Friday, February 17, 2017

4 Weeks

If you would've told me 4 weeks ago that the next three months would fly by, I would've said you were lying.

I finished my last day of class today and I leave for New Zealand in just 2 days. As I sit here reflecting on this past week, I can't help but think about time and how much has already gone.

Time has passed so quickly... Seriously. How has it ALREADY been an entire month? An entire month of guided tours, classes, family dinners, nights out, and so much more. It's hard to swallow at times, along with the fact that I'm actually living in Sydney, Australia.

I've also been thinking about how much I've changed in this short amount of time.

I now can say that I can navigate my way through the Sydney Transportation System (which is pretty impressive); I've made new friendships with all of my wonderful roommates; I'm now the girl who has gone to surf camp, but (still) hates camping; I've successfully completed a mini-term at one of the most distinguished universities in the world; I'm about to start an 8-week internship all on my own.

Before going into this semester, I had already convinced myself that I was ready to come home before I even got on the plane at the Nashville airport. I was already homesick and already wanting April to be right around the corner.

The funny thing is that now, April 23rd is/will be my least favorite day of the year. I'm not ready to even think about this whole thing coming to an end, Dr. Miller leaving this weekend is already too much for me to handle.

This past week alone, we have done so many things that add on to the never-ending list of what I'll remember most while I'm in Sydney. We saw an opera together at the Sydney Opera House on Wednesday. On Thursday, to celebrate classes ending, we all had dinner in the rotating restaurant in the Westfield Tower in the heart of downtown Sydney. The views were incredible and there wasn't a part of the city you couldn't see. It's moments like these I'll never forget.

4 weeks ago, I was homesick; I was sad, I missed my family, I missed my friends, and I thought I would rather be back on Rocky Top where life was comfortable and ordinary. I didn't want to step out of my comfort zone because I was scared of what I would miss at home; instead, I should have been thinking about everything I would miss if I didn't.

4 weeks later, I am excited for every new day. I still call home and still talk with my friends everyday, but I've also made new ones. I think about UT and all the fun I've had in the past year and a half, but I've had so much more here in Sydney. I'm 110% out of my comfort zone all the time, and I am perfectly content with that.

4 weeks. All of THIS in just 4 weeks.

So time, do us all a favor, and please slow down.

Update: It Feels Like a Home

My very first blog in Sydney highlighted the differences between the feelings of being on vacation and being home. I was currently in the honeymoon phase during my first weeks in Australia, loving the atmosphere and retaining as many memories and experiences as I could.

I think I can confidently say that Sydney has officially become a home for me. Between building a routine, creating a family atmosphere, and familiarizing myself with the small differences in this environment, it almost seems like America is more foreign to me than Australia.

As many of my peers part ways for Spring Break, it will be almost eerie to be in my newfound "home". I always felt like the biggest difference between a house and a home was the people that occupied it. There is almost a sense of emptiness without Hunter's complaining, Cayla's sassy remarks, Emily's snoring, Olana's music and Adam's cooking.

However, there are other aspects to finding a home that I have come to rely on. For example, familiarizing myself with the local ways. I finally found my favorite grocery store, which is easily Woolworth's. I am starting to naturally veer to the left when walking on the sidewalk. I don't have to think much when taking public transport.

I will also be strengthening my routine in the next couple of weeks as I start my internship. Not only am I excited for the opportunities I will be granted, but I will also have the experience of what I like to call "adulting". This will be my first time experiencing a 9 to 5 job every day. I hope that this new routine will further my love for building a home in Sydney, Australia.

After a month into this trip, I feel like I have lived here for ages, yet it also seems like I landed just yesterday. I hope to continue to strengthen my routine and become more comfortable with my surroundings like a local, while still retaining my excitement like a tourist.

