Monday, August 29, 2011

Day Trip to St Kilda, A suburb on the beach, late August 2011

The great news is that the 112 tram (which is a block and a half away from our house) goes straight to St Kilda.  St Kilda is less than 10 miles away from West Preston, but it still takes about an hour, as the tram travels through the heart of the city.  That's cool though, because come summer, my favorite thing to do is go to the beach.  I enjoy living near the ocean.   


Not going to lie... the first thing I said when I saw St Kilda Pier was: "Hey!  This is where they shot the Men At Work video for 'Overkill!'"  I will always be a proud child of the 80's... always.   

Me and Derrick Zoolander

Baby fairy penguin! Awwwww!

Statue of Captain Cook

The grand entrance to Luna Park, undergoing a face lift
I was bumming because I really wanted Justin to see the famous facade.  Here's to hoping it'll be finished in three years time.

Beers at the Local Taphouse 
Dinner of lovely fish and chips

Taking a day trip to Kyneton, early August 2011

Here we go!  Preston Railway Station

I really like this photo of J and not just because we are at Krispy Kreme.

The rules of the V-Line train

Scenes from the train
It takes a little over an hour to get to Kyneton from Southern Cross Station (one of the main train stations in the CBD).

You can see the Macedon Ranges in the background.

Art Sculptures in Kyneton.  The town architecture itself doesn't boast anything of note, so I just took photos of things around town. 

Some words of advice

I spent a good portion of the walk trying to spot and listen for playtpuses, but it was all in vain.  The only wild one I have ever seen was in Queensland.  They are the size of kittens, which makes it all the more difficult to find them.

Waiting for the train back to Melbs... it was too dark by the time we boarded to watch for kangaroos.  Rats!  Next time!

Some more photos around Melbourne from July and August 2011

View of city from Footscray, or "Foot Scary" as some Melburnians call it

Apparently, I didn't know that the iPhone 4 had a flash function when this photo was taken.

The futuristic Footscray train station

Yum Cha (or as it as known in the states, "Dim Sum.")  Liz is as darling as ever, even whilst looking coy.  I'm pretty sure that Justin is posing though.

Gorgeous terrace house displaying Victorian architecture
These houses are everywhere and are quite characteristic of Melbourne.  

In the winter, it rains... A lot...  As a reward, if it clears up near sundown (about 5:30pm), the sun will peek out and give us rainbows.  Rainbows are seen here on a regular basis and it is awesome.

View from Port Melbourne

Spring is coming!

Hot Jam Donuts... HECK YES!!! Fried after you order, injected with hot strawberry jam, and sprinkled in sugar.  It's like having State Fair Food year-round.  Hooray for Preston!

Food: Part 1: Drinks

One of the best parts of travelling/living abroad is seeing what food and drink offerings there are (or are not.)  I'm constantly discovering food items that I thought I wouldn't find, which always delights me.  Even better than that is when I taste foods I've never had before and then fall in love with them.  Consider this entry to be a part of a running list of sorts.  Like any well-organized, anal retentive person, I love categorization.  Allow me to share my food findings in installments.  Here's part one, entitled "Drinks."

1. Coffee: Black coffee is somewhat difficult to find.  Half and half, as in most countries, is not even produced.  Common coffees include the flat white (kinda like a latte, but it has less foam and is much prettier, with a special design on top- usually a ripple pattern, but sometimes a heart), the long black (a double espresso), and the usual latte, cappuccino, and mocha.  At home, we use a French Press, which they commonly call "the plunger."

Cream plus milk = half and half.  I spent a small amount of time experimenting in order to figure out what type and brand of cream made the best half and half.  Pura wins!  The first time I tried this out, I had an idea of what Tom Hanks must have felt like in Castaway.
"I have made half and half!"

The flat white
2. Wine: Australia produces some of the best wine in the world.  The good news is: it costs the same here as it would in the United States.  We started buying our wine from George at the Preston Market.  He runs his own little business and stores his wine in barrels.  You buy a bottle, (or two or twenty... he's got so many varieties!) drink it, then head back for the refill price, which is about 40% less than the original price.  The basic table wine (which is actually quite good) sells for $4 a bottle, refill price.  Win-win!
3. Soda:  You can basically find all the main brands we have at home.  Dr. Pepper is a bit more rare.  Then again, I've never met a non-American who legitimately enjoys Dr. Pepper or root beer... most claim that both soft drinks "taste like medicine," so this may account for why these two drinks aren't popular in many places outside the United States.  However, I can find A&W (made in Singapore!) in Asian grocery stores, for some reason.  They also have this brand called "LA Ice Cola," which is an Australian brand.  The ongoing debate in our house is whether it is pronounced "la" (as in fa-la-la) or "l-a" (as in, "I'd be safe and warm, if I was in LA.")  I dunno.  I suppose I should ask someone.
While we are on the topic of soft drinks, it seems like the only country in the world that uses high fructose corn syrup in their sodas is the United States.  I believe that corn was (or still is?) highly subsidized by the government, therefore making the final product "cheaper."  Other countries typically use sugar in their sodas, so they do taste slightly different than sodas back in the US.
My all-time favorite soda is "Thums [that's not a typo] Up," which is found in India.  Justin asked the clerk at the Indian grocery store if they carried it.  He told us that they usually carry Thums Up in the summer... I can't wait!

