Tuesday, February 15, 2011

(dis)Orientation Day!

But a quick recap of yesterday first: I opened up a bank account! The lady helping me, Viv, was *shockingly* nice. I mean, really, I don’t think I’ve encountered that much warmth and openness within 15 minutes of meeting outside of blood relatives. So now I just have to wait for my parents to get some of my money transferred from my American bank, and I’ll finally be able to get a mobile and seriously find a place to live. I also figured out the Transperth (the public transportation, both trains and buses) route to UWA all by myself! Which leads me to…

Pro tip # 5: Asking questions is great, but also don’t be afraid to just stand there and assess the situation first. I was able to mostly figure out how to navigate the train system and the use of a Smartcard (like a credit card only for Transperth) by just watching for a few minutes. It certainly helped I did this at a non-peak time (getting home today was CROWDED comparatively), but it was much easier and less embarrassing than trying to ask someone to tell me what to do right from the start.

I was very glad I had checked out my route to UWA yesterday, as it took about an hour; I have to walk the 6ish blocks to the train station, take the train a very short distance, then a bus that seems to take FOREVER because it circles around the campus before it gets to the stop I want near the admin buildings (though I hear there might be a shorter bus route from here… have to look into that). 

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there were over SIX HUNDRED other students in this orientation. And 90% of them were Asian, mostly from Malaysia. These were all freshman students here to do a full degree program at UWA, and most of them seemed to have come here with friends, or were quickly making friends in rapid-fire exchanges tonal exchanges. I’d never felt alone until I found myself in a sea of character-based languages. Even though every one of these students is fluent in English, their accent was not always easy to understand, and I was surprised by how *tiring* it was to try to sort through the words. Even the Strine (Australian for Australian) of some of the presenters was difficult, and  by lunch I was desperate for some easy-on-the-ears English. 

Thankfully, I randomly sat by two girls who turned out to be from UBC in Vancouver, Canada (though one was originally from Norway, she had an excellent North American accent). Turns out they are staying at a hostel not terribly far from mine, so hopefully I have made some friends to hang out with later. Chloe and Kyle (the other two students from UNM) finally found me as well, so I hope to see them some more in the next few days (lots of planned social outings). There are 184 exchange/study abroad students total, most of whom are North American/European, and 90% of whom are only here for a semester. Interestingly, this is UWA’s centennial year, and when they began, they were exactly 184 students! 

Also, it seems I accidentally have stumbled into the local pretentious school…. There was a hilariously snobby video clip at one point detailing all the ways in which UWA is superior, how it’s 112th in the world, lots of research, most gorgeous campus, etc etc etc. The only bit that made me roll my eyes more was how every new UWA presenter felt the need to regurgitate more feel good language about how UWA “acknowledges it is located on sacred Noongar land, and boy do we appreciate it!”, like these not-apologizes are ever going to make up for having stolen land and culture from an entire people.  (I may have spent too much time in the really depressing Aboriginal History room at the museum…….) I’m sorry for the cynicism, but both these topics just seem SO silly and rather shallow to me. I guess the international standing of the school is a good thing, but the need to remind people of that comes off as disappointingly boastful and rather novae-riche. And the Noongar land thing just feels like terribly little and horribly late.

I’d honestly forgotten how terrible I am in new groups! If someone comes up to me, I’m pleased to chat with them, but I have such little interest in making the first move myself (rather painful when surrounded by people who don’t speak English as well as I do). I do manage it upon occasion (I sat next to the Canadian girls at lunch), but I need to get into practice again….