Stress.. and more Stress.. And Friends

When I was planning to come to Australia I didn't realize just how much work I was going to be doing for school.  I guess I had it in my mind that I was just going to school for a few hours a week with little work.  I only needed a pass for one class, so I figured I could study for a little bit while still enjoying and exploring Sydney.  I was completely wrong! I quickly realized that my weeks would be full of homework and late nights.  I have had around 100 pages of homework a night and it seems that I am never fully prepared for class.  It has been very emotionally draining, but the only thing that keeps me going is the friends that I have around me.  After a long day of school, I always come home to tons of laughter, fun, and some fun banter.  Most nights we plan on going out, but then we end up all staying home, watch Married at First Sight, and just have fun.  Emily and I talk about our love of food, Olana and I goof around and laugh, Shelby tells Emily and I that we are crazy about our love of food, Hunter and I get into sarcasm wars, which I win, and Adam puts up with all of us.   We have all grown so close together, that I would even call them my family.  Even though I sometimes wish that I was able to go out and explore more, I know that I am forming relationships that will last a lifetime.  To add on more stress, I had my first meeting with my internship right after my first exam.  Of course I was stressed out, but luckily I had a close friend who helped me get through the day.  I look forward to spending more days hanging out with my new work buddy!  As I am approaching the end of my first month here, I have definitely missed my friends at home.  But the community that I have here is almost just as great! I am surrounded by people who are all passionate about one thing, travel! We are all excited to be in a new country and we are all going through the same situations, which brings us together.  I'm so happy to be with 14 new friends and I can't wait to see how close we get by the end of our trip! Here's hoping that I have no more stress and just more fun times with friends!

"It's the little things."

"You've hit the one month mark! So, what's been your favorite part of Sydney so far?"

If I had a nickel for every time I'd been asked this in the past week, I'd have a handful of nickels.  But, if I had a nickel for every time I had a definitive answer, I'd probably have a paperclip, a dust bunny, and just maybe a half-stick of chewing gum, if I'm lucky.

In all seriousness, I know what people are expecting me to say when I receive this question. They want to hear a big event, such as the beautiful beaches, a rugby game, or the Taratonga Zoo.  They want to see the excitement and thrill of Sydney condensed into one highly nourished tourism smoothie.  That's what is expected out of a vacation abroad.

However, one month into my experience, it is finally settling in that this is not a vacation; we are living, working, and studying in Australia, battling culture shock and traffic jams along the way. When leave vacation-mode and enter reality, you begin to see a deeper side of Sydney.

It's the spray-painted graphic art adding positive vibes to our daily walks. 

It's the way the dogs waddle along with their owners, eyes and tongues gleaming with happiness.

It's the deep, alluring smell that you get from your favorite coffee shop, fruit market, or second-hand bookstore.

It's the moments when you feel alone. And the moments when the ones you miss remind you that love, family, and friendship know no limits.

It's the scent of growth and grass that looms in every corner for a couple of days after it rains.

It's when you discover new heights with shades of green and blue so vibrant that you didn't know they could possibly exist.

It's the taste of new foods you might not particularly enjoy, but know you won't get to experience anywhere else.

It's the first sip of a Frozen Coke from Maccas after walking relentlessly in above 100 degree heat for hours with no shade.

It's the tears you cry missing Valentine's Day and a special birthday, and the smile that planning to make up for the missed occasion brings immediately afterwards.

It's the nervousness of going to work for the first day, or fearing you'll get lost on the bus.

It's the popping of bubbles on your tongue as you sip champagne at the Sydney Opera House.

It's the relief as you leave the room of your University of Sydney final exam.

It's the excitement that surges through your body in the hours before your parents arrive to visit you for a short trip.

It's knowing that this is a one-in-a-lifetime experience, and that you're not going to waste it.

"So, what's been your favorite part of Sydney so far?"

"It's the little things."

Interning in a New City

Classes ended yesterday and we all are preparing for the next chapter on this trip. We leave for New Zealand in a few days and after that, we start our internships.