4.  Juice:  The apple juice here is cloudy... I love that! I'm coping relatively well without my Tropicana, which is a staple for me in the US.  I definitely miss it, but it'll still be there when I return.  They also have a juice here called "breakfast juice."  It's orange juice with pineapple, mango, and I think apple.  It is pretty delicious.  You can find the "trendy" juices (think coconut water, blended juice from juice bars, etc.) here too.

5.  Water:  The tap water here tastes great.  After drinking Minneapolis tap water for years, I had become accustomed to having to use a filter, due to the seasonal smelliness of the water.  Here in Melbourne, you don't need it.  At most restaurants, there is a refillable glass bottle of tap water at every table.  Most places don't have the server running around to refill your water.  It's so nice to have it right at the table! Also, there's no ice in the water (unless you request it.)  Cold drinks come with ice, but not a lot of it.  It should be noted that by world standards, Americans put an obscene amount of ice in cold drinks.  Through traveling so much and living abroad, I've grown accustomed to not having ice in my water, and I prefer it this way now, unless it is scorchingly hot outside.  Sparkling water isn't as big here (but you can find it).  I've had to adjust since I am addicted to it back home.

6.  Tea:  The most common way tea is served is hot, black (but brewed weakly by American and British standards), with a fair amount of milk, and sugar.  The black tea here is the same as in much of the world: straight-up black tea.  In the United States, it's more common to find black tea with orange pekoe.  I haven't found this here yet, but will need to investigate because come summer, I've got to have my Southern sweet tea.  This is essential, even for a born and bred Northerner like me.  It should also be noted that around the world, black tea (and its derivatives) is almost always served hot, whereas America prefers it iced.

7. The iced chocolate: Milk, a couple of ice cubes, chocolate sauce, scoops of ice cream = bliss.  Also, milkshakes are widely available, but are blended to the point that you wouldn't know they contained ice cream. If you want an American style milkshake, you have to order a "thickshake."  Problem solved.

An extremely decadent iced chocolate
8. Cocktails:  The variety here is the same as anywhere in the developed world.  Cocktails are super scrumptious, but they come at a hefty price.  My cocktail of choice, as many of you already know, is the margarita.  Margaritas here at a Mexican restaurant range from $18-$24.  I figure this is because tequila is so dang expensive.  Jose Cuervo is priced at about $60 for a normal sized bottle!  This has to be in part because of the distance it needs to travel and in part because of the high tax imposed upon liquor here.  The high taxes exist to curb underage drinking, however I am certain it's curbing of-age drinking as well due to the price.  Honestly, whoever comes to visit me first, I beg you to stop by Duty-Free before leaving the airport to pick me up some Patron.

9. Beer:  I am waiting for a hoppy beer to blow me away.  There are definitely some decent brews, like Cooper's (a somewhat regional beer, it's from South Australia) and Little Creatures (from Western Australia) and of course, the local grog, Victoria Bitter (VB), among others.  Contrary to popular belief, Foster's really is not that big here.  It is available and it is terrible.  They run a pretty good marketing campaign in the states though, seeing as Americans constantly ask me about it.  The sizes of beer vary from state to state here.
From, here are the sizes, explained-
Pony 140ml - 5 ounces
Small Glass 170ml - 6 ounces
Glass 200ml - 7 ounces
Pot 285ml - 10 ounces
Schooner 425ml - 15 ounces
Pint 568ml - 20 ounces
Just an FYI, a pint will typically run you about $11 USD.

10. The babyccino makes the list for being oh-so-cute!  A babyccino is a kid-friendly version of a latte/flat white/etc.  It's basically milk that's steamed to a warm, not hot, temperature with foam and cocoa powder on top.  It's commonly served in doppio espresso cups with a saucer at the bottom.  I smile when I see children at a cafe enjoying their babyccino alongside their parents, whom are drinking a coffee.  An alternative to a babyccino could be "drinking chocolate" (known as "hot chocolate" here as well.)  Cadbury's drinking chocolate is my absolute favorite and is typically at most expat stores in the states, should the temptation of this post strike the mood.


