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?

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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!)

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!

Aussie cuisine: American food, now with kangaroo meat

Hey y’all! I’m going to be in New Zealand for the next week sans internet and computer. But, I’ll be writing a travel journal along the way for one of my friends. With her permission, I’ll be scanning it into here for your viewing pleasure!

My friend messaged me on Facebook the other day.

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It’s true that I took a lot of food photos in Vietnam. However, I have not done the same in Australia. For one, I’m always eating dorm food every day, as the International House has a dining hall. Secondly, Australia doesn’t seem to have its own distinct cuisine. Like the USA, Australia is diverse. As a result, the restaurants around Sydney are a mash-up of all sorts of different foods and cultures.

That’s not to say that Australian food is exactly like the USA, however. Oz has its own little novelties to be enjoyed. Such as:

1. Vegemite

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Australia’s most notorious food. One day, some beer company looked at its leftover yeast extract and decided: Dang, I bet that would be tasty. The company then hired a food technologist to turn the yeast waste product into an edible spread. After a little autolysis, onions, and celery extract, he managed to make a sort of sticky black paste… thing.

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Australians lap this stuff up, but to me, it’s on the same level as Japanese natto. Wikipedia describes it as “salty, bitter, and malty.” I describe it as “an acquired taste.” When I’m being polite about it.

2. Lamingtons

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Unlike vegemite, this Australian creation is actually delicious. It’s simply a sponge cake cube covered in chocolate icing and desiccated coconut. Yet somehow it’s so light and fluffy and tasty and my dining hall occasionally serves them in huge trays.

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3. Pavlova

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On July 25th, my residential college celebrated Christmas in July, where they served this yummy dessert!

Named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, this dessert consists of a light, meringue center surrounded by a crisp crust. It’s usually topped by fruit. Australia and New Zealand are actually fighting over which country invented this dessert (though, according to Wikipedia, the evidence points to New Zealand) but either way, this stuff is delish. It’s usually eaten only during holidays, though.

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4. Anzac cookies

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Yet another dessert? You bet! Anzac cookies taste a bit like the oatmeal raisin cookies I’ve had at home– probably because they’re made with rolled oats. But the recipe also includes coconut and golden syrup, making this cookie into something distinctly Aussie.

5. Beetroot

Beetroot is a thing in Australia. Australians like to shred and pickle their beets and then stick them into burgers. (They like to stick fried eggs into their burgers too– which, by the way, is the BEST IDEA EVER) The result is a surprisingly pleasant taste.

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They also stick pineapple into their ham sandwiches, too, much like the concept of the Hawaiian pizza.

6. Kangaroo

You read that right: Australians eat kangaroo. In fact, you can easily purchase kangaroo meat from any supermarket. Kangaroos are surprisingly common in Australia, in fact. They’re a pest to farmers. They overgraze Australia’s already-sparse plains. It’s come to the point where kangaroos are a huge road hazard. Think deer in the USA, but worse.

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Like deer, however, kangaroo isn’t an everyday meat. It’s very lean and gamey and very low in fat. In fact, there’s been a recent movement known as “kangatarianism,” where people restrict their diets to fruits, vegetables, and kangaroo meat. The argument is that kangaroos are not only naturally occurring (since they can live and thrive in the wild without human care or pastureland) but their methane emissions are much, much lower than that of cows.

When in Australia, do as the Australians do. A couple of friends and I ran over to Newtown and grabbed some kangaroo burgers.

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Roo burgers my friends and I got at Moo Gourmet Burgers, a burger joint in Newtown.

And how was it?

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7. The Flat White

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The “flat white” is a coffee beverage developed in the 1980’s. Think latte, only with less foamy and more velvety milk. There’s a whole technical debate on what exactly defines a flat white versus a latte, but I’m no barista. I just like to enjoy these at the many adorable cafes in Sydney. (Sydney, surprisingly, has a huge cafe scene!)

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Here’s one in Glebe that I happen to be charmed by– Sappho Books. The front is a bookstore, and tucked in the back is a little cafe and bar.

8. Tim Tams

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And, finally, my favorite: the Tim Tam. The Tim Tam consists of two chocolate malted biscuits, separated by some cream filling, all covered in chocolate. These very popular cookies come in all sorts of flavors.

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These things come in great big packs and are great for drowning your sorrows in at 2 in the morning. What do you do when you have 4 essays due and an exam tomorrow? Get a Tim Tam Slam.

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As far as I can remember, that’s all the novel Australian food I’ve encountered so far. Not to say that the rest of the Australian food landscape is exactly like America, though. Australia still exhibits some of that British influence in their foods, like with the popularity of the meat pie.