I visited my internship site today for the first time to introduce myself to my Supervisor and future colleagues. I am interning at Urban Walkabout, which is a local travel magazine in Sydney. They specialize in finding nice boutiques and hole-in- the- wall restaurants here in Sydney. Whether you are a local or a tourist, Urban Walkabout tries to make your experience better. 

I was surprised when I first got there at how relaxed the environment was. My supervisor, Nadia, was very nice and seemed excited to have me working there! She introduced me to all of my colleagues, who all seemed very friendly.

They told me that I will be apart of the team and I am invited to lunch with them and all their staff meetings. I will be working four days a week from 9- 5:30. This is perfect because I have Fridays off, which gives me time to travel on the weekends.

When I talked to my supervisor about what I would be doing, she told me I had a lot of freedom. Since I am interested in writing, I can write my own stories and do my own research that contributes to the magazine. I can write reviews for local restaurants and find trendy places to shop. They said I can pitch ideas and they will bring me along to all their meetings and staff lunches. 

The work environment in Australia seems very different from the work environment in America. Everyone is treated the same, whether you are the boss or the intern. Our ISA guides have told us this before, but it was cool to get to go and see it for myself. For example, I sit at a computer next to my supervisor and everyone seems to have an equal role. 

This is different than America because interns usually aren't considered part of the staff. Instead of getting coffee and cleaning, like interns do in America, I will have the opportunity to pitch ideas and really work. The way people work in Australia is more beneficial, I believe, because interns get more hands-on experience. I will also be a lot more comfortable here because it is informal, so there is a better chance I will get to know my colleagues.

Another thing that I found really awesome was that most of the people who worked there started out as interns, like me. This makes me think that I will enjoy this internship and maybe be able to come back and work here after I graduate from college.

I think this internship is really perfect for me because I want to  become a travel writer. I hope to one day work for a magazine that is in an international city, like Sydney, or one that lets me travel to international cities.


A few days ago, as I was walking to class, I realized something.

As expected, we have fallen into a routine during our time here. Since we finished class today these routines will change, but for the first month mine was pretty stable. I typically woke up at 7am, headed to campus, did homework, class, and miscellaneous activities in the afternoon. When I told my friends back home I have become quite the morning person they laughed pretty hard. I’m the kind of person who schedules their earliest class at 11am at UT. But there is something quaint and sacred about an early morning in Sydney. I enjoy my alone time with cool morning walks and iced coffee for a few hours before the day really begins. It was on one of these walks, iced coffee in hand, that I came to my realization that I am completely in love with Australia.

I grew up in the country always wary of city life. All the noise and traffic and crowds bothered me. Here, I like the city. It has the qualities of a city with its skyscrapers and honking horns, but the people are of a southern nature; warm and inviting. I love that it is clean, that there are still trees and parks and the ocean is nearby. I love the uniqueness of the Opera House and rotating restaurant and that I can take a bus to the beach and tan on the cliffs all day. I love the modern yet historical aspects of The University of Sydney with the Quadrangle and the newer buildings. I love how quickly I have become a regular at the coffee shops and how they always know my order. I have found myself becoming quite at home.

When I realized that it had already been a month I was pretty sad. I didn’t fully understand why until it hit me how much I love being here. It has not been an easy trip. Big things are happening in my personal life back home, both good and bad, and sometimes I feel like I am missing out on it all. But the longer I stay in Sydney the more and more I thank God I came. The more and more I realize that the world is both huge and tiny and no matter when or where you travel, life happens and it happens quickly. Coming to Sydney and seizing every moment is the best decision I could have made for myself.

Education Outside the Classroom

Thankfully, today I took my final exam, and am almost officially done with the "school" part of this trip. School has always been my thing; I'm an honors student with a great GPA who is thrilled to take 8am's and soak up all the knowledge I can.

But the two classes I took here were a real struggle for me. It had nothing to do with the classes, the professors (Dr. Miller was the best ever!!), or even the work load.

