Monday, March 31, 2014

Heartfelt Goodbyes and Biodiversity

March 15 – 17, 2014

By John M. Gallalee

Saturday, the fifteenth, was our last official day in Brisbane. It was also a scheduled
“free day.” Most of us spent this last day with our gracious host families. For me, it was a bittersweet day. I packed, took one last swim in my host family’s pool, and enjoyed a family outing to a commercial port turned market for dinner and another glimpse of Australian culture. I am unable to fully express the gratitude that I feel toward the family that took me in. They gave me a room of my own, fed me delicious meal after delicious meal, and taught me a great deal about Australia. I truly appreciate the effort and kindness of each of them and feel lucky to have made new friends. Hopefully, I will be able to repay their kindness someday.

On Sunday, March sixteenth, we took a bus up to the rainforest area known as Lamington Plateau, our home for the next week. We were fortunate enough to be joined for the first chunk of the week by two biologists and a zoologist, named David, Stephen, and Peter, respectively. That afternoon after setting up camp, our group split in two. One half went with Stephen to set up mist nets used to ensnare birds. The rest of us went with Peter to set up various non-lethal traps to catch small mammals.

To humanely catch a small mammal, one needs four things: a small metal trap, bait, some fluff for the animal to nest in once captured, and a plastic bag to keep out the rain. After setting up thirty odd traps we hiked back to our camp for a well deserved meal.

That night, Peter led a hike back into the rainforest to spotlight some nocturnal critters. This involves shining one’s flashlight through the trees to try and see the reflection of animals’ eyes. We also brought along a device used to detect high frequency sounds in order to record bat calls. It was a grand old time.

After this, the mammal-catching group went to check on the traps. We caught an abundance of small Australian mammals including antechinus and bush rats. We were very pleased with the fruits of our labor.

The following day, Monday the seventeenth, the birding group went to clear their mist nets at 5:30 am. They reconvened with the mammal trappers for breakfast at 8:00. They caught four different species of birds and were pleased with themselves as well. That day, our two groups split up again. One group went to study the forest structure of eucalyptus forests and the other to study the structure of the rainforest.

After taking detailed notes concerning soil type, foliage cover, number of plants present, ground cover, and evidence of fauna in the two forests, we headed back to our base camp. Each group then prepared a presentation to facilitate a discussion concerning the various similarities and differences between sclerophyll forests and rainforests.

At this point, the group that had caught birds that very morning went out to prepare traps for mammals. We who had once been mammal trappers went out to prepare mist nets for birds. That night we all went to bed with full bellies and hopes for full traps the following day.

Group Photo at Base Camp

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Until We Meet Again, Brisbane

March 12 – 14, 2014

By Shannon Boerner

Bad things come in threes. It’s a cliché for a reason – a melodramatic introduction in this case, but it did so happen that three of the hardest days during our time in Brisbane occurred one right after another. After finishing our area studies exams on the 10th and turning in our 12-15-page research papers on the 11th, we spent two days presenting and watching the independent research presentations of our classmates. These served as our final projects for our contemporary Australia course, and clearly were not taken lightly by anyone involved. A tremendous amount of time and effort went into each paper, as we began the research process back in November, if not October! The contemporary Australia course summary covers a variety of topics, as evidenced by the wide array of different focuses of our individual projects. For instance, presentations included: the use of fire in Australia, Australia’s immigration policy and controversies, the commodification of Aboriginal art and culture, the introduction of the invasive cane toad to the continent, the legacy of Australia’s convict history, botanical gardens, and my own presentation, which examined the sexism Australian female politicians face, especially Julia Gillard. We had great discussions after each presentation that allowed us to get even more in depth and showed how much each of us have learned.

Despite this semester being completely different than any we’ve had before, we’re learning a tremendous amount about a country with similar roots to our own. This outsider’s view is allowing us to critique the society in such a way that we may be able to look at our own actions, both of the past and present, when we return to the US and hopefully make progress of our own.

