Monday, February 18, 2008

Off to Melbourne

I left Philly on Jan 13th. After 6 hours on a plane, 4 hours in the Los Angeles airport, which included one hour sleeping on the floor at the gate nearing midnight and one frantic phone call to my parents right before boarding (approx 2AM their time), and 15 more hours on the plane, I arrived at the Melbourne International Airport. At that point it was 9:30AM on Friday the 15th. Boy was I glad to be on the ground.

I guess I should explain what’s actually going on for me this week. I’m part of this program called the Melbourne Welcome, which is for study abroad students before actual orientation (“O Week”) starts. Upperclassmen basically act as our hosts and take us all around the city to all sorts of activities, just to give us a chance to explore and meet each other and get a feel for things. We were brought straight from the airport to the residential college house next to campus where we’re living for the duration of the program.

Almost as soon as I arrived at Newman College house, I packed my things and headed out to the suburbs for Shabbat. I knew it would mean missing group surfing lessons at Ocean Grove on Saturday, but I decided that it was more important for me to make a connection with the local Jewish community, and I am so glad I made that decision. It felt incredible to show up at the front door of Ms. Evelyn Rose’s home and be taken in with open arms and a welcome smile. Being in a real community with families and home-cooked food felt great after so much traveling. The Conservative community is called Kehilat Nitzan, and I really enjoyed their services and the people I met. Everyone was cheerful and welcoming and interested in where I was coming from and why I had chosen to study at Melbourne. It turns out that Rabbi Ehud Bandel is friendly with Rabbi Lindemann and has visited Temple Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill many times, so we instantly had a connection. I really had a good time with their community, and I am excited to go back and spend many more Shabbatot with them. They already have me reading Torah two weeks from now, too.

Today’s main activities were visiting the Queen Victoria Market and the Melbourne Zoo. Queen Vic was pretty neat – the largest part of it was very much like the Israeli shuk markets: lots of vendors selling produce or souvenir items or random junk. There were rows and rows of these vendors in a tent-like covered area. Then there was another section indoors that had small little counters one after another selling candy or meats or cheese or sandwiches. There were so many different things in their displays. I even saw kangaroo meat at one of the deli counters. Next time I get back there I’ll be sure to take a bunch of pictures and share them with you, because it’s a neat place.
The zoo was pretty fun as well, but by then most of us were completely exhausted because of the heat. We really spent the entire day walking around, so being outdoors at a zoo was brutal in that way. But we did get to see some native Australian animals, like kangaroos just chilling in the shade, koalas hiding in trees, and tiny adorable penguins hanging out at their pond.

Right now I’m sitting on a bench in the outdoor quad area where I’m staying for these next few days. There’s finally a cool breeze after an incredibly hot day. You know it’s hot when even the Australians are complaining about the temperature. The sun’s on its way down, seeing as it’s just after 8PM, and soon a group of us is heading out bowling for the evening. My ankle hurts after a very walking-intensive day, and in the back of my mind I still feel that in the end of the day I’m here alone by myself, just trying to learn my way around and get through each day, but I can at least enjoy the clean feeling of a nice shower and be reasonably sure that tomorrow is going to be another beautiful and adventurous day. It’s going to take some time to get used to being here, and I am sure that having an apartment to call home and a finalized course schedule will definitely set me in the right direction.

And now for some random amusing things I’ve picked up since being here:

- When I got onto the plane from LA to Melbourne (nauseous and exhausted), I spoke with a flight attendant about needing to keep some of my medications cold while flying. He suggested that he could bring me a foam esky and some ice. First thought: “what the heck is a foam esky?” He made a box-shape with his hands, and I figured a foam box of any sort wouldn’t be too bad. Turns out that esky is the name used for cooler, which I learned after he showed up at my seat with a Styrofoam cooler box, which did the trick just fine.
- Also on the plane, the captain had to read out the safety information from a sheet over the PA system, since the recording wasn’t working properly. His instructions for using the seatbelt included how to “do it up” and “undo it,” which I thought were much better terms than the standard American “fasten” and “release.”
- Yeild signs say “Give Way”
- Speaking of the roads, I bet you don’t notice it, but when you cross the street your natural reaction is to look left first, then right, then check left again just before crossing. Here, thougt, it’s right, left, right, given that the cars are coming from the opposite direction. I’ve started to get the hang of it, but intersections still confuse me. On top of that, who would have ever thought that escalators would also switch directions? The side going up is on the left instead of the right!

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