Monday, August 22, 2011

So, what are you going to school for?

I have been getting lots of questions in regards to what I am going to school for here in Melbourne.  I want to explain my program a little bit better, in order to satiated the minds of the inquiring.
Initially, I didn't really want to speak of my program very much.  The program itself is pretty cool, I'm just not very comfortable explaining that I am in a doctoral program.  I haven't quite understood why I feel that way either.  Maybe, because in my mind it sounds a bit hoity-toity???  I think that I just want to keep a certain level of humility to it all.  Growing up, I always did pretty well in school.  My parents were always very proud of me and celebrated my endeavors, but I appreciated the fact that they never felt the need to boast to others about my scholastic achievements. 
I usually just tell people I'm going to graduate school.  People typically assume it's for a master's (which is fine) but when they ask directly if it is for a master's degree, I don't want them to have a false impression.  For me, earning this degree is about meeting a personal goal, so I am most definitely okay with not discussing my program at length.
After three years (assuming everything goes according to plan, that is...)  I will have earned a Doctorate of Education by Research.  Common initials that I'll be able to put after my name are: D.Ed. or Ed.D.  Or I can just put "Dr." in front of my name.  In all truth though, I think I will always be most comfortable being called "Ms. Courtney."  I see no need for fancy titles, before or after my name.
A common question I get asked is: What is the difference between a Doctorate of Education and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)?  To start off, both are recognized as terminal degrees.  In other words, both are the highest type of degree that can be obtained.  The major difference is that the Ph.D. is more research-based, and could potentially prepare one better for a career in academia at the university level, by either teaching, conducting research, or both.  An Ed.D. is more of a professional doctorate, meaning that it could potentially be more "user-friendly" in terms of returning to the K-12 classroom (it's less research than the Ph.D., and involves more practice-based learning than the Ph.D.).  I hummed and hawed over what I wanted, and at this point in my life, I want to return the classroom when I am finished with school.  I love it there.  It is where I come alive and teaching small children is what makes me so happy.  Therefore, it made more sense for me to go the Ed.D. route.  However, if I did change my mind, an Ed.D. would still qualify me in some capacity to work at the collegiate level.  
In order to obtain my Ed.D., I will be attending school/researching full-time for three years (note that three years is also the time it takes to obtain a Ph.D., at least at the University of Melbourne.)
I'm currently in my semester of coursework.  The large part of this semester is theory, which I honestly love, love, love!  I will take a couple more courses after this semester, then it is on to the research/writing of the thesis: the meat and potatoes of the degree, if you will.
The path for Ed.D. candidates and Ph.D. candidates is essentially the same.  We all need to secure a supervisor.  We all need to clear ethics.  We all need to conduct original research.  We all need to present the thesis to a panel and hope it is accepted.  We all may be digging an early grave with this stressful venture!  (Only kidding about that last part.)
The major difference is that my thesis (note: "thesis" is used here in Australia, whereas many American institutions use "dissertation") need only be 55,000 words long.  A Ph.D. candidate must meet 80,000 words.  However, I wonder if after meeting 55,000 words, 25,000 more doesn't seem like much more to go.
I haven't really narrowed in on what I'll be researching yet.  Initially, I wanted to study multicultural curriculum and its correlation to student achievement.  However, after revisiting poststructural, postcolonial, and critical social theories (this time through the lens of educational theory and policy) it dawned on me just how much I missed feminist studies.  Now I'm learning towards studying gender or class issues in modern day classrooms, through the lens of neo-Marxism or postmodern theory.  [And yes, I understand that these two are somewhat opposing viewpoints, but lately I have been studying a ton of Foucault, wondering if a postmodernist angle is the way to go.]
I have really lucked out in terms of obtaining a supervisor.  My supervisor is so amazing and I could not feel more supported, both academically and personally.  We both have similar backgrounds in regards to public school teaching, tertiary education, educational policy interests, and a shared knowledge of feminist paradigm.
So yeah, that's where I am at with everything for the time being.  I'm still adjusting to the idea of being a student, as first and foremost, I consider myself a "teacher on leave."  I cannot separate myself from my identity as a teacher.  Those that teach and totally love it know exactly what I am talking about.  I am trying my best to take the focus off "not teaching" right now, as I miss it so much!  I know I will go back to it eventually.  For now, it's all about living in the present and basking in the glories that are academia and Australia!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Question I Wasn't Prepared To Answer

Often times back home, people would ask me, "Why Australia?" (As in: Why are you attending school there?)   Of course, I gave the answer that made the most sense to me.  The answer that was always off the top of my head.  "I love it there!"