To celebrate the completion of two of our four courses, a bunch of us headed down to the Streets Beach at South Bank. I hadn’t been there yet and it was quite the experience. It was crowded for a cloudy day—there were “loads of people,” as my host brother would say—even though it was less than 30 degrees outside. Clearly we’ve adapted to the heat and humidity, so take pity on us as we freeze when we return to the States. 
Celebrating at Streets Beach

The following two days were filled with lectures for our natural history course. We began with organization of biological communities and species interaction in biological communities. Then on Friday we had an introduction to Australian rainforests, followed by a field studies briefing. As a social sciences student, it was refreshing to jump back into biology! I loved taking biology in middle school and high school, but it is even more fun to revisit the subject in a new environment, where the species and communities are not the same as the ones with which I grew up. The lectures were meant to serve as a background of knowledge for when we are in Lamington Plateau this next week. I’m both terrified and excited for this upcoming experience. I’m a city girl with no camping experience and I haven’t really been on an outdoor adventure since going to Yosemite and Catalina Island in middle school. I’m due for a little bit of time outside of my comfort zone.

Before we could make our way to Lamington though, we had one more crucial cultural experience in the city. On Friday night we all made our way to Suncorp Stadium to watch the Brisbane Broncos take on the North Queensland Cowboys in a Rugby League match. It was an interesting sport. Not something I could really see myself getting into, as I’m an ice hockey fan over soccer or football any day, but it was a fun time with a rowdy and excited crowd. We were pretty caught up in the cheering, despite not knowing exactly when we were supposed to cheer and for what we were cheering. Luckily, my host mom was one of the five Aussies with us helping explain to us what was going on. By the end of the night, I was still not sure I could explain exactly what was going on, but it was cool to feel as if we were actually a part of the Australian Rugby League culture.  It is going to be sad to leave the wonderful city of Brisbane and the great host families that we have had the pleasure of getting to know, but we’re on to the next adventure. 
Broncos vs. Cowboys

Sending much love to our family and friends back home. 


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Goodbye, Brissy!

March 9 – 11, 2014

By Allie Huang

G’day everyone!

Greetings once again from the Aussie group! As I write this post, it is our last three days here with our homestay families before we head off to Lamington National Park, Carnarvon Gorge, Heron Island, and Fraser Island, the start of our ‘real’ outdoor adventures on this overseas program. Let’s get you up to speed with the past few days.

We had a study day/free day on Sunday. All of us have been working very hard on the academic portion of the program. That day we were all busy preparing for the area studies exam on Monday, and finishing our research projects, which were due the day after.

Tuesday was the deadline to submit our papers, and then seven students delivered their independent research presentations. Overall the presentations were great—unique, interesting and informative! It was fun to learn all about various research that our peers have been preparing very hard for the past two months. As for my project, I did my independent research on the convict history of early Australia. Ever since the group visited the Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney, I have been interested in convict history. Australia has one of the highest developed economies and one of the most advanced technological infrastructures in the world today, but how many people know that Australia is the only country in the world that was initially colonized as a penal settlement? In order to understand that transformation, I formed a question to guide my research: how did convicts build their own free society? I found many useful primary sources through the NSW State Library’s archives to help me understand this topic. 

Handing in the in-depth research projects (my paper was nearly a half-inch thick) that we have been thinking about and working on since last semester really gave me a sense of accomplishment. Later that day, some people went out for Mexican food and to chill out on the city beach in Southbank to celebrate. As for me, since I stayed up late to finish my project and still had my presentation to deliver the next day, I decided to go back home to take a nice nap to regain my energy and practice more for my presentation.

That evening, as I was sitting down in the living room of my homestay family and writing this blog, I looked around and had lots of thoughts swirling in my head. First of all, I was grateful that the weather had been very generous to us so far! After turning in my big project, I felt a sense of relief that was bittersweet at the same time. Thinking of the time I was in Brisbane, suddenly I felt that this month passed by so fast. In my culture, people say that good time flies especially fast. I felt like the first day I met my homestay family and took the ferry with my homestay sister at night in Southbank was just yesterday. I miss walking to the GED office every morning with my L&C homestay sisters, Katherine and Claire. I miss seeing the giant whale that makes strange noise above me every time I go to the Cultural Center bus stop to return home after spending time in the library. I miss our time with our lovely homestay family, watching My Kitchen Rules after dinner, the fruit salad that our host dad, Scott, made for us every day after dinner, and our host dog, the cutest and laziest dog I have ever seen, Tilly. Not to mention our time in the Gold Coast, spending our Saturday morning in the farmers market at West End, and all the other good times with our host family. I am sure I will miss them very much. Our homestay family is wonderful and I have enjoyed my stay with them!

