  It’s been really great observing all sorts of classes and seeing what different teachers here do.  I’ve also had a few different experiences with the school.  Tuesday was the third day back and was also the school swimming carnival.  No, there weren’t games and rides.  It was essentially a swim meet, but it was only students from my school, which is divided into three houses that competed against each other at the carnival.  Students were strongly encouraged to participate in at least one race, and almost every student did so.  We had the privilege of seeing one of Australia’s top youth swimmers in the pool as he is a Year 11 student there.  Then, on Wednesday, the Year 11s spent the last two periods participating in Synergy, which happens every other week and they spend the time doing various physical activities.  This week was only ice skating, but there are usually a variety of choices.  I’m hoping to be able to go along each time and maybe I’ll even learn to surf!  The teachers at the school are really nice and very helpful.  I haven’t really seen them get angry with students at all, which I think helps the students enjoy the school day a little more, keeping their behavior much better.  I can’t wait to finally get a class and start teaching so that I can really see what the differences are.

First Impressions

After way too much stress and even more running through airports, I finally made my way into Perth.  My luggage is being tracked down by Delta and will hopefully be arriving today, so for now I have only a few things with me.  My first impressions of Australia are wonderful.  Upon landing in Sydney, all I could see was sunshine and blue skies.  Everyone in the airport was incredibly friendly and made my short time there wonderful.  When I finally landed in Perth, I was terribly exhausted but absolutely excited to have made it safely.  My host family so far has been wonderful.  I haven’t been here for 24 hours yet, but I’ve already learned quite a bit about the Australian way of life.  And I must say that it is one of the most appealing lifestyles yet.  The constant warm weather and sunshine seems to keep everyone’s spirits up and everyone so far is just really relaxed.  I have learned that I will be made fun of for my lack of geography knowledge and for other various American stereotypes, but those are things that I will just have to laugh off and begin to laugh at myself for.  Yesterday afternoon, we went to the beach for a walk, which was wonderful.  The sand wasn’t too hot, the water was the perfect temperature, and the cafe we stopped in (barefoot, I should add) was nice.  I was quite astounded that shoes were not a requirement in some of the cafes, especially closer to the beach.  In America, if you’re not wearing shoes, you’re immediately booted from whatever store you walk into.  Here, shoes, and real clothes it seems, are quite optional most of the time.  I’ve seen plenty of people walking around in their bathers (bathing suits) and most people are wearing sandals.  Unfortunately, my sandals are in my missing suitcase at the moment.  Tonight, we’ll be meeting with the rest of the COST students that have arrived in Perth (all but one), so hopefully that goes well.  For now, I have no pictures, but as soon as I finally get my camera out of my bag (it’s here, I just haven’t bothered with it yet), I’ll be taking plenty of pictures and those will go into a Picasa album.

Hello!

This semester, instead of doing my student teaching in a small school in Ohio, I will be student teaching on the West coast of Australia!  The opportunity to do this is absolutely incredible, and while I may be missing prime hiring season, I’ll be having the experience of a lifetime.  Throughout my semester, I’ll be posting updates here, mostly dealing with things that happen outside of the school, but I will of course update everyone on how my student teaching is going.  I’m really excited to be going and I absolutely cannot wait to get there in a week!