Aside from traveling and celebrating birthdays, the purpose of the month of June was final exams and then final goodbyes. I had three exams; and a month to study for them. Typically I have about five exams crammed into about eight days with one “reading” day to prepare for the exam period so this UNSW exam schedule failed to induce any levels of the anxiety I usually experience. When I arrived back in Sydney after my trip to Cairns I had about two days until my first exam in Environmental Impact Assessment, which was on June 14th. The following morning I had my final exam in Polymer Science & Engineering. I prepared well for these two and I’m anticipating my final marks in these classes. The final papers for my Geochemistry class were a field report for our excursion in the Sunny Corner mine and a presentation about “You are what you eat: trace minerals in food.” Both of these I did with this cool Aussie chick, Georgie. We worked well together and she was a focused student as well. The final papers for my International Relations class were my Reflective Portfolio, which I uploaded in this blog earlier, and an additional research paper in which I used media on the war on terror to show that the concept of representation is central to the study and practice of International Relations. My last exam, for Concepts of Physical Fitness & Health, was scheduled to be on June 24th, leaving me about 8 days to study. I worked about three days a week at the Gaff, now finally bartending and occasionally working on the door. Studying, working, catching up on this blog and exercising were about all the things that I did until my last exam. The day before my exam I studied in this secondhand bookstore with a café on Oxford Street with Christie and Casha. I hadn’t been down to this part of the city before and it was really cool. My last exam was really easy and ended up taking about thirty minutes to complete.
At this point I had less than a week left in Australia and it was really starting to hit me. I tried not to think about it and just enjoy my final days as much as I could. I was supposed to work on Friday night but when I went in they sent me home after an hour because it wasn’t busy. Somewhat disappointed because I need the money but also excited to go out for my last weekend in Sydney, I picked up a box of goon on the way home and hung out with the roommates. We went over to Coogee Bay Hotel for the night.
On Saturday Christie, Casha and I went into the city to the Royal Botanic Gardens, which exist right in the city next to the Opera House. We spent the day walking around and taking pictures of the unique plants and animals, like bamboo, palm trees, fig trees, bats and cockatoos. It was a beautiful part of the city that I had never seen before; lively with people everywhere, locals and tourists, picnicking, running, walking and sightseeing. It borders the harbour and provides a few perfect photo-op locations that a few wedding parties took advantage of. If you’re ever in Sydney, I highly recommend going there for a picnic or a walk or something of that nature.
We went to dinner at Pancakes on the Rocks, which was our second time there and once again, it was amazing. Saturday night was my last night working at The Gaff. I bartended at Party Bar and got out by around 2:30am. I’ve been getting kind of sick of working there, sometimes because of the incompetence of the place, but I was sort of sad to leave. I think because it further set in the notion that I was actually leaving Sydney. At the end of the night I said goodbye to and thanked my manager while bidding farewell to my co-workers, promising that I would be back in Australia one day.
On Sunday, Christie, Casha, Lindsay, and I went to Paddy’s Markets in the city. They are day markets that are inside and run every week, Wednesday to Sunday. It was crowded and there were rows and rows of a random assortment of items. From souvenirs, to nuts and fruit, to clothing and wigs, you could find anything you wanted. We did some shopping until about closing at 5. Our next stop was the Sydney Tower. Standing at 250 meters (820 ft) above street level, it is a true Sydney icon and has been part of its skyline for over thirty years. An elevator shoots you up to the top and opens to a circular room, which is surrounded by windows that provide a 360 degree view of the city. We walked around in circles at awe of the sights. Although surrounded by tourists who were dazzled by the pretty, flickering lights, views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, and miles and miles of skyline bordered by the pink and orange hues of the sun setting over the horizon, we saw it differently. As we precariously hovered 250 meters over Sydney city, we could recognize each degree of the landscape. We recognized every area, from the Opera House in Circular Quay to the boats in Darling Harbour, from the tall buildings in Bondi Junction to the rainbow flags on Oxford Street, from the Botanic Gardens to the infamous Coca-Cola sign in Kings Cross; we knew what we were looking at. And each new view brought back a new memory; experiences that we had within in the past five months and they were countless. This tourist trap became the most emotional activity because of how much Sydney meant to me, and we all lost it when the radio tuned into Elton John’s Rocket Man. I couldn’t wait to share everything my friends and family at home but I truly understood how much I love Sydney. I actually didn’t want to leave and I hope that it isn’t a “long, long time” until I return.