At the same time, I am glad we are almost done with three of our classes, and I can’t wait for the outdoor adventures. I am hoping the camping experience in Lamington, along with our adventures following, will change my life and be experiences I will never forget. 

Me, Claire, and Katherine with our Host Siblings

Our Host Dog, Tilly

One of My Favorite Spots in Brisbane: Southbank

Monday, March 17, 2014

Good Mates and Hard Yakka

March 6 – 8, 2014

By Emily Katzman

My stay in Brisbane has been defined by meal times—good conversation over good, home-cooked food. The conversations I share with my host mum, Lauri, while we break bread have opened my mind to her particular concerns and convictions and have also afforded me a window into Australian society.

Over breakfast and a pot of tea, we listen to ABC radio and discuss the news: the larrikin antics of a bra-snapping male politician, controversies in the coal industry, families separated due to immigration policies, the triumphs of heroic sporting figures, and the anticipation of the royal family’s upcoming visit Down Under. As I put my ear to the radio and consider everything the LC group have seen and learned so far in Australia, I can’t help but think this radio broadcast is quintessential Australia.

The Australian nation is a young one—I’d liken it to a person in his early adulthood: that awkward, confusing stage following adolescence when you’re still working out your identity, solidifying your values, and feeling exceedingly self-conscious. When I listen to the radio and watch television, I notice programs like Australian Story. A brief glance at the newspaper headlines and I see there is renewed debate over changing the Australian national flag. My point is Australia seems a bit unsure of its national identity.  

National identity is a social construction, an aggregation of founding myths and symbols which serve to unite a nation, which is itself imagined, and distinguish it from other nations. National identity is the answer to the question, “what does it mean to be Australian?”

The Australian national identity is a story of mateship and egalitarianism. It is the story of rugged, masculine, anti-authoritarian individuals coming together and forging a nation from the bush. Through teamwork and “hard yakka” (labor), these men overcame the challenges the harsh environment imposed on them, and in doing so, shed their unfavorable British characteristics (e.g. class hierarchy, urbanization, femininity) and thus became Australian. References to Australia’s founding myth are everywhere today.

The founding myths exclude from the Australian story Indigenous Australians, women, and people who immigrated more recently. When the media, lawmakers, and individuals grapple with the question “what does it mean to be Australian?” and they look to Australia’s founding myths for an answer, do these excluded groups become any less “Australian?”

Realistically, Australia is highly urbanized and socio-economically stratified (so much for the bush ethos and egalitarianism!). One third of Australians were born overseas or their parents were born overseas. The populace simply do not fit the founding myths, and so Australians question and debate the validity of their national identity.

The beautiful thing about traveling around and really coming to know another country, is that learning requires a certain amount of comparison and analysis of the home country; it forces the traveler to turn her critical eyes to her own country and view that place with the same curiosity and objectivity she uses to understand Australia. I think that has been the experience of many of us here this semester. As we dissect the components of the Australian national identity, we can’t help but consider what is America’s national identity? Is it as fraught as the Australian national identity?

