In which I go long-distance for a long time.

Apparently, it started with a game of volleyball.

It was back when I was in Sydney. I had just arrived and moved into my new residential college. The dorm had rented out some volleyball courts at the university gym, and invited all the residents to come and play.

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I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s when it began.

Although nothing happened until much, much later.

A couple weeks after I played volleyball, some kid approached me as I was going to lunch. Everyone in my residential hall ate in the same dining room. This dining hall always kept tons of fruit that residents could take back to their rooms. I have an unnatural fondness for bananas, so I would often take multiple bananas from the cafeteria.

This kid approached me, clutching two bananas in his hand.

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It was a sincere attempt to establish a rapport with me, I realize now. It didn’t work. Mostly, I wondered why this kid had a problem with my banana addiction. I completely forgot about the incident and went about business as usual.

It wasn’t until a month later that things began to move. I participated in the residential hall’s talent show, exhibiting my speed drawing skills alongside an actual artist. We needed someone to be the announcer for our act. This same kid volunteered.

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We had to rehearse for the act, of course. Check the lighting and practice walking on stage and all that. While we waited for our turn at the rehearsal, I started chatting with our announcer.

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At that time, The Legend of Korra had completed its first season. Fans had been waiting with baited breath for the next season to come out. It had already been months.

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Clever play, dude. Clever play.

So, I started watching The Legend of Korra with this kid every week. We got to talking. He seemed like a cool guy– likes comics, likes video games, likes reddit, just like me. We became fast friends.

After the 3rd week of watching Korra, he knocks on my door and asks:

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C’mon. I’m a middle-class American girl who grew up in white suburbia. Of course I was gonna say,

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Another smooth move. Props to you, kid. Anyway, you can imagine where this is going.

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We went from acquaintances, to fast friends, to dating. Just like that. For some reason we got along really well. Probably because we were both weird people and total nerds.

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But it was a doomed relationship from the start.

After all, I was only going to be in Sydney for so long. By the time we started dating, I had a month and a half left in the country. This guy wasn’t American. He wasn’t even Australian. He’s a citizen of Malaysia who is an international student at the University of Sydney.

Even as we continued to hang out…

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…it was tinged with worry.

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After all, this guy was from the other side of the world. Not an exaggeration. I had to think realistically. I could enjoy the time I had with him now, for sure. Everyone has that overseas romance, right? But once I left, we’d have to break it off. That idea, for some reason, didn’t appeal to me.

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Well, shit.

So we decided, against all odds, to try a long-distance relationship. This wasn’t the sort of long distance where you get to see each other once a week, or once a month. This was going to be a relationship where you’d see each other never, and maaaaaaybe in the far future you’d get to visit again.

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The day I flew out of Sydney– well, let’s just say it’s not one of my happier memories. He came to the airport with me and waited until I had to board my flight.

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At least I wasn’t leaving Australia completely. I dived the Great Barrier Reef after that, then toured Queensland with my friends. Then, I traveled Vietnam with my family. The day that I flew back to Boston, however…

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It was over. Everything was over. The warm sunny skies of Sydney were replaced with the sub-zero frost of the Massachusetts Bay. I got back to Boston on a Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, I immediately jumped into my new internship. I didn’t have a chance to catch my breath.

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Like that, the long-distance began.

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First, we had to deal with the time difference. Even when we were awake at the same time, we’d be busy with work, school, or life. We were really only able to Skype on weekends. We did text and leave voice messages every day, though.

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Suddenly, I went from never-answers-her-phone girl to always-attached-to-her-phone girl.

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Those first few months were painful. Anyone in a long-distance relationship knows what I mean. The feeling of missing someone so badly, you’d give up a kidney just to see them again. I would sit around, wondering why teleportation hadn’t been invented yet.

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As time went on, the pain slowly numbed. I was more and more able to function like a real human being. I really hated to admit that one person could have such a huge effect on my behavior, so this was a small relief.

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I read fluffy listicles on long-distance relationships.

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Life goes on. Months flew by. Landmark dates passed: Valentine’s Day, my birthday, his birthday, our one-year anniversary. All spent alone. We sent postcards, packages, physical presents to make up for our absence.