I think for the first time, I truly realized that my education (in the classroom) was not the most important thing. And that made it so hard to focus on the school work.

It's strange to think you would find that on a study abroad trip, but I think I really realized that there is so much more to our trip than "studying." The most influential, inspiring, challenging, truly educational parts have been outside of the classroom.

I have had to have difficult conversations with the customer service representative of our housing when I felt like my needs weren't being met. That kind of cross-cultural communication in practice taught me so much more than my textbook did. People do not always respond the way you expect them to. I did not feel comfortable or confident in my communication skills at that time even though I knew what the textbook says I should do. But now that I have experienced it, I have learned for next time.

I have learned how to communicate with professors and other students. I have learned how to reword and restate my questions or comments in ways people with different perspectives can understand. I've learned to really listen to people to try to understand them better.

I have met so many people from different nations that I now know about not only Australia but Holland, Russia, China, New Zealand, England, France, Canada, Japan, Jordan, Portugal, and Germany. I learned more from the real people than I ever could have in a class.

And all of these lessons never felt like school or studying. I didn't even realize what was happening until it was over.

I am now so excited to continue on this journey - especially my internship. I am so excited to work with the women of HerBusiness. I think this will be the perfect internship for me, and I know they will teach me so much more than I could ever learn in the classroom.

Everyone needs this experience. It is so amazing to experience all that you learn in a classroom and explore even more. I am so excited for next years cohort because I know they will have a great time as well. A big thanks to UT for giving us this opportunity because it has made a world of a difference for me!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Oh Yeah, We Came Here For School

When I was selected to go on this program I knew it was a very big deal. I researched Australia for months, looking up everything I could possibly do in my free time. There is just so much to see in so little time, and I had to prioritize. The six months before we departed were filled with constant Google searches and AUD to USD price conversions. I wanted to make sure I could do as much as I could. It wasn't until a few weeks before we left that I kind of stopped and remembered that I was going to have school to worry about too. That put a damper on things.

How was I supposed to traverse the globe with classes weighing me down? Answer: wait until my internship. I had spent so much time focusing on all the other experiences that I had somewhat ignored Sydney. Here I am, typing away at one of the biggest cities in the world, and I was trying to treat it like it was Detroit or Oklahoma City. Silly me.

I am happy to say that so far I have not ignored Sydney and have made it my goal to do something new here every single day. Even more than that, today I finished my studies at The University of Sydney. I think I was being a bit under appreciative as to how rare of an opportunity it was for me to take courses from one of the most prestigious universities in Australia. Shame on me. It is literally considered an Ivy League equivalent school. Take that, Harvard. I didn't want to go to you anyway.

The classes at USyd have been challenging, informative, and promoted a degree of analytical thinking that could only be brought about from a certain Dr. Anne Rees. What a time to be alive. But seriously, she taught us the history of Australia in its entirety in just eleven classes. That's a pretty major feat to accomplish, and I learned a lot that I can share with friends and family for years to come.

Our global communications class taught by Dr. Laura Miller could not have come at a better time. Whoever made the call to teach that while abroad is a very smart person. I have learned so many skills regarding communicating in a global context that it's not even funny. I now know how to evaluate the meta message, how to differentiate between high context and low context cultures, and that we all live in a global village. A big shoutout to Dr. Miller for helping us assimilate through this crazy first month in Australia. I know I speak for everyone when I say, we couldn't have done it without you.

Now that classes are over and final assignments are being submitted, I think I might miss SydneyUni a bit. Sure it has beautiful architecture that makes me think I'm at Hogwarts or the Smithsonian or Biltmore, but I think I will miss the people most. The Australians in our first class have all been extremely helpful in answering our questions and showing us around, even if our accents do make them think of racism, but it's our little group that I will miss the most. We are all heading our different ways after break. Instead of just rolling out of bed and seeing everyone, we will have to each make a point of coming to the other apartments for The Bachelor or all participating in family dinners. Luckily we all have Cairns to look forward to in March! I know everyone will still see each other too. We are a pretty cool group like that.