I did just make another friend here in the hostel though! What is it with me and chatting with old guys? This guy –whose name is Cosmic Christopher- reminded me greatly of Dr. Sam, and even more of that friend of his we met at Rainbow, the one with the van who wanted to drive to China. (For everyone besides my parents and brother, that would be a way of describing a somewhat-homeless hippie who loves to travel, especially one that is rather New Age-y). Cosmic Christopher was about to fly to America to explore around, so I was a tad excited to tell him stuff, though he seems to not really have any good idea what America is really like, or even where things are (he wants to see the Rockies and Yellowstone, but he didn’t know what state they were in…). I did at least manage to warn him away from Mexico. When I told him I was a geologist, he pulled out two handfuls of rocks from his pockets! Including a really incredible piece of turquoise the size of a doorknob. He also had two rocks which protected him from the radiation from microwaves and such. Because he was leaving tomorrow, he gave me some of his food, and I tried to give him a water bottle in return, but to my sadness, he wouldn’t take it because I had filled it with tap water. Tap water is full of all those nasty chemicals like fluoride and chlorine. The use of fluoride in water, he said, was discovered during the making of the atomic bomb, as they used fluoride gas to turn the uranium into plutonium. The fluoride got into the local environment and made everyone incredibly sick (makes the flesh fall off the bones), so the government made up the story of it being good for your teeth as a cover-up, but didn’t anyone remember that Hitler used fluoride in the concentration camps to pacify people? That’s what the government is doing with the fluoride in the water, you know, pacifying us….. So yeah, a bit of that story there sounds likes it’s bordering on Tin-Foil-Hat-Land, but that’s the joy of meeting people. That and he gave me some butter and dates! :D Also, he’s from the Kimberley, which I would LOVE to visit, and he offered me a place to stay if I make it up there after he’s back from America.

A few more things about Perth….
There is a part of the traffic light sequence at major intersections where all the lights go red and pedestrians are allowed to walk wherever they wish, including diagonally across the intersection. 

Seriously, this driving on the left is terrifying. In addition to the bus drivers seeming to think they’re Evel Knineaval and the pedestrians seeming hardly look at all before jumping into the middle of the street, I should probably just keep my eyes closed when I’m on the bus. 

The study abroad advisor whom I’ve been practically flooding with emails these past few months actually asked me how I was doing specifically. After the end of the lectures today, I walked over to the group of advisors to turn in a form I’d forgotten to give them at lunch, and even though I handed the form to a different advisor, Ms. Wood saw my name or something and caught up with me to ask how housing was going (it isn’t really yet). Though she still isn’t exactly the warmest person (that award definitely goes to Viv at the bank), it made me feel a bit better that she does care how I’m doing, even if she only knows me because I’ve been a pest (but always a polite pest!). 

Pro tip #6: Sunglasses! It is so BRIGHT here, I am increasingly happy I have something to shade my eyes.

The $50 note here is yellow! I love this rainbow thing they’ve got going with their money…

I need to get involved in a sport or club or something here, in order to not feel homesick. But what should I do? I haven’t played real sports in so long, I’m afraid I’d be far too crappy next to all these HORRIBLY athletic Aussies….. Any suggestions? I haven’t found a full list of available activities yet, but I clearly need to do something to meet people on campus.


  1. Definitely a club. If you haven't done sports in a while, see if you can find a group that's noncompetitive.
    Honestly, I made most of my Spanish friends by sitting in the cafeteria on campus. The science class I was taking was on the main campus, 6 km outside of Cordoba, so I took a train there. Due to the train schedule, I usually got there about a half-hour before class, so I'd go to the cafeteria and get myself tea or a cafe con leche. Classmates of mine would wander in with their friends, go "Ah, hola Cata" and then proceed to explain to friends in different classes that I was "una estadounidense", which usually prompted a few questions. Once classes start, see about meeting classmates for a coffee or something, even if only to confirm assignments. Things usually fall into place from there.

  2. lol, so I'm not reading these posts in order at all, and may I say I love how I don't know half of the vocab you're using?! :D you seem to be fitting in no problem! and join a club if you like-I actually never did get around to joining a club...i just used the extra time to hang out with some new friends/ did hw at school or went to nearby imperial palace...

  3. Welcome to UWA! Its always refreshing to see an outside perspective on how pretentious UWA is, and how much of a joke the 'Noongar land' stuff is (sigh)...

    My protip: The Guild Tav (a quality establishment*) has happy hours at 4-5pm on Wednesdays & Fridays.

    Also, the $100 note is vivid green, completing the rainbow if you use poetic license to view the pink $5 as purple.

    *may or may not be true.