I would then proceed to explain how I had studied there a decade ago and talk about how great that experience was.  Usually the conversation would end with anticipated pleasantries and genuine well-wishes, end of story.

Last week, I was riding the bus home with another student after our evening class.  He and I were discussing our shared class, traveling, the American educational system, etc.  He then asked, "Why Australia?"  I gave the response that I must have given at least one-hundred times back home.  However, his next question was one I hadn't answered before: "What do you love about Australia?"
Upon first glance, one may think that there isn't a huge difference between the words "why" and "what."  Do keep in mind that semantics are everything... especially to a doctoral candidate.  At this point in my life, perhaps more than ever before, language is everything.  The question of "Why?" eludes to a certain subjectiveness; in this particular instance, answers need not be narrowly defined.  The question of "What?" is much objective.

Initially, I was at a loss for words.  Had I really ever properly digested what I love about this country?  I knew that I loved it, but it had become so visceral at that point, that I really hadn't felt the need to explain it.  At that moment, I became so grateful for this question, even though I didn't have a thoughtful answer at hand. I am still pondering the perfect answer.  As a matter of fact, this my be a question that could take years to answer.  Since I often do my best thinking while writing, I think I'll just keep typing and see what happens.

Perhaps the most obvious example of what is great about Australia is the people and their since of civic responsibility/manners.  The atmosphere is so communal and people really do look out for one another.  I believe it is a part of social fabric here.  You can strike up a conversation with the person next to you on the bus, and no one finds it strange.  The common greeting of "How you going?"  is always accompanied by a smile.  When we first moved into our neighborhood, we explored it, slowly working on our bearings.  Some drivers actually pulled over and offered us directions, unsolicited, whenever we looked lost.  I've found that after formally introducing yourself to an Aussie, they are almost always likely to remember your name... even if you don't see them for another week.  When an elderly person boards crowded public transportation, there are always at least two people that offer their seat to said person.  When a solo parent with a pram (stroller) boards/disembarks a tram or bus, a nearby stranger will always assist, without being asked, grabbing the front of the pram, helping the parent and their child safely go up or down the steps.  Australians are much less guarded than Americans when it comes to interacting with strangers.

Another reason I love this place is it's laid back attitude.  Everything is "no worries."  It could be the national catchphrase as this isn't something that is just said, but is something that is lived.  I remember ten years ago when I received a telephone call six weeks after leaving Australia.  It was Telstra, explaining that my roommate and I didn't pay our final phone bill (this wasn't on purpose... I swear!)  My first comment was, "Uh oh... how much is the late fee?"  Telstra informed me that there wasn't one.  I then asked when they needed the money by and I'll never forget the response.  "Ah, just whenever you can," replied the agent. "If you could have it to us within the next eight weeks, that'd be great."
Coming from a culture where it is so about getting as much accomplished as soon as possible, it is so refreshing to live in a place where taking it easy is actually encouraged.

I also love the challenge of living here.  That sounds so stupid, but once you've actually taken the "two day," never-ending flights, you can really get a sense of how far away Australia is from the United States.  Even if you want to fly to Asia from Melbs, you'll be on the plane for at least six hours.  In Australia, a historical phrase, when referring to being so far away from everything is "the tyranny of distance."  Obviously, with the advent of the internet, we are now at a point in history where it's easier to keep in touch than ever.  However, there really is no way around the concept of physical distance... it's palpable.  The major difficulty of calling home is the time difference.  Overlap is difficult when you are fifteen hours ahead.  Even when I was living in Europe, the idea of it only taking seven or eight hours to get home didn't seem like such a big deal.  Here, we really are far away.  But, you must consider that this distance is what makes Australia like no other place on earth.  The flora and fauna proves that too... what other place on earth has produced something as cute as the koala or as strange as the platypus?  Distance is not necessarily a negative thing, but it can be burdensome.

Linking to the challenge of living here is the romanticism of the country.  What most Americans know about Australia is only based upon what they have seen or heard or read.  To put it bluntly, most Americans have never been here.  I think this adds to the mystique of such a place.  As in many places, the heart of the country is often within the interior.  Just hearing the word "Australia" can send your mind into images of the remote bush (outback) or desert.  As a child, one of my favorite poems (which was later made into a song... this is how most people know the poem) was AB "Banjo" Patterson's "Waltzing Matilda."  I loved how the Australian vocabulary was intertwined with the English words I already knew.  I could picture this hobo running around in the backwoods, trying to get away from the cops.  The outlaw history of this place (think Ned Kelly, penal colonization, etc.) still piques my curiosity to this day.