Classes down and one month under our belts here in the lovely Sydney, Australia...internships and two more months to go!

PSA: The Internet is a very public place. Be wary of what you post, friends. You never know who is creeping through your Twitter timeline, waiting for the right moment to strike your "like" button.

¡Feliz CumpleaƱos Para Mi!

February 15th: the day Catie Jaffe was born.

When I signed up for this trip, I knew I would be spending my 20th birthday in Australia. I knew that I would be with a group of people who I had only known for a month on a day usually spent with my closest friends and family. While I wasn’t necessarily sad about this, I was a bit worried that not being with these people would stir up some potentially suppressed feelings of home sickness.

The day before my birthday, on Valentine’s Day, it was business as usual. We had a paper due at midnight, so we all furiously typed during commercial breaks of The Bachelor in order to get it done on time. When midnight rolled around, everyone sang me "Happy Birthday," and we went to sleep. We planned to get brunch the next morning to celebrate, but I had no further expectations. After all, I have only known these people one month.

I woke up the next morning a bit sad. Usually on a birthday morning, there are birthday texts and calls and the excitement in knowing you will spend all day with the people closest to you. Because of the time difference, my phone screen lit up with very few birthday wishes, and I accepted that this birthday just wouldn’t be the same.

Enter the roommate, Abby. Abby is a great human for so many reasons, but Abby’s roommate/friend capabilities truly stood out to me this morning. I woke up to a soft spoken Happy Birthday and then a present! This was not just any present, this was a very well thought out and meaningful present in my eyes. The set of watercolors and post card papers that she had so nicely wrapped up for me could not have meant more. I, being incredibly awkward when receiving presents, giggled and thanked her before I heard fake coughing an music outside our door.

Enter all other incredible roommates. I walked into the hallway where the rest of my roomies were standing with video cameras ready as I walked through the balloons and decorations into the kitchen. Big 2-0 balloons were hung above the kitchen with mimosas waiting to be enjoyed by all. WOW! Never in a million years did I expect anyone, much less these people who have known me for such a short amount of time to go to this much trouble to make it feel like a birthday celebration.

We continued on to an excellent brunch followed by a day of exploration and shopping. We all ate great food and made some great purchases. Maybe I am biased because it was my birthday and the morning put me in such a great mood, but I would say that it was a pretty incredible morning.

That night we all went to an opera at the iconic Sydney Opera House… talk about feeling sophisticated on your birthday! The whole group dressed up and sat together, and as I looked around, I truly appreciated everyone. I appreciated that we are all here, battling new and strange obstacles, together. I appreciated that we all help each other through each day, even if we do not realize it in the moment.

To all of my fellow CCI Global Scholars, thanks for making my birthday feel like a birthday and allowing me to remember what an honor and an opportunity it is to be here with all of you at the ripe age of just twenty years old. Thanks, roomies, for the decorations and the love. I guess this is why they say the best gifts are the ones you don’t see coming. J

Thursday, February 9, 2017

My weekend at Surf Camp (aka PARADISE)

This past weekend was one of the best times of my life, without a doubt.

I met some of the most spectacular people, fed HUGE wild stingrays, and learned how to shred some baby waves on a surfboard. Did I mention we shared a campground with wild kangaroos?

When we boarded the bus to Bendalong Beach on Friday evening, I felt at peace with myself and was optimistic for new adventure. Regardless of the shooting pain caused by multiple blisters on both of my feet and a slight fever, I felt ready to take on the world. The bus was buzzing with amazing vibes and even better music (Tom has a killer playlist). As I befriended some girls from the Czech Republic who were sitting next to me, I glanced out the window to my left and witnessed one of the most jaw-dropping sunsets. In that moment, life felt so good.

