Well we’re now nearing the halfway point of the semester and I’ve just gotten around to visiting Parliament. In Canberra, the main draw to the city is the fact that it’s the capital of Australia. It wouldn’t be anything close to a successful visit here if one did not visit any of the government facilities or historic landmarks.
One nice thing about Canberra is that since it’s not too big, and since ANU is close to the middle of the city, everything is within biking distance. This includes a scenic lake, Parliament, the War Memorial, Canberra Centre (the big shopping mall here), and plenty of restaurants. It didn’t take too long for me to meet up with a friend of a friend from back home who kindly offered to show me around Parliament. It turns out the Australian government was modeled partially after our own, and partially after the English government. They have a prime minister, but they also have a Senate and a House of Representatives, with meeting rooms that resemble ones you would see in the United States. I have to admit I’m not much of a history buff and I normally dislike going to museums, but the stuff they had around Parliament was really cool. They have an old copy of the Magna Carta and countless gifts on display from the governments from other countries. They also have some display that outline a brief history of Aboriginal life in Australia. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Aborigines are the native inhabitants of Australia, and the English essentially ran them into the middle of the continent and caused a lot of disease to be spread among them as well. The Australian government has gone to great lengths to make up for what they’ve done (not that I don’t believe them, but wouldn’t every government claim this?), and part of that is described in these displays. One interesting fact is that many of the coastal suburbs in at least this part of Australia have names that Aborigines had originally given particular areas. They’re very easy names to spot because they come across as impossible to pronounce. For example: Jerrabomberra and Wollongong.
I’ve been compiling a list of Australian words and phrases that we wouldn’t use in the US since I got here, so I figured now is as good a time as any to share some with you:
McDonalds = They almost always use “Mackers” instead
How you doing? = How you going?
Candy = Lolly
Lots = Heaps
Aluminum = Aluminium (extra i)
Napkin = Serviette
Boxed/Cask Wine = Goon
Tank Top = Singlet
Z pronounciation = “Zed”
H pronounciation = “Haych”
They also use the term “fair enough” incredibly often. They say it as often as we would say “alright” or “cool.”
There’s also something else that’s very Australian that most American’s would not incorporate into their daily lives. It’s a food spread called vegemite. I know, the name just turns you off from it immediately, right? Many Australians grew up eating this spread on different foods, but mostly toast and sandwiches. Tons of kids here told me I had to try it, so being the adventurous study abroad kid, I figured I needed to eat a whole piece of toast with vegemite on it. Not the best idea I’ve ever had, but it didn’t actually do any damage. Just tasted pretty bad. The taste is difficult to describe, but it’s just a strong, dark, salty taste, I guess.
If you like cross country running, or you’re just athletic, and thinking about studying abroad, pay attention to this part:
This last weekend, ANU held its annual competition called “Inward Bound,” or IB for short. For IB, each residence hall assembles teams of runners (anybody who wants to run who practices consistently for a month or two before the event) and assigns them to particular distance thresholds based on how conditioned you are and how far you think you can run. These are called “divisions,” and each residence hall has divisions competing against others (i.e. Ursula Hall Division 1 only competes against other halls’ Division 1 teams). Then, on a Friday night, a bus takes each particular division from each particular residence hall to specific coordinates basically in the middle of nowhere, up to two hours away from the University. They get dropped off at these points at about 3 in the morning, and have to navigate and run their way back before any other division they are competing with. Distances they have to run go anywhere from 30 km (18 miles) to 90 km (56 miles). But depending on your route, you could pretty easily add on 10 km to any run. It’s far and away the most competitive athletic event at the University all year, and people get really really into it. The “endpoint” is what they call the place everyone is supposed to run to. It’s not released to spectators of the event, which are all students by the way, until a few hours after everyone is dropped off. Then, students all rally for the whole day as their hall’s divisions run in after incredibly long and grueling runs. I thought about competing because it’s so intense, but after training a couple times I remembered that I despise running if it doesn’t involve a basketball, football, or soccer ball. So I went to the endpoint as a spectator, and it was a ton of fun to watch people running in and accomplishing such a massive feat.
I just finished up a midterm today, and I’ve got a presentation tomorrow followed by a 6-page paper due the day after. This is basically the mid-semester crunch-time, since we’ve got a 2-week break after this week followed by the last 6 weeks of class. So if you study here, be prepared for something similar. Just know most weeks aren’t nearly this hectic. Final exams are graded much more heavily here than for any classes I’ve ever taken before. The lightest-weighted final exam I have is worth 40% of my grade. The others range from 50 to (potentially, if it’s higher than the mid-term exam) 90%. Pretty intense. Also, grading here is much harsher than in the US. Here, an 80 or above is like getting an A+. Their grading system accounts for that, though, and so does the UT study abroad program.
As I mentioned, I’ll be off from class for two weeks, beginning in a few days. That’s going to leave me plenty of exploring time so next time I write in here it won’t just be about campus life and Canberra.
One more word they use “heaps” that I failed to include: Cheers!