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I ran my first half-marathon. He finished his final exams. I completed my internship. He landed a part-time job. I traveled Europe with my sister. Things kept changing, but one thing remained constant: Us. We continued to keep in touch. Neither of us wanted to let go, despite all the naysayers.

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They all had a point, though. Text messages and video chats can only go so far. Relationships require physical presence, and we were severely lacking in that.

Something had to shift. But what? It’s not like I could fly to Australia, or he to America, for a casual weekend visit. There was no way our relationship could continue like this for long. One day, he asked me to talk.

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He told me the details: for the last few months, he had worked at getting his grades up. That way, he could qualify to study abroad. It’s a long process, though. First, he has to choose the top schools that he wanted to go to. Then, the University of Sydney has to approve one of his choices. Then he needs to wait for the exchange institution’s approval, and then he has to go through the painful process of getting a visa.

Well, he’d only have to do all that if he got approved in the first place.

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I’ve never been so mad and touched in my life. The waiting began. The University of Sydney took a few weeks to respond. We waited impatiently, hoping that they’d approve his top choice– Northeastern University, my school.

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Finally, he got an e-mail.

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Then, Northeastern had to accept him. This took another month.

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It was a horrible waiting period. The Northeastern study abroad representative was unresponsive and slow. The visa process couldn’t start until Northeastern sent their approval documents. As the weeks crawled on, we texted and worried.

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And, then, the magic happened:

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At that moment, we realized that this was real. There was no turning back. He still had to go through the long and excruciating process of getting a visa, finding housing, and booking plane tickets, but it was set. This was happening. We were going to be reunited– not for a week or two, but for a full semester.

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He flew in right before Christmas, on a 25-hour flight.

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My dad and I picked him up from the airport.

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I looked around.

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And then, I realized.

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He was right.

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Despite all those months– over a year– of waiting.

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Even if it’s hard, it’ll be worth it.

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It sure was for us.

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How I landed an internship on the other side of the world

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Those were my thoughts as my semester in Australia neared its end. It’s a pretty common sentiment among college students, especially those reaching the end of their college career. Which includes me.

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I couldn’t graduate yet. I wasn’t mentally ready.

Yet, at the same time, I didn’t want to just take extra classes and drag out my degree. That would just be delaying the inevitable and creating an extra financial burden on my parents. No, if I was to delay graduation, I would do it by doing something worthwhile.

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For those who don’t know, my school– Northeastern University– has a program where students work full-time for 6 months in between taking classes. It’s a great program, one that I really believe in. After all, kids get real-life experience in the field that they’re studying, bolstering their resume, helping their personal development, and allowing them to discover what they really want to do. I completed a co-op last spring and was keen to get another one.

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Though Northeastern has a lot of connections with local companies in Boston, students still have to go through the job-seeking process. We write resumes, contact employers, and go to interviews. Sending off my resume and applying for jobs was no problem– but I had one little bump to get over:

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I e-mailed my co-op advisor in concern, who believed that it wouldn’t be a problem. We live in an age with internet and video calling. Any employer should be willing to interview via Skype, right?

Wrong.

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Since I have a good bit of work experience, I was contacted by many companies. All of whom reached the same conclusion:

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Soon, no fewer than five companies had asked me to interview with them– only to retract their interview soon after. I was starting to lose hope.

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I was reaching the end of my semester in Sydney, so finding a job was becoming urgent. My friends and I were leaving Sydney after exams were over. Soon, I’d be on the road, traveling through the Australian boonies. Who knows if I’d even have internet?

My co-op advisor was really on-the-ball for this one. Stunned that so many employers were unwilling to give me a chance, she went the extra mile to help me out.

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And then, as my semester came to a close, a ray of hope appeared.

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Could it be?! Someone was actually willing to Skype me! My co-op advisor even arranged the time and webcam for the interview to happen.

Thus, from my bedroom in Sydney, I went through my first Skype interview.

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I was nervous, of course, but I thought the interview went well regardless. A few days later, I was even contacted for a second interview!

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Additionally,

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And…

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So. Two weeks from then, in some hostel or campground, I would have to interview for two hours in the middle of the night. I was a little freaked out by this. What if the hostel we were staying at didn’t have internet?! What if it was a loud, rambunctious party hostel?! My friends offered up their smartphones if I needed them.

