Highlights of my term abroad: Part I – Australia

I didn’t do the whole travel-blogging thing this semester because I was really busy and it seemed better to reflect back once it was all over. So now that everybody’s gone, here are the highlights of a life-changing term with some amazing people on the bottom of the world.

Stradbroke Island

Photo Credit: Ann Epifanio

Photo Credit: Ann Epifanio

The very first day of the program, we took the group straight from the airplane to the University of Queensland’s research station on North Stradebroke Island in Moreton Bay. We had a lot of lectures about marine biology, material that at the time seemed impossible to learn given my lack of science experience. What stood out about this week was the people. 31 other students met us at the Brisbane airport that first day. I hadn’t met any of them before, with one exception. As the outsider in the group I really had to go out of my way to be outgoing and friendly, and I was extremely nervous the day they showed up. And at no point did any person in the group made me feel as if I didn’t belong there – a political science and economics major from a different school whose dad was the professor among biology students from Union College and Hobart and William Smith. As we body surfed at Cylinder beach that first afternoon I knew that it would be an amazing semester.

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The Greatest Nation

Traveling in Australia and New Zealand, you quickly realize that people here are incredibly interested, informed, and invested in the outcome of the American Presidential election. The result matters to them on several levels. Mostly, of course, it’s symbolic; there was little daylight between the foreign policy platforms of President Obama and the Republican nominee. But, fair or not, they tend to associate the Republican Party with the go-it-alone, “with-us-or-against-us” bluster of Bush and Reagan. These are not times that they fondly remember.

I found out the result of the election from the FM radio on a boat floating in a cove off the coast of Australia (rough life, I know). What struck me first was that the Australian news station reported the result at the top of their broadcast every hour. But mostly I was surprised by the way that they covered it: they didn’t focus on the horse race. They didn’t rattle off poll numbers or Electoral College scores.

But they did talk about Obama’s reelection in terms of issues mostly absent from the campaign trail. They talked about how America would now keep its health care law. They talked about their hope that the President would address issues of global warming—a topic that his opponent raised only as a punch line. They talked about how the government of the United States could expand policies to end discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, and how President Obama’s support for gay marriage had not hurt his electoral chances as it might have just a few years ago. They said—invoking a term usually reserved as an epithet in our own country—that America became a little more liberal that night.

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