We have so much to learn about our own home countries. For some of us, it took traveling 7,286 miles to remember that.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Host Families, Hammocks, and Health Care

March 2 – 5, 2014

By Sierra Enright

Now that we have been in Brisbane for more than two weeks, we are starting to settle into comfortable rhythms. We have all become experts in navigating the Brisbane bus, ferry, and train systems. We know how to “tap-on and tap-off” to pay our fare and have funny landmarks that remind us which stop to get off at (mine is a fantastic tree frog mural). Brisbane is very different from Sydney, because it is more spread out and suburban. Our experiences here have been very much defined by our homestay families and their patterns of family life. Becca and I share the same host family and we live in a suburb of Brisbane about an hour bus ride away from downtown. Our host family has two children who love swimming, watching movies, and eating vegemite. They love showing us off to their swim club friends; we are fondly introduced as the family’s “Yanks.” They also have a cat named Horace, two budgies (pet birds), a trampoline, and a hammock. 
Our Brisbane Home

One recent adventure has been taking care of Becca’s injured foot. About a week ago, her foot was very swollen, so she has been going to the doctor to get it sorted out. Part of the Australian heath care system, according to one of the lectures this week, involves treating the most likely cause of illness, instead of running vast arrays of tests. So Becca has been taking lots of antibiotics. Our host family has also been incredibly sweet, getting her crutches, making rice pudding, and giving her the loving nickname of “Hobble.” Our nine-year-old host sister was worried that I might feel left out because Becca has been getting a lot of attention, so she made me a special, big pancake one morning.
Me and Becca with our Sweet Host Sister

Staying with a host family has given me new perspectives on various issues. With our host dad, we talked about the racism toward Lebanese people in Australia. From our host mom, we have learned about Australian Catholicism, yummy food, and how to rassle children. We’ve also talked about primary school education, and how children must apply to year 7 (the first year of high school) when they are in year 4. I can’t imagine having to plan ahead like that, especially since children change so much during that time.

In addition to the experiential learning that takes place in our homestays, we’ve also had formal classes this week. Monday’s lecture was about the Australian health care system, which is dominated by general practitioners and therefore tends to have fewer specialized doctors. On Tuesday, we talked about the Australian environment, which is dry, old, salty, and infertile. We also talked about how irrigation, fertilizers, and pesticides can be harmful; they lead to salinization of the soil and water table, and fertilizer run-off often damages organisms and ecosystems in the ocean. On Wednesday, we learned about mining in Australia. While mining can create some highly paid jobs in Australia, it can also cause social, cultural, and environmental problems. In addition to classes this week, we have all been spending a great deal of time in the library working on our research projects. Whether from our lecturers, our personal research, or our homestay families, we are each developing well-rounded perspectives of Australia.


Brisbane River

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

You Have the Right to Remain Fabulous

February 28 – March 2, 2014

By Seraphie Allen

I cannot believe we are more than halfway through our whole program already! It feels like just yesterday that I was in Sydney, getting ready to write the first post for this year’s blog. Brisbane has been a nice change from our fast-pace and full schedule in Sydney. While I miss the easy access to things people our age tend to do, I am living with an awesome host family in Brisbane!

Jane and Kristiana are a young couple who live in a leafy suburb in a lovely Queenslander style house. They enjoy walking, gardening, and good food and music. Kristiana works in financial literacy education and Jane is an electrician who runs her own business. Their house is adorable and is in prime location for me to get to school. My room is spacious and full of light, because of all the windows. I've learned so much more about Australia and its contemporary culture from my host-moms than from any lecture we've had yet. Jane makes my lunch everyday, which I've tried to tell her she doesn't need to do, but she insists on being a good host. I've felt incredibly welcomed and feel honored to be a part of their family.  

Our school schedule in Brisbane is the same as in Sydney. We have lectures Monday-Friday in the mornings and sometimes have excursions during the afternoons. On Friday we had lectures on Australia's relationship to the world and Australia at war. In the afternoon we took a field trip to the Toowong Cemetery, where our lecturer did a show- and-tell of the gravestones, monuments, and the different sections of the cemetery. He explained the history of the monuments and pointed out the common war monument commemorating the ANZACs, as well as the Temple of Peace, which was erected in protest of war.  
Temple of Peace at Toowong Cemetery

Inscription on the Temple of Peace

As you can see from the pictures, there is a hard glass casing around the protest monument, because some people have vandalized the site since the recent upsurge of patriotism in Australia. This monument was especially controversial in its time, because it went against the standard convention of idealizing war and the deaths of the soldiers.  

Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to fly back to Sydney to attend the Mardi Gras parade! Oh, not only did I attend the parade, but I marched in it! For those of you who do not know, the Mardi Gras in Sydney is like San Francisco’s Pride! When I arrived in Sydney on Saturday afternoon, I could already feel the buzz of excitement on Oxford Street. Queer-looking people were everywhere! All the shops were adorned in rainbow colors and many of them had “Happy Mardi Gras” displayed on their windows. The ATMs… well, just take a look: 
Sydney Mardi Gras

And look at the receipt I got from the ATM! 
Sydney Mardi Gras

I marched with Dayenu, an organization established to meet the needs of Jewish gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, trans and intersex people, as well as their friends, families, partners and other supporters. They provide outreach through education, information, resources, social activities and other events.

We met a couple hours before the parade began in order to get all sparkled up and to rehearse our dance to a remix of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You!” I could go into much more detail, but I will spare you and just give three highlights:
1.     Making awesome friends (my favorite were the three older ladies I got drinks with).
2.     Walking around before the parade and seeing all the awesome floats!
3.     Getting the biggest rush marching past thousands of people who were screaming and out there to support us!

New Friend from Mardi Gras
You Have the Right to Remain Fabulous

Friends from Dayenu

Happy Mardi Gras!

On Sunday morning I slept in, worked on my paper, ate Moroccan food with my friends, watched Tangled, and went to bed. Monday morning I flew back to Brisbane at 6am and was in class at 9am—ta-da!

The End!


PS: Australia is awesome!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Easy, Breezy, Beautiful Brissy

February 25 – 27, 2014

By Jess Valeta

Now that we have all been living in Brisbane for almost 2 weeks with our host families, I am starting to get the hang of our new location. On Tuesday, the 25th, we had a political science lecture on the Australian government. It was interesting to compare the Australian prime minister to the American president. The Australian prime minister is not directly elected by the Australian people, but is instead a member of parliament and the leader of the political party with majority support in the House of Representatives. The PM can be removed from office at any point; he or she serves only as long as she is recognized as party leader. There are no fixed terms or term limits, but elections for government do happen at least once every 3 years, no matter what. If the PM’s party loses the majority of seats in the House of Representatives, the opposition leader becomes prime minister. Furthermore, the Australian prime minister is the head of government, but unlike in the United States, the executive is not the head of state. That role still belongs to the Queen of England and the governor-general whom she appoints to serve in her place. Like the United States, Australia has two main political parties: the Liberal Party is similar to our Republican Party, and the Labor Party is comparable to the Democratic Party.

After our lectures on government in Australia, we took a tour of Queensland’s Parliament House. Interestingly, it turned out that our tour guide studied abroad in Portland when he was younger, which was a nice coincidence. Our extremely friendly and talkative tour guide took us to some of the more important and historical rooms of the Parliament House. Despite having learned a little about the Australian government in class, the workings of the Australian government are still a bit of a confusing subject for me, not having grown up with it, so I have decided that it might be best to leave the Aussie politics to the locals. 
In the Chambers of the Upper House
Tuesday was Sierra’s birthday, so we all met up in West End for some much-craved Mexican food. It was $3 taco night, which resulted in happiness and full bellies all around. Good Mexican food seems to be the one thing that I am constantly missing from back home. Unfortunately Australia is not the best destination for Mexican food, but I guess Australia has plenty of other things to offer that make up for this one downfall. We then made our way over to the Three Monkeys café, probably one of my favorite places in Brisbane, due to their amazingly scrumptious cakes. We then did a little bar hopping, and made our respective ways back to our homes.