But I lucked out. The night of my interview, we were staying in a campground. The family running the camp had an area of their house set up for guests with wi-fi. The owner was kind enough to keep the area open for me that night.

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And thus, the interview began. I would be talking to 5 different people over a course of 2 hours.

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It wasn’t the greatest interview. As I discovered, I barely knew anything about the equipment I worked with the previous year. I was also falling asleep by the end of it. The interview concluded and I finally went to bed…

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…only to wake up 4 hours later.

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All during that tour, I tried not to think about my interview. I was convinced it went horribly. I obviously didn’t have that much technical knowledge, and I was half-asleep the whole time. Plus, they had other candidates that they could interview in person! How could I make an impression over that?

But I still held on hope.

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I got the job.

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No way. 

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For some reason, the people had decided that I was the best fit for the job. I have no idea why they thought this.

Seriously, though. I was about to fall asleep during my interview.

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But I’ll take it.

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Now I’m happily employed until the end of June, working for a pharmaceutical research company in Boston. I still can’t believe I managed to land such a good position after that insane Skype interview.

And that’s how I netted an internship while on the other side of the world. Life is crazy sometimes, you know?

In which we sleep in huts in the middle of nowhere, with only the platypuses to keep us company.

While we were planning our trip to Australia, our Danish traveler had an idea.

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After being flat-out rejected, she came back with another idea.

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That’s how, several weeks later, we found ourselves driving to what seemed to be The Middle of Nowhere, Australia. This bush camp is located near Finch Hatton Gorge, a rainforested area by the coast of Queensland. After hours of driving past farmhouses, fields, and forest, we finally pulled into the camp.

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The camp owner, an eccentric old man named Wazza, waved his mid-day beer in greeting. He had totally forgotten that he had guests staying that day.

Here's a picture of Wazza taken by some other tourists.

Here’s a picture of Wazza taken by some other tourists. He looks a bit younger here than when we met him.

He led us down a narrow, forested pathway through the rainforest. My friends and I marveled at the place, apparently built entirely by Wazza himself. Interestingly enough, Wazza didn’t always live in the bush. According to him, he actually grew up near Sydney! But I guess that, at some point, he grew disenchanted with the city, preferring a simpler life closer to nature.

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The shower and toilet hut.

While the platypus bushcamp welcomes campers, my friends and I were there for something a little more high-class. Wazza, in addition to his house, a kitchen, and a bathroom with showers, built four small, open-air huts for guests to sleep in.

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The platypus bushcamp isn’t named that for nothing: platypuses really live at the camp. There’s a swimming hole in the camp…

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…where platypuses actually live.

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In fact, the whole area is known for being one of the only places platypuses reside. My friends and I took the chance to drive through Eungella National Park, where we tried to see if we could spot a platypus.

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We also took a quick walk through the forest to see the Araluen Cascades.

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We soon returned to the camp, hoping to avoid driving in the dark. Besides, we needed to cook dinner– there aren’t many restaurants in the middle of a national park, after all.

When we returned, though, we found out that we were no longer the only visitor.

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One of Wazza’s friends, a wildlife photographer, had decided to randomly drop by for the first time in four years. You wouldn’t have known it, though, as Wazza greeted him like family. The two had met when the photographer was taking photos by a stream near the camp. Wazza went down to berate him, thinking the photographer was a rogue fisherman. After clearing up the misunderstanding, the two became friends. The photographer frequently stayed at Wazza’s camp.

Something else is a good way to put it.

Something else is a good way to put it.

The sun began to set, so it was time to make dinner.

The majority of Wazza’s camp does not have electricity. The bathroom is dark, the huts are dark. Only Wazza’s house and the kitchen have lighting. Unfortunately, the kitchen lights were not working while we were there, so we wielded both frying pans and flashlights that night.

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Well, I guess we also had these old oil lanterns as well.

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But by some miracle, we managed to cook our meatballs and boil our spaghetti…

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…and even got to hear some of the photographer’s adventures.

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And then it was off to bed.