Sunday night was our last night out in Sydney so we decided to spend it in Kings Cross. It was also Alexa’s last night as she left the house early to spend the night at her Australian friend Will’s so he could drive her to the airport early the next morning. After a sad goodbye and some tears, we headed out. Our first stop was Hugo’s, an upscale bar across from World Bar that was really expensive and classy. We stayed there for a little and then ventured out into the street. We were convinced by a promotional guy to go to another place on Darlinghurst for a free drink. After some debate, we decided to go and ended up running into some of our other friends, some of which went to NZ with us. We danced until they stopped the music but then still wanted to stay out. Kings Cross is home to several strip clubs and with free entry, why not cross it off my bucket list? When we walked in we were greeted by a few girls and then sat in seats that were distanced from the stage and curved enough to talk to one another. Christie bought us all gin & tonics and we watched the girls entertain the men who were positioned intimately next to the stage. Music videos were playing on the television screens and actually caught my attention more. The girls danced one by one, walking from pole to pole in skimpy outfits and I couldn’t help but think about how unfortunately degrading the job actually is. I wondered how these girls got themselves into jobs like this and why they hadn’t considered alternatives. We didn’t stay for long and went to the last bar of the night, Goldfish. I ran into a girl I know from Wales that comes into the Gaff every week so it was nice to say goodbye to her. It was a great last night out in the city.
Monday was depressing as it was spent packing, cleaning the house and picking up my final pay at the Gaff and a few final items before heading back to the States. Christie, Casha and I went down to the Palace for potato wedges and a jug of Tooheys New to take a break from cleaning and packing. The Amazing Race Australia was playing on the big screen and it was actually surrounded by the contestants and their friends. It was hectic to watch the show and then look over and see the contestants sitting right there next to us. One of the contestants, Anastasia, was actually a girl that was in one of my tutorials this semester at UNSW! When we got home, we stayed up all night doing last minute cleaning and packing and then took a walk down to the beach around 5:30am. We were surprised when the coastal walk and beach area was actually bustling with people walking their dogs, running and exercising. Who knew that Coogee had this secret life before dawn? We walked to the cliffs and sat to watch the sun rise. It was the perfect way to leave Coogee. We guessed at what various clouds formations were illustrating while also sitting in silence, taking in the beautiful scene of the ocean and rocks situated in front of the horizon and appreciating where we had been living for the past five months. We were accompanied by a few other study abroad students that had the same idea and were also preparing for departure. After the orange ball of blazing light was fully emerged from the edge of the earth, we walked the five minutes back to our house and were greeted by our taxi which was waiting to take us to the airport. Without much time for a drawn out and emotional goodbye to 15 Arcadia, we loaded our bags into the van. As soon as the door of the van shut and the release of the brake shifted the taxi’s tires to motion, tears welled up in my eyes. The tears remained as we passed various suburbs and memorable sites on the way to the airport and I had difficulty answering the taxi driver’s questions about our business in Coogee.
After checking in and paying an absurd amount of money for my overweight bags and surfboard, we made our way to the gate and waited to board the plane where we were entertained by stories from our friend Brendan about his escapades in Thailand. I scored the window seat on the way to LAX and even with a bit of medicinal assistance I failed to sleep much and instead watched Due Date, Hall Pass, Rango, and half of The Fighter. After an easy twelve and a half hours and two meals, we made it to LAX where it took about two hours to go through immigration, collect our baggage, customs and baggage transfers. Christie and I sadly said goodbye to Casha as she had an immediate flight from LAX to Boston, unfortunately with two layovers in between. I later learned that she missed her first flight to Phoenix and she had to get another to Charlotte, NC and then to Boston. We all eventually made it home safe though. I was greeted at the airport by my Dad and it was something I waited so long for. I cried when he hugged me as I was so relieved to finally see him. Then, I was surprised by my best friend Jamie who came along for the ride. After a two and a half hour drive including dropping Christie off at home, making the total travel time between 15 Arcadia and 906 Sarazen about 32 hours, I ran into the house and jumped into my mom’s arms. We were both ecstatic to see each other and I seriously couldn’t be happier to be home. My mom’s best friend Diane and my other best friend KP both came over to welcome me home and we all sat around talking until about 4am, attempting to catch up.
The weirdest part is that it feels as though I never left. Those five months went by really fast but at the same time it felt like ages until I was going to see the people that I loved again. Everything immediately went back to normal though and it was the best feeling in the world. Summer in my hometown has an unmistakable aura and even after seeing some of the most beautiful places in the world, Brigantine is still my favorite place. It’s an aura of entropy just like any other place on this earth. Even as things change ever so slightly, whether it’s a new building erected or torn down, or someone moves away or comes back, through serenity and acceptance the real feeling of home never changes and it is there that I really find my true happiness. After a semester abroad in Australia, with trips up and down its east coast and to New Zealand, I have a new found passion for travelling. Seeing new places, people, and culture is extremely rewarding as it causes you to grow. It shapes your view of the world and also you as a person in ways that you cannot obtain in a stationary setting. I’ve created a bucket list and it’s pretty long so I better start saving up now.