Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Farewell Celebrations

Since I’ve been in Australia, I’ve noticed a number of lawn bowling places that never seem to be lacking for activity. Never having heard of lawn bowling before, I brought it up at work a few months ago and suggested that we should all give it a go sometime…so it was decided that we would plan it as my farewell. This last Sunday was the day to try it on for size. Everyone in the group was far from practiced at lawn bowing, so we tended to make up the rules as we went along. The concept is similar to bocce ball (as near as I can tell having never played that either). A small white ball is thrown out onto the lawn, and two teams do their best to roll their colored balls as close to the white ball as possible. The four closest balls receive points for the corresponding teams. The main difficulty is that the balls are weighted on one side and roll in a curve. More often than not, my balls ended up in the next lane over, but a few people caught on quickly, making the final scoring deliberations difficult at times. Our group started off fairly small, but by the time we left, there were ten of us altogether.

Today was my last day, and I arrived at work rather early to play the part of Santa Claus and deliver Michigan souvenirs (Michigan, North Pole – pretty much the same thing, except this year from what I hear). Matt, the Director, was perhaps the most excited about his gift, a U of M hat which he sported nearly the entire day after declaring that it was “the best gift he’d ever received” (certainly a slight exaggeration). As part of my last few days at NCYLC, I have taken an inventory of all the projects/documents I’ve worked on in some capacity or developed from scratch during the past eleven weeks. It’s quite a decent list, but more important than the quantity of documents is the consensus that the output has been useful not just to meet deadlines and requirements but to help develop some procedures and standards that will help other volunteers (and staff) manage their time more efficiently and complete work that is of better quality (theoretically at least). One of my projects was to create a style guide for two of the Centre’s written communication-based services. The project’s grand finale came today when Katy (another international intern/volunteer) and I presented it to the staff and as well as a number of volunteers. Katy has had some experience with editing the documents we discussed, while I presented a more technical approach, boring the audience with some of my favorite things – dissecting sentences for parts of speech and picking apart appropriate uses of vocabulary words and phrases.

The official farewell lunch was yesterday (lunch at a new Thai restaurant), but today we decided to go to Time for Thai, where I first experienced Thai cuisine and perhaps my favorite lunchtime haunt since. Lauren and Priyanka were keen to try something new, but not I. Green curry with chicken – is there anything else? I believe that makes four times in the last eight days…probably a record of some sort (I know it is for me anyway). Delicious!

The afternoon breezed by and before I knew it, it was time for the official goodbyes that had been talked about with much dismay for the last week. Even after only eleven weeks (only eleven weeks!), it will be odd not to be heading to work on Monday morning. It really has been a learning experience, not only in an academic sense but also in the sense of building new, meaningful friendships (and even acquaintanceships) along the way. I’ve learned so much from all of them, and they too have learned some from me (particularly about imported American food and Amish, a new favorite topic). So as much as I am looking forward to escaping Sydney to see more of this amazing country, this group of people has become a security blanket in some ways, and the goodbyes come with a tinge of bitter-sweetness. As I write this, I am sitting on my bed, nearly in awe that all of the possessions that were scattered about my room only a few days ago are now packed in two backpacks. Oh, the joys and sorrows of moving on. But “Onward” I say…to the West coast! It’s time!

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Countdown Has Begun

It’s hard to believe – I’ve made it through 41 days of my internship, and only have three more to go! As with any semi-long term project, there have been weeks that have gone far slower than I cared and some that have gone much faster than I anticipated. Funny how that works… and in the end, I can’t help but wonder where the time has gone.

I’ve spent some time this last week reflecting on my time here and, after looking over the last ten weeks, I can see how my perspective and outlook have changed. During the first few weeks I was on the go as much as I could be, exploring the city and constantly planning ahead to cram in as many trips and excursions as I could afford. My goal was to maximize my time in every sense of the word. I don’t regret it by any means, but I have little doubt that it contributed somewhat to the health issues I experienced. During the time I took to recover, I realized that my time here wasn’t just a vacation. Exploring was/is great but so is taking it easy every once in awhile. Not only that, but, not being a city girl at heart, Sydney became a bit stifling and monotonous after the first month. The beach scene seemed the same regardless as to the location, whether it was Bondi Beach, Manly Beach, or Coogee Beach, and the city as a whole began to meld together so that suburbs, too, were virtually indistinguishable from each other in my mind. Add to that the rain, which actually provided a welcome break by giving me an excuse to read or lay low rather than feeling like I needed to be venturing to some new place every weekend.