The platypus bushcamp is beautiful, without a doubt. There’s nothing quite like being in the middle of that rainforest, knowing that you’re surrounded by miles and miles of the wildest forest. Of course, this means that there’s the wildest of the wildlife as well.

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Despite what the brochures claim, there were creepy-crawlies around as well.

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It was alright, though. Our bedsheets, damp from the rainforest humidity, was protected by a mosquito net. And besides, we had Rocky the grumpy cockatoo…

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…and Wazza’s dog, “Dog”

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…to keep us safe.

The next morning, Wazza saw us off.

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I can’t be Wazza, I guess– once a city girl, always a city girl.

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Though I can appreciate a little nature once in a while.

Koalas eat their own poop and are riddled with chlamydia. Let’s give one a hug!

I only had two goals for our trip to Queensland, Australia. One was to go to the Great Barrier. The second was to hug a koala.

Despite being in Sydney for the last four months, I still had not hugged a koala. I had been able to pet one, sure. But I hadn’t yet been able to hold one in my arms, give it a squeeze, and pretend, for just a second, that it was my own.

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So my friends and I ensured that, during our trip down Queensland, that we would visit somewhere that would let us hold a koala. We found a place called the Billabong Sanctuary, which has this banner across the front of its homepage:

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Consider us sold.

The Billabong Sanctuary isn’t your typical zoo, though. Unlike Wild Life Sydney or Taronga Zoo, where animals are untouchable behind their glass enclosures, the Billabong Sanctuary encourages interaction between its visitors and animals. Which is why, at the front entrance, they sell these bags of seed.

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It seems like visitors of the Billabong Sanctuary have been feeding the animals for years. The ducks knew exactly what to do as soon as we stepped into the park.

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We were immediately swarmed by hordes of wild whistling ducks, all quacking and hooting and fighting each other for food. While it was fun feeding them at first…

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…they continued to follow us and fight each other as we walked around the park.

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Those ducks weren’t the only fans of bird feed, either. Wallabies approached us, hoping to get in on the action.

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Kangaroos joined us too!

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The crazy part is, a lot of the animals that live at the Billabong Sanctuary are wild. The park had humble beginnings: A Sydney schoolteacher, ready for a change in his life, moved to Queensland and spent two years building an artificial lagoon. Locals offered up native animals to add to the park. Today, the Billabong Sanctuary does host rarer animals like wombats and colorful cockatoos– but those ducks? The geese that later flew in to fight with the ducks? The tons of turtles, swimming in the ponds? They’re all native to the area and moved into the park on their own. The Billabong Sanctuary is a pretty ideal place to live, so why not?

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In order to deepen the understanding between humans and animals, the sanctuary runs talks every day. They’re interactive! That morning, for example, we were introduced to Hope, a baby cassowary that lives at the park.

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Not only were we able to feed her…

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…we were allowed to feed the larger and slightly scarier adult cassowary as well.

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One of the park rangers took a wombat out of his enclosure and gave a a talk about wombats in Australia. She didn’t even flinch when the wombat proceeded to pee on her boot for a minute straight.

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I still couldn’t resist petting this fat fella, though.

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For $99, you can even feed one of the gigantic crocodiles that live at the park. My friends and I decided to skip this, though, content to watch the park rangers do it instead.

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This was crazy!

And then, finally…

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The koalas!

While admission to the park allows you to view and pet the koalas, to hold them costs a little extra. My friends and I had traveled all this way, so we coughed up the extra $16. This included a professional photo and a print, so I suppose the price could be worse.

We were led to the side of one of the lagoons (gotta have that scenic background, after all) where the ranger took our photos one by one. My friends went first, gingerly clutching the koala and smiling for the camera. And then, my turn came!

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The ranger carefully placed the koala in my arms.

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And fixed my unruly hair for the photo.

Then, finally, I got to hold a koala!

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It was the crowning moment of the entire day.

In which I find Nemo.

As I mentioned before, I got my open water diving license following a weekend of trials and tribulations. After so much effort, I had to put my license to good use.

And what better place to use it than the Great Barrier Reef?

Right after finals, my friends and I took a one-way flight out of Sydney. Destination: Cairns, a city built around tourism of the reef. From there, we were going to live on a boat for three days. The plan? Eat, sleep, dive.

