By Andrew Cahill
I was not yet to Los Angeles, en route to my term abroad in Australia, when I learned how terrific the Australian people are.
My seatmate on my connecting flight from New York to LA happened to be, of all people, a lady from Brisbane—the city where I would be studying. While I was a little upset that she was not Miranda Kerr, I quickly overcame that to pepper her with questions about the great Down Under.
Throughout our conversation, I jotted down all of the activities and places she suggested I do and see. Our conversation went so well that she left me her address and phone number in case I did not like my homestay mom, which speaks to the welcoming character of the Australian people. Having had that initial interaction with a local, I knew that I was in for an enjoyable experience when I reached my destination.
Upon touching down in Brisbane after a twenty hour flight, a lot was going through my head, foremost the thought of suddenly being nearly 10,000 miles from my home in the bucolic mid-Hudson Valley. Our group of Union and Hobart William Smith students was immediately whisked off to our first field trip at a research station on Stradbroke Island (our program took us all over the Australian state of Queensland, from the outback and onto the Great Barrier Reef). During our orientation there, we were issued the “trademark” Australian wraparound hats, which according to our American professors, “everyone” wears. While there is no debating the intensity of the sun in Australia, particularly in Queensland and even in mid-spring, wearing these hats was the equivalent of hanging a “Tourists!” sign around our necks.
Prior to the trip, we had been briefed that if one wanted to stick out like an American, then wear a baseball cap. Of course, upon further review, I learned that almost ALL Australians wear baseball caps as well! This was the first of several times when I wondered whether I was really in Australia or still in “the States” as our country is referred to by Aussies.
The two countries have a strikingly similar culture, as Australians are prime consumers of American culture, especially music and television (Aussies love Two and a Half Men for reasons I cannot comprehend). Supermarkets are indistinguishable from their American counterparts (although considerably more expensive), and development in coastal cities like Brisbane follows the American city from suburban to rural pattern.
What was also surprising to me was the large number of Aussies who have visited us (usually Disneyland, Vegas and the Big Apple, in roughly that order). In fact, one of our Australian professors lectured to us about how Australia seeks to emulate American culture.
However, while many of us Yanks enjoy a good alcoholic beverage every now and then, Aussies REALLY enjoy it. Drinking is a distinct feature of Australian life. My biggest wonder is how they can afford it. A six-pack of beer can run close to twenty Australian dollars, which approximately amounts to an equal number of U.S. dollars!
How many of us would soon go broke at those prices? Nonetheless, I made sure to sample as many different beers as possible, becoming a big fan of James Boags. I am not implying that all Australians are alcoholics or have a drinking problem, but they just simply like to drink and have a good time doing it.
With a great selection of beer and a great climate (sans the current but rare destructive flooding) one can’t blame the Australians for having a good time, something they are very good at—particularly my homestay mom. Living with her and meeting and spending time with her family was a once in a lifetime opportunity to observe another culture at ground level.
Although she is approaching fifty years old, she can party with the most social of Union College undergraduates. Obviously she was a lot of fun—albeit a tad crazy—but she took great care to make sure I was enjoying my time in Australia.
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience in Australia and my interaction with Aussie Nation. Australia is a beautiful and welcoming country definitely worth exploring, one that I wish to return to someday.
So grab your mates and head Down Under!