The last few weeks have especially been a struggle as I’m beginning to feel the pressures of my final course requirements (portfolio and final paper preparation), not to mention that, while Sydney is a wonderful place, I’m ready to move on and experience more of Australia. Since about three weeks ago, the end has been within reach and yet just far enough away, with a number of projects standing in between. Having worked in the same office for over two months now, the “office politics” have come into play. As an intern/volunteer, it’s clearly not my place (or desire) to get involved, but it does, nonetheless, affect my job and even, at times, my work. In some respects, keeping an open mind has been a struggle, but I believe many of my observations and experiences in the workplace will play into some interesting communications analyses for my final paper.

This last week has brought with it a renewed feeling of accomplishment as I complete projects, plan ahead for a few weeks of solid travel, put my experience into perspective within an academic context, and begin to realize that I have actually contributed to the work NCYLC does. It’s hard to explain the mixture of emotions and feelings that are surfacing as I face my last weekend in Sydney and the last few days in the company of some really incredible people. Without a doubt, there will be things that I’ll miss, but likely just as many things that I’ll appreciate that much more once I’m home.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Aussie Lingo

As an English major “studying” communications in Australia, I’ve found it more than appropriate to compile a list of Australianisms that I come across in everyday conversations.

After finishing up a project I had been working on with the director, he said something like, “Look, I reckon we’d better print this off and take a quick squiz over some coffee.” In one sentence he had demonstrated three very common usages that have required a bit of adjustment. Look is used regularly here to preface an explanation about the speaker’s point of view. I didn’t realize it, but in American English we begin sentences with look primarily when trying to emphasize urgency or frustration (“Look, I don’t have time for this!”). Reckon tends to be a somewhat old school (country) word at home that’s used regularly here in the same context, just much more often. Squiz – this was a new one for me…meaning to look something over or review something.

A few more words that I hear regularly…Heaps, as in “I’m feeling heaps better” and/or “Thank goodness cockroaches only appear in my room one at a time, because I’m not sure I could take heaps of them at once!” Keen – another word that American English speakers aren’t entirely unfamiliar with…but I reckon we just don’t use it heaps – not like they do here at least. Here the word seems to take on a life of its own, but most often reflecting someone’s interest in or enthusiasm for something, (“She’s keen on researching cyber-law”) or a preference (“I’m thinking Thai for lunch. Are you keen?”).

Sometimes it’s a basic phrase that causes a bit of a hang-up. At home, it would sound perfectly normal to say something like, “Give me a call on my cell phone when you get a chance so we can talk.” But here, such a request would sound like nails on a chalkboard, and the speaker’s origin would not go unnoticed. Australian’s don’t call; they ring. They don’t carry cell phones; they carry mobiles (which is, I think, what we carried around in large bags in the early 90s). And interestingly enough, they don’t often talk; they have a chat. When you put it all together it would sound more like this – “Ring me on my mobile, mate, and we can have a chat.”

It seems that everyone here is a mate, in fact, I believe our cab driver today used the term at least ten times in a matter of only five sentences. “I’ve got a mate on Kangaroo Island who works as a park ranger, and I’m tellin ya, mate, they’ve got a problem with inbred koalas. There were only a few on the island to being with, and they started in with their mates like it was the 70s all over again.” (Bizarre, but nonetheless, an entire running commentary for a good 15 minutes.) Generally speaking, mate refers to a friend but also applies to acquaintances or passersby as well.

Finally, chuck, a word I can’t leave out because it still makes me chuckle every time I hear it, and I’m not entirely sure why…except maybe because I only ever recall using it at home when referring to throwing something with a lot of force. That said, it’s probably the mental image that’s conjured up when I hear little kids telling their parents that they’re going to chuck something in the bin (aka throw something in the trash) or when someone says, “I reckon we don’t need that anymore. Just chuck it!”