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At least, I hoped so. I was actually rather nervous about our trip. I wasn’t exactly the best diver, as I proved when I got my certification. We would also be completing 11 dives in 3 days– which, to someone who’s only done 4 dives ever– is quite a lot.

But I wasn’t going to back out now. I could go diving at the Great Barrier Reef! People dream of doing that. Even before I arrived in Australia, I had sworn to make it to the reef before I had to return to the States. I had worked in a marine bio lab all semester, for cryin’ out loud.

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The day after we arrived in Cairns, my friends and I woke up bright and early to start our journey. Our dive company conveniently picked us up from our hostel and drove us to the boat we’d be living on for the next three days.

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They fed us breakfast…

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Showed us to our cabins…

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…and took off for the reef.

There was no time to waste. We were scheduled to complete four dives that first day, and the reef was still three hours away. As soon as we got to the dive site, then, one of the divemasters gave us a briefing.

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Well, it wasn’t as though I’d be going alone. As a general rule, you always dive with a buddy. My certification allows me to dive without a guide, so technically I didn’t need one.

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My diving buddy was one of my friends, though, and I sure wasn’t going to bail on her. No, it was time to gear up.

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My friend and I entered the water.

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Down we went.

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Whoa.

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It was like swimming in an aquarium. Except, the aquarium was a scene out of Finding Nemo.

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Or maybe it was a scene from a dream. How could this place be real?

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I had been so nervous at the beginning of our trip. But by our third dive that day, I felt totally comfortable in the water.

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Until our fourth dive, that is.

Our fourth dive was a night dive. It’s exactly what it sounds like: you go diving at night. Remember, though, that there are no streetlamps in the middle of the ocean. You dive in pitch darkness with only you, your buddy, and your flashlight.

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Our divemaster tried to reassure us. Apparently, the “freaks and geeks” of the ocean come out at night, creatures like crustaceans and mollusks. I wasn’t convinced, but I wasn’t backing down either. My dive buddy and I descended into the sea.

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Illuminated in the beam of my flashlight was stuff I’d never see during the day. Tiny, transparent shrimp got in my face, fixated on the light. My buddy and I watched a flatworm hover gracefully in the water. I accidentally got a fish killed.

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The circle of life, huh?

After that, there was no stopping any of us. We were even unfazed when my dive buddy got attacked by a fish.

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It was really, really cool. Whatever fear I had of scuba diving before was now gone. If I could scuba dive in total darkness, I could totally survive the rest of this trip!

Well, I more than survived it. Our boat changed locations between dives, so I was constantly amazed by the variety of seascapes.

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Between dives, we would chill on the boat.

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And discuss the creatures we had spotted on our dives.

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It’s true! Real clownfish live in the Great Barrier Reef. My Nikon isn’t built for water, but luckily, my friend has a camera that is. (And has kindly provided me with most of the photos in this post.)

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Though underwater photography can be difficult– the lighting isn’t great when you’re 18 meters underwater– my friend still managed to take some amazing photos. Even those don’t do the reef justice, though.

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A cuttlefish! It got annoyed by all the divers gathering around it.

A cuttlefish! It got annoyed by all the divers gathering around it.

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A giant clam! I ain’t sticking my hand in there.

My friend got mad close to this turtle!

My friend got mad close to this turtle!

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Definitely not.

Even without the photos, I don’t think I’ll forget how the Great Barrier looks for a long, long time.

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I’ve found paradise.

I found another reason to move to Australia.

It was when my friends and I reached Airlie Beach during our post-semester-giant-road-trip-down-Queensland. It’s not quite accurate to say I “found” it, either. Airlie Beach is a backpacker’s town built solely off the tourism of what was next door:

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The Whitsunday Islands!

The Whitsunday Islands were named by Captain James Cook, who believed he found the region on the 7th Sunday after Easter, also known as “Whit Sunday.” He was wrong, but the name stuck around. Today, the 74 islands that comprise the Whitsundays are a huge tourist attraction for their beautiful beaches and amazing diving. Luxury resorts pepper the islands, and tour boats leave daily from Airlie Beach.

My friends and I decided to see the islands in a less conventional way, though.