Tom, who was our gnarly bus driver/surf instructor if you haven't figured that out yet, pulled the rickety bus over into the grass because this sunset was "too good not to stop and take it in".
Tom set the tone for the entire trip and it was one that I will carry with me forever. He and his surf crew were some of the nicest, genuine, carefree people I have ever come across. The popular Australian phrase "no worries" is not only something they say often but rather a way of life. 

What I loved most about surf camp was that my mind was free the entire time I was there and I realized how much I sweat the little things on a daily basis. Surf camp taught me to live in the moment and love life as often as you breathe.

The Subcultures of Surf Camp

Last weekend, myself, along with eight other UT students attended surf camp three hours south of Sydney (this experience was obviously awesome, as it has been a hot topic for this blog assignment).
Well over half of the attendees were American, while the rest comprised a mix of European, Canadian, and Latin American - and, not to mention, the Australians.

The Americans at surf camp were either from Chicago or Knoxville, and although we socialized a little bit, most of us stayed in our respective groups. The entire weekend, we did hear about our Southern slang, and the Chicagans pronounced their words with a hard "a" sound - that was about the extent of our interaction with our fellow Americans.

The Europeans of the group were from Italy, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic. The Italians are their bread, butter, and smoked salmon on the bus ride there and were social with the Czechs, sharing cigarettes and laughter. Two of the employees of Australian Surf Tours were from the Netherlands, and the lone Dutch attendee socialized with the girl from British Columbia - who was into all things fashion and fitness. Those from Mexico and Brazil stuck together, conversing in Spanish and greeted everyone with a friendly "Hola!"

The Aussies lived up to the gnarly surfer dude stereotypes - long hair, wicked accents, tanned skin, and coated in ocean salt 24/7. They were the friendliest, easiest to talk to, and funniest of the bunch. The social strata of the group included ex-professional surfers, current surf instructors (who were very experienced in surfing), and young surfers who were the up-and-coming professionals. A few of them preferred body boarding, saying that they're not too good, but are capable of doing backflips on their body boards (a prime example of the famous Australian tall poppy sentiment).

Although none of us had much common ground with one another, a love for the outdoors was a unifying factor that made the entire weekend enjoyable. A love of learning and a little saltwater solved the lack of overlap between the students and the staff at Australian Surf Tours. Last weekend was not only a memorable time of learning and laughter, but also a real-life example of intercultural communication.

New city, new me?

I have a life plan.

Well, maybe not a plan, but certainly an idea of what I want to accomplish in my life. I have had this idea since high school. Among other things, it includes a dog, some travel, some time in a big city, and maybe ending up with my own business. I do not know specifics – I have no preference when it comes to the number or gender of kids I might have or the specific big city I will spend time in, but I think the broad idea I do have is a large part of who I am today.

Then I came to Sydney, Australia. For some reason, being in this city has called into question my plan. I can’t put a finger on it, but something about being away from home in this relaxed country has slowly made me rethink something I have been so sure of for so long.

Several of us went to surf camp this past week, and it was great. I enjoyed myself the whole time. It made me think about how much I love sports, learning new things, and being outside. Parents, if you are reading this, do not fear. I have no plans of abandoning my life idea entirely and becoming a surf coach; however, I am thinking that I might like to go on a few more adventures before I settle down.

Travelling is a life style that few people can afford, whether it be because of money or time, but one that I have become increasingly fond of. Maybe I will work for a company like ISA, maybe I will travel to various companies to work in the advertising field, maybe I will stick to my original plan and be perfectly content. Who knows! Obviously, my thoughts on my life idea right now are a bit scattered, but I think I have made some important realizations about myself and the life I want to live since being here.

I am glad that this experience has allowed me to rethink something I was previously so sure of. I guess it’s part of growing up – exploring, learning, rethinking, re-planning. Wherever the wind blows me, I’ll figure it out.