Wednesday, the 26th, was a free/study day. Our project outlines were due, so I spent most of my day at the library. I’ve grown quite fond of the State Library of Queensland after the many hours I have been spending there. Our stay in Sydney seemed to have more time for exploring and going out, but here in Brisbane, the academics have picked up, and long days in the library have become a necessity. After I turned in my assignment, I went home for dinner, or “tea,” as my host dad calls it. My host parents then drove me up to Mt. Coot-tha, the highest point in Brisbane, with a  beautiful view of the entire city.
Brisbane City Lights from Mt. Coot-tha

Our lectures on Thursday were super interesting; they focused on the youth of Australia, especially the homeless youth, and on gender. The gender lecture started with a video of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s speech on sexism and misogyny she delivered to the House of Representatives. We discussed Julia Gillard’s leadership and legacy, and the struggles she faced as the first female Prime Minister in Australia. I found Gillard to be an extremely eloquent and powerful speaker. She wasn’t afraid to address issues that weren’t usually brought up in parliament due to its history as a male dominated institution.

After lectures, I went over to the Streets Beach at South Bank. The “beach” is really a swimming pool in the middle of the city, but they import sand from the Gold Coast, and put it all around and in the pool to make it seem more beachy. 
Streets Beach at South Bank (Photo Courtesy of Lex Corwin)
Overall I am enjoying my time in Brisbane, and can’t wait for even more adventures in these coming weeks. Cheers!


Monday, March 3, 2014

North Stradbroke Island, Part II

February 22 – 24, 2014

By Claire Hinkley

The first time the group traveled to Straddie a few weeks ago, we were mainly in lectures,  learning about the biology and ecology of the sand island. Nat and the GED office thought we ought to have a chance to see some of the landforms we’d been hearing about, so last weekend we headed back out to Stradbroke.

It’s been really hot and humid in Brisbane this past week, and the news had been forecasting rain for the weekend. My host dad told us not to listen to anything the newspeople say, because they don’t know what they’re talking about. Unfortunately, the reporters were right this time. Though our evening on the island on Friday was lovely, sunny and warm, with beautiful views of the Milky Way from the beach at night, Saturday was chilly and drizzly all day. Good thing we’re used to Portland weather! Disregarding the storm clouds boiling along the horizon and the gale-force winds whipping down the beach, almost everyone jumped in the water at some point during the day.
Braving the Storm

Saturday’s activities centered around seeing some of the major ecological attractions on Straddie. We drove all around the northern island, stopping first at 18-Mile Swamp and a beach on the exposed side of the island. Then we drove to an old dune that had been burned in a very destructive bushfire in January. The fire burned 60% of the foliage on Straddie and turned the once-lush hill we were climbing into an otherworldly moonscape of white sand and gray ash. Yet new shoots of green were already starting to spring up from the blackened stumps of the Xanthorrhea plants.  The hike up the dune was brutal, each step an effort with little payback from the sinking sand beneath our feet. However, the way down made up for it. A few of the group were more cautious, but I practically flew all the way down, leaping meters at a time. The next stop was Brown Lake, called so for the tannins that leach into the water from the surrounding trees, turning the lake the color of over-steeped tea. The acidity of the water supposedly has energizing effects, making the skin appear more youthful. Brown Lake might be a good destination for our parents. (Ha, ha, Mom).
Burned Vegetation on the Dune

Speaking of parents, we spent Friday night learning a new skill we can take with us into old age— lawn bowling, also known as “barefoot bowls.” We students were the youngest people at the club by about forty years. Though, the old men playing next to us were very friendly and encouraging! We split off into teams of two against another team of two (Emma and I, Team Sauron, lost to Shannon and Ian, Team Tron, by the smallest margin possible… as they pointed out to us, though, maybe we should have picked a team name that didn’t lose. Fair enough). We had a great time nonetheless and finished off the evening with a delicious fish and seafood fry at the club restaurant.
Several of us started off the final morning on Straddie bright and early with a quick jaunt to the beach for a final swim. It was a bit cold and gray, and the beach was pretty much empty— such a nice change compared to the crowded Sydney beaches! We frolicked in the waves for a while, until some locals came up to us with a helpful tip: apparently a deep-sea current had brought up a lot of bait fish from the depths of the ocean, which were attracting “big fish” (sharks) to feed… maybe we should stop swimming? Suddenly, the deserted beach made sense. Needless to say, we got out of the water pretty quickly. 

Now we’re back in Brisbane, starting the second week with our homestay families. I can’t wait for all the coming adventures!


On the Hike Between Home Beach & Cylinder Beach