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One girl in our group was studying aerospace engineering, and this tour was just as expensive as any of the other tours, so: why not? We booked a tour that included a 30-minute flight over the islands.

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It was the most picturesque flight I have ever taken.

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…if not the most nausea-inducing one as well.

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The tour then took us on a high-speed boat to Whitehaven Beach, one of the most popular destinations in the Whitsunday Islands.

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An hour and a half later, we made it to Whitehaven Beach.

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Whitehaven Beach, true to its name, has the whitest sand I’ve ever seen. The sand is 98% silica, a purity so high that the sand never becomes too hot to walk on. The sand is incredibly fine, too, so fine that the sand is known to easily damage electronics. It even squeaks when you walk on it!

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I’m used to the Jersey Shore, where the beaches are crowded, the sand is burning, and the water is cold. Access to Whitehaven Beach, on the other hand, is limited. Smoking and dogs are not allowed. Whitehaven Beach has won multiple awards for being clean and environmentally protected, including the world’s most eco-friendly beach by CNN.

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Indeed, the area is also known for its wildlife. During lunch, we were visited by tons of friendly goannas.

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It wasn’t really just another day in Australia, though.

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Not by a long shot.

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And I have yet to find a place that beats it.

The Australian rainforest needs some “DO NOT TOUCH” signs.

Before I went to Australia, I had an idea of what Australia would look like.

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The majority of Australia is arid or semi-arid, and the country is famous for its vast Outback. I wasn’t aware, then, that…

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Australia has large swaths of rainforest all around the country, including Queensland, where my friends and I would be traveling after our semester in Sydney. My friends and I are from temperate climates. We get the deciduous trees, the rabbits, the squirrels. I didn’t have a clue about the Australian jungle– so we booked a tour of the rainforests around Cairns.

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The day of our tour, we were picked up from our hostel by a very Australian man in a Jeep.

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We began our ascent into the rainforest, which was located in the mountains.

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The higher we drove, the more lush the landscape became. The trees became thicker and thicker and thicker– until finally, our tour guide stopped the car and let us see for ourselves.

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Luckily for us, our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable about the plants and wildlife of the area.

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Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

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Even when you don’t touch anything, Australia can be… iffy.

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Despite all the dangers…

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…the tour was really amazing. Really! I mean, how often do you get to eat lunch in the middle of a rainforest…

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…or get the chance to try some of Australia’s more local foods?

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What I found the most amazing was how suddenly the climate would change. Driving into the mountains, you could see the exact spot where the normal forest ended and the rainforest began. When we reached the other side of the mountain, the climate changed radically again.

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Lookit that termite mound!

I guess what my 6th grade teacher taught us about mountains really is true.

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You know, how one side of the mountain gets all the rainfall while the other side does not.

What she forgot to mention, though? How incredible mountains, and the forests on those mountains, can be.

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So, leeches? Come at me, bros. Even you can’t ruin the beauty of the Australian rainforest. 

(Though getting kicked by a cassowary might. Have you seen the claws on those things? And they only live in the rainforest!)

Setting sail, coming home

Coming home was weird.

I’ve been on long flights before. Back and forth from Japan. To Vietnam. To Australia. This flight was as long as any flight I’ve taken. But it was different, somehow.

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Maybe it’s because, after being gone for half a year, I was finally coming home.

And coming home meant that the dream was over. I had dived at the Great Barrier Reef, hiked the temples of Vietnam, and jumped off a cliff in New Zealand. Heck, ever since November, I had been on the road, living out of a suitcase, not knowing where I’d be the next day. But the start of the new year brought the end of my journey.

So I was a little vulnerable on my flight back to Boston.

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I decided to distract myself with a movie. Unfortunately, I had turned on the most melodramatic, depressing drama film ever. In my sleep-deprived, emotionally sensitive state, it was a bad decision.

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So I looked pretty awful when I arrived in Boston.

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The weirdness continued when I disembarked the plane.  Suddenly, I couldn’t help but be struck by the things I’ve experienced for years.

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Then again, at that point, I was pretty delusional. I wasn’t able to sleep much on my flight home. My neurosis became clear after I boarded the subway to head to Northeastern.