Romanticism is found not only within the culture, but within the landscape itself.  The physical geography of this country is astounding and so diverse.  Some of the most gorgeous natural wonders I've ever seen are here in Australia: Wineglass Bay in the mountains of Tasmania, Great Ocean Road in Victoria, The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, New South Wales' Blue Mountains... I could go on and on.  Perhaps the topography that has made the biggest impression on me are the deserts.  Specifically, the Great Victoria Desert in the Northern Territory and the Pinnacles Desert of Western Australia come to mind as being the most impressive.  Places with such rugged geography transform its populace into a tough stock of people, which for me, adds to allure of this land.

Perhaps the best thing about Australia (and this is a personal reason) is that it is the place where, for the first time in my life, I felt true autonomy as an adult.  It's not easy to uproot your life, even if you know it's only temporary.  I'm close to my family.  I don't like being far away from them.  I don't like being away from my friends either (obviously.)  Living here ten years ago, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and came here not knowing anyone, as well as not knowing a ton about Melbourne or Australia for that matter either.  Upon arrival, I found that making new friends was pretty easy and I quickly immersed myself in all the gems my new environment had to offer.  There is certainly no substitute for feeling independent.

After Australia, my first living abroad experience, I discovered a passion for international travel that I didn't even know that I had.  Those that know me well understand that travel, along with new experiences, is as essential to my existence as food and shelter.  Having found this part of me shortly after turning the age of twenty-two has shaped me for the rest of my life.  What a blessing to have found this so early on in my life.  Australia has become a part of who I am.  Perhaps this is why I needed to return, as well as what I love best about it here.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Without TV, it is hard to know when one day ends and another begins." -Homer Simpson

Let me be the first to proclaim that I love tv.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy reading, sports, high culture, et. al., but at the end of a cold winter day, I love cozying up to the telly most of all.  So, you can imagine how happy I was to have the first official fixture of our home be a television set.
Region by region, every television in the country of Australia is going digital.  I was told I would have until December.  This leaves the viewer with two options: Buy a digital-ready tv or get a set-top box in order to still watch your non-digital-ready tv.  We went with the latter.  Here's the really cool thing about television in Australia: You get a ton of channels! We get about twenty channels, which is pretty awesome.  We don't have "cable" (or what they call "pay tv") either and there are plenty of things to watch.  Below, I've made a list of interesting thoughts about Aussie television, within the context of how it is different from American television.
1.  You plug your set-top box into the cable outlet and the cable outlet is connected to an antennae (or "aerial") on the roof.  This is not always the case in the U.S.A.
2.  Control-wise, the set-top box works like Tivo or a Comcast cable box.  You can view the channels, their programs, and descriptions.  The best part is that you can DVR programs and not have to pay for the "privilege" of doing that.
3.  I get the impression that the syndication rights of American shows are sold to individual television channels here.  In other words, you could be watching an NBC show that's directly followed up by a CBS show on the same channel.
4.  Australian reality show contestants are typically so supportive and kind of one another's endeavors, even though they are competing against each other.  I don't watch American reality tv (save for Tabatha's Salon Takeover and RHW!) but of the clips I've seen on The Soup or articles I've read in gossip rags, the American contestants tend to seem so nasty and somewhat downright cruel towards one another.  Australian reality television is actually feel-good television!
5.  There are American shows here that you can only get on cable television back in the United States, that are played on regular tv here, such as Weeds.
6.  After 9:00pm, swearing is permitted on television.  It still startles me a little bit every time I hear the f-bomb dropped on broadcast television.  Ah, my culturally puritanical roots are surfacing!
7.  Some popular current American tv shows here are CSI, The Big Bang Theory, Family Guy, and Two and A Half Men.  They also play a lot of old reruns of other American shows.  These shows that come to mind include: Murder She Wrote, The Love Boat, Seinfeld, Friends, Just Shoot Me, and my personal favorite... 7th Heaven!
8.  Regarding commercials:  There are some commercials here (voiceover/animation type commercials) that use Australian voices, but the script is still the same.  Most notable are the commercials for the iPhone.  ("If you don't have an iPhone, you don't have an iPhone.")

As lovely as the tv is, I am looking outside and the sun is just now coming out after a week of rain!  Time to click off and go play outside.  Later!