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Australia also lacks a lot of American chains. The Jamba Juices Chipotles, and Taco Bells that are so popular back in Boston are totally absent here. Instead– in the multicultural Sydney, at least– there are heaps of Asian restaurants on every corner. And not just take-out Chinese: there’s Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese… I thought I’d never see okonomiyaki again!

A cute okonomiyaki I nabbed from Kurakura!

A cute okonomiyaki I nabbed from Kurakura, an izekaya in Chinatown.

So, as with all my traveling adventures, the conclusion is the same:

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But, I think I’ll survive.

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Welcome to Surf Camp Australia!– where surfing is hard, and resisting the infinite cookie jar is even harder.

You’ve heard the stereotype: all Australians are these tanned, blonde, and totally ripped surfer dudes.

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While not all Australians look like the dude above, it’s easy to see where the stereotype comes from. Australia, as a land of beautiful weather and even more beautiful beaches, is home to a very strong surfer culture. Not everyone is a surfer, true– but I have to say, whenever I go to the beaches around Sydney, there are bronzed fit dudes abound.

Well... ok, I got this picture from the internet, but people really do seem to work out all the time by the coast!

Well… ok, I got this picture from the internet, but people really do seem to work out all the time at the beach!

But I digress. As an exchange student, I was determined to get the full Australian experience. And the Australian experience, it seems, includes surfing. I signed myself up for Surf Camp Australia, where I’d leave Sydney for a weekend to learn how to surf.

TOTALLY!!

TOTALLY!!

So, last Friday, I hopped on a bus to Seven Mile Beach, a creatively named seven-mile-long beach in Gerroa, New South Wales. The surf camp was located here for a few reasons. One, the waves there are long, even, and consistent, perfect for a beginning surfer. Secondly, the waves are not too big, so all us newbies could actually handle it. Thirdly, the seven miles of the beach gave us a lot of space to surf around without hitting innocent swimmers.

After a two-hour drive south of Sydney, we arrived at the camp…

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…which included food…

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…beach cabin accommodation…

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…and most importantly, a cookie jar.

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Which was nice and all (really, it was actually very good) but we had really come for one thing: to learn how to surf.

On Saturday, then, we woke up at the crack of dawn and was led out to the beach by our instructors.

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And the lesson began.

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I’ve boogie boarded before (so cool, I know) so I was at least familiar with how to catch waves. My goal for the weekend, then, was to stand up on my board. We spent the rest of the morning attempting to do just that.

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As it turns out, there’s a bit of a learning curve for surfing. So I tried…

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…and tried…

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…and tumbled, twisted, and turned over in the waves. Basically, I did everything but stand.

Nose-diving into a wave.

Nose-diving into yet another wave. I look soooooo cooooool

No way! I wasn’t letting it end like this! I fought the waves over, and over, and over again, until at the very end of our morning session…

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I stood. I STOOD! I stood on my surfboard! Granted, I had a huge beginner’s surfboard, and the waves were made for beginners, but I did it. I jubilantly returned to camp for lunch.

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And then came our afternoon lesson.

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The waves were stronger and messier that afternoon. Soon, a lot of us beginner surfers found ourselves thrown into frustration.

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Just getting out into the ocean was a battle. By the end, I was improving a bit– I had managed to stand on my board for a little longer–

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–but I left that day with the bitter taste of “needs improvement.” 

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I was really surprised at how exhausting surfing was. I consider myself in alright shape, but by the end, I was tired. My shoulders were sore. I can see why surfers get so jacked. I definitely slept well that night.

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And I might as well have, since we had our last lesson early the next morning.

Our instructor gave us a motivational talk before we headed into the water.

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He thought I wasn’t motivated?! Hey! I was insulted. As a result, I started the day a little irritated. And it showed, as everyone else around me succeeded and I just…

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Seriously, I haven’t been that frustrated since girl’s tennis in high school. One of my friends noticed how angry I was.

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I breathed. I took a moment. I talked to an instructor, tried to figure out what I was doing wrong. And soon, lo and behold…

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Suddenly, it clicked. I wasn’t just standing on the board, but I was standing on the board for longer periods of time. I was catching waves more consistently. Soon enough, I was catching “party” waves– when multiple people ride on the same wave– with my friends.

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Don’t believe me? Eat this: one of the instructors caught me on camera. Skip ahead in the below video to 1:51 to see my awkward attempts to wave to the camera!

Surfing was difficult. It was exhausting. It was frustrating. And it was totally, completely, exquisitely awesome. It’s easy to see how people get hooked to surfing– it’s just so fun. 

And now, just like all the college kids in Boston, I have yet another reason to want to move to California. Boston, I love you, but I have to admit– surfing in the sun beats freezing in the cold any day.