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An hour later, I finally made it to campus. I arranged housing pretty late this semester, so I was living in a dorm with roommates I had never met before. They had no idea who I was or when I was coming.

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I had flown straight from Vietnam to Boston, so all I had was my suitcase. No towel, no bedsheets, no winter coat to protect me from the below-freezing temperatures outside. I dumped my hoodies onto my bare mattress, flopped down, and finally relaxed. 

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For a little bit.

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Sort of.

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I’ve been home for about a week, and everything’s begun to fall back into the routine. I’m just about over jet lag. My body has finally adjusted to the ridiculously cold Boston weather. I’ve started my co-op, my dad drove up and moved in the rest of my stuff, and I’ve even started cooking again. Everything is back to…

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Yes, the adventure is over. All I’m left with are the memories.

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And trust me, after these last two months, I’ve got a lot of them.

(Most of which consist of me jumping around.)

Coming soon…

In which we finally get attacked by the fine Australian wildlife.

I’ve been traveling down the east of coast of Queensland for the last two weeks with three of my friends from USyd. On the way, we’ve been enjoying the Australian wildlife.

Wild koala on Magnetic Island!

Wild koala on Magnetic Island!

Rock wallaby! Check out the baby in its pouch.

Rock wallaby! Check out the baby in its pouch.

Terrible photo, but I swear that's a platypus.

Terrible photo, but I swear that’s a platypus.

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Australia is famous for its cute and cuddly animals. It’s true: wallabies are cute! However, Australia is equally notorious for its dangerous and poisonous animals. The amount of articles/memes/Buzzfeed posts about Oz’s freaky animals is absurd.

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Usually, these are easy to laugh off.

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Sometimes, though, it’s not so easy.

As my friends and I found three nights ago.

We were in a cute little coastal town in southern Queensland. The weather was beautiful, so we had spent the day at the beach. After a long dinner at a beachside restaurant, we were walking home to our hostel.

And then.

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Our friend was bitten by a snake.

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We inspected our friend’s ankle. There was only one fang mark, and though it was bleeding a bit, she said it barely hurt and mostly itched. We decided to return to the restaurant.

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From there, we called 000, the emergency number in Australia. The emergency services sent us an ambulance. Fifteen minutes later, a paramedic arrived to inspect our friend’s wound.

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At this point, our friend was feeling weak in her bitten leg. It might have been just from panic, as the paramedic concluded that our friend showed no symptoms of snake venom. Since we didn’t know what kind of snake bit her, though, he decided to take her to the ER anyway. We followed her to the hospital, where we sat around in the waiting room.

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After a long wait, a nurse came out to greet us.

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Our friend was still strapped to her stretcher, coherent, but worried.

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It’s standard procedure in Australia, apparently, to monitor snake bite victims after the initial injury. However, this small hospital didn’t have the proper equipment to do this. They had to move her to a hospital about a half hour away.

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One of us stayed in the hospital with her. The remaining friend and I went back to our hostel. We wouldn’t all be able to stay the night in the hospital, after all, and we had already had our hostel booked, and someone had to pack up the luggage and get the rental car the next morning.

My friend and I went back and did exactly that.

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There was only one problem.

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Our friend with the snakebite was also our driver, you see. She was the only one who was comfortable with, and had experience with, driving in Australia. The roads here are a bit weird: people drive on the left, not the right.

Now, we were without a driver. What do we do?

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Duty called.

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Somehow, we made it to the hospital without dying. After an hour’s wait, the wound was declared non-venomous and our friend was discharged.

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Because my friend had to have her blood checked throughout the night, she had barely slept at all. My friend who had stayed with her wasn’t much better off. But we had an itinerary to follow. Our hostel for that night was already booked, in a town about 4 to 5 hours away.

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Thus, my friends and I got to have the authentic Australian experience. Driving on the left side of the road? Hospitalized due to snakebite? Seriously, all we needed now was to be attacked by a spider or stung by a jellyfish.

But that didn’t happen until a couple days later.

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And that’s how we called the paramedics twice in three days.

(Don’t worry, though– we’re all fine!)

I like breathing. I’m not big on swimming. Obviously, I should learn to scuba dive.

Hey mates! Sorry I’ve been MIA. I caught tonsillitis RIGHT before final exams, and now I’m on the road traveling eastern Australia! Hostel internet is always a bit shaky, but I’ll do my best to keep on the ‘net.  

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I was really gung-ho when I got to Australia. I wanted to try everything. New city? Sure. New people? Come at me. New food? I’ll eat it all up.

New sport?

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This was back in August; however, we weren’t able to actually book the course until the end of October. The course takes an entire weekend, after all, and it was hard to find a date that fit everyone. So, three months later…

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While diving had sounded like a great idea when I bought the Groupon, I began to have some reservations as the date came near. I mean, before I could even enter the water, I had to go through a 7-hour online class and pass an exam at the end.

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This course educated me on all sorts of fun and exciting aspects of scuba diving.

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So while I felt confident back in August, I was more than a little nervous once the day finally came.

But I wasn’t going to back out now. My friends and I headed over to Manly Beach at the fine, fine hour of 6AM in order to make it to the class on time.

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The course itself started at 8AM. Our instructors started us off by making sure everyone could actually swim.

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Then, they showed us how to set up and put on our gear.

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And then, all 12 or so students crowded into a tiny pool, where we proceeded to practice various diving skills.

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Now, I was probably supposed to feel more confident after learning and performing all these skills. Instead, I was pretty stressed. The instructors would demonstrate each skill once or twice, and then expect you to do it. Perfectly. Hey, don’t I get a few practice runs at least?

As expected, then, a lot of people ended up messing up once or twice the first time around. I sure did, particularly during the “take out your regulator and put it back in your mouth” exercise.

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Luckily, the instructor grabbed my regulator and shoved it back into my mouth so I could breathe again. Even when I could breathe underwater, though, I was a bit freaked out. I’m used to being able to breathe unconsciously. I don’t think about it. While scuba diving, however, breathing took effort. It was always on my mind. Especially since I often felt like I wasn’t getting enough air.

I later learned that this feeling is normal. WHY DIDN’T THEY TELL ME?!

Best of all? We were in that pool doing diving skills for hours. I tend to get hungry within 2 hours of a meal, and we went for 8 without food. I didn’t even realize how hungry I was…

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…until I ate lunch.

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Thus, I felt a little better before our next session.

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…until our instructors informed us:

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Ready or not, I was going to have to do it. In order to get my scuba certification, I would have to perform all those diving skills again– but in the big blue sea, not the tiny swimming pool. We’d begin doing these skills on the second day of our course.

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I had underestimated how challenging diving would be, I guess. My nerves were really getting to me. Therefore, on our first dive of the second day, I had a rough start.

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WHY WAS I NOT DESCENDING?! After deflating my big ol’ inflation device, I was supposed to naturally sink. Yet, somehow, my friend and I were not sinking. We soon found ourselves alone on the surface. WHAT WAS HAPPENING?!

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My mask somehow slipped off my head. I began to splash about, getting water into my eyes. And then, the grand finale:

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So there I was, flailing and hyperventilating and basically having a panic attack. Thankfully, the instructor noticed that my friend and I were missing. He came to the surface to help us out.

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I stopped kicking and immediately sank to the bottom.

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Our group proceeded to repeat everything we had done in the pool, but in the ocean. While I was still frazzled, this time, I was able to perform the skills successfully.

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By the last dive of the weekend, we had finished learning all our skills. Our final dive was just for fun: instead of sitting on the bottom of the ocean messing with our weight belts and BCDs and regulators, we actually got to swim around and look at fish.

While Sydney isn’t that well-known for its diving, there’s some cool stuff in the water.

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My friend brought her underwater camera along.

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By the end, I was able to actually calm down a bit, and… enjoy myself?

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And that’s how I became a certified open-water diver.

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The diving signal for, “OK!”

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Double OK!

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V for victory!

It was a stressful, physically demanding, panicky weekend. At moments, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to dive. To be honest, I’m still not sure how I managed to overcome my fear. But I somehow managed to stick it out, survive the weekend, and get my scuba license.

Which is good. Because, a month after my scuba course, I had a trip booked at the Great Barrier Reef. Coming soon!